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Southwest India - Endemics and specialties of Western Ghats: February 13 - 28, 2003,
Kolbjørn and Kjetil Schjølberg
This trip aimed at seeing all Western Ghats endemics, as well as a number of endemics of the Indian Subcontinent. Kolbjørn (KS) had previously visited Sri Lanka, but this was our first trip to India. We planned our itinerary solely using the eminent guide book, and opted for a loop starting in Cochin, driving northwards along the Ghats, then to Mysore and back along the coast to Cochin - the latter for touristy purpose. We figured this loop had the potential to give all our target species. We found three endemics on localities not described in the book - these are illustrated by detailed figures1, 2 and 3 below. We pre-hired car, with a driver who fortunately proved familiar with the Ghats, so we never had any problems to find the right locations. However, a trip like this can be condensed if you're time limited - see our suggested 8-day 'Western Ghat endemics only itinerary'.
In total, we had 59 target species, which were
(1) 20 endemics of the Western Ghats:
Grey Junglefowl, Nilgiri Wood-Pigeon, Malabar Parakeet, Malabar Grey Hornbill, White-cheeked Barbet, Malabar Lark, Nilgiri Pipit, Grey-headed Bulbul, Yellow-throated Bulbul, Malabar Whistling-Thrush, White-bellied Shortwing, Broad-tailed Grassbird, Black-and-rufous (-orange) Flycatcher, Nilgiri Flycatcher, White-bellied Blue-Flycatcher, Wynaad Laughingthrush, Rufous-breasted (Nilgiri) Laughingthrush, Grey-breasted Laughingthrush, Rufous Babbler and White-bellied Treepie.
We only missed the White-bellied Blue-Flycatcher.
(2) 35 endemics of the Indian Subcontinent:
Jungle Bush-Quail, Painted Bush-Quail, Red Spurfowl, Indian Peafowl, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Plum-headed Parakeet, Blue-faced Malkoha, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) Frogmouth, Jerdon's Nightjar, Indian Swiftlet, Malabar Trogon, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Crimson-fronted Barbet, Brown-capped Woodpecker, White-naped Woodpecker, Indian Pitta, Indian Bushlark, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Hill Swallow, White-browed Wagtail, White-browed Bulbul, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Ashy Prinia, Kashmir Flycatcher, Spot-breasted Fantail, Indian Scimitar-Babbler, Tawny-bellied Babbler, Dark-fronted Babbler, Jungle Babbler, Yellow-billed Babbler, Black-lored Tit, Purple-rumped (Loten's) Sunbird, Crimson-backed Sunbird, White-bellied Drongo and Black-throated Munia.
We saw 31 of these, and missed out on the Malabar Pied Hornbill, White-naped Woodpecker, Kashmir Flycatcher and Black-throated Munia.
(3) 4 "others":
Jungle Owlet, Rufous-winged (Jerdon's) Bushlark, White-bellied Minivet and Brown-breasted Flycatcher. Of these, we only got the Owlet.
13.02: Oman Air flight departing Muscat at 00:40, arrival Cochin 05:50. Started the drive to Periyar at 07:10, where we arrived 12:00.
14.02: Periyar, including trek and night walk.
15.02: Morning at Forbay Dam, before proceeding to Bodi Ghat. Overnight in Munnar.
16.02: Munnar, including Rajamalai, Cardamom Estate and surroundings.
17.02: Munnar; morning outside town, before drive through Chinnar WLS to Parambikulam WLS.
18.02: Parambikulam WLS.
19.02: Parambikulam WLS, drive past towns of Pollachi and Coimbature, and arrived Ooty at 19:00.
20.02: Ooty, including Cairnhill Forest and Muthorai.
21.02: Ooty; relaxed day at Cairnhill Forest.
22.02: Morning drive from Ooty down Sighur Ghat to Mudumalai.
24.02: Morning drive from Mudumalai to Mysore and Ranganathittu. Departed Mysore for an evening drive to Calicut where we arrived 20:30.
25.02: Morning drive to Cochin and Thattekkad.
26.02: Thattekkad with a good morning's birding, evening drive to Munnar.
27.02: Munnar; Cardamom Estate; noon drive back to Cochin.
28.02: Departure Cochin 07:30, arrival Muscat 10:00.
Required at least for our Norwegian passports and I believe most other nationalities. It was easily obtained at the Indian embassies in Oman (KS) and Norway (Kjetil; KJS), and we did this well in advance of travel.
We pre-hired car with driver through United Travel in Oman. Their travel agent contact in Cochin was Consortium Tours of India. They provided an air-conditioned 2000-model Ambassador 2.0 DSL, which has the classic Morris Oxford chassis, and was for us essential to get the right Indian feel to our trip. We paid them cash upon arrival. Charge was Rps. 1,500/- a day (1 US$ = Rps. 47.00). This included 200 km a day (which proved more than enough), diesel, oil and all maintenance. Fuel is reasonable - we noted prizes of Rps. 33.58 / liter for petrol, and 21.52 / liter for diesel in Coimbature on the 19/2. We negotiated Rps. 700/- for the last day of rental. In addition, we paid Rps. 100/- a day to the driver, for food and accommodation, as we went along. We had no restrictions or extra costs for number of hours of driving, night driving or night fees, in case we should wish for that. However, toll roads and state border check-post fees we had to pay ourselves, but this was quite negligible.
The driver, Sunil Kumar, proved excellent, and we have no problems recommending him for hard-core birdwatching trips. He likes long drives, night drives included, and was very accommodating for our stop-and-go birding.
Self-drive is apparently available in Kerala, but we got quoted a lot more for that, and we suspect it could be a problem at some state border posts regarding insurance. Besides, if there is one country it pays off renting car with driver - India is it.
Accommodation and food
We brought along with us 40 kg of supplies; mostly canned food, muesli, mineral water, long-life milk, isotonic drinks and energy muesli bars. This lasted a full week, and proved invaluable, as often we found ourselves far from what we considered "safe" food outlets, and more important, avoided any stomach upsets whatsoever. At Periyar we had a daily dinner at our hotel and at Parambikulam we added locally made fresh japatis to our canned food. At Ooty where we stayed in the hunting lodge of the Maharaja of Mysore, we lived almost like a Maharaja with superb cuisine. Jungle Hut at Mudumalai provides impeccable delicious dishes as well - but served water bottles with broken seals only.. In Thattekkad you can have a simple dish together with the family who rents out the huts.
We never pre-booked any accommodation - in most (all) places it is readily available in whatever price range that suit you. However in high season it would be beneficial to pre-book sites such as Mudumalai.
Note that some hotels might offer a good discount if you say you do not want receipt.
Also, Indian bureaucracy is still holding on to the 'Foreign Treaty' which the Brits introduced ages ago - back then intended to control foreigners. Today it forces you to fill a detailed form at any establishment you stay, and adds a bit to the hassle-factor.
Health: Hazards, safety and precautions
We followed Shell's internal guidelines. Major health hazards are listed as
· other insect born diseases
· food and drink born diseases
· road traffic accidents.
Vaccinations required, are:
· Hepatitis A
· Hepatitis B
· Typhoid, Jap B Encephalitis (only in rural areas of stay longer than 2 weeks)
· BCG (children < 12 years).
· A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travelers over 6 months of age coming from infected areas.
Malaria prophylaxis is recommended for visits anywhere in the country of altitudes < 2000 m. Recommended for southern India is a combination of Paludrine + Chloroquine (which we used), but short-term visitors can also use Malarone.
It is best to check with your health ministry for any updates or changes to the above.
Road-traffic accidents: A very serious treath. Calicut Road which is the main highway between Calicut and Chenai was real bad - we came across three fatal accidents there, plus a school bus full of children nearly having to swerve off the road to avoid crashing with an overtaking bus - my heart literally stopped watching it, but fortunately none got injured. Do NOT hesitate asking your driver to slow down; fortunately our driver Sunil Kumar was courteous as well as skilled, and the few times he went overboard, we let him know.
Wild animals: Avoid elephants for ANY price, particularly lone males. At Mudumalai, we were told of a male that had killed nearly 20 humans! And we birded unknowingly in that explicit area.. KJS read in the newspaper a week later that it had killed a further 6 men in one week alone - simply unbelievable. On two occasions we had to run for our lives to escape agitated elephants (Periyar, Mudumalai).
Also, while birding in the area where the killing elephant was, while looking for Bush-Quails, I heard something inside a bush, sneaked up .... and got confronted with a LARGE King Cobra, thick as my arm. It was rather scary, particularly when you're all geared up for a sweet quail.
In addition, same place, on "illegal" trekking we almost walked straight into a Tiger, which at less than 10 m range was sensible enough to discard the Norwegian menu of the day. I guess we had more luck than common sense.
The bandit Virapan.
Virapan is a famous bandit roaming the Mudumalai triangle border area of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. During our visit there were "Wanted" posters everywhere with a staggering 5.5 Crore (= US$ 11.7 mill) in reward for finding him!!!! However - Virapan is the local Robin Hood, with lots (all??) of his revenue going back to the villagers in terms of schooling, food and medicines. Hence he is highly regarded as a savior among the village populations. So capturing the culprit becomes a very difficult task, as he receives shelter and hides, turning into an innocent villager. One place we even got a sneak look at a framed picture of the culprit - showed to us with a great deal of respect by the owner of it. It pictured a rank looking man with an impressive mustache, single-shot rifle and no sandals - his trademark.
Virapan started in the small with sandal wood smuggling - we heard stories of people waking up in the morning suddenly missing a sandal tree in their garden. He added to that business by poaching elephants for ivory. Eventually, it escalated to kidnapping for ransom, which turned real nasty at one occasion where a high-ranking politician got killed in a police shoot-out. Once he and his pack snatched a hot Bollywood star, eventually receiving millions in ransom for her.
Before we arrived at Mudumalai, while at Parambikulam, we got simply scared to death going there, hearing fantastic escalated stories of this man, "having killed 2,000 elephants and 500 police officers"! But any story, going from one to the other, grows in size. So the real extent is a lot less, however no less serious, as several policemen have been killed in various shoot-outs. If we met him? Almost! Maybe did we see him and the pack! See the "Mudumalai" chapter for details of what we experienced!
Our experiences at a glance:
A successful, pleasant, incident- and hassle-free trip without any problems at all.
On the lowland western (ocean)-side of the Ghats, the weather was warm reaching mid-thirties C and humid, and during our last day only, heavy rain showers. This is a lush evergreen area, in stark contrast with the rain-starved eastern side of Top Slip / Parambikulam and Munnar - the forests there resembled a late November forest in Scandinavia - no leaves on the trees, and not a drop of rain for months. However, around the immediate vicinity of the river, there were green thickets and bamboo. The hill-stations such as Ooty were down to freezing at night, and pleasant 20s during day.
