South India part 2: Munnar, Periyar NP and Thatterkad. 26th – 1st December 2018   Leave a comment

This is the third post about my trip to the Andaman Islands and South India and the second on our time in South India. The areas covered are Munnar, Periyar NP and Thattekad reserve.

As I made clear in the last post I had considerable problems with my bridge camera during the tour and by this late stage it had given up the ghost. Thankfully tour participant Alec Gillespie offered to share his photos, for which I am most grateful. All (or nearly all) bird photos are his and duly credited as such, scenery etc are mine taken on my pocket camera. As I write this I have just received the trip report and some more photos from tour leader Dave Farrow. One or two of his are included as well.

 

Right on dusk as we were nearly back to the vehicle our two local guides asked Alec to take a photo of them with his long lens. He had to be this far away to even get their faces in the frame. Notice Alec, like all of us was wearing leech socks, essential in the damp leech-ridden lowland forests.

 

From Munnar we visited the mountain massif of Rajamalai in Eravikulan NP, first crossing vast swathes of tea plantations to get there.

 

 

The states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu experienced very heavy monsoon rain and extensive flooding in September. This bridge was washed away meaning we had to cross on this plank and then take a jeep ride to the entrance of the park. From there we were taken to the start of the walk by bus.

 

One of the top birds of the area was this little White-bellied Blue Robin which we managed to see whilst we were waiting for the bus to the mountain. (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

… and at the other end of the bus route we got stunning views of this Kerala Laughingthrush. (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie) …

 

… and several Malabar Whistling Thrushes. (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

We walked up the road as far as was permissible, getting great views over the surrounding countryside and towards the highest peak in the Western Ghats.

 

Normally hard to find and only viewed at a distance, a pair of Nilgiri Pipits showed very well by the road. (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

The same can’t be said of the Nilgiri Thar, a species of goat endemic to the Western Ghats. Usually seen reasonably close, our only views were high on the ridge above. As no-one got a useable photo I’ve included one from Wiki Commons taken by AJT Johnsingh

 

After an excellent morning we had a dreadful afternoon, one of the clients slipped on the path at the hotel and had to go to hospital with a broken nose. Eventually the rest of us went birding but saw little. We travelled through some road works to get to a better area of forest but the mist descended and we lost all visibility. On our return the road was blocked as they were blasting rock. We waited two hours, until well after dark, before we were allowed through.

 

Mist streamed through the trees as we pulled over in an area of forest the following morning.

 

… we saw more White-bellied Blue Robins, more Kerala Laughingthrushes and this Brown-breasted Flycatcher. (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

Fortunately we passed through the extensive road works without any hold ups this time.

 

There must be elections in the offing as the communist party supporters were holding a rally.

 

We continued on to Periyar. This point in the travelogue gives me an opportunity to include a few of the more widespread species that were seen at some point or other during our South India tour, starting with Brahimny Starling. (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

… Orange MInivet, a fairly recent split from Scarlet Minivet. (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

… Indian Nuthatch, which I think we only saw further north. (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

… Loton’s Sunbird  (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

… and Yellow-browed Bulbul. (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

We had an afternoon, a whole day and a morning in the lovely forests of Periyar NP.

 

To access some of the best forest we had to cross a lake on a raft. Near the embarkation point we had good views of Southern Hill Myna … (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

… and Malabar Starling in a flowering tree. (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

We watched in some trepidation as the transport across the lake was hauled into view.

 

Crossing on the bamboo raft was tricky to say the least but we managed with nothing worse than damp feet.

 

The trails weren’t all that bad but a few stream crossings were a bit more tricky.

 

This was by far the worst place on the trip for leeches and even though we were wearing leech socks we were constantly flicking them off our boots. I only suffered a few leech bites and even then I removed them before they had injected much anticoagulant (which makes the bite itch like crazy).

 

There were some pretty hefty scorpions in the forest …

 

There were some enormous spiders too. Note the small brown blob on this female’s lower abdomen. That’s the male spider mating with it.

 

… and we kept an eye open for snakes, although this Shield-tailed Snake is non venomous.

