2 Jan 2014

2 Jan 14 - I Heart Spotting Woodpeckers

After another curry for lunch (I don't know how non curry lovers survive in India), it was time to explore another part of the Tiger Reserve. We had asked about driving in the Reserve, but amazingly this is limited to joining a bus for all camp visitors to a bamboo rafting & tribal dancing trip (with zero chance of being able to stop for birds). Despite, this being a Tiger Reserve, they have no set up for jeep drives with the local forest guide/naturalists which is significant downside to the tented camp. We drove back to Top Slip as we had see jeep drives advertised from Top Slip, but with equal lack of enterprise, they only run in the morning & they couldn't organise one in the afternoon (as it wasn't the morning). Perhaps it was down to a consideration for the wildlife, but I suspect lack of initiative as it was another government run reserve, was the more likely explanation. So we returned to the camp & explored another area on foot with our local guide.

Despite seeing a good selection of birds on the walks on the first afternoon & mornings, we had been disappointed to not bump into any bird flocks. Fortunately, this changed on this afternoon's walk, when we explored a side road near to the camp.
The side road was chained off so the only access was on foot
Fairly soon as we walked down the track, we encountered a large slow moving bird flock. This produced one of the best birds of the Western Ghats section of the Indian trip: Heart-spotted Woodpecker. There were several reasons for the high rating. Primarily, it is because it is an small, odd shaped, but very cute, Woodpecker. Secondly, this was a bird I might have seen in Thailand back in 92 when a potential Heart-spotted Woodpecker was seen in flight, but never relocated, despite appearing to have landed nearby. But, Black-and-buff Woodpecker was also present at that site & the identification was never clinched. Finally, this was bird no 6200 for my World List.
Heart-spotted Woodpecker: No 6200 using Clements taxonomy. This would be a much higher number if I adopted an IOC taxonomy, but I'm not going to follow the trend to switch to the IOC taxonomy, just to claim to have seen a bigger number of birds (I wonder how many of the recent vocal IOC converts would have adopted the IOC list, if their list got smaller?)
Heart-spotted Woodpecker: Great crest on this chunky little Woodpecker which is only 16cm long
Heart-spotted Woodpecker: A very short tail, even for a Woodpecker which generally are short-tailed
There were plenty of other birds in this large flock. Eventually, we carried on down the road a bit further, until the forest guide heard a couple of Asian Elephants feeding in the forest. He carried on along the road on his own, before calling us forward. They weren't too close & were feeding among the bushes & trees, so no worthwhile photos. Not wanting to have them between us & the camp, we had to turn around & slowly return to the camp.
Oriental Honey Buzzard: This individual flew over. Note, the small weak head 
Oriental Honey Buzzard: A second individual was then seen sitting in a tree
Malabar Trogon: Male
Malabar Trogon: Female. Unfortunately, both birds kept well away from the road
Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker: Good to see this little Woodpecker again
White-bellied Black Woodpecker: Another great Woodpecker which is 48cm long 
White-bellied Black Woodpecker: Another view showing the white belly
Black-rumped Flameback Woodpecker: The black throat, unsplit moushachial & white barring on the exposed black primary edges are the key features to separate this golden backed Woodpecker from the other contenders
Black-rumped Flameback Woodpecker: A better view of the black throat
Orange Minivet: I prefer the 'yellow' female Minivets to the 'red' males
Common Iora
Bronzed Drongo: This is a small glossy Drongo with a short forked tail 
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo: This is the largest bodied Indian Drongo, but it has a short tail than smaller bodied Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo (the rackets are just sticking out below the branch in this photo)
Malabar Woodshrike
Chital Deer
Indian Giant Squirrel
At dusk, we went out looking around the camp for nightbirds. The first highlight was seeing a Great Eared Nightjar hawking close to our accommodation, but the light was too poor for a photo. We heard this calling at dawn the following morning & I was surprised, we hadn't heard it calling this morning. As it got darker, an Oriental Scops Owl started calling strongly close to the tent & unlike the previous evening (when it was calling unseen & high in a tree), this time it was calling from a more open, lower perch. We had good views of the bird over about 20 minutes or so. Long enough to go & get our neighbours from the next tent & show them the bird. I even managed to get a short burst of video (whilst hand holding the camera against a tree trunk). This was calling very differently to the Walden's (Oriental) Scops Owl on the Andamans.
Oriental Scops Owl
Oriental Scops Owl: A back view