Our return to southern India after a gap of a few years was a most enjoyable and generally highly successful one. A tour to this part of the world in early December should enjoy generally dry and sunny weather conditions. Unfortunately unseasonal rains blighted our visit to Parambikulam, although we can consider ourselves fortunate that disrupted birding was all we had to concern ourselves with. In Chennai around six million people were displaced due to floods caused by heavy rains and disruption was also caused in the Bengaluru area.
Our tour followed a fairly traditional route and we saw a large percentage of the south Indian endemics. Amongst the total of 260 species (plus five leader-only sightings and three heard-only species) the highlights included stunning close range views of Painted Bush-quail at Rajamalai, a party of White-bellied Minivets at Mudumalai, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, five species of nightjar including three at daytime roosts, seven species of owl, both Nilgiri and White-bellied Blue Robins, White-naped and Heart-spotted Woodpeckers, Malabar Trogon, Indian Pitta, Black Baza, River Tern, Great Thicknee, a surprising encounter with a Grey-headed Lapwing and much else besides.
Mammals also provided plenty of interest and although were could not see it we certainly heard a Leopard making a kill outside our accommodation deep inside the forest at Parambikulam. Other highlights included Indian Elephant, Nilgiri Langur, three species of mongoose and the rare Travancore Flying Squirrel which was thought to be extinct until 1989.
My thanks to our excellent driver Shaiju and in particular our local guide SK Nair, without whom the tour would not have been such a productive one.
A gallery of images from this tour can be found on our Facebook page.
28th/29th November: London Heathrow - Bengaluru. Travel to Mysore with stops at Ramnagar, Kokkare Bellur, Ranganathittu and the Mysore ring road
Weather: Warm with variably cloudy skies, sunny intervals and the occasional light rain shower
The group met at London's Heathrow airport and took a British Airways flight to Bangalore. The flight ran smoothly until on approach to landing at Bangalore we encountered some unexpected fog and thus had to abort our landing and divert to Chennai. Here we arrived at the same time as a particularly heavy spell of rain, and so we endured another aborted landing before we made it down. After re-fueling at a grey and drizzly Chennai, we returned to Bangalore arriving soon after 0800hrs, a delay of in excess of 3 hours. The new e-visa process certainly has its merits, but you would have thought that more than one border official would have been available to process arriving passengers. Anyhow eventually, at approaching 10am, we were on the road and heading in the direction of Mysore and seeing some birds. As one would expect Black and Brahminy Kites were early additions to the list along with Common Myna, House Crow and the usual commoner Indian species.
A stop at a wetland at Ramnagar offered us Purple Swamphen, Indian Spot-billed Duck, Red-naped Ibis, a dark phase Booted Eagle and Purple Sunbird. A spell at a wetland and then some paddies along the road to Kokkare Bellur was excellent with a large flock of Garganey, a smart Bronze-winged Jacana, Whiskered Terns, Little Cormorants, two obliging Coppersmiths Barbets and Purple-rumped Sunbird. The paddies hosted a flock of Little Pratincoles, Black-tailed Godwits, Temminck's and Little Stints, Green, Wood and Common Sandpipers and large numbers of Glossy Ibis and Black-headed Ibis.
Next up was a pleasant boat trip at the delightful reserve at Ranganathittu, where we enjoyed a relaxing hour or so drifting along getting up close views of Spot-billed Pelicans, Black-headed Ibis, Indian Cormorant, White-breasted Waterhen, striking Great Thicknees and some stunning River Terns. As we headed back to the vehicle we paused for a couple of Tickell's Blue Flycatchers up in the bamboo.
Our final stop of a long and tiring, but incredibly enjoyable first day was on the edge of Mysore where further additions comprised Jungle Bush-quail, Long-tailed Shrike, Rosy Starling, Scaly-breasted Munia, Pied Bushchat and Indian Robin.
