Monday, 20 March 2023

SOUTH INDIA and ANDAMANS: Ooty, Mudamalai & Mysuru (29 January-02 February 2023)

This is the final blog covering a Tansa, South Andaman and Southern India trip with Nick Preston and Paul Noakes and guided by the excellent Jijo Matthews. Our time in India was coming to an end although there were a few important species still to see ...

Sunday 29 January. We left Olive Brook at 06:45 and drove to the school track arriving at 07:30, after an unsuccessful 10 minute stop to look for Rufous Babbler. No luck with Nilgiri Thrush in half an hour at the school either and we continued driving up to the pass. We stopped there and then walked sections of the road as it dropped down into tea plantations. Jijo had told us the 40km from Munnar were realistically our only chance of Rufous Babbler (we’d rather forgotten to look at Periyar or on the way in to Munnar). We’d seen male Grey Junglefowl and Tytler’s Leaf Warbler but Paul and I were getting increasingly anxious about Rufous Babbler (Nick having seen it on his previous trip) when, at 11:20 and 38km out, Jijo heard one calling from roadside scrub and taped three Rufous Babblers in. That was cutting it rather fine. We continued to Chinnar Tiger Reserve and spent 12:45-15:15 there seeing Stripe-throated and Yellow-crowned Woodpeckers, male and female Jerdon’s Leafbird (new for Paul and me), Malabar Woodshrike, an amazing roosting Spot-bellied Eagle Owl and a Brown Fish Owl on a nest! The last was another new bird for me and something I’d hoped to see in Nepal in 1979 and 1982 so it had been a long wait. It was then a long drive to Ooty where we arrived at Logan Camp at 22:00 having had stops for coconuts and fried rice on the way.

tea plantations between Munnar and Chinnar

disappointing amounts of rubbish by the roadside was an all too common sight

the Chinnar River, Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary
 we are in Kerala, the far bank is Tamil Nadu

Orange Minivet at Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary
Spot-bellied Eagle Owl at Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary

Brown Fish Owl on its nest at Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary

Monday 30 January. We were out at 07:00 and walking around terraced tea plantations playing Painted Bush-Quail recordings. It took a while for one to respond but when it did we enticed it into view, and excellent start. Less good was seeing the surrounding hills in daylight and realising how little natural habitat was left, and none of it was close (both sites we were to visit took at least 30 minutes to reach). We returned for breakfast (the best of the trip for me) and while waiting for it 5 more Painted Bush-Quail scuttled past the restaurant. We drove to Carne Hill Forest Reserve with a few stops on the way to check small gullies for Nilgiri Thrush. No luck and as most of the gulleys, and roadsides verges, were covered in litter it was not pleasant. Carne Hill looked more promising with fast moving Nilgiri Laughingthrushes on the approach road but soon we were seeing little in very sterile forestry plantations. We eventually found 2 Nilgiri Blue Robins in an overgrown gulley which also had a male Indian Blue Robin and 2 Black and Orange Flycatchers but that was basically it. We left, making a couple more abortive gulley stops and were back at Logan Camp at 14:00. The pre-ordered lunch was not in evidence and as we were leaving again at 15:15 I decided to skip it and catch up on some notes. The afternoon session was driving into town again, another 30 minutes in the minibus, to visit the Government Botanical Gardens. No chance of my hoped for more prolonged views of Nilgiri Laughingthrush. The gardens were very busy although the better habit was on the far fringes attracting fewer visitors. Any hopes of peace and tranquility were soon shattered by what sounded like an acid house concert going on at full blast. The gardens added Indian Spot-billed Duck, Hoopoe and female Kashmir Flycatcher, time I felt could have been better spent elsewhere. Another 30 minutes back to Logan Camp by which time it was almost dark.

