Birding in Nilgiris – 1

I had been to Nilgiris on a birding trip last week.

Nilgiri laughing thrush 2

I had a fantastic time there and it was easily one of the best trips I had done in my life. The trip had a lot of highlights, personally, like sighting the Nilgiri laughing thrush and the various flycatchers (Nilgiri, grey headed canary and the Black and orange). Also, this was my first birding trip outside Bangalore. (For new visitors to my blog, I started bird watching in April, 2009). And I was alone during this trip as all my friends were busy with work and could not join. Being alone had its own advantages and disadvantages. It was a trip that I would remember for long..

All the snaps from this trip are uploaded to my flickr account.

Grey Headed Canary Botanical garden 3

Nilgiri Flycatcher

Black & Orange flycatcher Botanical garden 2

Over a 6 day period, from May 18 to 23, I covered these places

  1. Ranganthittu, Mysore
  2. Doddabetta, Ooty
  3. Cairn hill forest, Ooty (could not enter due to permission, did a peripheral visit)
  4. Potato research center, Muthorai
  5. Kotagiri
  6. Longwood shola, Kotagiri (could not enter due to permission, did a peripheral visit)
  7. Botanical garden, Ooty
  8. Wood house area, Ooty
  9. Kalhatty falls and Kalhatty ghat
  10. Masinagudi
  11. Naduvattam (could not enter due to permission, did a peripheral visit)
  12. Mudumalai, Theppakadu & Bandipur without entering inside

I had plans to cover more places in Nilgiris, but time and permission constraints along with a slightly lethargic attitude meant I could not visit them. Here is the list of places I **missed**.

  1. Avalanche (permission denied amidst some drama)
  2. Nadugani (not much idea about this place, but heard it is a great location for birding)
  3. Area above Rose garden (skipped as it was crowded owing to flower show)
  4. Pykara area (no time and also crowded)
  5. Western catchment areas (no permission)
  6. Porthimund dam and Parsons valley (had the permission, but it rained heavily on that day forcing me to drop it)

Note 1: Thanks to Kalyan Varma and Vivek Tiwari for their inputs on birding spots in Ooty.
Note 2
: Permission for most of the areas need to be sought from the south division District forest office. 2 days is what they need (for a 2 min job) if you do not know anyone there. The office is near the Fire station / Breeks school.


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Here is a list of birds seen during this trip.

  1. Black & Orange Fly catcher
  2. Grey Headed Canary Fly catcher
  3. Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher
  4. Nilgiri Fly catcher
  5. Nilgiri Laughing Thrush
  6. Brahminy Starling
  7. Chestnut Shouldered Petronia
  8. Common Hoopoe
  9. Common Myna
  10. Jungle Myna
  11. Crimson Backed Sunbird
  12. Purple Sunbird
  13. Eurasian Blackbird
  14. Grea Tit
  15. Grey Jungle fowl
  16. House Sparrow
  17. Indian Robin
  18. Large Billed Crow
  19. Lesser Yellow Nape
  20. Malabar Parakeet
  21. Spotted dove
  22. Nilgiri Wood Pigeon – I might have confused this with the spotted dove. I am not sure if I really saw the wood pigeon or a spotted dove, birding inexperience 🙁
  23. Oriental White eyes
  24. Oriental Magpie Robin
  25. Pied Buschat
  26. Pied Thrush
  27. Plain Flowerpecker
  28. Red Cheeked Bulbul
  29. Red vented Bulbul
  30. Red Rumped Swallow
  31. Small Minivet
  32. Drongo
  33. Tailor Bird
  34. Bay Backed Shrike
  35. Common Iora
  36. Jungle babbler
  37. Unidentified – 2 which I clicked. Will post them soon. Numerous others which I missed due to my inexperience.

Being new to birding and being alone, I was severely disadvantaged. I missed identifying scores of birds due to lack of birding knowledge. But being alone also brought in some new perspective towards birding and opened me up for a sea of learning.

Okay, below is a short trip report of each day.

Day 1 report: May 18: Bangalore – Ranganthittu – Mysore – Gundelpet – Bandipur – Mudumalai – Theppakad – Masinagudi – Kalhatty ghat – Ooty home – Doddabetta – Ooty home

I started early @ 5am from J.P nagar in my car along with my my mom. By 7.15 we were in Ranganthittu, took a boat there, clicked a ton, left the place by 9.30 am. I will blog separately about my experience in Ranganthittu and focus only on Nilgiris in this post.

