The Mishmi Goddess

Summary: Our plan was to cover the Mishmi Hills and the eastern part of Assam in 10 days, however we ended up exhausting all our days at Mishmi itself due to the severe weather conditions, the ongoing road construction work and the clearing of forest for palm plantation that made birding very challenging.
We still persisted and while most of our time was spent around the fire place, we did manage to spot several of the key target species including the Mishmi Wren Babbler, Blyth’s Tragopan and the Manipur Wedge-billed Babbler.
Birding Sites:

Roing (28°08’09.9″N 95°50’22.9″E): Roing is a small Indian town situated at the foothills of the Arunachal Himalayas and from here on the Mishmi Hills gradually rise and open up to the vast sub-tropical Himalayan evergreen forests. We stayed at Roing for a few days and undertook birding excursions to the lower elevation birding sites and the nearby Jia Grassland.
Jia Grassland: A massive undisturbed grassland ecosystem, this place harbors some of the most important grassland species like the Jerdon’s Babbler, Black-breasted Parrotbill, Marsh Babbler and the Spotted Bush Warbler. We spent not more than an hour at the grassland and were able to spot all these birds within a 100 meter radius.
Sally Lake (28°10’00.7″N 95°50’12.7″E): 5 km from Roing, Sally Lake is a natural water body surrounded by a good forest cover and is a popular picnic spot for the locals and an excellent place for birders to see several warbler species including the Rufous-faced Warbler. Good birding starts from the uphill approach road and goes all the way along the lake side.
12 km Marker (28°11’22.7″N 95°48’12.4″E): 12 km from Roing, the area around the 12 km marker has traditionally been an excellent site for the Hodgson’s Frogmouth, Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbill and the Red-billed Scimitar Babbler. The dense bamboo patch at this location is now cleared for Palm plantation and we could not spot the Hodgson’s Frogmouth. However, we did manage to see the Parrotbill and the Scimitar Babbler after putting in several hours of effort.
Tiwari Gaon (28°13’21.7″N 95°50’05.8″E): 28 km from Roing is Tiwari Gaon, a small village with a few houses and an eatery where you can grab a quick bite. The stretch of road in both directions of the village is productive for several of the key species found in these hills.
Mayodiya Coffee House (28°13’57.3″N 95°54’32.6″E): A rest house just a few kilometers before Mayodiya Pass is the only place to stay for birding at this elevation. The road between the rest house and Mayodiya Pass is good for the Himalayan Wood Owl and the Bar-winged Wren Babbler while the road on the other side is productive for the Mishmi Wren Babbler, Blyth’s Tragopan and the Ward’s Trogon. A small bamboo patch opposite to the Coffee House is also good for several bird species.
Mayodiya Pass (28°14’31.02″N 95°55’30.89″E): Mayodiya Pass was mostly covered with fog during our stay at the Coffee House and visibility was limited to a few meters. Still, we managed to see several finch species and a lone Brown-throated Fulvetta in the vicinity of the pass.
65 km Marker (28°16’47.5″N 95°54’46.1″E): A small inhabited place with a few houses and couple of eateries, the 65 km marker serves as a transit point between Anini/Hunli and Roing.
For us, this was heaven. We spent almost all afternoons at the “New 65 Hotel” warming ourselves around the fireplace after the rain drenching morning birding and preparing for the rainy evening birding. Needless to say, the hotel served excellent tea and lunch.
From a birding perceptive, the bamboo patch in the area proved excellent for birds like the Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler, Golden-breasted Fulvetta along with several other resident birds.
12 Golai/Bends (28°18’07.8″N 95°55’25.9″E): The stretch of road from 12 Golai till another 2-3 km towards Hunli has an excellent forest cover and carries several of the important Mishmi birds.
Travel Dates: 1 March 2018 – 10 March 2018
This is supposedly a good time for birding at Mishmi, but we faced extreme weather conditions throughout the trip including heavy rainfall, hailstorms and freezing temperatures with very little sunshine in between.
Our daily routine was to leave the Coffee House as soon as the weather cleared up in the morning and target to reach the Maya Hotel at Mayodiya Pass. Depending on the weather conditions, we either kept going, or warmed ourselves at the Maya hotel’s fireplace. The next fireplace was at the 65 Hotel and that used to be our next pit stop. Evenings were usually spent at the Coffee House’s store room where we used to light a fire and dry up our clothes.

