8 Jan 2014

8 Jan 14 - Double Dipping

After a couple of days of planning the rest of the trip, I was itching to get out of Munnar & back into the field. I was down to a handful of tricky ticks left in the Western Ghats & the best plan to try & see some ticks, was another dawn attempt for Broad-tailed Grassbird on the mountain ridges around Munnar. This would be followed by an attempt to see Yellow-throated Bulbul, which is restricted to a couple of sites to the South of Munnar. Needing transport & local knowledge, Vinod had suggested I tried a local Munnar bird guide. Unfortunately, he was away guiding & I got his less experienced, & less interested in birds, side kick. Still he sorted out a jeep to get me to a different Grassbird site & which would take us onto the Bulbul site. Frustratingly, it turned out he only knew the road for the Bulbul, rather than the actual site. Consequentially, I wasted a lot of time trying to locate the area where Brian Gee saw them back in 1994 (which was about the most recent site information I could find). At the end of a long day of looking, it had been a good day's birding, but no success with either tick. But sometimes the result of doing well in an area, is the last handful of birds aren't easy to see & neither seem to be species that most trips even attempt to look for.
Early morning views from the Broad-tailed Grassbirds ridge
It was an early pickup to drive on rough tracks through the tea plantations to be on the top of the ridge for the Broad-tailed Grassbirds at dawn. Ironically, the first bird seen on the track in the half light and which seemed to be reluctant to leave it, was a White-bellied Shortwing. This was the last endemic we had spent a lot of time looking for around Munnar, before finally seeing it at Eravikulam National Park (see Nilgiri Tahr). Finally, we arrived at a posh looking eco camp & then walked up on the nearby ridge. Just like on the first attempt for the Broad-tailed Grassbird, there was plenty of droppings from Asian Elephants seen. I guess the extensive tea plantations on the hillsides, mean they have been forced into living on the woodland & grass covered ridges as this is the only remaining habitat for them.
The eco camp looked a good place to stay
Yellow-browed Bulbul
Ashy Prinia
Grasshopper Warbler: This was a bonus species when this individual popped up from the long grass into this small bush
Nilgiri Flycatcher
Tea pickers in the tea plantations as we were leaving: Interestingly, the tea pickers were always women
It was then time to head off to the Yellow-throated Bulbul site. The road winds for the first hour through a lot of tea plantations, before entering a lot more wooded areas. There were only a handful of birds seen en route.
It's amazing how this guy safely controls his bike
Cattle Egret: For once an uncropped photo of this roadside bird
Shaheen Peregrine: This is a distinctive rufous bellied subspecies of Peregrine. Sadly, the only photo I managed to get before it flew
Pied Bushchat: Male
Finally, I arrived in the early afternoon at the Yellow-throated Bulbul site. A long winding, steep sided road, at least 10 kilometres long, which drops down along the escarpment to an arid looking plain. The steep hill side is covered with areas of scattered bushes & rocky slopes. Without adequate directions, I got to the approximate part of the road & started walking down it for about 3 miles. I think I eventually found the area where Brian Gee had seen them in 1994, but despite a couple of hours of looking in late afternoon had no success. To make life more difficult they are only found in one attitudinal stretch of the road & the altitude Brian quoted was mistyped in his report as it is completely wrong for the corresponding kilometre posts. As the light started to fade, I gave up & headed back along the 2 hour drive to Munnar.
Purple-rumped Sunbird: This Male Sunbird lacks the maroon breast band of Small Sunbird
Loten's Sunbird: This Sunbird has a very distinctive long, curved bill
Striated Munia
Butterfly: Saw a few of this cracking Butterfly