Trip Report for
Southern India Exploratory Trip December 13 - 24, 2013
Arriving very early on the morning of Dec 13 – I was greeted at Kochi Airport in the Indian state of Kerala by our ground agent and driver! I didn’t know what to expect but certainly not the ordered, quiet and efficient Kochi airport. Karen turned up an hour later, equally impressed, and then it was off to locate Kay and Terry who had arrived the day before and were waiting at the Flora Airport Hotel. What a nice, clean hotel – Kay and Terry thoroughly recommend it! Once sorted and packed we drove off to the Hornbill Camp east of Kochi. Arriving early, me, Karen, Kay and Terry immediately got two life birds – a Stork-billed Kingfisher, one of only two for the trip, and a White-breasted Kingfisher. A great start to a great trip!! We had breakfast while we waited for our guide, Jijo Mathew, who lives in the adjacent town. Once all together we set off for our first guided birding. Wow and what birding. Including our afternoon jaunt we saw 70 species – most new to us all. Highlights included a Sri Lanka or Ceylon Frogmouth, crippling views of an Indian Pitta, Malabar Gray Hornbill (the first of many Malabar endemics), Racket-tailed and Bronzy Drongos, Malabar Barbet, our first Woodpecker – a Lesser Yellow-nape, Indian Swiftlet, a Crested Hawk-Eagle, Mottled Wood-Owl (crippling views), Ashy Wood-Swallow and Gray Junglefowl. We also got outstanding views of a Jerdon’s Nightjar and heard our first owl – a Jungle Owlet.
The next morning, December 14, after an outstanding breakfast, we drove up into the hills to the east of the Hornbill Camp. At the dam, we got both Chestnut-headed and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters catching wild bees, while up the mountain road we got great views of endemic Malabar Parakeets, Starlings, Trogon and Woodshrikes. We also got, amongst many others, White-bellied Treepie, Nilgiri Flowerpecker, Lesser Fish-Eagle, Rufous-bellied Hawk, Crested Serpent-Eagle and the beautiful Heart-spotted Woodpecker. After a magnificent lunch, we birded near to the dam and got Streak-throated Woodpecker, Gray-headed Woodpecker and Common Hawk-Cuckoo amongst others. At the camp, we also got Great Eared Nightjar and heard a Brown Hawk-Owl.
The 15th saw us trying to clean up what we had missed the previous two days. On a trail to a remote, woodland temple we got excellent views of Crested Goshawk, Verditer Flycatcher, Gray-fronted Green Pigeons, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, and a real treat – a Bar-winged Shrike-Flycatcher, and several Brown-backed Needletails. That afternoon hike, after an incredible pineapple curry at the camp, along a trail near the dam we got several Red Spurfowls, an Asian Koel and a beautiful Common Kingfisher.
The next day, the 16th, saw us drive to Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) near Thekkadi, still in Kerala. Along the way we got our only Bronze-winged Jacanas, several Open-billed Storks, and a beautiful Asian Fairy Bluebird and a Little Spiderhunter along the road. Once at Thekkadi we ate lunch at the Tree Top Hotel where we also located two sleeping Indian Scops-Owls. Very cool indeed! Then we ventured into PTR on foot with a ranger and Jijo to protect us! No Tigers were seen but we got Jungle Owlet, Common and Black-rumped Flamebacks (both woodpeckers) amongst many, many other birds.
The 17th saw us venture back into PTR but in the morning we crossed over via a raft to the eastern component of PTR with our reserve guide and Jijo and got an incredible array of birds including Great Hornbill (see images), Black Baza, Black Hawk-Eagle, Forest Wagtail and White-bellied Blue Flycatcher. Sadly again no Tigers and no elephants but lots of elephant dung. In the afternoon we repeated the trail from the afternoon before and finally got amazing views of a family of Wynaard Laughingthrushes (a Malabar endemic species), two indescribably beautiful Indian Scimitar-Babblers and a fly-by Emerald Dove plus a Malabar Whistling-thrush.
On the 18th we left PTR and the Western Ghats and drove out into the plains of Tamil Nadu (TN) – welcome to poverty! Strangely Kerala is poorer than TN but you wouldn’t have known. Kerala is clean, tidy, has good roads, the people look well and don’t shout poverty, in-contrast, the richer agricultural TN was trashy and had terrible roads. Anyway, I digress, climbing back into Kerala in the afternoon got us into a drier, acacia habitat and we got good looks at Common Tailorbird, our first White-bellied Drongo, Jungle Prinia, White-browed and Yellow-throated Bulbuls, Dusky Crag Martin, and Hill Swallows once we got into the tea plantations. After lunch at Olivebrook Lodge we hit the trail behind the lodge and got Oriental White-eye, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Black-and-orange Flycatcher, Indian Blackbird, Common Rosefinch, Blue-capped Rock-Thrush, Square-tailed Bulbul and the amazing Velvet-fronted Nuthatch amongst many other species.
