Endemics of South India

India is probably the only country in the world that can boast of harbouring over 1314 species of a varied and rich birdlife. With over 42 species of birds to be found in India only, this country is a veritable paradise for any birdwatcher. South India is the peninsula shaped like a triangle that lies between the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Vindhya and Satpura Mountains. The region has a very tropical habitat and has a number of biodiversity hotspots. A trip to this incredible region is a adventure that dreams are made of for most birdwatchers.

Best Time: October – March

Outline Summary:

Day 1: Bangalore – Mysore
Day 2: Mysore – Nagarhole Tiger Reserve
Day 3: Nagarhole Tiger Reserve
Day 4: Nagarhole Tiger Reserve – Mudumulai Tiger Reserve
Day 5: Mudumalai Tiger Reserve
Day 6: Mudumalai Tiger Reserve – Ooty
Day 7: Ooty
Day 8: Topslip:Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park – Munnar
Day 9: Munnar: Eraviculum National Park
Day 10: Munnar – Periyar Tiger Reserve
Day 11: Periyar Tiger Reserve – Thattekad Bird Sanctuary
Day 12 – 13: Thattekad Bird Sanctuary and surrounds
Day 14: Thattekad Bird Sanctuary – Cochin

The Journey

Your trip begins in Bangalore or Bengaluru the capital of the state of Karnataka. The city was founded in 1537 when Kempe Gowda built a mud fort at the site. Located on the Deccan plateau, the city is called the “Silicon valley of India”. The city is 40% gardens and parks and about 15% lakes and water bodies and has a beautiful palace in the centre of the city. From Bangalore you travel to Mysore. Mysore is called the city of palaces and is located at the base of the Chamundi hills. The city lies between the Kabini and Kaveri Rivers.

From Mysore you travel to the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve. The Nagarhole Tiger Reserve is a part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and lies in the foothills of the Western Ghats. With moist and dry deciduous forests, sub-montane valley swamps amd bamboo the Reserve is important habitat for mammals like tigers, leopards, Asiatic elephant, indian bison and recognized as an Important Bird Area with 270 species of birds. The area is also the home of the Jenu Kurubas – a tribe known to be honey gatherers and shepherds.

Mudumulai Tiger Reserve lies on the northwestern side of the Nilgiri Hills. The protected area is home to several endangered and endemic species including 55 mammals and 227 species of birds. The park has moist bamboo brakes amongst dry and moist deciduous forests. There are patches of semi-evergreen forests, dry thorn forests and riparian forests making this an incredible feast for the senses.

The next day you travel to Ooty or Udhagamandalam, a town that features a subtropical highland climate. The town used to belong to the Todas but was ceded to the East India Company in 1799. The region is known for its Tea plantations and for the manufacturing of chocolate and pickles.

Topslip is located on the southern side of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve in the Annamalai Hills. Topslip is the entry point to the Parambikulum Wildlife Sanctuary. Known for its rich mammal life, the sanctuary has over 250 species of birds and 315 species of butterflies.

From Topslip you travel to Munnar. Munnar is located at the confluence of three mountain streams in the Idduki district. The rolling hills of Munnar provide the right conditions for some of the best tea and coffee plantations in India. There a number of protected areas in and around Munnar that are known for several endangered and endemic species including the Nilgiri Thar, the giant squirrel, amongst others and a plant called the neelakurinji that blossoms only once in 12 years.

Periyar Tiger Reserve is known for its large elephant populations. The Periyar lake and river provide a rich habitat for wildlife. The Park has large grasslands with tall elephant grass and tropical evergreen and moist deciduous forests. With 35 mammals species and 265 species of birds, the park offers great opportunities for both wildlife viewing and photography on land and from boats.

Thatekkad Bird Sanctuary was declared a protected area after famous ornithologist Dr Salim Ali declared it as the richest bird area on peninsular india. Thattekkad means the flat forest and is an evergreen low-land forest located along the periyar river. The area has 282 bird species with three globally threatened species and several endemics.

You end your journey in the town of Cochin or Kochi. This lovely seaside city lies between the Western Ghats in the east and the Arabian Sea on the west. The city has an interesting history because a lot of trade was conducted in spices and other materials by traders from the chinese court of Kublai Khan. Till today peculiar chinese style fishing nets are used in the city by the fishermen.