Accommodation:
Roing
Mishmi Hills Camp (28°09’29.8″N 95°51’14.2″E): Stayed for one night before marching onwards to Mayodiya. The cottages are constructed in a traditional way and while the room was basic, the bathroom was way below expectation.

DS Hotel & Resort (28°08’09.9″N 95°50’22.9″E): A basic guest house with a simple room, clean bathroom and good food. Due to non-availability, we had to stay in a triple room for one night before moving on to a double room. The double room came with a better bathroom setup and running hot water in the shower.
Phone: +91 825 707 8482, +91 943 604 8161, +91 841 608 8898
12 km Marker
Dibang Valley Jungle Camp (28°11’17.2″N 95°47’55.8″E): Checked out the place but did not stay back. At Rs. 5500/night, did not find it value for money.
Banashree Eco Camp: Cheaper option next to the Dibang Valley Jungle Camp. Again, did not stay as the place was fully booked.
Phone: +91 943 533 5462, +91 995 459 4940
Mayodiya
Coffee House (28°13’57.3″N 95°54’32.6″E): Coffee House is a two building rest house. The lower building has two rooms with attached bathroom and two rooms with a common bathroom while the upper building has six rooms.
We stayed in the lower building and found the room to be spacious with clean bedding. The attached bathroom was also clean with 24 hours running water and all functioning faucets.
The only letdown was the food and we attempted to consume it only once, even the tea was tasteless. We managed the situation with a breakfast of biscuits, mathi and namkeen and a late lunch at the Hotel 65.
Room Booking: Contacting Daju, the caretaker is an issue since the phone network is pretty patchy. A work around is to contact Ravi Mekola, Daju’s relative who stays at Roing.
Ravi Mekola: +91 977 474 8828, 940 245 7180

Tinsukia
Hotel Centre Point: Spent one night at the property after returning from Mishmi and found the room to be clean with a nice bathroom and running hot water shower.
Phone: +91 374 235 1515
Bird Guide: There are several bird guides who know the area well, but most of them get booked out months in advance so plan early. We employed the services of Probin Hatibaruah and he can be contacted at +91 789 692 4377/936 542 6926.
Tips:
1. Birding in this part of the world is mostly by ear. We downloaded bird calls of all the key target species and kept on practicing call identification for over three months before the trip. This proved helpful as we were able to concentrate our efforts in a better way and avoided wandering the hills aimlessly.
2. For our stay at Coffee House, we carried bottled water from Roing.
3. Baby wet wipes and Hand Sanitizer came in handy at Coffee House for dry baths. (The staff was using the buckets mostly for…., so we avoided asking for hot water)
4. To maximize birding time, we carried a healthy supply of snacks from Delhi itself. You can buy stuff from Roing also, but our favorite biscuits were not available at Roing.
5. To shield ourselves from the cold, we wore 4 layers of clothes, gloves and a woollen cap.
6. Indians need an Inner Line Permit to enter Arunachal Pradesh and foreign nationals require a Restricted Area Permit. While our permits were taken care by Probin, online permits are also issued at http://www.arunachalilp.com
1 March 2018 (Delhi – Dibrugarh – Roing)
A travel day for us, we reached Dibrugarh Airport by 1330 Hrs and a 4 hours drive got us to the Mishmi Hills Camp at Roing with a short break at Shantipur (27°58’09.2″N 95°45’17.2″E) where we enjoyed some nice tea at Sri Shyam Sweets and also got our ILP’s verified at the Arunachal Check post.
2 March 2018 (Roing – 65 km Marker – Coffee House)
We commenced our drive to the Coffee House at 0530 Hrs and birded along the roadside whenever we heard or saw any bird movement. The best sighting for the morning was a Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbill that was spotted a few km before Tiwari Gaon in a mixed hunting flock.

Other birds sighted during the course of the morning were Long-tailed and Beautiful Sibia, Greater Yellownape, Scarlet Minivet, Nepal Fulvetta, White-throated Fantail, White-naped Yuhina, Golden-throated Barbet, Black-faced Laughingthrush, Striated Bulbul and Rusty-fronted Barwing among others.