30th November: Mysore to Nagarhole
Weather: Overcast but pleasantly warm and the occasional sunnier spell
We began the day in a typical bird group fashion with a visit to the local rubbish dump. Here in addition to amazing some of the locals with our presence – were we on a photographic tour of India’s rubbish dumps perhaps? - we saw Egyptian Vulture along with the usual good numbers of Brahminy and Black Kites. We didn't linger for too long however, and were soon heading in the direction of Nagarhole. We made regular roadside stops, with Black-winged Kite, Small Minivet, Asian Koel, Indian Roller, Grey-headed Starling, Tree Pipit among early additions.
A more prolonged spell at a small wetland yielded goodies such as Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Marsh Harrier, Brown and Long-tailed Shrikes, flocks of Tricoloured Munias and rather surprisingly, a Grey-headed Lapwing; a rare visitor to the southern part of India. Further along the road we paused for Oriental Honey-buzzards, Malabar Lark, a small 'kettle' of White-rumped and Indian Vultures, Siberian Stonechat, Jerdon's Leafbird and Indian Golden Oriole.
We arrived at Kabini Lodge situated in a lovely location on the outskirts of Nagarhole soon after midday. After checking into our rooms, a brief spell of R&R was interrupted by the discovery of a White-naped Wooodpecker, which after rounding everyone up afforded views to all. In the vicinity of the woodpecker we then winkled out further rewards in the form of Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Blue-throated and Brown Flycatchers and some views of the abundant wintering Green Warblers. After a tasty lunch we had a further birding session around the lodge, seeing Ashy Drongo, White-cheeked Barbet.
A late afternoon safari in the forest provided yet more excitement with a seemingly continuous flow of new birds that included Green Imperial Pigeon, Yellow-footed Pigeon, Plum-headed Parakeets, Crested Serpent-eagle, Crested Hawk-eagle, Indian Swiftlet, Crested Treeswift, some dapper Grey Junglefowl, two skulking Blue-faced Malkohas and at least three Jerdon's Nightjars. A flurry of mammals included good numbers of Spotted Deer, several Sambar, Bonnet Macaques, Hanuman Langurs, Gaur and just as we were finishing the drive a Travancore Flying Squirrel - a rarely seen, mostly nocturnal species which rounded off a memorable and bird-filled day in a fine manner.
1st December: Nagarhole. Surgur. Mudumalai
Weather: Mostly overcast but with the odd sunny spell. Warm with a light late afternoon rain shower
The day began with a morning safari in the forest. An excellent session yielded some quality birds with Malabar Trogon the pick of the bunch, and a supporting cast including Blue-bearded Bee-eater, two Crested Hawk-eagles catching an Indian Pond Heron, Black-naped Oriole, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Indian Scops Owl, Malabar Parakeet, Vernal Hanging-parrot, Taiga Flycatcher, Bar-headed Goose, Golden-fronted Leafbird and better views of Forest Wagtail. After an excellent breakfast we head for Mudumalai pausing at a wetland at Surgur where Streak-throated Swallow showed nicely along with additions in the form of Shoveler and Pied Kingfisher. Later in the journey we added White-browed Bulbul, Indian Silverbill and a juvenile Pallid Harrier.
We arrived at our home for the next two nights around 2pm and after lunch we had an exploration of the hotel grounds. Although a little quiet in the cloudy conditions we had nice views of Greenish Warbler, Black-headed Oriole and Oriental White-eye, whilst an Indian Pitta taunted us from the thick shrubbery. An after dark excursion produced a Spotted Owlet, but little else.
2nd December: Mudumalai
Weather: A bright and mostly sunny start to the day, becoming overcast with some light showers in the afternoon.
Our day started with a drive out to Mayavaram where we explored the thorny scrub along the road. There was a steady flow of additions to the bird list with Brahminy Starling, Barred Buttonquail, Yellow-billed Babbler, Red-headed Vulture, Tawny Eagle, a roosting Indian Nightjar and a brief White-bellied Minivet all added before breakfast. After breakfast we had a somewhat slow paced session that nevertheless generated sightings of a cracking Brown Wood Owl, White-rumped Shama, Malabar Whistling-thrush, Blue-faced Malkoha, Common Iora, and rather less memorably, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta.