Birds on the route were few. Somewhere after Nanjangud, I spotted a lonely Indian roller and a lot of egrets in a field. We reached Bandipur by 12.30 pm. It was a hot day and I didn’t sight much there except a few spotted deers (chital).
Chital 1
Mudumalai too didn’t seem promising. Saw a few Common Hoopoe’s and Brahminy starling’s in addition to the robins, bulbuls, common mynas and jungle mynas which I saw throughout my trip.

At Theppakadu, I took a left turn for the Masinagudi – Kalhatty – 36 hairpin bends – Ooty route. (If you take right here, you will hit Gudalur, a longer route to Ooty but with gentler curves). Driving on this route was simply amazing!

En route, I spotted a lot of Common Langurs. I also spotted a lot of birds, but they were too far away to notice [I cant recognize birds by their calls, 🙁 ] and the road being narrow meant that I could not park the car to have a good look. Also, my lack of birding experience proved a big deterrent. Near Masinagudi, I saw a blue-black bird with a long v-shaped tail and one with a white crown and a black stripe near the eye. I later figured out that these were the Drongo and the Bay backed shrike.
Bay backed shrike 1

The view of the Nilgiri hills from Masinagudi was stunning. I parked the car nearby to soak in its beauty for some time. Then began the ascent.. the famed 36 hairpin bend route… one of my favorite driving routes. Having driven there previously, I did the entire stretch with ease. I parked at a view point in the middle of the ghat and sighted a few bulbuls, spotted doves, etc. But my pursuit was after the black & orange flycatcher and the Tickells blue flycatcher. I didn’t see any there. But I heard a parakeet’s alarm call and looked in that direction. I saw an Indian giant squirrel there. A first for me.

Indian giant squirrel 1

Indian giant squirrel 2

I didn’t stop at Kalhatty falls (for this you need to take a right at the check post in the middle of the ghat) as I knew I would be coming here on another day. (I would suggest that you make a separate trip to this falls early in the morning to sight a ton of birds). I drove straight to Ooty to my home (or whatever remains of it .. as we have not stayed here much after 2003). The time was 3.30 pm. The trip meter read 273 Km (Bangalore to Ooty).

We have a few fruit trees in our backyard.. the peach, plum, etc. I saw a ton of sparrows there. And I saw an Oriental white eye performing acrobatic stunts to drink the nectar of a flower (or maybe also to catch insects). I also spotted other birds like Indian Robin, Red vented Bulbul, Red Cheeked Bulbul, Spotted dove, common myna and 2 more unidentified birds which I managed to click. Later I identified (courtesy INW) these as the crimson backed sunbird and the great tit. Birding in my own backyard was so exciting.

Crimson backed sunbird 3

Later, my dad and I set off towards Doddabetta to sight and click the Nigiri Laughing thrush. I had a book that had some information on this bird including a picture. We took less than 45 mins to reach Doddabetta, by around 5.00 pm. The place was annoyingly crowded. I didn’t go in, just wandered around the parking area and the dumpyard near the arch (entrance). One can see a lot of vendors selling carrots, corn, groundnuts, etc here. This is the place where many people had sighted this bird.

I searched the place… walked up the narrow path leading to the telescope house and back. No Laughing thrush. One more round. Again one more. No luck. I did find a lot of Great tits… they didnt seem to mind the human rush there. And they were feeing on the organic garbage there which was a sad thing to watch. The bird had adjusted to its surroundings. I got some good shots of the great tits here, but had to return disappointed for not having seen the Nilgiri Laughing thrush. Was it my lack of birding knowledge? Was it because the bird was not really there? I was confused. I showed the picture of the bird to a vendor and asked him if he had seen it. He answered in affirmative. “It can be seen around noon here”, he added.

It was getting late and the light was sinking fast. I returned to my car thinking of coming back during the “noon” as the guy said. Here I saw a few spotted doves at almost eye level. I raised ISO to 1600 and got a few quick clicks.  Then I returned home to have some hot tea with hopes of finding more birds in the next 5 days.

For a one month old birder like me, even sighting the sparrows (which I had seen all my life in Ooty) was a very exciting proposition. The list of birds seen above may not be exciting… but I was excited. On top of it, I got a few good clicks too to further kindle my excitement. I was longing for day 2 to dawn.

