13 October 2013

Trip to Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, Kerala

Periyar River

Bird Trail

Looking for the elusive forest birds
• An arctic Tern is a bird which flies 2.4 million Kms in its lifetime.
• Racket tailed drongo can imitate 26 different birds.
• Hummingbirds fly at 54kmph.

Interesting creatures… their flight, sense of freedom, colors and variety has always fascinated us!

In 1933, While he was travelling from Travancore to Munnar on the old British highway, Salim Ali , a world reknown ornithologist, had to stop overnight at a Govt Bungalow at Thattekad. He was on his way to Munnar to study the endemic birds of the Malabar-Nilgiri area.
To his surprise, he counted 167 different birds in his 2 days stay at Thattekad. He remarked that this is one of the richest bird habitat’s he had seen in Peninsular India. Later he sent one of his students to study and document all these different species of Kerala. He recommended the government that a bird sanctuary be opened here, which they fortunately did almost 50 years later (sigh)!

Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, Thattekad: It’s a little known place on Indian tourist map, though quite popular on the international circuit. Many foreigners travel to this place to sight hard to spot bird species.

The two rare bird sightings are:
Ceylon Frogmouth: Belongs to Sri Lanka, has the colour of dead leaves, difficult to spot.
Malabar Trogan: Extremely colorful bird, becoming rarer by the day.

Since the place was only 54 kms from Cochin, Adarsh and I drove to the sanctuary on Saturday afternoon. It was a pleasant drive through the Kerala countryside with the air getting purer and landscape getting greener as we approached the forests.
Fortunately we found a home-stay within the Sanctuary, owned by a Naturalist and Bird-watcher Vinod. He told us that the best time to watch for birds is, just before sunrise and late in the afternoon, when they forage for food. So we set out in the afternoon to watch some birds.

Around 4 pm, we left for a jungle trail and spotted many birds like :Jungle babbler, Emerald Dove, Racket tailed Drongo, Malabar Parakeet, Black Cormorant, Whistling Duck, Kingfishers: red and blue, Water Hen, Yellow Oriole, Little Tern, Coucal, Ash tail, Crested Woodpecker, Rufous Woodpecker.

Next day morning:It was difficult to wake up on a cool Sunday morning at 5 am, while its drizzling outside, and is nice and cozy inside the home stay room ! Dragging ourselves out and getting dressed, we picked up our binoculars and headed for a hilly trail, where we can spot the birds out for their breakfast!

A short trek into the forest led us to a hillock. As we climbed it , we were treated with a fantastic view of the hills with the mist shrouding them and sunlight breaking its way lazily through the clouds.
We spotted many a rare and endemic bird today: Crested eagle, Ceylon Frogmouth, Iora, Orange Minivet, Wagtail, Greytit, White breasted woodpecker, Ash Drongo, Jungle Myna, Common Myna, Crested Goshawk and some birds whose names I forgot! Each bird more beautiful than the other.

Another good thing was watching a Southern Birdwing, the largest butterfly in India! … and Parisian Peacock. Both exceptionally beautiful to look at! It’s quite a task to get a hang of how to view through a field glass and adjust the focus in a short while, as our winged friends are twitchy and disappear into the trees if you are not quick.
As it was just after the rain, we got lucky with the sightings, as many birds were drying themselves in the sunlight on the treetops.

The best time to visit this place is November-February, when msot of the migratory birds flock to this place in winters.Many birds fly in all the way from the Himalayas. Spending some time in the nature away from the daily chores and work is a great way to restart your mind and body!

After we returned from the trek, we left for a swim in the Periyar river with some Columbian tourists who were staying in the same guest house. The dip in the river was cool and refreshing. Though, as the water level was low, we couldn’t manage Kayaking 
Apparently, birding/bird watching is quite popular hobby, with some enthusiasts tracking and seeing as many as 12,000 species. Some hop across continents to study / see these endemic birds.

Overall, it was quite an experience to spend the night in the forest, and the whole experience had a very calming effect. Let’s see how many species we can tick off! A weekend certainly well spent.

How to reach: 54 kms drive from Cochin crossing Kothamangalam. Bus/Taxi: best way to reach.
Where to stay: Hornbill camp, Soma bird song. Home-stays: Bird Song, Jungle bird
What to do: Bird-watching, Kayaking, Nature Trail/ Trek, Cycling, Swim!
Where we stayed: Birdsong Home-stay.
Contact: Vinod: +91 9764248274, +91 8943894087
www.thattekadhomestay.com, vinodnatu1@gmail.com
Per day: Rs 2000 for stay + Food , Rs 750 per guided tour.
Decent place with basic amenities, friendly people and good homely Kerala food.