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):

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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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Thattekad Reprised – Feb ’14

Trip Report:        Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, Thattekad

Dates:                   21-22 Feb 2014

Camp:                   Periyar River Lodge

My experience in Thattekad in January enthused BIL B enough to want to do a repeat trip over a quick weekend. Accordingly we bussed in from Bangalore and pretty much replicated the itinerary from the prior trip. With one difference, but we’ll talk about that in a while.

Bhothathankettu was a disappointment and devoid of birdlife. Unlike the last time when I visited on a week day (Friday), we ended up visiting on a Saturday and the place was as lively with squawking tourists this time around as it was with avifauna the last time. The Flame-throated bulbuls were there though, along with the Racket-tailed drongos and Chestnut headed bee-eaters. I checked for the record-breaking teak tree mentioned in my previous post and not unexpectedly, it lay across the river somewhere, out of bounds without permission.

Mr. Luigi and the staff at PRL were hospitable as ever and we settled in with great hopes for the evening. We linked up with Gireesh Chandran at the place where I had sighted the Dollar birds the last time around (they were there this time too). Now Gireesh was accompanied by a couple of his house guests, and these two men had gawked their way through their wish-list over the past couple of days, barring three candidates –  Mottled wood owl, Black baza and Drongo cuckoo. And therein lay the rub. Gireesh assumed BIL and I would fall in with their plans to devote our energies to just these three species.

Anyway, we went into the reserve forest area adjacent to the sanctuary and saw a pair of Sri Lanka frogmouths, Yellow-browed bulbul, Brown-breasted flycatcher, White-bellied treepie and the much-sought-after Drongo cuckoo. Not counting the ubiquitous Malabar hornbills, Indian treepies and Racket-tailed drongos. At this point, the rain played spoilsport and we scurried back to town, ending the day’s work with a precious hour’s daylight wasted.

The next morning, Gireesh announced that he planned to take us all to Bhoothathankettu in search of the Black baza, and I was not pleased with this. We had just these two outings on our itinerary and it didn’t make sense (to me) to take BIL all the way to Thattekad and back without ever having set foot inside the sanctuary. At any rate, Gireesh wasn’t going to alter his house guests’ plans, and off he went to Bhoothathankettu looking for the baza. I wanted BIL to experience the rocky area inside the sanctuary that was so productive last time, and got Gireesh to call another guide. Some sort of tenuous arrangement was patched up hurriedly over the phone. BIL and I then drove back to the spot where there was a gap in the sanctuary’s fence and crossed in. Gireesh had some hesitation in sending us in on our own as a herd of elephants was sighted the previous evening in the area, but the fellow on the phone cleared that concern.

Anyway we found our way to the rocky area and joined Vinod, and he did a very decent job of guiding the morning’s outing. We saw Ashy drongo, Hill myna, Rufous woodpecker, Blyth’s starling (excellent and multiple sightings), Green imperial pigeon, Common Iora, Malabar hornbill, Gold fronted leaf bird, Orange minivet, Small minivet and Jungle nightjar. Apologies for the patricians and plebeians all merrily mixed up in that list. Or perhaps not. The highlight of the outing was a frogmouth and chick sighting.

The boat ride around PRL was spectacular as ever. Mr. Luigi himself joined us this time. Ironically, we saw the bird that was partly responsible for the morning’s hullabaloo – the Black baza – right off the boat, a short distance from PRL. And a truly spectacular bird it is. We also saw Black naped oriole, Asian fairy blue-bird, Vernal hanging parrot, Orange minivet and a Crested serpent eagle that thumped onto some small creature in the grass not fifteen feet from us and covered it’s trophy with outspread wings, glowering at us.

Post boat ride, we spent a glorious hour swimming in the river in front of the lodge, and I regret not having done this in the previous trip. Few experiences can beat lazing in a cool, slow-running river flanked by verdant greenery in hot weather.

I should also mention here that the staff and management of PRL showed an admirable degree of concern over the guiding issue, and took pains to follow up and apologize after we had returned to Bangalore. Another reason to return to PRL yet again, next winter.

Here are a few pictures:

Bhoothathankettu:

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Thattekad 2nd trip 023

Batrachostomus moniliger, female on the right:

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Thattekad 2nd trip 069

Frogmouth with chick:

Thattekad 2nd trip 152

CSE:

Thattekad 2nd trip 179

“What you lookin’ at?”

Thattekad 2nd trip 203

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Trip Report: Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, Jan-Feb 2014

Trip report:         Thattekad Bird Sanctuary

Dates:                   31-Jan/1-Feb 2014

Camp:                  Periyar River Lodge

Written:              2-Feb 2014

I’ve wanted to get to Thattekad for a while. This trip materialized unexpectedly though. Work took me to Kochi for a couple of days and I took advantage of this to spend an additional two days at Thattekad.