Day 2 report: May 19: Ooty home – Cairn hill forest reserve – Potato research center, Muthorai – Doddabetta – Botanical Garden – Home

I woke up on day 2 to the chirps of sparrows. It was 7 am. I went out immediately with my camera. The sparrows were cautiously pecking on the grains on the ground, which my dad had thrown for them. And a few meters apart, there was a spotted dove who kept a close watch on what I was upto with a strange looking gizmo in hand. A few bulbuls kept flying from place to place too. On the Eucalyptus tree, I saw an Oriental white eye. On the fruit tree (water apple?), I noticed a couple of unknown birds. One was pecking on a flower bud. The other was seated on a branch… doing nothing, but enjoying the early morning sun. (One was the Plain Flowerpecker, the otherbeing Pied Bushchat). Both were firsts for me and I was overjoyed. The snaps were pretty decent too.

Plain Flowerpecker 2

Later, I went to the Cairn hill forest reserve area which is 5 Km away from the Ooty Bus stand. I was told that this was an amazing spot for birding. Some exotic birds like the Nilgiri flycatcher, Nilgiri laughing thrush, Grey headed canaries, etc are found here, I was told. But the visit turned a cropper when the guard there declined to let us in without permission from the forest office. And there was some construction going on due to which no permissions are given now, and will be so for another month or two. I had to return disappointed.

My next stop was at the Potato research center at Muthorai. Reaching the place was easy. Once there, I heard a lot of birds. But they were all deep in the woods. Had to go inside the (mini) forest. Not being familiar with bird calls was a huge deterrent. The only birds I could spot here were the White Eyes, Great Tits, Robins, Bulbuls, Nilgiri wood pigeons, Spotted doves, etc. I was told that a lot more birds can be found here, but I think the place is not that great in summer. Need to try this place again in October.

I was hungry for more. I desperately wanted the Nilgiri Laughing thrush, the Black and Orange flycatcher, the Nilgiri flycatcher, the Grey headed canary, the White bellied Shortwing, etc. I decided to give one more try at Doddabetta for the laughing thrush.

At Doddabetta, the crowd was even bigger than the previous day. The time was 1.15 pm. And like the previous day, I spotted a lot of Great Tits near the garbage dump. It is a pity that these birds have almost turned into organic scavengers.

I quickly scanned the area for the laughing thrush. Up and down I went. Parking lot. The organic dump near the arch. The area next to the vendors. The ticket counter. The bushes behind the vendors. No luck.

I was beginning to get disappointed. I still had not seen the laughing thrush. The time was 2 pm. Then suddenly I saw something move near a bush. I watched closely… the Nilgiri Laughing Thrush… Thanks to the picture (in the book) I was carrying, I could immediately confirm it. Yay!!! I got a few clicks.. but I thought the composition was not that great. I was both happy and sad. Happy for having spotted it. Sad that I didnt get a great click. Nevertheless, one bird was checked off the list.

The time was 3 pm. I decided to quickly drive down to Botanical garden. Owing to the heavy traffic, it was almost 4 pm when I reached the garden.

After buying the tickets, I went immediately to the top of the garden as I knew the lower areas are too crowded for the birds. Initially I didnt have much success. For about 30 minutes, all I saw were White eyes, Bulbuls, Robins, Great tits…I was planning to return on the next day as I was tired. Then almost out of nowhere, I spotted a bluish looking bird… the Nilgiri flycatcher. Wow. Such a beautiful bird.

Nilgiri Flycatcher

I followed the bird and went further up. I was thrilled. Found many Grey headed canaries there, which posed patiently for my camera. Also a lot of Sunbirds. The light was poor and I pushed the ISO to 800 / 1000. Got a few good clicks. I went home by around 6 pm feeling happy.
.Crimson backed sunbird
Crimson backed sunbird 2

Day 3 report: May 20: Ooty home – waiting at DFO office (frustrated to the hilt there) – more waiting – Botanical garden – Ooty home

I woke up to the calls of my feathered friends chirping away happily near my bedroom window. I looked out of my window and saw a blissful scene. The tall Eucalyptus trees swaying gently in the wind at a distance. Clear blue sky. Clean and fresh air. Pristine beauty. Sparrows, Tits, White eyes, Mynas, Bulbuls, etc were basking in the gently glowing sun. I was so happy!!

I jumped out of the bed, grabbed my camera and went out to the farm behind my house. I got some fantastic clicks here. The flowerpecker was my personal favorite. Also got a few fantastic shots of the crimson backed sunbird. The sunbird seemed to be a regular visitor. So was the flowerpecker. He was such a nice fella, that he didnt even mind me clicking a few of his pics. In fact, he even started showing his curiosity by putting his neck out and having a deep hard look at what I was doing.

