Trip report: Thattekad, Nov ’14

Trip:       Thattekad

Camp:   Periyar River Lodge

Dates:   14-16 Nov ‘14

Who:     GiK

This trip was originally put together for GK, GiK and SS. GK’s wife wasn’t feeling very well and SS had to travel urgently on business to Laos, and so GiK and I ended up doing the trip by ourselves. I did two nights at Thattekad for the first time and this was the best of the three trips I’ve done so far.

The weather was muggy with the threat of rain every evening. On the day we landed (Fri), Mr. Luigi, the amiable manager of PRL spoke to Gireesh Chandran and was told that considering the weather, the afternoon’s birding plan was off and we’d meet the next morning. There was a steady drizzle and we had the afternoon to ourselves. We spent a couple of hours swimming in the river – in fact we spent a couple of hours everyday swimming in the river. The current was languid and the water was cool, making for a perfect wallow. The PRL boat was docked there, and we took turns diving off the gunwale.

By four thirty in the evening, Mr. Luigi suggested that we take a boat ride. The drizzle had run out though the clouds persisted and it was a very pleasant ride although the birding was not great. We were back at sundown when an elephant herd made its presence felt in the forest across the river, with the reedbrakes being violently demolished and boles being snapped with rifle-shot cracks. The light had faded, but we re-boarded the craft and drifted across, to about fifty or sixty feet from the opposite bank. The elephants themselves were not visible except for one glimpse at a pair, but the stripping of bark, uprooting of whole trees and demolition of the reedbrakes was loud enough to give us a very clear idea of where the animals were. As also the quink of the calves and the occasional trumpet. There was a small rocky islet not far from this bank on which a small group of men sat chatting idly in the still air, but their presence seemed to make no difference to the herd. After a while of silent observation, we headed back. The herd was there all night, with the animals taking turns to enter the water, churning it noisily. Sometime before five in the morning, the noises ceased and the herd melted away. GiK and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We sat on the porch for hours listening to the din.

The birding in and around PRL was fairly good, though we heard far more than we saw. We sighted the most common residents repeatedly – Cinereous tit, Malaber grey hornbill, Hill myna, White-browed wagtail, Little cormorant, River tern, Malabar parakeet, Purple-rumped sunbird and Orange minivet. And also Common iora, Fish eagle (Grey-headed or Lesser I couldn’t tell), Brown-capped pigmy woodpecker, Green imperial pigeon, Racket-tailed drongo, White-throated kingfisher, Indian roller, Chestnut-headed bee eater and coucal. And heard Indian scops owl, Common hawk cuckoo (all night), Red-wattled lapwing, flameback, Grey junglefowl and Jungle owlet. Each day began with a single song from the Malabar whistling thrush after rendering which, the bird promptly went silent for the rest of the day.

We did three outings with Gireesh Chandran. He was his usual effusive, amiable self notwithstanding the little incident of the last trip (which he doubtless hadn’t forgotten, considering his recollection of many specific sightings from my previous trips – the man doubtless has an incredible facility for memory).  Since this was GiK’s trip, his primary ask was what we were after – five birds – Black baza, Drongo cuckoo, Srilanka frogmouth, Dollar bird and the Indian pitta. And we saw them all, barring the pitta.

The first morning outing was to the usual rocky area. Atypically, we were the only people Gireesh was guiding, so we had him all to ourselves. The rocky area was lively as ever. In addition, there were elephants foraging noisily hardly fifty meters away in the reedbrakes off the rocks. We couldn’t see them, but could follow their movements from the tremendous din. Trying to ignore the elephants, we notched up a splendid list. Lesser flameback, Racket-tailed drongo, Black-naped oriole, White-bellied blue flycatcher, Blyth’s starling, Plum-headed parakeet, Malabar parakeet, Dollar bird, White-rumped needletail, Greenish warbler, Common iora, White-browed bulbul, Purple sunbird, Emerald dove, Orange minivet, Grey-fronted green pigeon, Drongo cuckoo, Gold-fronted leaf bird, Blue-bearded bee eater, Nilgiri flowerpecker, Loten’s sunbird, Crimson-backed sunbird, Grey-headed bulbul, Flame-throated bulbul, Jungle nightjar (on the way), Little spiderhunter, Bronzed drongo, Ashy drongo  and Chestnut-headed bee eater. And heard Indian treepie, Brown shrike and Grey junglefowl. Three Black bazas went flying past, and settled on different tree-tops. Both GiK and I missed catching them in flight and Gireesh Chandran was not too pleased as the light was good and they were not far away. There was what we thought to be a juvenile Oriental honey buzzard being mobbed by a Racket-tailed drongo. A little before we stepped over the electric fence to exit the sanctuary, Gireesh traced a solitary frogmouth and we spent some time getting pictures.

