Bird Watching Safari
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Although rather neglected by birders visiting the vast Indian Subcontinent,
the southern sector of peninsula India offers some superb birding in an area
quite different in character to other parts of this country. The region is
dominated by the hills and mountains of the Western Ghats and the pace of
life here is rather less frenetic than in parts of the north. This tour samples
a wide range of habitats that characterise this part of the subcontinent and
focuses in particular on finding the twenty species endemic to this area of
India and a further fifteen shared with Sri Lanka. We will of course find
many of the common and widespread species of the subcontinent and a variety
of winter visitors from breeding grounds further north.
Day 1: Departure from London to Chennai (Madras).
Day 2: Arrival in Chennai and catch internal flight to Bangalore where we
spend the night.
Day 3: Today we travel southwest towards Mysore. We make a stop en-route
to look for Spot-billed Pelican and Painted Stork, both of which nest on trees
and houses around the village of Kokkare Bellur. We can also visit a small
reserve close to the city of Mysore at Raganathittu. Here we will find concentrations
of breeding birds including Black-crowned Night, Indian Pond Herons, Eurasian
Spoonbill, Asian Openbill and Great, Indian and Little Cormorants and Oriental
Darter. These birds allow a close approach in small boats, affording superb
close views and excellent photographic opportunities. Another bird we expect
to find here is Greater Thicknee as it loafs around on rocks in the middle
of the river. Other species we may find include River Tern and Streak-throated
Swallow, while a large colony of Flying Foxes is impossible to overlook. We
continue to Nagarhole, where we arrive in time for some initial birding before
dark. Two-night stay at Nagarhole.
Day 4: Nagarhole comprises a mixture of moist mixed forest, thorny and dry
deciduous forest. Around our accommodation in the park we look for White-cheeked
Barbet, Black-hooded Oriole, Large Cuckooshrike, Scarlet Minivet, Velvet-fronted
Nuthatch and the stunning Indian Pitta. Brown Hawk Owl also occurs here and
we will make a special effort to find this species. Explorations in the forests
away from our accommodation should produce gamebirds such as Red Spurfowl,
Grey Junglefowl and Indian Peafowl. Along the forest rides the shy and skulking
Blue-faced Malkoha may be found. Overhead there are raptors, in the form of
Changeable Hawk Eagle, Booted Eagle and Black Eagle. Three species of parakeet
inhabit these forests with noisy flocks of Malabar, Alexandrine and Plum-headed.
Vernal Hanging Parrots tend to whizz overhead at great speed, but with luck
we should encounter a few birds feeding in fruiting trees. At dusk we search
for Indian and Savannah Nightjars. Other species we may encounter include
Indian, Grey-bellied and Drongo Cuckoos, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Bar-winged
Flycatcher-shrike, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Asian Brown, Rusty-tailed, Tickell's
Blue and Nilgiri Flycatchers, White-rumped Shama, Olive-backed Pipit, and
Day 5: After some final birding at Nagarhole we visit the village of Karapura,
where Malabar Lark is regular. We then travel to Mudumalai and arrive in time
for some afternoon birding. We explore the forest close to our accommodation
where we may locate Asian Paradise Flycatcher, White-browed Fantail and Indian
Pitta. We can also search for Grey-headed Bulbul, a speciality of this area.
With luck we may locate a Brown Fish Owl in the nearby riverine forest, while
other species that occur here include Malabar Whistling Thrush, Emerald Dove,
Bronzed Drongo, Indian Scimitar Babbler and Orange-headed Ground Thrush. Fields
close by offer another opportunity to look for Malabar Lark and possibly Yellow-wattled
Lapwing and Jerdon's Bushlark. An evening excursion in search of Jerdon's
Nightjar. Overnight at Mudumalai.
Day 6: We spend the morning doing some final birding at Mudumalai. We then
travel to the hill resort of Udhagamandalam (or Ooty for short!). Here the
climate is rather cooler than the lowlands and the town is an excellent base
for exploring the adjacent Nilgiri Hills. In the afternoon we visit Cairnhill
Reserved Forest situated on the edge of town. This is a regular site for wintering
Kashmir Flycatcher a species which breeds high in the mountains of north-west
India, but which spends the winter in Sri Lanka and the southern parts of
the Western Ghats. We also hope to find Nilgiri Laughingthrush, striking Black-and-orange
Flycatchers, Nilgiri Flycatcher and flocks of Tickell's Leaf Warblers. At
dusk we visit a regular site for Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, but this species is
far from guaranteed due to its nomadic habits. Two-nights in Udhagamandalam.
Day 7: We spend the day sampling the birds at a variety of sites in the Ooty
area. Ooty is surrounded by a patchwork of tea plantations and other forms
of agriculture, together with small patches of forest known at sholas. A search
of shady forest ravines may produce the diminutive White-bellied Shortwing.
Lesser Yellownape, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Dusky Crag Martin, Nilgiri
Laughingthrush, Indian Scimitar Babbler, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Nilgiri
Flycatcher, Large-billed Leaf Warbler, Western Crowned Warbler and Crimson-backed
Sunbird all occur in the vicinity. Raptors in the area may include Crested
Honey Buzzard, Common Buzzard, Bonelli's Eagle, Black Eagle and Black Kite.
Day 8: This morning we visit Sighur Ghat in search of Painted Bushquail.