Indian rupi (Rps). We preferred traveling with cash and changed US$ 900 upon arrival at the airport. Exchange rate was 47.00. This was extravaganza and more than enough to cover any daily costs.
Rps. 100,000 = 1 lakh. 1 Crore = 100 lakh.
Guide-book used for all planning and getting around:
"A birdwatchers' guide to India" ( Krys Kazmierczak & Raj Singh). Prion Ltd. Bird Watchers Guide series, 1998. ISBN 1-871104-08-4
"Pocket guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent" (R. Grimmett, C. Inskipp, T. Inskipp). Oxford. 1999. ISBN 0-195651-55-3
Armchair nomenclature tried adapted in this report's species lists below:
"Birds of the World: A Checklist" (James F. Clements). Pica Press Sussex. Fifth edition, 2000. ISBN 1-873403-93-3
Optics we used
Zeiss 7x42 TP (KS), Leica 10x32 (KJS), Leica APO televid 32x WA scope.
Suggested itinerary for birders aimed at seeing Western Ghats endemics only:
Day 1: Morning drive from Cochin on NH 49 direction Munnar. Stop on route at the Grey-headed Bulbul site. Proceed to Bodi Ghat (late morning/noon).Evening at Cardamom Estate, Munnar, for Nilgiri Wood-Pigeon.
Day 2: Munnar area; Broad-tailed Grassbird and Nilgiri Pipit.Optional afternoon at Rajamalai (closed Jan 10 - 28).Afternoon / evening drive to Top Slip / Parambikulam WLS.
Day 3: Top Slip / Parambikulam WLS.
Day 4: Top Slip / Parambikulam WLS, noon drive to Ooty. Evening at Cairnhill Forest.
Day 5: Ooty, morning at Cairnhill Forest. Noon drive down Sighur Ghat to Mudumalai; bird the stretch between Jain Resort to Mavanhalla.
Day 6: Mudumalai.
Day 7: Mudumalai; late morning drive back to Cochin and Thattekkad.
Day 8: Thattekkad.
PERIYAR 13 - 15.02.2003
Highlights for us: Common endemics, plus Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Brown Hawk-Owl, Grey Nightjar, Great Hornbill.
This is a back-packer's paradise, located 870 meters above sea level in the Idukki District of Kerala, just 4 km from the town of Kumily. For birding, it turned out to be a non-essential stop - however arriving from a desert country; we did enjoy the picturesque location and semi-evergreen forest. Upon arrival at noon 13/2 we rented an air-conditioned chalet with a view at the Ambadi Hotel for two nights, at a cost of Rps. 860/- per night. We found it to give excellent value for money. A good dinner for two came around Rps. 225/-.
We birded the "Periyar Tiger Reserve", with an entrance fee at Rps. 50/- per person per day. Strolling the 3 km from the entrance gate to the boat jetty is quite pleasant and offers reasonable birding. However it is illegal trekking off the main road without a guide. Mr. Girish Kumar at The Nature Shop, who is recommended in the guide book, turned out to be a real time-waster: First of all he was never really helpful with information, and after negotiations we made an appointment for 07:00 the next morning the 14th - but he never turned up. Instead, we had no choice but to go with a non-birding guide from the "Information Center" at the boat jetty. The walk lasted 07:30 - 12:00, and was in reality a touristic stroll through the dry forest. Except for a close encounter with a lone male Elephant and subsequent "run-for-your-life" through the jungle, we did not see a lot. The eastern side of the river which according to the guidebook seems more interesting was unfortunately closed for tourists during our visit.
There is also a marsh area located between the village and the park entrance - this has some potential; we saw Baillon's Crake, Watercock and Pintail Snipe there.
There are also nightwalks - inquire with the Nature Shop; they directed us to a tiny shop nearby where we booked and paid. This costs a whopping Rps. 1,000/- for two, but we regarded it well worth, since it was a long walk, from 19:00 - 22:00, through varied habitat, with the potential for some good species as a result.
Detailed species list, Periyar 13-15.02.2003:
(Mainly observations along the road from the entry gate to the jetty, which we walked three times. Numbers given are maximum numbers recorded in a day).
Little Cormorant 3
Great Cormorant 2
Oriental Darter 2
Grey Heron 1 ad
Indian Pond Heron 100
Intermediate Egret 2
Wooly-necked Stork 3
Brahminy Kite 2 ad
Accipiter sp. 1
Oriental Honey-Buzzard 3 incl. 1 dark morph
Mountain Hawk-Eagle 1 during trek 14/2
Montagu's Harrier 1 ad M
Painted Spurfowl? 1 flushed; unfortunately no firm id established.
Grey Junglefowl two groups; 1 M + 5 F and 2 F with 1 pullus
Baillon's Crake 1 ad in the march between Ambadi and park gate.
White-breasted Waterhen 2; as the other waterbirds; in the marsh area.
Pheasant-tailed Jacana 1 ad
Red-wattled Lapwing 3
Green Sandpiper 1
Common Sandpiper 1
Pintail Snipe 2
Pompadour Green-Pigeon 10 (M + F)
Spotted Dove 20
Plum-headed Parakeet 2 M
Malabar Parakeet 50
Vernal Hanging-Parrot 15
Common Hawk-Cuckoo 3
Asian Koel 6
Greater Coucal 5
Lesser Coucal 2
Jungle Owlet ssp. malabaricum 1 seen on daytime roost
Brown Hawk Owl 2 heard and seen well during nightwalk 14.02
Grey ("Jungle") Nightjar 1 seen well during nightwalk 14.02
Brown-backed Needletail 1
Asian Palm Swift 2
Malabar Trogon 1 M during trek 14/2
Pied Kingfisher 3
Common Kingfisher 2
Stork-billed Kingfisher ssp. capensis 1
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater 5
Malabar Grey Hornbill 20
Great Hornbill 1 seen from the jetty
White-cheeked Barbet 75
Crimson-fronted Barbet ssp. malabarica 10
Lesser Yellownape 1 F
Black-rumped Flameback 2 (of which 1 M)
Common Flameback 4 M
Greater Flameback 5
Heart-spotted Woodpecker 6
Barn Swallow 50
Red-rumped Swallow ssp. nipalensis 20
Large pipit sp 1
Grey Wagtail 10
Forest Wagtail 1
Brown Shrike 1 ad + 1 imm
Golden Oriole 2 F / imm
Black Drongo 15
Bronzed Drongo 1
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo 20
Chestnut-tailed Starling 15
Jungle Myna 100
Hill Myna 25 (incl. 1 pair at nest)
Rufous Treepie 2
White-bellied Treepie 8
House Crow 25
Large Woodshrike 6
Large Cuckooshrike 2
Scarlet Minivet 25
Small Minivet? 1 M
Golden-fronted Leafbird ssp. frontalis 1
Asian Fairy-Bluebird 1 F
Red-whiskered Bulbul 20
Yellow-browed Bulbul 3
Jungle Babbler 40
Brown-cheeked Fulvetta 2
Asian Brown Flycatcher 1
Common Tailorbird 6
Thick-billed Warbler 1
Blyth's Reed Warbler 6 (incl. 1 in song)
Greenish Warbler 25
Oriental Magpie-Robin 10
Malabar Whistling-Thrush1 during trek 14/2
Great Tit 5
Black-lored Tit 3
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch 15
White-browed Wagtail 2 ad
Plain Flowerpecker 10
Long-billed ("Loten's") Sunbird 2 M + 3 F
Purple-rumped Sunbird 1 M + 1 F
Purple Sunbird 2 M
Elephant 1 lone male + group of 3 with 2 young
Flying Squirrel 1
Wild Boar 1
Sambar deer 2
BODI GHAT 15.02.2003
Highlights: Yellow-throated Bulbul, Hume's Warbler.
From Periyar, we passed by Forbay Dam without seeing anything new, then on to Bodi Ghat. We arrived at the state border (unmanned, during our visit) Bodimettu from the west side, located at the top of the mountain (ghat). From there is a beautiful view out over the plains of Tamil Nadu to the east. From the gate we drove exactly 6 km down the winding road in the direction of Tamil Nadu, where we stopped and walked another 4 km down; from 14:00 to 16:50. And, it was there at about 10 km from the gate we encountered our only two Yellow-throated Bulbuls - skulking in a roadside bush, but yielding fantastic scope views. The plumage was a bit worn, with the yellow tail band totally worn off on one individual, and just visible on the other. This somewhat dull-at-a-glance bulbul boosts a beautiful yellow throat and a yellow-green head, contrasting to the grey back and underside.
Another highlight was good and prolonged scope views of a Hume's Warbler (Phylloscopus humei), foraging in some trees below us. Just days prior to our departure from Oman, we had spent long time looking at one that wintered in my garden - a rare bird in Oman! So this provided us with an interesting opportunity to compare these two individuals. While the Oman bird had very clear white wingbars but literally no white edges to the tertials, this bird had the opposite configuration with wingbars almost totally worn off, but with clear white edges to tertials. Also, while the Oman bird showed a weak crown stripe, we could not see any indications of this feature on this Ghat bird. Otherwise, the overall pale and cold coloration, without bright yellow and green so typical for inornatus, as well as the call, were clear give-aways to the identification: A bit difficult to describe; a soft "tweet" or "twee-it", after listening to it for a quite a while in Oman side by side with Chiffchaff, I find the quality a bit reminiscent to a mellow Chiffchaff call - distinctly different from the inornatus upward-inflicting "tswee-iip".
Detailed species list, Bodi Ghat 15.02.2003:
Black-shouldered Kite 1
Black Eagle 1 ad
Spotted Dove ssp suratensis (with white-spotted back) 2
Vernal Hanging-Parrot 2
Greater Coucal 1 heard
Indian Swiftlet 3
Alpine Swift 4
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater 5
White-cheeked Barbet 1 seen, 15 heard
Crimson-fronted Barbet 2 seen, 3 heard
Woodpecker sp 1 heard drumming
Dusky Crag Martin 4
Red-rumped Swallow 50
Black Drongo 10
Black-headed Cuckooshrike 1 F
Common Iora 10 (some with a very dark green back; otherslooked black)
Orange-fronted Leafbird ssp frontalis 10
Black-crested Bulbul ssp gularis (red throat, no crest) 5
Red-whiskered Bulbul >200
Red-vented Bulbul max 10
Yellow-throated Bulbul 2
White-browed Bulbul 2
Tawny-bellied Babbler ssp albogularis 5 (ssp. with white throat contrasting to rufous underside).
Jungle Babbler? 3
Blyth's Reed Warbler >50
Hume's Warbler 1
Greenish Warbler >10
Plain Flowerpecker 1
Purple-rumped Sunbird 1 M
Oriental White-eye >10
Common Rosefinch 115
Snake sp. 1 large one in the road seen by KJS.