Detailled Itinerary

Day 1:  Bangalore – Mysore

Your guide will meet you and your group at Bangalore airport and you will be taken to Mysore (4 hours) for the evening. Night at Hotel

Day 2:  Mysore – Nagarhole

After breakfast drive to Nagarhole and check in at Lodge. Enjoy for first safari at Nagarhole in the afternoon. Nagarhole comprises a varied selection of habitats, dominated by extensive dry deciduous forests. Brown Fish Owls are sometimes found close to the lodge. Raptors include Black-winged Kite, Shikra, Changeable Hawk-eagle, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle and Osprey. The area is home to the endemic Grey Junglefowl, Common Peafowl, Asian Koel, Plumheaded Parakeet, the endemic Malabar Parakeet, Spotted Owlet, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Eurasian Hoopoe, Indian Swiftlet, White-cheeked Barbet, Coppersmith Barbet, Malabar Lark, and two types of shrikes: Bay-backed and Brown.

You’ll also be on the look-out for many other bird species, including: White-bellied, Ashy, Bronzed and Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Chestnut-tailed and Brahminy Starlings, Southern Hill Myna, Rufous Treepie, Large and Black-headed Cuckoo-shrikes, Small Minivet, Common Iora, Yellow-billed Babbler, Common Tailorbird, Blyth’s Reed, Green and Greenish Warblers, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Indian Robin, Paddyfield Pipit, Pale-billed Flowerpecker, Purple-rumped and Purple Sunbirds, and Chestnut-shouldered (or Yellow-throated) Sparrow.

Not far from the lodge the Kabini River has been dammed and the resulting lake, together with its well-vegetated margins and stark, dead, partly submerged trees, provides a welcome habitat for Great and Intermediate Egrets, Spot-billed Duck, White-breasted Waterhen,Black-bellied Tern, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Ashy Wood-swallow andperhaps the endemic Malabar Pied Hornbill. We may see Jerdon’s

Nightjars sitting on the trails at dusk and later in the evening youmay well find Collared Scops Owl or Brown Hawk Owl close to the lodge.

Nagarhole, and the contiguous Bandipur National Parks, are a haven for mammals, though seeing the resident creatures requires a good deal ofluck, especially as a third of the total area of these parks is designated a Wilderness Area from which human visitors are barred! Itis estimated that over a thousand Indian Elephants roam the mighty tracts of forest and at times large herds assemble at favoured locations near water sources such the banks of the Kabini River. The massive Indian Bison, the Gaur, is another valued resident of the Park occurring in herds of up to 20 to 30 animals, placidly grazing the emerging grasses. Four species of deer inhabit the forests – the delicate and beautiful Spotted Deer or Chital is the commonest and most conspicuous, while smaller numbers of Sambar, Muntjac and Mouse Deer might be encountered. Wild Boar are numerous and, along with the Chital, provide prey for a formidable trio of predators: Tiger, Leopard and Dhole. Other mammal sightings which might entertain the visitor include the mostly nocturnal Sloth Bear, which can occasionally be seen digging for termites or lumbering across a clearing, Black-naped Hares, Jackals, Otter, four species of mongoose and the constantly active troupes of Grey Langur and Bonnet Macaques. In the world of mammal-watching nothing can ever be guaranteed, but Nagarhole is a perfect place to look for some of the most impressive examples of India’s diverse fauna.

Day 3:  Nagarhole

Morning and afternoon safaris. Relax in between in the grounds of the Lodge

Day 4 & 5: Nagarhole – Mudumalai.

After a final morning safari you will drive on to Mudumalai. Relax for the rest of the day at the Lodge. Mudumalai is rich in bird life and many of the regions endemics can be seen on a trip to the Park. It is a good place to see Red Spurfowl, Grey Junglefowl, Malabar Pied and Malabar Grey Hornbill, Malabar Parakeet, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, The Crested variety of the Changeable Hawk Eagle, Spot-bellied Eagle Owl, Mottled Wood Owl, Pompadour Green Pigeon, Indian Swiftlet, Jerdon’s Bushlark, White-bellied Drongo, Tawny-bellied Babbler, Rufous Babbler, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Indian Scimitar Babbler and Malabar Trogon. The road to Ooty is good for White-bellied Minivet, Grey-headed Bulbul, Malabar Lark and Malabar Whistling Lark.

Day 6:  Mudumalai – Ooty

After a morning safari drive on to Ooty (4 hrs).  Check in at Fernhill Palace or similar. Spend any remaining time exploring the local area for Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike, Common Woodshrike and Blue-winged Leafbirds, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Malabar Parakeet, Greenish Warbler and Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher. Black-throated Munia, Dark-throated and Tawny-bellied Babblers, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Rufous Babbler, Indian Scimitar Babbler, Pompadour Green Pigeon, Nilgiri Laughingthrush, Black-and orange Flycatcher, Greater Flamebacks and Great Tit, Eurasian Blackbird etc.

Day 7:  Ooty – Topslip (5 hrs)

An early start is scheduled today, taking packed breakfasts and lunches with us, to visit the legendary Top Slip (a distance of 180 kilometres), which is situated in the Anamalai Hills and is one of the best natural history locations in southern India.

