North-east India Winter 2012 – Nameri
Nameri is a 200km2 national park located in Assam on the northern bank of the Jia Borohli river, at the border of Arunachal Pradesh. The protected area actually extends into Arunachal with the Pakke reserve, combining to more than 1000km2. Nameri has little infrastructure, no road access, and the only ways to visit the park are with guided tours of foot, or descending the river on raft.
Nameri is mostly covered by a good quality moist deciduous forest, with grassland clearings from past logging activities. It also has a number of ponds along the river and further inside the forest, providing excellent habitat for the rare White-winged duck. Nameri also has a large population of wild elephants, tigers, leopards, black and sloth bears among the most notable species.
Spending only 3 half-days there, and with the white-winged ducks as a main target, we headed straight toward the most distant ponds, where chances of sightings are the best according to the guide. It was a wonderful 4km/1 hour walk along the river, with as an additional thrill fresh tiger pugmarks leading in the same direction… tiger did not show up, but a pair of ducks gave us good views, albeit back-lit. We would return to the same spot the next morning and the guide did an excellent job to locate precisely where the ducks were, so that i could approach them from the right direction and distance, and get this time the front-lit pictures ! In the afternoon we did the shorter loop around the forest house, getting two animated encounters with elephants on the way.
In the first one, a pair of domestic elephants, one with a calf, their mahout sitting on top, came on the path behind us, one of the mahout warning us to make way as its elephant was a little bit nervous. We obliged, went inside the bush 10 or 15 meters, but it proved not enough… the calf got nervous, and her mother started charging us. A brief moment of panic ensued, all the more so when i realized that the armed guard was actually running away fast and already 10 meters ahead of me, with little visible concern regarding my own situation. I had no choice but joining the race, not a classic one as it was through thorny bushes and holding a camera with an 800 tele lens. Hopefully, the mahout had succeeded in diverting his elephant away from us, by hitting him on the head repeatedly with a hard stick… when things calmed down, the guide summed up the incident saying : “when an elephant charges, you just run for your life”. Interestingly, later in the afternoon as the guide was looking for elephant activity in a grassland area, we realized when turning back that a wild elephant was actually coming behind us fast ! Another 100m sprint, i felt it was sort of becoming routine, and we were out of trouble.
Besides the ducks, Nameri provided some very nice forest birding and we got to see many species that had eluded us in Kaziranga. Notable sightings included : Oriental pied, Great and Wreathed Hornbills (including a flock of 30 of the latter species), Vernal Hanging Parrot (abundant), Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Black-tailed Crake, Great Thick-knee, Yellow-bellied Fantail, Scaly and Black-breasted Thrush, Rusty-tailed and Pale-chinned Flycatcher, Black-backed Forktail, Hill Myna, Fire-capped and Sultan Tit, Black-crested, White-throated, Ashy and Black bulbuls, Grey-bellied Tesia, Greeninsh, Blyth’s Leaf and Yellow-vented Warblers, Spot-throated and Striped Tit Babblers, Ruby-cheeked and Purple-throated Sunbirds, Streaked Spiderhunter. In total 101 species were recorded.
Overall Nameri is well worth a visit, the Eco-lodge camp on the other side of the river providing basic but adequate accomodation. It is actually a good complement to a Kaziranga visit, as there is surprisingly little overlap between the species sighted, barring the most common ones. If you are really after the Ibisbill, another Nameri specialty in winter, it is recommended to dedicate a half-day to a boat or rafting trip, otherwise it can be easily avoided to concentrate on exploring the forest.