Saturday, December 31, 2016

Birding in Western Ghats (2016)

The mountain chain of the Western Ghats has high montane forests and is older than the Himalaya range.  It not only represents geomorphic features of immense importance with unique biophysical and ecological processes but also has an exceptionally high level of biological diversity and endemism.

The tropical evergreen forests is home to some endemic and globally threatened species of birds and mammals, sighting these was our prime focus this season. Had been to some parts of this region earlier in 2013 (Ref: Birding in Western Ghats)

We planned our round trip starting on the 4th day of December 2016 and ending at Kochi on the 13th day of December 2016

1. Thattekkad - moist tropical lowlands.
2. Munnar - moist hill region.
3. Chinnar - dry climate zone.
4. Valparai- highlands.

Thattekkad Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala, India.
(4th Dec ~ 6th Dec afternoon)

Thattekkad is on the Ernakulam-Munnar road and about an hour and half drive from Kochi airport. The sanctuary is a spectacular place situated on the Periya River in Kerala. We were booked into "Jungle Bird Homestay" which is owned, managed and run my Mr. Gireesh Chandra and his family. Our introductory meet itself with him was very encouraging.

We (Myself and Satish Thayapurath) arrived late and our other two birding pals (Chewang Bonpo and Prasanna Sahakari)  had already reached the night before. The weather was surprisingly very hot and humid during the day. We set out for birding to different locations each session (mornings and evenings)

The silence of the forest was broken by the calls of the Malabar Trogon, which we sighted during our first safari.

Malabar Trogon - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Later we drove to an isolated patch where pairs of Sri Lankan Frogmouth were roosting. They were still as a dried leaf and very well camouflaged.

Sri Lankan Frogmouth - Image by Aseem Kothiala
The most exciting wait was near a small pond where the birds like Indian blue Robin, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, Asian-Fairy bluebird , Puff Throated Babbler to name a few came for a dip. There is a thick canopy over the water body, which makes it a safe haven for birds to come.

Asian Fairy-bluebird - Image by Aseem Kothiala
We also sighted White-bellied woodpecker who was flying around. On our return we heard the call of the Indian-scoops Owl but could not see it as it swiftly disappeared into the forest. A lone dollar bird was roosting on the wire.

The following day we set out on a trek into the sanctuary. The trees were very tall and bird activity was nice. Just they were a little too far for photographing. At a good distance across the water body sighted the Black Baza roosting in the early morning light.

Suddenly, we could hear the flight of a large bird and the moment we turned our heads up, sighting the Great-Indian Hornbill. Surely, an excellent place for birding. Most of our sighting of these species were through dense thickets.

The noisy white-bellied treepie was seen on a couple of instances, definately a very shy bird.

We spent our early morning trying to photograph the Brown-hawk owl and the entire afternoon session looking for the Sri lanka bay owl but in vain. On the last day we spent some time birding with Sudha Ma'am, who was also a very keen birder and showed us the Vernal Hanging Parrot, Malabar Woodshrike, Malabar Grey Hornbill and Sunbirds. At a distant we could hear the calls of Jungle owlet and Treepie's.

Crimson-backed Sunbird - Image by Aseem Kothiala
As the day was getting hotter we decided to head back to the homestay, pack and leave for our next destination, Munnar. One must plan to be here for at least 4-5 days to get decent frames of the endemic species.

Munnar, Kerela, India. (approx elevation 1500m)
(7th Dec ~ 8th Dec)

We stayed away from the hustling town of Munnar, in a resort tucked away near the Bison valley. The  area around the reception had a beautiful garden and many birds like the yellow-browed bulbul and the Indian blue robin were seen, as we sipped our morning cuppa of tea.

Indian Blue Robin - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Early morning we met up with Mr. Saju Lawrence, who was our guide for the next 4 days. Soon we were driving past the Eravikulam National Park to the region behind the hills. The scenery around us had mountains that kept rolling, craggy peaks, very well manicured tea estates and crisp cool air.

