Our Nagaland biodiversity project was scheduled to kick-off in the first week of May across various locations in the state. We had a great team lined up for the survey -- talented students and alumin of the M.Sc program in wildlife biology & conservation from NCBS, Bangalore. My job was as logistics manager -- make high power teams and manage travel plans. We kicked off the survey in Khonoma to set-up a standard operating procedure for the program. I hung out a few days with the team in Khonoma and was completely out of league as the team unearthed snakes and frogs at will! The Dipti - Viral duo were unbelievable in the field and their passion for creepie crawlies is unbelievable. Soon, my bedroom was adorned with laundry bags with all kinds of snakes. I did manage some birding though I have extensively birded in Khonoma in the past.
After the kick-off in Khonoma, I headed to Kohima (20km) to join Bikram Grewal and Bano Haralu who were handling the administrative aspects of our Nagaland project that included meetings with senior govt. officials. We did some paperwork for a couple of initiatives requested by the govt. and soon headed to the Hoollongoppar Gibbon Sanctuary in Assam across the border from Nagaland. Bikram had planned our exit out of the North-east from Dibrugarh and the general idea was to cover a few areas along the way that included Gibbon sanctuary, Jeypore, Digboi and in and around Dibrugarh.
We spent almost a full-day in Gibbon Sanctuary -- an outstanding lowland rainforest which must have covered most of Assam a century ago. The sanctuary is one of a kind with an explosion of primate species (seven, to be precise) all of them pretty easily watchable with some time and effort. Birders seldom come here (birds here can be gotten elsewhere on standard birding circuits like Kaziranga and Nameri) and hence the place is not well known. It is a pity why mammal watching (mammaling?) has not not taken off as a passionate sport as birdwatching especially in India where we have a fabulous assemblage of species. An extremely helpful forest guide called Deven Barua (Devenda) helped us track some of the primates. In a couple of hours, we had seen gibbons, stump- and pig-tailed macaques, capped langurs and rhesus macaques. What we didn't see were Assamese macaques and the nocturnal Slow Loris.
What was truly memorable was spending an hour in the midst of a large troupe of stumptails foraging on the rainforest floor. The largest of our macaques they quietly forage like mini orang-utans. They could be feet away from you but remain invisible until they suddenly flush at your presence. We saw just a couple of the more slender pigtails and a super vocal family of three gibbons -- our only ape. We took a break in the late morning and the newly constrcuted forest rest house had a resident capped langur troupe.
We left Jorhat and proceeded to Dibrugarh to stay in one of finest Chang (on stilts) tea bungalows at Mancotta -- owned by the Jalan family. Here we were joined by birding friend and resident Dibru birding expert Raj Kamal Phukan (who works for the tea association). From Dibrugarh, we birded in Digboi, Jeypore and the neighboring paddyfields. On the last day, a day prior to our departure, we got word (from hornbill researcher Rohit Naniwadekar) about Brown Hornbill sightings outside Miao town near Namdapha tiger reserve in Arunachal Pradesh. Though not in the plan we decided to make a go at it (brown hornbills being a lifer for Bikram and me), and after a long drive and a three hour trek, managed to spot (from a distance) a male hornbill feeding its mate at a nest. That night we returned to the comfort of the chang bungalow and in time to make our flights on time out of Assam.