Drive to the Sahyadris
8 Feb 2017: Day 39 (Thattekad – Munnar, 83 km, 2 Hrs)
We picked up Vinod from the sanctuary gate and commenced our drive at 0350 Hrs, reaching Munnar by 0600 Hrs. Upon reaching Munnar, we crossed the main market and parked our car near the Ganesan Temple enjoying the early morning chill while waiting for daybreak.
As the sun rose and warmed up the forested hill slopes, the forest started beaming with birdlife and we were soon greeted by the calls of a flock of Kerala Laughingthrush. As we were busy watching the birds, Vinod excitedly called us on to the other side of the road and pointed at a White-bellied Blue Robin that was calmly perched on a roadside bush. We could not decide where to concentrate, but the Laughingthrushes made it easy as they flew and settled next to the White-bellied Blue Robin giving us an opportunity to watch both the species at the same time. While the Robin was calmly feeding, the Laughingthrushes were more vocal and active and kept playing hide and seek with us.
A Dusky-striped Squirrel also gave a brief appearance before vanishing into the undergrowth.
Excited with the early morning sightings, we drove to the Lockhart Gap View Point where we all spread out to scan the degraded slopes for any sign of the Nilgiri Pipit. While the Nilgiri Pipit was nowhere in sight, Anjana spotted a family of Painted Bush Quails and we spend a good amount of time watching them. We also sighted several other bird species like the Eurasian Crag Martin, Blue Rock Thrush and a warbler, but the Pipit remained elusive.
As a last ditch effort, we again spread out and started scanning the slopes and it was then that a Nilgiri Pipit pair landed right next to Anjana and she did not miss the opportunity to take a few pictures before calling us to see the bird.
Buoyed by the sightings so far, we decided to search for the Nilgiri Thrush and Vinod took us back to Munnar, and we drove a few kilometers past the Ganesan Temple where we parked the car next to a tea vendor. As soon as we got out of the car, Vinod spotted the Nilgiri thrush right on the roadside. It was as if the bird was waiting for us and kept feeding without even taking a note of us.
We were not done yet and asked Vinod if we could search for the Yellow-throated Bulbul as well. Vinod agreed and we drove to the Bodimettu ghats and about halfway through the ghat section, we parked our car next to a small temple and went searching for the bird along the steep scrubby ghat slopes. After scanning the area for over 30 minutes, the heat got the better of us and we decided to walk back to our car. Vinod was leading the way while Rishi kept a close eye over the slopes and soon enough, he spotted the bird perched in the shade of a scrub. We did not waste time to converge and hide behind a road barrier from where we watched the bird while documenting its habitat and behavior.
We then returned back to Munnar and realized that finding an accommodation proved much more difficult that finding a bird in Munnar. All the hotels were either booked out or were exuberantly expensive. Vinod came to our rescue here as well and found us a nice cozy place to stay at a reasonable price before boarding the bus back to Thattekad.
As Vinod was in a hurry, he could not join us for lunch, but based on his recommendation, we had lunch at Saravana Bhavan and found it so delicious that we returned there for dinner as well.
9 Feb 2017: Day 40 (Pampadum Shola National Park)
We left for the Pampadum Shola National Park at 0600 Hrs with the hope of finding the elusive Nilgiri Marten. However, our hopes were short lived/dashed as Google maps took us via a shortcut that turned out to be a roller coaster 4WD route resulting in our car’s exhaust system getting damaged. Rishi was pretty upset and worried and we decided to return to Munnar and get the car fixed. Thankfully, we found an express service center in Munnar itself with an excellent staff. While they did not understand our language, they promptly inspected our car and repaired it within half an hour. Breathing a sigh of relief, we decided to return to our homestay and visit the Pampadum Shola National Park in the evening.
We reached the Pampadum Shola National Park by 1600 Hrs and slowly drove along the road that passed through the park. A couple of rounds of the forest produced several birds including the Kerala Laughingthrush, Black-and-orange Flycatcher and a White-bellied Blue Robin along with a Nilgiri Langur and a Brown Mongoose. However, the Nilgiri Marten remained elusive and as the sun was about to set, we decided to return to Munnar.
While on our way back, we were driving behind a car when suddenly a mammal ran across the road bisecting the two cars. We both saw it clearly and exclaimed simultaneously, Nilgiri Martin and after a quick glance over the rear view mirror, Rishi stopped the car and we ran behind the Marten.
Luckily the marten was found foraging close to the roadside vegetation and while photography was difficult, we got some really good views of the mammal. We were ecstatic and thought that the morning incidence was just God’s way of making us visit the Pampadum Shola in the evening.
Vinod: Vinod is an exceptional naturalist who has an in-depth understanding on the wildlife of the region and was instrumental in showing us some of the most difficult to find birds. He also shared a wealth of knowledge on birding in the Western Ghats and that proved very helpful in the days to come. Moreover, he is an excellent host and treated us to some great tasting local cuisine at his homestay.
Contact: +91 99 46 042 711
Sisiram Cottage: Sisiram Cottage is a nice little cozy homestay in the middle of Munnar, but still away from the chaos of the city. Rooms are clean and value for money. Food is not served at the homestay, but Saravana Bhavan makes up for it.
Phone: +91 944 751 2128
Eravikulam National Park: For those who are wondering on why we did not visit the Eravikulam National Park for birding, it’s because the park remains closed from February till March every year.
Please feel free to ask us any question that you may have about our time at Munnar. Also, stay tuned for details on the next leg of our road trip.