Flight booked through Opodo on the 7th November at a cost of £420, flying with Emirates from Gatwick Airport to Cochin or Kochi whatever your preference, with a two hour transfer in Dubai. Although the flight was half hour late leaving which carried over to the transfer flight, I have to say of how impressed I was with Emirates, good service and food throughout the flight and lucky enough to get a free upgrade on the return flight home.
Arrived Cochin Saturday morning the 8th Nov at about 08:30, they are about 5 hours ahead of GMT, filled in three separate entry forms, Ebola and travel plans, do wish they would get you to fill these out on the plane as it took so long getting through what is really a small airport. Eventually found my driver outside the building, the late arrival and added delay in filling out entry forms seems we missed each over in the Terminal. The drivers name was also Eldhose, no relation to the guy I had been in contact with in arranging the trip.
A very nice Honda saloon with the much needed air con we set off on our way to the lodge. You don't really comprehend the bedlam until you see it first hand, unorganised chaos is how I would describe it, and take rush hour in London anytime. A combination of narrow up kept roads, stray dogs pedestrians TucTuc's, motorbikes and Lorries all vying for access and sounding there horn. After about two hours with my initiation of Indian roads and safety over we arrived at the lodge.
Eldhose lives in Thattekad in prime forest land ideal location for birding, although all around the area they seem to encroach ever deeper into the forest. He has built four small lodges on the site that accommodate visitors perfectly adequately, great spot to stay, although just a bit to basic for my western comforts.
Even though I had now been up over 24h hours watching movies instead of sleeping, I was keen to out in the field, so bags dumped had a quick look around the grounds we were back on the road picked up the guide on route who name was Sunar, a very good birder who has no right hand due to an accident at the age of seven with a firecracker.
8th Nov Day 1 - Arrival Day Thattekad Bird Sanctuary
So it was a mid morning my first venture into an Indian forest and no more than ten minute drive from the lodge, the temperature already a 75 humid heat although cooler in the forest canopy, and straight away new birds coming thick and fast. We stopped off at a bridge were 60 Lesser Whistling Duck were settled on the pond. First of was a pair of Forest Wagtail as we stepped out the car, then a pair of Malabar Trogans, showed well. Birds instantly everywhere, Malabar Woodshrike, Blyth's Starling, Chestnut Headed Bee-eater, several species of Drongo.
Pair of Malabar Trogan
|Chestnut Headed Bee-Eater|
|Green Imperial Pigeon|
After another few hours the jetlag really kicked in and have to admit I did feel very tired, I just wanted a shower something to eat and a good nights sleep, I was obviously asking too much, it was by now getting dark the room basic but adequate, the problem I discovered was that after dark being in India, all sorts of insects are attracted to the light and with the shower bathroom having no roof and the bedroom separated only by a curtain the room soon filled with all sorts of insects. They in turn produced large number of ants ready for a meal. Not happy and still waiting to meet Eldhose a knock at the door at 20:00. After seeing the room he apologised and offered me a hotel in town for the remainder of the my stay
9th Nov Day 2 - Moving House & Blood suckers
Each day started at about 07:00 morning birding up until 11:30-12:00, then lunch siesta until 15:00 which we would then venture back into the forest, thus keeping out of the hottest part of the day.
This morning started with a brisk walk through the forest that lead up to to higher elevations, with the forest being a lot thicker. After booking in to the new accommodation the Maria International Hotel, with all its mod cons, even a sun balcony with forest and a stream at the rear.
Some so called TV celebrity who happens to work on the Sky discovery channel that they get in India was also present at this site, they were very happy when the Black Baza were found and started soaring over our heads, but better news was to follow when one of the guides called to say someone had located a Bay Owl, they seem to appear in certain habitats but have far reaching circuits but can be found in suitable habitat.
|Unexpected Bay Owl|
Midday back at the hotel after another good morning session quick shower before some lunch, drying myself noticed blood on the hotel's nice white pristine towels, somehow the little blighters had got in, my socks tucked into my trousers or through the lace holes in my boots. Apparently these Leeches are not poisonous they fill up with blood and then detach themselves, with no ill effect.
|Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker|
10th Nov Day 3 - Eravikulam National Park
Off to Munnar, and another view of the chaos that involves commuting through the roads of India. You need paperwork for everything, moving from one county to another requires name addresses, what do they do with all this paperwork and how can you possibly store it , beggars belief. The tea that is Munnar is a very good area for selected endemics, high up in the hills, obviously a change of habitat, but as I was to find out a very busy tourist area.
|Malabar Whisling Thush|
|Nilgiri Wood Pigeon|
|White-bellied Blue Flycatcher|
|Blue-Capped Rock Thrush|
|Grey-Headed Canary Flycatcher|
11th Nov Day 4- Sound Of Elephants
With heavy rain over night the day started with heavy mist, a short drive to Endemalayam, an are high in the forest looking down onto deep forest. The villagers report seeing flocks of Elephant's in the roads but unfortunately we only heard them in the distance. Sunar did find a pair of Scop's Owl, Malarbar Woodshrike, Grey Headed Bulbul, Golden & Black-headed Oriole, and Hill Myna.
|Indian Scop's Owl|
|Asian Fairy Bluebird|
It was to be the first half day due to the weather, the torrential rain did not relent, although we spent most of the afternoon waiting for that to happen in a roadside cafe.
We did see several Red-rumped Swallow, Little Green Bee-eater and the numerous Black Kite and Little Egret. Another half day lost due to the weather, some you win some you don't.
