Nick Moran, British School – Al Khubairat, PO Box 4001
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, e-mail: nickmoran76 at yahoo.co.uk
This was my second week-long trip to India in the space of three months and although nominally a ‘family’ holiday with my wife, I managed to secure a fairly serious birding itinerary focusing on the forests of Kerala and Tami Nadu. I am of course extremely grateful for Becca for her kindness and understanding! The only ‘casualty’ to the supposed non-birding nature of the trip was Top Slip, which she vetoed after reading a trip report about the less-than-salubrious accommodation there.
Although we recorded a relatively low total of 183 species, this included just 3 waders, 1 tern, 1 duck and no gulls, plus 16 out of 20 of the endemics, illustrating the high quality of the forest birding.
We had 8 full days in India, during which we spent 2 nights in Munnar, 2 in Ooty, 2 in Mudumalai and one in Thattekad. There were two long drives: Munnar to Ooty (8 hours) and Mudumalai to Thattekad (9 hours). The purpose of this report is primarily to update the information in Kolbjørn and Kjetil Schjølberg’s extremely comprehensive report from February 2003, and I would like to thank Kolbjørn for reviewing this update of his report. Nearly all the sites we visited are in that report and/or the Birdwatcher’s Guide to India. I have also provided current information on endemics/scarcer species in the annotated species list.
There are three sections to this report:
i. Helpful trip reports
ii. Field guides
iii. Contact information including notes on transport
2) Our itinerary
3) Annotated species list
Throughout the report, the following abbreviations are used:
NP = National Park
WLS = Wildlife Sanctuary
KL = Kerala
TN = Tamil Nadu
Exchange rate at the time of writing: 44 rupees = US$1 77 rupees = £1
i. Helpful trip reports
I took two trip reports on this trip – a brief ‘family holiday’ trip report from December 05 - January 06 by Erik Hirschfeld (EH) erik at hirschfeld.se and a fabulous 2003 trip report produced by Kolbjørn and Kjetil Schjølberg (K & KJS) bradypterus at yahoo.co.uk , available at www.surfbirds.com/trip_report.php?id=316
ii. Field guide
I only took the Pocket Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent by Grimmett, C. Inskipp and T. Inskipp, which I picked up at Bharatpur on my previous trip for 695 rupees (about $15). I also took copies of the relevant sections of A Birdwatcher’s Guide to India by K. Kazmierczak and R. Singh and the India Lonely Planet.
iii. Contact information
I contacted Mr. Thomas Zacharias info at kalypsoadventures.com from Kalypso Tours http://www.kalypsoadventures.com at the very last minute, after I read that he efficiently organized a car and driver for EH earlier this year, and my email to Consortium Tours of India (K & KJS’s trip report) bounced. In fact this company seem not to exist any longer – rather, “Cosima Travel” based in Cochin (tel (00 91) 484 2360527 / 2381722 can assist with car and driver. We too were impressed by Thomas’s efficiency, and were very pleased with Arudesh(?) Ratheesh, our driver, who was very courteous and happy to meet the bizarre transport needs of birders! He can be contacted directly via G271 Tours & Travels, office: 5507271, mobiles: 9249415990 or 9447817360. Car and driver hire for eight days cost 14 000 rupees (US$ 320).
2. Our Itinerary
The sites we visited are superbly summarised in K & KJS’s trip report and A Birdwatcher’s Guide so I will simply present a list of places visited, in chronological order, with brief notes where needed.
As usual, early morning and late afternoon/evening were the best times for forest birding. We did the long drives between about 9am and 5pm – a chance to take in some of the scenery, catch up on bird notes or sleep!
Day 1 (16/2/06)
Arrive Kochin 0900
Grey-headed Bulbul site on NH49 to Munnar
Munnar – Cardamon Plantation
Night: High Range Club, Munnar (1390 rupees for a double room, meals extra)
Day 2 (17/2/06)
Early morning at Rajamalai NP – shola area around the first checkpoint only as the NP is closed Jan 10th – Feb 28th for the Nilgiri Tahr lambing season.
Patch of roadside shola on the road to Rajamalai, along a river before the turn off to Rajamalai NP.
