Saturday, February 4, 2012

Periyar, Kerala - endemics and more

male Crimson-backed Sunbird - a tiny, beautiful endemic of the Western Ghats


Once across the lake, into the jungle and away from the honeypot and its visitors, the nature of the forest soon came into sharp focus. Knowing where to look was the main problem, with sensory assaults courtesy of mammals, butterflies, insects, plants, fungi, reptiles, amphibians, flowers, and plenty more challenging the array of birdlife for our attentions. While the latter often won out, it was a much closer call than usual.

Blyth's Reed Warbler

But the birding was indeed exceptional. With Raj fully primed and in fine form, possibilities became probabilities and then often became surefire over the course of our two lengthy sessions, and included a glittering roll-call of regional endemics, local specialities and rare migrants.

Greenish Warbler

Sri Lankan (Ceylon) Frogmouth 

The highlights? A long list. Strictly local specialities included Malabar Parakeets, Malabar Trogons, Malabar Woodshrikes, Malabar Starlings, Malabar Barbets, Malabar Grey Hornbills, Malabar Whistling Thrushes, Nilgiri Flowerpeckers, Crimson-backed Sunbirds, Yellow-browed Bulbuls, White-bellied Treepies and Indian Rufous Babblers.

Malabar Barbet

Flycatchers seen were top quality, with a first Brown-breasted (a scarce species with a very limited winter range), a good scattering and great views of stunning White-bellied Blues (a scarce endemic of the Western Ghats),  a couple of Rusty-tailed (with a winter range almost confined to the Keralan forests), and a reliably gorgeous Asian Paradise.

Jungle Babbler - common in marauding, noisy and unavoidable gangs

Warblers were hard work but ultimately very rewarding, with single Western Crowned and Large-billed Leaf Warblers both personal firsts, backed up by a good showing of Greenish and Blyth's Reeds (not to mention those that got away, naturally). 

 Chestnut-tailed Starling (migrant ssp. malabarica)

Endlessly excellent back-up was provided by a Rufous Woodpecker, Puff-throated Babblers, Greater & Black-rumped Flamebacks, Red Spurfowls and Grey Junglefowls, Indian Swiftlets, Indian Golden Orioles, Southern Hill and Jungle Mynas, Forest Wagtails, Orange-headed Thrushes, Asian Fairy Bluebirds, mating Lesser Yellownapes and much more.

Common Kingfisher on our bamboo raft - with a fish pretty much as long as the bird itself

A Sri Lankan Frogmouth at point-blank range (Amity only just about resisting the overwhelming urge to tickle its chin) was predictably wonderful, and a call-and-response session with a very confident Jungle Owlet (of the endemic subspecies) were two more highlights of a wonderful place, highly recommended and often overlooked by visiting birders.

(More to follow)