India 2023 Tuesday 28 March-Saturday 8 April Kerala & Tamil Nadu by Diane & Nick Carter

Tuesday 28 March Tadoba to Mudumalai via Nagpur & Bangalore

Up early for 4am journey to Nagpur to catch flight to Bangalore. Met by Anoop Jacob, our guide for the rest of the trip, and Shafi the driver. Got off to a great start with Asian Palm Swifts over the airport and Indian Grey Hornbill on the long journey to Jungle Hut, Mudumalai. Picked up Jungle Myna on the way too as well as Red-rumped Swallow, Red-whiskered Bulbul and Grey-headed Swamphen and our first Asian Elephants in Bandipur Tiger Reserve. Also picked up Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Red-headed Vulture, White-browed Wagtail and Small Minivet and Bonnet Macaques. As it got dark picked up a Indian Giant Squirrel, calling Jerdon’s Nightjar and a Brown Hawk Owl.

Wednesday 29 March Mudumalai

Great Flameback and Crested Hawk Eagle were picked up in the hotel grounds and Coppersmith Barbet heard. Met local guide Rajesh (see below with Anoop, Shafi and Nick) which allowed us to go off-track in the forest. Soon saw Red-rumped Swallows, Spotted Owlet, Yellow-billed Babbler, Indian White-eye, White-browed Bulbul, Brahminy Starling, Red-vented Bulbul, Coppersmith Barbet, Common Hawk Cuckoo White-bellied Drongo, Rufous Treepie, Grey Junglefowl, Bay-backed Shrike, Collared Dove, Peacock, Coucal and then 2 real gems: Indian Nuthatch and Jerdon’s Bushlark. The birds kept on coming with Booted Warbler, Cinereous Tit, Tawny-bellied Babbler, Hoopoe, Pale-billed Flowerpecker, Small Minivet, Common Tailorbird, Jungle Myna, Green Bee-eater, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Indian Robin, Laughing Dove, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Lesser Whitethroat, White-rumped Vulture, White-spotted Fantail, Purplerumped Sunbird, Grey-breasted Prinia, Malabar Parakeet. Then back to Jungle Hut for breakfast where the Giant Squirrels were putting on a good show. After breakfast went to look for the nearby Spot-bellied Eagle Owl; an impressive beast which took off and its size was then even more apparent. Also saw White-cheeked Barbet, Malabar Lark, Black-throated Munia, Jungle Nightjar and best of all the trip’s number 1 target bird, Indian Pitta.

In the afternoon there was a torrential rain storm but we headed off for our afternoon safari; passing a TV in the road and lots of motorcycles pushed over in the storm. Highlights included Asian Elephants in a stream, Streak-throated Woodpecker, Indian Blackbird and possibly best of all a Stripenecked Mongoose was videoed shuffling around.

Thursday 30 March Mudumalai & Ooty

Another safari this morning after some issues getting a 4-WD. Early highlights were fresh Tiger droppings, a Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and Common Flameback. An Indian Cuckoo was heard (we never did see one although heard several more) and 4 Dhole running along the track and later a mongoose species which scuttled off before we could identify it. A wide range of bird species seen. Back at the Jungle Hut we were taken to see a pair of Brown Wood Owls before heading off for Ooty.

After arriving at the very smart Hotel Accord Highland, with its multi-dimensional shower, we headed off to the botanical gardens although the rain put a bit of a dampener to proceedings. There was a Woman’s Rights protest going on and we chatted to a few people before heading off to the far end of the gardens. A Tickell’s Leaf Warbler was by the pond and a Black and Orange Flycatcher in the trees above it although it took me a bit of time to locate it. We had a look at the Toda Temple in the neighbouring village but could not find out much about its age etc although it did look very old, as well as being very small. Apparently only the priest can go inside to retrieve the holy buffalo milk. Walking back through the gardens we saw 5 Hoopoe probing the grass slope after the rains. We heard a Nilgiri Laughing Thrush and then almost at the end a Nilgiri Flycatcher.

Friday 31 March Ooty & Valparai

After breakfast in the hotel, we headed off to the nearby viewpoint which had lots of food stalls catering for the visitors (bought Mr Whirly there). We quickly found the local Nilgiri Wood Pigeons, good views of Nilgiri/Black-chinned Laughing Thrush and after some searching Nilgiri Blue Robin.

Then headed off towards Valparai and the Sirukundra Bungalow. On the way stopped off for Nilgiri Pipit on a roadside slope near a tea plantation which had numerous Hindu Gods and Shrines scattered about. A Hill Swallow was also flying about but did not get great views of it.

Further along had brief views of two Painted Bush Quail. At Aliyar finally caught up with a Brahminy Kite at a major river crossing along with the only Black-crowned Night Heron. A Black-winged Kite was perched near the roadside café we stopped at.

