India Trip Report
25, 2003-January 2, 2004
spent 10 days from December 25 through January 4 in Kerala (and briefly
Tamil Nadu), India with the dual objectives of relaxing and searching
for Southern Indian specialty birds. The trip was organized for two of
us by Kalypso Adventures (http://www.kalypsoadventures.com).
Kalypso provided excellent service as did our birding guide for 4 days,
Eldhose, who runs Hornbill Camp and has been highlighted in many other
trip reports. Transportation between locations was by hired car arranged
through Kalypso. Details of the trip with birding highlights are as
25-26: Arrived in Cochin from our home in Sri Lanka and were picked up
at the airport and taken to Allepy. Stayed on a houseboat and at a
heritage house in the back waters. Not very interesting for the birder
(possible Watercock being the only half significant sighting) but
met our relaxation objectives.
27-28: Hornbill Camp at Thattekad run by Eldhose. Arrived in the late
afternoon and went out immediately to look for the nearby resident Mottled
Wood Owl. The owls werenít around so switched to a search for Red
Spur Fowl. Good views were obtained within 15 minutes in a nearby
farm enclosure. The same area had White-cheeked Barbet. Just
across the road we found Large Billed Warbler, Jungle Owlet,
and Streak-throated Woodpecker. Indian Pitta at the
campsite. Rufous Babblers arrived at dusk to roost in a bush
visible from the campsite.
front of our tent in the morning had more Indian Pittaís, numerous Orange-headed
Thrush, as well as Malabar Whistling Thrush and Malabar
Trogon just down the road. Then back at the Wood Owl site (Eldhose
had already been there before light listening to calls) and quickly
found one bird. From there, we proceeded to the forest of Thattekad.
Eldhose developed a severe migraine but insisted on accompanying us.
Though he could barely see, he heard Grey-cheeked Bulbuls which
we were then able to find without tremendous difficulty. Further along
the track we ran into a feeding flock which contained approximately five
Wynaad Laughingthrush. Walking back to the car we also ran into
one White-breasted Woodpecker and a number of White-bellied
Treepie. Rusty-tailed flycatcher and Brown-breasted
Flycatchers fairly common. Also saw Malabar Parakeet, Gray Junglefowl, Crimson-backed
Sunbird, Crimson-fronted Barbet, Yellow-billed Babbler, and Dark-fronted
Babbler (all fairly common). In the evening looked for and found Savanana
Nightjar. Eldhose says Sri Lankan Frogmouth is easy, but it
was not on our priority list, since we know it from Sri Lanka.
29-30: Munnar Camp run by Kalypso. After one more stop in Thattaked
successfully locating a White-bellied Blue Flycatcher and also
seeing Common Hawk and Grey-bellied Cuckoos, drove to
Munnar and went first to Eravikulam National Park to look for Nilgiri
Pipit. There were large crowds of Indian tourists by the time we arrived
in the afternoon and no pipits to be found. Went down towards Munnar and
stopped at what must be the most incredible site for endemics in all of
India. Without moving more than 10 meters, we saw Nilgiri Wood Pigeon,
Nilgiri Flycatcher, White-bellied Shortwing, White-cheeked
Barbet, Gray Junglefowl and Malabar Whistling Thrush.
Re-visting the site the next day also resulted in an Orange-and-Black
Flycatcher. While the wood pigeon was probably lucky, it seems the
site regularly holds the other 6 birds. The site is easily accessible
from Munnar but should be considered as a propriety find of Eldhose who
has invested two decades birding Kerela. If you want to visit it, hire
next morning went back to Eravikulam where Nilgiri Pipit was now
easy to find along the roadway. Then to the standard Shola forest to
look for Tickelís Leaf Warbler which was also easily located.
31-January 2: Green Mansions at Gavi (near Periyar). After a late start,
headed towards the Yellow-throated Bulbul site at Bodi Ghat.
