Southern India and the Andamans Tour Report
9th February - 1st March 2011
|I think that all tour participants would agree that this was a marvelous tour. We saw all but one of the ever-expanding list of Peninsula and Western Ghats endemics and all of the Andaman Island endemics. Just some of the many highlights included Andaman Teal, Andaman Serpent-Eagle, Painted Bush-Quail, Watercock, Nilgiri Woodpigeon, Mottled Wood-Owl, Ceylon Frogmouth, Andaman Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Bulbul, Nilgiri Blue Robin, Wynaad Laughingthrush, Hume's Whitethroat and Andaman White-headed Starling. Everyone likes a surprise, and we also enjoyed the surprise find of a Bluethroat on the Andaman Islands, where the bird is a rare vagrant. Mammalian highlights included a very close herd of Asian Elephants, a family party of Guar, including a huge adult male, and the sighting of the extremely endangered Grizzled Indian Squirrel. |
Following a long and tiring flight from Australia, we all met up together at Cochin Airport, the capital city of the Indian state of Kerala. It was 11 o'clock in the evening when we piled into our bus for just over an hours drive to Hornbill Camp, which would be our base for the next three nights.
The following morning we birded the wetlands along the Periyer River and a patch of woodland close to Thattekked Bird Sanctuary. The birding was excellent and our first birds of the tour seen in the wetlands included Little Cormorant, Oriental Darter, Intermediate and Cattle Egrets, Indian Pond-Heron, Brahminy Kite, Oriental Honey-buzzard, White-breasted Waterhen, large numbers of adult Whiskered Terns, all in non-breeding plumage, Spotted Dove, several diminutive Vernal Hanging Parrots, the endemic Malabar Parakeet, Plum-headed and Rose-ringed Parakeets, Greater Coucal, glimpses of a Jungle Owlet, beautiful Crested Treeswifts and a very large flock of endemic Indian Swiftlets. We saw several Dollarbirds, which is an uncommon non-migratory species here in India, only occurring along the southwest coast of the peninsula. In the woodland we very much enjoyed the many White-throated Kingfishers as well as Common Kingfisher, Blue-tailed and Little Green Bee-eaters, the endemic White-cheeked Bulbul, Brown-capped Woodpecker, the very uncommon Streak-throated Woodpecker, Black-rumped Flameback, Ashy Woodswallow, Red-vented and Red-whiskered Bulbuls, the endemic and very beautiful Flame-throated Bulbul, Brown Shrike, the very striking Orange-headed Thrush, Oriental Magpie-Robin, the uncommon Brown-breasted and Asian Brown Flycatchers, Jungle Babbler, Paddyfield and Greenish Warblers, Plain Flowerpecker, the endemic Loten's Sunbird, stunningly beautiful Indian Golden and Black-hooded Orioles, Black and Greater Racket-tailed Drongos, Grey-headed Starling, Common Myna, the endemic Lesser Hill-Myna, House and Large-billed Crows, Rufous Treepie and the gorgeous and endemic White-bellied Treepie. All in all, a very good mornings birding. We also saw our first mammal of the tour, the rather range restricted Jungle Palm Squirrel.
In the afternoon we visited another area of lakes and forest, new birds for the tour included Great Egret, several large flocks of Lesser Whistling-Ducks, Red-wattled Lapwing, Pintail Snipe and Rock Pigeon. Scope views of a roosting pair of Mottled Wood-Owls, was a real treat, we also saw the stunningly attractive and endemic Heart-spotted Woodpecker, the uncommon Lesser Yellownape, White-browed Wagtail, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Common Iora, a delightful Black-naped Blue Monarch, a stunningly beautiful male Asian Paradise Flycatcher, with its long trailing white tail, a beautiful male Blue-throated Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Babbler, Common Tailorbird, Purple-rumped Sunbird and both Ashy and Bronzed Drongos. At dusk we found ourselves surrounded by calling and flying Jerdon's Nightjars, which we saw well in the spotlight. We all enjoyed a very fine introduction to the birds of Southern India.