Then into Annamalai Tiger Reserve where we had a brief view of an Emerald Dove and a Chestnutheaded Bee-eater as well as a Malabar Grey Hornbill and a Malabar Whistling Thrush (subsequently woken up some mornings by its song which sounded just like a human whistling). Also seen, a Rufous Babbler and Long-tailed Shrike.

Drove through lots of tea plantations, including one where they were weighing out the day’s pickings. The accommodation, Sirukundra Bungalow, was very good but a very strange atmosphere; we were the only people for dinner (until three creepy, silent ladies arrived) and the manager stood next to us and served each dish separately. It was intimidating but guess he was giving us special attention. All the food was brought over from the kitchen so was not as hot as it could be. Breakfast, after a reasonable night’s sleep although woken by a Malabar Whistling Thrush, was similar.

Saturday 1 April Valparai & Munnar

After breakfast headed off to see the nearby Lion-tailed Macaques which must be the most awake of monkeys as they feed on the Arabica coffee beans! Who should pop-up but the manager from the accommodation who followed us around. Great interactions between the Lion-tails and the Bonnet Macaques and also good views of Giant Squirrels. Also picked up Malabar Barbet there in the distance. Stopped off at some tea plantation workers’ cottages and photographed them.

On the journey, I stopped at a seemingly random place to see Yellow-browed Bulbul which has a complete yellow front so a bit of a misnomer. As we came out of the hills, we stopped at a Coconut plantation to view Asian Palm Swifts flying overhead; a slightly more appropriate habitat than Bangalore Airport! Then through Annamalai Tiger Reserve again and into the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary on the Tamil Nadu/Kerala border. We walked along the stream in very hot conditions looking at the Tufted Langurs for the first time properly and saw Thick-billed Flowerpecker and Barwinged Flycatcher-shrikes as well as a Bronzed Drongo and an Orange Minivet. Also flushed a Brownfish Owl from its daytime roost. Lots of birds along the streamside trees but much quieter in the drier scrub although a Black-winged Kite sitting at the top of the viewing platform was notable.

Along the roadside near Alanpetty(?) saw a female Grizzled Giant Squirrel just as we were pulling away!. On the wires a Hill Swallow gave great views and also saw Kerala/Palani Laughing Thrush and White-bellied Black Robin and we heard a Nilgiri Thrush responding to playback. Further along the road a male Asian Elephant was grazing right next to the road and attracting a lot of attention from motorists. Anoop and Shafi picked up a couple of Giant Flying Squirrels in the trees around the car park. Overnight at the Olive Brook.

Sunday 2 April Munnar

We drove off to Eravikulam National Park, which had reopened the day before, and caught a bus up to the reception/café area. A Dusky-striped Squirrel was a new mammal for the trip and a Palani Laughing Thrush hanging around the dustbins and a White-bellied Blue Robin in the scrub below the buildings and a flock of Painted Bush Quail gave good views, as well as Square-tailed Bulbuls. As we walked up higher, we had closer views of Nilgiri Pipit than previously, a hidden Pit Viper and good views of about eight Nilgiri Tahr as they came down the hillside but no sign of the Broad-tailed Grassbird which we never did catch up with.

Once back at the car we saw and followed a soaring Black Eagle, another of my prime target birds, and at one point it was mobbed by a crow, which it dwarfed.

Further roadside birding added Indian Blue Robin and Lesser Hill Myna and first sight of Indian Scimitar Babbler, which had previously been heard only in earlier trips. Also, our first encounter with the region’s hungry leeches.

In the afternoon we birded along the road above Olive Brook getting further views of the endemic birds and adding Large-billed Leaf Warbler and Nilgiri Flowerpecker, the third and final flowerpecker of the region. At the top of the hill, we obtained good views of Hanging Vernal Parrot and a Bluecapped Rock Thrush which I had missed in Mudumalai. On the walk back to the Lodge Anoop found a Grey-fronted Green Pigeon which resulted in Diane going AWOL as she walked back to find us and we had already driven past the Lodge!

A night-time walk up the road yielded nothing!

Monday 3 April Munnar to Periyar

My 70th birthday! Shortly after leaving Munnar, we stopped to look for Nilgiri Martens and picked up a Crested Goshawk in the roadside woodland. Further along the road we had a Dhole running along the road and on further inspection saw at least four others on the cliff above the road. Back into Tamil Nadu and we picked up Yellow-throated Bulbul in yet another apparently random roadside stop! Then later our only Blue-faced Malkoha of the trip. Arrived at Wildernest B&B in Thekkady.

