A peaceful night’s sleep is something that is guaranteed when you stay inside a sanctuary or a national park. It was no different on our first night at the Jungle bird homestay at Thattekad. No honking horns, no bright lights & a comfortable bed meant that we slept peacefully and were fresh the next morning raring to go on our early morning birding walk in the forest.
The avid birder who was staying with us had told us that Girish will surely show us a Srilankan Frogmouth tomorrow. For the uninitiated, the frogmouth is a nocturnal bird endemic to the region that looks like no other bird you might have ever seen & is almost impossible to find without a guide as they are very well camouflaged. So I was very excited at the possibility of crossing this unusual bird off my list.
After a quick cup of coffee with some biscuits at 6 am, we were off in a jeep hired by Girish to take us to a part of the forest slightly farther away. After a 15 minute jeep ride we alighted & started our trek through the forest. After about 5 minutes along a Girish went into a patch of bushes and came out saying he had spotted a pair of frogmouth resting. Sure enough there was a pair of Srilankan Frogmouth sitting there in plain sight. Their camouflage was so good that had Girish not pointed it out we would have mistaken them for dead leaves and moved on. It was a cloudy morning and the light was pretty pathetic for photographing a pair of small birds in the bushes. Girish assured us they would still be there when we returned as these birds rarely moved from their resting place during the day. But I didn’t want to risk it and still took some photos before we moved on.
We crossed a stream over a rickety makeshift plank bridge and moved towards an opening in the forest . The opening was a huge volcanic rock which provided a great vantage spot for the trees around. It was foggy and we could hardly beyond the first few rows of trees.
Even though the bird activity seemed subdued it was a beautiful place to be, on a huge rock in the middle of the forest with the better half, my 300mm and a great guide!
Fortunately the lack of birds in that first hour was made up by a huge group of Malabar Squirrels enjoying the fruits of a tree nearby. The Malabar Squirrel is like a regular squirrel on steroids – bigger, more colourful and a delight to photograph. They stayed on that tree for the entire duration that we were there and anytime I couldn’t spot birds I went back to these fur balls and their antics.
The first birds we saw were a group of sunbirds in a bush. Now for me sunbirds are not a very exciting sighting as I have seen and photographed most of them at close quarters. Here it was at a greater distance so I knew that I wouldn’t get better photos than the ones I already had.
The better half was enjoying herself photographing the pretty flowers that were all over the grassy outbreaks in the rock and where there are flowers there will be butterflies.
Often while we are searching for birds in the distance stuff closer by is missed. Thankfully we spotted this beautifully camouflaged member of the lizard family before he stepped back inside his rocky home.
The bird sightings were not as frequent as Girish expected and wanted. But it is the first time I have seen a guide being more agitated about less sightings than the tourist. We were just happy to be there amidst that beautiful forest and we had squirrels to keep us entertained. Thankfully for Girish a group of pompadour pigeons landed on a tree nearby. These pigeons unlike the irritating members of the family from the cities had a regal air about them.
We also had a pair of flame throated bulbul make a fleeting appearance on a distant tree before they decided it wasn’t good enough weather for them. Flame throated bulbuls are one of the most brightly coloured members of the bulbul family, sadly these guys were too far for a good photo.
A pair of white bellied woodpeckers also gave us the fly by but they were too fast or me on that day. Girish decided that it was time to change locations and go and search for the Malabar Trogon. Before we reached the place where the trogon was regularly sighted we saw a Crested Goshawk on the tallest tree in the region. It felt as if the birds had decided that I wouldn’t have any easy photos that morning!
Soon we reached the neighbourhood of the Trogon and Girish started searching for Trogon. Soon he spotted what he said was a beautiful male Malabar Trogon. The better half saw it, avid birder aunty saw it and started taking photos. Still I couldn’t spot the bird! Full disclosure, I have red green colour weakness and I couldn’t see the bright red coloured bird under the canopy for the life of me! Girish got agitated that I couldn’t see the beautiful bird and I gave my camera to him to take a few shots just in case the bird flew away before I spotted it. Thankfully the bird moved a bit and that is when I saw what the fuss was all about! The dense foliage made for low light leading to grainy photos, but hey at least I saw it!
Even though for Girish it had been a sub par birding session, for me I had seen and photographed the two birds that I had wanted to see in Thattekad, the Frogmouth and the Malabar Trogon. We came back to the spot where we had spotted the pair of Frogmouth. Thankfully they were still there and light was much better. That put the frosting on the cake for that morning’s birding as I clicked away to glory.
We then boarded the waiting jeep for our journey back to the homestay where hot appams and sambar awaited. Perfect way to cap off a beautiful morning in this beautiful part of Kerala.
We had a couple of more birding walks to do, more birds to see. But that is topic for another post another time.