Thattekad

The Thattekad bird sanctuary, more precisely called the Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary lies about 80 kilometers north-east of Kochi. It comprises twenty five square kilometers of muggy, lowland evergreen forests and an astonishing number of avian species – over 280 in fact.  There are also portions of riverine, scrub and dry deciduous habitats. The Periyar river and its tributaries flow through the area. The recommended window for visiting is Oct-Apr, though the season for winter migrants ends with February.

Bhoothathankettu

We’d left Kochi early in the morning and as check-in time at the Periyar River Lodge (PRL) was at noon, we had time to kill. We stopped off en route at Bhoothathankettu, 64 kilometers from Kochi, for a spot of birding. This forest falls under the Thundathil range of the Malayattoor Forest Division. In 2012, forest staff had discovered what is believed to be the largest teak tree in Asia in this range. Forty meters tall, 500 years old and 765 cms in girth, the giant remained undiscovered until then.  Unfortunately I discovered this fact today, after the trip was done.

There is a trail leading off towards Old Bhoothathankettu just before the entrance to the Idamalayar Hydroelectric Project. This trail runs through some very pleasant evergreen forests for a kilometer or two until it reaches the Idamalayar, a tributary of the Periyar. Our driver Vijay was familiar with the area, blessed with superb eyesight, and was developing a fascination for learning the identities of hitherto unknown birds he’d been seeing for most of his life. This plus the time we had on our hands meant we could spend a very pleasant couple of hours on that trail, walking at the pace forests deserve to be walked through. We saw Malabar giant squirrel, Greater racket-tailed drongo, Malabar parakeet, Vernal hanging parrot, Nilgiri flycatcher, Grey headed fish eagle, Malabar whistling thrush and Orange headed thrush. Once we were done, Thattekad was but a short half hour drive from here.

Periyar River Lodge (PRL)

I hadn’t checked out the Hornbill camp, but I did see a couple of other places in Thattekad and nothing is a patch on the PRL in terms of the ambience (from what I saw). The lodge is small and cosy – just two rooms – and is built largely of teak. It is tastefully sited on the Periyar’s banks, in the midst of a rubber plantation. You could spend all day here, sitting by the river bank or reading on the porch.

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Lunch done, N disappeared to nap off the fatigue of his journey leaving me to my own devices. I sat with the binos watching a pair of Red whiskered bulbuls gleaning off a tree facing the porch. Something skittered onto a slender bole fifteen feet away. It didn’t seem to be a bird or butterfly and sure enough, it was Draco dussumieri – the Southern flying lizard. I spent an engrossed ten minutes watching it skim from tree to tree. The little creature had a yellow gular sac that it folded and unfolded in a steady deliberate manner.

Once the lizard disappeared, I climbed down to the riverbank and settled down on an exposed root. A Grey junglefowl cock that had been persistently calling during lunch was now soundlessly foraging at the water’s edge on the far side. Nearer at hand, two rocky outcrops midstream held three interesting couples – a pair of Whiskered terns that occasionally took to the air on fishing forays, a much larger pair of River terns that was all squawk and little action, and an odd pair of sleeping cormorants – greater and little. The terns appeared to have a commendable strike rate, tracing large circles above the water together and steeply descending occasionally to scoop prey off the surface before returning to their place on the rock.  None of the birds appeared to be bothered by the sun that blazed onto the exposed rock. And all three pairs seemed to be permanent habitués of the rock considering that I saw them on it all the time in the two days I was there.

I also had occasion to speed-read the visitors’ book in the little atrium. PRL is visited mainly by European and American tourists and unsurprisingly, they all wax eloquently about the beauty of the place and the graciousness of the hospitality.

Before I move on, I should make a mention of the open-to-air bathrooms at PRL. There is something singularly delightful about showering with a canopy of green peeping from high overhead.

While I was waiting at the Kochi airport, a friend asked me what the highlights of the trip were. After some thought, I concluded that the PRL experience was definitely one of them (the other being basking in the close presence of the frogmouth).