views over Ooty's environs from Logan Camp

Painted Bush-Quail at Logan Camp, Ooty
I'd collected Brooke Bond PG Tips Tropical Bird cards as a boy and this was one I'd not seen in the wild. Just two to go now though I'm not confident of seeing either

female Pied Bushchat in tea plantations at Logan Camp
tea plantations at Logan Camp
satellite village at Ooty
Nilgiri Blue Robin in Carne Hill Forest Reserve
I moved slightly to my left hoping to photograph its unobscured head but it chose that moment to face the other way before flying off. Nice bird though
Indian Spot-billed Duck in Ooty Botanical Gardens
a smart bird when seen well but I still preferred Andaman Teal
Hoopoe in Ooty Botanical Gardens
Indian Pond Heron in Ooty Botanical Gardens
map of India in Ooty Botanical Gardens

Tuesday 31 January. We left Logan Camp soon after 07:00 and headed out of Ooty making several short stops for Nilgiri Laughingthrush (successful on the second, in the best looking bit of habitat we’d seen around Ooty) and Nilgiri Thrush (successful on third stop, just before Pykara, in a roadside gulley that surprisingly wasn’t full of rubbish). We ended up watching the stream at the bottom of the gulley for about an hour during which time the thrush, first spotted by Paul with his thermal imager, appeared four times. In the gulley, the bottom of which was very dark, we also saw Orange-headed Ground Thrush, Nilgiri Blue Robin and for Paul and Nick Indian Blue Robin. At about 10:00 we continued on to Jungle Hut, dropping down into dry forest and going through Mudamalai Tiger Reserve where we saw an Elephant. We arrived at Jungle Hut at 14:00 seeing single White-rumped and Red-headed Vultures on the approach road. We dumped our bags in very spacious accommodation, had a quick lunch and birded the extensive grounds for an hour or so until we met Jijo for the afternoon session. In the grounds were Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Bay-backed Shrike, Indian Nuthatch, Brahminy Starling. With Jijo and a local guide picked up in the nearby village we birded in some grassy fields and up a rocky hillside where we sat until dark. Birds seen included a flock of 8+ Jungle Bush-Quail, Booted Warbler and Jungle Nightjar. Back at Jungle Hut dinner (a special non-spicy option for me) was interrupted to say there was a bull elephant in the camp, by our chalet as it turned out. It was a massive tusker, very impressive.

Grey Junglefowl crossing the road just outside Ooty

Nilgiri Blue Robin on the edge of Ooty

Nilgiri Laughingthrush on the edge of Ooty

Nilgiri Thrush near Pykara

the Nilgiri Thrush unobscured (photo: Paul Noakes)
the roadside ravine near Pykara
Spotted Dove at Jungle Hut
Magpie Robin at Jungle Hut
Wild Boars at Jungle Hut
Brahminy Myna at Jungle Hut

Chestnut-tailed Starling at Jungle Hut

Yellow-crowned Woodpecker at Jungle Hut

Plum-headed Parakeet at Jungle Hut
Indian Nuthatch at Jungle Hut
Tickell's Blue Flycatcher at Jungle Hut
Spotted Owlet at Mudumalai