Landscape around Munnar - Image by Aseem Kothiala (cellphone click)
Along the birding route that we trekked, sighted the endemic Nilgiri flycatcher, Kerela Laughing Thrush and few Warblers.

Nilgiri Flycatcher - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Kerala Laughing-thrush - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Tickell's Leaf Warbler - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Post breakfast we spent our time in the Eravikulam National Park, which is home to the more charismatic endemics to the Western Ghats, The Nilgiri Tahr. Its where we had our first ever sighting of the endemic Nilgiri Blue Robin and Nilgiri Thrush.

Nilgiri thrush - Image by Aseem Kothiala 
Surprisingly, the Nilgiri Tahr was relatively easy to spot along the mountains side and came so close that we could take pictures with our cellphone.

Nilgiri Tahr - Image by Aseem Kothiala (cellphone click)
The second session was a drive towards the Lockhart gap area and the adjacent grasslands in the surrounding hills where we sighted the Hill Swallow and the Nilgiri Pipit.

Nilgiri Pipit - Image by Aseem Kothiala

Hill Swallow - Image by Aseem Kothiala
The return journey was along the marshy patch along the river, where we saw a pair of Pin-tailed snipe's, who were very shy, first they hide themselves by going low into the grass and finally flew and roosted under the cover of thick bush in a nearby isolated patch.

Pin-tailed Snipe - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Just as the noon set in we packed up to head to our next destination, Chinnar. Saju kept up his promise to show us the Black and Orange flycatcher. The area after the descend from Munnar near the temple was a good birding spot as well, where we sighted the Nilgiri Blue robin also called as the White-bellied Shortwing along with few other birds.

Greater Flameback - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Black-and-orange Flycatcher - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher - Image by Aseem Kothiala
White-bellied Shortwing - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerela, India.
(9th Dec ~ 10th Dec)

The sanctuary is one of the many protected areas, located in the rain shadow region, in the eastern part of the ranges of southern western ghats. The habitat ranges from high altitude shola grasslands to dry thorny scrub jungle. Some stretches even reminded me of Kutch. It is contiguous to a couple of national parks in Kerela and wildlife sanctuary of Tamilnadu.

The Chinnar river flows along the lower region of the sanctuary. The tall Arjuna trees were seen along the bank,  though their trunk was buttressed, had a wide canopy at the crown, where we could see the Tuffed grey langurs, Malabar Giant Squirrels and many raptors like the Changeable-hawk Eagle, Oriental-honey Buzzard on the branches.

Malabar Giant Squirrel - Image by Aseem Kothiala
The riverine forests supports a healthy population of the endangered Grizzled Giant Squirrel, also known as the pride of Chinnar.

Grizzled giant squirrel - Image by Aseem Kothiala
We took the guided trek on every session to a different route that was conducted by the forest department and the Eco-development committees of the local tribal communities. The trek was on the trails, where in we saw many Minivets, Bulbuls, Babblers and illusive Spot-bellied Eagle Owl.

Spot-bellied Eagle Owl - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Chinnar, was even more hotter and humid as compared to Thattekkad during the day. We camped in the rooms provided by the Forest dept as it was easy to get to the trails. Due to unforeseen event Prasanna had to travel back from here.

Valparai, Tamilnadu, India (Approx Elevation 1100m)
11th Dec ~ 13th Dec

After a very comfortable three hour drive from Chinnar, we took the diversion on the 40th hairpin bend that led us to a small hill station, called Valparai. It is located on the Anaimalai hills range of the Western Ghats is also a bio diversity hotspot and has tropical rain forests.

We checked into a old traditional bungalow of a tea estate away from the downtown. The moment we checked-in, got a call that a decently large group of about 90 odd Lion-tailed macaques have begun to ascend and were crossing the road.  By the time we reached most of them had crossed over and we were still lucky to sight the alpha male, who kept guard and ensured the remaining group also moved on.

