Monday, January 05, 2009

India Holiday - Christmas Eve, Wednesday 24 December - Thattekadd

After a rough night’s sleep (noisy neighbours, noisy water pump, no beer (!!!) and lots of Christmas ‘explosions’ and some singing) we did indeed rouse ourselves at 05:30 and were on time for breakfast at 06:00 and the car for 06:30, so on into the sanctuary itself. We walked along a part-made path to a clearing, and then deeper into the sanctuary. A group of locals reported having been charged by a lone male Elephant and we could sense and smell one close-by, which got the nerves jangling. We heard other elephants walking close-by on a couple of occasions too. That didn’t however dampen the effect of the sheer numbers of new species of birds we encountered, the following being those we actually saw (a number of others were pointed out but we were too slow/unfamiliar/pre-occupied with other birds to see them):

White-breasted Waterhen
Jungle Owlet
Indian Swiftlet
Malabar Grey Hornbill
Bronze Drongo
White-bellied Treepie
Black-naped Oriole
Black Baza
Large-billed Crows
Loten’s Sunbird
Greater Flameback
Malabar Starling
Brown Shrike
Ruby-throated Bulbul
Paradise Flycatcher
Malabar Trogon:




















Black-naped Monarch Flycatcher
Brown-breasted Flycatcher
Heart-spotted Woodpecker
Fairy Bluebird
Common Hawk Cuckoo
Crested Tree Swift
Thick-billed Flowerpecker
Large-billed Leaf Warbler
Little Spider Hunter
Scarlet Minivet (this one the yellow female):




















Large Woodshrike
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
Monarch Flycatcher
Great Tit
Grey-fronted Green Pigeon
Oriental Honey Buzzard
Orange-headed Thrush (White-throated race):













Jungle Fowl
Chesnut-tailed Starling
Bronze-winged Jacana
Dollarbird – this bird is no longer thought to occupy this territory, so an interesting spot
Emerald Dove

Photography was tricky as the birds tended to be within the forest, so we did the vast majority of our spotting and watching with binoculars. At the watchtower we saw our first Malabar Giant Squirrel too, moving agilely from tree to tree, though it was much bigger than anything we’d ever call a squirrel!

At the end of quite a long walk into the forest was a big clearing, beautifully set in the hills with lovely views:














The walk back was faster, due to reports of the rogue elephant being close to the path. After a stop back at camp for lunch (during which we saw a troop of macaques swinging round in the trees on the opposite shore), in the afternoon, we drove higher up into the hills. Our guide who had stopped off in the village led us (Helen and I and our driver Praveen) a short-way towards the sanctuary, where whilst looking for an owl he’d flushed a Nightjar. We walked a short way and sure enough a Savannah Nightjar was perched on a bare rock, giving excellent views and an unusual photo opportunity:


















(the light was excellent and the bird being sat on a rock helps distinguish it clearly – it’s worth a click for a closer look)

In addition to this bird we also saw Chestnut-shouldered Petronias and nearby Whistling Teal as well as a pair of White-browed Wagtails.

Up higher in the hills (Western Ghats) we were dropped off for a downhill walk, past some flowering Bombax trees:














which proved very popular with the local birds. In and around these trees we saw a number of new species, including:

Southern Hill Myna:













Malabar Parakeet
Vernal Hanging Parrot
A male Eurasian Golden Oriole, followed by a separate female further down the hill
Plum-headed Parakeets (the female shown here):




















Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker
Yellow-browed Bulbul

Although not new, it was great to sit and watch a pair of Jungle Babblers allo-preening:














This is a view taken from the road of an intruiging rock formation in the distance:














Further down still we saw a pair of Greater Flamebacks (our second sighting of these birds) and both Rufous Babblers and Blyth’s Reed Warbler.

At a dam we saw Dusky Crag Martins, Red-rumped Swallows and another Large-billed Flowerpecker and Large-billed Crows:














The security guard at the dam had a captive juvenile Shikra, which our guide paid 100 Rupees to free. I photographed it at its first perch, though it looked exhausted and I hope it survived and Jijo’s act of kindness wasn’t in vain:



















We kept out of it as Tourist involvement just inflates prices further...

The last new birds of the day were a massive 140 Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters:














and a second Dollarbird. A mad day where at times it was really very hard to keep up with the sheer numbers of and diversity of the species we encountered, then back to camp for a festive curry! The owner had arrived with his family for a Christmas Eve celebration (I think the UK must be unique in focusing on Christmas Day, everywhere else I’ve been it’s all about the night before). He and his wife had brought the maximum amount of liquor the authorities would allow them to import from Bangalore, to share with us as their gift, so we had a few drinks for Christmas, along with the other guests.

My only complaints about the Hornbill Camp were to do with the noise from the temple, which I guess can be avoided by not going around Christmas, and the barely adequate sleeping arrangements, and plain/simple food, but it is excellently located and the staff are very gracious and helpful too.

All set for an 05:30 alarm on Christmas Day then...

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