The Shola forests and diverse habitats of the National Park warrant a thorough exploration and you will be spending the remainder of the day, and the next, following a variety of trails in search of the very special birds and mammals that inhabit Top Slip.

Accommodation is limited here and basic in style, but it is important to be able to take advantage of the early morning and late afternoon periods when wildlife is most active. Although best known for its birdlife, the National Park boasts a very impressive mammal population including both Lion-tailed Macaque and Nilgiri Langur. Larger herbivores are also present and Indian Elephant, Sambar, Chital and Gaur have all been recorded in the Park. Night at Lodge.

Day 8:  Topslip – Munnar (4 hrs)

Night at Copper Castle. Munnar is a hill station 125 kms from Kochi to the West.  The altitude above 1600 m above MSL means an agreeable climate throughout the year, though in December-January the temperatures can fall to the single digits. The rain fall of over  300 cm is recorded mainly during June to September. The shola-grassland eco- system so typical of Munnar is home to large numbers of birds, many of them endemic. Sightings of endemics like the Nilgiri Wood Pigeon,  Nilgiri Pipit,  Greyheaded Bulbul, Black & Orange Flycatcher, Broadtailed Grassbird,  Crimsonbacked  Sunbird,  Greybreasted Laughing Thrush, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Indian Rufous Babbler, Whitebellied Blue Flycatcher, Whitebellied Shortwing, Whitebellied Treepie & the Wyanad Laughing Thrush can be the highlights of a birding trip to Munnar & surroundings.

Day 09: Munnar

Night at Copper Castle. Visit Eravikulam National Park is a plateau at an average height of 6500 feet, about 30 kms from Munnar, high up in the mountains of Western Ghats. This park was originally established to protect the Nilgiri Tahr (Hemitragus hylocrius), which found its way into the endangered list of animals in the Wildlife schedule. It was declared as a sanctuary in 1975. Considering the ecological, faunal, floral, geo-morphological and zoological significance, it was declared as a National park in 1978. It covers an area of 97 sq. kms of rolling grasslands and high level sholas.

Day 10: Munnar – Periyar

Night at Lodge.  Including an afternoon boat trip on the lake. Periyar is well  located as a centre for seeing most of these ornithological specialties of the Western Ghats, as well as large numbers of other resident hill species and migrants. In deciduous forest around Thekkady the commonest species in mixed foraging flocks are, in descending order Racket-tailed Drongo, Scarlet Minivet, Velvetfronted Nuthatch, Bronzed Drongo, Grey Tit, Goldenback Woodpeckers, Whitebellied Tree Pie, Jungle Babbler, Indian Rufous Tree Pie, Yellowbrowed Bulbul, Large Wood Shrike, Ashy Drongo, Small Minivet, Goldfronted Chloropsis, Small Green Barbet, Flowerpeckers. Other  common  members  include  Orioles,  Fairy  Bluebird,  Leaf Warbler Flycatchers and Quaker Babbler. Very few species recorded in the sanctuary cannot at one time or another seen in the Tourist Zone, though it is necessary to climb to the grassy hilltops find some such as Brown Rock Pipit and Pied Bush Chat.  The sanctuary is also one of the finest for wildlife viewing.

Day 11: Periyar – Thattekkad

Morning birding at Periyar.  Late morning driver on to Thattekkad. Overnight in Lodge

Day 12: Thattekad

Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, also known as Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, is 12 km NE of Kothamangalam in Ernakulam District, Kerala state, about 50 km east of Kochi. This is the prime birding destination in South India. Specialties here include Spot-bellied Eagle-Owl, Ceylon Frogmouth, Red Spurfowl, Bay Owl, Rufous Babbler, Blue-faced Malkoha, Brown-breasted, White-bellied Blue-tailed and Rusty-tailed Flycatchers, Grey-headed Bulbul and Wynad Laughing Thrush. Moreover, Thattekkad is ideal for seeing a good number of the 16 endemics of the Western Ghats. The more difficult birds are Wynad Laughing Thrush and Grey-headed Bulbul. Proceed to Orullathany, at one end of the reserve,for the Bulbul and Laughing Thrush.

Day 13: Thattekad and estuary and paddy fields to increase the number of species.

Visit Edamalayar Power Plant land and the South side of the river for the owls, Streak-throated Woodpecker and Yellow-billed Babbler. Other notable species likely to be seen within the Reserve are Red Spurfowl, Ceylon Frogmouth, Blue-faced Malkoha, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Malabar Grey Hornbill, White-bellied and Heart-spotted Woodpeckers, Rufous Babbler, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, White-bellied Treepie and Black-throated Munia. Overnight stay at the birding lodge.

Day 14: Thattekad – Cochin and away.