14-Day Southern India Birding
Southern India is home to some of the best wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in the country, mostly located on the side of the spectacular Western Ghats mountains. On this Southern India birding tour our aim is to see most of the 68 South Indian endemics and all of the 24 Western Ghats endemics, as well as more than 500 species of birds in the peninsula and the endemic mammals like the Nilgiri Langur and the Nilgiri Tahr.
Next Group Departure Date: February 2023
Full Itinerary: Southern India Birding Tour
Start of tour in Bengaluru, transfer to Mysuru
Namasté! Welcome to incredible India! Your fantastic birding tour in this wonderful country will start as soon as you touch down at the Kempegowda International Airport just outside Bengaluru in central-southern India, where you will be met by your guide and driver.
We will hop into our comfortable vehicle and leave the airport. If there are participants who opted for the pre-tour extension to the Andaman Islands, we will pick them up at their city hotels as we leave Bengaluru.
You will soon learn that the traffic in India follows a sort of “organised chaos” system, but luckily everyone gets to their destinations safely despite the hooting and close proximity of cars, trucks and motorbikes! We will not see much of the megacity that is Bengaluru (previously called Bangalore), but it is one of India’s most progressive and developed cities (sometimes called the “IT capital of India” or “Asia’s Silicon Valley”), blessed with a benevolent climate, a modern metro system, and a burgeoning dining and shopping scene. It is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and cosmopolitan city of around 10 million people, and is the capital of the quintessentially Indian state of Karnataka.
Our tour will basically start straight away. Our first bird sightings should include Black Drongo and Indian Roller that often perch along the roadside wires. We will drive to an area good for vultures and then on to Ranginathittu Bird Sanctuary, close to the city of Mysuru, towards the southwest.
On the way it might also be a good idea to learn a bit more about India. It is the second-most populous country, the seventh-largest country by land area, and the most populous democracy in the world. India is a megadiverse country (one of only 17 in the world) with its various ecosystems ranging from the Himalayas in the north to the evergreen rain-forests in the south, the desert sands of the west to the marshy mangroves of the east. It also enjoys extreme climatic swings, from snowfall in the north to boiling tropical heat in the south, and of course annual monsoons.
As a result it contains many endemic fauna and flora species. India is a habitat for about 9% of all mammal species, 14% of bird species, 8% of reptile species, 6% of amphibian species, 12% of fish species, and 6% of all flowering plant species on the planet! The country has 7 Natural World Heritage sites, 11 Biosphere Reserves in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves and 37 Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance. The country boasts iconic species that include (Bengal) Tiger, (Indian) Leopard, Snow Leopard, (Asiatic) Lion, Asian (Indian) Elephant, Great Indian One-horned Rhinoceros and many more. Luckily the Indian Government realises the importance of conserving their fauna, flora and unique and huge biodiversity. As of 2019, there are 870 protected areas including 104 National Parks, 551 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 88 Conservation Reserves and 127 Community Reserves covering a total of approximately 5% of the country surface.
In birding terms, India is a dream destination. The country’s current total number of birds (according to BirdLife International) is an astounding 1,210 species, including 75 endemics and 93 globally threatened species. Some authorities put the total number of birds at an even higher number, exceeding 1,300 species! The main birding habitats in India are forests, scrub, grassland & farmland, deserts and wetlands. Each of these varied systems is home to a characteristic population of bird species. The country boasts an incredible 554 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and a further 12 Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs)!
Our first birding stop of the tour, Ranganathittu, attained the status of a bird sanctuary in 1940, courtesy of the visions of India’s noted ornithologist Dr Salim Ali, who, during his survey of the birds of Mysuru, advocated for the establishment of such a sanctuary. Over 170 different species have been recorded in the sanctuary over the years.
We will enjoy our first serious birdwatching in the grounds of this fabulous compact (40 acres/16 ha) bird sanctuary, comprising six islets on the banks of the Kaveri river. We will definitely take a casual boat trip on the river where we will get seriously close-up views of the breeding stork and egret colony, Spot-billed Pelicans and any other fly-by species. Expect to also see Plain Flowerpecker, Streak-throated Swallow, White-spotted Fantail, River Tern, Oriental Darter, Little Cormorant, Red-wattled Lapwing as well as stunning views of Painted, Open-billed and Woolly-necked Stork. We could also see Black Ibis and Indian Eagle-Owl, but the latter is more difficult.
