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Tour Report : South India Megafauna & Endemics, March 2011

Mammal List | Bird List

Participants

This is a trip report based upon a natural history oriented guided tour conducted by Ficus Wildlife & Natural History Tours, to the Western Ghats of south India, in March 2011.

We saw a total of 166 species of birds in 11 days of largely relaxed birding, including a rarely seen visitor in south India - a Large Hawk Cuckoo. Among the Western Ghats endemics, we had good sightings of Rufous Babbler, Nilgiri Flycatcher, White-cheeked Barbet, Malabar Parakeet, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, Malabar Lark, Grey-breasted Laughing Thrush and White-bellied Treepie, among several sub-continental rarities and endemics. March is quite late in the season for migrant birds to south India, and, as expected, several winter visitors (notably among warblers & flycatchers), were not seen in this trip.

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Mammal sightings included rarities such as Tiger, Wild Dog, Sloth Bear and Lion-tailed Macaque (endemic) among a variety of commoner deer, monkeys, Gaur, Elephant and other small mammals - by and large a good representation of large mammal diversity of the hill forests of peninsular India.

Notable species among other animal groups included sightings of Marsh Crocodile, Bengal Monitor Lizard, Common Wolf Snake, Peninsular Rock Agama, ticks and leeches - too close for comfort at times, of the latter two! We only saw a handful of frogs on the trip, not unexpectedly scarce in the dry season.

We travelled during the peak dry season in the ecoregion. Many deciduous trees had shed their leaves and a number of them were flowering/fruiting - most visibly figs, silk cottons and flame of the forest - adding color to the canopy. Interestingly, Bamboo were mass flowering in the deciduous forests of Kabini and Bandipur, as well as to a lesser extent in Top Slip. Since bamboo die after flowering, it is an open question as to whether exotic, weedy species such as Lantana will fill the space devoid of live bamboo in these forests.

This was the lean tourist season and often we were alone on forest paths and game roads, enabling us to better appreciate the wilderness of these hill forests.

March 21st & 22nd, Thattekad

Thattekad, as is the case in coastal Kerala through the year, was extremely humid and warm during the day. Nights and mornings were surprisingly cool. A heavy thunderstorm fell one evening - the only significant rain we experienced on the trip. Our primary focus at Thattekad was birdwatching in the lowland evergreen, riverine and plantation forests around here. Highlight birds from here were Malabar Trogon, Crested Goshawk, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Dollar Bird, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Black-naped Oriole, Jerdon's Nightjar, Brown Fish Owl, Collared Scops Owl, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Yellow-nape Woodpecker, Puff-throated Babbler, Malabar Grey Hornbill and Large-hawk Cuckoo. White-bellied Treepie were conspicuous by their absence - normally quite noisy and common here.

Highlight Mammal Sightings

  • Asian Elephant Elephas maximus
  • Tiger Panthera tigris
  • Indian Wild Dog Cuon alpinis
  • Sloth Bear Melursus unrsinus
  • Gaur Bos gaurus
  • Lion-tailed Macaque Macaca silenus
  • Nilgiri Langur Trachypithecus johnii
  • Dusky-striped Palm Squirrel
    Funambulus sublineatus
  • Indian Muntjac Muntiacus muntjak
  • Ruddy Mongoose Herpestes smithii

Bird List

March 23rd, Munnar

We spent an evening walking in the montane evergreen forests of Pampadum Shola National Park (1900m plus), near Munnar. A majestic Black Eagle engrossed us with its dexterous flight through the forest canopy as we drove up the hills from Thattekad. Barring the ubiquitous Malabar Giant Squirrel and locally common Grey-breasted Laughing Thrush, animal and bird sightings were subdued. We did see Gaur, Common Mongoose, Bonnet Macaque, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Eurasian Blackbird ,Yellow-browed Bulbul and Black Bulbul as well from the location. We heard Nilgiri Langur, normally easily seen here, but we did not get a clear sighting of them this time. We also missed a couple of endemic montane-forest birds here - Black and Orange Flycatcher and White-bellied Shortwing - that are typically easy to find here. Our trekking route skirted a forested valley and later led through the 'shola' with scenic views of evergreen forest in the valley and the surrounding hills.