We awoke the following morning to find an Indian Cuckoo calling, right next to the dining room. After a great deal of searching, we managed to locate it and enjoyed good scope views of it. Although we heard many more calling during the tour, this was the only one that we actually saw. Following breakfast, we drove to the nearby Idimalayar Protected Area, in the Western Ghats, a water catchment area, for the local hydro-electric scheme. It was pristine forest and soon we were amongst it all and a very busy morning of birding followed. The forest and small wetland yielded a host of new birds which included Great Cormorant, Besra Sparrowhawk, Crested Serpent-Eagle, River Tern, Emerald Dove, Pompadour Green-Pigeon, Asian Koel, surprisingly good looks at the normally very shy Common Hawk-Cuckoo, Blue-faced Malkoha, Little Swift, Indian Roller, the endemic Malabar Grey Hornbill, Greater Flameback, Dusky Crag-Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Large Woodshrike, stunning Scarlet and Small Minivets, the dazzling Asian Fairy-bluebird, the endemic and furtive Indian Rufous Babbler, Black-fronted Babbler, Great Tit, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Small Sunbird, Black-throated Munia and best of all, the rare Rusty-tailed Flycatcher. This small species of flycatcher breeds during the summer months in the western Himalayas, from Afghanistan through northern Pakistan, the Indian state of Kashmir and into western Nepal. It departs its breeding grounds in August or September and winters in the Western Ghats, of Peninsular India, returning to its breeding grounds in April and May. We also saw our first Bonnet Macaques of the tour, during the mornings birding.
In the afternoon we visited a patch of woodland where the piercing call of the White-cheeked Barbet frequently punctuated the afternoon birding; here we found a few new birds which included an immature Mountain Hawk-Eagle, the endemic Grey Junglefowl, Green Imperial-Pigeon and the uncommon Blue-bearded Bee-eater. At dusk, we did a little spotlighting and we added both Savanna and Great Eared-Nightjars.
At first light the following morning in the grounds of Hornbill Camp, we added a couple of Purple Herons, flying above the Periyar River. We broke the long morning drive to Periyar Tiger Reserve, with two birding stops. The first was at a small wetland close to Kothamangalam, where new birds included a couple of Little Egrets, good numbers of Bronze-winged Jacanas, several Wood Sandpipers and a solitary Green Sandpiper. Our second stop occurred in the Neryamangalam Forest where Jijo managed to find a roosting Ceylon Frogmouth; this was undoubtedly, one of the great highlights of the tour. A pair of gorgeous Malabar Trogons was also much admired here. Just prior to reaching the Periyer Tiger Reserve we saw our first House Sparrow in the small village of Kumily. In the afternoon a walk through a beautifully forested area of Periyar Tiger Reserve, produced a good number of new birds for us, which included Mountain Imperial-Pigeon, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Crimson-fronted Barbet, Hill Swallow, Grey Wagtail, the endemic and uncommon Malabar Whistling-Thrush, Tawny-bellied Babbler and Jungle Myna. Good numbers of mammals frequent the park and we added Nilgiri Langur, Eurasian Wild Boar, Dusky Palm Squirrel and Indian Giant Squirrel. At dusk we were able to spotlight a Travencore Flying-Squirrel, in the grounds of our hotel.
All of the following day was spent birding the rich forests of Periyar Tiger Reserve, which produced many new birds. We found nesting Wooly-necked Stork, Osprey, a splendid perched Black Baza, Shikra, Common Sandpiper, a beautiful Lesser Pied Kingfisher performed wonderfully for us, we glimpsed a Rufous Woodpecker, had good looks at a Common Flameback and brilliant looks at the decidedly uncommon White-bellied Woodpecker. We particularly enjoyed super looks at the migratory Forest Wagtail, walking around on the forest floor. We also saw Paddyfield Pipit, the very uncommon and particularly shy and endemic Grey-headed Bulbul, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Indian Blue Robin, the endemic White-bellied Blue-Flycatcher, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Puff-throated Babbler, Black-lored Tit and best of all, the very uncommon and endemic Wynaad Laughingthrush, which eventually showed well, following a great deal of searching. We also found two more species of mammals, Sambar and Gaur.