MUNNAR 15 - 16.02.2003
Highlights: common endemics, Painted Bush-Quail, Nilgiri Wood-Pigeon, Speckled Piculet, Nilgiri Pipit, Blue-capped Rock-Thrush, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Grey-breasted Laughingthrush, Malabar Whistling-Thrush, Tickell's Leaf-Warbler.
We arrived evening the 15th, and got a room at "Elysium Garden" (see Figure 1) which at Rps. 1,075/- was a bit overpriced given the quality of it. In addition, a local company held its annual staff party there, which went completely off the wall with wild loud screaming and the most insane dancing we've seen. However the restaurant's chicken curry with japati (Rps. 230/- for two) did its trick, and we managed to get a good nights sleep after all.
We set off the few kilometers to Rajamalai, enjoying smacking views of family groups of Painted Bush-Quails running across, and in front of, our car on the way up through the tea-plantation. This was also a great opportunity for our driver to finally stop for something else ("chicken") than one of the hundreds of bulbuls he spotted. We arrived at the gate 07:15, just to find it closed to tourists - from January 10 till February 28. The main reason appeared to be the Nilgiri Tahr (a large mountain goat) which had youngs. However, we had stunning views of a group of Grey-breasted Laughingthrushes. They showed a grey-black head and with the lower part of the grey breast delicately streaked white - we believe this must be the fairbanki ssp.
In addition, Nilgiri Flycatcher and a Tickell's Leaf Warbler near the gate. We identified the latter on a combination of striking yellow supercilium, yellow underside, as well as lack of any wingbars. Interestingly, we noted a group of four Velvet-fronted Nuthatches foraging small rock outcrops, in Wallcreeper-like fashion - the first time we've seen any Nuthatch performing like this.
A large pipit with a striking deep rufous unstreaked underside left us puzzled - we identified it as Long-billed Pipit, and we wonder what ssp it really was.
We were also fortunate enough to get distant scope-views of more than 20 Nilgiri Tahrs way up on the mountain.
We walked about 3 km down the access road that winds through the tea-plantation without seeing a lot, before returning to Munnar.
Rajamalai (from gate and 3 km downwards), Munnar, 16.02.2003 (07:10 - 09:50):
Black-shouldered Kite 1
Oriental Honey-Buzzard 1
Mountain Hawk-Eagle ? 1
Bonelli's Eagle 2
Black Eagle 1
Painted Bush-Quail 18 (incl. 3 M, 5 F and 4 juv)
Grey Junglefowl 2 M + 1 F
Greater Coucal 1 heard
Alpine Swift 30
White-cheeked Barbet 10 heard
Hill Swallow 3
Hill Myna 2
Red-whiskered Bulbul seen
Black Bulbul 10-12
Grey-breasted Laughingthrush ssp. fairbanki 12
Nilgiri Flycatcher 3 M + 2 F
Blyth's Reed Warbler >40
Tickell's Leaf Warbler 1
Greenish Warbler common
Black-lored Tit 3-4
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch 4
Long-billed Pipit 1
Grey Wagtail 10
Plain Flowerpecker 4
Oriental White-eye 20
Common Rosefinch 5
We continued to Cardamom Estate, just a few km outside of Munnar. A small patch of forest ("shola"; guide-book page 228 and our Figure 2) proved quite good, and we enjoyed a couple of hours with good birding, with great views of Blue-capped Rock Thrush. We also enjoyed views of a Speckled Piculet, as well as the pair of Malabar Whistling-Thrushes down by the dam. The grass-covered hills above looked very promising for Nilgiri Pipit, but unfortunately we had to abandon the attempt as while climbing the steep grass-covered hillside I got a seed with sharp edges painfully stuck to the inside of my eyelid. Fortunately KJS managed to roll my eyelid up, and remove it safely without any damage.
Cardamom Estate, Munnar 16.02.2003 (10:30 - 13, plus an hour before sunset):
Black-shouldered Kite 1
Nilgiri Wood Pigeon 4 (evening)
Plaintive (=Grey-bellied) Cuckoo 1 M
House Swift 15
White-throated Kingfisher 1
White-cheeked Barbet 2 seen 3 heard
Crimson-fronted Barbet 2 heard
Speckled Piculet 1
Dusky Crag Martin 4
Hill Swallow 10
Black Drongo 2
Ashy Drongo 1
Red-whiskered Bulbul seen
Yellow-browed Bulbul 1
Black Bulbul 4
Nilgiri Flycatcher 1 M
Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher 1
Plain Prinia 2
Blyth's Reed Warbler 5
Greenish Warbler seen
Blue-capped Rock Thrush 1 ad M + 1F
Malabar Whistling-Thrush 1 pair by the dam
Black-lored Tit 1
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch 1
Grey Wagtail 4
Plain Flowerpecker 2
Oriental White-eye 15
Common Rosefinch 5
We had lunch (chicken-curry and japati, Rps. 216/- for two) at "Restaurant Mathew's", then proceeded our search for other Nilgiri Pitit locations ("grassy slopes", according to the field guide). Our driver wanted to drive in the direction of Top Station, which sounded good to us. On route we passed some labourers doing asphalt road work, and it amazed us that our driver told us he also had been doing this before. We saw only women carrying real heavy loads of raw asphalt on their crooked backs, being guided by a couple of men; Sunil told us they would fetch some Rps. 50/- (that's a dollar) for a 10-hour working day. Bruce Springsteen's "Working on the highway" suddenly got a new dimension for us.
Well, after 10-15 km, we agreed to turn back and make
an attempt at one location we thought to be the best (see Figure 1). This was
a grass-covered hillside above a tea-plantation. Access is easy, on foot via
the winding road up the plantation, and from there another 4-500 meters steep
hike. And to our great satisfaction, we enjoyed views of a Nilgiri Pipit!
It was remarkably shy keeping low in the tall dense grass (site #1), but eventually
it sat on the lower part of a straw (almost as an Acrocephalus would have done
it) and later on a rock, allowing us fair to good views.
Figure 1: Location for Nilgiri Pipit, outside Munnar.
Being rather pleased, not to say ecstatic about our find, we returned to the Cardamom Estate location. Luck was still on our side as we found a total of 4 Nilgiri Wood Pigeon resting in the trees on the upper side of the shola (see Figure 2). But they were extremely shy, flushing off before we could get decent views, and settling within the canopy. However, we didn't give up and climbed around, and just as the sun set, we eventually got great scope views of one individual out in the open. What an end to a great day!
Returning to Munnar, we found shelter at the "S.N. Lodge" just on the outskirts of downtown some 200? m from turn-off to Top Station road, which at Rps. 650/- (without receipt) was good value for money. After a shower and fresh hot tea, we enjoyed dinner at a downtown busy backpackers' restaurant. KJS had his life's cheapest meal; a potato curry for Rps. 6/-. KS's chicken-curry for Rps. 105/- was also great. After some e-mail and phone calls, we settled in for the night.
Note that there appears to be a new accommodation available smack in the middle of the birdiest area - see Figure 2. By the time we were there, it was still under construction. This would be the definitive place to stay!
After a late start, we re-visited our Nilgiri Pipit place since we both fancy pipits; this time to find 4 or 5 or them further up the hillside, yielding prolonged studies as opposed to the skulking one from yesterday.
Main identification features on Nilgiri Pipit we noticed:
- Plain whitish throat and cheek, creating a striking "open" facial expression without any notable moustachial stripe or malar streak - the only "open-faced" pipit we could think of is the Sprague's Pipit.
- White supercilium shaped as a "half moon" above eye, short and tapered off just behind eye.
- Back boldly streaked grayish / black, with an olive tone to flight feathers.
- Finely streaked below.
- Interesting call, a whistling / fluting "myyyyyy" (while sitting on a rock); while on take-off a Meadow Pipit-type flight call "pist-pist".
- Song reminiscent of Rock Pipit; an ascending "tsit-tsit-tsit-tsit-tsit."
- Flushed typically on 1 - 2 m range only; rarely flew far before settling.
However in the tea-plantation we noticed workers wearing rubber-suits spraying insecticide - and the breeding pair of Pied Bushchats we saw yesterday, was not looking very healthy at all. In "Oriental Bird Club Bulletin" number 37 (June 2003) page 72 there is a referral to a large number of birds killed by insecticide at a tea estate in China.
Nilgiri Pipit-place (see Figure 1), Munnar 16. (afternoon) + 17.02.2003 (morning):
Black-shouldered Kite 1
Spotted Dove 2
White-cheeked Barbet 2 heard
Black Drongo 2
Pied Bushchat 1 breeding pair
Grey-breasted Laughingthrush 2
Nilgiri Flycatcher 1 M singing
Nilgiri Pipit 1 16/2, 4-5 17/2
Paddyfield Pipit 3
Golden-headed (=Bright-headed) Cisticola ssp erythrocephala 2; male in breeding plumage with a distinct unstreaked rufous neck and a black cap.
Plain Prinia 4
Blyth's Reed Warbler 5
Greenish Warbler few seen
Blue Rock Thrush 1 M 17/2 of the blue ssp. I'm used to from Oman
Oriental White-eye 2
Being rather pleased about the pipits, we set off for Top Slip. We drove through Chinnar WLS on route; this was a vast inhibited wilderness area that looked to have quite some birding potential. We stopped a couple of places for roadside birding, but in mid-day 36 degree Celsius it was limited what was to be seen:
Chinnar WLS (roadside, mid day), 17.02.2003
Blue-faced Malkoha 1
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater 2
White-cheeked Barbet 1
Coppersmith Barbet 1
Bay-backed Shrike 4 ad
White-bellied Drongo 1
Common Woodshrike 1
Common Iora 1 M
Black Bulbul 1
Red-vented Bulbul 25
Greenish Warbler >2
Thick-billed Flowerpecker 1
Yellow-throated Sparrow 2 seen + 1 heard
Continuing our journey in the backseat of the Ambassador, we cruised the plains of Tamil Nadu with Hindi music blasting out the windows. The Anamalais; the mountain range that form the Western Ghats on the Tamil Nadu side, framed the scenery. Drought had caused havoc this season, and we read from newspapers that compensation was being paid to thousands of affected farmers.
Passing the village of Anamalai we stopped by a fairly large road-side farm pond:
Roadside pond in the village of Anamalai, and surroundings, 17.02.2003
Little Grebe 11
Indian Pond Heron 1
Cattle Egret 4
Brahminy Kite 1
Bonelli's Eagle 1 overhead
Booted Eagle 2 beautiful dark morphs soaring overhead the main check post, provided distraction from bureaucracy.
Asian Palm Swift 2
Little Green Bee-eater 1
Indian Roller 4
Yellow Wagtail >60 on some farmlands 5-10 km outside of
Anamalai; we were too stressed to get to Top Slip to
consider study for ssp. identification.
