Harbouring 680 species of birds, many of them endemic, Mishmi Hills in central Arunachal Pradesh delights birdwatchers with rare sightings. Our contributor, a conservationist and photographer, goes in pursuit of a particularly enticing pair of wings. Text and photographs by Latika Nath
Come Along For A Journey Through Mishmi Hills
Most naturalists and birdwatchers of India grew up hearing tales of Dr Salim Ali’s many accomplishments. As a child, I was fortunate enough to meet and learn from the man himself, often reverentially called ‘The Birdman of India’. This year, I got the chance to join ornithologist and conservationist Bikram Grewal on a trip to Arunachal Pradesh. It was a dream come true, because I now stood a chance to witness and photograph the Mishmi wren-babbler, an endemic species first found by Dr Salim Ali.
Mishmi Hills, located in central Arunachal Pradesh, is an extension of the Great Himalayan Ranges bordering China. The region is known for its incredible biodiversity, including over 680 species of birds. Named after the Idu-Mishmi tribes, Mishmi Hills features some of the most scenic parts of the Mehao Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary was established in 1980 and covers over 281 square kilometres.
Much of the Mishmi Hills falls in the Dibang Valley. The hills are divided into three regions based on their altitudes—the lower area (1,300m) stretches from Roing to Tiwari Gaon, the middle zone (2,655m) stretches from Tiwari Gaon to Coffee House, and the most elevated stretch of the Roing-Hunli-Anini road (2,666m) runs from Coffee House to Mayodia Pass. In the Deori Chutiya language, Mayodia means “shrine of the mother goddess.” This region is distinguished by its snow-capped mountains.
Mishmi Hills is home to unique flora and fauna, including several endemic birds that draw enthusiasts from all over the country. The rusty-throated wren babbler, or Mishmi wren-babbler (spelaeornis badeigularis), is an undergrowth-dwelling bird that, for many years, was known from a single specimen collected on January 5, 1947, by Dr Salim Ali and Dr Dillon Ripley. On my trip, I was fortunate to get many other unplanned sightings as well, including those of the Jerdon’s babbler, chestnut-capped babbler, oriental scops-owl, greater rufous-headed parrotbill, and even a few expressive hoolock gibbons. Of course, a sighting of the prized Mishmi wren-babbler was the pièce de résistance of this adventurous expedition.
The region is a 200-kilometre drive from the Dibrugarh Airport in Assam. Inner Border permits are required to enter the area. The best season for birding is February to May. Temperatures can plummet at Mayodia Pass, so it is essential to carry warm clothes, rain gear, and protection for camera equipment; leech socks are also advised. With the area having little to no mobile connectivity, it is recommended that one joins a group led by a local guide.