Trip Report: Valparai
Dates: 6-8 Feb 2016
Camp: Stanmore Bungalow
Stanmore Bungalow near Valparai is situated on the rim of a verdant bowl of tea plantation, the slopes falling away from beneath the bungalow to a stream at the bottom of the valley. This was an office team outing. PA and I stayed back an extra day to devote some time to the fauna.
The view from the wooden chalets is postcardish, and it was pleasant to sit on the sit-out listening to bird calls. An unseen CSE had taken to calling at intervals right through the day. We sighted one a few kilometers away on day 2 but were not sure it was the same bird. Junglefowl called frequently from the tea, cocks challenging each other. Indian scimitar babbler was heard frequently, and we did spot a couple when wandering down to the stream. While watching elephants by the stream at sunset, I heard what I believe were Rufous babblers roosting in a tree. The birds were not seen though. I remember that White-browed bulbul were also heard a few times. Early in the morning, the Malabar whistling thrush startled us awake by calling from the balcony, just a few feet away.
Seen around the campus were Asian fairy bluebird, Yellow-browed bulbul, Malabar whistling thrush, Purple sunbird, Orange-headed thrush, White-browed wagtail, Grey wagtail, a solitary kestrel, Greenish warbler, Red-whiskered bulbul, Tailorbird and Magpie robin. A couple of raptors were constantly seen circling over the stream, but we were unable to decisively ID them.
The Woodbriar group had a naturalist who was based at an estate called Puduthottam. We bumped into him while on a drive to see LTMs, and as we stood by the roadside talking, four stripe-necked mongoose crossed the road one behind the other a short distance away. We drove to Puduthottam after dark one evening, but saw only Black-naped hare, muntjac and sambar for all our trouble. The naturalist claimed he saw a leopard cat though; it scampered away before I could spot it, if that’s what it was. I’m not sure if PA got to see it.
Stanmore Bungalow was managed by a very friendly young man called Vivek Varma, who had a keen interest in wildlife. He came with us whenever he could tear himself away from work. A leopard was said to pass by the bungalow gate occasionally, and he’d instructed the watchman to wake us up if we got lucky. We saw plenty of porcupine and civet scat among the tea plants.
Nilgiri flowerpecker I think. We saw this little bird while photographing LTMs near the catchment area of the Sholayar dam.
Unidentified. Warbler species possibly. This bird was foraging amongst dry leaf litter in the campus, and permitted a very close approach.
Lion-tailed macaque Macaca silenus
We were returning from the drive to the Sholayar catchment when Vivek called to tell us an elephant herd was at the stream. Another herd had visited the stream the previous afternoon and we’d watched them from afar. This time, we drove down into the valley, parked some distance away and approached the herd on foot. Standing some hundred meters away, we watched the herd feeding and socializing until the light was fully gone. The experience was scintillating.
I was flummoxed initially at the sight of the squirrels in the campus, being unaware of the existence of this species – the Nilgiri palm squirrel Funambulus sublineatus. They were ubiquitous, noisy and exuberant.
This landscape is fertile ground for elephant-human conflict and sure enough, stories were aplenty about people killed by elephants. A couple of days before our visit, a solitary makhna had evidently killed the manager of an estate nearby as he bathed in a tank generally referred to as the ‘swimming pool’. We had been warned to watch for this makhna while out in the tea plantation. On the last day, Vivek and I had walked down to the stream early in the morning. A tractor driver passing on the dirt road warned us that he’d seen the elephant beside the track a short distance away. We saw the elephant ourselves shortly, sunning himself on a little island in the stream. Vivek was of the opinion that this particular animal was harmless and didn’t buy the story of the killing. I got a poor picture, given the terrible light.