4 Jan 2014

4 Jan 14 - Nilgiri Tahr

The previous afternoon, Vinod had proposed a change to the plan for this morning. Originally, we were scheduled to visit Eravikulam National Park, about 30 minutes from Munnar. However, as the main target bird is Nilgiri Pipit, which we had seen well at Ooty, Vinod proposed the revised plan of looking for the Broad-tailed Grassbird & other species we had seen earlier this morning (see Birding With Coffee). The drawback was we were likely to miss Nilgiri Tahr, which is an endemic Mountain Goat. Given we only had 1 day left around Munnar & several key ticks to see, this seemed a good revised plan. I then said to Vinod I had see Nilgiri Tahr the previous day & showed him the picture.
Nilgiri Tar
For anybody in the UK at the moment complaining about pot holes, just be glad you don't have these amateurs filling your pot holes. Amazingly, they got this far & without any attempt to compact the tar & stones, just left it along. The result is within minutes a car went through the pot hole leaving most scattered over the road. I'm sure within a few hours the hole would have been as bad as it was before they started.
The tar laying gang: A wood burning machine to melt the tar
When we got to the hotel the previous evening & before we had had chance to check out Nilgiri Tahr on the laptop, I saw this interesting picture of the Mountain Goat, we were expecting to miss.
Nilgiri Tahr: Looks like it will be a pity to miss this species
Back to today, we had our late breakfast & returned to the site, we visited the previous afternoon as there we still several birds we were looking for. The main bird from my viewpoint was Black-and-orange Flycatcher, which Vinod had said should be common & yet I had missed the only one seen on the trip (at Ooty). Fortunately, Brian spotted one soon after we got out of the car & while it provided to be quite showy, it wouldn't allow me to get close for decent photos.
Black-and-orange Flycatcher: A Western Ghats endemic I wouldn't have wanted to miss
There was a lot more bird activity than the previous afternoon. Not particularly surprising as quite often bird activity drops off well before dusk, when it cools down quickly due to the higher elevations. Other birds seen here included the following species.
Tytler's Warbler: The thin, long, dark  bill, long whitish eyestripe over a dark eye line, overall crab colouration & no wingbars are all features. Not the best of photos, but the only Tytler's we saw
Grey-headed Flycatcher: A species that will be familiar to many Oriental birders
Indian Black-lored Tit: Also known as Indian Yellow Tit & recently split from its Himalayan cousin (Black-lored Tit)
After a couple of hours, we had seen most of the expected Munnar ticks, but we were still struggling to find a White-bellied Shortwing. Vinod lives at Thattekad, a couple of hours drive away from Munnar, at so he is almost on home ground here. So he got on the phone & started to ring some of the local birdwatchers & fortunately, hit gold with the news that one of his mates had been watching a White-bellied Shortwing that morning. We now had directions down to the patch of trees & bushes. Even better it was at Eravikulam National Park, so we would have a crack at Nilgiri Tahr after all. We quickly headed off to the entrance road to the National Park. Private vehicles are not allowed in the park, with access being by a group of park minibuses which run every few minutes up the road to the National Park. Everybody is dropped near the top & can then walk for another mile or so, along the closed off final section of road. The drawback is it is a popular tourist site & best visited early before the hordes descend. Still we couldn't do anything to change this & just had to put up with the people.
The Park is a grass covered steep & high volcanic plug of rock: The first Nilgiri Tahr were right up on the grassy ridge
The view over the valley
Just after we left the minibus drop off point, I got distracted with photographing a Red-whiskered Bulbul. This was nearly a costly error, as Brian & Vinod had walked up the road & had a Painted Bush-quail run across it. I quickly caught them up & fortunately, they had spotted another 2 lurking in the edge of the bushes (which clearly wanting to join the bird that had already crossed the road). Even better the male then reappeared onto the road, to try & find out why the female/immature birds were dawdling. I had hoped I would get to see a Bush-quail somewhere on the trip & this was my the second species & it was standing right out in the open. It is a gorgeous bird, when seen well & made up for the lack of photos of the Jungle Bush-quail we had seen.
Painted Bush-quail: Male. A cracking Bush-quail
Painted Bush-quail: The male then walked off the road, before standing on this small rock, in the hope the other birds would come along. Sadly, it was another group of locals who appeared first & flushed them
As we continued up the track, I was scanning the high ridges looking for Nilgiri Tahr & it wasn't long before I found some. I was quite pleased to see this endemic Mountain Goat, albeit the views weren't that impressive. I later found out as we walked further up the road, my efforts weren't really necessary.
Nilgiri Tahr: A real one at last, high up on the ridge
Nilgiri Tahr: This one is clearly the local exhibitionist & was sitting quietly about 30 metres from the road
There were a reasonable selection of birds to see, despite the problems of people who kept noisily walking up to us to stare into the bushes & were surprised there weren't a herd of Tahr in there.
Kestrel: Female. There is a resident subspecies objurgatus in the Western Ghats, but the subspecies interstinctus also winters across Peninsula India
Red-whiskered Bulbul
White-bellied Shortwing: This seems to be a shy bird, but for once the only people to come along were a Swiss girl & her Indian boyfriend who patiently waited while we were photographing this bird. The key features are the white belly & narrow white supercilium as well as feeding on the ground like a Rubythroat
Kerala Laughingthrush: A really great looking Laughingthrush. Although it has a limited range in the Southern part of the Western Ghats, it does seem to be fairly common
The river by the start of the entrance road: Sadly, there is little interest in disposing of rubbish in an environmentally friendly way in India, often to the detriment of the local rivers
As we were driving back to the hotel, we saw the final bird of the day, a Grey Junglefowl.
Grey Junglefowl