Tuesday, January 06, 2009

India Holiday - Boxing Day – Munnar

Reveille at 06:05 (a major lie-in!) followed by a trip to Eravikulam National Park. En route Helen spotted a pair of Emerald Doves by the side of the road, but didn’t tell anybody until we got to the park.... We had to wear jumpers - being very high-up the temperature in the early morning resembled an autumn morning at home. The Indian tourists were wearing hats, scarves, ear muffs and were wrapped in blankets to keep warm :) Almost as soon as we’d got off the park bus we saw the Nilgiri Pipit, a group of three in fact. Here's one:

Another individual, this one halfway along the out and back walk:

The two birders we’d met at the entrance, and chatted to on the way up got their ‘tick’ and promptly turned round and left again. They can’t have watched the birds for more than thirty seconds, which we thought a bit odd, as we find watching the birds to be part of the pleasure, not just ‘ticking’ them (they missed the landscape and scenery too). After watching them for about five minutes we started the 1.5km walk into the park. The next new bird was a Pacific Swallow (Hill Swallow), perched on a wire:

Also perched on a wire, a male Pied Bushchat, showing a different aspect:

Along the path we also saw Tickell’s Leaf Warbler, another Grey-breasted Laughingthrush:

Common Kestrels, a White-bellied Shortwing in the shola (though the park staff have removed about 95% of this habitat in the recent past, which bodes very ill for this delightful little bird):

and a female Pied Bushchat:

as well as the many wild(ish) goats:

This is one aspect from the walk through the park:

On the way out of the park the traffic jams were immense and the queue for tickets for access and the bus into the park was already over two-hours long. Pricing was interesting too, 15 Rupees for locals, 200 for foreign nationals, plus more if you want to take a camera in – which is common policy, for example here 25 rupees for a still camera and 150 rupees for a film camera.

As the morning wasn’t quite done we got dropped off about half-way down yesterday’s walk to complete the descent and saw a Rusty-tailed Flycatcher, a Reed Warbler, more Tickell’s Warblers and more Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers:

Helen managed to see a breeding male Paradise Flycatcher, but I, despite a lot of trying and helpful guidance from Jijo and Helen, failed miserably. An unusual though not unique sight was this wasps nest, which is huge and as you can see, very active:

A common sight wherever we travelled in Kerala was that of Cattle Egrets, and almost exclusively, as the name suggests, in the company of cattle:

Munnar it turns out is quite limited in terms of birding locations; a full-day (park morning, hill climb afternoon) would probably have sufficed. That afternoon Jijo took us to the river below Munnar:

A little way down the path from where Praveen dropped us off, we spotted a Long-tailed Shrike perched on a tree in a private garden:

Our path took us across the river and back toward Munnar. On the right-hand side of the road we saw the first bird that got Jijo genuinely excited, a Tytler’s Leaf Warbler, we even managed a couple of photographs of the fast moving bird:

Other birds included a Common Sandpiper and a Common Moorhen, then back in the car for a short drive to a bare patch of hillside. Here we spotted a Malabar Whistling Thrush, another endemic and a very dark-blue bird, its plumage colours resembling both the Nilgiri Flycatcher and White-bellied Shortwing:

On the way back to the Olive Brook, we spotted some Jungle Mynas, this one perched helpfully on a post:

at the entrance to a small (and, later, tourist-infested) cave, a juvenile Black-and-Orange flycatcher:

Helen and Jijo also managed to spot an Indian Scimitar Babbler, although it was another bird that I missed. Jijo gave us advice on where to stop-off on our trip tomorrow and what to look for when we get to Kumarakom, then he said goodbye and headed back to Thattekadd to meet his next party.

Back at the homestead, we had another curry cookery class, this time watching the chef prepare a 12 vegetable curry with a lot of ground coconut and coconut oil, a very tasty Kerala speciality, followed by an early night, ready for a 07:15 departure to our next destination, Valparai.

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