Champions of the Flyway!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Kumily, Kerala - balcony birding (pt.1)

 male Loten's Sunbird (a stunning south Indian endemic)

After a good while kicking back at the coastal idyll of Varkala, it was time to head inland and into the lush, subtropical mountains of the Western Ghats. This narrow sliver of a range on the map runs parallel with the west coast, from almost the tip of the subcontinent in the south to around halfway up the peninsula - through the length of Kerala, into Tamil Nadu, through Karnataka and scraping into the south-east of Goa.

White-cheeked Barbet - an endemic of the forests of the Western Ghats

I've been lucky enough to visit the latter state twice on birding trips, over a decade ago now, but for the true nature of the Western Ghats (and for the lion's share of its endemics and specialities), it had to be Kerala. About 150 km NNE as the House Crow flies, we were heading for one of the state's best known, most extensive and most biologically intact reserves, Periyar.

Red-vented Bulbul

After an exhausting, entertaining, and typically death-defying day negotiating Keralan roads and their associated, uniquely colourful driving culture, we finally arrived at our accommodation in Kumily. On the very edge of the reserve, Kumily is a border town in every sense; small but frenetic, loud, colourful, untamed and rough around the edges, the last stop before Tamil Nadu, and best known for the locally-grown spices that dominate the town's trade.

Our accommodation here, as with much of our time in India, was a homestay which we'd found on the basis of online recommendations (what the hell did people do before Trip Advisor?) on the edge of town, along a  little track among ramshackle dwellings. The reviews were very good, but we ended up getting more than our money's worth in various ways.

Oriental Magpie Robin

For those unfamiliar with the homestay thing - it essentially means staying as guests of a family in their house, but with as much privacy and freedom as required; it's a wonderful, very inexpensive, more involved, and culturally-enlightening way of enjoying local culture, and it directly contributes to both the local economy (as opposed to communities getting fleeced and half-enslaved by generic hotels and the like), and eco-tourism (something I'll mumble on about further in later posts).

Golden-fronted Leafbirds

We scheduled a couple of nights (leaving us plenty of time to enjoy Periyar), and ended up staying five; and as these photos and those in the following posts illustrate, we were surrounded by quality birds without having to leave the balcony, from where all these shots were taken. More to follow.

Brown Shrike