Thursday, 7 December 2017

Western Ghats - 7th December (Day 13)

We were up at 05:30 and I was feeling dreadful with heavy cold, cough and aching muscles. We had a light breakfast and then loaded the bus and began the 120 kilometre drive to Thattekkad in Kerala. The route that we took was somewhat convoluted via Vagamon, and Thodupuzha to take in a couple of sites that Jijo had for Broad-tailed Grassbird and Legge’s Hawk-eagle but we had no luck with either. But recorded Common (Eastern) Stonechat of the subspecies indicus and Paddyfield Pipit. The drive took us through spectacular rolling hills with cardamom and tea plantations and numerous villages decorated with red flags and with trees clad in red tape showing the seemingly widespread support for Communism in this area of India.

Common (Eastern) Stonechat of the subspecies indicus - Near Moolamatton

The village of Vagamon decorated with the red flags of Communism



Communist flag in Vagamon

Tea drinking in Vagamon

Tea plantation outside of Vagamon

We arrived at Hornbill Lodge at Thattekkad at around 14:00 with a good supply of beer and whisky acquired. This was supplied by a salesman in a room behind bars with well stocked shelves of various spirits, rum, Bacardi and the like. Hornbill Camp like some other hotels we had stayed in does not supply alcohol or allow its consumption in the restaurant and so we had got into the mind set of making appropriate provision – a cold beer is a must after a long day in the field.

Liquor store Thattekkad

The approach to Hornbill Camp is lined with rubber plantation - Thattekkad

Barry in his suitably named lodge at Hornbill Camp, Thattekkad

After lunch we headed into the heat, Hornbill Camp is only 40 metres above sea level and so was the hottest and most humid area we visited in the Western Ghats. We birded a short stretch of partially forested track where we saw four Black-throated Munia endemic to south-west India and Sri Lanka, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, a perched female Grey Junglefowl and a stunning Brown Fish-owl being mobbed by three relentless Large-billed Crow. As dusk approached we headed to another area of forest to try for Jerdon’s Nightjar but despite hearing a couple of bird’s calling we failed to connect but did see a Jungle Owlet, these fabulously marked small owls with a great deal of character.

Oriental Magpie-robin of subspecies ceylonensis  - Thattekkad

Jungle Babbler of subspecies malabarica - Thattekkad

Jungle Babbler of subspecies malabarica - Thattekkad

Brown Fish-owl - Thattekkad

Indian Pond-heron - Thattekkad

In the darkness now at around 19:00 we headed to another nearby area of forest, this was to be our first attempt at a very special night bird and one of the top billings on the list of the birds in the Western Ghats, in fact one of the top birds in the whole of India. We began walking the track with Jijo occasionally playing his recording of the bird while his assistant occasionally scanned the branches with his red headlamp. After several tries and around one hour later suddenly there was a response, it sounded very distant but then eventually nearer – much nearer. We waited and tried playback once more but the bird was not budging so we decided to head into the forest, off trail. Moving through the tangle we were clearly closing in but the bird began to go silent and I was beginning to think we had blown it when suddenly there it was, in the spotlight right in front of us, a stunning Sri Lanka Bay-owl. Only 15 metres away and perched crossways on a vertical branch we studied this fantastic owl with its golden brown upperparts speckled with black and white, buffy underparts spotted buff and peculiar heart shaped facial disk. After spending 15 minutes with this fantastic bird we decided it time that we left it in peace and walked back through the forest to the minibus jubilant. A cold beer back at Hornbill Camp and we raised glasses to an amazing birding experience.

Sri Lanke Bay Owl a species confined to the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka. The subspecies in the Western Ghats is ripleyi 

Sri Lanka Bay-owl - Thattekkad

Sri Lanka Bay-owl - Thattekkad

Sri Lanka Bay-owl - Thattekkad

Links to Other Days of the Trip (Click to View)