Midday hill walk about 7km beyond the Elysium Hotel and about 0.5-1km after the High Range School. We followed a track along a narrow river valley that starts just before a sharp right hand bend in the road and a small bridge over the river. Our driver warned us of elephants here and we did see several piles of (old) dung. The path/track climbed steadily up through eucalyptus plantation before going through a small patch of shola. We then climbed the steep grassy hillside on the left side of the valley to be rewarded by finding 5-7 Nilgiri Pipits up on the ridge.
Evening walk into the grassy area above Deshadan resort in an attempt to find Broad-tailed Grassbird. The old logging track described in K & KJS’s report has now been surfaced all the way to its end, where it looks like a viewpoint will be constructed. I turned left off the track just before the end and followed a small path up through an area of overgrown plantation. After c.100m this path turned left, went through to the other side of the plantation then to a fire break along the edge of the grassy valley (which I think is the one that K & KJS describe in their report). Note that there was a locked gate at the start of the surfaced track (at the far edge of the Deshadan resort), which I circumnavigated as there was no-one around to ask about ‘proper’ access. Note that if following the map in K & KJS’s report, you need to turn up the narrow track signposted to Deshadan and Mist Valley resorts – the first section of this track is in poor condition but it gets better and looked easily negotiable in a normal car. The two resorts seemed like they would be excellent locations for birders to stay. Note: These two resorts were under early stages of construction during our visit.
Night: High Range Club, Munnar
Day 3 (18/2/06)
Drive from Munnar to Ooty
0845-1015 walk at Chinnar WLS. We did the track mentioned in A Birdwatcher’s Guide, on the left after the KL checkpoint and before the TN checkpoint. You now need to take a ‘guide’ to fend of the wildlife (with a small stick) – ours was cheerful enough but knew very little English and was certainly not a bird guide. The charge was 100 rupees per person for a 3 hour walk – unfortunately we only had time for one and a half hours but the price was fixed. Rules is rules…
Evening walk at Cairnhill Forest, Ooty
Night: Regency Villas, Ooty (c.1400 rupees, meals extra)
Day 4 (19/2/06)
Early am walk in Cairnhill Forest
Midday/early afternoon ‘non-birding’ in Ooty botanic gardens and around the lake
Late afternoon at the Potato Research Station, Muthoria – probably only worth it if like me you fail to get tickable views of Nilgiri Woodpigeon in Munnar... I ended up failing at both sites!
Night: Regency Villas, Ooty
Day 5 (20/2/06)
0730-0830 Sighur Ghat (between Ooty and Mudumalai, less than one hour from Ooty)
0900-1000 Sighur River bridge
Remainder of the day at/around Jungle Hut, just beyond the eastern perimeter of Mudumalai NP
Night: Jungle Hut, Mudumalai (1500 rupees, meals extra and quite expensive compared with elsewhere, especially beer at 125 rupees/bottle but worth it for the surroundings!)
Day 6 (21/2/06)
0645-0845 jeep drive in Bandipur NP – this was 1 hour drive from Jungle Hut but no jeep drives were available in Mudumalai due to the annual tiger survey, due to end 22nd Feb as far as we understood (the survey also affected Thattekad)
Remainder of the day at/around Jungle Hut, just beyond the eastern perimeter of Mudumalai NP
Night: Jungle Hut, Mudumalai
Day 7 (22/2/06)
Early am attempting to photograph Indian Pitta at Jungle Hut
Drive from Jungle Hut to Thattekad (9 hours more or less non-stop) – note that there is now a bridge over the Periyar river at Thattekad.
Evening/night: the Watchtower, Thattekad bird sanctuary (960 rupees for a twin room with spectacular forest views and sounds, plus 100 rupees park entry per person and 100 rupees for a meal for 3, delivered to the watchtower by canoe!) - although there was no running water (it is collected from the river instead) or electricity (the solar cells keep being damaged by thunderstorms) and it was much cooler at night than we expected, the tower was renovated 18 months ago and I would thoroughly recommend staying here, if only for a night or two. You’re only 1.5km from the park gate but it could be 100 times that, and we had Great Eared Nightjar, Malabar Grey Hornbill and loads of fireflies from the bedroom. The following morning a close herd of elephants meant we had to go elsewhere for our forest birding but our method of escape was by self-rowed dugout canoe, which proved great fun and a unique way to bird along the river.
