Birding in Nilgiris – 2

In an earlier post, I blogged about days 1-3 of my Nilgiris trip. In this post, I will talk about day 4, 5 and 6 of the trip.  All snaps from this trip are uploaded to my my flickr account. If you want information regarding places and routes, please see this post.

Note: This is a lengthy post, but please do not miss the report on day 6 at Kalhatty falls early in the morning. It was the best phase of the trip.

Day 4 report: May 21: Ooty home – Doddabetta – Kotagiri – Longwood shola – Wood house area – cancelled Porthimund dam due to rain – Ooty home

By now, I was so used to the chirps of sparrows that I could hear them inside my head even if I closed my ears tight! They were my close friends. They were always there waiting for me at the window every day in the morning without fail.

House sparrow 2

Having stayed up late into the previous night trying to get more information on where and how I could spot the Nilgiri laughing thrush, I woke up at 7 am instead of the planned 6 am. I had planned to reach Doddabetta before 7 am, which was not to be. I reached there by 8 am with the sole aim of getting a very nice picture of the laughing thrush.

INWer Vijay Cavale had given me a few clear inputs. “Get the ticket –> Go straight to the tea shop and descend down the ladder –> Cross the fence. Try your luck there before crowd arrives. Or try you luck 5 km below (Kotagiri).”

At 8 am, it was not crowded, as expected. But people started arriving sooner than I had anticipated (usually it is 10 am before it starts getting crowded). I went immediately to the area below the tea stall (take the ladder) and crossed the fence and into the forest area. I was stopped by a guy there. I told him about the thrush, he looked at me, up and down, bewildered. Probably he had not heard about bird watching. But he warned me about Bison’s in that area.. and even pointed to some footprints.. indeed large round ones.. inexperience of forests meant that it slightly unnerved me. (I would not be able to distinguish a bison footprint from a buffalo’s). But my determination to get a thrush on camera was too high. I proceeded further.

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No sign of the thrush. I heard none of that kind. But I did see a lot of great tits here, a pied bushchat, oriental white eye and the regulars (bulbul, myna, etc). I stayed there for almost 1.5 hours in vain. I did hear the Laughing thrush calls a few times  but it was so far away to sight (it made a cackle kind of call, which is hard to not notice). I was losing my patience.I moved around faster by now trying to cover more ground.. up and down I went, again and again… in vain.

I decided to go back to the parking lot and try my luck there. But lady luck seemed evasive. I didn’t see any laughing thrush there. Later I came to know that these birds are bold at certain times, but extremely shy at other. And as far as my research goes, Nov and Dec seem to be better months to spot these birds in Doddabetta.

I realized that I was wasting my time there and decided to keep moving. I drove towards Kotagiri.

I should tell you that this drive was a highlight of the trip. My personal favorite was the drive through the Kalhatty ghat, but this too was very interesting. Mountain ride with a valley on one side. Neat roads. Amazing landscape. Silence of nature, a chirp here and there, a few motorists now and then. Just for the experience, you should drive through this route.

I parked the car some 7 Km below Doddabetta at a curve where I heard what I thought was the laughing thrush. I didnt sight it, but I sighted a ton of sunbirds. Infact throughout the drive, I noticed a lot of birds.. but all of them were the regulars.. bulbuls, mynas, tits, etc. I also noticed a monkey family en route. And a Indian giant squirrel. The monkeys were making a lot of angry noises trying to scare the squirrel away. The squirrel was making a scared “chook,….. chook” kind of noise… pretty loud too. It hardly moved from the spot (and was almost hidden behind the tree trunk) though I was there for over 10 mins trying to get a good click.

It started drizzling a bit.. but stopped. I was soaking in the beauty of the place fully enjoying my ride. I almost forgot the laughing thrush. We reached Kotagiri, one really nice place. Very good climate and landscapes makes this a fantastic location… indeed it was the preferred destination of the British. It is not as extreme as Ooty (in both cold and warmth) and milder than Coonor. I am in love with this place so much that I am exploring the option of buying a small house there!

We quickly drove to Longwood shola. The place looked very alluring. I could see a ton of birds at the entrance of the shola itself. I went into the forest office there to see if I could get permission to enter there. Damn, he wanted the permission order… from the same south division forest office. I didnt have it. That meant my trip was a cropper. I had to return. But I did stay there at the entrance to sight a few oriental magpie robins, purple sunbirds, tits, robins.. and a couple more tiny looking birds which were greenish.. sadly I couldn’t click them and hence they remain unidentified.