The afternoon was spent exploring some open woodland and scrub with a flurry of early birds including Orange Minivet, Indian Nuthatch, White-browed Fantail, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Jerdon's Bushlark, Common Woodshrike and Peregrine. A roosting Savannah Nightjar was seen very nicely and a short while later our local guide delivered up the third roosting nightjar species of the day in the form of Indian Jungle Nightjar. A juvenile Common Cuckoo was something of a surprise, whilst Yellow-wattled Lapwing and Chestnut-shouldered Petronia completed proceedings for the day.
3rd December: Mudumalai. Cairnhill. Doddabetta
Weather: Mostly overcast with some rain, low cloud and mist
The day started with a pre-breakfast search for an Indian Pitta. Half an hour after we had begun the search we had all secured nice views of our quarry perched up in some bamboo. An Orange-headed Thrush had also been added to the list by the time we sat down for breakfast.
Our principal post-breakfast objective was to get better views of White-bellied Minivet. Returning to the same area we had visited the previous morning we slowly drove along the road encountering an somewhat unexpected Grey-bellied Cuckoo and then at least three Pied Cuckoos. A calling Grey-headed Bulbul was less sociable and remained unseen. Then a little a further along the road was not one or two White-bellied Minivets, but a flock of at least six or more birds that performed quite nicely for us all.
Pleased with this success we departed Mudumalai and headed up the road into the hills towards Ooty. Although it was raining for much of the journey, we reached Ooty in pleasant conditions, so we immediately visited Cairnhill. On arrival it was very quiet with just the occasional Greenish Warbler present. However a burst of activity near the entrance yielded lovely views of the stunning endemic Black-and-orange Flycatcher. Nigiri Laughingthrushes were not quite so obliging, but nevertheless offered some good views. Tickell's Leaf-warbler, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Oriental White-eye and an unseen calling Large-billed Leaf-warbler made up the supporting cast.
After a break for a late lunch we had a late afternoon walk close to our hotel at Doddabetta, but saw nothing of particular note in grey, misty conditions.
4th December: Ooty - Doddabetta. Cairnhill. Botanical Gardens
Weather: Low cloud and mist to begin, becoming brighter with sunny intervals.
The first place on the agenda was a visit to Doddabetta. This is a peak that affords great views of Ooty and its surrounds, assuming the weather allows, which on this occasion it didn't! Low cloud and mist hampered the early birding and it was generally quiet. With patience we had nice views of another Black-and-orange Flycatcher, plus Tickell's Leaf-warbler, Pied Bushchat and Nilgiri Laughingthrush. Nilgiri Blackbirds fed around the car park and were new for the trip, whilst just as we were about to leave and try another site, we found our principal target, the Nilgiri Blue-robin, which afforded some nice views.
Moving down to Cairnhill, the weather improved but it was again quiet. The walk here did eventually produce another Nilgiri Blue-robin plus Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Greenish Warbler, Ashy Drongo and a Wild Boar. After lunch we visited the Botanical Gardens where although busy with many people we found several interesting species with Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Crested Goshawk, Nilgiri and Brown-breasted Flycatcher and Spot-breasted Fantail the highlights.
5th December: Ooty to Parambikulam.
Weather: Cool, drizzly and windy at Ooty. Much warmer with some sunshine in the lowlands. Overcast with evening rain at Parambikulam.
Primarily a travel day we left Ooty soon after 7am and descended towards the lowlands. A roadside stop resulted in a sighting of a Rusty-tailed Flycatcher, whilst a large Gaur munched on kerb-side vegetation in another location. Travelling through the lowlands it was pleasantly warm. A stop at a wetland on the outskirts of Coimbatore added nothing new although we did see Cotton Pygmy-goose, Garganey, Shoveler, Whiskered Tern, Pheasant-tailed Jacana and the usual egrets and cormorants.
