It was afternoon when we started from Kazi towards Nameri. Kunwar accompanied us till Nameri as the driver of our vehicle didn't know the exact route. We reached Nameri eco camp at around 6:00 PM. It is around 3 hour drive from Kaziranga.
As it was already evening, we could not explore around the place. The person in charge (Mr Pradeep) has made all the arrangements of our stay and he showed us our hut in the campus. The stay in Nameri is in eco camp which is very neat and clean. It lies in the buffer zone of the National park and the core are is at about a kilometer walk from that place. One has to actually cross the river Jia Borheli to enter into he national park. The crossing is via a boat, driven by forest guards. Meenaram was our guide for the trip in Nameri and Pradeep had told us that he is one of the best guides of the region.
After having a very nice dinner, by the time we hit the bed plenty of owlets were calling all around the place.
The next morning Meenaram arrived at 5:30 AM and we were ready by that time. After having a cup of tea, we picked up the packed breakfast and started walking towards the river.
As we were nearing the shore the view started opening up more and more and there it was..... huuuge range of mountains till your eyes can see with the river flowing in front of you. Ah! It was a sight to behold. No wonder it is regarded as the most beautiful national parks of NE India, I thought.
As we moved closer Meenaram shouted -"Merganser, merganser".... I was thrilled. I always wanted to see that beauty ever since I saw its image by Dhritiman and here I am, seeing that fast flier in front of me. It was flying at a very low level, almost touching the water surface! But it was fast....very fast.
As I was recovering from that thrill, there was another surprise waiting! Within few minutes, we spotted a group a Wreathed Hornbills flying from that side of the region high in the sky. I skipped a heartbeat and almost choked! It was a dream for me! I had always heard about them seeing them in the skies is like a dream come true!
After recovering from all these initial excitements we crossed the river and now on the other side of the river, in the core zone of the park. The speciality of the park is in fact White Winged Ducks. They are currently found only in this place and very less is known about their other whereabouts and behavioral aspects in India. Many people come to Nameri only to have a glimpse of that one specie and most of the times they return disappointed. We were there to try our luck, and Meenaram has told us that we have a good chance of seeing it as he has the news that there is a pair in the nearby pond inside the forest.
The forest was amazing! It was teeming with life all over. We sighted a peregrine falcon high up on a tree and many black headed bulbuls around the forest check post. The black headed bulbuls found there are in fact cousins of our Ruby throated bulbuls which we find in the jungles of Western Ghats. We also saw pintails and starlings. the trees around also had Blue Faced Barbet and coppersmith Barbets.
But the guy that that held us for some time was Yellow Bellied Fantail Flycatcher, a beautiful tiny bird which has glorious yellow color on its belly and a very cute appearance. It was coming back to the same perch and thus helped us in getting some good images of the bird.
We were on our way to the pond where Meenaram had got the information that White Winged Wood Duck has seen the previous day. To add to that we met a forest officer of the region who was returning from that place also told us that he has seen a couple that morning just half an hour ago. That really excited us.
But the way to reach the place was also equally compelling. Huge amount of life all around. Wonderful butterflies flying all around in the morning light. Too good to resist. As Adi had decided to spend some time in photographing them I too got into business. But we had to start as the Sun was going up quite fast. We were quite near the pond.
Sultan Tit, One of the Jewels of NE
As we approached the pond Meenaram alerted us to watch our step as those birds are very sensitive even for the slightest sound. Meenaram headed the team and went in front. As we went a few meters further for our misfortune we heard fluttering sounds of few birds flying off! Shucks! They were gone! We were as silent as possible but still something went wrong and the pond was now duck-less! :(
All four of us got disappointed as there is no one knows when will they come back again to the place. As we were dejected, Meenaram told us that there is one more pond couple of kms away where there are chances of finding another pair. With little options left we started stepping toward the new destination. Clock was announcing 11:30AM and the Sun was getting ready to get on top.
When we reached the second pond we made a strategy. Meenaram to go ahead and scout the area for any presence of the duck and if found he would come back to get us along. As he was an expert of the area and was very much aware of the care to be taken to find that bird everyone agreed upon this. Meenaram went a little further and called us. He had not seen any bird but was sensing that there could be a pair! We followed him slowly. "Wahan hai...wahan hai" he ushered slowly. Yes! There it was! The elusive duck of the forest pond - White winged wood duck!
Next one and a half hours we spent sitting on the bank very silently. The bird had moved up on the bank and was not visible now. But Meenaram kept telling us that it would come back. It normally takes sometime rest in the shade and comes back to water. As we had not heard anything flying around we were also confident that it has to come out. It was a waiting game there after, After about 20min, finally the time has come. A male slowly emerged out into the water, but on the far shore. It was in a way good as it could not see us because of the distance. When it went back after a round it was the turn of the female to get into the water.
They were very calm and enjoying. It was an amazing feeling having witnesed them in their habitat, which is very unique. They live in the ponds inside thick wooded area. They are not like other ducks which can live in almost any form of large water body. These birds need specifically this kind of habitat where the pond is surrounded by thick forest. This makes them very vulnerable under present conditions of deforestation and segmentation.
We spent almost one and a half hours and silently came back without disturbing them. It is very important to maintain the same level of caution while returning from such sensitive habitat also. It is the responsibility of a wildlife photographer to not to disturb the animal/bird ether while approaching or while returning after the shoot is finished.
At the end we were all very happy and shook hands for the success and thanked Meenaram for his excellent expertise in spotting them.
It was 1:30 by then and we had not eaten anything since 6:30AM! We reached the eco camp by 2:30 and Adi decided to stay back for the evening walk and Anush and self decided to have a small second round walk post lunch.
We started by around 3:30PM and waited for some time for the boatman to arrive to take us to the other side. While waiting we saw another pack of Wreathed Hornbills.
Meenaram had stayed back in the forest check post. We met him and he took us into a forest trail. As it was winter and the day was short in that part of India, we had very little time left. Staying inside the forest in the late evening may turn out to be dangerous because of the chances of wild elephant attack which sometimes proves fatal. So we had to get back soon. But the forest was very captivating.
I have to go back to it in the future just to enjoy the sheer feel of it. We have only very few such protected areas left where one can feel the power of the forest.
We were back on the river bank by 4:45PM and a boatman helped us to cross the river. Meenaram came along.
You can see Meenaram at the center and Anush at the front
The day had ended for us. An amazing day it was. I had thoroughly enjoyed. The sad part was we had planned only one and a half days in this wonderland, which is absolutely not enough... :(
The next day was planned for rafting which as everyone says, was the most productive from bird photography perspective, Ibisbill - one of the beautiful birds of Indian Subcontinent was high on our list and they could be found only during the rafting...if one is lucky.... :)