Birds of the eastern Himalaya

The forests and hills of Arunachal Pradesh support a wide variety of birds, but altitudinal and climatic variations can make birdwatching and bird photography tough.

IF you want the best, rough it out. That seems to be the personal motto of the bird photographer Jainy Maria Kuriakose. Arunachal Pradesh is her stamping ground. Why? “The hills, valleys and meadows are filled with birdlife. I never miss a chance to go there.”

In 2016, she travelled from West Kameng district to Sela Pass, the mountain road that connects the remote Tawang district to the rest of Arunachal Pradesh, to see the snow partridge (Lerwa lerwa), a bird that had fascinated her for a long time. The climate was very harsh. Low oxygen levels at high altitudes can take the breath out of anyone. For Jainy Kuriakose, the strain was even more because she always carries her Canon 1Dx and a Canon 500 mm camera, weighing seven kilograms, herself when she is out on her photo shoots.

“There was snow fall throughout the journey to Sela Pass. Driving on those roads can be risky. Only an expert driver can go forward through the blinding snowdrift,” she said. When they reached the pass at an altitude of 13,000 feet (3,962 metres), the snow partridge was nowhere in sight. Of course, birds do not wait for a birder to arrive. It is by chance that one gets to sight them. Jainy Kuriakose was as determined as ever to spot it. She waited for more than eight hours in the cold weather with the camera in hand and her guide, Rofikul Islam, by her side. Although the snow partridge is distributed widely in the high altitudes, its brown-and-white plumage provides a perfect camouflage, making it difficult to spot among the rocks where it forages.

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