After our exciting first birding excursion, we continue into the “city of palaces”, Mysuru. The historic city, which changed its name from Mysore in 2014, is one of southern India’s most enchanting cities, famed for its glittering royal heritage and magnificent monuments and buildings. Its famous, fairytale-like royal palace (second only to the Taj Mahal in terms of tourist popularity within the country) is what brings most travellers here, but Mysuru is also rich in tradition and culture, with a fantastic bazaar district full of spice stores and incense stalls.
The city, located in the foothills of the Chamundi Hills at an altitude of 740 metres (2,427 ft) above sea level, is often referred to as the cleanest in all of India. It is also famous for its richly-decorated 10-day Dasara festival in September/October each year that attracts visitors from afar. Ashtanga yoga is another drawcard and there are several acclaimed schools that attract fans from across the globe.
We will get together for our Nature Travel Birding welcome dinner in the restaurant at our comfortable hotel and set out our target species for the trip, ensuring all participants a fantastic time.
We will get our first proper taste of the delicious food of Karnataka tonight. Dating back to the Iron Age, Karnataka’s cuisine is said to be one of the oldest surviving in the country. It combines a range of regional flavours, ingredients and cooking techniques, and that of south Karnataka is dominated by steamed rice and ragi (finger millet). The most traditional dish is the ragi ball (ragi mudde), and other must-try dishes include korri gassi (chicken curry with fresh coconut), benne dosa (butter dosa with potato and mustard filling), akki roti (rice bread) and ragi roti (unleavened flat breads). Desert might take the form of Mysore pak, a very famous and addictive sweet made with flour, ghee and sugar. Enjoy!
After dinner we are off to bed for a good night’s rest; tomorrow the birding tour starts in earnest!
Mysuru to Mudumalai National Park
We will enjoy a hearty breakfast and some good coffee or strong tea (masala chai) at the hotel, check out and hop into the vehicle.
Today’s southward journey to Mudumalai National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary of approximately 3 and a half hours is an interesting one, as we move into the temple-rich state of Tamil Nadu towards the Mudumalai hills, one of the largest areas of protected forests in India.
On the way we will stop at a bridge which crosses a river to break the journey. Here we could see Small Pratincole, Red Avadavat and Black Ibis, plus several others. Arid areas can be checked for Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark.
We will reach the park in the late morning. It was established in 1940 and covers 321 km2 (124 sq mi) of tropical moist deciduous forest, tropical dry deciduous forest, tropical dry thorn forests and small patches of semi-evergreen forest. Stopping along the road in Mudumalai is not permitted, however, our guide knows where we can pull off the road to explore some excellent dry scrub habitat that is sure to add some new species to the list. Key species in the scrub could include Jerdon’s Bush Lark, Blue-winged Parakeet, Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Yellow-billed Babbler, Small Minivet, Yellow-crowned Pygmy Woodpecker, White-bellied Minivet and Indian Nightjar.
After visiting this first scrub habitat we will drive to our accommodation to check-in, have some lunch and relax for a couple of hours in the heat of the day. Our accommodation is a rustic haven nestled in the foothills of the spectacular Nilgiri mountain range, and lies sheltered in the serene natural jungle paradise of the park. This is the stuff that inspired Corbett and Kipling!
We will agree a time to visit another scrub habitat later on in the afternoon. Look out for Malabar Lark, Red-headed and Indian Vulture, and many other species. If we are lucky, we could also see the Indian subspecies of the Asian Elephant, along with other mammals and flora species.
After a successful first full day we will have dinner, do our lists and enjoy a good night’s rest.
Mudumalai National Park
This morning we will be up early for coffee and breakfast, after which we will enjoy a full day’s birding in Mudumalai.
Mudumalai, meaning “ancient hill range”, consists of mostly undulating terrain at an average elevation of 1,266 metres (4,154 ft) above sea level. It shares its boundaries with the states of Karnataka and Kerala. The sanctuary is divided into five ranges – Masinagudi, Thepakadu, Mudumalai, Kargudi and Nellakota. The Western Ghats Nilgiri Sub-Cluster of 6,000 km2 (2,300 sq mi), including all of Mudumalai National Park, is under consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for selection as a World Heritage Site.
The protected area is home to several endangered and vulnerable mammal species, including Asian (Indian) Elephant, Tiger (the park is also officially a Tiger Reserve), Gaur and Leopard. There is a generally high diversity of animal life in the sanctuary with about 50 species of fish, 21 species of amphibians, 34 species of reptiles and 55 species of mammals having been recorded.