Despite lots of calling birds and quick views of flying birds, this
turned out to be our most difficult bird to see, though in fact we
probably spent no more than 1 Ĺ hours trying to find it. On the way, also stopped for Black-cheeked Tit. Parted
ways with Eldhose and proceeded to Gavi.
purpose for visiting Gavi was primarily hiking and relaxation. Never
having visited Periyar proper, I donít know how it compares in terms
of birds. At a minimum, birders will be interested in it for Broad-tailed
Grassbird. We found numerous birds on the hillside just behind Green
Mansions lodge. Look primarily in tall grass. Any birds near the trail
will tend to flush at your feet and fly a short distance. It can be
difficult (at least in the non-breeding season) to get a good view of
one. Luckily one gave an alarm call to get our attention and then hopped
onto an open grass stem just a couple of meters away. Another notable
bird was the Black-throated Munnia which was found on the road
after Green Mansions towards the village. Other birds of interest found
in two days of general hiking included: Malabar Parakeet,
Crimson-breasted Sunbird, Yellow-browed Bulbul, White-bellied Blue
Flycatcher, White-bellied Woodpecker, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Gray
Junglefowl, Western-crowned Warbler, Great Hornbill, Black-cheeked Tit,
White-cheeked Barbet, Black-cheeked Tit, Dark-fronted Babbler and Indian
Scimitar Babbler. There were probably other south Indian speciality
birds, but we didnít keep a list, and I may have forgotten.
highlights at Gavi were the mammals. Nilgiri Langur, Lion-tailed
Macqaque, Malabar Giant Squirel and Indian Bison (an exciting bull at
very close range). We didnít see a tiger, and it would be very
difficult given the density of vegetation, but they are clearly there
with fresh scat within a kilometer of the lodge. Leopard tracks too.
Kalypso did an excellent job of
arranging our trip. Eldhose is an excellent guide. For those planning on
a trip with Eldhose, I would recommend at least another day at Thattekad.
We could have used more time looking for Scaly Thrush and White-breasted
Blue Flycatcher and simply enjoying the forest. Two days was
sufficient at Munnar if accompanied by Eldhose. The Kalypso camp near
Munnar is rather far from the main birding sites, though near the road
to Bodi Ghat. It is pleasant (tented) and gets you out of the town of
Munnar which seems to have little to offer. For those going without a
guide, add more days at Munnar if your goal is the endemics. In the
breeding season, the migrants would be gone, but Eldhose is highly
positive on being able to locate Oriental Bay Owl, Spot-bellied
Eagle Owl and numerous cuckoos amongst other interesting
things at Thattekad. Gavi is a nice place and an effort to generate
revenue for the Forest Department through tourism. You can stay in three
room lodge or camp out. One of the camps was set in a very nice
tips on a few bird IDs and location:
Flycatcher: Tends to be near
the top of trees outside of dense forest (i.e. not the top of primary
forest). The rusty tail is fairly easy to see once you locate the bird. Brown-breasted
Flycatcher, in contrast, tends to be much lower down, often sitting
quietly in the shade. Asian Brown Flycatcher is often active and
in the open.
Babbler: Goes to roost late (after sunset but before total
darkness). Leaves roost well after sunrise.
Crowned Warbler: The crown is not always visible. The beak is bright
Shortwing: When seen from above, the white belly is not visible and
can be confused with Nilgiri Flycatcher. WBSH Seems to sit less
upright and more concealed though. The bird we saw had white brows as
shown in Kazmierczak, not all blue as shown in Grimmett.
Bulbul: Located at the 12-13 km mark on the Bodi Ghat road. When
seen in good light, has a yellow head as shown in Kazmierczak. In shade,
only the yellow throat shows as indicated in Grimmett.
Grassbird: See text
We did not do our homework properly and nearly wrote off the only group
we saw as Dark-fronted Babbler, the Sri Lankan sub-species of which has
a black mask. You are probably smart enough not to make the same