The following day, a little early morning birding in the grounds of our hotel in Periyer Tiger Reserve, produced one new bird, the attractive Verditer Flycatcher. We then drove northwards, towards the former British hill station of Munnar. We broke the long drive, with a birding stop at Bodighat, in an area of dry scrub-jungle. The birding was very lively, and new birds here in the dry Indian plains included Black-winged and Black Kites, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, both Booted and Bonelli's Eagles, a female Jungle Bush-Quail, Laughing Dove, Grey-bellied Cuckoo, Alpine Swift, Barn Swallow, Common Woodshrike, Black-headed Cuckoo-shrike, Square-tailed Black Bulbul, Long-tailed and Bay-backed Shrikes, Indian Black Robin, Blyth's Reed-Warbler, Purple Sunbird, Yellow-throated Sparrow, White-bellied Drongo and best of all the highly localised and very uncommon Yellow-throated Bulbul. We also saw a couple of Indian Palm Squirrels in this area. Following lunch we birded in the High Range, above Munnar, where we found plenty of new birds, including the following Western Ghats specialities, Nilgiri Woodpigeon, Nilgiri Pipit, Black-and-orange Flycatcher, Nilgiri Flycatcher and Kerala Laughingthrush. There was also a supporting cast of new birds, which had a much more widespread distribution. They were Black Eagle, Pied Bushchat, Indian Scimitar-Babbler, Ashy and Plain Prinias, Oriental White-eye and Common Rosefinch.
A fine set of localised endemics awaited us the following morning, when we birded of all places, a very overgrown graveyard! We had a great flurry of new birds which included Painted Bush-Quail, Blue Rock-Thrush, the very attractive Blue-headed Rock-Thrush, the very rarely observed neilgherriensis race of Scaly Thrush, a very obliging Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher, several Tytler's Leaf-Warblers and best of all, the rarely seen and endemic White-bellied Blue Robin. In the afternoon we returned to the grassy slopes of the High Range, above Munnar, where we tried very hard to locate the Indian Broad-tailed Warbler, but failed to find it. In reality, it was just an excuse to go climbing in the high mountains. We did find one new bird that afternoon, on a small wetland on the outskirts of Munnar, this was a Little Grebe.
The following morning we continued northwards to Top Slip and not long after leaving Munnar we stopped to admire a Eurasian Buzzard, which was circling overhead. Shortly afterwards, the bus came to a screeching halt once again, for an Indian Muntjac, a small species of deer, which was observed along the roadside. We broke the long drive to Top Slip, with a three hours birding stop at the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, where we birded a fine stretch of riverine woodland. It was a very birdy spot and new birds included a Brown Fish-Owl, peering out of its daytime roost hole, Stork-billed Kingfisher, both Coppersmith and Brown-headed Barbets, Jerdon's Leafbird, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher and a very co-operative Sykes's Warbler. Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary has been specifically created in order to conserve the very rare Grizzled Indian Squirrel, of which only 300 survive, in southern India and Sri Lanka. As we were about to conclude our birding in the sanctuary we stumbled across a Grizzled India Squirrel and we were even able to observe it in the scope. There were also lots of Southern Plains Grey Langurs. Continuing onwards we drove across the border into Tamil Nadu and into the Annamala National Park, where a little road-side birding produced a superb Short-tailed Eagle and a Pale-billed Flowerpecker. In farmland close to the township of Annamala we added Common Moorhen, Ashy-crowned Finch-Lark and Large Grey Babbler. In the grounds of our lodge at Top Slip, the name is derived from being the place were the recently felled logs were slipped down the mountainside, new birds included Grey Francolin, Indian Peafowl, Asian Palm-Swift and Jerdon's Bushlark.
We started the following morning with sightings of an Indian Hare. Following breakfast we were driving through Parambikulam Tiger Reserve, on our way to Anaimalai Tiger Reserve, when a White-browed Bulbul was sighted from the bus. A quick search ensued, but unfortunately, there was no sign of it. A full morning's walk in the Anaimalai Tiger Reserve then followed. We enjoyed a walk through very beautiful forest, which produced three new species of birds, Crested Goshawk, Brown-throated Needletail and Bright-green Warbler. We added one more species of mammal here, when we came across a small herd of fine looking Chital. In the afternoon we did some birding on the farm, where we were staying, and this produced Striated Heron, Common Kestrel, White-rumped Munia and best of all, a superb Indian Pitta, which responded well to tape playback. In the evening, an Indian Jungle Nightjar was observed by those who were staying in the annex, and a Spotted Owlet was observed by those members of the group who were staying at the farm.
