Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Nilgiri Crackers.....!

Birded the Doddabetta Road after a great breakfast at 7am and despite the foul weather with thick mist and drizzle we quickly found one of our main target species, a superb Nilgiri (Black-chinned) Laughingthrush feeding beside the path. 

Nilgiri (Black-chinned) Laughingthrush

Well, to be honest they found us and were really rather bold as they foraged around the small shops & huts beside us! With poor visibility and the renowned skulking Nilgiri Blue Robin still to find, we knew a great deal of patience was required. In the meantime, as we staked out its favoured area, we were entertained by Indian Blackbird, Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher, Oriental White-eye, and both Tickell’s & Tytler’s Leaf-Warblers feeding right in front of us. 

Oriental White-eyes fed right in front of us

As did this Tickell's Leaf Warbler

After a while a robin began singing but soon stopped when a Crested Goshawk flew in and landed right over where we thought it was singing! But it soon moved off and after a short wait, during which we saw a pair of Nilgiri Flycatchers, the Nilgiri Blue Robin appeared and eventually began feeding in an open area below the path where it remained for several minutes. Wow! 

Nigiri Blue Robin

With further views of the Laughingthrushes we then headed down to a lake where we saw Indian Spot-billed Ducks, Common Coot, Green Sandpiper and a few White-throated Fantails.

Indian Spot-billed Ducks

After a lengthy lunchtime back at our swanky hotel we birded the botanical gardens and found it crowded with many people enjoying the improving weather. Despite the hustle and noise a stonking male Kashmir Flycatcher posed nicely in the Pine trees above us and was a real surprise as this species hasn’t been reported here this winter so far. 

Kashmir Flycatcher

Then, a superb male Black-and-orange Flycatcher gave crippling views as it fed along a drainage channel just a metre away from us – the best views I’ve ever had actually. 

The stunning Black-and-orange Flycatcher

We also saw Scaly-breasted Munia, confiding Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Nilgiri Flowerpecker and a brief Olive-backed Pipit. Not a bad little haul and we were back at the hotel at 5pm to enjoy the facilities and get ready for a full-on day tomorrow - and boy how we are loving the birding here in southern India. 

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Topslip Dipping...

Spent the morning at Topslip in a vain pursuit of Wynaad Laughingthrush, but we did see a number of good birds such as Malabar Trogon, White-bellied Treepie, Grey Junglefowl, Rufous Babbler, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Oriental Honey Buzzard and Chestnut-headed Bee-eater etc.

To be honest I really didn't feel that we had much of a chance finding the laughingthrush, and didn't get positive vibes from the local guides, so another dip with this species. But there must be other places to find it right...?

Rufous-bellied Eagle

Anyway, after lunch we drove for over 5 hours to Ooty and a superb hotel in the town for a 2 night stay.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Moving on to Topslip

Left after breakfast and drove for a couple of hours to Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, seeing a Crested Goshawk perched at eye-level beside the road. 

Crested Goshawk

Along the way we stopped in a good area for Yellow-throated Bulbul and after a short while we enjoyed great views of a bird close to the road. This forest here was alive with birds and in particular one large flock had Brown-headed Barbet, Large Cuckooshrike, Common Woodshrike, Jerdon’s Leafbird, Orange Minivet and White-browed Bulbul.

Yellow-throated Bulbul

Driving along the road a pair of Yellow-legged Buttonquails scuttled across in front of us and we saw the male fly away. There was also a perched Shaheen and a soaring Black Eagle as well, plus a close Blue-faced Malkoha

Forest Eagle Owl

Once at Chinnar we walked into the open forest and scrub to some tall trees where Sudeesh quickly located a roosting Spot-bellied (Forest) Eagle Owl near the top of a huge tree and we spent quite some time admiring this huge beast through the scope. Just a few metres away was a roosting Jerdon’s Nightjar as well. 

Jerdon's Nightjar

This forested area was also jumping with birds and a calling Jungle Prinia was a little bit of a surprise, but there was also a brief Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Common Woodshrike, Green Warbler, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Red-rumped Swallow, Ashy Woodswallow, Black-shouldered Kite, Yellow-billed Babblers, Malabar Parakeet, Common Iora, White-bellied Drongo, Indian Robin and Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher.

After a packed lunch at the HQ we drove through Anamalai Tiger Reserve and on up to Topslip, seeing Indian Peafowl, Brown-backed Needletail,  Coppersmith Barbets, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Indian Roller, and Malabar Whistling-Thrush. But we didn’t hang around and drove back down to our digs for the night, the wonderfully named Banyan Tree Lodge. By now it was almost 6pm so after dumping our gear in the rooms we had a quick walk in the grounds and saw a flyover Green Sandpiper and a Spotted Owlet being mobbed by an Asian Paradise-Flycatcher.

