Indian Pitta

It inhabits scrub jungle, deciduous and dense evergreen forest.

Nilgiri Flycatcher

An endemic resident in the Western Ghats of southern India.

Brown-winged Kingfisher

These kingfisher species excavate their nests in a river mud bank.

Tiger

Tales from the Land of Mowgli

Merlin

Feeds mostly on small birds, capturing them in mid-air in rapid pursuit.

Malabar Trogon

A resident of dense tropical forests.

Malabar Pied Hornbill

This species is omnivorous, taking fruit, fish and small mammals.

Crimson-backed Sunbird

Diet of sunbirds is based mostly on nectar

Golden-breasted Fulvetta

They prefer dense undergrowth, usually dominated by bamboo forest.

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Sunday, December 16, 2018

Birding in Thattekad Bird Sanctuary - Western Ghats

Western Ghats has been a fascinating destination for its abundant flora
and fauna and it's the very reason love to visit it again and again. From a birders perspective, the Western Ghats possess almost half of the bird species seen in India and many of them are endemics.

Typical for any birder, the first desire is getting a lifer and the second a decent image. After being to the region a couple of times earlier discovered that getting good images was surely a challenge. However, now can suggest that the easiest way to see and photograph the species in Thattekad Bird Sanctuary at least , is by visiting it with Eldhose K.V 


Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary that lies on the northern bank of river Periyar is considered to be one of the most diverse regions of forest in Ernakulam District, Kerala in Southern India.

Eldhose K.V is not only an avid birder but a highly experienced ornithologist residing within the vicinity of the bird sanctuary. Over the past 15 years, he has guided many well known birders into the forests of the region and also helped them in their expeditions. 

The bird hides that are made out by him are very carefully planned and built  around natural habitats, resulting in good photographic opportunities and make memorable images that one craves of the alluring birds of the Western Ghats. 

The day begins at 6.30am when Eldhose, puts out some freshly chopped bananas for The Malabar grey hornbill (Ocyceros griseus) a hornbill that is endemic to the Western Ghats.
Malabar grey hornbill (Ocyceros griseus)
Within minutes you can see a decent sized flock arrive, as the weather was gloomy and low light, making crisp images still was a challenge.
Malabar grey hornbill (Ocyceros griseus)
Soon after Eldhose split the guests into two lots, we were asked to wait at a near by hide where the blue-winged parakeet, which is also known as the Malabar parakeet (Psittacula columboides) again a species of parakeet endemic to the Western Ghats arrive in large numbers and other birds also flock to feed on the "appropriate" feed that is provided to them.
Malabar parakeet (Psittacula columboides) - Flying pattern - Composite image

Malabar parakeet (Psittacula columboides)
Black-rumped flameback (Dinopium benghalense)
Streak-throated woodpecker (Picus xanthopygaeus)
Rufous treepie (Dendrocitta vagabunda)
The session after this birding was in the primary forest along with a naturalist (Vimal Niravathu), we kept trekking through the twines and trees until we could see the Brown Wood Owl (Strix leptogrammica) and the slender loris, who are nocturnal and spend most of their life on trees, have read they travel along the top of branches with slow and precise movements. They were roosting so well, just that the angle was exactly at 90 deg, nevertheless sighting during day was thrilling.
Brown Wood Owl (Strix leptogrammica)
Slender loris
Post Lunch the session began at another hide a little away from his property called the "Flycatcher Hide" , as the name suggested many types of flycatchers arrived here to feed on the meal worms including the stubby-tailed Indian pitta (Pitta brachyura) who are usually very shy and hidden in the undergrowth. The session lasted till the sun set. 

Blue-throated Blue Flycatcher (Cyornis rubeculoides)
Indian pitta (Pitta brachyura)
Brown-breasted Flycatcher (Muscicapa muttui)
Yellow-browed bulbul (Acritillas indica)
Chestnut-tailed starling (Sturnia malabarica)
Once we returned to the lodge, were informed to prepare our equipment for the Mottled wood owl (Strix ocellata) who arrives almost every early evening.
Mottled wood owl (Strix ocellata)
The following day after the Malabar Grey Hornbill ritual, Eldhose took us just to the outskirts of his Lodge where the Grey junglefowl (Gallus sonneratii) and the red spurfowl (Galloperdix spadicea) come to feed in the wee hours. 
Grey junglefowl (Gallus sonneratii)
Red spurfowl (Galloperdix spadicea) 
Red spurfowl (Galloperdix spadicea)
The Philippine Shrike (Lanius cristatus lucionensis) was also seen.
Philippine Shrike (Lanius cristatus lucionensis)
We visited the primary forest again, this time to look for the Black Baza, which was seen roosting on high perch or in flight. Heart-spotted woodpecker and White-bellied Woodpecker was also seen. A pair of Malabar trogon and a female of the Srilankan frogmouth was also seen.