March 24th, 25th & 26th, Top Slip (Anamalai Tiger Reserve)

Our three nights at Top Slip (Anamalai Tiger Reserve) were fascinating - both for intimate walks through a variety of forests as well as for sightings of wildlife unique to the wet forests of the Western Ghats. We walked in ethereal mature bamboo forest, through dark rainforest, over wet leaf-litter and among huge buttressed trees, through open deciduous forests, with mature teak towering above us, and onto bare rock with great views of forests and the hills of the Anamalais. The atmosphere was often magical, as strong winds and dark clouds built-up in the evenings, suggesting welcome rains of the pre-monsoon showers to the Ghats.

We saw a troop of Lion-tailed Macaque (endemic) and Great Hornbill - both species symbolic of mature forests in the Western Ghats - feeding together on a fruiting fig, high in the rainforest canopy. Notably, we had a number of sightings of Great Hornbill - this being the nesting season, perhaps males had to fly far in search of food to take back to the brooding female in the nest. Another notable sighting was of a bull Gaur, less than 20 ft from us, while walking in a magical bamboo forest. Another endemic primate, the acrobatic Nilgiri Langur, were ubiquitous and species of deer, wild boar and other smaller mammals were frequently seen. Bird endemics sighted included Rufous Babbler, White-cheeked Barbet, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, Malabar Parakeet, White-bellied Treepie and Malabar Grey Hornbill. A walk along a forested canal bordering the reserve, provided excellent sightings of Stork-billed Kingfisher and possibly of a Brown Fish Owl, taking off before we had a chance to confirm ID. Generally, bird sightings were excellent in Top Slip, with the seasonably leafless trees of the deciduous forests providing enhanced visibility and coinciding with the start of the nesting season in these parts.

March 27th & 28th, Bandipur Tiger Reserve:

Memorably, we spent several minutes observing a tigress with four young cubs (within 6 months old) on one of our game drives in Bandipur. We spotted the family when a cub briefly entered the game road from a forest path, before entering Lantana thickets to join the rest, as they relaxed in the shade. Although, elephants sightings were rare inside the tourism zone, as expected in the dry season here, we did see a majestic tusker in his prime, nonchalantly snapping bamboo shoots, presumably to feed on their fleshy inner tissue. Gaur, Spotted and Sambar Deer, Stripe-necked Mongoose, Common Langur and Bonnet Macaque were the other animals commonly seen. A walk in dry scrub of a reserve forest, to a hill top proved productive for sightings of Wild Dog, dry habitat birds, including Blue-faced Malkoha, Brown-headed and Coppersmith Barbets and White-browed Fantail and for a birds eye view of the Reserve. A notable bird sighting was of the critically endangered Red-headed Vulture. While birdlife was good, sightings were of commoner forest species.

March 29th, 30th & 31st, Kabini (Nagarhole National Park)

Our three nights at Kabini provided a number of highlights, mostly around the incredibly scenic backwaters of the Kabini River. The backwaters attract a large density of herbivores in the dry season and we saw numerous elephant herds and tuskers, Gaur and deer congregating on the grasslands surrounding the backwaters. This is an important seasonal feeding ground for herbivores, when food and water become sparse in other parts of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. We were also treated to a rare sight of a Sloth Bear, hurriedly shuffling over the open grassland for a quick drink at the river before shuffling back into the surrounding Bamboo thickets. The jungle surrounding the backwaters was alive with sounds of alarm calls of deer and monkeys, suggesting a healthy presence of predators concealed in the undergrowth.

We saw small colonies of River Terns, Spot-billed Ducks, Cormorants, Ibis, Herons and Storks regularly as well birds of prey including Osprey, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Brahminy Kite and notably Tawny Eagle, by the river. The river is reputedly rich in fish life and the numerous birds and presence of Mugger Crocodile (of which we had a sighting) seem to indicate its continuing status as such. Forest birds included relative rarities such as Heart-spotted and Malabar Woodpeckers and Red Spurfowl, among a good number of commoner species.

Travel

All travel was by road from Cochin Airport in Kerala to the Bengaluru Airport in Karnataka, with stopovers in tour locations in-between. We used a chauffeured Chevrolet Tavera - a spacious, comfortable ride for 3+1 persons and capable of negotiating bad roads that are inevitable as we approach and within natural areas around here.

