Malabar Woodshrike - a smart Western Ghats endemic
We spent two memorable days in the reserve, deep in the unique subtropical biotope of the Keralan Western Ghats, and a short tuk-tuk ride from our accommodation in the neighbouring border town of Kumily. Thanks once again to the glories of the internet, we struck lucky, this time with a local guide par excellence who made a potentially good couple of sessions truly blinding.
Reading through a birder's trip report online, we followed up on a recommendation to seek out Raj, one of the many wildlife guides who are employed by the reserve to lead small groups of visitors around accessible areas. Of the large numbers of visitors (almost all Indian), the majority take the boats out across the lake - stunning views, but minimal wildlife, and no peace. So, the jungle for us.
But first a little manoeuvring, which involved hooking up with Raj the previous evening in town (critically the trip report included a mobile number for him), buying our reserve passes at an office in Kumily (this being India - it would be far too straightforward to get them at, say, the reserve entrance), and arranging to pick him up via tuk tuk before dawn the following morning. This way, we'd enter the reserve together, and we'd avoid the standard practice of being allotted a random guide.
A good practice it is too - small groups are accompanied by a guide, all of whom are from the local indigenous tribe and very knowledgable about the park's flora, fauna and history. But ideally, we needed someone who was on the money with the reserve's avian delights, especially those less common and harder to find; enter Raj - highly skilled, committed to seeking out the most esoteric of targets, and a pleasure to spend time with. Part two to follow.
Jungle Owlet - we played call and response, complete with unnerring eye-contact, for a long time with this little chap (n.b. the old school way, not with playback)