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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Monday, December 31, 2018

Birding in Sattal and Pangot (Naina Devi Himalayan Bird Conservation Reserve)

Apart, from being the most important pollinators, birds are also very colourful and play an important role in keeping the forest healthy. For instance nuthatches and woodpeckers clean up the larvae and eggs of moths and other insects from the trees. Owls, efficiently hunt the rodents using their excellent vision, strong beaks, and sharp talons.

Birds do depend on trees and water bodies for their survival, but have faced a decline in numbers because of urbanisation and deforestation. In the face of rapid urbanisation, wildlife is losing its place in the race of survival. 

It seems the growth of lantana by human settlers around forest areas at one time was one of the factors responsible for the disappearance of the Himalayan quail (considered extinct as hasn't been sighted since 1876) from the lower and middle Himalayan range, located in the state of Uttarakhand, INDIA.

The government is surely taking some steady steps to preserve nature and one such reserve was notified in the month of March 2015, the Naina Devi Himalayan Bird Conservation Reserve, the region starts from Kilbury road to Pangot and beyond. It's about 15 kms further up from the famous Himalaya Darshan point.

Having being into birding for seven odd years, was commonly asked by fellow birders, if I had been to Sattal and Pangot. It sounded as if a ritual and important area was being missed. Our trip began by connecting with Mr. Hari Lama, a naturalist and bird guide, who has been managing Birder's Den, in a small village near Sattal, between 22nd Dec 2018 ~ 27th Dec 2018

A drive through a beautiful countryside road after we crossed the town of Kathgodham (nearest railway station), surely did soothe the urban soul.

We reached Birder's Den, the perches along the feeders were dotted with birds, all the commoners came here in large numbers like the Greater and Lesser Yellow-naped Woodpeckers, Brown capped Woodpecker to name a few.

Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch (Sitta castanea almorae) - by Aseem Kothiala
Himalayan Bulbul (Pycnonotus leucogenys) - by Aseem Kothiala

Black Francolin (Francolinus francolinus asiae) - Image by Yash Kothiala

Just after the morning session, drove to experience the natural beauty of Chaafi, a hilly area, which  should be on everyones birding destination as it offered forest birds and birds that are found along the streams.

Golden Bush Robin (Tarsiger chrysaeus whistleri) - by Aseem Kothiala
Striated Prinia (Prinia crinigera) - by Aseem Kothiala
Rufous-bellied Niltava (Niltava sundara whistleri) - by Aseem Kothiala
Small Niltava (Niltava macgrigoriae) - by Aseem Kothiala
Whistler's Warbler (Seicercus whistleri) - by Aseem Kothiala
Yellow-bellied Fantail (Rhipidura hypoxantha) - by Aseem Kothiala
Sattal is a pristine location about 45 km away from Nainital. Tucked in between mountains of Uttarakhand, the Sattal Lake supports bounteous flora and fauna. The evening was well spent exploring the areas around the lake.

The migrants like the White-tailed Rubythroat, Slaty-Blue Flycathers had arrived. They were skulking and had to spend some time to get a decent view of these.

Slaty-blue Flycatcher (Ficedula tricolor) - by Aseem Kothiala
White-tailed Rubythroat (Luscinia pectoralis) - by Aseem Kothiala
The next day morning was a visit to another hide, we planned and reached there very early, here it was not the early bird, that gets the worm, but early birder gets the bird on the perch. The light was less but we were thrilled as the much awaited visitor had arrived. Many commoners of the region come in turns like the Red-billed Blue Magpies, White-crested and White-throated Laughingthrush's, Red-billed Leiothrix to name a few.

Common green magpie (Cissa chinensis) - by Yash Kothiala

Grey-winged Blackbird (Turdus boulboul) - by Aseem Kothiala 

Rufous-throated partridge (Arborophila rufogularis) - by Yash Kothiala

Afternoon we were driven to the fields a few miles below Nanital, where we scouted to look for some more winter migrants.

Red-fronted (Serin Serinus) - by Aseem Kothiala

Pink-browed Rosefinch (Carpodacus rodochroa) - by Yash Kothiala
On the way back, as we drove into chaafi area again, were pleased to sight the Tawny Fish Owl, roosting on a far away tree, which was on the other side of the flowing stream.

Tawny fish owl (Ketupa flavipes) - by Yash Kothiala
Later we drove till we could access the stream and trekked along it, sighted the Brown Dipper. As we had already seen the fork tails and Crested Kingfisher, did not wait there too long.