Day 8 (23/2/06)
Thattekad bird sanctuary – we used Sudeesh here, the 17 year old mentioned in K & KJS’s 2003 report… he’s now 22 (?!) and due to leave for a naturalist job in Bangalore on 28.2.06. He had met us at the gate the previous day and encouraged us to stay in the watchtower. He took us to some virgin forest (called Umumulai or similar) 30 minutes beyond the Thattekad gate – easy to find by following the road through a few small villages until the plantations give way to proper forest. There are several tracks into the forest that could be explored, and the road itself was quiet and productive, even though we didn’t start birding there until 8am.
Afternoon drive to Kochi (2 hours)
Walk in agricultural and wasteland near the airport.
Night: Royal Wings Hotel (1150 rupees for a double room – mosquito net would be useful), for an early morning departure the next day.
3. Annotated bird species list
• Dates can be supplied on request – all sightings 16-23/2/06
• The distributions given are based entirely on our observations – the list should be read in conjunction with our itinerary.
• All names follow the nomenclature used in a Pocket Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent (Grimmett, C. Inskipp and T. Inskipp)
1. Painted Bush Quail Perdicula erythrorhyncha – 4 Rajamalai NP
2. Grey Junglefowl Gallus sonneratii – common in most habitats with trees
3. Indian Peafowl Pavo cristatus – only recorded in the Mudumalai area, where fairly common
4. Spot-billed Duck Anas poecilorhyncha – 4 Bandipur NP
5. Rufous Woodpecker Celeus brachyurus – 1 seen well from canoe Thattekad
6. White-bellied Woodpecker Dryocopus javensis – excellent views of 1 Umumulai forest (see Itinerary)
7. Heart-spotted Woodpecker Hemicircus canente – 1 Thattekad: what a dinky bird!
111. Eurasian Blackbird Turdus merula nigropileus – fairly common at Rajamalai NP and Cairnhill Forest
112. Nilgiri Blue Robin Myiomela major – 2 Cairnhill Forest, 1 between the 2 ‘shola plantation’ signs along the main track and 1 bathing exactly where K & KJS describe in their report. NOTE: formerly White-bellied Shortwing Brachyptera major major - taxanomic revision highlighted by Brian Sykes (OBC).
113. Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica – 2 Bandipur NP, 1 Jungle Hut
114. Rusty-tailed Flycatcher Muscicapa ruficauda – 2 Grey-headed Bulbul site on NH49 to Munnar
115. Brown-breasted Flycatcher Muscicapa muttui – 1 roadside shola between Munnar and Rajamalai NP
116. Taiga Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla – 1 or 2 Jungle Hut
119. White-bellied Blue Flycatcher Cyornis pallipes – 2m Rajamalai NP, with excellent views of 1 behind the first checkpoint building, 1m 1f Thattekad
120. Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher Cyornis tickelliae – 1m Sighur River bridge, 1m Jungle Hut
121. Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher Culicicapa ceylonensis – common in forest
122. Indian Blue Robin Luscinia brunnea – singles at several locations e.g., Rajamalai NP, Cairnhill Forest, Jungle Hut
123. Oriental Magpie Robin Copsychus saularis – very common and conspicuous
124. Indian Robin Saxicoloides fulicata fulicata – fairly common in dry, open wooded habitat e.g., Chinnar WLS
125. Pied Bushchat Saxicola caprata – very common in open habitat
126. Chestnut-tailed Starling Sturnus malabaricus malabaricus – several flocks at flowering trees Jungle Hut and Bandipur NP
127. Brahminy Starling Sturnus pagodarum – as previous species but in greater numbers. Also feeding on dry fields
128. Rosy Starling Sturnus roseus – c.30 over wasteground near Kochi airport
129. Common Myna Acridotheres tristis – common in lowlands
130. Jungle Myna Acridotheres fuscus – common in highlands, apparently replacing previous species
131. Hill Myna Gracula religiosa – small numbers in most forest areas; numerous Thattekad
132. Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch Sitta castanea – singles and pairs at Sighur River bridge, Jungle Hut & Bandipur NP
133. Velvet-fronted Nuthatch Sitta frontalis – singles and pairs in Munnar and Ooty area
134. Great Tit Parus major stupae – singles and pairs Ooty and Thattekad
135. Black-lored Tit Parus xanthogenys (aplonotus?) – 2 roadside shola between Munnar and Rajamalai
136. Dusky Crag Martin Hirundo concolor – several around Munnar
137. Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica – singles at several locations
138. Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica (nipalensis?) – the most numerous hirundine, seen commonly at Jungle Hut and Thattekad
139. Grey-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus priocephalus – 1 flycatching with Red-whiskered Bulbuls upstream of Sighur River bridge. Frustratingly brief views.