I decided to quickly drive down to Porthimund dam for which we had permission. But it started raining like there was no tomorrow. I changed my mind and dropped Porthimund dam. I was tired. I was bored. I had a poor day with almost no interesting sightings. I had a headache too. I wanted to go home.

I wanted to try the route down the Wood house area (this route too takes you to Stephens church, but roads are not good). As I was driving through this almost deserted route, I noticed a Grey Jungle fowl. I also noticed a greenish looking bird, big enough almost like a pigeon (sadly this too goes unidentified without a click).

Further down the route, I noticed a horticulture farm. I parked my car there and went in. I asked them about birds there.. the guy got excited and told he would show me something special and took me along. He showed me a nest. A bulbul nest with 2 tiny bulbuls in it. He told me to take a good photo of it. My ethics took over. I refused and told him what impact his intervention on the nest would have and how much he would endanger the lovely little ones. I told him to refrain in future from going anywhere near the nest. He nodded, but he didnt seem too convinced. I came out of the farm as I didnt see anything interesting there.

Once I came out, I was pleasantly surprised. There were a lot of Nilgiri flycatchers inside the forest opposite to the farm. The time was almost 2.30 pm. And it was very dark. It was about to rain. I raised the ISO to 1000 and clicked a few. I used my car as a hide and got a few clicks, but poor light played spoil sport. The birds were hardly 10 feet away from my car. Further inside the forest, there were some grey headed canaries as well. But it started pouring again. The rain was too heavy for me to even think of venturing into the forest. My dad too was with me and we decided to drive back home. The thought of a hot cup of tea in cold weather was too alluring to me. I drove back home. The day had not been so great except for the fantastic drive down to Kotagiri and the few unidentified spottings near the Wood house area.

The road after the farm was too bad for a hatchback. So I decided to reverse and take the route down Doddabetta. If you are visiting the place, I would suggest that you park the car in front of the horticulture farm and walk 2-3 Km into the woods. I am sure this would be a great walk. As a matter of fact, this area is also the same area that you get if you keep walking upwards inside Botanical garden… a few kms. But it is very solitary there and I am sure you would want to be careful enough with expensive attention seeking gizmos in your hand.

Day 5 report: May 22: Ooty home – Naduvattam – Thorapalli – Mudumalai – Bandipur – Mudumalai – Masinagudi – Mavanahalla – Kalhatty ghat – Kalhatty falls – Ooty home

It was 10 am when I started. We drove first to Naduvattam as I heard from a friend that the shola here has a lot of birds. But I could not enter the shola here as I didnt have the permission. I thought I would come here later and drove towards Thorapalli. Had a nice lunch there in a hotel. It was 1.00 pm. We drove towards Mudumalai. I was not too keen on the safari and just wanted to drive around. We spotted a lot of Indian Rollers there. And the common Hoopoes were found frequently too. As we drove further towards Bandipur, we spotted a single elephant (it is not a good idea to park your car in front of a single elephant, which I did), a few common langurs, etc. We crossed the Kakanahalla border and saw a lot of Chitals were roaming around. I turned around at the edge of Bandipur and came back. This time I took the Masinagudi route.

It was a great drive once again. At Masinagudi, I spotted a lot of Long tailed Shrikes. Also saw a few birds what I think were the Chestnut shouldered petronia’s. It was almost 4 pm by then and I wanted more time at the falls and so I drove up. The drive up the 36 hair pin bends has now become my all-time favorite routes. I enjoyed the curvy ascent.

I took a diversion at the checkpost and drove right towards the falls. I parked there and went down towards the falls. I saw a lot of birds. The Eurasian black birds were common. So were a lot of small minivets, crimson backed sunbirds, oriental magpie robins, etc.

At the bottom of the falls, I could hear a lot of chirps of what I thought was the flycatchers. Indeed, they were. Tickell’s blue flycatchers. They were a bit distant but still got a few decent clicks. I didn’t see any Black and orange flycatcher there. Roamed around the place for a while and sighted a ton of birds. Enjoyed it fully and returned home very happily.
Tickells blue flycatcher 3

Day 6 report: May 23: Ooty home – Kalhatty falls – Bangalore home

Being the last day of my wonderul trip, I was sad. I started at 7.15 am and reached the Kalhatty falls before 8 am. I was amazed by what I saw and heard there. A ton of birds. A thousand chirps.

