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.

Andamans Day 5

So we headed back to the marsh again this morning, stopping at a pool where a Yellow Bittern was scoped and a nice Watercock was seen feeding in a patch of grass at the water’s edge. 


At the marsh we enjoyed cracking views of Ruddy-breasted Crake and Slaty-breasted Rail walking along the muddy edge of a pool, which also held several Grey-headed Swamphens, Pintail Snipe, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Kingfisher and Oriental Reed Warbler. Out on the mudflats Curlew Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint and Black-tailed Godwit were new trip ticks, whilst Lesser Sandplover, several Long-toed Stints, Black-winged Stilt and Common Greenshank were all nice to see again.

Nice close Brown-backed Needletails today...

From here were had one final bash at Chiriyatapu and as luck would have it an Andaman Cuckooshrike was finally spotted and everyone managed decent scope views before it disappeared. Phew, what a relief! So with just the woodpigeon left we had an hour to find it, but alas it was not meant to be and we had to tear ourselves away and return to the hotel for lunch and to pack in readiness for our flight to Chennai and onward connection to Cochin in the Indian state of Kerala. After a short delay we eventually reached the Soma Birds Lagoon Lodge just after 10pm.

Friday, 22 January 2016

The Andamans Day 4

Left at 5.30am and caught the ferry again, seeing Edible-nest Swiftlet,  before heading to Mount Harriet in search of the missing endemics but to no avail. In fact the forest was quiet with just a few Large Cuckooshrikes, Black-naped Orioles, although nice looks at Andaman Treepie were much appreciated. So we drove to a different area, stopping along the way to scope the endemic davisoni local race of Crested Serpent-Eagle sat in a tree out in the rice fields. And then we spent the rest of the morning walking our socks off trying to find some feeding flocks but we were just plain out of luck, and frustratingly found several Crested Serpent-Eagles and not the endemic variety we wanted, along with numerous Changeable Hawk-Eagles and a White-bellied Woodswallow.

Andaman Teal

Driving back to Port Blair we stopped at a large pool and marshy area to scope a flock of Andaman Teal and found the area to be alive with birds. In pretty quick time we scored Grey-headed Swamphen, several Long-toed Stints, Marsh Sandpiper, Pacific Golden Plover, Slaty-breasted Rail, Black and Yellow Bitterns, Intermediate and Great Egrets, Watercock, Dusky, Black-browed and Oriental Reed Warblers - the latter two species you just would not find on the Indian mainland. A very brief Lanceolated Warbler, calling Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler and Ruddy-breasted Crake necessitate a return visit first thing tomorrow. 

Anyway we reached the hotel just after 3pm for a very late lunch and shortly after headed straight out for one last try of the nightjar. Along the way, and I still cant believe it, we finally found our Andaman Serpent-Eagle perched right over the road in Chiriyatapu Forest – a place we’ve visited numerous times already!

Andaman Serpent-Eagle

Anyway, the nightjar didn’t show but did call at 5.30pm for a few minutes before going quiet as it has done the past 3 nights.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The Andamans Day 3

We caught the 5am ferry to the other side of South Andaman Island and drove to a superb stretch of roadside forest where we literally spent the next four hours trying to find Andaman Crake. Well we certainly heard several, even got quite close to one or two, had one individual sneak up behind us allowing only myself and Vikram views, and tried and tried again at various spots along our walk. It was getting tedious to say the least and I’m pretty sure everyone had had enough and would have been glad to give up but just before 10am we gave it another go and followed a narrow trail inside the forest. This time after a few bursts of tape a stunning vision of bright chestnut and black & white barring walked sedately into view – ANDAMAN CRAKE! What a relief and this bird casually began to feed right in front of us and I daren’t raise my camera to take a photo, it was that close. It was on view for a couple of minutes before slowly making its way into denser vegetation and onto my group’s life lists. So with that done we drove further and walked through another patch of forest, getting nice looks at more White-headed Starlings, Andaman Drongos and plenty of common species, although Large Cuckooshrike was a new bird for the trip. We kept on looking for new birds to no avail and finished the morning session with a large mixed feeding flock that we scanned for Andaman Cuckooshrike without any joy.

Andaman Masked Owl - our 5th species of owl on the Andamans

 After lunch we were picked up at 3pm and drove back to Chidiyatapu Forest and were not surprised to see how quiet it was. But we walked a little along the road before staking out the nightjar and only hearing it call again. However, we finished the day off with a flourish when an Andaman Masked Owl flew right at us and landed just a couple of metres above our heads before flying off to a more reasonable perch to stare balefully at us. What a cracker and a great way to end a rather tough day’s birding.