Common Myna 10
House Sparrow 1 M + 1 F
Approaching Top Slip, we started fantasizing about Wynaad Laughingthrushes - until landing on our feet in disbelief, when we were met by an iron gate with a large "Closed" sign! This was not according to our plan at all! We rushed back the few kilometers to the village of Anamalai, and made a phone call to the "Office of the Wildlife Warden" in Pollachi. Indeed, they could confirm the closure, which was due to drought with the ground-water reservoir approaching a critical low level. We literally saw the Wynaad Laughingthrush disappearing with angels' wings in front of us. However, the Warden still on the phone, asked me why not go to Parambikulam instead? We hadn't even considered that. The real funny thing about it is that to get there, one has to pass Top Slip - me aning there was still hope!
We rushed back to the gate, and this time around told the gate warden we were going to Parambikulam. Sure enough, Rps. 20/- each later, he opened the gate and off we went!
PARAMBIKULAM 17 - 19.02.2003
Highlights: Common endemics, Grey-headed Fish-Eagle, Red Spurfowl, Jerdon's Nightjar, Great Eared Nightjar, Orange-headed Thrush, Wynaad Laughingthrush, Indian Pitta. Good for woodpeckers as well.
We passed another check post at Top Slip (Rps. 10/-), and the third one, Anapaddy Check Post, a few kilometer down the road at the Kerala border. There we had to pay Rps. 50/- entry per person per day, plus 10/- for the car. Shortly thereafter we reached Anapaddy HQ and "Office of the Wildlife Warden" for Parambikulam WLS. If any place proves deceptive with forlorn demeanor, well this is it. The dried-out, leaf-less winter-looking forest didn't make it any better. However, we were in the park, with accommodation, and that mattered most. Speaking of the latter, as the only guests we got assigned foldable presswood tables (!) as beds in a huge, very hot and dusty dormitory that easily could accommodate fifty. There were large loud fans in the roof and no ac. Sanitary conditions were basic, but ok since we were privileged to use a small amount of rationed water to get a shower. We got charged a reasonable Rps. 80/- for two - however paying was not a simple operation: We tried at the local office; upon entering we faced a dim, very quiet atmosphere with silence only broken by clerks doing bookkeeping - and there were books and documents everywhere, from floor till ceiling. We were told we only could pay at another office 10 km away, situated opposite the bridge across the large dam - and we had to pay it today! So to settle the formalities we set off conveniently after sunset, enjoying the views of several singing Jerdon's Nightjars on route, including one on the way back that had collided with the overhead electricity wire and appeared quite ill and in distress.
Back at HQ they had a basic kitchen, where they heated our canned food supplemented with freshly made japatis (Rps. 36/-). Enjoying this gourmet at their rooftop sitting area was excellent, and definitely the way to enjoy the place.
But resting in the humid and hot dormitory, on wooden tables, was not great at all.
Set off early direction of Top Slip. There, 700 m from Top Slip itself at 07:45, we encountered a group of noisy birds, in stands of healthy green tall bamboo on our right hand side. We jumped out of the Ambassadour before it came to a halt, got the bins up, and after some nerve-racking minutes we franticly spotted at least 20 Wynaad Laughingthrushes together with 15 Jungle Babblers! We followed the flock for about 100 meters, and enjoyed excellent scope views.
Digesting our accomplishment over a muesli breakfast, we set off for a 4 km walk (and back) from Anapaddy HQ to the dam (referred to as "the lake" in species list below); direction of Parambikulam. It appeared that movement on foot was restricted in the park, but the warden allowed us to stroll along the road - however not off it. We were on the other hand vigilant for the ever-present danger of elephants, which were said to be common. It heated up to over 30 degree Celsius, but birding was good with our first black-and-white cheeked cyanotus ssp Orange-headed Thrushes, a superbly performing Grey-headed Fish-Eagle soaring at great height and calling, as well as a roadside Indian Pitta happily hopping along.
Following this walk we wimped out and returned to Anamalai village to stock up on fresh fruits, drinks and sweets. It also paid off bird-wise, since we saw our only Rufous Babblers during this trip! But it was a brief and unsatisfactory sighting.
Being in further need of some change of scenery, we decided to drive to Parambikulam village some 15-20 km further in the park. We were recommended from Anapaddy HQ to rent a room at "Bison Valley Lodge". So we drove to the wildlife officer on duty in Parabikulam village - his office is situated on the right hand side just after the market "square". He was a most serious gentleman dressed in impeccable uniform, and did the required rent-a-room-for-the-night paperwork with a BIC-type ballpark pen with a huge Peafowl feather attached on top. When calling his colleague over at Bison Valley Lodge, he did so over walkie-talkie by announcing in a most serious voice, "Eagle 2, Eagle 2, this is Eagle 1 over".
We backtracked 4-500 m to the "lodge" - a very much run-down road-side hut with shattered doors and broken windows, for Rps. 300/-. However given the experience of renting it, 300 was a bargain!
Yet another tossing and turning, half sleepless night. However a bonus was the after-sunset drive we did (albeit possibly not allowed to do so), giving us great scope views of a singing Great Eared Nightjar that was perched in a tree-top.
We started again red-eyed at 07:30 for a 7 km walk along the road back to Anapaddy. Best bird for us was good views of Red Spurfowl.
We stopped at Anapaddy for a last relaxing moment in their rooftop restaurant - with, as you guessed, our heated canned food with fresh japatis. We studied an oddly-looking female/immature Red-throated Flycatcher that we tried to twitch into a Kashmir, but our senses concluded it must have been a normal Red-throated.
We left the park at about 12 noon.
Detailed species list, Parambikulam WLS, 17. - 19.02.2003
Indian Pond Heron 2 at the lake 18/2
Great Egret 1 at the lake 18/2
Egret sp 5 at the lake 18/2 proved very intriguing indeed. The bill had a decurved upper mandible, with the inner half being light grey color. Bill structure reminded much of a Reef Egret sp. - however the habitat was certainly wrong. The green toes combined with dark legs pointed on the contrary towards Little Egret. We contemplated Chinese Egret, but had to give up in the end. We're very used to both Little and Western Reef Egrets from Oman, which is a very easy id indeed.
Black Stork 3 ad at the same location; if not a rarity at least an unusual sighting.
Oriental Honey-Buzzard 2 smart-looking dark morph and 1 light morph 18/2
Brahminy Kite 2, on the 18/2 and 19/2
Grey-headed Fish-eagle 1 soaring / calling at great height, near the lake 18/2
Red Spurfowl ssp. stewarti 1 M + 1ind, finally got superb views of a male, roadside some 3 km out of Parambikulam 19/2.
Grey Junglefowl 2 M 18/2
Red-wattled Lapwing 2 by the lake 18/2
Green Sandpiper 1 by the lake 18/2
Pompadour Green Pigeon 1 pair 19/2
Spotted Dove >10 18/2, plus 4 on the 19/2
Plum-headed Parakeet >20 incl. a pair at nest-hole in a tree 18/2, plus 1 pair 19/2.
Malabar Parakeet 1 18/2, plus 20 19/2
Vernal Hanging-Parrot 1 seen + 3 heard 18/2, plus 5 heard 19/2
Common Hawk-Cuckoo 3 heard 18/2, plus 5 heard 19/2
Grey-bellied Cuckoo 1 M seen very well while he was foraging the lakeside mud(!) 18/2
Blue-faced Malkoha 2 18/2, plus 2 19/2
Greater Coucal 6 seen + 4 heard 18/2
Jungle Owlet a nice red-brown morph, on day roost just out of
Great Eared Nightjar 1 perched in a tree-top, calling, about 1 km out of
Parambikulam direction of Anapaddy, 18/2
Spotlighted and seen very well thanks to the Leica
Jerdon's Nightjar 3 seen + 1 heard, between Anapaddy and lake 18/2
Indian Swiftlet 15 18/2
Crested Treeswift 1 F 18/2, plus 1 M and 1 F 19/2
White-throated Kingfisher 3 18/2, plus 1 19/2
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater 2 18/2, plus 2 19/2
Little Green Bee-eater 1 18/2
Indian Roller 9, incl. 2 nesting pairs in tree-holes Anapaddy
Hoopoe 1 18/2
Malabar Grey Hornbill 1 18/2, plus 3 19/2
White-cheeked Barbet 5 18/2, >31 19/2
Crimson-fronted Barbet 1 19/2
Black-rumped Flameback up to 20 18/2, plus 3 19/2
Common Flameback 2 18/2
Greater Flameback 3 M +1 F 19/2
Yellow-crowned Woodpecker 1 pair near Anapaddy 18/2
Brown-capped Woodpecker 1 M + 1 F 18/2
Heart-spotted Woodpecker 1 18/2, plus 2 19/2
Indian Pitta 1 seen roadside opposite the lake 18/2
Red-rumped Swallow 30 18/2
Paddyfield Pipit 4 18/2
Grey Wagtail 3 18/2
Brown Shrike 1 ad 18/2, plus 3ind. 19/2
Golden Oriole 1 M 18/2, 2 M + 2 F + 1 imm 19/2
Black-naped Oriole 2 M + 1 imm 19/2
Black-hooded Oriole 1 pair + 3 ind 18/2, 3 M 19/2
Black Drongo 50 18/2, plus 10 19/2
White-bellied Drongo 6 18/2
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo 10 18/2, plus 15 19/2
Chestnut-tailed Starling 20 19/2, plus 1 19/2
Common Myna 50 incl. 1 pair at nest-hole in tree 19/2, plus 9 19/2
Hill Myna 2 18/2, plus 2 19/2
Rufous Treepie 4 18/2, plus 6 19/2
White-bellied Treepie 2 18/2, plus 3 19/2
Large-billed Crow 30 18/2
Bar-winged Flycathcer-shrike 2 M 18/2, plus 1 pair 19/2
Large Woodshrike 20 18/2, plus 3 19/2
Common Woodshrike 2 17/2, plus 2 18/2
Large Cuckooshrike 2 M 18/2
Scarlet Minivet 15 18/2, plus 18 19/2
Small Minivet 20 18/2, plus 6 19/2
Common Iora 4 M + 1 F 18/2, plus 1 M 19/2
Golden-fronted Leafbird ssp. frontalis 20 M (!) 18/2 - where were the females?
Black-crested Bulbul ssp. gularis 3 19/2
Red-whiskered Bulbul 3 18/2, plus 2 19/2
Red-vented Bulbul 8 18/2, plus 1 19/2
Yellow-browed Bulbul 5 19/2
Puff-throated Babbler 1 seen by KJS 18/2
Indian Scimitar-Babbler 2 18/2, plus 2 19/2
Jungle Babbler 57 18/2, plus 10 19/2
Rufous Babbler 2; only KJS got decent views.