Brown dipper (Cinclus pallasii) - by Aseem Kothiala
The afternoon session was dedicated to look for the Aberrant Bush Warbler, and while we eagerly awaited saw few more commoners of the region like the Bar-tailed Treecreeper, Rufous and Grey Treepies, Black headed Jay to name a few. The sun was shining bright and the Great barbet looked all the more colourful.

Great Barbet (Megalaima virens) - by Aseem Kothiala
Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler (Pomatorhinus erythrogenys) - by Aseem Kothiala
Striated Laughingthrush (Grammatoptila striata) - by Aseem Kothiala
Aberrant Bush Warbler (Cettia flavolivacea) - by Yash Kothiala
Early morning we had to reach out to another hide, where the most commonly heard bird of the forest is seen, the Hill Partridge. After waiting for about an hour, a small flock arrived there, just after the Kalij Pheasants had left.

Common Hill Partridge (Arborophila torqueola millardi) - by Yash Kothiala
Streaked Laughingthrush (Trochalopteron lineatum) - by Aseem Kothiala
Great tit (Parus major) - by Aseem Kothiala
Black-lored Tit (Parus xanthogenys) - by Aseem Kothiala
Blue-capped Redstart (Phoenicurus coeruleocephala) - by Aseem Kothiala
Blue Whistling Thrush (Myophonus caeruleus temminckii) - by Aseem Kothiala
Rufous Sibia (Heterophasia capistrata) - by Aseem Kothiala
Grey-headed Woodpecker (Picus canus sanguiniceps) - by Aseem Kothiala
Green-backed Tit (Parus monticolus monticolus)
Just after have a successful sighting, started to drive towards the often eclipsed by its other half of Sattal, Pangot. It has a charm that is quite like no other. It is a few kilometres ahead of Nanital, Pangot is a quiet hamlet in the Kumaon region and definitely offers a variety of species that would tempt any birder. 

Chestnut-crowned laughingthrush (Trochalopteron erythrocephalum) - by Aseem Kothiala
The drive to Kunjakharak transiting through Vinayak is very secluded, pristine and one can experience the meditative silence in the forest. It was cold and the multi layers ensured we stayed cozy. During the drive (19~22kms) we did sight the Koklass Pheasant on two different instances.

There were plenty of raptors flying over the Cheer pheasant spot and maybe that could be the reason, could not sight them. Large flocks of Altai Accentor's were seen that would keep perching along the mountain cliffs and then fly on to nearby open trees and fly back and forth to save themselves from the birds of prey.

Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus) - by Aseem Kothiala 
Altai Accentor (Prunella himalayana) - by Aseem Kothiala
Mist-laden clouds that vie with the sun for their place in the sky every evening was mesmerising. Mystery-shrouded and hedonistic havens to some of the panoramic views of the Nanda Devi range will leave you spellbound.

Mighty Himalayas (View from Vinayak) - by Seema Kothiala

Mighty Himalayas (View from Vinayak) - by Seema Kothiala
The entire region was full of wildlife and could sight the Himalayan Buzzard waiting on the edges, the Hen Harrier would make a sudden appearance into the skies and disappear into the valley.

Himalayan Buzzard (Buteo refectus) - by Aseem Kothiala

Hen harrier (Circus cyaneus) - by Aseem Kothiala

The secretive Scaly thrush was seen foraging along the fallen leaves that has gone moist due to slight drizzle.

Scaly thrush (Zoothera dauma) - by Yash Kothiala

Himalayan Woodpecker (Dendrocopos himalayensis) - by Aseem Kothiala 

Himalayan shrike-babbler (Pteruthius ripleyi) - by Aseem Kothiala

The Oak forests in the Kumaon Himalaya is predominate, as we go higher one can find Pine forests, where birds greet you with their mellifluous hymns.

These locations had many places to suit each ones requirement across different economic status.

Ecotourism is indeed a vehicle for community-based conservation if it is conducted with an emphasis on the well-being of local ecosystems and human communities. 


L-R (Seema Kothiala, Yash Kothiala, Satish Thayapurath, Hari Lamba and myself)
Thanking Seema Kothiala, Yash Kothiala who travelled along and contributed the images for this post. Special thanks to Satish T who has been accompanying me on most to my birding trips.

Finally thanking Hari Lama, who arranged for all our stay, travel and was a great host. Wishing all my friends, readers and fellow birders a very Happy New Year 2019


Happy Birding!

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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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