Srilanka frogmouth (pic: Girish Kulkarni):

Girish Galibore Thattekad 249

And on the way out, in the rubber plantation adjoining the sanctuary was a mixed hunting party comprising Malabar wood-shrike, Racket-tailed drongo, Velvet-fronted nuthatch, Orange minivet and Bronzed drongo.

The evening session was a wash-out. A couple from Mumbai – Govind and Sheetal, house guests of Gireesh – were with him when we linked up at the sanctuary entrance. Gireesh drove us for a few kilometers on the road back towards Kochi, to an area I haven’t visited before. Crested tree-swifts evidently flocked in this area, but there was nothing in sight except for Spotted doves. It was not yet 4 PM and presuming that we were early for the evening’s action, we suggested that we instead finish with the frogmouth pair that Gireesh had promised earlier. It was a twelve kilometer drive to the lovely forested place I’d been to a few times before; and also to a rocky slope surrounded by lush evergreen forests that I don’t remember seeing.

Srilanka frogmouth pair (pic: Girish Kulkarni):

Girish Galibore Thattekad 327

We watched the frogmouth pair briefly after which Gireesh suggested we head into the main sanctuary entrance to look for the pitta at its roosting haunt. However his car had developed a deflated tyre and precious daylight was lost in getting it fixed at Kuttampuzha en route. We had to perforce abandon the pitta plan for the day. Heading back, we were briefly distracted by what Gireesh identified as the Great-eared nightjar flitting above the road. Stopping for it, we were further distracted by Indian scops owls – a pair – that was calling from the foliage just by the road. We could see the owls occasionally sailing over our heads, but were unable to spot them when they called from the trees, try as we might. We finally gave up and headed our separate ways.

Dollar bird by torchlight, the light has distorted colours (pic: Girish Kulkarni):

Girish Galibore Thattekad 333

For the third outing (AM), Gireesh again led us to the rocky slope. There was plenty of activity this time, with other groups of birders present too.  In addition to many of the species seen the previous day, we saw Greater flameback, Golden oriole, Yellow-browed bulbul, Small minivet, Verditer flycatcher, Vernal hanging parrot, Black-naped monarch and Asian brown flycatcher. We then descended into the forest for a short loop (with a little bit of leech infestation en route). Gireesh was looking for the pitta and possibly a Malabar trogan. We sighted a White-bellied treepie, Crested serpent eagle, Brown-capped pigmy woodpecker, Malabar wood-shrike and a Brown-breasted flycatcher. Apart from the trogan, which presented a distant and fleeting sighting. Pitta called tantalizingly, but none appeared despite Gireesh’s efforts.

Common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) nest (pic: Girish Kulkarni):

Girish Galibore Thattekad 505

This was our final day and we were required to vacate our rooms at PRL to make way for a Brit group that was arriving. Mr. Luigi, considerate as ever, suggested that we take a packed lunch and trek up the dirt track running by the river on the opposite bank to kill time until evening. Some three hours or so on this road would bring us to the Idamalayar dam.

Accordingly, Elias was dispatched to accompany us and to keep a sharp lookout for elephant, and laden with a big heavy bag of food. Our usual driver Vijay hauled some eight liters of water as we were thirsty all the time. We crossed the river by boat and gained the track. This track ran by the river and through some picturesque forests, although the birding was not very satisfying. We walked at an unhurried pace and had the forest to ourselves. Some work was being done on this road although the workwomen were missing, this being a Sunday. There was heavy degradation of the prey base – chital, sambar and pig having been decimated for bush meat. Only the odd junglefowl had survived. There were traces of pig though at places, by way of dug earth.