After lunch we decided to visit another hide, where the White-bellied Treepie makes its appearance and after waiting for the entire afternoon, did not even hear it. However, the next day afternoon, decided to go again and while Eldhose drove in his vehicle shared about the opportunity, he got in 1999 to assist in the production of the landmark BBC series, "The Life of Birds". He described how he identified the habitat and three nests of the elusive Rufous Woodpecker. He felt proud, as he shared that due to his knowledge and effort, Sir David Attenborough gifted him a pair of binoculars and a copy prior to the release of the episode.

The moment we were nearing the hide, heard the call, the White-bellied Treepie (Dendrocitta leucogastra) had already perched, it was its first appearance after the hide had re-opened post monsoon.
White-bellied Treepie (Dendrocitta leucogastra)
Post the evening session we ventured out to look for the Great Eared Nightjar, but even after walking for more than an hour could not locate one, instead we did sight the Indian Nightjar (Caprimulgus asiaticus) who was roosting along the road at the edge of the lodge.
Indian Nightjar (Caprimulgus asiaticus)
Today we planned to visit Munnar with another naturalist (Ajomon) and trip was planned in such a way, wherein our early hours was in the forests and tea estates around Pethumoda and later a session in a hide.

Flame-throated bulbul (Pycnonotus gularis)
Oriental white-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus) 
Golden-fronted leafbird (Chloropsis aurifrons)
Rusty-tailed flycatcher (Ficedula ruficauda)

Many might wonder the reasons why we opted for hide photography this time 

# Primarily to walk away with decent images.
# Had very limited time available. (Three days 26th Nov 2018 ~ 29 Nov 2018)
# Could get very close to the elusive bird species.

Observed that one can easily get decent images by a lens with a focal lenght of either a 300 or 400 mm. Though the 500mm mounted on a Dx framed gave very tight frames in these hides.

One can opt either for only hide photography or only forest birding or a combo of both, depending what suits you, in either case you wont be disappointed.

Would like to Thanks Eldhose K V and his family who manage the Eldhose Birding Lodge so well, also Mr. Vinod Sharma, who accompanied me during this trip.


Happy Birding!

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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Birding in the Nilgiris - Western Ghats

The Nilgiri (literally meaning blue mountain) hills are sub range of Western Ghats mountain chain with about two dozen mountain peaks that are above the height of 2,000 metres. Blue Mountains are the little known places in India and quite famous for the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, along with its amazing flora and fauna. Every twelve years, these Nilgiri hills of southern India turn blue as the flowers (Kurinji or Neelkurinji) that give the range its name are in full bloom, making it a UNESCO natural heritage site.

Our journey this time started from a quiet village 'Kotagiri" which is just a couple of hours from the city of Coimbatore. Kotagiri is one of the oldest hill station in the Nilgiris apart from Ooty and Coonoor and has vast landscapes of tea estates. 

The locals call the region as Sholas. The scenery around was gorgeous and had this undeniable charm. The nearby hills and forest were sensational for birding.

SIMS park was the chosen place to help us photograph the Near-threatened Black and Orange Flycatcher. We were the first ones to enter the park that opened at around 7 am. We walked through the lush garden beds and some native shrubs and mature trees.
Black-and-orange Flycatcher Ficedula nigrorufa   - Male
The Nilgiri Wood Pigeon is found in the canopy of dense hill forests and sholas of Western Ghats. Nilgiri Wood Pigeons are also listed as one of the vulnerable species of birds in India.
Nilgiri Wood Pigeon Columba elphinstonii  
The best place to see the endangered skulker the Nilgiri Sholakili alias Nilgiri Blue robin. These birds are very active during the early hours of the day.
Nilgiri Blue Robin Myiomela major  
We did sight two pairs in the vicinity and while we were enjoying its company, heard some sound and saw the Brown Wood Owl fly out to another far away tree and kept an eye on us. 

Later by early noon, we visited a tea garden, situated on a hill, to look for the endemic and endangered Black-chinned Laughingthrush. Glad, we found the bird, and could skip going to Doddabetta, which is also the highest point of the Nilgiris.
Black-chinned Laughingthrush Trochalopteron cachinnans 
The Kashmir flycatcher a vulnerable species that is endemic to the Indian Subcontinent, it breeds in the north-west Himalayas in the Kashmir region, migrates and also winters in the Western Ghats. The female was being sighted in another location, about 7-8 kms away from where we saw the male.
Kashmir Flycatcher Ficedula subrubra 
The naturalist who took us around was none other than Aggal Sivalingam, whom we have known for more than 3-4 years, through my friends who have known him for more than a decade. Aggal ji after a brief stint in venturing into a family business, had started his career in the wild and has helped many professional and hobby wildlife enthusiast see and photograph the lovely winged avian endangered species in the Nilgiri forests. He indeed has a keen sight and interest, to show the birds that are otherwise difficult to sight in his carrier, which spans to almost two decades.

The forests around the region is also good to see the endemic Nilgiri Flowerpecker, apart from other commoners like the Booted warbler, Scaly-breasted Munia, Red-whiskered Bulbul to name a few.

 Nilgiri Flowerpecker Dicaeum concolor 
There a couple of locations where Aggal ji has built machans (a platform erected in a tree, used for watching birds and animals ), where one can wait and get many endemic and resident birds. However, different species are seen at different times of the year.

