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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  1. Beautiful write up. Just made a trip to Eldhose (my second trip in last 3 years). Like you have said it was a great experience.

    1. Yes, I agree. It was my first and will be there again as images of a few endemics are still on the wishlist. Thanks so much for your comment Pranjal. Happy Birding!

  2. Wow. I have herd of Eldhose Birding lodge. But never went there for bird photography, my equipment being limited.

    1. Thanks a lot Makarand ji, you should surely plan a trip, good place to see the endemics and photograph them. Happy Birding!

  3. Reading your Birding blogs is always a delightful experience. You provide so much information for fellow birders that makes their task easier to plan their trips in future. I am looking forward for a similar experience next year. Best Wishes

    1. Thanks so much, always a pleasure to hear from you. Sharing is the least one can do, to create some awareness about good birds and their likely locations. And you will have a great trip for sure, best wishes and happy birding!

  4. What stunning photos. I didn't realise how beautiful Grey Junglefowl are.

    1. Thanks so much, yes they are stunning. Glad you liked the post, Happy Birding!

  5. Excellent write up with a splendor of photographs

    1. Thanks so much Ghummakar for appreciating, glad you liked the report. Happy Birding!

  6. Excellent write up and amazing images. Thanks for sharing the detailed information

    1. Thank you very much Gopi, looking forward to your new posts. Happy Birding!

  7. Lovely Images & Very Nice Write up. Leaving for Thattekad tomorrow. Excited to see all these species.. Thanks for sharing..

    1. Thank you so much, glad you liked the report and images. It's a great place and does spring a lot of surprises. Best Wishes


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