The Naga Princess

Summary: An an extension to our Mishmi Hills trip, we spent three days at Khonoma and managed to see several interesting birds like the Striped Laughingthrush, Brown-capped Laughingthrush, Assam Laughingthrush and Red-faced Liocichla while the Spot-breasted Laughingthrush remained heard only. Apart from birding, we also got an opportunity to briefly experience the Angami culture and witness the wild apple and cherry blossom that painted the entire valley in red and white.

Birding Sites:

Khonoma Village (25°39’21.1″N 94°01’18.4″E): The surrounding hills of Khonoma are home to some of the most sought after birds of the region and we spent a lot of time birding in the SW of the village crisscrossing the gravel roads and stopping whenever birds were heard or seen.

Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary ( 25°37’36.08″N 94° 0’7.79″E): KNCTS is a well preserved subtropical broadleaf forest that is protected and managed by the village council. Birding activity starts even before reaching the sanctuary and continues all along the steep trail that opens up to the primary forest.
Travel Dates: 11 March 2018 – 15 March 2018
Accommodation:
Dovipie Inn (25°39’27.6″N 94°01’17.0″E): A well maintained property in the middle of the village, our room was spacious with a clean attached toilet. However, the only way to take a shower was to use the common bathroom.
www.dovipieinn.com

Bird Guide: We were accompanied by Angulie Meyase, a proud Angami Naga who knows Khonoma inside out and was instrumental is showing us many of the hard to see birds.
Phone: +91 94 3607 1046, 98 5683 4864
Tips:
Hunting was banned in Khonoma more than 20 years ago, still the birds of this region are very shy and mostly keep to the bushes. Out of curiosity, we asked Angulie on the logic behind hunting small birds like Sunbirds that wont even yield enough meat for a child, quick came the reply: for making chutney.
Anyway, while the birds can be seen at Khonoma, photographing them is a challenge, so be prepared accordingly.
11 March 2018
Angulie arranged a Taxi to pick us up from Tinsukia early morning and after a full day drive, we reached Khonoma in the evening. While the drive was mostly uneventful from a birding perceptive, a cultural tour guide from the Ao tribe joined us till Dimapur and we ended up having an interesting discussion with him gaining some good insight into the Naga culture.
12 March 2018
We drove SW of the village and encountered a covey of Mountain Bamboo Partridges soon after we crossed the Government School and even saw a Eurasian Woodcock take cover in the Alder plantation.

Walking a little further along the gravel road produced birds like the Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Flavescent Bulbul, Black-throated Prinia, Black-breasted Thrush and Grey Sibia apart from a beautiful Naga Azure Sapphire.

Leaving the road and venturing into the bushes also helped us see a few more birds like the Spot-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Striped Laughingthrush, Rusty-capped Fulvetta and the Red-faced Liocichla.

Other birds spotted during the course of the morning were Silver-eared Mesia, Rufous-fronted Babbler, Little Pied Flycatcher and several warbler species.
In the evening we tried our luck finding the Spot-breasted Laughingthrush; and while we were able to clearly identify their calls from a nearby bush, the birds simply refused to give us even a fleeting glimpse and a subsequent spell of rain made us call it a day.
13 March 2018
We reached KNCTS early morning and commenced our hike, but rain forced us to turn back and we had to wait it out at the Trekkers hut for over three hours before we could take to the trail again.

Birding was still tricky once the rain stopped, but we kept climbing higher hoping to find something interesting and while our ears were eagerly waiting to hear the Naga Wren Babbler call, we ended up spotting a flock of Brown-capped Laughingthrush that were foraging nearby.

Excited with the sighting, we intensified our search for the Wren Babbler and eventually Angulie heard the call and we managed to get some reasonable views of the bird.

Other birds seen along the trail were the Black-eared Shrike-babbler, Himalayan Bluetail and Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher.

We also observed several birds around the Trekkers hut like the Crested Finchbill, Assam Laughingthrush, Grey Sibia, Streak-breasted and White-browed Scimatar Babbler apart from a Red-bellied Squirrel.

14 March 2018
Today we explored the area a few km ahead of the KNCTS entrance and also hiked along a trail than ran parallel to the gravel road. Key species observed during the hike were the Bay Woodpecker, Assam Laughingthrush and a fleeting glimpse of the Blue-winged Laughingthrush.

We also had good views of a few common species like the Short-billed and Long-tailed Minivet, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Slaty-blue Flycatcher, Large Niltava and Little Bunting.

Evening was spent birding west of the village where we spotted birds like the Common Green Magpie, Crested Finchbill, Grey-hooded Warbler, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Black-breasted and Black-throated Thrush.

Just when we were about to call it a day, Angulie heard a Spotted Elachura call and we managed to get reasonable views of the bird in the fast fading light.

15 March 2018
We squeezed in a short early morning birding round of the village, but without adding any new bird to our trip list except a Himalayan Striped Squirrel and then proceeded to Dimapur to catch our afternoon flight back to Delhi.