By Rakesh Soud
My professional engagements with different organizations roll me to the places of poles apart with conservation interest throughout the northeastern parts of the country. The aim was to convey the message of conservation through systematic scientific research and using various other tools along the human mind of different geographical ridges through various modes of scientific tools. The bird diversity of different places was really interesting and broadly varies with unlike altitude. I can share my experience birding to the most memorable places of Arunachal Pradesh with the conservation programme of World Wide Fund for Nature-India during 2008-2009. Leaving the plains of Assam, when I had shifted to the high altitude areas of western most parts of Arunachal Pradesh, I have discovered a new world of birdlife. The Pangchen Valley under Zimithang circle of Tawang district, Arunachal Pradesh was one of such places of Buddhist culture and traditions. The remote area bordering with Bhutan and Tibet came into the light for the birding world, when it was declared as the second wintering ground of Black-Necked Crane besides lower altitudes in Quinghai, on the Yunnan – Guizhou Plateau, north eastern Bhutan and Sangti valley of Arunachal Pradesh. Nyamjang Chu (River) which has originated at China flows through Pangchen Valley in southerly direction and enter Bhutan as Manas River after joining Tawang Chu (River). The valley is a potential habitat of different bird species from Brokenthang to Zimithang, which is nearly 3km in length with average altitude of 6920ft. The average width of the valley has been found to 0.30km and the flow of water in this part of the river is gentle with many small seasonal islands and also grassland on both the bank.
After joining World Wide Fund for Nature-India, I had roamed around the valley including other potential habitats of Zimithang for my scheduled project activity. However, I had never forgotten to maintain the record the records of amazing birdlife. Godwing –Austin was perhaps the first person to publish the work on the Birds of Arunachal Pradesh. Arunachal Pradesh is mainly mountainous state except some low altitude areas. During my several visits to the area, I had recorded more than seventy species of different birds. Though some of the species were common to me but there were a number of species, which were recorded for the first time in my field note book.
The birds which really stuck to my eyes were belongs to the pheasants group. I had mostly encountered the Khalij Pheasant, Blood Pheasant and Himalayan Monal followed by only a single sighting of Temminick’s Tragopan in wild along with the Red Junglefowl, which was more or less a commonly sighted species for me during my previous days at plains.
I had also some experience with hunters who showed me the dried specimens of Himalayan Monal and Blyth’s Tragopan. However, the fresh killed specimens of Blood Pheasants seen with herders near Nelya had affected my sentiments. The diversity of Pheasant of Arunachal Pradesh is very impressive. As India has 17 out of 51 species of Pheasant, and Arunachal Pradesh has 11 species, i.e 2/3rd of India’s total Pheasant record.
Including Pheasants, the state has 3 endangered and 12 vulnerable species including 15 near threatened species. Satterfield and his co-workers has listed 21 restricted range species in EBA 130 (Eastern Himalayas), out of which 18 species are found in Arunachal Pradesh leading to the highest number of restricted species in the Northeast India. There are about 8 vulnerable and 4 near threatened species reported from the surveyed IBAs of the western part of Arunachal Pradesh. Another most valued record added to my observations was the record of Black-Necked Crane. During my visit I came to know that the species use to visit almost every year in this valley and stay for 30-45 days, only this time photographic evidence of the bird in the valley were collected by villagers. According to the local villagers earlier the Black-Necked Crane use to use one Alnus forest patch, very near to Zemithang settlement area for roasting. However, this year, most of the time, all the three Black-Necked Crane were found in the other side of the river which is diagonally nearly 1.5km away, towards north-west, from the Alnus forest patch.
I can shear the sighting of many other species such as Asian House Martin, Black Bulbul, Black-faced Laughing Thrush, Great Tit, Green-backed Tit and White-throated Laughing Thrush from the areas mostly spreaded with cultivation and human settlements. These species were recorded mostly from degraded lands used for human activity. Other different species new to my eyes were comprises of Chestnut-tailed Minla, Grey-winged Blackbird , Lesser Necklaced Laughing Thrush, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Red-billed Leiothrix, Rufous Sibia, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Silver-eared Mesia etc. I had noted the presence of these species including a large number of other birds in mixed flocking pattern in the forest areas surrounded the Pangchen Valley.
However, some birds were seen mainly in the high altitude areas of the valley. These habitats were mainly comprises of Rhododendrons and other mixed vegetations with some water sources. The bird species recorded from such habitats were White-browed Rose finch, Snow Pigeon, Red-billed Chough, Little Fork tail, Plumbeous Water Redstart. These species were really valued my field note books.
The main cause behind the reach diversity of birds in the area was the large patch of continuous forest and less direct threat from human activity. As there is religious ban on hunting among the local Monpa communities of the area, the major threat is on the habitat of the diverse avifauna was mainly due to road constriction activities which is progress in both side of the river. However, as the roads under construction is very much crucial from Indian defense point of view, there is urgent need to find out some way which will ensure both safety of the potential habitats and same time will not hamper the developmental activities. The area is covered under Zamithang-Nelya Important Bird Area with Three Vulnerable, Three near Threatened and Seven Endemic Bird Area species. There is an urgent need of systematic survey and conservation protocol for the batter future of the birdlife of the area.
Rakesh Soud, is a doctoral student of IIT Guwahati. He is engaged with Nature’s Beckon and focused on the advocacy of people participation in conservation of wildlife and their habitat in the Northeastern region, India.