Wynaad Laughingthrush 20 18/2 some 700 m. from Top Slip direction Anapaddy, in roadside bamboo stands.
Asian Brown Flycatcher 10 18/2
Red-throated / Kashmir Flycatcher sp. 1 F at Anapaddy 18/2
Tickell's Blue Flycatcher 1 M 18/2, plus 4 M 19/2
Asian Paradise-Flycatcher 2 white M, 1 rufous M + 1F 18/2, 2 rufous M 19/2
Blyth's Reed Warbler 1 18/2, plus 5 19/2
Acrocephalus sp. 1 near the lakeside 18/2
Greenish Warbler 30 18/2, 5 19/2
Green Warbler (P. t. nitidus) 1 studied well near Anapaddy 17/2, showing clear
green-yellow plumage. Possibly 1 on the 19/2.
Oriental Magpie-Robin 3 18/2, plus 5 19/2
Malabar Whistling-Thrush 2 ad 18/2, plus 1 ad 19/2
Orange-headed Thrush ssp. cyanotus 1M 18/2, a handsome white/black-cheeked ssp.
Great Tit 7 18/2, plus 3 19/2
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch 5 18/2
Thick-billed Flowerpecker1 18/2
Plain Flowerpecker 1 18/2, plus 1 19/2
Purple-rumped Sunbird 2 M 18/2
Crimson-backed Sunbird 1 pair + 1 F 19/2
Purple Sunbird 3 M + 1 F 18/2, plus 1 pair + 1 M 19/2
Oriental White-eye 4 19/2
Elephant group of 4 near the road 19/2
OOTY 19 - 22.02.2003
Highlights: Black-and-rufous Flycatcher, Nilgiri Laughingthrush, mixed flocks of Phylloscopus, White-bellied Shortwing, nice ssp. of both Scaly Thrush and Blackbird.
We left Parambikulam WLS morning 19th, and drove past Pollachi and Coimbature - best roadside bird being two Shikras. In Coimbature is the RTO checkpost at the Kerala / Tamil Nadu border. From here it was 90 km to the hill station of Udhagamandalam or Ootacamund (you choose), better known as Ooty. This is via incredible mountain roads, winding its way up the steep evergreen lush hills to 2,200 m above sea level. We arrived around sunset at 7 pm. After stopping at an internet-café to send e-mails, we found superb accommodation at the "Hotel Regency Villa". Once the Hunting Lodge of the Maharaja of Mysore, it nowadays offers excellent old style accommodation for small money. We rented their second-largest "Deluxe" room, for Rps. 900/- a night. This is highly recommendable, and we had firewood (Rps. 65/-; hopefully not from Cairnhill Forest!) brought to the room at least twice daily. Great setting when combined with fresh tea and bird-talk. Dining was quite good as well. We preferred the chicken-curry and fish-curry, which with japatis came at Rps. 245/- for two.
However, we felt quite guilty with the driver sleeping in the car - it was after all close to freezing at night!
Woke early, and enjoyed some muesli with the last of the long-life milk, before strolling down the kilometer to Cairnhill Forest. It was a very pleasant 5 degree Centigrade, a treat for a Norwegian living in a desert country.
Cairnhill Forest is a remnant tract of high-land forest ("shola") surrounded by tea-plantations, eucalyptus and other cultivation. There is a chain across the entry-road to the forest, and during our visit we walked straight in without seeing anyone. However birders who were there in January 2004 got stopped twice by a warden, and was told they needed a permit that apparently was obtainable in Ooty. Since they had none they were told to leave - but fortunately still managed to get the birding done.
It offered us some splendid birding, which combined with our hotel certainly qualifies Ooty as an enjoyable place. Black-and-rufous Flycatcher certainly was a beautiful attraction! KJS was lucky to spot a Nilgiri Laughingthrush above my head which I missed! So the pressure was on..
Walked back to the hotel, for a good lunch - staying conservative; chicken-curry as well as fish-curry with japatis, tea and coke - Rps. 335/- for two. KJS delivered his shoes for cleaning, since Cairnhill, if you look away from the birds, is a crap place full of manure. Our shoes were full of it. I decided to clean my boots myself, but yakk! The small pond in Cairnhill is used by the locals for cleaning clothes (as far as we witnessed), and there was a dead blown-up dog floating around there as well. We met one friendly lady there, who was herding some sheep - she told us she was a teacher, but had sick-leave since she had contracted typhoid. No wonder. We later watched women collecting tea-leaves in the plantation that surrounds part of the forest - they were literally herded by a loudly yelling man. We were not quite sure to laugh or cry.
Later the same day we went for a cruise around Ooty, with the latest from Bollywood blasting out the windows of the Ambassador, and all three of us rocking away. We drove to the Muthhorai area, following the guide book, but without seeing anything noteworthy.
So we returned for an afternoon walk in Cairnhill, and Phylloscopus-lovers as we are, we had a ball: Imagine this mixed feeding-flock of Large-billed Leaf, Tickell's Leaf, Western Crowned and Greenish Warblers - great!
Then we found an "evening bath" in the tiny stream that runs through the shola - facing the tiny pond, we walked to the right, and then about 100 m up on the same side as where the pines are. Birds started to come in around 7 pm: Orange-headed Thrush, Blackbird, Scaly Thrush, B-and-R Fly, Great Tit, White-eyes, and then I was tremendously lucky to get a showering male White-bellied Shortwing in front of me - which KJS missed! Now he felt the pressure as well!
As it became dark, and all birdlife had gone to sleep, we returned to our hotel, this time enjoying grilled fish (Rps. 180/- for two) and fresh tea (Rps. 40/-).
Never giving up, dawn saw us in Cairnhill. And within an hour: Fantastic views for both of us, of Nilgiri Laughingthrush and White-bellied Shortwing. No more blockers, what a ball!
Rest of the day we relaxed at the hotel grounds with great food, relaxation and enjoyed re-reading our field notes and bird books.
Detailed species list, Ooty 20 - 21.02.2003
(RV = Regency Villa, CF = Cairnhill Forest, M = Muthorai)
Indian Pond Heron 3 near M 20/2
Black-shouldered Kite 1imm near RV 21/2
Black Kite 3 near M 20/2, plus 1 over RV 21/2
Brahminy Kite 1 near RV 21/2
Besra 1 seen by KJS in CF 20/2
Buzzard 3 near M 20/2; all with a prominent orange-rufous head, neck and underside. Wonder what ssp?
Pallid Harrier 1 imm near RV 21/2
Kestrel 1 near M 20/2
Green Sandpiper 1 near M 20/2
Common Sandpiper 1 near M 20/2
Feral Pigeon >100 resident in Ooty town
Spotted Dove 2 seen copulating CF 20/2, plus 5 at RV 20-21/2
Owl sp. 1 fresh-looking wing feather found in CF 20/2
Common Kingfisher 1 near RV 20/2
Hoopoe 3 of which 1 very vocal, near M 20/2
White-cheeked Barbet at least 3 singing CF 20-21/2
Greater Flameback 1 pair CF 21/2 - not lot of trees left for them there.
Barn Swallow 25 near M 20/2
Red-rumped Swallow 25 near M 20/2, a few seen around RV 20-21/2
Grey Wagtail 2 CF 20-21/2, 2 near RV 20-21/2 and 1 near M 20/2
Tree Pipit 2-3 on fields near M 20/2
Olive-backed Pipit 4 in CF early morning 21/2
Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike 1-2 singing in CF 20/2
Red-whiskered Bulbul >5 in CF 20-21/2, 10 RV 20-21/2, few near M 20/2
Black Bulbul 1 in CF 20/2
Indian Scimitar-Babbler 5-7 in CF 20-21/2
Rufous-breasted (=Nilgiri) Laughingthrush 4 seen by KJS in CF early morning 20/2, and 1 the same evening. 5 seen well in CF 21/2.
Black-and-orange Flycatcher 10 M+F in CF 20-21/2 incl. 5 bathing evening 20/2
Tickell's Blue Flycatcher 1 F in CF 20/2
Nilgiri Flycatcher 3 M in CF 20/2
Red-throated / Kashmir Flycatcher sp. 1 seen in flight by KJS 20/2 near the small pond - coincidentally a stake-out for Kashmir.
Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher 4-5 in CF 20-21/2
Spot-breasted Fantail 1-2 in CF 20/2, plus 1 near M 20/2
Plain Prinia 2 calling possibly near nest, at RV 20-21/2
Ashy Prinia 1 in CF 20-21/2
Blyth's Reed Warbler 2 in CF 20/2, 7+ around RV 20-21/2
Tickell's Leaf Warbler 10-15 in CF 20-21/2
Large-billed Leaf Warbler 1 in CF 20/2
Greenish Warbler 15-20 in CF 20-21/2, plus 2 around RV 20-21/2
Western Crowned Warbler 2 in CF 20/2
White-bellied Shortwing ssp. albiventris 1 ad came to bath in the small stream running through CF, evening 20/2. 1 ad seen well morning 21/2 by the small pond, and 1 pair (of which the male was singing, and acting very territorial) around the "summit" as one follows the path. All of the red-bellied ssp.
Indian Blue Robin 2 ad M, 1F, 1imm M, all in CF 20-21/2, 1ad M near M 20/2
Oriental Magpie-Robin 1-2 in CF 20/2
Stonechat 1 F near RV 20/2
Pied Bushchat 10 incl. a F with food, RV 20/2, 2 pairs near M 20/2
Orange-headed Thrush ssp. cyanotus 2 ad
Scaly Thrush ssp. neilgherriensis 2 evening 20/2, plus 1 early morning 21/2
Blackbird (ssp. nigropileus?) 3-4 incl. 1 bathing, in CF 20/2 - all with dark grayish plumage and black cap
Great Tit >15 in CF 20-21/2
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch 6 in CF 20/2
Long-tailed Shrike ssp. longicaudatus 1 near RV 20/2, same ssp. that I amazingly had seen a few months back in Oman!
Black Drongo 1 in CF 20/2, 1 at RV 20/2
Common Myna >15 around M 20/2
Jungle Myna >10 around RV 20-21/2
Large-billed Crow 20 in CF 20-21/2, 30 RV 20-21/2, 40 M 20/2
House Sparrow >40 around RV 20-21/2, plus 25+ around M 20/2
Oriental White-eye 7-8 incl. 1 came to bath with albino head in CF 20/2
Common Rosefinch 2 M + 2 F in CF 20/2
MUDUMALAI 22 - 24.02.2003
Highlights: Common endemics, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Jungle Bush-Quail, Yellow-footed Pigeon, Brown Fish-Owl, Malabar Lark, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Hume's Whitethroat, Booted Warbler, Tiger, King Cobra.