Nilgiri Langur

It had also been a good day for mammals with the cool-looking Nilgiri Langur, Bonnet Macaque and Hanuman Langur seen. With Barking Deer and Spotted Deer and even a huge bull Gaur spotted as well. But one hair-raising incident will linger with us for a while… As we waited at some roadworks in Anamalai Tiger Reserve, where a gang of labourers were resurfacing the road a huge bull Indian Elephant came out of the forest and walked towards us. It knocked flat a large sign and was clearly ‘angry’ as his ears were flaring and he was moving at a fair speed right towards us. We couldn’t drive forward to escape as there was a large steam roller blocking our escape, and still the Elephant came on. Just in the nick of time the road was cleared and we sped off….. Mmmmm

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Eravikalum National Park

After the novelty of a sit down breakfast and seeing lots of feeding birds in the flowering trees surrounding the hotel such as Square-tailed Black Bulbul, Indian Yellow Tit, Common Rosefinch, Blue-capped Rock-Thrush and a Nilgiri Woodpigeon, we drove to Eravikalum NP, seeing a Streak-throated Woodpecker and Grey Junglefowl along the way.

Scenery at Eravikalum National Park

 Once at the parking area we took the parks public bus 5kms up the hill and upon arrival found plenty of birds feeding below the road. In one area were lots of Kerala Laughingthrushes, White-bellied Blue Robin, Indian Blackbirds, and both Blyth’s Reed and Tickell’s Leaf Warblers feeding out in the open. 

Spot the Nigiri Tahr....

Oh and several Nigiri Tahr were present close to the path.

Kerala Laughingthrush

Blyth's Reed Warbler

White-bellied Blue Robin

Walking up the hill we made several attempts at calling in Broad-tailed Grassbird, but despite our efforts drew a blank apart from one distant call. There were a pair of Nilgiri Pipits, Dusky Crag Martins, Hill Swallows and Plain Prinia despite lots of people walking to the viewpoint. 

Nilgiri Pipit

So we walked back down to the start of the trail and found a close feeding Tytler’s Leaf Warbler, something of a bonus bird.

Tytler's Leaf Warbler

In the afternoon we drove across the hills, seeing a soaring Bonelli’s Eagle, Indian Spot-billed Duck, Indian Scimitar-Babbler amidst the huge tea plantations and then followed a side trail through tall grassland, but still drew a blank on the grassbirds. Also overhead we saw Himalayan Buzzard and Booted Eagle. However, at the edge of a forest was a flock of Western Crowned Warblers, with our first Ashy Prinia nearby. 

Painted Bush-Quail
The undoubted highlight of the day was an incredible encounter with a Painted Bush-Quail feeding at the edge of the trail in front of us for some 10 minutes as we watched in awe. And that was our day…

More fabulous scenery from the Painted Bush-Quail site

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Thattekad to Munnar

It was a nice treat to have a ‘sit down’ breakfast at 6.30am before one final fling into the bird-filled forests of Thattekad. This morning was a little different as we visited a feeding station and walked along the forest edge and then patiently waited in a concealed position some 40 metres away from an open area that some grain had been placed to attract Grey Junglefowl and Red Spurfowl

Well after 10 minutes two jeeps with bird photographers pulled up right in front, no less than 6 or 7 metres from the feeding area really obscuring our view. Now, those of you who know me will know of my disdain for the vast majority of this subspecies of human. 

Grey Junglefowl

Still we had nice views through scopes of many Grey Junglefowl and a pair of Red Spurfowl feeding right out in the open. Nice! Oh and a calling Common Hawk Cuckoo was spotted, and a group of Black-throated Munias visited the feeding station as well. 

White-bellied Blue Flycatcher

Following this excitement we drove back to the forest where a male Indian Blue Robin proved to be very obliging as it flew from perch to perch in front of us, a Yellow-browed Bulbul posed nicely, Large-billed Leaf Warbler came in to check us out and some Dark-fronted Babblers were seen well. We also saw Malabar and Black-rumped Flamebacks, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Little Spiderhunter, Purple Sunbird, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Golden-fronted Leafbird, another White-bellied Blue Flycatcher and more Nilgiri Flowerpeckers.

After lunch back at the hotel we said our goodbyes to the wonderful Soma Birds Lagoon Lodge and headed up into the hills to Munnar. The scenery changed remarkably to forested hills and we took a little walk whilst our minibus took a detour to avoid a bridge and saw Long-tailed Shrike, Pied Bushchat and had a brief look at our first Kerala Laughingthrush

Black-and-orange Flycatcher

Once we had checked in and enjoyed some masala tea, drove a short distance to a drinking pool. Here despite the close proximity to passing traffic we enjoyed close views of some great birds coming to drink and bathe right in front of us. First up was a White-bellied Blue Robin, followed by a pair of Nilgiri Flycatchers, Black-and-orange FlycatcherIndian Blackbird, a group of Kerala Laughingthrushes and Malabar Whistling-Thrush.