The following morning a Golden Jackal was spotted walking down a track and a Changeable Hawk-Eagle was observed sitting on a nest, by the group staying in the annex. We then set off for Ootacamund, in the Nilgiri Hills. We broke the long drive with a birding stop at Lake Coimbatore, where we picked up a good number of new wetland birds. These included Grey Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, up to 60 Garganey, many White Pygmy-geese, a Western Marsh-Harrier, Grey-headed Swamphen, Eurasian Coot and several splendid Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, in spectacular full breeding plumage. We rounded off the day with some birding in the Doddabetta Forest, close to Ootacamund, which was in reality a scruffy patch of remnant native forest. Even so, we were soon watching a super Black-chinned Laughingthrush, feeding close by and this was followed by a few Indian Blackbirds, who put on a good show for us. Just as the light was beginning to fade we watched a family group of Gaurs, feeding close by in the forest, it was a spectacular sight and the adult male, was a very impressive beast indeed.
The following morning we made another visit to remnant native forest in the Doddabetta Forest, and drove to the top of the highest mountain in the south of India. Our quest here was one of only three, southern Indian endemics, that we had not yet seen, the Nilgiri Blue Robin. It was not long before we were enjoying super close looks at this beautiful, but sadly, highly endangered species. We also enjoyed a second new species here, the attractive Tickell's Leaf-Warbler. We then entered the dry scrub jungle of Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. With the help of a local guide we were able to walk without restriction just outside the boundary of the reserve. New birds came thick and fast; the local race of Peregrine Falcon flew around us for some time before perching on a nearby telecommunications tower. Up to a dozen beautiful Yellow-wattled Lapwings showed well, as did our first Eurasian Collared-Dove. A Yellow-footed Green-Pigeon flew by us and a Yellow-crowned Woodpecker climbed around in a nearby tree. A female White-naped Flameback put on a splendid display and the last of the local endemics, the Malabar Lark, also performed well for us. A couple of Pied Flycatcher-shrikes suddenly popped up in front of us, as did a couple of White-browed Fantails. A flock of Yellow-eyed Babblers proved elusive, we saw a male Grey-breasted Prinia, a pair of very uncommon Hume's Whitethroats, a beautiful Indian Nuthatch and several attractive Brahminy Starlings. Best of all, was a stunning pair of innately elusive White-bellied Minivets. On the mammal front, while in our bus we were charged by a male Asian Elephant, which forced us to drive on, as we had no way of knowing if he was bluffing or not.
We spent all of the next day birding in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and we saw a great many different species of birds. New ones for the tour included a group of a dozen or so White-rumped Vultures, sailing above us on the thermals, which is in now unfortunately, a rare sight in India. With them was an Indian Spotted Eagle which had decided to have a little fun with a scrap of animal intestine; he would soar to a great height then let go of his toy, which would spiral towards the ground. Once it had dropped 50 metres or so, the eagle would close his wings and dive down onto his toy, grasp it in mid-air and then begin the process all over again. We also caught up with the very uncommon White-spotted Fantail and the attractive Wire-tailed Swallow. Driving back to our lodge in the late afternoon, we watched a family party of five Indian Elephants which included a newborn elephant. We also saw an Indian Grey Mongoose, which was new for our mammal list.
We started off the following day, with a couple of Eurasian Crag-Martins, in the grounds of our lodge, before breakfast. Following breakfast we drove northwards, towards Mysore. While driving through the Bardipur Tiger Reserve we stopped to admire a pair of beautiful Eurasian Hoopoes. We then stopped at a large lake just outside the tiger reserve where we observed a number of new birds for the tour. We enjoyed watching a flock of Indian Black Ibis, a couple of dabbling Indian Spot-billed Ducks, an immature Egyptian Vulture flew overhead, several Little Ringed Plovers ran around the edge of the lake and a solitary Common Greenshank stood motionless in the shallows. We also found a single Western Yellow Wagtail and a couple of White Wagtails. Our second stop was also at a large lake, this time, on the outskirts of Mysore. Here new birds consisted of the endangered Spot-billed Pelican, an Indian Shag, a Painted Stork, several Black-headed Ibis and a large flock of Black-winged Stilts. In the late afternoon we took a gentle stroll through the scrub of the nearby Chamundi Hills. New birds here included Jungle Prinia and Indian Silverbill.
On our last morning on the mainland we very much enjoyed a visit to the Ranganthitoo Bird Sanctuary on the Cauvery River. We took to the water in a rowing boat and spent a very pleasant couple of hours birding. Huge numbers of cormorants, pelicans and herons, were all busily nesting and we were able to get very close looks at them. New birds here included Asian Openbill, Eurasian Spoonbill, Great Thick-knee, Indian Grey Hornbill and the Streak-throated Swallow. We also had excellent looks at dozens of Indian Flying Foxes and several Marsh Muggers. Leaving the bird sanctuary, we then drove to the airport at Bangalore, which was not without incident! We then flew to Chennai and drove to our hotel, where we spent the night.
