Monday, 28 February 2011

Day4 and 5

Up in the hill town of Munnar which is one of the centres of the tea trade and absolutely beautiful we looked for some of the hill birds on the first day around the town and found some real beauties. Black and Orange Flycatcher just beat the local Laughing Thrush and the Whistling Thrush on plumage but not on voice and the views of the Blue capped Rock Thrush were just too brief. Later in the afternoon we were treated to a definite Nilgri Flycatcher aswell as a Nilgiri Woodpigeon. The next day(today) we travelled over the Ghats to Chinnar and saw an impressive Brown Fish Owl as well as lots of Chats and Shrikes. All of these photos will have to wait until I can blow them up so I've just included a wild Grey Jungle Fowl and a Long tailed Shrike to whet your appetites.

Day 3

A drive through the forest was very productive with both the Rufous Treepie and the rare endemic White bellied Treepie being very cooperative. We even managed a blue flycatcher which is either the White bellied Blue or Nilgri Flycatcher, I'll leave those that are interested to come to a conclusion. In the evening the rain held off so we were able to visit the nightjar site and identify both Jerdon's and Great Eared both visually and by call. We did not even have to teach the guide the white hankerchief dance to attract the birds.

Day 2

We started the day with the highlight of probably the whole trip. This obliging Sri Lankan Frogmouth pretended to be a dead leaf and tried to convince us that it did not exist as it sat motionless 2m away. Then to complete the set the guide found the male doing a similar thing 100m up the track! The weather had affected the birds and the rest of the day was much harder but eventually we tracked down 4 species of Drongo and a couple of flycatchers but not the pretty blue ones! The evening session was cut short by the rain so after failing to find the Trogon we went back to the tent instead of looking for nightjars.

Birding in Kerala-Day 1

AS Cath has noted a heavy sesion or two of birding over the last few days. For the purposes of this a brief resume as there are too many new birds to list them all. After the first downpour we managed a couple of hours in the gloom and managed to see a Mottled Wood Owl being mobbed by a horde of crows and better still an Indian Pitta jumping around in the jumble of twigs and leaves that made up the understorey. The light was so bad that there was no chance of a photo, espcially as it would not stay still. For this session we were guided by Abilash the Hornbill resident guide who was excellent and I fully recommend him to anyone who ever visits here.

28th February

Having enjoyed our time in Kochi we set off with our driver to the Hornbill Camp by the Thekkadi National Park. The camp turned out to be in a beautiful setting by the river Periyar and for the most of the day we had the place to ourselves which was very peaceful. Unfortunately late afternoon there was an unseasonable rainstorm (Marsha's theory) but it soon passed over and we managed a 2hour birding session with the camp guide ( not in that sense!) see Pete's birding bits for more detail.

When we returned we had been joined by 10 bikers having roared in on their Royal Enfields. So that gave us some lively company for dinner plus free beer.

The next morning we were up at 6 for birding before it got too hot.having set the alarm there was no need as the local temple played none stop music from 5.50 to 6.30! We had a lovely walk through the forest about 20k away and saw lots plus the amazing trees about 150ft tall canopies we are certainly developing stiff necks on this trip. We also saw Malabar Giant Squirrels.Back at midday then lunch and a rest again until birding again at 3.30pm. This pattern continued for the following day as did the monsoon downpours in the night!
We are now in Munnar up in the Western Ghats. We are staying at Olive Brook which we highly recommend, the food is the best yet in Kerela and hopefully Pete will pick up a few tips tonight as there is a cookery demo before dinner. It is like an old tea plantation bungalow with just five rooms and beautiful gardens full of all the houseplants we know in UK. We look out across the hills so quite idyllic really ...I wish we had more time here. After two sessions of local birding yesterday we travelled further this morning over the Ghats to Chinnar National Park about 60k away so another early start! The scenery was fantastic first travelling through the pristine tea plantations then over and down into forest. We birded on the way and then had a lovely walk along the river through the forest. Came across elephant dung but no actual elephants.

Cath works the Nets

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

23rd February

Found this internet cafe in Kochi to keep you up to date though without photos for the moment. The overnight train journey from Chennai was much better than we expected as we both managed to sleep for most of the journey. The ferry from Ernakalum, where the station is ,across to Fort Kochi was great value at 2.50 Rs each! We arrived at our accomodation(Waltons homestay) and dropped off our luggage before going for breakfast and having a wander around the town. At one point we were invited onto one of the Chinese fishing net platforms and Cath helped pull in a catch of sardines. Pete just missed a great photo of a Coucal posed wonderfully in the Dutch cemetery until the point at which he pointed the camera !
We knew about the Portuguese connections here but didn't appreciate the Dutch presence later on mid 17th C. In fact the Dutch East India company were here before the British equivalent.
The town has many old merchant houses in various states of repair and a colonial feel as in Shimla although more cosmopolitan. We have visited Portuguese Catholic churches, a Jewish synagogue and walked past mosques and Jain temple but it is much more a christian presence here than other places we have been.
Tomorrow we are off to the Hornbill Camp for 6 days birding in Thekkady Nat.Park and Munnar.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

pictures 16th/17th/18th

On my early morning bird walks from the hotel I spent a lot of time sorting out Cuckoo-shrikes and a Grey-breasted Cuckoo and then trying to get close enough to photograph the Green Bee-eaters. Thankfully breakfast was a relaxed affair at 8:30!