Streak-throated Woodpecker, Malabar Parakeet, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Chestnut-headed bee-eater to name a few were sighted apart from White-rumped Munia, Indian Oriole, Bank Myna.
 
Malabar Parakeet Psittacula columboides
Streak-throated Woodpecker Picus xanthopygaeus 
Indeed the increasing human population has led to increased illegal encroachment into Western Ghat forests, cattle grazing and the harvesting of fuel wood, notably for tea factories has led the species to be threatened with extinction.

Another species which is fairly common in the region, but is near-threatened and an endemic resident in the Western Ghats of southern India, the Nilgiri Flycatcher can been seen here.
Nilgiri Verditer Flycatcher Eumyias albicaudatus 
Would like to mention and thank my fellow birder Vinod Sharma, who accompanied and traveled along with me to the region during the fourth week of November 2018 for three days. 

Hoping the species survive and thrive with time to come. Thanking all readers and wishing you all Happy Birding in The Nilgiris...

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Birding in Bhitarkanika National Park

MANGROVES are often neglected, though they are highly productive and important prolific ecosystems on the boundary between land and sea. Only a few realise that Mangroves are a home to a array of species of fish, migratory birds and crocodiles.

Mangroves are the first line of defense for coastal communities. They not only stabilize shorelines by slowing down the process of erosion but also provide and act as natural barriers avoiding flooding during storms and hurricanes.

One such mangrove is located along the river delta (estuarial region) of Brahmani and Baitarani in the the north-eastern place of Kendrapara district of Odisha (Orissa), popularly called Bhitarkanika National Park. The core area here was declared as a national park somewhere in the month of September in the year 1998.

The region is known to many bird watchers as the best place in India to see the Mangrove Pitta. April is the mating season and that is when the birds scout out to find their mates. 

The morning began when Bijay Kumar Das our guide, met us and took us on three different trails. Each trail had at least one pair and were busy foraging together. The area is very dense and had stems of trees spread all over. Many places had different types of roots. The knee roots was the most common having numerous lenticels. The month was very humid and  walking between the gaps was indeed a very different experience. Many times the feet would sink into the moist, clay coloured wetland bed.
Mangrove pitta (Pitta megarhyncha) -Image by Aseem Kothiala
The earth's largest living crocodile is the salt water crocodile, also known as the estuarine crocodile. They are seen here and some have even sighted and recorded the ones measuring 23 feet in length. Usually seen basking in the open. New borns were more bolder than the adults, who are excellent swimmers would just sink into the backwater.
Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) Image by Aseem Kothiala
The second half of our day was spent travelling on a boat that kept moving through the twist and turns of the flowing water. During low tide the water resides and the waders were seen coming very close to the edge of the water to feed. 
White-bellied sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Slaty-breasted rail (Gallirallus striatus) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Pacific golden plover (Pluvialis fulva) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Different types of Kingfishers are seen here, especially the endangered Brown-winged Kingfisher. The kingfishers are very active during the low tide, feeding on fish and crabs. There were instances when we even saw the mangrove pitta. Being very shy it would get back into the mangroves.
Brown-winged kingfisher (Pelargopsis amauroptera) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Black-capped kingfisher (Halcyon pileata) Image by Aseem Kothiala
The boat does keep rocking when it stops and vibrates when its in slow motion, so one needs to anticipate and click in order to compose them well. 
Collared kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris humii) Image by Aseem Kothiala
The commoners can be seen on almost every twig, just waiting to dive in and get their catch.
Oriental darter or Indian darter (Anhinga melanogaster) Image by Aseem Kothiala
The region of the various kingfishers seemed very demarcated, as there was a large number of Pied Kingfishers seen only at the end of mangrove forest.
Pied kingfisher (Ceryle rudis) Image by Aseem Kothiala
This is where we turned back to return to the camp. The next day we spent some time in the campus of Bhitarkanika Nature Camps, Dangmal. We were lucky to sight the Eyebrowed Thrush hopping and feeding on the ground. They are rare migrants to the region, usually breeding in Siberia.

Eyebrowed thrush (Turdus obscurus) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Eyebrowed thrush (Turdus obscurus) Image by Aseem Kothiala
The common birds of the region like the Spotted owlet, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Rufous woodpecker are seen in the early hours of the day. They can be seen virtually posing on all types of perches.
Spotted owlet (Athene brama) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Grey-headed woodpecker (Picus canus) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Red junglefowl (Gallus gallus) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Rufous woodpecker, (Micropternus brachyurus) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Greenish warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Little egret (Egretta garzetta) Image by Aseem Kothiala
Common greenshank (Tringa nebularia) Image by Aseem Kothiala
One must plan and spend at least three to four days here. This will ensure one gets to see and take photographs of birds that other wise are difficult to find. We also heard its a place where one can see the Fishing cat, by traveling about 5 hours by boat on a different route. Thanks to Shyam Ghate for this information, whom we met there during our stay.

Thanking Subhadeep Ghosh, Samir Ovalekar who planned this beautiful trip in the month of April 2018

Happy Birding!

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