10 Jan 2014

10 Jan 14 - Birding From The Water

After a few hours in a taxi I arrived at the Periyar Tiger Reserve on late afternoon of the 9th & checked into a small, but OK, homestay close to the entrance gate. There was time for a couple of hours of birding around the area before dark, but no photos as I didn't take the camera. The following morning it was an early start to look for the main target species: the bamboo loving Wynaad Laughingthrush. There is extensive bamboo near to the park's Bamboo Grove accommodation, but it turns out that area was all out of bounds & I could only look in from beyond the boundary wall. However, as Wynaad Laughingthrush also occurs in the main park, I decided to switch to plan B. Periyar has a road into the park for about 1.5 - 2 miles leading to a few buildings by the lake side. Here there are boat cruises along the lake. The good thing is you don't need a guide & are allowed to walk unguided along the road. Given I had been unable to find any guides who knew the birds & trekking guides were £12 each, then the unguided option was far better than paying somebody to not be of any added value. The first part of the forest was fairly quiet, except for a constant passage of vehicles. However, birding picked up when I found a large, slow moving flock, around the hotel at the far end of the road. By the end of the day, I had seen a good selection of Western Ghats forest & water birds. Periyar seems to be rarely visited on the regular birding trips, which is a shame as it's an impressive park & I saw a number of species not seen earlier in the trip here.
There were some impressive trees in the park
With some impressive buttresses
Black Baza: This small forest raptor is only 33 cm long
Grey Junglefowl: They are very colourful when seen well
Mountain Imperial Pigeon: Showing the dark tail with pale end of tail band of the cuprea Western Ghats subspecies
Black-rumped Flameback Woodpecker: The distinctive black throat is the best id feature
Yellow-billed Babbler: The pale patch around the eye always seems to be a good id feature
Rufous-tailed Flycatcher: Showing the rufous rump & tail
Rufous Treepie
Western Ghats Palm Squirrel: The park is over 1000 metres, which means these should be Western Ghats Palm Squirrels, rather than the lowland Three-striped Palm Squirrels (see Final Afternoon At Thattekad)
Western Ghats Palm Squirrel: They still have 3 stripes
Arriving at the lake, it only took a few minutes to book onto a boat ride. The boats are large & probably hold about 100 people at a time. Once I got on, I realised all the seats are pre-allocated & I had been given a seat in the middle of the lower deck that was hopeless for photography or birding. After asking about an alternative seat, I was moved to a seat at the back of the upper deck. The boat guys clearing realising that if I got to see & photograph some good birds, they were likely to get a tip. Good to see some initiative for once & they weren't unhappy about the resulting tip as I left the boat. The boats are good as it does allow visibility of the lake's foreshore without upsetting the mammals there. It's pot-luck what you see, but sounds like we did OK seeing Asian Elephant in the middle of the day (apparently they are easier first thing in the morning). However, the highlight of the boat trip was a party of 3 diminutive White-rumped Needletails. This was a species I could have bumped into at several points in the Western Ghats trip, but had been unsuccessful so far. This tick made up for not seeing Wynaad Laughingthrush.
There were several boats running up & down the lake
The lake was fairly low, leaving wide grassy edges for mammals to feed on
Convoy: It did feel a bit too much like a convoy for my liking, but the wildlife seemed to be unaffected
Health & Safety: For once some H&S in India, however, had the boat looked like overturning then my life jacket would quickly have been removed (as swimming wouldn't have been easy with that jacket on). I guess there are a high percentage of Indians that can't swim
Cormorant: The dead trees in the lake provide safe nesting sites for these sinensis Cormorants
Little Cormorant: The smallest of the 3 Indian Cormorant species showing the typically steep forehead
Oriental Darter: I've lost track of the number of times the Old World Darters have been split or lumped, but currently split
Little Egret: This is the nominate subspecies which is the same as we see in Dorset 
Woolly-necked Stork: Another trip tick
Ashy Woodswallow
There was a good selection of other wildlife from the boat.
Asian Elephant
Bonnet Macaque: A high wire act to get across the lake making it all look easy
Bonnet Macaque: It nearly all went wrong, but the Macaque recovered & got across safely
Gaur: Not close, but good to see again
Sambar Deer: Male
Arriving back on the jetty in early afternoon, I headed off to the hotel for a lunchtime curry, before birding on the way back to the park entrance.
Spotted Dove: These common Doves are stunning close up
Malabar Grey Hornbill: Initially, the Hornbill was sitting really low down in a small tree
Malabar Grey Hornbill: I had to walk backwards to fit the bird into the photo
Small Green Barbet: Also known as White-cheeked Barbet
Malabar Crimson-throated Barbet: Finally managed to get photos of this Western Ghats endemic which is also known as Malabar Barbet
Bronzed Drongo
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo: The only Racket-tailed Drongo in the Western Ghats
Brown Shrike: This is the nominate brown race cristatus which is a winter visitor to the Subcontinent
Nilgiri Langur: That's a long tail for a Monkey
Butterfly: While the individual Butterfly species have been impressive, overall, the numbers of Butterflies seen in India have been disappointing
Ever wonder where your laundry is washed: At Periyar it's within the Tiger Reserve
Back in town, there was a quick opportunity to have a look around the edges of the bamboo area.
As badly polluted as the PC World Ditch: A site which some of the Poole birders seem to love birding
Muntjac: Feeding about 10 metres from the polluted ditch
I had planned to revisit the park the following morning, but following a dodgy pizza eaten that evening, I ended up spending the following day throwing up & feeling very unwell. Still feeling weak on the 12th, I arranged for an early taxi to take me to the booked hotel at Cochin airport, rather than revisit the park. So I was ready for the early morning flight on the 13th for Gujarat stage of the Indian trip.