Drive to the Sahyadris
6 Feb 2017: Day 36 (Thattekad and around)
We met Vinod at 0600 Hrs at the tea stall next to the Sanctuary gate, had a quick cup of tea and drove down to the Urulanthanni forest. From here on, we hiked and Vinod led us up a massive rock formation that opened up to a flat top. While Grey-fronted Green Pigeons and Malabar Grey Hornbills were all around, we were anxiously waiting for the White-bellied Woodpecker to turn up whose calls were echoing from the forest below.
We wanted to rush down to search for the bird but Vinod knew the Woodpecker’s flight path pretty well and suggested us to wait patiently as the bird would fly and perch on an adjacent dry tree. To our amazement, within a few minutes, the woodpecker did emerge out of the forest and perch on the exact same tree that Vinod that pointed out. Due to the early morning haze, we were not able to get a good picture of the Woodpecker, but were still very happy that we could sight this magnificent bird after so many failed attempts in the past month.
Vinod then led us down to the other side of the rock formation where a Rusty-tailed Flycatcher and a Green Warbler were spotted midway through the descent.
After reaching the forest floor, we crossed a small stream and took a trail that led us into the semi-evergreen forest. Within two minutes, Vinod stopped and challenged us to locate the Frogmouth that was around us. We kept looking here and there, but were not able to spot anything and Vinod was not ready to give it away that easily. After straining our eyes for several minutes, Anjana finally spotted the bird perched right in front of us resembling a large dry leaf that may have fallen off a tree.
While we were ecstatic, Vinod wanted to show us a Frogmouth pair and took us deeper into the forest where his trained eyes were quick to spot a roosting pair.
Satisfied, we retraced our steps back to the rock formation and spotted a few more birds like the Blue-throated Blue Flycatcher, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Crested Goshawk along with a Flying Lizard.
We were about to leave when Vinod frantically called us back and pointed towards a Drongo Cuckoo that was perched close to him. Not intending to scare away the bird, we took a few record pictures from where we were. As soon as we tried to move closer to Vinod, the bird flew away. Nevertheless, we were happy that we got to see the bird.
During the descend, we also encountered a tribal couple drying wild turmeric on the rock surface and Vinod explained that they would make color out of it as the wild turmeric is too strong to consume.
On our way back, we stopped by at the Asoka Hotel and tried some local flavors like Kerala Parotta and Rice Puttu.
Vinod then took us to one of his friend’s resort “Seventh Heaven” where he showed us an Indian Scops Owl roosting in the dining area and a White-bellied Treepie foraging in the trees. Vinod also told us that this site is productive for nocturnal mammals like the Grey Slender Loris. Maybe next time we are in Thattekad, we may end up staying at this property with the hope of spotting the Loris.
We then proceeded to an area known for regular Black Baza sightings and parked our car at the start of the trail and would have walked hardly five minutes when Vinod spotted the Black Baza, however, two local guides ran towards the Baza and scared it away.
Till date, we do not understand what made them enjoy spoiling our sighting. Anyway, a rough map of the Black Baza site can be found here.
In the evening, we went exploring the Salim Ali Nature Trail and spend a lot of time searching for the Grey-headed Bulbul, but without luck. The only other addition to our birdlist was a juvenile Red Spurfowl.
Just before nightfall, Vinod took us to a bridge over the Periyar river where we got an opportunity to spot a Great Eared Nightjar giving us a flypast.
7 Feb 2017: Day 37 (Thattekad and around)
After a healthy appam breakfast, we were back at the Salim Ali trail with the hope of sighting the Grey-headed Bulbul, but were again unsuccessful in locating the bird. Anyway, the morning was interesting as we spotted several more birds like the White-bellied Treepie, White-cheeked Barbet, Grey Junglefowl, Jungle Owlet, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Black-naped Oriole, Indian Golden Oriole and an Indian Blackbird.
In the afternoon, we went back to the Black Baza site, but were frustrated to find the same two guides that had scared the Baza yesterday. This time around, they were with a group of birders and were frantically walking up and down the dense forest searching for the Black Baza. We tried to explain them that walking continuously will make too much noise and will only scare the bird away. While the birders agreed, the guides did not pay heed and kept walking inside the forest making too much noise. The end result was that none of us could sight the Baza.
While returning, a few roadside banners and our tired bodies prompted us to visit an Ayurveda Hospital “Ayurgruham”. Even when the hospital looked like a resort and the ayurvedic doctor spoke too much of himself, we still went ahead and got a Kerala Ayurvedic massage done only to realize that it was far away from the authentic experience we were seeking and worse than what we get in Noida at half the price.
On our way back from Ayurgruham, we stopped by at “Cakes n’ Bakes” and enjoyed an amazing coffee along with a walnut cake and a delicious Ela Ada (Valsan).
While having a delicious dinner consisting of Puttu, vegetables, black chickpeas and roti, Vinod suggested that we proceed to Munnar tomorrow and try our luck searching some birds there. We were all for it and packed up for an early morning start the next day.