The Matrimandir centrepiece of Auroville which contains a suspended meditation hall inside the globe and a serene lotus petal water feature below

on the way back from Pondi to Chennai we stopped at the Dakshinchitra Craft Foundation place where there are exhibits and reconstructed houses from around South India. These pictures show the models used by story tellers

Friday, 18 February 2011

16/17/18th February

Moving further South we spent two nights in Auroville which is on the outskirts of Pondicherry before returning to Chennai. Auroville is a fascinating community based on the teachings of a Guru, Aurobindo and his partner Mirra Alfassa, known as 'The Mother'. The community requires a serving to the 'Divine Consciousness' and involvement in developing self sustaining 'Green Economy'. I'm sure that if you want more information Google will assist. They have developed a forest out of barren scrub and farm areas within, as well as 'craft' industries sold locally.There are guest houses where devotees from around the world can stay and volunteer on the various projects.
Pondicherry is a town of two halves, the old colonial french quarter alongside the beach and a more chaotic Tamil section further inland. Many of the buildings reflect this but overall the town has a different ambience from similar sized indian cities.
The whole time here was amazingly peaceful and restful and Martin's friends were great company and guides. Now we have three days in the big city before we head off for the lush green west.

Same day

Oops! Forgot this one to prove that Cath is here as well. The Shore Temple was very hot and Cath sheltered from the rays!! Even the fabled sun worshipper is finding it hot so Kerala will be fun

Just a small section of the breeding colony, mainly Open-billed Storks with a handful of Painted Storks at the front and a few Little Egrets mixed in there.

Another delightful Spotted Owlet that was in the trees behind the embankment we were standing on to watch everything else!

A fly pass from one of the Spot-billed (or Grey) Pelicans thatwere nesting on top of the biggest trees in the lake.

Here is the rock! They call it the 'Krishna's Butterball' I did not push it for the typical photo just in case I did not know my own strength.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Same day afternoon

Moved onto Mamallapuram and found the hippy trail of yesteryear. Amongst the dreadlocks and grey hair there were some fantastic stone carvings. Some of the huge rocks had been turned into Temples and others into bas-reliefs, all from the seventh century. The Temple close to the sea had suffered from some erosion and the Tsunami but those further inland were in fantastic condition. One large chunk (30m3) was left resting on a steep slope 5m from the bottom. How it stays there seems to defy the laws Physics.


We've become tourists and set out this morning for a bird reserve! I know it isn't on most peoples itinerary but Vetantangal is an amazing site. There are 30,000+ breeding pairs of waterbirds on trees and bushes in the lake. With the Open-billed and Painted Storks were 4 species of Egret, 3 of Heron, 2 different Cormorants and the Anhinga(snake bird) which Martin took as his favourite. The lake was obviously well fertilised and resembled 'pea soup' so how they found food was a mystery.
For those of you waiting for spring I can inform you that the Garganey are not ready yet as their moult has not finished.They are enjoying the 30+ temperatures we are having to endure instead of joining you in chilly England. (Photos to follow when we get back to Chennai)

Monday, 14 February 2011

Part of the group of thugs on the beach picking up the scraps. These House Crows replaced the expected gulls. Sorry these photos are back to front I uploaded them in the wrong order.

One of the myriad of butterflies seen in the gardens; no idea what it is called but it is about 3 inches across the wing span.

This Black-rumped Flameback male was starting to drill this season's nest hole; their raucous calls were very evident throughout the Theosophical Gardens.

Seen from Martin's balcony, the name is not too original--Large-billed Crow

As you can see we have finally caught up with Martin! The first three days were spent chilling out, getting over jet lag, sorting out glasses but most of all getting a real insight into Martin's life here in India. The Ashram is an oasis of calm surrounded by the ever growing city with high rise blocks and new IT centres. Chennai is most definitely India, with its manic traffic and noise, but it is very different from Delhi. The air to start with is clearer, being close to the sea, and there seems to be less poverty and rubbish. It is not really a tourist destination as there are very few temples etc., much better described as a centre of commerce.
Spent this morning, before it got too hot, visiting the Theosophical Gardens and then walking along the beach. The gardens were set up as a place for serene reflection and secular contemplation over a century ago and they were a delight. The beach failed the blue flag test but was nevertheless interesting for the local fishing boats, five bent planks tied together.
I'll reduce the size of the photo files and add some pictures of the local wildlife tonight. Being cleaner there are far fewer birds, only a handful of Kites and Mynas, but there are hordes of butterflies none of which I can name.