Vivek and me were chatting when he mentioned his desire to do the Western Ghat endemics, it so happened that Vivek was coming down to India with some time to spare. It was a long weekend with the independence day coming up and a perfect excuse to launch a birding trip to get the western ghat endemics and mainly the Broad-tailed grassbird.
Here's the trip in Vivek's words.
On the night of the 14th, Rajneesh and I started the drive to Munnar where we were to meet Eldhose - our guide for the weekend. Things took
longer than expected and it was already past 9AM when we reached Pollachi. This did lead to a pleasant surprise since we had daylight for the last leg of the drive as we started the ascent into the Cardamom Hills through two protected areas - Indira Gandhi Wildlife sanctuary in the drier rainshadow and
then Chinnar WLS after crossing the border into Kerala. We were limited in time and wanted to get to Munnar where the Western Ghat endemics of the higher elevations were our main targets, so did not linger at any stops, but the habitat in these protected areas looked superb and inviting. Did see some HILL MYNAs. It was also refreshing to see a significant altitudinal range of the Western Ghats protected here.
Things got greener and wetter as we got closer to Munnar and forests changed to tea-gardens and settlements. Did lead to the first encounter with a MALABAR WHISTLING-THRUSH out in the open. We met Eldhose, had lunch, checked into our hotel but it was already 3PM by then. Did get KERALA (GREY-BREASTED) LAUGHINGTHRUSH and the ubiqutous HILL (PACIFIC) SWALLOWs though. There was time enough to drive out of town to a tea shop on the road down to Cochin, where we spent a leisurely couple of hours - YELLOW-BROWED BULBUL and CRIMSON-FRONTED BARBET were the next endemics here, though the spot also had BROWN-CHEEKED FULVETTA, MTN IMPERIAL PIGEON (flyby), MALABAR PARAKEET, CRIMSON-BACKED SUNBIRD, Dusk led to a super wildlife moment as Eldhose took us to a man-made tunnel where he has been seeing INDIAN SWIFTLETs fly-in at night. He had never gone in before though, so armed with flashlights we ventured into the dank and dripping darkness and to our surprise saw nests and what appeared to be juvenile birds on them. The floor was covered in a dark, noxious liquid (bird droppings in stagnant water most likely) but the experience was special.
A Nilgiri Thar kid
Next morning started with a MALABAR-WHISTLING THRUSH that let us approach very close allowing great shots of its blue scaled breast but never cooperated with a nice profile. Then onto Eravikulam NP, where we took the first forest dept bus ahead of the weekend crowds. Before we got on the bus though, got a pair of NILGIRI FLYCATCHERs and an immature BLACK-AND-ORANGE FLYCATCHER - no luck with any adults of the species. At the National Park visitor center, a NILGIRI PIPIT led us to burn 100's of Megabytes of pixels, but the best part was a WHITE-BELLIED SHORTWING in a roadside bush that played hide and seek
but allowed superb views. NILGIRI TAHR were tame but the vistas were superb. Then back to town and after lunch, Eldhose took us to his BROAD-TAILED
GRASSBIRD spot where after a steep hike we were in shoulder high grass shrouded in mist. The layers of mist lifted intemittently enough to let us shoot the GRASSBIRD which was singing lustily (which is why this is the best time of the year to see it) exposing its dark gape. That was a thrill that will not be easily forgotten. Forgot to mention - along the way we ran into a mixed species flock of Fulvettas, DARK-FRONTED BABBLERs and other usual suspects that we
followed off-road and managed to track for a while, letting us study INDIAN SCIMITAR-BABBLERs as they poked and probed into bromeliads, dead leaves in crevices etc, reminding me of certain Furnariids from the neotropics.
Having gotten our main targets, we adapted our plans and decided to head down to Thattekad for a change of scenery and birds. Stopped along the way where I got closeups of BLACK-THROATED MUNIA and perhaps the only case where I may have gotten a better picture than Rajneesh!
Reached Thattekad at night and Girish's house where we were welcomed with a delectable home-cooked meal. Had to hit the bed soon though since we were up at 3AM, walking down the main trail in pitch black behind Eldhose listening to several CEYLON FROGMOUTHs. Eventually we saw both a male and a female in the light of my small flashlight. The species which is now seen regularly at daytime roosts at Top-Slip, Periyar, Thattekad etc. is a huge thrill for someone like me, who started birding when this species was seen in India essentially only inside field-guides! Later in the day we ventured into other parts of
the sanctuary - a classic tropical rainforest with huge buttressed trees, lianas, butterflies and high-quality but hard to see species. A MALABAR TROGON pair afforded only a glimpse but the unexpected highlight was a fast moving flock of WYNAAD LAUGHINGTHRUSHes. We chased after them off-trail - emerging with scratched arms and legs covered in leeches with at least a few quick glimpses of this tough species as a reward. A trail, which was perhaps also used by cattle, had the worst density of leeches that I have ever donated blood to, but another broader trail with no leeches yielded a CRESTED GOSHAWK.
Such as the joys of birding in a tropical rainforest. The day ended with RED SPURFOWL that come to a feeding station setup by Eldhose at
his house. Then an overnight trip back to Banglore arriving just in time for another manic Monday.