The principal focus of our long overdue trip to Manipur and the spectacular Loktak lake was to see the endangered Sangai or Manipur Brow-antlered Deer (Rucervus eldii eldii). Our trip was made possible entirely due to our intrepid explorer friend Geetanjali Dhar who inspired us by her frequent visits to the state which we had assumed was unsafe for outsiders!
Literally everything in Manipur is named after the Sangai (“that which runs and turns-around to look at you”) and is clearly the state’s pride. Thought to be extinct in the 1950s but subsequently a tiny (<15) population was rediscovered. Today over 200 animals flourish in the Keibul Lamjao National Park in the southern end of the 250+ sq km lake. On the second morning of our stay near the lake, we climbed a small hillock overlooking the grassland pre-dawn and waited to watch the spectacle of several rutting males displaying below us as the sun rose! It was absolutely magical! We even also saw a couple of fawns dancing!
The birdlife of Loktak, we discovered, was also significant. We found endangered and highly endemic grassland birds like the Jerdon’s Bushchat. While this bird is classified as “least concern”, for whatever reasons, it is an incredibly scare bird in India given its tall and lowland grassland habitat is practically gone from most of the Northeast. The only site where this bird is reliably seen is in Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in Assam. On this trip, while we were birding in Keibul Lamjao, we were thrilled to find this bird to be common on the southern edge of the massive Loktak lake, almost 600kms away from Dibru-Saikhowa. Also seen were the equally scarce Black-breasted Parrotbill and Slender-billed Babbler. The area was also teeming with warblers. However, what was intriguing was the absence of birds like Swamp Prinia and Marsh Babbler which typically share similar habitat. This area definitely needs more serious bird surveys especially for grassland specialities.
In addition to Keibul Lamjao and other parts of the magnificient Loktak lake we also ventured to Moreh on the Myanmar border looking for plains specialities. We took a foray into Tamu in Myanmar (official crossing at the border). Tamu is a delightful little town that very conspicuously heralds your arrival in Southeast Asia!
Read more about Keibul Lamjao and the sangai here.
Post Manipur, Shashank and I made a 24-hour trip to Cherrapunji (Khasi hills) in Meghalaya (via Guwahati & Shillong) to see the Dark-rumped Swift and the Tawny-breasted Wren-babbler. The latter is probably the most threatened wren-babbler in the country given that its tiny range is ravaged by coal mining in these hills. The extent of mining in Meghalaya is mind-numbing and came as a complete shocker to me. A small pocket of evergreen forest held this pair and was surrounded by bare, completely mined out hills.