Monday, January 05, 2009

India Holiday - Monday 22 December – Kochi

Monday morning started with a controversial 5:30am (IST which is midnight GMT) alarm, but I figured we were so tired we’d get enough sleep by turning in early. Nearly worked :) I wanted to be up just after dawn to watch the movement of birds away from their roosts and back out to feed. When we got downstairs to the garden we enjoyed watching a Cattle Egret working its way around the ‘lawn’ looking for breakfast. I’m sure I saw an eagle but it was too distant and fleeting to ID. We also observed a flock of shorebirds/waders heading out to feed flying above a small flock of Caspian Terns. During the night the reed blankets had washed away with the tide, consequently large numbers of Great White Egrets and Indian Pond Herons were along the wall of the hotel or on the jetties, etc., which meant they were very close to us, so even in poor light I managed a couple of decent photos, first the closest Great White Egret:













followed by a grouping (from left to right) of an Indian Pond Heron and a couple of Great White Egrets:












Other sights of the morning included a large group of Brahminy Kites with an adult dropping food to a juvenile. We spotted some gulls in the distance but too far to ID. I reckon if you were an expert you’d be 5-10 species up on us already! As the sun rose higher and the day warmed from a chilly 21c :) we heard a smaller bird calling, repeating a single loud chirp. It was hard to locate, when we did find it we figured out why, the green markings on the wings and back were the same green as the tree it was in, though it had a rufous headcap, a tail cocked like a Wren but longer – it turned out to be a Common Tailorbird but with the poor light and the bird in dense foliage the only pictures I took are very blurry. We also watched the Chinese fishing nets across the mouth of the river – big, eerie, spider-looking wooden contraptions that raised and lowered to catch the fish on the incoming tide.

After breakfast we decided to take a walk outside the hotel grounds to see what else we could find. The first bird was an Asian Koel, though only identified from the notes we took, once we got back to our room. They have a very distinctive loud call and a number of the birds were moving around us, looking like a slightly small, glossy crow with a paler bill and bright red eyes - they stayed in cover for the most part so no photo as yet. Next up a group of three swifts flying around our heads, but what were they? A longer overall and notably narrower body than the swifts of home, grey looking but paler underneath, the guide says Crested Tree-Swift. I tried taking pictures but they were flying too fast and I was at the wrong angle to capture them effectively. Further along on our walk an Indian bird now familiar at home, a Rose-ringed Parakeet, though seeing one in its native habitat is always preferable:














A little further along this road we saw our first Indian Woodpecker, a Black-rumped Flameback eating papaya:

















Mid-walk a friendly local helpfully walked us to the ATM we’d completely passed by, which was very kind of him. Heading back to the hotel, via an auto-rickshaw because it was now too hot to walk - and as we were heading into the grounds, we heard two birds singing. The first was a Common Myna, which I’ve never heard sing before and was really impressed with the song. The second bird had a much plainer song but was more persistent, it turned out to be an Oriental Magpie Robin. We decided to have a quick look across the water before heading back into the hotel to cool down (the temperature had risen to mid-30’s c and we’d underestimated both the length of the walk and the power of the sun) and ended up spending twenty minutes just watching the activity in the tree to our right, set-behind the hotel, but only accessible by going outside and around. The first bird we spotted was another Black-rumped Flameback, together with another Oriental Magpie Robin. Shortly after that I spotted a White-cheeked Barbet:

















It’s remarkable just how green the bird is. Snapping it and identifying it helped me identify the bird I’d seen after breakfast this morning, flying across the hotel garden, and another under-side only view earlier on the walk. Sadly we later saw House Crow drown and then eat a not-yet-fledged nestling of this species too. Next-up a Purple Sunbird feeding:

















The last bird of the walk was a Red-vented Bulbul, which soon joined a mate. I’d seen a bird yesterday with a red vent but spotted only that so hadn’t been able to ID the bird, so another unknown confirmed. The bougainvillea shows the quality of the light in mid-morning, much better than anything I've experienced in the UK:














After lunch we sat again outside, overlooking the harbour:














and watched a Brahminy Kite dive towards the surface of the water, grab some food then fly to a perch to eat the catch. They are very acrobatic flyers:













I also snapped a flying Indian Pond Heron, showing how white the bird appears in flight yet as you'll have seen from the pictures from earlier today and yesterday, when perched it is a well camoflagued bird:














For the balance of Tuesday we decided on some R&R in preparation for our trip into the hills tomorrow, though we were amused by the increased security prompted by the visit of the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati. The hotel wanted to relocate us two floors down so the Minister and her entourage (including heavy security) could occupy the top two floors of the hotel (they’d had about four hours notice of her visit, apparently). We refused to move as we were fully unpacked and it would have taken an hour or so to do so, and we’d booked eight months in advance. As her arrival drew nearer security got heavier and heavier. Eventually the hotel had roof-top security, patrol boats on the water, armed guards at the gate, front and rear-entrances, the lifts and of course on both top floors. The machine guns were quite off-putting. We got the impression the staff would much have preferred we move to accommodate their special guests, but we were enjoying having probably the safest hotel room in India!

Overall impression of the Taj was that when it was built it was probably idyllically located, however with the industrialisation of the port of Kochi together with the development of the island itself, the hotel is now quite isolated and seems a little out of place and cut-off, a small oasis in quite a rough part of town. The prices were surprising too, as a curry and beers costs about 20% more than it would in the UK, and not as tasty, although breakfast was fantastic, all of the staff were impeccably polite and the service was excellent.

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