Lion-tailed Macaque - Image by Chewang Bonpo
We looked at the endangered primates, who had ashy grey mane and a very glossy black coat. They were lost in their own world, blissfully unaware of the dangers that face them. There are barely few hundreds of them in the Anaimalai hills. The locals, NGOs and wildlife conservationists are striving to protect these species in this pristine environment. We met two forest guards who track them and ensure the vehicles move slowly to avoid them getting run over by speeding vehicles.

Lion-tailed Macaque - Image by Aseem Kothiala
While we drove back to the bungalow, sighted the Black-naped Hare grazing under the tea plantations. The undergrowth of the tea plantations was an excellent habitat for the Indian Scimitar babblers and Rufous babblers. Sighted a pair who kept moving across the tea estate.

Indian Scimitar Babbler - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Indian Scimitar Babbler - Image by Chewang Bonpo
Rufous Babbler - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Ocassionly, we could hear the calls of the grey jungle fowls and Indian pitta.. sighted a pair of Crested serpent eagles were seen roosting, seems they had retired for the day.

The next morning, we set out to see the great indian hornbill along with Rajesh, who knew the area well. We had to trek down into a estate, we heard their calls just at the start. However, could not get a good sighting. As the day broke saw a very large flock of Mountain Imperial Pigeons that kept emerging and flying past us. We also sighted many other birds like the Vernal Hanging Parrots, Golden-fronted leafbirds, Flane-throated bulbuls, Malabar Parakeets, large flocks of Pampodour Green Pigeons. We spotted Brown Fish Owl on our return.

Vernal Hanging Parrot - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Malabar Barbet - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Malabar Parakeet - Image by Aseem Kothiala
As we were busy birding, noticed this inquisitive stripe-necked mongoose. It was busy watching us and the moment we looked into his eyes, it started to move swiftly, posed and disappeared.

Stripe-necked Mongoose - Image by Aseem Kothiala 
Our evening was spent birding along the tea estates and a drive towards sholya dam. Sighted this beautiful Nilgiri langur, that is a vulnerable primate endemic to the western ghats of India.

Nilgiri Langur - Image by Aseem Kothiala
Black eagle along with a Bonelli's eagle were seen hovering over the tea estates.  As the sun set for the day, we packed our equipment as the next morning we had to drive back to Kochi.

Sunset near Sholya Dam - Image by Chewang Bonpo 
We (Satish Thayapurath,  Chewang Bonpo and myself ) had a wonderful time and during the entire trip missed Shiva Shankar who could not make it. Have listed some key species that were sighted during this trip. In all about 150 birds of which 9 were lifers for me.