Booted Warbler at Mudumalai
Jungle Bush-Quail at Mudumalai

straw-coloured dying bamboo as far as the eye could see, Mudumalai

team photo at Mudumalai - Nick, me, Jijo and Paul

Vibudhi Malai Murugan Temple, Mudumalai
Yellow-billed Babbler at Mudumalai

Jungle Nightjar at Mudumalai

Bull Elephant behind our chalet at Jungle Hut

Wednesday 01 February. We were out as it was getting light at 06:30 and birded around jungle /hut until Jijo arrived at 07:00. We drove out of the camp, picked up a guide from the local village and drove for a few kms to a dirt track running through scattered scrub. Our target White-bellied Minivet could be tricky to see, a situation not helped by not being allowed out of the car. With no success we continued to a more open area where we could walk although the habitat wasn’t as good. After a fair amount of walking, but probably little more than a km, we came to a less open area and after half an hour of playing recordings, as we had been all along, Jijo spotted a female White-bellied Minivet in the top of a nearby acacia type-tree. Quite a relief, although a thorough search of the area failed to locate a male which left us feeling a little dissatisfied. First rule of birding – no matter what you’ve seen you always want more. We headed back to the minibus and were back at Jungle Hut by 10:10 for a late but very pleasant breakfast. We packed but only had time for a short wander in the grounds before leaving soon after 10:00. We drove to Mysuru, arriving at the Southern Star Hotel at 14:10, with a brief stop for a very distant, unidentifiable for me, Indian Spotted Eagle on the way. Jijo picked us up at 15:45 and we drove out along the Bannur Road to a canal where we looked for and eventually saw 2 Indian Eagle Owls, although it wasn’t until dusk that I had a decent view of one’s head. We returned to the hotel at 20:15, having become a bit lost on the way. Just one day to go and still one potential new bird for me.

Bonelli's Eagle at Mudamalai

Jerdon's Bushlark at Mudamalai
Bay-backed Shrike

female White-bellied Minivet at Mudumalai
it was a major target and took some finding, but despite scouring the area we failed to find a male

back at Jungle Hut to check out
our chalet was the distant one, the elephant having been in the trees behind
Indian Eagle Owl at Mysuru, thanks to Jijo I had better views but even then messed up photographing it

Thursday 02 February. We left Southern Star in Mysuru soon after 07:30 heading for Bangaluru. Our first stop (approximately 08:00-09:30) was in very dry scrub by the main road just outside Mysore. Here we saw 5 Jungle Bush-Quail, 2 Yellow-wattled Lapwings, 3 Indian Grey Hornbills, 2 Ashy-crowned Finch-Larks, Blyth’s Reed, Booted and Sykes’s Warblers and 70 Red Avadavat most of which were not red. Several much briefer roadside stops to scan wetlands (paddyfields and pools) produced Black-necked, Red-naped and Glossy Ibis, Wooly-necked, Painted and Asian Open-billed Storks and a few Wood Sandpipers. I stayed outside scanning for raptors during a mid-morning tea stop seeing 2 Crested Serpent Eagles, 5 Spot-billed Pelicans, 2 Oriental Darters and a selection of storks overhead. At our final stop, at a small roadside pool approaching Bangaluru, we saw a pair of Bronze-winged Jacanas with fully grown juvenile, a pair of Grey-headed Swamphens with 3 tiny chicks and a fairly distant Indian Spotted Eagle. The latter was the second of the day and the third of the trip, the previous two being very distant (Aquila sp views). Distant though this one was I did see the distinctive pale patches in the upperwing. It was a new bird for me and completed a clean sweep with Jijo of all my feasible new birds! We arrived at the rather more grandly named than seemed appropriate Presidency Hotel around 14:30. Jijo had been brilliant and Rajeeb a very reliable driver. 

Jungle Prinia near Mysuru
Ashy-crowned Finch-Lark near Mysuru

Booted Warbler near Mysuru

Yellow-wattled Lapwing near Mysuru
Indian Grey Hornbills near Mysuru, 

Black Kite near Mysuru
Purple Sunbird near Mysuru
Oxen v Tractor in paddyfields on the way to Bangaluru, it looked like a tough 0-0 to me
Red-naped Ibis between Mysuru and Bangaluru

Ring-necked Parakeet between Mysuru and Bangaluru
Spot-backed Pelican between Mysuru and Bangaluru
Bronze-winged Jacana near Bangaluru

Glossy Ibis between near Bangaluru
Indian Silverbills near Bangaluru

Little Cormorant near Bangaluru
Red-wattled Lapwing near Bangaluru

view from hotel in Bangaluru, lots of building going on everywhere

Many thanks to Nick Preston and Paul Noakes for their excellent company and a lot of help getting onto birds. Nick for arranging the trip and being my food taster, Paul for joining us (a definite benefit of our early Covid-19 postponements), suggesting adding Tansa to the itinerary and some crucial thermal imaging and Jijo Matthews for top-class guiding, flexibility and being an all round good guy.