Plain Flowerpecker 1

Few days back, my dad had submitted a request to the superintendent (of District forest office near Breeks school) to visit the avalanche forest. We had to go there to collect the order. We reached there by 10 am. The Superintentendent (referred as Sup hereafter) had not arrived yet. We waited. We waited some more. The time was 11.30 am. No sign of the Sup. I then decided to strike a chat with the clerk. I asked her about the permission. She said she would get it for me once the Sup arrived, including the Cairn hill forest where some construction was going on. That was it… it irked a guy no end. He was the guard at Cairn hill and said she was no one to talk about Cairn hill as it was his jurisidiction and he or its ranger were the ones to guide us and that too due to current construction, they were not supposed to let anyone there! They quarreled like a snake and mongoose. Then 2 more guys jumped in.. not to separate them, but to add fuel to the feud! I got annoyed and slipped out. The place is too political. And any question about the forest, wildlife and the like goes unanswered. I had a good view of how things happen in a government office.

The Sup arrived in a govt jeep at 12.30 pm. I asked him about the permission. He told me to get the paper which we had submitted earlier. I came out to the clerks desk to do so.. got it and went in again. Surprise! The Sup was missing. Upon checking, I was shocked to know that he had “gone for a bath”  as he had “attended a funeral” and would take 30 mins to come!!! By now, I was fuming with anger, but was helplesss. (I needed the order 🙁 )

I purchased a book on Nilgiri forests, told my dad to wait there and get the order for me and whisked away to Botanical garden quickly. The time was 1.15 pm.

I quickly raced to the Todamund area at the top. I saw a ton of grey headed canary flycatchers there! One advantage about Botanical garden is its slopy terrain, which means at certain strategical spots on the slope, you will be at eye level with the birds sitting on adjacent trees. This makes for a great click.

Grey Headed Canary Botanical garden 4

At around 2 pm, my dad called me to deliver bad news. Avalanche permission denied. Holy smokes!!!! Reason: big head visiting spot on same day. WTF? Why didn’t they tell us the same early in the morning? The Sup made us wait for so long.. for this!!

Instead, the Sup gave us permission to Porthimund dam, which I was not too keen on. I was fuming. If I could, I would have hanged him using the same noose using which Saddam Hussain was hanged!!

I hung up and went further up, going beyond the fence and almost into the Raj Bhavan premises. Here I saw an Eurasian black bird almost hidden inside the branch of a tree. Luckily he hopped out to another area where I could click him nicely.

Eurasian Blackbird 2

As noticed on the previous day, there were a lot of white eyes, great tits and crimson backed sunbirds at the same spot. But my mind was still on the birds I had missed till now.. the Black and orange flycatcher being one of them. It was almost 3.45 pm and I was tired and hungry. I decided to go home… just then I noticed something distinctively orange moving across. Yay!! The Black and orange flycatcher. I silently watched it and stealthily moved towards it. Took a few record shots. It flew away!

I was happy and sad once again. Sad for having got only record shots. I scouted around the place again and again. No luck. I spent the next 30 mins in search of the black and orange. Then I decided to try my luck further below. That turned out to be a great decision as I spotted the black and orange again. It posed patiently for me. Once I got a few clicks, it went and took a dip in a puddle of water nearby. I took a video of the black and orange taking a dip! My day was made! I was simply thrilled!!! Such a cute bird!!! I returned home with a smile.

Black & Orange flycatcher Botanical garden 1

Back home, while processing the raw files, I felt very happy. I had got a few nice snaps. Definitely these snaps were much better than what I had managed in the past. With 3 more days left, I was happy with the progress made until then.

Okay, enough for this post. I will try to cover the following in a few more posts.

  1. Day 4, 5, 6 reports
  2. Logistics and routes to reach these places
  3. The Peacocke painting trail

You may want to read my other Nilgiris related posts

12 thoughts on “Birding in Nilgiris – 1

  1. Fine reporting Prem.Hope to hear more from you.Esp. the logistics and routes part.
    Regds,
    Vishnu

  2. Very nice report Prem. Was looking forward to it. Very nice images.. Thanks for sharing!

    Cheers!
    Ram.

  3. Very nice report.. I’ve been to Ooty recently.. got some shots of Laughing thrush and grey tit.. nothing more.. next time, I know where to look for them.. thanx again.

  4. Lovely writeup dude.
    Off late you have developed a lot of patience in writing longer blog posts 🙂
    Am really enjoying reading as well as seeing the images.
    Keep them coming.

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