I, Bikram, join the birders when they arrive at Port Blair Airport via Chennai from Delhi. The Andamans are a restricted zone, so both national and international tourists have to go through some permit formalities in person as well. But normally this doesn’t take very long. And once you are done, your drive, and I will take you to the boarding place. Here you can refresh your body batteries via a quick local-cuisine-based yummy lunch. Towards early evening I take the birders to the near coastline for spotting their first endemic species – the Andaman Teal. And after a light birding experience plus some fun is the sea waters, the guests retire early to their beds at the lodge, since we need to start with daybreak the next day.
Early morning on day three, I guide the birders on an extensive tour of the Mount Harriet National Park. The Sunrise and the songs of birds welcome them to this hub of endemic species like Andaman Cuckoo-Dove, Andaman Wood Pigeon, Andaman Crake, Andaman Serpent Eagle, Andaman Coucal, Andaman Woodpecker, Andaman Cuckooshrike, Andaman Bulbul, Andaman Shama, Andaman Drongo, Andaman Treepie, Andamans and of course the rare White-headed Starling Andaman Flowerpecker. And even if you do not spot all the endemics, still this region which offers more than 200 species of winged beauties, will throw open its landscape for watching Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Dollarbird, Collared Kingfisher, Brown Coucal, Alexandrine Parakeet, Red-breasted Parakeet, Red-breasted Parakeet, Pintail Snipe, White-bellied Sea Eagle, etc. And not just this, towards the evening I take the birders for spotting the Andaman Scops Owl, Andaman Hawk-Owl, and the Andaman Nightjar.
Day four is planned in two parts. The first one is about birding at the Sippighat, located to the South of Port Blair. And in the second half of the day I guide the birders to Chidiya Tapu or the Bird Island. So let me detail the first half of the day which is to visit the Sippighat – a marshy wetland and good for sightings of water birds & waders. Here birders enjoy the glimpses of Sunda Teal, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Brown Coucal, Red-breasted Parakeet, Blue-eared Kingfisher, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Collared Kingfisher, White-throated Kingfisher, Black-naped Tern, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Black-naped Oriole, Andaman Drongo, Orange-headed Thrush, Olive-backed Sunbird, Black-naped Tern, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Black-naped Oriole, Andaman Drongo, Orange-headed Thrush, Olive-backed Sunbird. By the time this tour of Sippighat is over, it is late morning and we enjoy an early lunch before heading to the Chidiya Tapu meaning the Bird Island – the primary location of Birding at the Andamans. Chidiya Tapu is a patch of moist evergreen forest located to the South of Port Blair. The birding track starts actually starts 4 km before Chidiya Tapu and 2 km along the seashore forest. We do little birding on this route and retire early on this day. This place is also famous for local Andaman cuisine which our chefs prepare with much love for our guests. While some exchange notes, others can be seen taking a dip in the sea. I smile seeing them enjoy it, relax and we all retire early that night since the day was hectic.
On day 5, I take them for an elaborate bird-watching trip to Chidiya Tapu. The endemic Andaman Woodpecker, Andaman Crake, Andaman Treepie, and Andaman Serpent Eagle can be spotted here, but not always. Otherwise, the place has plenty of Sunbird, White-headed Starling, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Black-naped Oriole, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Brown Coucal, Alexandrine Parakeet, Red-breasted Parakeet. along with Andaman Drongo, Stork-billed Kingfisher, White-throated Kingfisher, Collared Kingfisher, etc. The region has about 180 plus different species of local as well as migratory birds. After an extensive birding tour of the region, we call it a day by the beach and sit together to watch the serene sunset. More than the birds, I always find the bird-watchers chirping here! After All, they have had one of the best birding experiences of their lives!
Day 6 is about transferring the birders to Port Blair for a connecting flight via Chennai. From Bengaluru, the birders are taken to Mysuru via an 80km drive, but the birding starts straight away as soon as we arrive by noon Bengaluru. How? Well, I drive them to an area good for vultures and then on to Ranganatha Bird Sanctuary. Birdwatching at this very compact yet fabulous bird sanctuary is not to be missed. We take a boat trip on the Cauvery River for very close-up views of the breeding stock and egret colony! I still carry vivid memories of Shumon Rafael Dara from Italy and Amantha Christie from New York, who almost toppled the boat as they jumped with joy at this sight! We enjoy the Sunset by the river and drivers take us to our hotel in Mysuru where we arrive at the aroma of a very typical Mysuru dinner. It is time to call it a day.
On day seven, I have to take the birders on a birding drive to the world-famous Mudumalai National Park. We will be spending two nights amid enthralling nature. Situated in the Nilgiris of Tamil Nadu, this reserve forest is home to a varied form of flora and fauna. It has over 350 species of birds belonging to 48 families – both indigenous and migratory. Day seven and day eight are spent sighting and spotting the national bird Peacock, Grey Jungle Fowl, Red Spurfowl, Small Green Barbet, Green Pigeons, Brown Dove, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Bulbuls, Mynahs, Grey Partridge Quails, Google Eyed Plower, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Large Racket- Tailed Drongo, The Magpie-robin, Spotted Babbler and many more. The place is also famous for raptors like Eagles, Hawks, Buzzards, Harriers, Falcons, and King Vulture. Both late
evenings in Mudumalai are spent spotting nightjars and owls around our huts in the jungle. Tourists, especially the foreigners are excited about staying in the Jungle huts and having a meal cooked on a coal fire near the bonfire. And even I am thrilled to take them to such an experience.