Of special interest to us, there are at least 250 species of birds in the sanctuary, including many endemic and endangered species. We will spend the full day birding the broad-leaved riverine forests and secondary growth of Mudumalai, looking for Grey-headed Bulbul, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Jungle Bush Quail, Indian Peafowl, Grey Junglefowl, Blue-winged and Plum-headed Parakeet, Indian Scimitar Babbler, Puff-throated Babbler, Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Nilgiri, Thick-billed and Pale-billed Flowerpecker, Loten’s Sunbird, White-bellied, Orange and Small Minivet, White-cheeked Barbet, Black-rumped and Greater Flameback, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Indian Pitta, Crested Treeswift, Jerdon’s Bush Lark, White-browed Fantail, Yellow-crowned, Heart-spotted and Streak-throated Woodpecker, Indian Nuthatch, White-browed and Yellow-browed Bulbul, Hume’s Whitethroat, Indian Golden Oriole, Common Hawk-Cuckoo, Indian Blue Robin, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Bay-backed Shrike and Golden-fronted Leafbird. For lovers of birds of prey, we could find Crested Serpent and Black Eagle, Jerdon’s Baza, Besra, Spot-bellied Eagle-Owl, Brown Wood Owl and Brown Fish Owl, and Jungle and Spotted Owlet.
This area is usually a reliable site for the Indian subspecies of Asian Elephant and we hope to come across these spectacular and endangered animals. Additional mammal possibilities include the rarely sighted Dhole (Indian Wild Dog), Sloth Bear, Leopard, and maybe even Tiger, though we will need a hefty dose of luck to spot any of these beasts!
We will get together for dinner at our comfortable accommodation and update our trip lists. Dinner tonight will be followed by a night birding excursion where we will search for Savanna and Jerdon’s Nightjar. Afterwards we are off to bed for a good night’s sleep.
Mudumalai to Ooty
We will get up very early this morning, check out and then head south.
The drive to our next destination, Ooty, will be approximately 2 hours long, but well worth it, as the scenery is superb. Ooty, once regarded as the summer headquarters of the East India Company, and also known as Udagamandalam, is a popular hill station located in the Nilgiri Hills (Blue Hills), that sit at the junction of the Eastern and Western Ghats in the west of the state of Tamil Nadu. The Nilgiri hills are named for the Neelakurinji flower which blooms only every twelve years, giving the slopes a bluish tinge.
Ooty, sometimes called the “Queen of Hill Stations”, is situated within the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve at an elevation of 2,240 metres (7,350 ft) above sea level. Some of the top tourist attractions of Ooty are the numerous picturesque lakes, with Avalanche Lake and Ooty Lake the top ones. It is stunningly beautiful here, with lush forests and flowers (including orchids) everywhere.
We will spend the day looking for the key species of the local area, including Black-and-orange Flycatcher, Indian Blue Robin, Nilgiri Blue Robin, Nilgiri Laughingthrush, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Jerdon’s Leafbird, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Blue-winged Parakeet, Malabar Barbet, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, Hill Swallow, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Little Spiderhunter, rare and overwintering Kashmir Flycatcher, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Black Bulbul, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Greenish and Tytler’s Leaf Warbler, plus many others.
What we don’t see on this day, we will search for tomorrow. We will also look out for the locomotives of the 46 kilometre long Nilgiri Mountain Railway, that was built by the British in 1908 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of Mountain Railways of India. One of the stations was even used as a location in the famous 1984 film A Passage to India.
We will also go to the grounds of a local hotel (where we might need to buy a coffee!), a favoured haunt of Black-and-orange Flycatcher and Indian Blue Robin and to one of the local viewpoints to look for Nilgiri Laughingthrush where they are quite partial to popcorn (you might want to purchase a bag!).
The remainder of the day will be spent checking patches of shola forest (patches of moist evergreen forest at higher altitudes) for other local species. We will do our lists, have dinner and overnight at our idyllic accommodation in Ooty.
Ooty to Topslip (Anaimalai Tiger Reserve)
We will have another early wake-up call, check out, jump into the vehicle and head off.
We will do some morning birding in the Ooty area, looking for White-spotted Fantail, Rusty-tailed Flycatcher, White-bellied Treepie, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Little Spiderhunter and Blue-capped Rock Thrush amongst others.