Happy Birding!
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                                           A short video of the birds taken during this trip
Description Remarks / Location
GALLIFORMES: Phasianidae
Indian Peafowl Pavo cristatus Chinnar
Grey Junglefowl Gallus sonneratii Endemic / Munnar / Valparai
Red Spurfowl Galloperdix spadicea Endemic
Nilgiri Pigeon Columba elphinstonii Endemic/Vulnerable / Munnar
Pompadour Green Pigeon Treron pompadora Valparai
Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica Chinnar 
Green Imperial Pigeon Ducula aenea Valparai
Mountain Imperial Pigeon Ducula badia Valparai
Sri Lankan Frogmouth Batrachostomus moniliger Thattekkad
Jacobin Cuckoo Clamator jacobinus Chinnar 
Drongo Cuckoo Surniculus lugubris Thattekkad
Large Hawk Cuckoo Hierococcyx sparverioides Munnar
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus Munnar
Cinnamon Bittern Ixobrychus cinnamomeus Munnar
Pin-tailed Snipe Gallinago stenura Munnar
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus Chinnar 
Oriental Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus Chinnar 
Black Baza Aviceda leuphotes Thattekkad
Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis cheela Commonly Seen
Changeable Hawk Eagle Nisaetus cirrhatus Chinnar 
Black Eagle Ictinaetus malaiensis Valparai
Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus Munnar
Shikra Accipiter badius Munnar
Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus Valparai
Eurasian Buzzard Buteo buteo Munnar
Spot-bellied Eagle Owl Bubo nipalensis Chinnar 
Brown Fish Owl Ketupa zeylonensis Valparai
Malabar Trogon Harpactes fasciatus Thattekkad
Great Hornbill Buceros bicornis Near-threatened / Thattekkad
Malabar Grey Hornbill Ocyceros griseus Endemic/Thattekkad /Valparai
Heart-spotted Woodpecker Hemicircus canente Thattekkad
Common Flameback Dinopium javanense Thattekkad
Streak-throated Woodpecker Picus xanthopygaeus Munnar
White-bellied Woodpecker Dryocopus javensis Thattekkad
Greater Flameback Chrysocolaptes lucidus Munnar
Brown-capped Woodpecker Dendrocopos moluccensis Munnar / Chinnar
Yellow-crowned Woodpecker Dendrocopos mahrattensis Munnar / Chinnar
PICIFORMES: Ramphastidae
White-cheeked Barbet Psilopogon viridis Endemic / Commonly Seen
Malabar Barbet Psilopogon malabaricus Endemic/Thattekkad /Valparai
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater Merops leschenaulti Chinnar 
Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis Thattekkad
Malabar Parakeet Psittacula columboides Endemic / Commonly seen
Vernal Hanging Parrot Loriculus vernalis Thattekkad / Valparai
Indian Pitta Pitta brachyura Valparai
PASSERIFORMES: Campephagidae
Small Minivet Pericrocotus cinnamomeus Commonly Seen
Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus flammeus Commonly Seen
Large Cuckooshrike Coracina javensis Chinnar 
Black-headed Cuckooshrike Lalage melanoptera Chinnar 
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus Thattekkad
Bay-backed Shrike Lanius vittatus Chinnar
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach Commonly seen
Rufous Treepie Dendrocitta vagabunda Thattekkad / Chinnar
White-bellied Treepie Dendrocitta leucogastra Endemic / Thattekkad
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea Thattekkad
Indian Paradise-flycatcher Terpsiphone paradisi Thattekkad / Chinnar
Plain Flowerpecker Dicaeum concolor Thattekkad
PASSERIFORMES: Nectariniidae
Crimson-backed Sunbird Leptocoma minima Endemic / Thattekkad
Asian Fairy-bluebird Irena puella Commonly seen
Golden-fronted Leafbird Chloropsis aurifrons Commonly seen
Nilgiri Pipit Anthus nilghiriensis Endemic/Vulnerable/Munnar
Common Rosefinch Erythrina erythrina Munnar
PASSERIFORMES: Stenostiridae
Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher Culicicapa ceylonensis Munnar
PASSERIFORMES: Acrocephalidae
Blyth's Reed Warbler Acrocephalus dumetorum Munnar
Clamorous Reed Warbler Acrocephalus stentoreus Munnar
Hill Swallow Hirundo domicola Munnar
PASSERIFORMES: Phylloscopidae
Tickell's Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus affinis Munnar
Indian Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus horsfieldii Munnar / Valparai
Puff-throated Babbler Pellorneum ruficeps Commonly seen
PASSERIFORMES: Leiothrichidae
Rufous Babbler Argya subrufa Endemic / Valparai
Yellow-billed Babbler Turdoides affinis Chinnar
Kerala Laughing-thrush Trochalopteron fairbanki Near-threatened / Munnar
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch Sitta frontalis Chinnar
Chestnut-tailed Starling Sturnia malabarica Commonly Seen
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica Thattekkad / Chinnar
Brown-breasted Flycatcher Muscicapa muttui Chinnar
White-bellied Blue Flycatcher Cyornis pallidipes Endemic / Thattekkad
Blue-throated Blue Flycatcher Cyornis rubeculoides Thattekkad 
Asian Verditer Flycatcher Eumyias thalassinus Chinnar
Indian Blue Robin Larvivora brunnea Commonly seen
Malabar Whistling Thrush Myophonus horsfieldii Endemic / Commonly seen
Black-and-orange Flycatcher Ficedula nigrorufa
Nilgiri thrush  Zoothera neilgherriensis Munnar
White-bellied Shortwing Myiomela albiventris Munnar