The following day we took a morning flight to Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman Islands. We arrived just in time for lunch, which we enjoyed on the terrace of our hotel, overlooking the deep blue sea, of the Indian Ocean. In the afternoon, we birded the Chiriyatappu Forest Reserve at the southern end of South Andaman Island. Here we caught up with our first Andaman endemic, the Andaman Bulbul and the Andaman Drongo. Other new birds for the tour included Alexandrine, Red-breasted and Long-tailed Parakeets, Collared Kingfisher, Olive-backed Sunbird, Black-naped Oriole and Asian Glossy Starling. As dusk fell we did a little spotlighting and found two more Andaman endemics; we enjoyed very close looks at both Andaman and Hume's Hawk-Owls. This was a brilliant ending, to our first day in the magical Andaman Islands.
At first light the following morning we did a little birding at some tidal pools at Sippighat. We quickly found the main bird we were looking for here, the Andaman Teal and there were over 50 birds in the flock. There was also a supporting cast of up to four Yellow Bitterns, all scoped, out in the open, a Slaty-breasted Rail walked by us, somewhat surprisingly, we saw three separate Watercocks, normally a very uncommon bird. Waders here included Pacific Golden-Plover, Lesser Sandplover, Common Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper and Red-necked Stint. A few Pacific Swallows flitted by, a couple of Oriental Reed-Warblers showed well, and a far more sneaky Clamorous Reed-Warbler, was also seen well. We also enjoyed a surprise find of a Bluethroat which is a vagrant species, in the Andaman's. We then continued to the Ferrargunj Forest Reserve, where new birds included splendid scope views of a perched Andaman Serpent-Eagle, good prolonged looks at a pair of Andaman Woodpigeons, lots of Red Collared-Doves, numerous White-bellied Swiftlets, a few Fulvous-breasted Woodpeckers, a super Bar-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, dozens of very skittish Andaman Treepies and a lucky few, observed an Andaman Crake, walking along the forest floor. In the afternoon we crossed the bay by the local ferry, but not before observing White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Whimbrel and Edible-nest Swiftlet, flying around the harbour. We then drove up into Mount Harriet National Park and a little after dark we enjoyed very close looks at a beautiful Andaman Scops-Owl in the spotlight, which responded well to tape playback.
The following morning we boarded the ferry to Havelock Island and as we did so, we saw a few dark morph Pacific Reef-Herons, in the harbour at Port Blair. In the afternoon we did a spot of birding in farmland on Havelock Island; this produced three new species of birds, Large Cuckoo-shrike, Siberian Stonechat and Common Hill-Myna. After dark we conducted a little spotlighting, which culminated in great looks at a pair of Oriental Scops-Owls.
On our second day on Havelock Island we spent the first part of the morning birding a large expanse of rainforest, which produced the endemic Andaman White-headed Starling. We then visited an area of farmland where we played hide-and-seek with an exceptionally skulking Thick-billed Warbler. A walk in coastal mangroves produced the expected Mangrove Whistler and we had a bonus Dusky Warbler, skulking in nearby scrub. In the afternoon we took the ferry back to Port Blair on South Andaman Island.
Finally, our last full day of the tour arrived and somewhat predictably we only had a few Andaman endemics to find, and of course they were the most difficult ones to find. Early in the morning we returned to Mount Harriet National Park and right at the entrance to the park we picked up two of the remaining endemics. An Andaman Coucal begrudgingly showed itself in a tangle of vines and we found the stunning Andaman Woodpecker at a nesting hole, in a dead tree. A white-rumped Shama was glimpsed by some members of the group and a very attractive Violet Cuckoo flew into a tree directly above us, enabling us to observe it very well, for a short period of time. An afternoon return to Chiriyatappu Forest Reserve added an Andaman Cuckoo-Dove, which flew across the track in front of the group. As dusk fell, a little spotlighting produced fairly good looks at the last of the Andaman endemics; the Andaman Nightjar.
A final morning at Sippighat Wetlands and Ferrargunj Forest Reserve produced the final three birds of the tour, Eurasian Curlew, Long-toed Stint and Marsh Sandpiper the latter a very uncommon winter visitor, to the Andaman Islands.