Later on we will tackle the long drive (at least 4 hours) to Topslip, stopping en route for birding and more superb scenery.
Our destination, the pristine Anaimalai Tiger Reserve, previously known as Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park, was established in 1976 and is a 1,500 km2 (580 sq mi) protected area located in the Anaimalai hills of western Tamil Nadu. Elevation ranges in the reserve range between 340 metres (1,120 ft) and 2,513 metres (8,245 ft) above sea level. The main tourist facilities are located in the northeast corner of the park at “Topslip”, so named because of the local 19th century practice of sliding timber logs down the hills from here.
Topslip is blessed with a gentle altitude, favourable climate and a fantastic variety of flora and fauna. Its picturesque location and fabulous scenery has also made it a popular location for several movie sequences. Topslip is a place where one can do nothing and come away refreshed. We are going to love our time here!
We should arrive at Topslip in the late afternoon or early evening. We will check in to our beautifully located accommodation for the next two nights, have dinner (the chef is famous for his fantastic authentic southern Indian cuisine), and enjoy a good night’s sleep.
Topslip (Anaimalai Tiger Reserve)
We will start our day with a quick breakfast and coffee, and then head out for an exciting day on “safari”.
We will enjoy a full day of excellent birding and beautiful scenery in the habitat down from Topslip, proving that it really is one of the best natural history locations in southern India.
Birdwatching in the forest can prove a challenge, so one good area is forest edge habitat and our local guide knows the ideal location for some excellent birdwatching next to a canal. We will return to our accommodation at around midday, have lunch and relax for an hour or so before heading out later in the afternoon to explore some more.
Avian species in the reserve are well represented, with over 250 species having been identified, including 15 of the 16 species of birds endemic to the Western Ghats. There are cormorants, ducks, parakeets, hornbills, barbets, drongos, warblers, woodpeckers, trogons, kingfishers and many more. Some of the localised and special species that we will look for today include Grey-headed and White-browed Bulbul, Malabar Starling, Jerdon’s Nightjar, Indian Pitta, Asian Fairy-bluebird, Loten’s Sunbird, Black-hooded Oriole, Emerald Dove, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Black-rumped Flameback, Thick-billed Warbler and many others.
There are over 2,000 species of plants in the reserve, of which about 400 species are of prime medicinal value. Furthermore 315 species of butterflies belonging to five families have been identified in the Anaimalai hills, of which 44 are endemic to the Western Ghats.
Anaimalai is also home to some very special mammals, including the threatened Asian Elephant, iconic Tiger, elusive Leopard, endemic Nilgiri Tahr, endangered Lion-tailed Macaque, vulnerable Nilgiri Langur, endangered Dhole, Indian Brown Mongoose, vulnerable Gaur, Indian Giant Squirrel and endangered Indian Pangolin. We will of course keep an eye out for any of these and many others!
We will return to our accommodation to update our growing trip lists, to have another excellent dinner, and for a good night’s sleep.
Topslip to Munnar
Today we start early with some coffee or strong tea and breakfast, and then we start our drive to our next destination, the town and hill station of Munnar, in the lush green laid-back state of Kerala.
Birds on the 3 to 4 hour journey might include Paddyfield Pipit, Indian Roller, Brahminy Kite, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater and Red Spurfowl.
Our first stop of the day, after about 2 hours, will be at the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. It is one of twelve wildlife sanctuaries among the protected areas of the state of Kerala, located in the rain shadow region in the eastern slope of the Western Ghats. It is under the jurisdiction of and contiguous with Eravikulam National Park to the south. It forms an integral part of the 1,187 km2 (458 sq mi) block of protected forests straddling the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border in the Anaimalai Hills. It is the only rehabilitation centre for Indian Star Tortoise in the country.
In Chinnar, with its 225 species of birds, we will look for Spot-bellied Eagle-Owl, Yellow-throated Bulbul, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Brown Fish Owl, Western Crowned Warbler, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Asian Paradise Flycatcher and many others. The sanctuary also hosts 963 species of flowering plants, 28 mammal species (including the rare and massive Grizzled Giant Squirrel, Bonnet Monkey and more), 52 reptile species, 14 fish species, 156 species of butterflies and 101 species of spiders!
Towards the end of the morning we will leave Chinnar for the remainder of the drive to Munnar, stopping at a restaurant on the way for lunch.
