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Southwest India Birding Trip Report
by Prasad Anand
Update of Brian Gee's report.
Although I had also the reports of T. Gullick and J. Curson I ended up pretty much following Gee's as it seemed the best way of seeing the most birds with least the travel. For adventure the other reports are recommended along with the new "Birdwatchers Guide ...".
I have only listed the most unusual sightings. Common endemics or species easily found further north may not be mentioned. For full list see B. Gee's report available from O.B.C.
I travelled by both local bus and to save time taxi. The buses are fine because most journeys are short and anyway my first taxi broke it's axle, so...
On the way from Coimbatore to Munnar at the headwater of the Amaravathi Reservoir I saw 2 Black Storks (rare in Tamil Nadu).
First stop was the Yellow-throated Bulbul site (Bodhi Ghat). After 4 hours in the afternoon had one brief view. I also saw Sirkeer Malkoha.
At Rajamalai, Nilgiri Pipits and Grey-breasted Laughing Thrush were easy. Also Pacific (Hill) Swallow and a Long-legged Buzzard. No Shortwing.
Saw Collared Scops as I left next early morning (Munnar).
This reserve is difficult to stay at for more than 2 nights but if you insist they will let you stay at the watch-tower for a night or two. I was lucky to meet a research student Ramachandran who invited me to stay in his bungalow. He said any birders as crazy about birds as I was, were welcome. If he is still there, his bungalow is one of the last on the road up towards Anagunti Shola.
His friend Manoj, another research student working in the adjacent reserve at Parambikulam in Kerala is a good birder especially on calls, if he is still around.
Best birds include.
Rufous-bellied Eagle, Great Pied Hornbill (many), Lesser Yellownape, Dollarbird, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon, Wynaad Laughing Thrush (very close to the H.Q. on the road towards Kerala), Little Spiderhunter (quite common once you have the call), Blue-faced Malkoha, Shama, Malabar Trogon, Banded-bay Cuckoo, White-bellied Woodpecker, Common Flameback (and others but this was a sought after bird for me), Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Emerald Dove, Indian Pitta, Indian Blue Robin, Large Cuckooshrike, Hobby Sp., Brown Hawk Owl (Anagunti Shola), Jungle Owlet, Blue-throated, Asian Brown, Brown-breasted, Rusty-tailed and White-bellied Blue Flycatchers, Black-throated Munia (easy at watch- tower), Brown-backed and White-rumped Needletail and Great-eared Nightjar (heard and poorly seen from watch-tower). Look and listen out for owls at night (Oriental and Collared Scops and Brown Hawk). Jerdon's Nightjar (on road to Kerala 100-200m from the last buildings). Manoj reckons Chestnut-winged Cuckoo is fairly common on road to Anagunti Shola in bamboos 1 or 2 Km from Top Slip (I dipped).
Natarajan (one of the fascinating local tribals) is THE guide for the Frogmouth. I heard them about 200m along the road to Kerala but couldn't see them. Natarajan managed to find and take me to within a couple of metres of a pair, an unforgettable sight.
He also brought me to within 5 metres of a Leopard. GREAT!!! He also reckons he can show you Oriental Bay Owl in June! He can also show you the best sites for Black Baza (I didn't see one) and Dollarbird.
It is definitely worth spending as much time as possible at Top Slip as it is so rich even compared to somewhere like Goa. I failed at 2 attempts to see Lion-tailed Macaque but they were definitely there. Look out for Flying Squirrels (at night with a torch) in Karian Shola and also Smooth Otter in the pool by the watch-tower.
These sites could be done in one day if you are lucky with the booking for accommodation for Mudumalai. Beware of offices being closed at weekends. The office here is much friendlier than in Pollachi!
"The Ravine", Cairnhill Forest Reserve.
This is a very small area. Best birds include, White-bellied Shortwing, Nilgiri Laughing Thrush, Black and Orange Flycatcher, Forest Wagtail, and what was in retrospect probably Nilgiri Flycatcher (the white in the tail is not easy to see even in flight). I didn't see Kashmiri Flycatcher.
Nilgiri Wood Pigeon site (Potato Research Station, Muthorai) and forest opposite.
2 sightings of Indian Blue Robin, 2 Nilgiri Laughing Thrush, 1 Nilgiri Wood Pigeon.
Above Botanical Gardens (4 Hours).
Here are some small remnant shola patches amongst the forest here. From the Nursery ask for the Woodhouse and from here turn right onto the tarmac and turn right at the first junction ( I didn't explore the road to the left). Continue until you see come to a fork with a sign showing Snowdon Peak to the left and Doddabetta to the right. I explored both paths but to the left saw a White-bellied Shortwing and two Nilgiri Laughing Thrush within about 1Km of the sign (keep heading straight and level, I did explore the side tracks but best birds were on the level track to the radio tower even though there is very little Shola here).
On the path to Doddabetta again it is best to keep on the main level track. There are about three small Shola patches where I saw the other birds which included 18+ Nigiri Laughing Thrush, several Black and Orange Flycatcher, 1 White-bellied Shortwing and one Nilgiri Flycatcher.
The Nigiri Flycatcher was found at the end of the track. You pass Woodhouse Agricultural Uni. and eventually come to a main road. Just before the road is a sign reading "Save our Shola means Water" and beside the sign is a path heading downhill. Not far down here I saw the Nilgiri Flycatcher. From this road you could catch a rickshaw back to Ooty.
Here accommodation is pretty basic but you can treat yourself to good food at Bamboo Banks if you can't afford to stay there. Brown Fish Owl nest at the junction of the Bamboo Banks turn off from the Mudumalai-Sighur Ghat road (Approx. 50m from the Bamboo Banks road and about 100m from the main road). White-naped Woodpecker nest about 26km from Ooty about 100m south of the road. (There is a milestone reading 27 Ooty, 16 Mysore 100). Other birds: Jerdon's Bushlark, Sirkeer Malkoha, Indian Blue Robin, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, White-bellied Minivet and Yellow-billed Babbler.
Don't be put off by the grubby kitchen at the lodge, you are unlikely to taste Indian food better than this! I ate at about the last lodge before the river. Don't go to the restaurant.
Here they are much stricter than Topslip about guides and although no one is likely to stop you from wandering along the river I was picked up by the Forest Officer on the Loop road and was taken to Masinagudi, fined and had to walk back. As it happens this is a nice walk and I was extremely lucky to have two Sloth Bears cross the road right behind me. I quickly put a bit of distance between us but I don't even think they saw me! In case you don't know, Sloth Bear is probably the most dangerous animal in the forests, because of it's bad hearing it can easily be surprised.
On the Loop road I saw White-bellied Woodpecker. By river saw Large Cuckooshrike, Banded-bay Cuckoo, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Thick-billed Warbler and near the dorm. Jungle Owlet.
The morning I arrived people had seen Tiger from the jeep and Elephant rides.
I flushed 2 Quail at the Kalhatty estate drive and combed the area down to 1500m without luck, but unexpectedly there were many just above the 1250m sign on the bank side of the road.
There were also Elephants ripping the bark off trees just below me. As I left on the bus back to Ooty I saw another birder working the Ghat, the only birder of the trip. I hope he had better views of the Painted Bush Quail than me but otherwise a fantastic trip.!