Archive for the ‘Doddabetta Peak’ Tag

South India part 1: Ramanogara, Mudumalai and Ootcamund – 21st – 25th November 2018.   Leave a comment

In November last year I joined a tour going to the Andaman Islands, South India and Sri Lanka. As I had been to Sri Lanka in 2004 I declined to take the third section of the tour.

My last post covered our time in the Andaman Islands and this post and the next covers our time in South India, mainly in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

I mentioned in my Andaman Islands post that my bridge camera was having trouble focusing. This issue continued in South India until about half way through when it failed completely. Fortunately another tour participant, Alec Gillespie who joined the trip for the South India and Sri Lanka segments, volunteered to share his photos. With excellent top of the range photo gear Alec was able to take a wonderful portfolio of bird photos. All of his shots are credited, the remaining, often ‘soft focus’ ones are mine.

 

Alec Gillespie with camera gear. Camera, lens, tripod and associated accessories weigh around 14kg! Rather more than I’m prepared to lug around tropical forests I’m afraid, but he does produce some superb photos.

 

We returned from the Andamans to Bangalore (or Bengaluru as its often called) for an overnight stay. Our first destination the following morning was the rocky outcrop of Ramnogara.

 

Our main target here was the South Indian endemic Yellow-throated Bulbul which we saw but didn’t get to photograph. However there was another interesting bird nesting up on this rock face …

 

 

… the now critically endangered Indian Vulture. All species of vulture in Asia have declined dramatically in recent years with losses of 99.99% reported. Once common species like White-backed and Indian Vulture (seen here) are now rarities due to the use of the drug Diclofenac or Volterol for veterinary purposes. Eating the carcass of a cow treated with this drug will cause liver failure in vultures and a single dead cow (of which there are many in India as religious beliefs prevent them from being used for meat so they wander freely in town and countryside) can poison hundreds of vultures. See this Indian Vulture at its nest was a real treat even if it was a bit distant. Here’s a photo I’ve added to the post later taken by the tour leader. Copyright Dave Farrow/Birdquest.

 

Our next stop was at the lake at Ranganathitto. A waterbird sanctuary, we were able to travel by boat round the lake and get close up views of many of the birds.

 

Nearby signs made it clear how you should behave!

 

There were large numbers of Black-headed Ibis on the reserve.

 

Closely related to the Sacred Ibis of Africa and Madagascar and the White Ibis of Australia, these are familiar birds in wetlands across India.

 

The rarest of the world’s eight species of pelican, Spot-billed Pelican was here in good numbers.

 

White-breasted Waterhens (a species of rail) were seen along the water margins.

 

Asian Open-billed Stork is one of the rarer of the world’s 17 stork species. It’s mandibles have evolved so that only the tips close, leaving the sides ‘open’ so they can manipulate their water snail prey. (Photograph copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

 

The lake held lots of Muggers (or Marsh Crocodiles), We had good and close views of them in the water …

 

… and on land.

 

A real treat was seeing this Great Thick-knee, a species of stone-curlew. (Photograph copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

Restricted to south and south-east Asia this is one of 10 species in the family Burhinidae. (Photograph copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

On route to our next destination we stopped to photograph this Red-naped Ibis. (Photograph copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

Moving on we drove through one of the tiger reserves where you weren’t allowed to stop unless you had booked a guided jeep tour, however we broke this rule briefly when we saw an Asian Elephant beside the road. We got uncomfortably close to elephants a number of times on this tour as they are certainly not confined to reserves. Indeed one villager was killed by one as he walked back home during our stay in the area. We were warned a number of times not to walk in a certain direction (that is walking outside of the closed reserves of course) because an elephant had been seen/heard in the vicinity. In spite of the dangers the local people seem to accept that elephants and people must co-exist.

 

Our destination was Jungle Hut, a lodge near Mundumalai.

 

One of our main targets was the seldom seen Nilgiri Thrush and during our stay it remained ‘seldom seen’ however we had compensation in the form of this beautiful Indian Pitta. Most Asian pitta species are mega-elusive but this one is an exception, I saw it easily and well in Sri Lanka in 2014 and the same happened here as well. (Photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

The locals were here to greet us – one of our first sightings of Southern Plains Langurs.

 

Chital (aka Axis or Spotted Deer) were common in the area and a herd was usually present in the lodge grounds …

 

… as was the enormous (about 1m from nose to tail tip) and very noisy Indian Giant Squirrel.