Gireesh

When I checked around prior to traveling, almost everyone I spoke to pointed me to Gireesh Chandran for guiding. Gireesh is a practicing lawyer aside from his near-legendary guiding credentials. He lives at the periphery of the sanctuary just off the main entrance and has eight rooms to accommodate guests who also wish to stay with him. Gireesh is a man of remarkable energy, with that equally remarkable ability to converse comfortably with you like he knew you forever. And since remarkable things come in triples, Gireesh also has a remarkable story around how he came to be a birding guide. But you should hear that from him first hand…

Being guided by Gireesh Chandran in Thattekad involves keeping up with his blistering pace of walk. Gireesh is a connoisseur of avian super-celebrities, and his single-minded purpose is to make sure you get to cover as much of the A-list as possible in the limited time you have with him. So if you’re expecting to soak in the sights and smells of the forest at leisure, stopping by every bird or other interesting sight, be forewarned that these outings aren’t going to allow you that privilege. Gireesh puts an enormous amount of effort into getting you to meet the A-listers and he expects you to do your bit by sticking with the program. He is often on the phone connecting with fellow guides and others, ceaselessly keeping track of what is sighted where.

The A-list

A quick pre-trip check revealed that the A-list for Thattekad roughly comprises: Sri Lanka frogmouth, Indian pitta, Nilgiri wood pigeon, White-bellied treepie, Nilgiri flycatcher, Grey headed bulbul, Wayanad laughing thrush, Rufous babbler, Malabar lark, Crimson backed sunbird, White-bellied blue flycatcher, Malabar parakeet, Mottled wood owl, Oriental bay owl, Oriental Scops owl, Black throated munia, Black baza, Dollar bird, Drongo cuckoo, Banded bay cuckoo and two needletails. We sighted roughly half this list.

Day 1

We did two outings, one in the evening and another the following morning. For the first one, we linked up with Gireesh in the late afternoon a few kilometers ahead of the sanctuary gate (whilst approaching from PRL). The plan was to cross into the sanctuary at a point a few kilometers north of the main gate. We were admiring a Brown breasted flycatcher prior to plunging under the fence-wire when Gireesh got a message on his “phone tree” about an Oriental bay owl having been located at another location. It was then a scramble back to the cars. This worthy had been sighted in the reserve forest adjacent to the sanctuary proper, and we veered off the dirt road (on foot) into game trails in the thick underbrush. And there in the dim understorey was our quarry – Phodilus badius – the Oriental bay owl.

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Three Hungarian birdwatchers whom Gireesh was also guiding settled down to spend some time with the owl, while he took me aside to locate the Sri Lanka frogmouth. I had given Gireesh my wishlist comprising seven species – Sri Lanka frogmouth, Crimson-backed sunbird, Mottled wood owl, Oriental bay owl, Black baza, Vernal hanging parrot and Dollar bird – he was looking to get cracking right away; (Gireesh delivered five of these in two sessions plus many more bonus sightings – the elusive exceptions being the baza and the Mottled wood owl).

Sighting the Sri Lanka frogmouth – Batrachostomus moniliger is a fairly unique experience. The bird roosts unmoving in thick undergrowth, often in the same spot for months, and at a low height. Due to its reliance on crypsis, you can creep to within a couple of meters provided you keep silent and refrain from making contact with any part of the shrubbery the bird is perched on. And once you are in position, you can spend as much time as you want staring away (or clicking); the bird continues its somnolent trance quite unmindful of you.

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Owl and frogmouth done, it was back to the cars. (We had briefly stopped en route to the frogmouth for a Drongo cuckoo sighting). I had asked to be shown the quaintly named Dollar bird, and Gireesh stopped off at a point by the roadside and walked me to a pair high up on a tree.

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The Hungarian trio was in quest of an obscure munia I haven’t heard of, and Gireesh led us to a still pool by the river to look for it.

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While the Hungarians went about their business, N and I settled down to contemplate a circling Whiskered tern, a lone Asian openbilled stork and a number of Pond herons. Gireesh however doesn’t favour one set of his wards to the detriment of others, and it wouldn’t do to keep me hanging around waiting for a munia I’d never heard of. He therefore asked me if I’d like to meet the Stork-billed kingfisher. He then spent some considerable effort in looking for this bird, including with the lure of playback. But our luck was out and not wanting us to end the day with failure, Gireesh led us into the sanctuary via the main gate to look for the Indian pitta, leaving the Hungarians to their munia.

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A few steps into the gate, he managed to spot the pitta and we spent a few minutes admiring the bird in the fading light.

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The light was now gone and after stopping by his place for a quick cuppa, we headed back to the PRL in the dark, feeling that glow that accrues from a day that unfolds well.

Day 2

We met for the morning outing at the same point as the previous day, and crossed over into the sanctuary via a small gap in the (unpowered) electric fencing. Dark fronted babblers buzzed a chorus in the background. Gireesh led us up the rocky area ASK had mentioned to me earlier, to a small and lively clearing. We stood around there for a half hour. We spent another half hour on the edge of a rocky promontory nearby with a grand view of the forest below. A succession of species turned up around us in both spots.

