Tuesday, January 06, 2009

India Holiday - Sunday 28 December – Valparai

We had planned a visit to Akkamalai but in our ignorance hadn’t realised that we needed to pre-agree and schedule this with the forest department, so that was a no-go. Instead our hosts at the Stanmore Bungalow offered to provide a wildlife tour, with a guide, on their adjacent tea estate in Valparai, which we readily agreed to. After the 05:45 alarm I watched a displaying male Malabar Whistling Thrush (here's one taken later when there was some light):

in the very first light of dawn then went to check on Helen’s progress. Unfortunately Helen was developing a migraine, so she needed painkillers and then to get straight back into bed. Whilst she slept I’d prove as useful as a chocolate tea pot so decided to head on out but keep the excursion relatively short.

On the road to the adjoining estate I photographed this White-bellied Waterhen:

A group of Cattle Egrets roosted on a verge along with a large group of House Crows, I picked out one individual as we drove past:

On arrival it became apparent the guide was in fact an estate security guard who spoke no English and had little understanding of the wildlife beyond the resident wild Bison. The escort sent with me from the Stanmore Bungalow team meanwhile was called away for ten minutes so I headed off with said ‘guide’ along a forest path, which proved quite productive. The first sighting was the Bison that happened to be a short walk from the estate bungalow:

Apparently a small herd trundled out in front of Praveen whilst I and my guide were watching two individuals deep in a forest thicket, though we did creep in to attempt a better shot. Along the walk I photographed an Indian Scimitar Babbler (so now we’ve both seen one), some Scarlet Minivets and a Black-rumped Flameback:

After about fifteen minutes the situation with the guide got quite laughable as whenever he answered his phone he shouted into it, which as any birder knows isn’t the best way of seeing birds, that and he then tried to communicate with me in Hindi and when I didn’t understand, repeated his words but shouted them, a la Fawlty Towers. I eventually discerned that we were to return to the bungalow to pick-up the escort from our accommodation and that the ‘guide’ was going to join an Indian family who had arrived to see the wildlife. With my new guide we then set-off for a walk around the estate forest. Shortly after setting off I saw this Common Woodshrike:

As well as Ashy Drongo:

and more Scarlet Minivets, then a new species, a Eurasian Blackbird Simillimus, a race of the species we are familiar with at home, and indeed the behaviours were familiar, though the bird looks very different:

I have five species of bird still to identify from the walk, with a little help from my friends, I’ll update this record and add any pictures when/if I have positive ID’s. One bird I’ve seen before but did get a really good view of was this Chestnut-headed Bee-eater:

The last thing that caught my eye was a very angular tree, captured in the morning light:

After a couple of hours we completed the walk and we headed back to the Stanmore Bungalow, for breakfast and to check on Helen, who was now awake but still very groggy and unwell. In the afternoon, we decided to head out and repeat the walk from the previous evening, at our own pace and to see how Helen got on.

I photographed the estate showing the divide between the recently pruned plants and those awaiting pruning:

And this is the tea factory:

Along the riverbank we photographed a couple of striking flowering plants, which I have saved to post later in the Butterflies and flowers post. Another shot of the river itself, showing the natural beauty of the area, which really does strike us each and every time we go out (as does the driving and press of people in the towns and cities and the litter, which is absolutely everywhere, unfortunately):

On our way back a group of inquisitive Red-whiskered Bulbuls settled on the tea bushes to check out what we were doing (answer: trying unsuccessfully to photograph the Hill Swallows and Indian Swiftlets zooming about overhead):

And so we retired for another huge curry and an early night, in preparation for a better day tomorrow. Just before dinner we heard a Nightjar calling from the trees around the Bungalow and went to investigate. We didn’t locate the bird but did find a group of three Tawny-bellied Babblers, which were quite a sight, plump birds that were clearly not pleased we were close their roosting site and made sure we knew this.

Dinner included a sales pitch for the other bungalows that Suresh (one of the irregulars at the bungalow) is marketing. He clearly hadn’t prepared as he basically just showed us a load of snaps he’d taken but hadn’t sorted out yet, he didn’t really seem to have an objective either... the one near Periyar looked interesting but then he didn’t tell us how to follow-up, contact, etc. We were sat round the outside fire with a post dinner beer with our fellow Brits (Nick & Chris) when Suresh then also tried to foist today’s escort/guide on us for our walk tomorrow and was deeply surprised when we declined.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

My father -in-law occupied the Stanmore Bungalow during the sixties, so I know the bungalow well, as I courted my wife there! He was a great gardener and laid out the garden.
I was the Manager of Akkamalai estate in the Anamalais for 12 years - leaving India in 1975

3:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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12:16 pm  
Blogger Ranu Barua said...

I stayed in Stanmore b'low for three memorable years from '99 to '02, where my husband was working as General Manager Manufacture (HLL). I am familiar with every nook and corner of the b'low.I miss the breathtaking view of the tea gardens and the grass hills far away,the songs of the Malabar Thrush and the bulbuls, the squirrels in the gardens and on the roofs ,the early morning calls of the jungle fowls from the Litchi trees. I long to go back there someday .

10:38 pm  

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