After taking lunch in Pollachi, we reached the forests of Top Slip and Parambikulam in the mid-afternoon. A Black Eagle sailed over the entrance as we arrived, with a couple of fine male Grey Junglefowl along the road. Our first feeding flock included the usual Bronzed and Greater Racket-tailed Drongos, plus Asian Fairy Bluebird, Indian Paradise Flycatcher and a female Malabar Trogon. A nice start! The drive through to our accommodation added Nilgiri Langur and Flame-throated Bulbul, whilst a walk for the final hour or so of light yielded Malabar Parakeet, Asian Brown Flycatcher, smart White-bellied Treepie, Jungle Owlet, a calling but unseen Oriental Scops-owl, Indian Elephant and, near the camp, at least a couple of Great Eared-nightjars. Two Brown Hawk-owls close to the restaurant as we had dinner rounded off the day nicely.
6th December: Parambikulam
Weather: Overcast with rain for most of the day.
For most of us the day began rather early when we were woken by the disturbingly loud squeals of a Wild Boar outside our accommodation at 0330hrs and a continuing commotion for half an hour or so afterwards. It subsequently transpired that these were due to it being killed by a Leopard.
Once daylight had broken our exploration of the forests of Parambikulam was severely marred by prolonged spells of often heavy rain throughout the day, and so our plans had to be amended to deal with the most unseasonal weather conditions. Our morning produced nice encounters with Stork-billed Kingfisher, Oriental Turtle Dove, Jungle Owlet, flocks of Malabar Parakeets, White-bellied Treepie, Orange Minivet, our somewhat belated first Little Swifts and a fine Malabar Whistling-thrush.
In the afternoon we walked along the road near our accommodation during a slightly drier spell finding Lesser Yellownape and Mountain Hawk-eagle before worsening conditions led to the decision to join one of the safari buses in the hope of better conditions in some different areas. The weather remained much the same and the birds were few and far between. However, additions to the list came in the form of Grey-headed Fishing-eagle, Brown-backed Needletail and Paddyfield Pipit. We also had some nice views of Great Eared-nightjars and a couple of brief Jerdon's Nightjars. Mammals included numerous Sambar and Spotted Deer plus some close encounters with Gaur.
7th December: Parambikulam to Munnar with stops in Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary.
Weather: Overcast with rain for most of the day.
Although principally a travel day, we had hoped for some initial birding at Parambikulam before heading for Munnar. Unfortunately however, the rain continued to fall and with low cloud and fog as well, there was little option other than to make our way down into the plains. Grey and wet conditions persisted for much of the journey but we did manage to pick up a few new birds along the way with Large Grey Babbler, Ashy Woodswallow, Loten's Sunbird and Jungle Prinia all new. Other interesting sightings included some nice views of Mountain Hawk-eagle, Blue-tailed, Little Green and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Spotted Owlet, Small Minivet, Black-hooded Oriole, Brown Shrike, Black Eagle and a rather distant Peregrine of the 'Shaheen' form.
Once at Munnar we had a short walk where we added Greater Flameback and only the second Nilgiri Flycatcher of the trip plus a Dusky Striped Squirrel before heading to the hotel.
8th December: Munnar - Rajamalai.
Weather: Mostly cloudy and dry with just a couple of very light showers. Mild.
We were pleased to see the day dawn dry and even happier when it remained that way for most of the day. The morning was spent in the dramatic upland landscape of Rajamalai where we had a number of target birds to find. After a bus ride up the hill we quickly found Malabar Whistling-thrush and Indian Blackbird along with the first target, Grey-breasted Laughingthrush. In the same area we had some wonderful views of the second target species, the White-bellied Blue Robin which eventually performed wonderfully well with four birds present and showing at close range. Walking on up the hill it was not long before we found a Nilgiri Pipit, with nice scope views obtained. Returning downhill, we enjoyed a cup of cardamom tea and then were amazed to find a family group of Painted Bush-quail foraging in the leaf litter just below the refreshments area. Wonderful close views were obtained and this was highlight of the trip for at least one participant. A Brown Mongoose was a new mammal, whilst Blue Rock Thrush, Oriental Honey-buzzard, Black-and-orange Flycatcher and Kestrel eating a skink were among the supporting cast.
Heading down to the car park we then headed off to an interesting little stream where a busy half an hour so yielded nice views of Large-billed Leaf-warbler, Blue-capped Rock-thrush, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Indian Yellow Tit, our first Black Bulbuls and a Black-and-orange Flycatcher.