Giant wood spider (Nephila pilipes), note the tiny male dwarfed by the massive female:

Girish Galibore Thattekad 530

Some four or five kilometers later, the dirt track ran into an asphalted road bearing a fair degree of traffic. We turned back at this point, stopping a short while later to demolish the foodbag – Mr. Luigi had crammed the bag with sandwiches and a cartful of fruit.

We were curious to examine the results of the elephants’ foraging as great patches of gouged earth and felled trees could be seen from across the river.  The patch of forest the elephants had been in looked like a deranged gang had been let loose with dynamite sticks and JCBs. Trees as wide as a foot had been uprooted whole and flung aside, while others had been snapped clean in half. The earth was gouged in large patches. And the place was littered with dung everywhere.

The track back evidently continued until it terminated on the bank opposite Kuttampuzha, a village midway to the sanctuary entrance from PRL. This road is motorable and can be accessed by car from Bhoodhathankettu. We have a plan to attempt it by car at sunrise or sunset on the next trip, looking for elephants or the odd sloth bear.

The list

Birds:

  1. Ashy drongo
  2. Asian brown flycatcher
  3. Asian openbilled stork
  4. Black baza
  5. Black-naped monarch
  6. Black-naped oriole
  7. Blue-bearded bee eater
  8. Blyth’s starling
  9. Bronzed drongo
  10. Brown-breasted flycatcher
  11. Brown-capped pigmy woodpecker
  12. Brown shrike (calls)
  13. Chestnut-headed bee eater
  14. Cinereous tit
  15. Coucal
  16. Common hawk cuckoo (calls)
  17. Common iora
  18. Crimson-backed sunbird
  19. Crimson-fronted barbet (calls)
  20. Dollar bird
  21. Drongo cuckoo
  22. Emerald dove
  23. Fish eagle
  24. Flame-throated bulbul
  25. Golden oriole
  26. Gold-fronted leaf bird
  27. Great-eared nightjar
  28. Greater flameback
  29. Green imperial pigeon
  30. Greenish warbler
  31. Grey-fronted green pigeon
  32. Grey-headed bulbul
  33. Grey junglefowl
  34. Hill myna
  35. Indian roller
  36. Indian scops owl
  37. Indian treepie
  38. Jungle nightjar
  39. Jungle owlet (calls)
  40. Lesser flameback
  41. Lesser whistling duck
  42. Little cormorant
  43. Little spiderhunter
  44. Loten’s sunbird
  45. Magpie robin
  46. Malabar grey hornbill
  47. Malabar parakeet
  48. Malabar trogan
  49. Malabar whistling thrush
  50. Malabar woodshrike
  51. Nilgiri flowerpecker
  52. Orange minivet
  53. Oriental honey buzzard?
  54. Plum-headed parakeet
  55. Purple sunbird
  56. Purple-rumped sunbird
  57. Racket-tailed drongo
  58. Red-wattled lapwing (calls)
  59. River tern
  60. Small minivet
  61. Spotted dove
  62. Sri Lanka frogmouth
  63. Stork-billed kingfisher
  64. Velvet-fronted nuthatch
  65. Verditer flycatcher
  66. Vernal hanging parrot
  67. White-bellied blue flycatcher
  68. White-bellied treepie
  69. White-browed bulbul
  70. White-browed wagtail
  71. White-cheeked barbet
  72. White-rumped needletail
  73. White-throated kingfisher
  74. Yellow-browed bulbul

Mammals:

  1. Elephant
  2. Indian giant squirrel
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5 thoughts on “Trip report: Thattekad, Nov ’14

  1. gypsyinjeans says:

    The more I read about Thattekad on your blog, the more I want to go there. After your suggestion I looked up how to get to Thattekad and found out that it is not far from Coimbatore. Thanks for introducing this place.

    • Badri says:

      You definitely should go. I went a little early this time. December or Jan would be ideal. I would recommend the same combo – PRL and Gireesh Chandran. You’ll love it.

  2. I like your photo of the frogmouth! Captures its stealthy behavior and its crankiness at being found.

  3. Ravindra says:

    Wow that’s an amazing species list! Nicely written Badri. The dollar bird is a first for me.

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