Small groups of this often-elusive species are regularly seen crossing the
road here. Other species we may encounter include Malabar Parakeet, White-browed
and Yellow-browed Bulbuls, Tawny-bellied Babbler, Scarlet Minivet, Brown-breasted
Flycatcher and Oriental White-eye. By mid morning it will be time to transfer
to the Anaimalai Hills at Top Slip for a two-night stay.
Day 9: Today is spent exploring the rainforest habitats close to the tourist
zone at Top Slip. The superb forest habitat at Karian Shola supports a good
proportion of the south Indian endemic species. We hope to find the striking
White-bellied Treepie, unobtrusive Malabar Trogons, noisy groups of Rufous
Babblers, Malabar Grey Hornbill, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher and Crimson-fronted
Barbet. Exploring more widely we should find a variety of woodpeckers including,
Lesser Yellownape, Black-rumped, Common and Greater Flamebacks, White-bellied
and Heart-spotted Woodpeckers. We can also search for Wynaad Laughingthrush,
a species often occurring in sizeable flocks, but it can be difficult to locate.
The area around Anai Gundi Shola supports a tiny population of the very rare
Lion-tailed Macaque, one of the world's rarest primates.
Day 10: Most of the morning birding at Top Slip looking for any remaining
target species. We then travel to Munnar. On arrival at Munnar we visit some
sites in the immediate vicinity of the town for Grey-breasted Laughingthrush,
Malabar Whistling Thrush and Nilgiri Wood Pigeon.
Day 11: A morning visit to Rajamalai National Park. Amongst an attractive
landscape featuring a patchwork of high altitude grassland, patches of forest
and tea plantations we search for a number of specialities difficult to find
elsewhere in the Western Ghats. In the high altitude grasslands Nilgiri Pipit
occurs, a bird endemic to the Western Ghats. Grey-breasted Laughingthrush
is another endemic that occurs here and this species can be quite confiding
at times. Small flocks of Painted Bush Quail are sometimes seen here while
patches of forest support Nilgiri Flycatcher, Black-and-orange Flycatcher,
White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, Tickell's Leaf Warbler and White-bellied Shortwing.
Other species we may encounter include Indian Scimitar Babbler, Blue Rock
Thrush, Bonelli's Eagle, Black Eagle and Velvet-fronted Nuthatch. We will
certainly find the localised Nilgiri Tahr and with luck small packs of Dhole
(Red-Dog). The afternoon will be spent at sites around Munnar where we may
find White-cheeked Barbet, Greenish and Western Crowned Warblers, Loten's
Sunbird and Blue-capped Rock Thrush. Overhead we may see Pacific Swallow,
Alpine and Pacific Swifts, and Indian Swiftlet. At dusk we look for Nilgiri
Wood Pigeon if we have not already seen this elusive species.
Day 12: In the morning we travel to Bodi Ghat, where our target will be the
extremely localised, endemic Yellow-throated Bulbul. This area is one of the
few regular sites for this attractive species. Among the other species we
may find here are White-browed Bulbul, Blue-faced and Sirkeer Malkohas, White-cheeked
and Crimson-fronted Barbets and Jungle Prinia. In the afternoon we continue
to Periyar sanctuary, Kerala's best known reserve.
Days 13-14: We explore the various habitats in the park, which are home to
a rich diversity of wildlife. Possibilities here include Lesser Yellownape,
Heart-spotted, Rufous, White-bellied and Streak-throated Woodpeckers, Greater
Racket-tailed Drongo, Ashy and Bronzed Drongos, Scarlet and Small Minivets,
White-bellied Treepie, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Dark-fronted and Rufous Babblers,
Malabar Trogon, Crimson-backed Sunbird and Velvet-fronted Nuthatch. Galliformes
include Grey Junglefowl, Red Spurfowl and Indian Peafowl. Painted Bushquail
can be found in the grassland habitats, while raptors might include Brahminy
Kite, Osprey, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Black Baza, Jerdon's Baza, Changeable
Hawk and Black Eagles. Pigeons are represented by Mountain Imperial, Green
Imperial, Nilgiri, and Pompadour Green while flycatchers also feature, with
Rusty-tailed, Blue-throated, Asian Paradise and Black-naped Monarch.
Day 15: Travel to Cochin/Madurai where we connect with an internal flight
Optional Extension to the Andaman Islands.....
Day 16: Morning flight from Chennai to Port Blair on the Andaman Islands.
Day 17-18: An exploration of South Andaman, much of which is covered in pristine
rain forest. Here we search for a number of species found only on the Andaman
Islands. The commoner endemics include Andaman Dark Serpent Eagle, Andaman
Cuckoo-dove, Andaman Coucal, Andaman Woodpecker, Andaman Drongo, White-headed
Myna and Andaman Treepie. There are a number of more difficult to find endemics,
for which we need luck in order to locate. These include Andaman Banded Crake,
Andaman Wood Pigeon and Andaman Scops Owl. We may encounter variety of other
species in Yellow Bittern, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Pacific Golden Plover,
Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, Black-naped Tern, Green Imperial Pigeon, Black-browed
Reed Warbler, Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler, Dusky and Yellow-browed Warblers.
Day 19: Flight from Port Blair to Chennai for our flight home.
Day 20: Arrival back in the UK.