Nilgiris! The very name evokes a fantastic feeling in my heart!
Green grass, clean air, fresh green leaves swaying in the wind, giant trees that seem to grow to the sky, amazing landscapes, a stream of water every now and then, curvy roads through the blue mountains, deeply gorged valley on one side and a treat of greenery on the other, ….. I can go on and on. That is Nilgiris. The place where I spent my childhood!
The place is also a birders paradise.
Many people have asked me about the various birding spots in Nilgiris. This post is an attempt to answer that question. This will be a growing post. As of now, I have listed a few spots without enough information. I will gather further information and update the post as time goes.
Given below is a list of birding spots in Nilgiris, ones I have visited myself. And I have also listed ones I haven’t visited too. Hopefully by end of this year, that list should move to the visited list. View My favorite locns and routes in Nilgiris in a map.
I have mapped these places on the map above. Do click on it and have a look at the larger format.
Going on a birding trip and looking for a telephoto lens? Visit www.Tapprs.com.
- Kalhatty falls / ghat
Hands down, this is my ‘the most favorite spot’ in Nilgiris. 15 Kms before hitting Ooty.
Route: To reach this spot, you need to take the Mudumalai –> Theppakadu –> Masinagudi –> Kalhatty ghat route. Stop at the checkpost in the middle of the ghat, take the road on the right (and NOT the left.. that goes to Ooty). Park the car at the dead end. Take the steps to reach the water fall (not much water though). It is a solitary place, hence please go with company ( esp because of the expensive attention seeking gadgets you may have). The road is steep, with 36 hairpin bends in 11 Kms, you will need a good vehicle. The adventurous drivers will love the drive there. Visit this spot early in the morning around 7 am. You will see a ton of birds. Evenings are 2nd preference. Avoid noons.
Birds spotted here: Various flycatchers (like Tickells, Black and orange, Grey headed canary), Eurasian blackbirds, Malabar parakeets, the Napes, Sunbirds, Flowerpeckers, Jungle Babblers, Bulbuls, Pied Bushchats, Bay backed shrikes, Red Rumped swallows, Tailorbirds, Common Ioras, Tits, Minivets and much much more.
- Botanical garden
This is perhaps the most well known spot of all. Needs no introduction. Go to Ooty and ask anyone.
For birding, you need to shun the regular areas. Go straight to the top. Keep walking up, up and up. As farther as your legs can go. (if you encounter a fence at the top, take the gate out to go to Raj Bhavan area). Then stop to sight the Nilgiri flycatcher, Grey headed canary flycatcher, Black and orange flycatcher. etc amidst the other birds mentioned above already. Also, the area near the Toda mund there is a good place for birding too.
This is one place where you can go even in the noons and still come back with a ton of sightings.
- Area around Wood house
This place is actually right at the top, behind Botanical garden, much much further up. I was able to easily spot a ton of birds here in a very short visit.
Route: There are 2 routes. One on the left side of Botanical garden. Ask for Wood house route at the garden entrance, take left, keep going up. As the area becomes more wooded, keep a watch for the birds mentioned already. The other route is same as Doddabetta route, but when you encounter a 4 way road (one to Kotagiri, one to Doddabetta) take the left most… to Wood house. The road is not good. Stop the car at the horticulture farm. Take a walk down the road. Preferably into the woods, but it is solitary there. Come back feeling like a kid who has just been given an icecream.
- Masinagudi / Mavanahalla
On the same route from Theppakadu towards Kalhatty, you get this small village called Masinagudi. It is a good spot to sight bay backed shrikes, eagles, red rumped swallows, flycatchers, drongos and much more. Park your car at Mavanahalla and walk around the scrubs.
- Pomology station in Coonoor
This place is a private area. Hence you may not be allowed to do any bird photography there. When we did, we just sneaked in through the front get pretending to be sapling buyers. Then quietly did some birding, could not resist the temptation to capture a few snaps. That spoilt it all. We were asked to leave.
But its a fantastic place for just birding. Because its a fruit farm, you will see a ton of birds here.
Route – Near Sims park in Coonor. Ask anyone for the fruit farm / pomology station / pomiculture farm
- Lambs rock thickets
This place is in Coonor. Its a popular tourist spot. But if you avoid the rock and hit the thickets, you will notice a lot of birds.
On the way to Doddabetta, there is a diversion towards Sinclairs hotel. Go further up. You will hit a water body and a mosque. Walk around… you will surely notice the Laughing thrush here. Other birds like flycatchers are common here.
- Longwood shola
A nice place in Kotagiri. If you are driving from Ooty, you will enjoy the scenic route. Around 20-25 Km from Ooty. Needs prior permission from the forest department.
Route: Ooty –> Kotagiri –> Milidhane –> Longwood. Also, do stop at several spots en route. You will enjoy the landscape. And if you are lucky, you will spot a lot of birds.
- Potato research center, Muthorai
I visited this place in May, around noon. I didn’t have much luck there as I saw only white eyes, tits, pigeons, bulbuls, mynas, etc there. But this place has been a good birding spot for several people, especially around Sept-Oct.
Route: Ooty –> Fernhill –> Muthorai. Ask for the potato research center. Easy to reach.
Needs no introduction. Go to Doddabetta only if you want to sight the Nilgiri laughing thrush. Nothing much beyond that here. Commonly seen around the organic garbage dump and parking lot, both near the entrance. Also, I heard that they are common at the area below the tea stall (after the ticket counter). Go very early in the morning.