Mammal List
Lion-tailed Macaque  Macaca silenus Endemic/ Endangered/Valparai
Nilgiri Langur  Trachypithecus johnii Endemic/Vulnerable/Munnar
Tufted Gray Langurs  Semnopithecus priam
/ Chinnar
Nilgiri Tahr Hemitragus hylocrius Endemic/Endangered/Munnar
Stripe-necked Mongoose  Herpestes vitticollis Munnar
Malabar Giant Squirrel Ratufa indica Commonly Seen
Grizzled giant squirrel Ratufa macroura Near-Threatened / Chinnar


  1. beautiful report and thanks for the compilation

    1. Thank you Chewang, it's always a pleasure to go birding with you. Thank you for contributing:)

  2. It's excellent report ...good information. ..amazing sighting. .. and top class photography. ..congratulations ...

    1. Thank you so much Vilas, sincerely appreciate this gesture

  3. Superbly describe with awesome pictures . Well done good job.

  4. Lovely write and beautiful images.

  5. Great report. Thanks for sharing. You might be interested in my recent Malaysia trip report with zoologist Nigel Marven at which covers Taman Negara and Fraser's Hill.

    1. Thanks for appreciating. Will surely read your trip report. Thanks for sharing the link. Happy Birding.

  6. Great report, which brought back many happy memories of a trip in 2008, and you got Nilgiri Thrush, which we failed to connect with.

    I think your snipe is not a Jack Snipe though - Common or Pintail I think.

    1. Thanks a lot! Glad you liked the trip report. There is a certain place where the Nilgiri thrush is seen often. We were lucky it showed up that day as well.

      Yes, another birding pal had mentioned the same about the Snipe. Thanks for pointing out, will correct the ID. Happy Birding!

  7. nice composition between Photo n writing...

  8. Nice report! Can you tell me in which accommodation you stayed in Munnar, Chinnar Reserve and Valparai?

    1. Thanks a lot for appreciating. We stayed in Olive Brook in Munnar, Forest Guesthouse in Chinnar and The Soul bungalow in Valparai. Should you need more information you can write to me. Happy Birding!

  9. Hi Aseem, Nice writeup. How to go about to get accommodation at Forest Guesthouse at Chinnar ? Do we need to book early ? How is the stay, can a family stay there ? Thank you Dr Roopesh

    1. Hello Dr Roopesh, thanks for appreciating. The guesthouse can be booked from Forest Information Centre Wildlife Warden’s Office in Munnar itself. They do have options for family as well. Regards,

  10. Thanks for sharing this stunning blog post on Birding. Keep sharing interesting posts.

    Raven's Nest

    1. Thanks a lot for appreciating. Glad you liked it!

  11. Replies
    1. Glad you liked it Sudhir, thanks a lot for appreciating!

  12. Great sightings, beautiful as always.

    1. Thanks a lot for appreciating Sumeet. Much obliged by your lovely comments. Thanks again and Happy Birding!

  13. Does anybody has any guide contacts in chinnar ?

    1. Please send me an email, will drop in some connects in Munnar, who will be able to guide you. Happy Birding!

  14. Would you suggest a birding guide for us at Valaparai, with contact number.


    1. Hello, we stayed by the Soul bungalow, they had a naturalist who showed us around. Drop me an email and will share the details.


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