Around Munnar, the pockets of the shola forest and Nilgiri mountain grassland eco-system are home to several of the endemic birds and various mammals including the endemic Nilgiri Tahr. The altitude above 1,600 metres (5,250 ft) means an agreeable climate throughout the year, though in December/January the temperatures can fall to the single digits. Annual rainfall of over 300 cm (118 in) is recorded mainly during June to September, but it can rain at any time of the year. Here we will look for several of the South Indian and Nilgiri Hills endemic bird species. Key species around Munnar include Grey-breasted Laughingthrush, White-bellied Blue Robin, Broad-tailed Grassbird, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, Nilgiri Pipit, Crimson-backed Sunbird, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Malabar Whistling Thrush and Indian Scimitar Babbler.
Towards the end of the afternoon we will visit a tea shack (Karadippara) with an excellent vantage point across an extensive wooded valley. The species here might include Yellow-browed Bulbul, Crimson-backed Sunbird, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Malabar Barbet, Little Spiderhunter, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Golden-fronted Leafbird and Rusty-tailed Flycatcher.
From here the drive to our stunning accommodation in natural surroundings for the next three nights is only about 40 minutes. We will get together for dinner and chat about our trip so far. We have been together for about a week now, so it might be time to start thinking about future trips to other exotic and bird-rich places on the planet.
Day 8 and 9:
Munnar and surrounds
We will start our next two days with breakfast and then leave to go birding each day.
The pristine hill station and town of Munnar (at about 1,532 metres/5,026 ft above sea level) is where we will spend the next two full days. It is untouched by commercialisation and rapid urbanisation, and still retains its old-world charm. The stiff-upper-lipped gentility of the Raj still holds sway at the famous High Range Club on the south side of town, where we might sip a “gin & tonic” if there is time.
The first sight that greets a visitor in Munnar is the vast expanse of endless emerald green tea plantations, flower gardens brimming with vibrant hues, grasslands, towering trees, wild brooks and mist-clad rolling hills. Munnar is also called the “Kashmir of South India” and is a popular honeymoon destination. The name Munnar (which means “three rivers” in Tamil) is derived from its location at the confluence of three mountain streams – the Kundala, Mudrapuzha and Nallathanni.
We will decide on a plan of action for each of the two days in order to maximise our chances of seeing a lot of birds and the top target species of the area, along with enjoying some superb scenery and getting a taste of the local culture and cuisine. We will maybe return to our accommodation for lunch or stay out in the field and enjoy a packed lunch. This all depends on which species we have already seen and which one we may still need to tick.
There are several excellent protected areas nearby, including the new Kurinjimala Sanctuary to the east, the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, Manjampatti Valley and the Amaravati reserve forest of Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary to the north east, the Eravikulam National Park and Anamudi Shola National Park to the north, the Pampadum Shola National Park to the south and the proposed Palani Hills National Park to the east.
We will definitely visit Eravikulam National Park situated in the high Cardamom Hills of the Western Ghats. It is a plateau at an average height of 2,000 metres (6,500 feet) above sea level, about 30 kms (18 miles) from Munnar, high up in the mountains. This park was originally established to protect the endangered Nilgiri Tahr, and currently the park has the world’s biggest population of this slate-grey mountain goat, at about 3,000 individuals. Considering the ecological, faunal, floral, geo-morphological and zoological significance, it was declared a National Park in 1978. It covers an area of 97 km2 (37 sq mi) of rolling grasslands and high level sholas. Anamudi, at 2,695 meters (8,842 ft) above sea level, the highest peak in India south of the Himalayas, is inside this park.
We will of course look for Nilgiri Tahr on our visit and will focus on the endemic bird species along with all the other resident species of the area. We will look for Painted Bush Quail, White-bellied Blue Robin, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, Tickell’s Leaf Warbler, Nilgiri Pipit, Broad-tailed Grassbird, Palani Laughingthrush, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Hill and Red-rumped Swallow, Blue Rock Thrush, Dusky Crag Martin, Loten’s Sunbird, and many others.
The park is also home to 26 species of mammals, trout in its streams, 101 species of butterflies and 19 species of amphibians, including a recently discovered frog, the critically endangered Resplendent Shrubfrog that occurs only in a tiny 3km2 patch inside the park and nowhere else on earth.
It is quite a drive (approximately 90 minutes each way) to Eravikulam, so a more relaxing option would be to spend one of the afternoons birding in an area more local to Munnar.