Checked out of Regency Villa after breakfast at 08:30, total bill came to Rps. 5,415/-. We eventually descended the very famous Sighur Ghat, however we did not find the winding road as thrilling as we have previously seen in some reportages. There is a vast contrast from the evergreen hills to the totally dry and hot steppe-like Acacia-grown terrain on the plains 1,100 meters below - in Virapan territory. Everywhere there were "Wanted" posters for him, and to be honest we were quite concerned while birding roadside the distance between the turn-off to Jain Resort and Mavanhalla - particularly when we spotted a swiftly walking group of about 10 men in the distance, in the middle of nowhere. This stretch is possibly the best place for White-bellied Minivet. We failed, and should have spent more time there - it's mentioned in the guide book, and birders saw it there in January 2004 as well, just 200 m from the road.
Despite this we enjoyed numerous caligata Booted Warblers, some feeding on the ground with their characteristic "krrroat" call. Also the althea Hume's Whitethroats proved a welcome tick. This is a large "lesser" whitethroat with a dark sooty head showing no contrast to the back, merging into a blackish tail. The "bandit" mask was not prominent at all; only very little contrast to rest of the head. But the throat was pure white contrasting slightly to an offwhite / grayish underside. They provided a most welcome variation to the Desert-type Lesser Whitethroats of Oman, which are smaller and more washed-out and inconspicuous, with a Blue Tit-type call "che-che-che" (we wonder what ssp those really are)!
Just 2-300 m before arriving at the small village of Mavanhalla, from Sighur Ghat, there are nice farmlands on the right hand side where cattle graze. We walked there for an hour and a half in the heat of the day, and it turned very rewarding: Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Malabar Lark and Ashy-crowned Sparrow-lark - all again a most welcome change from the Red-wattled Lapwing, Crested Lark and Black-crowned Finch-Larks of Oman! We celebrated the occasion with some coffee candy, caramels and coke!
We proceeded to Theppakadu, where we paid a brief visit to the Forest Department office. They just laughed off our nervousness for Virapan - so we felt kind of relieved. And for sure the horror stories we were told about him while in Parambikulam proved wrong. However we were informed that all movement on foot in the park was strictly prohibited, the only exception being walking along the main road. If caught by forest officials you are likely to face a big fine at least. So we took that advice, and set off for a 4 km walk in the direction of Gudalur - without seeing anything noteworthy.
We decided to find accommodation, and back-tracked to Jungle Hut. You have two choices there: Jungle Hut and Jungle Retreat. We found Jungle Hut (which is the first one you arrive at) a bit cheaper - we paid Rps. 900/- a night after some haggling, and the surrounding is good for birding as it is located by the (virtually dry) river and bamboo forest: Next morning we saw Brown Fish Owl and Indian Pitta 3-400 m from our cottage. They also have great dinner at night for around Rps. 150/- per person.
Upon arrival we got introduced to Kuttappan. He is a local guide, who knows most forest officials and who is willing to run the risk and take you for a trek. He took us to an area that afternoon near Masinagudi village, where he claimed to have seen White-bellied Minivet as well as Grey-headed Bulbul recently. No luck for us, but a bonus was identifiable flight views of a male Jungle Bush-Quail. All of a sudden, there was a loud howl from some deer, and I asked Kuttappan what was that. He replied "oh that is a Sambar alarm-call for a Tiger". I though he was pulling my leg, but hadn't even finished my thought before a really loud growl roared out, 10 meters away on the other side of a vast bamboo stand. We then heard the Tiger walking away; frustratingly we did not catch a glimpse of it.
As if that wasn't enough, we spotted large groups of armed soldiers surrounding the area. We re-traced and sneaked back, to learn that Virapan and his men had been spotted 5 km away, and now heavy troops were moving in. For sure, birding doesn't come easy at Mudumalai.
The following dinner at Jungle Hut was nothing short of superb, as is the place itself.
Went for a sunrise morning stroll around the Jungle Hut compound, and enjoyed unforgettable Leica moments of both Brown Fish Owl and Indian Pitta in the riverine bamboo forest.
After a gourmet breakfast, we went with Kuttappan (stopping for great views of a real gem - a perched Blue-bearded Bee-eater) to an area just opposite the main road turn-off to Jungle Hut. Here, we had to escape from a group of elephants that we ran into. Frustratingly again, no Minivet nor Bulbul.
Bidding farewell to Kuttappan, we then walked along roadside on the other side of the turn-off, where the man-killing elephant was said to be. Except a large King Cobra, we failed to address a firm id to any of the many Quails flushing around.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing, studying whatever was in the Jungle Hut garden: Interestingly, a Booted Warbler looked remarkably like a Syke's Warbler, but we never came to a firm conclusion. This is a blocker for us in Oman.
Detailed species list, Mudumalai 22 - 23.02.2003
(T = 4 km walk along the road from Theppakadu direction of Gudalur. Mas = evening trek near Masinagudi. JH = Jungle Hut, JH trek = noon trek starting opposite the turn-off to Jungle Hut).
Little Grebe 3 in river near turn-off to JH 23/2
Little Cormorant 1 in the river near T 22/2, 2 in river near turn-off to JH 23/2
Black Stork 12 on migration at Mas 22/2; rare according to Kuttapan.
Indian Pond Heron 1 Mas 22/2, 2 around JH 23/2
Oriental Honey-Buzzard 1+1 Mas 22 and 23/2, 1 JH trek 23/2
Black Kite a total of 8 ind.
Shikra 1 T 23/2, 2 near JH 23/2
Crested Serpent-Eagle 1 heard calling at JH 23/2
Jungle Bush-Quail 1 M seen fairly well in flight, Mas 22/2
Bush-Quail sp. 5 Mas 22/2, >15 during JH trek 23/2
Red Spurfowl 2 Mas 22/2, 2 JH 23/2
Grey Junglefowl a total of 8 ind.
Indian Peafowl total of 1 M + 9 F, plus a kill by Tiger (ref. Kuttappan)
White-breasted Waterhen 1 in river near T 22/2
Yellow-wattled Lapwing 18 Mavanhalla 22/2, 1 Mas 22/2
Yellow-footed Pigeon 1 at Sighur Ghat 22/2, 4 Mas 22/2
Spotted Dove a total of >120 ind.
Ring-necked Parakeet >15 at road turn-off to Jain Resort 22/2; 2 JH 23/2 (yes: A!)
Plum-headed Parakeet 2 Mas 22/2, 10 F/imm at JH 23/2
Malabar Parakeet 4 T 22/2
Vernal Hanging-Parrot 2 T 22/2
Asian Koel 1 Sighur Ghat 22/2, 1ad + 2 imm JH 23/2
Blue-faced Malkoha 1 JH 23/2, 1 on JH trek 23/2
Greater Coucal 1 T 22/2, JH 22/2
Brown Fish-Owl 1 flushed from the dry riverbed at JH 23/2, then perched on a branch giving superb scope views.
Indian Swiftlet 3 JH 23/2
Crested Treeswift 2 near Mavanhalla 22/2
Jerdon's Nightjar 2 seen on path near the river during trek at Masinagudi 22/2
Savanna Nightjar 1 heard + 1 seen on exact same time / location as Jerdon's.
Common Kingfisher 2 by the river near turn-off to JH 23/2
Little Green Bee-eater a total of 8 ind.
Blue-bearded Bee-eater 1 near JH 23/2
Hoopoe 4 Jain Resort to Mavanhalla 22/2, 2 T 22/2, 1 JH 23/2
White-cheeked Barbet 2 Jain Resort to Mavanhalla 22/2, 5 T 22/2, 1 JH 23/2
Coppersmith Barbet 2 Jain Resort to Mavanhalla 22/2, 1 JH 23/2
Rufous Woodpecker 1 seen by KJS, JH 23/2
Lesser Yellownape ssp. chlorigaster 1 JH 23/2
Black-rumped Flameback 2 JH 23/2
Common Flameback 2 T 22/2
White-bellied Woodpecker 1 stunning male, in a dry roadside tree near T 22/2
Yellow-crowned Woodpecker 2 seen by KJS, JH 23/2
Brown-capped Woodpecker 2 JH trek 23/2
Heart-spotted Woodpecker 1F near T 22/2, 1 JH 23/2
Indian Pitta 1 heard and 1 seen around the tall bamboo stands near dry river bed, JH 23/2
Ashy-crowned Sparrow-lark 1 M + 2 F Mavanhalla 22/2
Rufous-winged Bushlark? 1 JH trek 23/2
Malabar Lark 9 Mavanhalla 22/2
Red-rumped Swallow 10 JH trek 23/2
Grey Wagtail 1 Mas 22/2, 2 JH 23/2
White-browed Wagtail 2 T 22/2
Paddyfield Pipit 4 Mavanhalla 22/2
Indian Blue Robin 2 ad M +1 imm M +1 F JH 23/2
Oriental Magpie-Robin 5 T 22/2, 2 Mas 22/2, 4 JH 23/2
Pied Bushchat 1 M JH 23/2
Indian Robin >30 Jain Resort to Mavanhalla 22/2, 2 T 22/2, 2 Mas 22/2, 1 JH 23/2, 2 JH trek 23/2
Orange-headed Thrush ssp. cyanotus 2 JH 23/2
Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike 2 T 22/2
Large Cuckoo-shrike 2 Jain Resort to Mavanhalla 22/2, 1 Mas 23/2
Common Cuckoo-shrike 8 Jain Resort to Mavanhalla 22/2, 4 JH trek 23/2
Black-headed Cuckoo-shrike 1 M JH 23/2
Small Minivet 1 pair near Mavanhalla 22/2, 1 pair T 22/2, 5 JH 23/2, 2 pairs JH trek 23/2
Common Iora 4 F/imm Jain Resort to Mavanhalla 22/2, 1 F/juv JH 23/2
Golden-fronted Leafbird 1 F T 22/2 (finally a female)
Red-whiskered Bulbul recorded everywhere in small numbers
Red-vented Bulbul recorded everywhere; total number of 85.
White-browed Bulbul 1 near Mavanhalla 22/2, 1 Mas 22/2, 1 JH 23/2
Yellow-browed Bulbul 2 T 22/2
Puff-throated Bulbul 1 JH 23/2
Indian Scimitar-Babbler 1 heard Mas 22/2, 2 heard JH 23/2
Tawny-bellied Babbler 5 Mas 22/2, 5 JH 23/2
Yellow-eyed Babbler 1 JH trek 23/2
Yellow-billed Babbler recorded everywhere; total number of 55.
Tickell's Blue Flycatcher 2 M Mas 22/2, 5 M JH 23/2, 1 M JH trek 23/2
White-browed Fantail recorded everywhere; total number of 24
Common Tailorbird 1 JH 23/2
Thick-billed Warbler 3 JH 23/2
Blyth's Reed Warbler 10 JH 23/2
Greenish Warbler 10 JH 23/2, 1 JH trek 23/2
Booted Warbler (caligata) 10 Jain Resort to Mavanhalla 22/2, 1 JH trek 23/2
Syke's Warbler (possible) 1 studied well at JH 23/2, but no firm id established.