The malabar parakeet was flying from one tree to another.

A lesser yellow nape was making a call that almost appeared like someone whining.

Lesser yellow nape 1

I climbed up a steep slope until I was at eye level with the nape and got a few good clicks.

Lesser yellow nape 3

I saw a few Jungle babblers too. I used the slopy terrain to good effect to get a few good clicks at eye level.

Jungle babbler

I also saw a tailor bird there. A lot of crimson backed sunbirds were busy with their acrobatic acts on flowers. A flowerpecker came almost very close to me near the bridge further down. My joy knew no bounds. I was there.. without a single thought of my client, my project, my deadlines, my deliverables on the following week, the stock market performance,…. for a moment all of that amounted to nothing compared to the joy I found there.

I saw a lot of Eurasian blackbirds going about their daily duties without bothering much about me.

I went further down to where the water is. I saw 2 of the most beautiful lizards there.

Lizard - ID pls

I saw the Tickells blue flycatcher there again. And a ton of white eyes. There was a group of birds flying around.. they appeared to be small minivets. I was so happy that I stayed until almost 10 am. The sun was getting stronger and birds started disappearing. What a change from what I had seen on the previous day? I strongly urge you to visit this place early in the morning by around 6.30 am to fully enjoy birding here. You will see a ton of birds here. It is a guarantee!!!

I left Kalhatty falls by around 10 am and went to Mavanahalla. I spotted the Long tailed shrikes here. And a sole eagle was flying at a distance. A large number of Red rumped swallows were flying swiftly racing with the wind.Clicking them in flight is not easy. They are tiny. They are fast. They are unpredictable in motion. I spent almost 30 mins in vain… I got only 1 ok looking shot.

Red rumped swallow

Spotted a pigeon, which was definitely not the Nilgiri wood and definitely not a spotted dove. Its neck was slightly longer than that of a spotted dove. A mountain imperial pigeon? Not sure. Also spotted the common Iora there perched beautifully on top of a tree.

Common Iora 1

Later on, somewhere near Theppakad, I saw a Pied thrush sitting on an electric pole making a loud call.

It was at Kalhatty falls and Masinagudi that I felt my inexperience and ignorance the most. A ton of birds were missed. I was now at the end of my trip. My research indicates that I had missed sighting these (compiled after reading several reports and articles on birding in Nilgiris)

  1. Fantail flycatcher
  2. White bellied shortwing
  3. Nilgiri pipit
  4. Blue robin
  5. Tickells warbler
  6. Kashmiri flycatcher
  7. Velvet fronted nuthatch
  8. Orange headed ground thrush
  9. Chestnut headed bee eater
  10. Scimitar babbler
  11. Woodcock
  12. Large billed leaf warbler
  13. Western crowned warbler
  14. Scaly thrush
  15. Forest wagtail
  16. Malabar whistling thrush
  17. Painted bushquail
  18. Blue faced malkoha
  19. Yellow browed bulbul
  20. Verditer flycatcher.

Now, I do not know if I really saw any of the above, but failed to notice or not. I will probably go there again in September or October, hopefully with more knowledge and experience backing me up.

In my view, the trip was a thumping success. I had seen a ton of birds. I now knew a lot about Nilgiris, the place where I grew up. I knew a lot about birding spots in Nilgiris. I now also knew more about birding. The trip was an amazing learning experience.

I reached home in Bangalore by around 5 pm. The entire trip over 6 days in Nilgiris was so enchanting, exciting and relaxing. But a 3 hour drive from Mysore to Bangalore home was so much stressful. I knew I missed the pristine beauty of the Nilgiri hills and its clean air.

The polluted air of Bangalore, the noise and the jammed traffic brought me down from Paradise to earth.

I miss Nilgiris. I want to go back there again! I am longing for September!

You may want to read my other Nilgiris related posts

4 thoughts on “Birding in Nilgiris – 2

  1. Great collection of birds, must say your writing is very intriguing, keeps one glued! I was on goggle as I’m traveling to Ooty/ Kotagiri on 26th and 27th Dec. Fortunate to have come across your site. Like to mention that most of the links (Birding in Nilgiris Part 1 etc is not accessible.

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