Another spot to maybe try is the Deshadan Mountain Resort, where during a walk we could connect with Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, Grey-fronted Green Pigeon, Malabar Barbet, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Blue-capped Rock Thrush, Palani Laughingthrush, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Verditer Flycatcher, Indian Black-lored Tit, Crimson-backed Sunbird, Orange Minivet, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Yellow-browed and Square-tailed Bulbul, Tickell’s Leaf Warbler, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Indian Blackbird, Indian Blue Robin and others.
If time permits, a walk along the road close to our accommodation is worthwhile and one steep track (Portha Madu) leads us to an area of grassland where we can look for the vulnerable Broad-tailed Grassbird and other birds.
Munnar is also a great area for raptor sightings, and in the past we have seen some fantastic species here. So we will be on the lookout for Black and Bonelli’s Eagle, Crested Honey and Common Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon, Shikra and more.
We will have dinner and overnight at our beautifully located accommodation each night.
Munnar to Thattekkad
The morning will start early with a quick cup of coffee and breakfast. For the first couple of hours this morning, we will explore on foot along the road from our overnight accommodation if there was no time on one of the days before, looking for local species we may have missed. We will leave at mid-morning for Thattekkad, about 3 hours away in a westerly direction.
We will check in to our accommodation (it will be our home for the next four nights), located 15 minutes away from the famous Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary.
Around mid-afternoon we will head out for some local birdwatching around the signalling station. Here species might include Drongo Cuckoo, Black-throated Munia, Red Spurfowl and Black Baza.
If time permits the last hour or two of daylight around a small drinking puddle sometimes produces some good passerine species, including Indian Blue Robin, Blue-throated and Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Puff-throated Babbler, Orange-headed Thrush, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Malabar Trogon and Blue-winged Parakeet.
We will have dinner, do our lists and relax back at our accommodation. Our home for the next four nights is built in an eco-friendly way in the Kerala Heritage style, and the food is made from organic produce farmed on the property itself.
Day 11 & 12:
Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary
We will rise very early, have a quick cup of coffee and set off on each of the following two days.
We will spend the next two full days enjoying everything that the wonderful Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary has to offer. We will return to our accommodation for lunch and a short siesta, and then continue our quest for more species and/or better photographs each afternoon.
Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary is also known as the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, named after Dr Salim Ali (1896 to 1987), India’s “Bird Man”, one of the best known ornithologist of the subcontinent, who described this sanctuary as “the richest bird habitat on peninsular India”. It was declared a sanctuary in 1983 and to date over 300 different species have been identified here.
Covering an area of barely 25 km2 (10 sq mi), it is a prime birding destination in southern India. Thattekkad literally means “flat forest”, and the region is an evergreen lowland forest located between the branches of the Periyar river, the longest river in the state of Kerala.
The Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary has a rich and varied birdlife, with both forest and water birds occurring here. Specialties that we will look for over the next two days include White-bellied Treepie, Malabar Trogon, Red Spurfowl, Rufous Babbler, Orange-headed Thrush, Large-billed Leaf Warbler, Black Eagle, Oriental Darter, Great Hornbill, Grey-fronted Green Pigeon, Blue-faced Malkoha, Brown-breasted, White-bellied, Blue-tailed and Rusty-tailed Flycatcher, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Malayan Night Heron, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, White-bellied, Streak-throated and Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Black-throated Munia, Black-naped Monarch and many more.
The more difficult birds we hope to see are Wayanad Laughingthrush, strange Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Grey-headed Bulbul, Besra, Spot-bellied Eagle-Owl and Sri Lanka Bay Owl.
One particular area of the sanctuary is called “cuckoo paradise”, and here we could see Indian and Banded Bay Cuckoo, Square-tailed and Fork-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, and Large and Common Hawk-Cuckoo.
Moreover, Thattekkad is ideal for seeing a good number of butterfly and mammal species, and even Asian Elephant and Leopard are occasionally seen by visitors here, long with the odd King Cobra!
We will spend some time in the early evenings looking for Indian Pitta and various owls and nightjars, including Brown Hawk-Owl, Oriental Bay Owl and Jerdon’s Nightjar. We will return to our birder-friendly accommodation each night to do our lists, have dinner, relax and enjoy a good night’s rest.
We will enjoy breakfast and coffee and then head out.
Today we will explore some superb forest areas outside of Thattekkad in search of more special species. Among other places we might visit the Edamalayar forest, located about 15 kilometres (9 miles) from Thattekkad. This is also an evergreen forest, located above the Edamalayar river.