 

A pretty yellow frog was added to the list of non-avian goodies we saw that day

 

… as was this butterfly known as the Tamil Yeoman. (Photo copyright Dave Farrow/Birdquest).

 

Although we never saw one, it was clear that Tigers prowled these forests.

 

As well as resident birds these forests are havens in winter for migrants from the north. Further north on this trip most wintering Phylloscopus warblers were Greenish Warblers but here in the south the closely related Green Warbler (above) which breeds in the Caucasus, predominated. (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

We also saw Large-billed Leaf Warbler, a shorter distance migrant, breeding in the Himalayas and parts of China. Unfortunately we never connected with Tytler’s Leaf Warbler a rare winter visitor from northern Afghanistan, N Pakistan and NW India which would have been a life bird for me. (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

We saw many other birds in these forests including one of the most attractive raptors in the world – Black Baza … (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

… the pretty Flame-throated Bulbul … (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

… Malabar Trogon … (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

… Rufous Babbler, which was a life bird for me … (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

… a sleepy Indian Scops Owl … (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

… and a rather more alert Jungle Owlet. (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

We were nearly back at our bus one evening when we saw shapes moving in the grass by the village. They proved to be Pin-tailed Snipe, a winter visitor from Siberia. (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

But the overwhelming surprise during our time at Periyar was seeing another pack of Dhole. To go from ‘never seen before on the South India tour’ to seeing two packs on one trip was remarkable to say the least. The pack of seven had brought down a Sambar by the water’s edge and took turns coming to the carcass and taking away mouthfuls. Unlike the previous pack near Jungle Hut (see previous post) they were relaxed in our presence and we had what is often described as ‘walk-away views’. (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

Not quite as unexpected, but still amazing to see was this small herd of Gaur or Indian Bison in the forest. Our local guides said that they were hard to see at present because they frequented the water’s edge but water levels were currently very high, forcing them back into the forest. We found them on our final morning at Periyar. This rather dull photo was taken on my pocket camera …

 

.. but Dave was able to get a closer shot. The herd comprised of six cows and a calf. It’s a shame we didn’t see the massive bulls but I’ve been yearning to see this species for years so it was still a magic encounter. Photo copyright Dave Farrow/Birdquest.

 

The other major find on that morning was this beautiful White-bellied Blue Flycatcher – not to be confused with the White-bellied Blue Robin! (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie)

 

The hotels on this tour were of a very high standard and the staff usually most courteous. At this hotel they all turned up to wave us off.

 

Our final birding location was Thattekad, an area of dense forest and rocky outcrops nearer to the coast.

 

We had two evenings and a full day at Thattenkad, among the many species we saw were this roosting group of Ashy-headed Woodswallows … (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie)

 

… Crimson-backed Sunbird … (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

… Black-rumped Flameback … (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

… Golden-fronted Leafbird … (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie)

 

… Malabar (or Blue-winged) Parrot (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie)

 

… and on our last morning of the trip, Grey-headed Bulbul. (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

But it was the nightbirds that stole the show – this roosting pair of Sri Lanka Frogmouths, which despite their name are not endemic to Sri Lanka, posed beautifully. (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

The similarly non-endemic Sri Lanka Bay Owl took a long time to track with much climbing through dense vegetation in the dark before we finally got a decent view This species which habitually clings to the side of tree trunks is seldom seen by anyone. It was first seen on this tour last year and was even a life bird for Dave. (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie)

 

After our final meal together we went out owling one final time and had these wonderful views of the huge Spot-bellied Eagle-owl, a species I’ve heard several times elsewhere in Asia but have never seen. A fitting end to a fine trip. (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie)

 

 

Four of us had been to Sri Lanka before so we left early the next morning for the airport. The guy who had fallen over and his wife flew to Sri Lanka with the rest of the party but had decided that due to his injury they would cut the tour short and go home, so it was just Alec and his wife Christine who joined Dave for the Sri Lanka part of the tour. From the tour report I see they did very well. If I had have joined them I’d have got two life birds and far better views of a bird that I saw poorly on my 2004 trip to Sri Lanka. Oh well, I guess I’d have liked to have gone but money and time were pressing.

 

 

 

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