31 Dec 2013

31 Dec 13 - Nilgiri Bonanza

It took us a while to get out of the Highland Hotel car park, as Vinod had found one of the key Nilgiri endemics, Nilgiri Pipit, by the car as he was waiting for us to finish breakfast.
Nilgiri Pipit: This endemic Pipit is the size of a Blyth's Pipit. While superficially looking like a streaky Tree Pipit, the streakier appearance, buffy eyebrow, dark lores & lack of a malar stripe confirm it is a Nilgiri Pipit
Plain Prinia: A couple of birds were also feeding in the gardens
The early morning plan to try & beat the hordes to the top of Doddabetta Peak, almost failed at the first point as the entrance road was closed. So we walked the road before the traffic appeared, but only saw a few species in the conifers & bushes alongside the road. By the time we had arrived at the car park, the first of the local grockles were also appearing. While there were less Indian tourists than the previous afternoon initially, the place quickly got noisy as it warmed up. The highlights of the walk to the car park included more views of Grey Junglefowl & Gaur, as well as the Malabar race of Greater Flameback Woodpecker & several Tickell's Warblers (in addition to the species seen on the walk up on the previous afternoon).

At the top, I tried a small trail I found, but that proved to be very quiet & disappointing. Got back to the top to find Brian & Vinod had seen a Black & Orange Flycatcher (until it disappeared after being shouted at by 2 Indians) & another Nilgiri Pipit. Fortunately, the Nilgiri Pipit was still around & while I was photographing it, Vinod spotted a Nilgiri Woodpigeon nearby. To add to our growing Nilgiri day list we had several Nilgiri Laughingthrushes, as well as the first Nilgiri Shortwing.
Early morning views from Doddabetta Peak
Grey Junglefowl
Nilgiri Woodpigeon
Greater Flameback Woodpecker: This is a male of the Malabar race (which Clements doesn't split, but Rasmussen does as the endemic Malabar Flameback)
Nilgiri Pipit: This bird was at Doddabetta Peak
Indian Blackbird: Male
Nilgiri Shortwing: This endemic is also known as Nilgiri Blue Robin
Nilgiri Laughingthrush: Several individuals of this cracking endemic were seen
Tickell's Warbler: This locally common Phyllos is easily distinguished by the strong yellow wash to the supercilium & underparts and lack of any wingbars
Gaur
Rather than try Doddabetta Peak again, we decided to try the botanical gardens in the centre of Ooty. Ordinarily, this would probably have been a reasonable idea, but on New Years Eve it was heaving with people, making birding more difficult. However, we did see a couple of new Raptors for the trip & we probably wouldn't have seen much that was new at Doddabetta Peak.
Indian Pond Heron: Looks like this bird had a leg injury, which probably explained its approachability 
Bonelli's Eagle: Adult (See comments)
Bonelli's Eagle
Buzzard: A Raptor shape that will be more familiar to Dorset Birders. This is a Steppe Buzzard race which is a winter visitor to the Western Ghats
White-breasted Waterhen
Large Pied Wagtail
Outside the botanical gardens were some well stocked fruit & veg stalls
Unfortunately, there were no signs to indicate the history or significance of these cannons in the botanical gardens
A second cannon
A set of funky bins helped to keep the place cleaner than normal in India
After a while you stop being surprised by the sights you see in India

30 Dec 2013

30 Dec 13 - The Highest Peak In Southern India

After lunch in the Highland hotel, near Ooty, we headed off for our first visit to the nearby Doddabetta Peak. This is the highest peak in Southern India & is a popular tourist destination. Unfortunately, that lead to a lot of loud, noisy Indian tourists & made it more difficult to see the local birds.
Doddabetta Peak: It says it's the highest peak, so it must be true
Views from Doddabetta Peak: The views are pretty spectacular
Food sellers: There were a number of food vendors at the entrance track to the peak
Nilgiri Tea shop: Guess the Tea Dust doesn't translate as literally as it doesn't sound very appealing
We walked park of the entrance road & saw a few Nilgiri Laughingthrushes & Greenish Warblers. There is a narrow path from the car park, with some bushes & small trees, which leads to the main tourist viewpoint. There were a few more Nilgiri Laughingthrushes & Indian Blackbirds visible from this path. A few more species were seen from the viewpoint.
Nilgiri Laughingthrush: Good views could be obtained despite this endemic Laughingthrush being fairly skulky
Oriental White-eye
Red-whiskered Bulbul
Indian Blackbird: Another recent Subcontinent split from Blackbird
Greenish Warbler: This worn individual didn't have any obvious wingbar
Pied Bushchat: Female
Grey-headed Flycatcher
Cinereous Tit: Another recent Subcontinent split from Great Tit 
As we drove back to the hotel at dusk, we ran into the first Grey Junglefowls & a party of Gaur feeding in a field next to the road.
Grey Junglefowl
Gaur: Also called Indian Bison by the local population

30 Dec 13 - A Cracking Woodpecker On The Last Morning At Jungle Hut

Back to look for the Jungle Bush-quail we saw late on the previous afternoon. While we saw them again, unfortunately I still failed to get any photos. Before we reached the Jungle Bush-quail site, we visited a small woodland where there were several Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpeckers & Indian Chestnut-bellied Nuthatches, both of which we had been keen to see.
Indian Grey Francolin
Spotted Dove
Spotted Owlet: The adult keeping an eye on the fully grown chick
Spotted Owlet: Like all youngsters, the fully grown chick wants more independence
Hoopoe: At least this January's Hoopoe was in a nice place, rather than a grotty housing estate in Poole as last January's Hoopoe was
Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker: I was really pleased to see this diddy Woodpecker as I had managed to miss it on the first Indian trip
Tree Pipit
Large Cuckoo-shrike: The barring indicates this is a female, a male would have unbarred underparts
Red-breasted Flycatcher: The pale based bill & extend of the orange on the breast helps separate this from the similar Taiga Flycatcher
Indian Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch: Another recent Indian Split from the Himalayan & South East Asian Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch
Pale-billed Flowerpecker: The distinctive coloured bill separates this from the black billed Nilgiri Flowerpecker
Indian Golden Oriole
Yellow-throated Sparrow: Also known as Chestnut-shouldered Petronia, but I prefer the original name I learnt for this species
Yellow-throated Sparrow: Not all individuals show the yellow throat
Local hut: This local farmer's hut was very basic
Mammals were represented by fleeting views of this Black-naped Hare & some domesticated Water Buffalo.
Black-naped Hare
Water Buffalo
We left Jungle Hut late morning, for the hour long drive back up the ridge to Ooty. It is a long winding road & stopping is not allowed. However, there is a viewpoint car park about a third of the way up the hill, allowing a stop.
Little Green Bee-eater
Bonnet Macaque: The local Macaques were just hanging around the car park as they know there is easy food this way
Lizard sp: Several individuals of this cryptic Lizard were seen on the rocks around the viewpoint
The road to Ooty: There are many hairpin bends along this road. Note, our car in the mirror
The Road to Ooty: A close up of the car
 The upper slopes of the Ooty road: The lower slopes are dry arid bushes & trees similar to Jungle Hut, but the upper slopes are mainly Eucalyptus & Conifers