Most numerous were Gold fronted leaf birds and Flame throated bulbuls. Malabar grey hornbills were everywhere, and their weird cackling constantly in the background on the trails as well as in the PRL. Other species sighted were the Malabar trogon, a flock of Malabar starlings, Asian fairy bluebird, Bronzed drongo, Ashy drongo, Vernal hanging parrot, Malabar parakeet, Green barbet, Golden oriole, Black headed oriole, Lesser flameback, Greater flameback, Heart spotted woodpecker, White-bellied woodpecker, Green imperial pigeon, Hill myna, Small minivet, Orange minivet, White rumped needletail, Loten’s sunbird, Crimson backed sunbird, Asian brown flycatcher, Grey tit, Grey fronted green pigeon, Crested goshawk and Banded grey cuckoo. A lone Malabar giant squirrel was also seen foraging in the forest below.

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We were elated with the morning’s work, but there was more to come. We trooped to yet another spot to look at a solitary Jungle nightjar – Caprimulgus indicus – roosting on a branch high up on a tree, (the only species of nightjar that doesn’t roost on the ground).

The others in the group hadn’t seen the frogmouth, so Gireesh took us to another solitary female deep inside the underbrush. And then we were done and eager to get our breakfasts.

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The canoe ride

Mr. Luige, the manager of PRL had organized a post-breakfast canoe ride up the river. Several mentions in the visitors’ book of the canoe ride’s virtues triggered our request. The “canoe” turned out to be a rather large, well-crafted wooden boat manned by two people (Eldhos of PRL and his brother). The ride was through some breathtakingly beautiful scenery. Rank vegetation and dark forests on both sides of the shallow verdant waterway. The only problem was the sun. The ride should have been done earlier in the morning, or late in the evening. As it was, a blazing sun burned down, tanning us all three shades darker. Doing this ride in the early morning or late evening would take you as close to paradise as is possible on earth.

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At one spot we noticed a Malabar grey hornbill sitting on the bank. It took flight at our approach, but landed right back at the same spot. Suspecting that it was caught in a snare, we docked the boat and Vijay and I climbed up the sandy bank. The bird allowed us to approach very close, and then took flight a short distance up a tree. There was no snare and the bird was not tethered. Perhaps it was a juvenile, not fully fledged although it appeared to be adult-sized.

A fair bit of birdlife was visible on the ride. Numerous Chestnut headed bee-eaters hawked everywhere. On the trees were Asian fairy bluebird, Racket tailed drongo, a solitary Grey headed fish eagle, Malabar parakeet, Hill myna and a Little heron. In the river were cormorant, darter, River tern and the ubiquitous Whiskered terns. We spotted a solitary terrapin basking on the bank. Just before docking at the lodge, we sighted a pair of Dollar birds and a solitary White browed wagtail.

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The list

Here is the full list of avian species sighted.

1/ Asian fairy bluebird

2/ Chestnut headed bee-eater

3/ Dollar bird

4/ Flame throated bulbul

5/ Red whiskered bulbul

6/ Greater cormorant

7/ Little cormorant

8/ Banded bay cuckoo

9/ Drongo cuckoo

10/ Black headed cuckoo shrike?

11/ Ashy drongo

12/ Bronzed drongo

13/ Greater racket-tailed drongo

14/ Grey headed fish eagle

15/ Lesser flameback

16/ Greater flameback

17/ Asian brown flycatcher

18/ Brown breasted flycatcher

19/ Nilgiri flycatcher

20/ Sri Lanka frogmouth

21/ Crested goshawk

22/ Malabar grey hornbill

23/ Little heron

24/ Pond heron

25/ Grey junglefowl

26/ Pied kingfisher

27/ White throated kingfisher

28/ Brahminy kite

29/ Gold fronted leaf bird

30/ Blue faced malkoha

31/ Orange minivet

32/ Small minivet

33/ Black throated munia

34/ Hill myna

35/ White-rumped needletail

36/ Jungle nightjar

37/ Asian openbilled stork

38/ Black headed oriole

39/ Golden oriole

40/ Brown hawk owl

41/ Oriental bay owl

42/ Malabar parakeet

43/ Vernal hanging parrot

44/ Green imperial pigeon

45/ Grey fronted green pigeon

46/ Indian pitta

47/ Malabar starling

48/ Crimson backed sunbird

49/ Loten’s sunbird

50/ Purple sunbird

51/ Indian swiftlet

52/ River tern

53/ Whiskered tern

54/ Malabar whistling thrush

55/ Orange headed thrush

56/ Grey tit

57/ Malabar trogon

58/ Heart spotted woodpecker

59/ White bellied woodpecker

60/ Green barbet