Not a huge number of birds today but filled with quality. Once back at the hotel an Indian Scimitar-Babbler appeared in the garden and a Crested Hawk-Eagle was perched in a large tree.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Cracking on at Thattekad...

Headed to the same patch of forest as yesterday and a slow walk along the track was eventually rewarded when we quickly found our main target bird – White-bellied Blue Flycatcher and we enjoyed several views of it perched in a tree right in front of us. 

The endemic White-Bellied Blue Flycatcher

Although inevitably quieter than yesterday we did see Malabar Woodshrike, White-cheeked Barbet, Indian Scops-Owl, displaying Crested Goshawk, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Dark-fronted and Puff-throated Babblers, Verditer Flycatcher, and several Malabar Starlings.
A flock near the minibus was quite rewarding as we had much better views of Brown-cheeked Fulvetta than before, and there was also Yellow-browed Bulbul as well. And on the journey back to the lodge we saw a Purple Heron at a roadside marsh.

Yellow-browed Bulbul

After lunch we hit the trails again and I think the views of White-bellied Treepie were the highlight, but there was also Malabar Parakeet, a pair of Blue-bearded Bee-eaters, Black-naped Oriole, and Loten’s Sunbird amongst others.

Blue-bearded Bee-eater

At dusk we waited for Great Eared Nightjar to appear but only heard it call, but did see our first River Terns, Ashy Woodswallow, Little Swifts and Crested Treeswift flying over the river, so returned to the lodge for dinner where a few of us managed to see a Brown Hawk-Owl in the spotlight.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary (Thattekad)

Left at 6am with a packed breakfast and drove for around 45 minutes to an area outside of Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, seeing Malabar Grey Hornbill, Shikra, Dollarbird, Brahminy Starling and the endemic White-cheeked Barbet along the way. We followed a wide path into the forest, seeing our first Plum-headed Parakeet, Grey-fronted Green-Pigeon and scoping a Malabar Barbet perched in the treetops. A group of endemic Rufous Babblers came in to check us out, there was a Nilgiri Flowerpecker, and then we walked up to a nice viewpoint situated on a huge flat rocky area overlooking the surrounding forest. 

Malabar Barbet

With scopes at the ready we enjoyed a great couple of hours here as numerous birds perched in the treetops in the early morning sunshine and we saw endemics such as Malabar White-headed (Blyth’s) Starling, Small (Crimson-backed) Sunbird, Malabar Barbet, Malabar Flameback, Malabar Parakeet, Flame-throated Bulbul and Orange Minivet.   Other species seen included Crested Goshawk, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Indian Golden Oriole, Indian White-rumped Spinetail, Indian Swiftlet, Ashy Drongo, Greenish Warbler, Cinereous Tit, Common Hill Mynas and Purple Sunbird.

Once things had quietened we walked back into the forest and tried to find a calling White-bellied Woodpecker, but all we had was a flyover appearance. Some calling Indian Elephants had me a little concerned so we walked in the opposite direction and came across a large feeding party. Amongst all the Greater Racket-tailed and Bronzed Drongos was a pair of Malabar Woodshrikes, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Brown-cheeked Fulvettas, Dark-fronted Babbler, a brief Grey-headed Bulbul, an even briefer Rusty-tailed Flycatcher, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, more Malabar Starlings, and another Heart-spotted Woodpecker to add to the bird found by Maggie a little earlier. 

Ceylon Frogmouths

A pair of Ceylon Frogmouths were roosting right next to us as it turned out and looked very cute indeed huddled together. Then a female Malabar Trogon appeared and we followed her out onto the main path where the male showed fantastically well as he excavated a nest hole in a dead tree stump overhead. 

Malabar Trogon

So by now it was 11am and getting rather warm so we walked back to the minibus, hearing an Indian Pitta on the way and returned to the lodge for lunch.

At 2.30pm we set out for our afternoon excursion beginning with a day roosting Mottled Wood Owl – wow! In the vicinity were also Green Bee-eater and Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker

Mottled Wood Owl

We then spent the next few hours walking along a trail through dry deciduous woodland seeing our first White-bellied Treepie, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, Green Bee-eater, Rufous Woodpecker, Black-hooded Oriole, Indian Blackbird, as well as Brown-backed Needletail, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Plum-headed Parakeet, and scores of Jungle Babblers. So not a bad first day on the mainland.