The next day we drove through Munnar and onto Eravikulam NP and got Tickell’s Leaf Warbler, Blue Rock-Thrush, Kerala Laughingthrush and White-bellied Blue Robin. Returning for lunch at Olivebrook we got a Long-tailed Shrike, and then after lunch we hiked high above the lodge into a wind-swept grassland and got Painted Bush-Quail, Grasshopper Warbler and Ashy Prinia. By now we had 177 trip bird species.
The next day saw us drive to Ooty, an old English hill station, its library dates back in 1859. On the drive we got the highly endangered House Sparrow… I kid! It was the first for the trip. Joking aside we stopped off at the Chinnar Wildlife Santuary north of Munnar and got Greenish Warbler, Jerdon’s Leafbird, Common Iora and two amazing Brown Fish-Owls. Later on on the drive we also finally got an Indian Peafowl and Magpie Robin. The hotel in Ooty was a little strange, it catered mostly to big weddings and we felt quite lost in this grandeur and size.
The next morning we got Black-chinned Laughingthrushes, another Malabar endemic at a taxi stop above Ooty and better views of the Black-and-orange Flycatcher. Later in the day, at a horse-riding center we got great views Paddyfield Pipit, Oriental Skylark and Malabar Lark, Indian Blue Robin and Nilgiri Blue Robin. That afternoon found us staying at the Jungle Hut below the Nilgiri ridge within the Mudumalai Forest NP and Tiger Preserve. Late that afternoon a short walk into the Tiger Preserve and around a local village got us Small Minivet, Gray-bellied Cuckoo, Bay-backed Shrike, White-browed Fantail, Brahaminy Starling, Pale-billed Flowerpecker, Coppersmith Barbet, Blue-faced Malkoha, Indian Nuthatch, Jerdon’s Lark, Yellow-eyed Babblers and three Spotted Owlets. And what’s more they served amazing food at the Jungle Hut.
The next morning the 22nd saw us venturing into the Tiger Preserve on foot to get the elusive White-bellied Minivet. We also saw Yellow-throated Petronia, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Yellow-footed Green-Pigeon, Hume’s Whitethroat and Boot Warbler. Retreating to the Jungle Hut we also got Taiga Flycatcher, a split from the Red-breasted Flycatcher, Tickell’s Flycatcher, White-rumped Shama, another Indian Pitta, our first Brahaminy Kite, two Puff-throated Babblers and another amazing owl – a Brown Wood-Owl. After another excellent lunch, we headed back to a temple on a hill adjacent to the local village and got the following Bonelli’s Eagle, Peregrine, Crested Hawk-Eagle, several Large Gray Babblers, a single House Swift, several Gray Francolins, and 5 Jungle Bush Quail in a village field. By now we had seen 224 trip species.
The 23rd saw us sadly leave the Jungle Hut and drive up to Mysore. Along the way we got an Ashy-headed Sparrow-Lark, Red-necked Ibis, Syke’s Warbler (a split from the Booted Warbler) and Black-headed Ibis. Just before entering Mysore we stopped at roadside lake and got Painted Stork, Spot-billed Pelican, Spot-billed Duck, a distant Purple Swamphen and Little Grebe. After an excellent but hurried lunch at our hotel we went off to Ranganthittu Bird Sanctuary and boating lake. Hiring a boat we toured the lake and got excellent, excellent views of Mugger Crocodiles, Streak-throated Swallows, Great Thick-knee, River Tern, Eurasian Spoonbill and Spot-billed Pelicans on nests, Indian Gray Hornbill, Spot-breasted Fantail, Red Avadavat and Tricolored Munia. Returning to our hotel we had another excellent meal and wines.
December 24 was our final day birding and we started off just north of Mysore at a hill that is rapidly being developed, but we got Singing Bushlark, Painted Franolin, Tawny Eagle and Tawny Pipit, Syke’s Lark, Zitting Cisticola, Yellow-wattled Lapwing and an Indian Spotted Eagle. At a reservoir and paddyfield near Bangalore we also got Marsh, Green and Wood Sandpipers, Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers, Marsh Harrier, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Garganey, two Cotton Pygmy Geese, a Little Stint, and several Glossy Ibis. Just before entering Bangalore we tried searching for elusive vultures. We saw two distant birds but could not ID them. It’s so sad to think that there has been a 99% decrease in vulture numbers in India over the last 15 years due to the use of diclofenac, a common anti-inflammatory drug administered to livestock. We did see an Asian Palm Swift but the vulture hills were sadly lacking their vultures. So for this exploratory trip we got 268 bird species, seven of which were owls, amazing! Sadly all good things have to end and Karen, Kay and Terry departed for the states early on the 25th. I stayed on and spent 5 days, 4 nights exploring the Himalayan foothills and got another 112 species.