In the afternoon we had a walk along a road up to some sholas with the main target being Nilgiri Wood Pigeon. This we duly saw very nicely and also enjoyed Small Sunbird, many Black Bulbuls, Common Rosefinch, Dusky Crag Martin, a large flock of Alpine Swifts and Indian Swiftlets and Long-tailed Shrike.
9th December: Munnar to Thattekad.
Weather: Mostly sunny and fairly hot with significantly greater humidity in the lowlands.
We travelled from Munnar down to the lower elevations of Thattekad, making a few birding stops along the way. The first stop was at a viewpoint affording wonderful views across the hills running away to the south. The birds here were slow to get going but with persistence we enjoyed some very nice views of Malabar Barbet, Yellow-browed Bulbul and Indian Scimitar-babbler. Other species here included White-cheeked Barbet, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Black-winged Kite and Oriental Honey-buzzard. Continuing our journey we paused for some Lesser Hill Mynas and Golden-fronted Leafbird.
Late morning found us in a productive piece of forest where we found Dark-fronted and Puff-throated Babblers, Indian Pitta, Little Spiderhunter, Black-naped Monarch, Grey-headed and Malabar White-headed Starlings and an Orange-headed Thrush. An excellent little spell of birding. We continued on to our accommodation eventually finding a delightful lodge tucked away in the forest. After a nice lunch we had planned some downtime, which was quickly interrupted by a Black Baza and then a hectic few minutes as a pair of Heart-spotted Woodpeckers were visible from our rooms. Amazing stuff! A late afternoon walk in the forest was less exciting but we still added Malabar Grey Hornbill to the list and enjoyed some nice views of Blue-throated Flycatcher. Back at the lodge as dusk fell a Brown Fish Owl was perched in a palm tree above our rooms. What a place!
10th December: Thattekad.
Weather: Bright and sunny with increasing cloud and humidity in the afternoon. Hot.
A bright and sunny start to the day made a very pleasant change after the previous few days of cloud and frequent rain. We explored a nice piece of forest with some particularly tall trees. The birding was slower than hoped but we saw Green Imperial Pigeon, Black Baza, Orange Minivet, Orange-headed Thrush, a Crested Goshawk on a nest, Oriental Honey-buzzard, Dark-fronted Babblers, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Small Sunbird and Little Spiderhunter. We paused by a small pool where a flock of Lesser Whistling Duck were present. Just before our lunch break we enjoyed views of a roosting Oriental Scops Owl. Super!
In the afternoon we had a walk through some nearby scrubby forest and open fields. A nice selection of birds were seen but no new additions to the list (a leader only Thick-billed Warbler eluding the group). However we did enjoy some nice views of Ashy Woodswallow, Streak-throated Woodpecker, Red-rumped Swallows and a brief and distant Rosy Starling. At dusk we lingered at the edge of the forest in the hope of seeing Mottled Wood-owl. No luck with that and the only compensation came in the form of typically swift flyby Emerald Dove and Jerdon's Nightjar.
11th December: Thattekad. Travel to Cochin airport and flight to Bengaluru.
Weather: Cloudy hot and rather humid
Final species total: 260 (plus three heard only and five leader only sightings)
We had an early pre-breakfast visit to the forest, with our principal target being Sri Lankan Frogmouth. By 7am we had seen two frogmouths perched on a branch and we returned for further views a little later on. In between times we had a pleasant time in a rocky forest clearing with brief views of White-bellied Woodpecker and nice looks at Oriental Honey-buzzard, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Rusty-tailed Flycatcher and Small Sunbird. A calling Banded Bay Cuckoo remained unseen whilst Rufous Babbler evaded the group attempts to see it. Returning to the hotel we had breakfast and then packed and header Cochin airport. Some wetland close to the airport hosted Purple Heron, Bronze-winged Jacana, a few Wood Sandpipers and Red-wattled Lapwings and the usual egrets.
After a light lunch we headed to the airport. Our flight to Bangalore went smoothly and we then headed to a hotel where we enjoyed a very nice dinner before having a short night of rest. It was a 0330hrs start to head back to the airport where we caught our British Airways flight home.
For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip.Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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