12th Nov Day 5 Photo opportunities around the Lodge
Back at the original camp with a morning photo opportunity, with all the feeders fully stocked we parked conveniently a short distance away in the back of the 4X4 an old Land Rover, we didn't have to wait long before the birds started to appear.
|Sri Lanka Frogmouth|
|Found in most parts of Forest|
|Juv Malabar Pit Viper|
|Large-Billed Leaf Warbler|
13th Nov Day 6 - Tiger Reserve
Yet another travelling day, we were off for a three night stay at the Nest Inn Hotel situated very near the Mudaumalai Wildlife Sanctuary. Very nice accommodation all mod cons including Wifi, on site restaurant and two minute walk to the local shops. We were to be visiting the Tiger reserve there are apparently many sightings, unfortunately during are stay this proved not to be the case. Inside the reserve you need to be accompanied by a local guide, we were luckily enough to get the elder of the village who name escapes me, a keen birder but you only had to name the your targets and he would know the suitable habitat and area to look.
14th Nov Day 7 Ooty & Rain stops play
Light rain again throughout the morning and very grey conditions over the mountains, after several unsuccessful attempts at a number of species we stopped for tea at a roadside cafe. I bought several little nick nacks that were unbelievable cheap, a great knife which I even managed to get back into the country. We saw several new species such as Large Cuckooshrike, Indian Schimtiar Babbler, Hume's Whitethroat, Scarlett Breasted Munia, Bonellis Eagle, Common hawk Cuckoo, conditions certainly not great and this was the only morning the camera stayed dry safely tucked away. Eventually we called time and ventured back to the Hotel were they had a lean to that provided shelter from the rain, although nothing new seen at least I was still birding looking out over the back of some nice habitat whilst having a cooked breakfast.
With the weather slowly clearing we ventured out again,trying a different area, the rain clears bright blue sky's and the birds appear.
|Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike|
15th Nov Day 8 - Yet another fun filled day
After yesterday's rain which continued overnight it was a relief to wake up and get out in glorious sunshine. With the itinerary already set and not having any specific targets I left it to Sunnar just wanted to maximise the species list. So with this in mind we were back in the forest trying several different areas producing a varied amount of species. I couldn't thought the guy in this regard tried really hard to produce the birds and seemed genuinely disappointed when they failed to materialise.
|Yellow-footed Green Pigeon|
A great morning out and even in the afternoon heat, I couldn't resist a stroll on my own just down the road from the Nest Inn Hotel. Time well spent, produced a few more new species for the trip.
16th Nov Day 9 - Park Life
Walking out into the forest Sunar heard an Crested Hawk Eagle calling, but couldn't see it, after searching and crossing of a few streams, resulting in wet feet he located the bird sitting out in the open giving great views, a consolation of the wet feet was the discovery of two Brown Fish Owl high in the tree tops. On the way back at midday walking back through the park were it was obvious that the locals had enjoyed there picnics and barbecue, because litter was strewn everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Horrible to see how they disregard there native habitat, but I suppose its no different to some leaving rubbish on the beach.
|Crested Hawk Eagle|
|Brown Fish Owl|
Also today good numbers of Bush Quail running around in the thick grass, Grey Francolin and several Oriental Honey Buzzard passing over, Brown Cheeked Fuveta and Yellow Billed Bulbull.
17th Nov Day 10 - Mysore and beyond
Penultimate day resulted in morning travel, destination was the Ragananthittu Bird Sanctuary which is situated on the banks of the Kaveri River. Several stops enthused along the way resulting in a few new species. Ashy Prinia and Asian Koel in roadside scrub and Booted Eagle that soared over the roadside whilst looking at the Prinia, with plenty of Marsh Harrier in the area, not advisable to make abrupt stops on these busy roads.
The afternoon was meant to be a river cruise, which in fact turned into a paddle boat on a
boating lake. After negotiating the price, they charged more for westerners with cameras, we boarded the boat and added several new species, including River Tern, Purple Swamphen, Indian Grey Hornbill and Chestnut Tailed Starling. I didn't really enjoy the place at all and couldn't wait to get out of the place, very touristy, loads of people including coach loads of kids, definitely a morning visit required but great habitat surrounding park.
We stayed at the Sandesh Hotel in Mysoore, very comfortable rooms with all mod cons and an ideal location for some last minute shopping. This vast modern city offers everything you could wish in no more than five minutes from the Hotel. I took the opportunity to partake in such activities, and spent a couple of hours wandering around the numerous shop's and outdoor markets.
18th Nov Day 11 - Lark Fest
Last day up at 06:00 and a short ten minute drive out of town produced a bonus in the form of an Indian Eagle Owl which showed really in a small industrial quarry by a small river, also a Black Shouldered Kite soared over the same site.
|Indian Eagle Owl|
The rest of the day turned into a lark feast, with five species seen in the same area, great habitat across the road from the Eagle Owl site. Also other goods birds in the area with Black-shouldered Kite. I can't say I'm not pleased to be going home up at 06:00 good birds to finish the trip with several species of Lark seen about 15 minute drive just outside the town, but the bonus , only the second of the trip soaring over head.
|Singing Bush lark|
I will certainly visit India again, the only gripe for me was the Visa, if they ever allow UK passport holders visa on arrival entry, this would make an ideal place for a last minute holiday. The people are all very friendly and at no time did I feel threatened. Very cheap in regard to all purchases when out there mainly leather goods and clothes and the weather great, although we did have a few day's cut short due to heavy rain. The Any other of a cheap flight I would not hesitate to venture this way again.