We reached Coffee House to a rainy afternoon and the very first birds we saw were the very common Manipur Fulvettas and braving the rain, we also spotted a female Crimson-browed Finch close to Mayodiya Pass along with a Yellow-browed Tit, Striated Laughingthrushes and a Blue-fronted Redstart.

We then drove further and the bamboo patch just before the 65 km marker yielded a flock of Golden-breasted Fulvettas, Stripe-throated Yuhinas and a Himalayan Bluetail.

The rain only got heavier from here on and after lunch we decided to head back to Coffee House, but just before reaching, a Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler was heard in the bamboo patch opposite the Coffee House, but all we got was a Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler and Eurasian Jay.

3 March 2018 (Coffee House – 12 Golai)
It was a rain washed out day for us and while we did drive till the 12 Golai area, bird activity was very low and the only birds that braved the rain were a flock of Dark-rumped Rosefinch and Crimson-browed Finch that were observed near Mayodiya Pass in the evening.

4 March 2018 (Coffee House – 12 Golai)
We woke up to yet another rainy day, but decided to drive around and while on our way to Mayodiya Pass, we picked up the call of a Bar-winged Wren Babbler that was soon spotted flitting around the roadside bamboo.

Buoyed by the sighting, we kept driving and ended up reaching the 12 Golai area when a brief reprieve from rain offered us some birding time that yielded a mixed flock of Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler and Rusty-fronted Barwing apart from other birds like the Black-faced Laughingthrush, Beautiful Sibia, White-naped Yuhina, White-tailed Nuthatch and Himalayan Bluetail.

On our way back, a flock of Maroon-backed Accentor was also seen along the roadside bushes.
5 March 2018 (Coffee House – 12 Golai)
The weather only got worse today and we spent over three hours at Maya Hotel waiting for the hail to stop, however we did spot a Brown-throated Fulvetta when we went out to check the skies.

Eventually, we got bored of waiting and decided to drive on and after crossing 12 Golai, Probin picked up the call of a Manipur Wedge-billed Babbler and notwithstanding the rain, we jumped out of the vehicle and had some fabulous views of this bird but the rain prevented us from taking pictures of the bird.
6 March 2018 (Coffee House – Roing)
After three consecutive days of hailstorms, high winds and heavy rain, today looked relatively better, however our vehicle was running low on fuel and we were forced to head back to Roing.
There was no new sighting during the day except a Little Bunting that was seen at Tiwari Gaon apart from other already seen birds like the Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Striated Bulbul, White-throated Bulbul, Ashy-throated Warbler, Red-billed Leiothrix, Manipur Fulvetta, Whiskered Yuhina, Rufous-breasted Bush Robin, Oriental Magpie Robin, Spotted Forktail and several Olive-backed Pipits.

Evening was spent scouting for the Hodgson’s Frogmouth, but without any luck.
7 March 2018 (Roing – Mishmi Hills – Roing)
The Mishmi (Rusty-throated) Wren Babbler was the one bird that had eluded us till now, so we decided to give another go at it. However, last night’s rain had wrecked havoc and Rishi and Probin kept clearing the road of broken branches and boulders making way for our vehicle to cross over, but eventually we hit a massive landslide and ended up walking the next 3 km till we reached suitable habitat.
Finding the bird turned even more tricky as all the known stakeouts went empty, but just when we were about to turn back, a faint call was heard approximately 100 meters away and soon the bird allowed us excellent views.

Another exciting sighting was when we were walking back to our vehicle and came face to face with a handsome male Blyth’s Tragopan that allowed us a few seconds of eye contact before it took cover in the bushes.
Other birds seen during the course of the morning were a Large Hawk Cuckoo, Speckled Wood Pigeon, Dark-rumped Rosefinch, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Rufous-breasted Bush Robin and a Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher apart from several cute little Mithun babies.

Probin explained us that Mithuns are born wild and live in dense forests, however they are domesticated by feeding them salt that is placed by the owners on the rocks along the roadside. Maybe schooling does the same thing to humans as salt does to Mithuns.