Hume's Whitethroat (althea) 4 Jain Resort to Mavanhalla 22/2, 1 JH 23/2
Great Tit 5 Jain Resort to Mavanhalla 22/2, 1 JH trek 23/2
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch 2 T 22/2
Bay-backed Shrike 6 Jain Resort to Mavanhalla 22/2, 4 JH trek 23/2
Long-tailed Shrike 3 Jain Resort to Mavanhalla 22/2
Brown Shrike 1 M 22/2, 1ad JH 23/2, 2 JH trek 23/2
Black Drongo 2 T 22/2, 10 JH 23/2, 2 JH trek 23/2
White-bellied Drongo 4 JH 23/2, 1 JH trek 23/2
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo 5 T 22/2
Chestnut-tailed Starling 5 JH 23/2
Brahminy Starling recorded everywhere; total number of 52
Common Myna 2 T 22/2, 1 JH 23/2
Jungle Myna 50 T 22/2, 40 JH 23/2
Rufous Treepie 1 near Jain Resort 22/2, 1 T 22/2
Large-billed Crow 10 T 22/2, 2 JH 23/2
Long-billed (Loten's) Sunbird 1 M T 22/2, 2 M JH 23/2
Purple Sunbird 1 M near Jain Resort 22/2
Purple-rumped Sunbird 15 Jain Resort to Mavanhalla 22/2, 1 M JH 23/2, 1 pair with 1 fledged pullus JH trek 23/2
Oriental White-eye 30 JH 23/2
House Sparrow 2 M JH 23/2
Yellow-throated Sparrow 3 JH 23/2, 4 JH trek 23/2
Indian Silverbill 2 near Mavanhalla 22/2, 5-6 JH 23/2, 15 JH trek 23/2
Tiger 1 heard growling at "point blank" range M 22/2
Elephant several 1F with 1 young plus several heard M 22/2, and groups of 10 and 12 during JH trek 23/2.
King Cobra 1 large 3-4 m specimen near the turn-off to JH 23/2
Highlights: Spot-billed Pelican, Indian Cormorant, Painted Stork, Black-headed and Black Ibises, Spot-billed Duck, Great Stone-Plover, River Tern.
Following a better breakfast, we checked out of Jungle Hut and directed the Ambassador towards Mysore. We passed Bandipur NP in the state of Karnataka - this is the equivalent to Nagarhole. Traffic was sparse on this poorly conditioned road, and we enjoyed small groups of Indian Peafowl along our way.
Roadside birds, on route passing through Bandipur NP 24.02.2003
Grey Junglefowl 3 F
Indian Peafowl 11 (6 ad M, 1 subad M, 2 imm M and 2F)
Red-wattled Lapwing 1
Oriental Magpie-Robin 20
There are several rice paddies and small lakes the last 10-15 km before Mysore, where we stopped and birded from the roadside. Except the not-possible-to-avoid stepping in manure, we saw quite some enjoyable birds:
Species list, small lake 8.5 km south of Mysore 24.02.2003
Little Grebe 280 (!)
Little Cormorant 15
Purple Heron 1
Cattle Egret 40
Spot-billed Pelican 1 ad and 2 imm/subad
Pintail 1 pair
Spot-billed Duck 48
Pochard 2 M
Marsh Harrier 1 F/imm
Purple Gallinule 1
Barn Swallow 40
Species list, various rice paddies and wetlands west of Mysore 24.02.2003
Cattle Egret 410
Intermediate Egret >2
Painted Stork 1
Black-headed Ibis 25 (18 km W of Mysore)
Red-naped (Black) ibis 2 (18 km W of Mysore)
Green Sandpiper 1
River Tern ? 1
White-breasted Kingfisher 1
We eventually reached Ranganathittu, a part of the Kaveri river system that has been a nature reserve since 1940. There are numerous small forested islets, absolutely packed with breeding birds! We joined one of the guided row-boats, just to get real up close and personal with most species - although we could see everything from the jetty itself. An elderly gentleman sitting just in front of us, requested to borrow my bins - so I did - after which he looked in it the wrong way round, pointing it downwards directly to the buttocks to the lady in front, asking "How do I operate it?" - followed by lifting his own buttocks and releasing the largest thunder-fart (swear it flushed some herons!). Well onshore, he came over to us, complaining why we did not tip the boatman.
However, our great views of River Tern as well as Indian Cormorant made it well worth for us!
Detailed species list, Ranganathittu (Mysore) 24.02.2003
Great Cormorant 1
Indian Cormorant 50
Little Cormorant 50
Purple Heron 1
Little Egret >100
Great/Intermediate Egret sp. 1 (seen so close it caught us with surprise)
Black-crowned Night-Heron 20
Painted Stork >500
Asian Openbill 300
Black Kite >5
Tawny Eagle 1 subad high overhead
Pallid/Montagu's Harrier sp. 1
Great Stone-Plover 2
Red-wattled Lapwing 2
Common Sandpiper 2
River Tern 2 ad, 1 subad and 1 imm.
Pied Kingfisher 1
Stork-billed Kingfisher 2
White-throated Kingfisher 2
White-browed Wagtail 1 ad + 1 imm
Greenish Warbler 1
Tickell's Blue Flycatcher 1 M
Asian Brown Flycatcher 1
Having satisfied our lust for dabbling ducks, herons and storks, we decided to hit a few dry fields, about 8 km north of Mysore. The location is on route to Brindavan Gardens, on the left just by a shrine and a church. We strolled around in the grass fields there for an hour in mid-day hot sun, without really getting anything exciting except KJS identifying our only Tawny Pipit for the trip.
Species list, dry grasslands 8 km north of Mysore 24.02.2003
Cattle Egret 5
Black Kite 5
Shikra 1 subad
Feral Pigeon 4
Asian Koel 1 heard calling
Asian Palm Swift 3
White-throated Kingfisher 1
Little Green Bee-eater 1
Indian Bushlark 2 pairs with alarm calls; one parent carrying food.
Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark 1 M + 2 F
Richard's Pipit 2
Tawny Pipit 1 (KJS)
Paddyfield Pipit 5
Red-rumped Swallow 2
Satisfied with our days birding, we departed Mysore, heading for the coast. We stopped a couple of places on route searching for the now elusive Grey-headed Bulbul, particularly around Mutanga as recommended by Kuttapan, but in vain. The presence of large groups of armed military personnel was conspicuous there, and first the day after we actually learnt that there had been a "shoot-out" the same day we passed, between the army and villagers who demonstrated with demands for more land. The clash left five villagers dead.
Unfortunately we descended the very steep Tamariseri in the dark, so we missed yet another stark view of lush hillsides and great views. We eventually reached Calicut at 20:30, and Sunil Kumar's local knowledge came to shine as the dinner at "Hotel Sagar" downtown was extremely good, and at Rs. 155/- for three it certainly was value for money. We crashed out at the "Calicut Towers" hotel, where we paid Rs. 667/- with tax for a perfectly ok room. We slept in to the sound of our first rain-shower on this trip - a much welcome thing for KS from dry and dusty Oman!
25.02 (Calicut to Cochin and Thattekkad)
Departed our hotel in at 08:00, and "birded" the Calicut waterfront for half an hour. The most spectacular sighting (the only one, really) was hundreds of Black Kites which when not sitting in the streets, were fishing in Opsrey-like manners up to 4-500 m off shore! But the place and sea was so filthy and full of rubbish, we were happy to leave the place. Surprisingly though: neither a gull nor a tern.
Made a stop in Balancheri, where we had a good brunch at "Hotel Tajmajal Coolbar" around 10:00. The establishment was by far not confidence-inspiring, but well known by our driver - and sure enough, the food, totaling Rs. 170/- for three, was ok.
Continued our cruise in the Ambassadour, southbound on "Calicut Road" (national highway). Driving was exceptionally bad, and before reaching Cochin, we witnessed three fatal wrecks that had happened minutes in advance of us passing. But aside from this havoc, it was pleasant to see the lush green western side of the Ghats, although the climate was quite warm and humid.
THATTEKKAD 25 - 26.02.2003
Highlights: Common endemics, Black Baza, Slaty-legged Crake, Indian Scops Owl, Brown Fish-Owl, Ceylon Frogmouth, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo and Indian Pitta.
We stopped briefly at Cochin airport to confirm our tickets before proceeding to Thattekkad, where we arrived early afternoon. Taking the manually operated ferry across was an experience, and we could not help notice a constant flow of trucks loaded with timber on the way out. Entrance is Rps. 25/- per person. We obtained a nice cottage on the "top floor" with a veranda - I think we paid around Rps. 700 - , and happened to get two British birders as our neighbors. There was also a local 17-year-old birder, who against all odds had a stake-out for Ceylon (Sri Lankan) Frogmouth!
Needless to say, just after dark a pack of five of us headed off the 7-800 m into the woods, in light rain. The Brits had a tape-recording, and lo-and-behold there it responded, and eventually gave cracking views through the Leica with a torchlight. And a couple of hundred meters back, we also got scope views of an Indian Scops Owl.
We got back to the cabin just in time when heavy rain set in, and we were quite high this evening from these two unexpected nightbirds!
Waking early on the 26th to great weather and green forest, the two of us set off 07:15 for a 6-7 km walk into the forest, following the old logging road from the park headquarters. Birding was very good, but as it was heating up to around 35 degree Centigrade combined with high humidity that got the best of us, and we finally retreated back. There, a "back-up" 6 kg watermelon awaited us, as part of our "emergency" rations. We finished it all and felt considerably better..!
Detailed species list, Thattekkad 26.02.2003
Little Cormorant 6
Purple Heron 1
Indian Pond Heron 4
Lesser Whistling-Duck 8 flew past
Oriental Honey-Buzzard 1
Black Baza 5 ad
Accipiter sp. 1
Short-toed Eagle 1
Grey Junglefowl 23 (of which 20 heard)
Slaty-legged Crake 1 where the road crosses some swampy wetland
Bronze-winged Jacana 1 ad same place
Tern sp. 2-3
Pompadour Green Pigeon 1 M
Spotted Dove 2
Emerald Dove 4
Plum-headed Parakeet 1 M + 2 F
Vernal Hanging-Parrot 10
Chestnut-winged Cuckoo 1 ad flew across while we studied the Crake
Common Hawk-Cuckoo 7 heard
Cuckoo sp. 1 heard
Indian Scops Owl 1 heard and seen well by a torch and the Leica 25/2
Brown Fish-Owl 1; filling the view of the Leica
Ceylon (Sri Lanka) Frogmouth 2 heard of which 1 was seen well in the Leica 25/2
Crested Tree-Swift 7
Malabar Trogon 1 pair + 1 F
Stork-billed Kingfisher 2
White-breasted Kingfisher 2 + 1 at nest
Dollarbird 1 25/2
Malabar Grey Hornbill 13
White-cheeked Barbet >30 heard
Crimson-fronted Barbet 1
Rufous Woodpecker 1
Black-rumped Flameback 5
Common Flameback 1
Greater Flameback 1
Heart-spotted Woodpecker 1 M
Indian Pitta 1 flew past us, landed, hopped in front and perched
- yet another Leica moment.