Key species we will look for initially include Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Black-crested Bulbul, Dark-fronted Babbler, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Grey-fronted Green Pigeon, Malabar Woodshrike, Indian Swiftlet, Brown-backed and White-rumped Needletail, Lesser Yellownape, Crested Goshawk, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Plum-headed Parakeet, White-rumped Needletail and maybe even White-bellied Woodpecker.
Then a little later, we will visit a shady spot along the Periyar river (of utmost importance to the state of Kerala in terms of electricity generation and drinking water provision) where we might be lucky enough to see Lesser Fish Eagle and other species like Oriental Dollarbird, Brahminy Kite, Golden and Black-naped Oriole, Malabar Barbet and Golden-fronted Leafbird.
We will then relax for a few hours during the heat of the day and then around 3pm we will go to a patch of scrub habitat on a hillside strewn with flat boulders. This is an ideal place to look for nightjars, including Great Eared, Jerdon’s, Jungle, Grey and Savanna. Here we can also look for Grey Junglefowl, Jungle Owlet, Plain Flowerpecker, Indian Rufous Babbler, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater and many other species.
In the evening we will all get together in the restaurant and have our Nature Travel Birding farewell dinner, after which we will finalise our trip lists and socialise into the evening, having made friends for life.
Thattekkad, drive to Kochi and Departure
After a quick cup of coffee we will do some early morning birding in the Thattekkad area – you never know what you might find here!
We will then have breakfast, check out from our accommodation and do some more birding in the area if our flight times allow us to stay little longer. In the afternoon we will undertake the drive to Kochi, about 2 hours away to the west.
Kochi, also called Cochin, is a major port city on the coast of the state of Kerala, bordering the Laccadive Sea, a part of the Arabian Sea. Called the “Queen of the Arabian Sea”, it was an important spice trading centre from the 14th century onward, and today shows signs of Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and British influences. It is currently a very cosmopolitan place, and is the commercial and financial capital of Kerala. Built around a saltwater lagoon of the Arabian sea, Kochi is actually a collection of narrow islands and peninsulas. The city was recently ranked the sixth best tourist destination in India according to a survey conducted by the Outlook Traveller magazine. Some of the must-see attractions in Kochi are the ancient Chinese fishing nets, Mattancherry Palace, the Kathakali dance centre, Hill Palace Museum, St. Francis church, Princess street and many others.
Depending on the time of your onward or homeward flight, we will either transfer to a comfortable hotel (for your own cost) close to the Cochin International Airport (the world’s first fully solar-powered airport) or take you straight to the departure terminal at the airport. Here we will say our sad goodbyes after a wonderful birding tour in Incredible India!
*Please note: there is an option to add a 6 day pre-main tour extension to the spectacular Andaman Islands to this tour.
The Andaman Islands are an Indian archipelago in the Bay of Bengal, about 620 miles (1,000 kilometres) from the mainland, and thus actually physically closer to southeast Asia. These roughly 300 islands (most of them uninhabited) are known for their palm-lined, white sand beaches, mangroves and tropical rainforests, surrounded by shimmering turquoise water filled with fantastic coral reefs. The Andaman and neighbouring Nicobar Islands are actually the peaks of a submerged mountain range which runs from Myanmar to Indonesia.
This extension is specifically designed to see the endemic species of the Andaman Islands. One can expect to see Andaman Crake, Andaman Coucal, Andaman Treepie, Andaman Serpent Eagle, Andaman Wood Pigeon, Andaman Scops Owl, Andaman Brown Hawk-Owl, Andaman Cuckoo-Dove, Andaman Woodpecker, Andaman Drongo, White-headed Starling, Andaman Bulbul, Andaman Shama and many other mainland species. You might also see some of the islands’ endemic mammals, including Andaman Spiny Shrew, Andaman Horseshoe Bat and Andaman Rat.
In addition to the fantastic endemic fauna, other highlights of this tour are:
• Pristine islands with unspoilt beaches and primeval jungle
• Amazing marine life and corals (excellent diving and snorkelling opportunities)
• Seafood culinary delights
• Sightseeing – Cellular Jail, Anthropological museum, Bharatang limestone caves, Chatham Sawmill, etc.
Please let us know if you are interested in this exciting extension.
Do you have a quick question about this birding tour? Speak to a specialist at email@example.com .