Between H for Hawk, Helen MacDonald’s memoir on dealing with her father’s death and training a goshawk, a birding trip to Roing and Mayodia in Arunachal Pradesh (and Dibrugarh and Digboi in Assam) last week, and this week’s cover story on the quest for the elusive Himalayan Quail, there’s been a surfeit of birds in my life.

Much of that has to do with my son, who picked up an interest in birds between the time he learned to read and the time he learned to write. I would have never known about the quail if not for him. I may still have read H for Hawk, but it is a book that has an extra layer for those into birds. And I would have definitely not made the trip to Arunachal (where our birding started at 4 in the morning—it meant waking up at least 30 minutes before—and ended at around 7 in the evening) if not for the boy for whom birding has long ceased to be a hobby. It can be called a passion but even that seems a bit of an understatement.

Arunachal was a revelation. Our housekeeper is from Pasighat, and every year when she takes her annual break, she adds a week to her expected day of return. “I should be back on 25, but it could take a week more depending on roads and ferries and the weather." I’ve often felt this to be a case of simply wanting to spend more time at home.

The first sign that this might not be the case came two days before we were to travel, when Shashank Dalvi, a young biologist, naturalist and conservationist from Bengaluru who leads birding tours to the North-East, said we could have problems reaching our camp outside Roing because it had been raining and one of the bridges leading to it was under water.

The situation hadn’t changed when we landed in Dibrugarh airport and it was decided that we would spend an extra day at Roing in case we couldn’t cross the bridge.

And getting to Roing itself wasn’t easy. We drove out from Dibrugarh—after spending a day and a night there, mostly at Maghuri Bheel, a wetland where we did see the rare Jerdon’s Babbler—to a dirt track whose consistency was that of a treacle pudding (thanks to the rains) and reached the Brahmaputra, which we crossed by ferry (vehicle and all).

Too much rain and nothing moves on the road, we were told. What do you do then? I asked. Nothing, I was told. “You just wait." It rains through the year in Arunachal, although April and May are considered good months for birding. Dalvi says every 10-day birding trip to Arunachal should have three buffer days. For rain, when you can pretty much do nothing unless, like Dalvi, you are into frogs and snakes.

Some days, the driver told me, there are long queues for the ferry. There are enough ferries, though, of all sizes (although, irrespective of the size, all have an air of makeshiftness about them). We crossed the river on a ferry that could accommodate about two cars and a couple of dozen people.

There wasn’t much of a road on the other side, but whatever was there was better than a dirt track. We drove through rural Assam and eventually entered Arunachal.

Words, I thought to myself, were sometimes inadequate. “The North-East is cut-off," we say and write, but it isn’t till we travel there that we realize what cut-off means, or why my housekeeper is never sure of her return date, or why people in Arunachal, when asked whether it will be possible to get from point A to point B in X hours simply say: may be possible, may not be possible.

The trip itself was worth it. The only place to stay in Mayodia had no power (it is off the grid) and no connectivity and filthy sheets (we had carried sleeping bags, fortunately), but the first night was clear and sitting on the terrace of the run-down structure we stayed in, I saw the Milky Way in all its glory. As for the birds, there were many, including 57 species, several very rare, we had not seen before.

Among them was a Yellow-legged Buttonquail, not a threatened species, but shy and, as a result, difficult to spot. It isn’t a true quail, unlike the still-missing protagonist of this week’s big story, the Himalayan Quail.

R. Sukumar is editor, Mint.

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