 

We had low cloud for much of our time here …

 

… but we still got good views of great birds like Nilgiri Flycatcher (photo copyright Alec Gillespie) …

 

… Jacobin or Pied Cuckoo (photo copyright Alec Gillespie) …

 

… and Malabar Lark (photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

One evening we went looking for nightjars and saw the little Jungle Nightjar.

 

The following day we set off in jeeps rather than our usual minibus and climbed high up the mountain mists in search of Painted Bush Quail.

 

 

We hadn’t got far when our local guide stopped the vehicles. At the side of the road a pack of Indian Wild Dogs or Dholes had killed a Chital. Although they were wary of our presence they refused to leave the kill. Eventually several of the dogs pulled the carcass further into the undergrowth. Sorry for posting such a blurred image but the camera was playing up and my hands were shaking with excitement.

 

This was without doubt the best sighting of the entire trip for me. I’ve always been interested in mammals since I was a child and vividly remember reading Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book long before Disney turned it into a silly cartoon. One of the species mentioned in the Jungle Book was the mysterious wild dog, the Dhole and I’ve longed to see one since. Birdquest have been running tours to South India for decades but this is the first time one, let alone a pack, has been seen! Postscript: I’ve been able to replace one of my blurred images by this much sharper one taken by the tour leader. Copyright Dave Farrow/Birdquest.

 

We searches the fields and scrub areas further up the mountain finding …

 

… the impressive Black Eagle …

 

… Bay-backed Shrike …

 

… and eventually several groups of gorgeous Painted Bush Quails (photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

In the afternoon we moved on even higher to the town of Ootacamund, universally known as Ooty. Our first destination was a market at the top of Doddabetta Peak, the highest point.

 

The idea of a sign advertising the ‘plastic free Nilgiris’ is a bit of joke when you can see plastic waste bins, chair, covering of stall and tarpaulin in this photo alone.

 

With a large amount of discarded food on offer many birds have become quite tame such as this East Asian version of our Great Tit, the Cinereous Tit.

 

A Crested Goshawk posed nicely for pictures (photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

Blackbird is a widespread species in the Palearctic/northern Oriental region but recently it has been split into four – Eurasian, Chinese, Tibetan and Indian. This of course is the Indian species which differs slightly from our familiar Eurasian Blackbird in plumage and voice. They weren’t common, I only saw three on the entire trip and the best views were obtained here at the Peak. (photo copyright Alec Gillespie)

 

Nilgiri Woodpigeons (unlike their Andaman cousins which we dipped on) were common and easy to see here.

 

Two of the best species seen were the endemic Nilgiri Laughingthrush (photo copyright Alec Gillespie) …

 

… and the gorgeous Grey Junglefowl. It is of course the Red and not Grey Junglefowl that is the ancestor of domestic chickens. At last I have seen all four species of ‘wild chickens’ (photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

The elusive Northern Red Muntjac was also seen. As we are in Southern India it may see strange to call it Northern Red Muntjac but Southern Red Muntjac occurs in Malaysia and Indonesia which of course is south of here. The muntjacs introduced to the UK are a third species – Reeve’s Muntjac.

 

The accommodation on the tour was consistently of a high standard but the hotel at Ooty had a foyer of outstanding elegance.

 

… but the wifi was crap though!

 

Whilst in Ooty we visited the Botanical Gardens which gave us views (but not photos – my camera gave up the ghost on Doddabetta Peak) of Nilgiri Flowerpecker …

 

… but we did get to see Square-tailed Black Bulbul well (photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

However the gardens seemed a magnet for school outings so getting in (and getting out) was a bit of a hassle.

 

Throughout the Nilgiri hills Greenish Warblers were quite common. They are wintering here from their breeding grounds in western Siberia and easternmost Europe (photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

Whilst I have seen Greenish Warblers many times before, the beautiful Nilgiri Blue Robin (photo copyright Alec Gillespie) …

 

… and the ‘drop dead gorgeous’ Black-and-Orange Flycatcher were life birds.  (photo copyright Alec Gillespie).

 

We finally left Ooty heading towards Munnar. In September 2018 the area suffered from torrential downpours and widespread flooding. Our route was still impassable so we had to make a long detour via the coast and got little birding done that day. Time to admire the scenery and relax, which is probably more than the hotel guests in this room can do suspended in mid-air by a few insubstantial beams.

 

Stops on route included this waterfall.

 

…and a spot to do a little birding and watch the Bonnet Macaques …

 

… who were clearly finding plenty to eat along the roadside.

 

The next post will include photos from Munnar, Periyar NP and Thattekad.