Birds Sighted
    PARTRIDGES & SPURFOWL
  • Red Spurfowl Galloperdix spadicea
PHEASANTS
  • Grey Junglefowl Gallus sonneratii
  • Indian Peafowl Pavo cristatus
DUCKS
  • Lesser Whistling-duck Dendrocygna javanica
  • Spot-billed Duck Anas poecilorhyncha
  • Rufous Woodpecker Celeus brachyurus
WOODPECKERS
  • White-bellied Woodpecker Dryocopus javensis
  • Heart-spotted Woodpecker Hemicircus canente
  • Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker Dendrocopus nanus
  • Lesser Yellownape Picus chlorolopus
  • Streak-throated Woodpecker Picus xanthopygaeus
  • Black-rumped Flameback Dinopium javanense
  • Greater Flameback Chrysocolaptes lucidus
BARBETS
  • Brown-headed Barbet Megalaima zeylanica
  • White-cheeked Barbet Megalaima viridis
  • Crimson-fronted Barbet Megalaima rubricapilla
  • Coppersmith Barbet Megalaima haemacephala
HORNBILLS
  • Malabar Grey Hornbill Ocyceros griseus
  • Great Hornbill Buceros bicornis
HOOPOE, TROGON & ROLLER
  • Common Hoopoe Upupa epops
  • Malabar Trogon Harpactes fasciatus
  • Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis
  • Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis
KINGFISHERS
  • Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
  • Stork-billed Kingfisher Halcyon capensis
  • White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis
  • Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis
BEE-EATERS
  • Green Bee-eater Merops orientalis
  • Chestnut-headed Bee-eater Merops leschenaulti
CUCKOOS & COUCALS
  • Large Hawk Cuckoo Hierococcyx sparverioides
  • Common Hawk Cuckoo Hierococcyx varius
  • Indian Cuckoo Cuculus micropterus
  • Asian Koel Eudynamus scolopacea
  • Blue-faced Malkoha Phaenicophaeus viridirostris
  • Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis
  • Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis
HANGING PARROT & PARAKEETS
  • Vernal Hanging Parrot Loriculus vernalis
  • Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri
  • Plum-headed Parakeet Psittacula cyanocephala
  • Malabar Parakeet Psittacula columboides
SWIFTS, SWIFTLETS & NEEDLETAILS
  • Indian Swiftlet Colloncalia unicolor
  • White-rumped Needletail Zoonavena sylvatica
  • Asian Palm Swift Cypsiurus balasiensis
  • House Swift Apus affinis
OWLS
  • Collared Scops Owl Otus bakkamoena
  • Eurasian Eagle Owl Bubo bubo
  • Brown Fish Owl Keputa zylonensis
  • Jungle Owlet Glaucidium radiatum
  • Spotted Owlet Athene brama
FROGMOUTH & NIGHTJARS
  • Sri Lanka Frogmouth Batrachostomus moniliger
  • Jerdons Nightjar Caprimulgus atripennis
PIGEONS, DOVES & GREEN PIGEONS
  • Rock Pigeon Columba livia
  • Nilgiri Wood Pigeon Columa elphinstonii
  • Green Imperial Pigeon Ducula aenea
  • Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis
  • Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis
  • Emerald Dove Chalcophaphs indica
  • Orange-breasted Green Pigeon Treron bicincta
  • Pompadour Green Pigeon Treron pompadora
  • Yellow-footed Green Pigeon Treron phoenicoptera
RAILS, CRAKES & OTHER RALLIDS
  • White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus
  • Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio
  • Common Coot Fulica atra
WADERS & JACANAS
  • Blacked-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
  • Bronze-winged Jacana Metopidius indicus
LAPWINGS
  • Red-wattled Lapwing Vallenus indicus
GULLS & TERNS
  • Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
  • River Tern Sterna aurantia
  • Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus
OSPREY, KITES & FISH EAGLES
  • Osprey P&ion Haliaetus
  • Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus
  • Black Kite Milvus migrans
  • Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus
  • Grey-headed Fish Eagle Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus
VULTURES
  • Red-headed Vulture Sacrogyps calvus
SERPENT EAGLES & BLACK EAGLE
  • Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis cheela
  • Black Eagle Ictinaetus malayenis
ACCIPITERS & ORIENTAL HONEY-BUZZARD
  • Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus
  • Shikra  Accipiter badius
  • Oriental Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynus
AQUILA EAGLES & HAWK EAGLES
  • Tawny Eagle Aquila rapax
  • Changeable Hawk Eagle Spizaetus cirrhatus
GREBES
  • Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
    DARTER & CORMORANTS
  • Darter Anhinga melanogaster
  • Little Cormorant Phalacrocorax niger
  • Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
  • Indian Cormorant Phalacrocorax fuscicollis
EGRETS & HERONS
  • Little Egret Egretta garzetta
  • Intermediate Egret Mesophoyx intermedia
  • Great Egret Casmerodius albus;
  • Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
  • Indian Pond Heron Ardeola grayii
  • Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
  • Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
EGRETS & HERONS
  • Black-headed Ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus
  • Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala
  • Asian Openbill Anastomus oscitans
  • Wooly-necked Stork Ciconia ciconia
PITTAS, ASIAN FAIRY BLUEBIRD & LEAFBIRDS
  • Indian Pitta Pitta brachyura
  • Asian Fairy Bluebird Irena puella
  • Golden-fronted Leafbird Chlropsis aurifrons
SHRIKES
  • Bay-backed Shrike Lanius vittatus
  • Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach
TREEPIES
  • Rufous Treepie Dendrocitta vagabunda
  • White-bellied Treepie Dendrocitta leucogastra
CROWS
  • House Crow Corvus splendens
  • Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos
WOODSWALLOW, ORIOLES & CUCKOOSHRIKE
  • Ashy Woodswallow Artamus fuscus
  • Eurasian Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus
  • Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinesis
  • Black-hooded Oriole Oriolus xanthornus
MINIVETS, BAR-WINGED FLYCATCHER SHRIKE & FANTAILS
  • Small Minivet Pericrocotus cinnamomeus
  • Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus flammeus
  • White-browed Fantail Rhipidura aureola
DRONGOS
  • Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus
  • Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus
  • White-bellied Drongo Dicrurus caerulescens
  • Bronzed Drongo Dicrurus aeneus
  • Greater Racket-tailed Drongo Dicrurus paradiseus
BLACK-NAPED MONARCH, ASIAN PARADISE FLYCATCHER, IORA & WOODSHRIKES
  • Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea
  • Asian Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone paradisi
  • Common Iora Aegithina tiphia
  • Large Woodshrike Tephrodornis gularis
  • Common Woodshrike Tephrodornis pondicerianus
ROCK THRUSHES, WHISTLING TRUSHES & TURDUS THRUSHES
  • Malabar Whistling Thrush Myophonus horsfieldii
  • Orange-headed Thrush Zoothera citrina
  • Eurasian Blackbird Turdus merula
FLYCATCHERS & BLUE FLYCATCHERS
  • Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica
  • Nilgiri Flycatcher Eumyias albicaudata
  • Tickell's Blue Flycatcher Cyornis tickelliae
  • Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher Culicicapa ceylonensis
CHATS & BUSHCHATS
  • Oriental Magpie Robin Copsychus saularis
  • Indian Robin Saxicoloides fulicata
  • Pied Bushchat Saxicola caprata
STARLINGS & MYNAS
  • Chestnut-tailed Starling Sturnus malabaricus
  • Brahminy Starling Sturnus pagodarum
  • Common Myna Acridotheres tristis
  • Jungle Myna Acridotheres fuscus
  • Hill Myna Garcula religiosa
NUTHATCHES & TITS
  • Velvet-fronted Nuthatch Sitta frontalis
  • Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch Sitta castanea
  • Great Tit Parus major
MARTINS & SWALLOWS
  • Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica
BULBULS
  • Black-crested Bulbul Pycnonotus melanicterus
  • Red-whiskered Bulbul Pynconotus jocosus
  • Red-vented Bulbul Pynconotus cafer
  • Yellow-browed Bulbul Iole indica
  • Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus
ORIENTAL WHITE-EYE & PHYLLOSCOPUS WARBLERS
  • Oriental White-eye Zosterops palpebrosus
  • Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides
LAUGHINGTHRUSHES & BABBLERS
  • Grey-breasted Laughingthrush Garrulax jerdoni
  • Puff-throated Babbler Pellorneum ruficeps
  • Dark-fronted Babbler Ropocichla atriceps
  • Yellow-billed Babbler Turdoides affinis
  • Jungle Babbler Turdoides striatus
  • Rufous Babbler Turdoides subrufus
LARKS
  • Malabar Lark Galerida malabarica
FLOWERPECKERS & SUNBIRDS
  • Plain Flowerpecker Dicaeum concolor
  • Purple-rumped Sunbird Nectarinia zeylonica
  • Purple Sunbird Nectarinia asiatica
  • Little Spiderhunter Arachnothera longirostra
SPARROWS
  • House Sparrow Passer domesticus
WAGTAILS
  • White-browed Wagtail Motacilla maderaspatnensis
  • Grey Wagtail Montacilla cinerea
MUNIAS
  • Indian Silverbill Lonchura malabarica
  • White-rumped Munia Lonchura striata
Mammal List | Top
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