In the afternoon drove to the nearby National Park and went for a walking safari, starting at 14.30. Through dry forest to start with hearing an Oriental Scops Owl, Blyth’s Starling, Malabar Woodshrike and heard another Indian Cuckoo but couldn’t spot it in the treetops. Into the wet forest and more leeches, which despite the leech socks managed to get onto my back and into Di’s shoes! However, we did have great views of Malabar Trogon and heard, and then saw, a Great Hornbill in the treetops, so two target birds picked up in one afternoon. A monster of a bird which when it flew created its own wind and noise! Then added White-bellied Treepie which were difficult to get a good view of and the small, active Dark-fronted Babblers and also Heart-spotted Woodpeckers (70th species on my 70th!). Then as I flagged, we walked to a spot of Wayanad Laughing Thrushes, which I saw but couldn’t make anything out. Fortunately, Shafi came to pick us up and took us to a pretty scruffy coffee shop where a well-fed leech dropped off my back!

In the evening, after a revitalising shower, we went to a local restaurant for a meal to celebrate my birthday rounded off with birthday cake and a bottle of wine! After a great day’s birding it was a great end to my birthday.

Tuesday 4 April Periyar

Another walking safari with good views of Bonnet Macaques, (Malabar) Greater Flameback (possible split) Wayanad Laughing Thrushes, including a nest! Towards the end of the walk, we managed to see our second Indian Pitta.

In the afternoon we went on a boat ride which went well until the heavens opened as we turned to come back.

Did pick up Brahminy Kite, some Asian Elephants, herd of Gaur and an Ashy Woodswallow flying over Water.

Wednesday 5 April Periyar to Thattekkad

Off to our last place on the itinerary. In the village of Attikalum picked up Black Eagle, Rusty-tailed Flycatcher, which we had missed at Periyar, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Dark-fronted Babbler, Common Iora and a range of other common birds. Near the Lower Periyar Dam, I quickly found and got good views of Grey-headed Bulbul and then Crimson-backed Sunbirds which didn’t stay still long enough for me to photograph, Orange Minivet and more Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrikes.

A few birds around the Hornbill Camp, our Glamping home for the next two nights, including a perched Brahminy Kite. Off to Svalava Forest where we quickly picked up Asian Fairy Bluebirds, in the distance, and Flame-throated Bulbuls as well as more Crimson-backed Sunbirds, Malabar Grey Hornbill, White-cheeked Barbet and White-bellied Treepie. Then to Anoop’s surprise a Black-naped Oriole was perched high up in a tree and some Green Imperial Pigeons.

An evening walk near a local village produced a flyover Great-eared Nightjar almost as soon as we got out of the car. Further flashlight views of it and also a perched Jerdon’s Nightjar and Indian Scops Owl.

Thursday 6 April Thattekkad

The next morning, we headed off to Urulanthanni, some more local forest. After a slow start we picked up a White-rumped Spinetail/Needletail which on one occasion came down close to the rock we were observing from. Another Grey-fronted Green Pigeon was notable amongst the range of woodland birds on show. We saw a female White-bellied Blue Flycatcher near some forest buildings and an Emerald Dove. We headed back to the car where Anoop led us a few yards off the road to view a pair of Sri Lanka Frogmouths! Then parked along the main road through the forest where Shafi spotted a massive, female White-bellied Woodpecker pecking at a fallen tree. Anoop returned to say a roosting Sri Lanka Bay Owl had been found by one of his friends. Great views and it didn’t seem perturbed by our presence. Also seen a male White-bellied Blue Flycatcher and a Rusty-tailed Flycatcher but we couldn’t find the Blue-eared Kingfisher.

In the afternoon we headed off to the Salim Ali Reserve but a combination of a continuous thunderstorm and my upset stomach curtailed activities before we could find the hoped for Nilgiri Thrush.

The local area had a lot of rubber plantations with the collecting cups next to the bark often sheltered from the rain with small plastic umbrellas.

Friday 7 April Thattekkad & to Kochi Airport

For our final session we returned to Svalava Forest and walked to a series of lakes; beautiful scenery slightly diminished by Di sitting on an abandoned fridge! Despite this we picked up three new bird species: Loten’s Sunbird, Lesser Yellownape and best of all a Blue-bearded Bee-eater, another bird on my most desired list.

We left Hornbill Camp at 14.30 for a 1.5-hour journey to Kochi Airport where we said goodbye to Anoop and Shafi. We had issues getting past the guard who didn’t like our ticket and the fact Di and I had different coloured passports!. At Check-in we had to wait for new tickets to be issued before we could proceed through security and onto the plane.

Saturday 8 April Arrival Heathrow via Mumbai

Flight took off on-time, at 05.15am from Mumbai and we landed early around 10.00am. One and a half hours later in our car driving back, arriving home about 3pm after a short shop at Tesco’s.