3 Jan 2014

3 Jan 14 - On The Road Again

All too quickly our time at Parambikulam had come to an end after a day & a half of excellent birding. That's the drawback of trying to get around the Western Ghats on a tight schedule. Still we had seen a good selection of species & were steadily getting to see the Western Ghats ticks. We were up well before dawn again, ready to try & figure out the occasionally calling Owl that had been calling erratically over the previous 2 nights. Success close to dawn this time, only to realise it was a Jungle Owlet. So as well as being a diurnal hunting Owl, it is also calls erratically & moves around quite a bit at night. At least, that explained why we didn't recognise the call, as we only had copies of Owl calls that were ticks (& there is no internet access at Parambikulam to have checked the other species). I skipped the opportunity to take more Jungle Owlet photos, so I could finish packing as it was an early breakfast & departure as we had a long drive to Munnar.We were on the road soon after dawn, only to be stopped at the park entrance barrier between Parambikulam & Top Slip. Still this gave me a chance for a few bonus photos until the guy appeared to open the barrier.
Greater Coucal: Supercifically similar to the noticeably smaller Lesser Coucal. Greater Coucal is found in a wide range of habitats, whereas Lesser Coucal is an Elephant grass specialist
We were soon on our way again with the next stop being around the Top Slip exit (entrance) gate where we spent some time looking for Sirkeer Cuckoo which Vinod had seen here in the past. But no joy on this occasion. Most of the time was spent right next to the entrance gate or around a small temple just inside the Top Slip Tiger Reserve.
The Hindu temple just inside the entrance gate
The temples are usually very colourful
There are always a lots of gods involved at these temples
Another god
The nearest I got to seeing a snake on the Indian trip
Spotted Owlet: The temple guardian was keeping an eye on us
One of the things I've found since having the Canon, is I'm often quick to pick it up & blast away with the camera & occasionally, the bird then disappears & I realise I haven't looked at it properly. This occurred by the entrance gate when we saw a group of Babblers in a bare field next to the entrance gate. I got a series of photos without looking at the birds & as they moved off, I ran to catch up with Vinod & Brian. I knew the photos would confirm the identification when I looked at them & it was a pleasant surprise when I was selecting the best photos for this blog to realise they were the first Large Grey Babblers of the trip & the only ones I saw in the Western Ghats. But the positive side of having the camera, I have frequently looked at the photos & seen a lot more detail on the birds, than I would have seen in the field, especially with birds in flight, like yesterday's Indian Swiftlets.
Hoopoe: I can never get bored of photographing Hoopoes when they are as bright as the Indian birds
Black-headed Cuckoo-shrike: Male
Black-headed Cuckoo-shrike: Pair
White-browed Bulbul: They often seem to have a scruffy look around the head
Blyth's Reed Warbler: Got my eye in now for finding one in Dorset this Spring. The eyestripe which fades just after the eye, the lack of a dark eye line, the long bill & the calls all help to make this a distinctive Warbler
Blyth's Reed Warbler: This shows the short wings & the distinctive looking up posture as they are always looking around everywhere as they skulk around
Large Grey Babbler: The yellow eye, dark lores & dark bill help to identify this Babbler
Rufous Treepie
Ants Nest: This was over a foot across 
After a couple of hours of driving through uninspiring, degraded farmland, we had a short stop at a lake by the roadside. It was good to stretch the legs, but always with one eye on the ground as this was rural India & lake edges tend to be used as toilets. Unfortunately, we could only look into the light, which didn't result in great photos.
Dabchick: Unlike their British cousins, these birds were in the middle of their breeding season
Dabchick: Junior was a bit shyer
Lesser Whistling-duck: With a Coot for size comparison
Indian Spot-billed Duck
Garganey: A different individual
Booted Eagle: Light phase
An hour later we arrived at Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. This is a dry county area, which has a good patch of riverine forest alongside a small river. We had a local guide to take us for a 90 minute walk in the hope of seeing a Forest Eagle Owl that roosts along the river, but we had no success. However, there were some good birds seen to compensate with the best being a Legge's Mountain Hawk-eagle.
Chinnar was a dry & arid reserve
But Chinnar had a great patch of riverine forest
Legge's Hawk-eagle: This is a recent split from the North East Indian & South East Asian
Mountain Hawk-eagle. Whilst clearly a Hawk-eagle, we ended up having to check it against the excellent OBC images website for confirmation it was Legge's & not Changeable Hawk-eagle. The short wing & primary projection compared to the tail, helping to confirm the identification
Grey-bellied Plaintive Cuckoo
Golden-fronted Leafbird
White-browed Fantail
Asian Paradise-flycatcher: The elongated tail feathers on this male are longer than the body & tail combined
Pale-billed Flowerpecker Nest: Brian & Vinod had seen the adult building the nest, but it had departed by the time I saw it
Indian Giant Squirrel: Taxonomy of these Squirrels is complex, but Vinod thought this was a different race to the ones we had seen before in the trip
Tufted Grey Langur: I bet this Tufted Grey Langur would rather have the Mark Knopfler look
We left Chinnar in early afternoon to continue the drive to Munnar. The next stop was a cold, windy forest pass about an hours drive before Munnar where we had a short stop.
Speckled Piculet: Piculets are the smallest sub-family of Woodpeckers & at 4 inches long are great to see, especially as most Western Ghats trips don't seem to see this species
The final stop of the day was in the Munnar area to look for some of the Munnar goodies.
Unfortunately, tree cutting is a common occurrence in India for firewood & building materials
There is more extensive bushy habitat on the hillside
Nilgiri Flycatcher: One of the common Munnar goodies
Kerala Laughingthrush: Another fairly common Munnar speciality