- Area near Tamizhagam (Ooty)
Tamizhagam is now the official place of stay for government heads (CM, politicians, etc). It is well maintained. Also nearby is the collectors residence. Owing to these factors, heavy vehicles are not allowed on this road and that makes it a fantastically silent area. Take your car. Park it somewhere near Tamizhagam. Take a walk down the road (opposite to Finger post road) till you see a Toda mund on the left after around 1 Km. Visit the Todas and talk to them about their history. Walk up a bit until you are comfortable. Return to Tamizhagam. Try a different route that is perpendicular to the earlier route (this one is filled with potholes). Walk around a bit in the woods. If you are adventurous, get into the woods and off the road, its pretty safe here. If you are lucky, you will see a lot of Sunbirds, Tits, Flowerpeckers, Flycatchers, etc. But of late, even this road has become a bit busy.
Route: Ooty bus stand –> Fingerpost –> Tamizhagam (or) Ooty bus stand –> Savoy Hotel road .–> Tamizhagam
- Pykara falls
Drive towards Gudalur from Ooty. After around 20 Km from Ooty, you get Pykara falls. Not a favorite, but quite a few birds are found here too.
- Mudumalai and Theppakad
If you travel through Mudumalai and Theppakadu, you will see a few birds there like the Hoopoes, Brahminy starlings, napes, etc on the road side. You might be more successful if you take a safari and enter inside. It has been a really long time since I took a safari though.
- Cairn hill forest reserve
This place is a hotspot for birds. When I went there for some reason, didnt spot many birds except the regular flycatchers. I still rate it higher as I know this place has a lot of birds ( like the Nilgiri laughing thrush).
Route: From Ooty bus stand, go towards Fernhill. Stop there and ask for Muthorai route. Go around 4 km. but keep a watch on the left side of the road. You will see a forest dept sign board, the Cairn hill forest reserve just at a curve which you can easily miss. It is closed for one month now I think, may reopen in July. Please check with the forest dept near the fire station (Collectors office area).
The following is a list of places that I have not visited (to be precise, I may have visited generally, but not for birding) but know (or believe) that they are good for birding.
Around 35 Km from Ooty. Need the forest department permission. (Same South division office near the fire station).
Route: Keep going on the Muthorai route –> Palada –> Ithalar –> Emerald –> Avalanche dam
My permission to this place was denied as some big head was visiting the spot on the same day and I missed the opportunity to bird at this fantastic spot.
- Naduvattam forest area
This place too needs permission from the district forest office (South div).
Route: It is on the Ooty – Gudalur route, some 20 mins before you hit Gudalur. It is also approachable from Mudumalai side by taking the right at Theppakadu (and not left, which goes to Kalhatty).
- Mukurthi dam and national park
I am not sure if you get the permission from the forest department these days. But I think there is a provision from the Electric department (I think it is leased to Electricity board) to stay in their guest house.
- Area around the Rose garden
It may be crowded at times. But a lot of birds are said to be found here. I have visited this place many times, but not for birding though.
Not much idea about this place, but a lot of people say it is a nice place for birding. It is at the Nilgiris – Kerala border.
- Porthimund dam and Parsons valley
Nice places, but am not sure about how good they are for birding. 12 Km from Ooty. Need permission from forest office. I had the permission, but it rained heavily that day forcing me to cancel it.
- Western catchment
Around 30 Km from Ooty. A fantastic spot for landscapes. Bird watching should be decent. Needs confirmation.
- Miscellaneous spots
There are a few spots which are good, but am not sure if they are good for bird watching or not. They are Glenmorgan, Emerald, Sandynallah, Deer park area near the Ooty lake, the Ooty lake itself, spots around Fernhill, etc.
Where to stay in Nilgiris?
If you ask me, I would not know much as I used to stay in my own house (update: sold the house :-() there whenever I go there. My opinion is, choose a clean, decent hotel. Stay there in the night for around 7-8 hours. Hit the roads immediately early in the mornings. Come back only late in the nights. Some people prefer Jungle Home near Thorapalli. (Update: Got quite a bit of bad feedback on them and hence downgraded them. Alternatively, my birding friend Prabhu Purnan runs a couple of homestays in Ooty and Coonoor. Do send me an email if you need the contact info.) There are a few resorts in Masinagudi. And in Ooty, you have a ton of hotels. From the Taj Savoy to cheap skate filthy (make hay during season kind) hotels, you have a whole range. As I said, my opinion would be too inadequate. So, do your own research.
Which is the best season in Ooty?
March to May is the best. But it is also the most crowded, with schools being closed and flower show and other events being conducted. Also, this is the season that is most advertised. Be ready to face Bangalore kind of traffic during these times.
If you are like me, you would also want to give it a try during Sept and October, also called the second season.
Is Nilgiris = Ooty?
Surprisingly, Nilgiris is confused for Ooty so much. Nilgiris is a district. Ooty is the capital town. There are other places in Nilgiris that are as beautiful (or more) as Ooty, like Kotagiri and Coonoor.
Please do not think Ooty is the end of all. Get your car out of Ooty. Explore Nilgiris. Think beyond Ooty.
Fuel stations in Nilgiris
If you ask me, I like only 2 fuel stations in Nilgiris. Both are in Ooty. (of course, there might be other too, but I have relied only on these 2 for long). One is the Viswanathan petrol bunk which you get when travelling from Fingerpost to Bus stand. (It is hard to miss as it is a 2 storeyed petrol bunk.. with the top floor being the service floor for a road above). The other is Mahalingam petrol bunk near Charring cross, in Ooty. This is pretty close to the Botanical garden.