After a prolonged hiatus owing to professional commitments I return to complete my series documenting my time in the beautiful birding haven of Thattekad nestled in the lush green forests of Kerala.
We had already spent a day in Thattekad and been on 2 birding walks with Girish and his mother Sudha aunty, the owners of the excellent Jungle Bird Homestay and birding guides par excellence. We had already seen the two birds that I had hoped to see and photograph, the Srilankan Frogmouth & the Malabar Trogon. We had also had great fun tracking and photographing the beautiful Indian Pitta from close range. (For photos please see previous posts on Thattekad. ) My attitude after this was that anything more we see is a bonus, but Girish was not satisfied with the sightings and was always striving for more.
After we returned from the morning birding walk the avid birder who was staying at the homestay asked us if we would be interested in a post lunch walk in the actual Salim Ali birding trail ( All the birding we had done till now were in the forests outside the actual trail itself). Never ones to shy away from a few extra hours of roaming the forests we readily agreed. After another delicious meal of Malabar cuisine I gathered the camera and we set off to the Salim Ali Bird trail after buying tickets for ourselves and the camera.
At the gate the ticket checker examined our tickets for an inordinately long time and asked us twice if we were Indians! That was a first for me, being called a foreigner in my own country! After we satisfied him of our nationality (thankfully without singing the anthem!) we moved in to the trail. The actual trail is a approximately 2 km loop of paths inside a densely forested area. Not very ideal for photography but perfect for a post lunch walk through the forest.
Even though I didn’t really expect to see anything at this time of the day I still got some good photos. We saw a full flock of Hill mynas, which are very different looking from the common mynas. The hill mynas kept us busy with their cackling for a few minutes till they got tired and flew away.
We even saw a juvenile malabar hornbill sitting around on a low branch and managed to take a few shots before it moved up higher into the canopy.
We walked the full length of the trail passing through a big open meadow like space which the avid birder told us was the best place to spot the grey jungle fowl. We didn’t spot any then but she would be proven right when we returned in the evening.
We were headed back out when we saw a family of Chital or Spotted deer. The wise parents bolted off at the sight of us, but the curious fawn stopped for a few seconds enough for me to get a decent shot of the beautiful kid looking straight at me.
We returned to the homestay for some rest for our feet before setting off again for our evening walk. Sudha aunty suggested that since we had tickets for the trail for the day we should go there again and try to see if the jungle fowl come out.
This time the guard at the gate didn’t question our nationality and we walked in. We saw hornbills again jumping in the canopy high above but not in a good spot for photos. We saw a pair of racquet tailed drongos and we waited for them to come out in the open so that we can get a photo with its racquet tail in full sight. The drongo obliged after a few minutes and we got the photos we were after.
Soon we reached the open meadow and sure enough there was a male grey jungle fowl in his full glory pecking out worms in the far end of the meadow. We took photos from the distance and started moving slowly towards the bird taking photos every few meters because you never know when they may get jittery and run off into the bushes. At times like these its great to have just people interested in birding around and not somebody who would just have no respect for others and just run towards the bird and spoil the sighting for everyone. The light was getting worse too so we did the best we could and got a few decent photos before both we and the jungle fowl decided to move on.
On our way back we spotted a paradise flycatcher but the light was by now so bad that I didn’t try to get photos and just enjoyed the mesmerising movements of the bird with a huge white ribbon for a tail.
We also spotted a huge moth who had settled for the day and allowed us to get real close and get some beautiful photos.
We returned to the homestay and had a wonderful meal with a delicious chicken curry for me and chick peas and bhindi for the better half. After walking more than 10 km that day we slept like a log to wake up rejuvenated for our last birding walk of this trip.
This time we took a short bus ride with Girish, after alighting from the bus we walked in to the forest through some houses and rubber plantations. Girish told us that he usually doesn’t come here as this area has a lot of wild elephants and nothing is more dangerous in the forests of India than an irritated Wild elephant. We passed through a thicket to come to an opening in the forest made of a huge gently sloping volcanic rock.
The light still wasn’t ideal for photography but we saw a few vernal hanging parrots flitting about and a full flock of Malabar starlings. The starlings stayed there but the parrots disappeared before I got any good photos.
We spent the next 3 hours on that rock and photographed the birds that graced us with their presence.
Soon the birds started to fly in and out of the bushes as the sun peeped out. We got the Jordan’s Leafbird , both male and female and gladly took photos of them both.
We also managed to spot a beautiful Calote trying to camouflage himself on the top of a bush.
We spotted the flame throated bulbul again and it was too striking a bird to let go without a photo even though it was a fair distance away.
We also saw the aptly named imperial green pigeon , it certainly looks and acts royal compared to it’s irritating commoner cousins.
Then suddenly there was a spate of activity on a single tree and before I knew it I had seen the golden oriole, the nilgiri wood shrike, the scarlet minivet & the smallest woodpecker in India, the brown capped pygmy woodpecker. (All these birds were in a tree against the light so don’t mind the heavy post processing!)
After this our return was hastened by the only wild animal sound that I didn’t want to hear , the trumpeting of elephants. We started moving back quickly but stopped when a dash of colour jumped on the tree right in front of us. The last sighting of this trip a beautiful Verditer Flycatcher, I took a few shots before rushing back.
We walked back to the road where Girish had arranged a jeep to take us back to the homestay. We freshened up, had our last delicious breakfast of dosas, packed our stuff and said goodbye to our gracious hosts.
It had been a magnificent 2 days in this beautiful part of the country. The homestay, the hosts, the weather & most importantly the bird sightings had exceeded my expectations. We had so much fun that the better half and I had added Thattekad & the Jungle bird Homestay to my list of places we will almost definitely return to.
Till next time,