140. Black-crested Bulbul Pycnonotus melanicterus gularis – only seen at the Grey-headed Bulbul site on NH49 to Munnar
141. Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus – very common and widespread
142. Red-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus cafer humayuni – common and widespread
143. White-browed Bulbul Pycnonotus luteolus – inconspicuous; 2 Sighur River bridge, 1 roadside near the bridge, 2 Chinnar WLS
144. Yellow-browed Bulbul Iole indica – c.10 at the NH49 Grey-headed Bulbul site, 1 Umumulai forest Thattekad
145. Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus ganeesa – noisy groups at several locations in the highlands
146. Grey-breasted Prinia Prinia hodgsoni (rufula/pectoralis?) – 3 Jungle Hut
147. Ashy Prinia Prinia socialis stewarti – several small groups e.g., hills near Munnar, Muthorai
148. Oriental White-eye Zosterops palpebrosus – very common in most habitats with trees
[Locustella sp. – 1 on grassy slope above Deshadan resort Munnar most closely resembled Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, though Grasshopper Warber is apparently more likely here]
149. Blyth’s Reed Warbler Acrocephalus dumetorum – common in most habitats with scrub/bushes
150. Thick-billed Warbler Acrocephalus aedon – 1 Sighur River bridge
151. Syke’s Warbler Hippolais rama – 1 by the large pond in Jungle Hut grounds showed a faint olive tinge to the upper parts and had a more Acrocephalus-like face than typical caligata
152. Common Tailorbird Orthotomus sutoris (guzuratus?) – surprisingly Jungle Hut was the only location where this species was recorded frequently
153. Tickell’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus affinis – several at locations around Munnar, with 2-3 together in scrub in the grassland above Deshadan resort
154. Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides (mostly apparently trochiloides or viridanus) – the most common warbler, encountered in most suitable habitats
155. Large-billed Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus magnirostris – seen well Cairnhill Forest, several heard Thattekad
156. Tytler’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus tytleri – after trying to string one at Sighur River bridge, I got reasonable views of 1 in the forest behind Jungle Hut. The dark bill was particularly noticeable
158. Nilgiri/Rufous-breasted Laughingthrush Garrulax cachinnans – 2 Cairnhill forest Ooty, 1 moved quickly through the canopy near the ‘cairn’ up the main track and 1 gave much better views in a fruiting tree along the stream K & KJS mention in their report
159. Grey-breasted Laughingthrush Garrulax jerdoni fairbanki – fairly common in wooded habitats around Munnar e.g., Rajamalai NP, Deshadan resort
165. Jungle Babbler Turdoides striatus – common and conspicuous in most wooded habitat
166. Yellow-billed Babbler Turdoides affinis affinis – a flock of c.7 Bandipur NP were particularly distinctive with whitish hoods and rumps. Not recorded elsewhere but possibly overlooked, depending on whether or not all affinis in this area are as strongly marked as these birds were
167. Brown-cheeked Fulvetta Alcippe poioicephala – small groups at the NH49 Grey-headed Bulbul site and Sighur River bridge
168. Rufous-winged Bushlark Mirafra assamica – 2 wasteland near airport, singing from wires and derelict buildings