White-browed Wagtail 1 ad
Grey Wagtail 1
Oriental Magpie-Robin 3
Orange-headed Thrush ssp. cyanotus 4
Large Woodshrike 12
Small Minivet 1 pair
Common Iora 3 M + 5 F
Golden-fronted Leafbird ssp. frontalis 21
Black-crested Bulbul ssp. gularis 6; incl. 1ad feeding a fledged juv.
Red-whiskered Bulbul 3
Yellow-browed Bulbul 9
Jungle Babbler 20
Asian Brown Flycatcher 3
Blue-throated Flycatcher 1 M 25/2, 2 M + 1 F same place 26/2
Asian Paradise-Flycatcher 1 M
Black-naped Monarch 1 pair + 1 M
Thick-billed Warbler 3
Blyth's Reed Warbler 5
Greenish Warbler 25
Golden Oriole 3 ad M + 4 F/imm
Black-naped Oriole 4 ad + 1 imm
Black-hooded Oriole 1 M
Black Drongo 4
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo 20
Ashy Woodswallow 1 ad feeding 1 juv by the ferry-landing
Chestnut-tailed Starling 20
Hill Myna 10; incl. 2 pairs at nest-hole in tree
Rufous Treepie 2
White-bellied Treepie 1
House Crow 5
Large-billed Crow 7
Pale-billed Flowerpecker 1-2 25/2
Crimson-backed Sunbird 2 pairs + 1 F
We should have spent much longer time at Thattekkad to do the place justice, but since the two Brits kindly told us about their observation of Broad-tailed Grassbird in Munnar, of course we could not resist this, and left Thattekkad around 4 pm. But it was a lengthy trip - four hours - and the Ambassadour climbed up the Ghats in heavy rain. We must admit it was very pleasant to get into the highlands again after the humidity neat the coast.
Late evening, we found a reasonably priced hotel (Rs. 650/-) just outside Munnar near the much more expensive Royal Retreat Hotel.
MUNNAR 26 - 27.02.2003
Upon departing our hotel in the early morning on the 27th, there was a small staging of swallows on the electricity wires. We counted 134 Red-rumped Swallows and 8 Hill Swallows - on some of them we noticed the rather characteristic greenish shine to the plumage - a feature we can't recall to have noticed on the otherwise similar Pacific Swallows we've seen elsewhere in Asia.
We arrived at Windsmere / Cardamom Estate at 07 sharp. From the small sign "Windsmere", we walked straight to a residence with a gate. There is a path leading through the garden there, then climbing steep up-hill for some hundred meters past some new cottages (that were under construction by the time of our visit - since then more huts have been built, and Figure 2 is updated with this information). From there on there are many possibilities to access the grass-covered hillside; but it's quite overgrown by tall herbs and grass, and walking can be cumbersome at times. See Figure 2. However, sweating our way upwards, perhaps 10 m after we crossed the fire-break, we all of a sudden we heard a very characteristic metallic-sounding "tink-tink-tink" calls, almost reminiscent of a Bearded Tit. Woo-hoo!, we hurried on and eventually got a far glimpse of a perched Broad-tailed Grassbird. But the creature was extremely shy, flying low a maximum distance of 4-5 m before settling in the dense vegetation - a perfect habitat-match of "tall grass on open hillsides", as described in the field guide. After "chasing" it carefully - we tried not to trash "suitable" breeding habitat! - three-four times with the bird flushing then settling (we flushed a Short-eared Owl in the process), it eventually climbed up to have a good look at us, allowing us a prolonged and marvelous Zeiss study.
Other birders have seen Nilgiri Pipit further up the hillside near the "summit", so it might be worth trying here first before the location that we found (Figure 1).
Species list, grass-covered hillside above Cardamom Estate (see Figure 2), Munnar, 27.02.2003
Brahminy Kite 1
Black-shouldered Kite 1
Pallid / Montagu's Harrier 1 F
Painted Bush-Quail? 1
Nilgiri Wood-Pigeon 1 seen in flight + 1 heard
Short-eared Owl 1
Broad-tailed Grassbird 1 seen well and heard
Ashy Prinia 2
Blyth's Reed Warbler 5
Birders have seen Nilgiri Pipit here.
Figure 2: Broad-tailed Grassbird site, Munnar.
Pretty happy we left the scene, and descended back to the shola below where we enjoyed a canned breakfast, accompanied by two Nilgiri Wood Pigeons.
We then stopped by the bridge that crosses the dam:
Species list, around the dam (see Figure 2), Munnar, 27.02.2003
Little Grebe 1 ad with 2 pullus
Little Cormorant 2
Brown-backed Needletail 1 zoomed past
Red-rumped Swallow 10
Red-whiskered Bulbul 10
Indian Scimitar-Babbler 5
Grey-breasted Laughingthrush 6-7 just 200 m from the dam direction Windsmere.
Malabar Whistling-Thrush 1 pair seen below the dam
Long-tailed Shrike 1
We settled back in the Ambassadour, and headed for Cochin - our trip was now over - at least this was what we thought ... As a last desperate attempt for Grey-headed Bulbul, we decided to bird parts of the evergreen lush green sides of the Ghats that descends to the coastal plains below. Since its habitat is described as "evergreen forest with dense thickets", that's what we looked for! So just before noon we stopped at a place we found nice - lots of thickets, trees etc. - see Figure 3. Having walked 20 m, we first saw a Dark-fronted Babbler - a tick for KJS!
And then, 50 m further down, two birds flew across the road landing in the only dry tree about 15 m away from me. I got the first one in the binoculars, a Yellow-browed Bulbul, then the next one - and simply I could not believe my eyes, there it was, finally - a Grey-headed Bulbul. Almost ecstatically I called KJS who arrived at the scene having studied the Babbler for a while. We laughed like two drunks, the driver having seen various "happy moments" the past two weeks, now definitely got confirmed we were crazy. We spent another hour and a half there studying this "last of the most wanted" species. Most of the time they hid inside a densely overgrown culvert, with an adjacent tall bamboo stands behind. Never did we see them in the bamboo; mostly they kept well hidden in 1-3 m tall shrub around the culvert / old bridge. In total we saw three individuals, including a "color-variant" that with the exception of bright yellow forehead, black throat and dark tail had a complete olive-green plumage - quite unlike the other two with grey head and yellowish in the wing.
Species list, road-side stop on NH 49 (see Figure 3), 27.02.2003
Grey Junglefowl 1 heard
Dark-fronted Babbler 1
Grey-headed Bulbul 3
Yellow-browed Bulbul 1
Figure 3: Grey-headed Bulbul site on NH 49 between Cochin and Munnar.
Having concluded our last stop and our last bird, we stopped only once on route back to Cochin for fresh pineapple to celebrate our success. In Cochin we rented a room at "Hotel Royal Wings" (Rs. 945/-) in walking distance just opposite the airport. Since it was very hot and humid, we took a well-deserved shower followed by a dinner. We then took an evening cruise around Cochin, stopping only at an Enfield shop where I was very close to actually buying one (Rs. 65,000/-). But the top speed of 100 km/h really makes it suitable for India only.
Best birds we noted around town from the car, was:
Purple Heron 1 in flight
Common Koel 1 heard outside the Enfield-shop at 8 pm
Indian Bush-Lark 1 seen well, sitting on the fence of airport runway
KS departed 07:30 with WY 822 back to Muscat - last bird recorded was a Purple Heron out the window during take-off.
KJS caught a flight to Madras, then on to Pondicherry to meet his girlfriend, before returning to Muscat two weeks later.
Addresses, including where to stay
United Travel (in Oman): tel. (+968)
703303; attn. Priya.
(For information a plane ticket was RO 208/- return for a direct flight).
International dialing code for India: +91. From abroad, skip the 0 in the 4-digit area code. Please note that local numbers have 6 or 7 digits - at least where we were.
"Consortium Tours of India", Ravipuram, M.G.Road (if
you are there: Heera House; opposite Deepa theatre), Cochin 682 016, Kerala.
Phone: 0484-351679 / 362124 / 373970; attn. Saji (CEO) / Vinayan.
Sunil Kumar, Chorekattal, P.O. Mala, Neithakudy 680 732, Trissur Kerala.
Phone: 9846150764 (?)
"Ambadi Hotel", Thekkady (Periyar) 685 536, Kerala
"The Nature Shop" attn. T.P.Girish Kumar, Thekkady (Periyar)
685 536, Kerala
Phone: 0486-322881 / 323263
"Elysium Garden", Top Station Road, Munnar.
Phone: 0484-2381038 (Travels Kerala). Fax: 0484-2364485
"Jungle Retreat" (same address as Jungle Hut below)
Phone: 0423-2526469 (?)
"Jungle Hut", Bokkapuram, P.O. Masinagudi (Mudumalai),
Nilgiris 643 223.
Phone 0423-526463, fax 0423-526240.
Our local guide in Mudumalai:
Judesan Kuttappan, 5/115 Amina House, Sivakumar colony,
P.O. Masinagudi, Nilgiris 643 223
Some discussion / info about Virapan, including a picture
"Pollachi Office of the Wildlife Warden": Phone 225356. They can provide information about Top Slip and Parambikulam, including booking of accommodation.
"Hotel Regency Villa", Fernhill Post, Ootacamund (Ooty)
643 004, Tamilnadu
Phone 0423-442555, 445681/2/3. Fax 0423-443097
E-mail: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
"Calicut Towers Hotel", Calicut
Phone: 0484-2381038. Fax: 0484-2364485
E-mail: mailto:email@example.com?subject=Reservation For Calicut Towers Kozhikode-HotelsKerala.com
"Hotel Royal Wings", VIP Lane, Vapalassery P.O., Nedumbassery, Cochin 683 572 (located in walking distance opposite the airport).
Phone 0484-(2?)610263, (2?)610353/4, Fax 0484-(2?)610352
Kolbjorn Schjolberg, c/o PDO (XGP/21), P.O. Box 81, 113 - Muscat, Oman.
(after 06/2006: Pb. 55 Kårvåg, 6539 Averøy, Norway).
Phone: (+968) 678680 (+4GMT)
For comments, questions and/or updates, please e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Dave Sargeant for commenting upon the draft of this report, and for providing updated information from January/February 2004 to Figure 2.