Day nine is about shifting to the picturesque Ooty for birding, but before that, I take the birders for a short-early-morning birding trip around our huts in the jungle. Late morning we drive to Ooty and en route takes various spots for birding. Birders spend two nights in Ooty and before that we extensively cover some 250 species of birds in the region. When we drive to Ooty via the Kalhatty Ghat, we can find glimpses of flying Black-and-Orange Flycatchers and White-bellied Shortwings. On the way up, tourists click Indian Peafowl, Red Vented Bulbuls, Rufous Treepies, Brahminy Starlings, Chestnut-headed Bee-Eaters, Grey Junglefowl, and Bonnet Macaques. On the next day, that is the tenth day, we continue to explore the vast Botanical Gardens on Ooty where the Black-and-Orange Flycatcher is found in plenty, along- with Crested Goshawk nibbling away its kill. The Oriental White Eye, the Pied Bushchat and Pond Heron are a feast for the eyes as they dance and glisten in the bright yet soothing Sun. If time permits, we take the birders for a short trip to the Ooty town for some taste of the local culture and cuisine.
On day 11 we have to bid adieu to Ooty since the birders have to be taken to another birding destination – the TOP SLIP. So after morning birding in the Ooty area, I take the guests on a trip to the Top Slip which is situated in the Anamalai Hills. In fact, this region is one of the best natural history locations in Southern India. Top Slip’s outstanding rainforest patches hold a number of South Indian endemic birds like the White-bellied Treepie, Malabar Trogon, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, Black-throated Munia, Wynaad Laughingthrush, Sri Lanka Frogmouth. Many of the 150 species of birds found here are found on the one-kilometer trek on way to the Karian Shola to the watchtower overlooking a reservoir. The key birds here include large breeding populations of Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Oriental Bay Owl, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Indian Swiftlet, Brown-backed Needletail, Rufous Babbler, Great Hornbills, Malabar Grey Hornbill, and Red Spurfowl. You can also spot the Grey Junglefowl, Malabar Parakeet, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Crimson-backed Sunbird, Greater Racket Tailed Drongo, Great Eared Nightjar, and Large-billed Warbler. Other than birds, the Top Slip is also home to the world’s rarest primate – the Lion-tailed Macaque. And of course a large concentration of the endemic Nilgiri Langur. If you are lucky, you may also spot the Indian Chevrotain and the rare Brown Mongoose. Asian Elephants are plentiful but ensure to keep a very safe distance since they are not the best-mannered here!
On day twelve after an early morning birding tour of the areas surrounding the lodge, I guide the birders to Munnar. But on way, we take a good-time halt at the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. This region is a lovely bio-reserve located between the Western Ghats and Deccan. It offers excellent birding opportunities for rare, endemic as well as migratory species of birds. In fact, it is home to 150 species from 40 families. So the birders get enough and great glimpses of the Forest Eagle-owl, Fish owl, White-rumped Shama, yellow-throated bulbul, Blue-faced Malkoha, Grey-headed bulbul Grey-breasted flycatcher, Mountain Imperial pigeon, etc. By evening I arrive with the guests at Munnar where we stay in Jungle Huts again amid deep-green, serene environs. I have visited Munnar so many times in my lifetime, but this place is so rich in its flora and fauna, that even for me as a guide it is a new experience every time I come here.
Day 13 – the day reserved exclusively to explore the birds at the very amazing Munnar – the biggest green zone of the Nilgiris. The rare varieties of Indian birds like the Nilgiri Pipit, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, Scarlet Minivet, Malabar Thrush, Rock Thrush, Indian Scimitar Babbler, Brown Backed Needletail, Pacific Swallow, Loten’s Sunbird make Munnar one of the most favorite destinations of birders who come to South India. Munnar bird sanctuaries consist of Eravikulam National Park, Mathikettan Choila National Park, Pampadum Shola National Park, and Anamudi Shola National Park. These National Parks throws open some 400 plus species of birds belonging to some 69 families. The Eurasian Blackbird, Black lored Tit, Velvet Fronted Nuthatch, Grey Junglefowl, White Cheeked Barbet, Pacific Swallow, Bonelli & Black Eagles are just too name a few. After an extensive tour of two of these four national parks, as per the stakeout alerts from local guides, I take the birders back to the nesting place in the dense forest for a bonfire. Munnar is pleasantly cold at night. And who would not like a south-Indian meal by the bonfire!
The next day I take the bird-watching enthusiasts for a final early-morning birding trip to the nearby forests in Munnar. Post that we head to Thattekad, we have to reach there by late morning, so there are only a few birding spots en route. This is because the actual extravaganza awaits us at Thattekad. Late morning the birder check-in at Soma Birds Lagoon, take an early lunch, and rest for a while. Around 3 pm I take them out for local bird-watching before we explore the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary for the next two days.
Thattekad Bird Sanctuary is a Bird Paradise on Earth – It is not I who am claiming this. Dr. Salim Ali rated this as the richest bird habitat in peninsular India, as good as the eastern Himalayas. Wildlife Sanctuary is spread over 25 sq kms of forests, wetlands, and rivers. There are hundreds of species of birds. The list is ever-growing since new birds migrate here every year from national as well as international areas. And thus it needs a minimum of two days to explore even the tip of this iceberg! My personal effort to go maximum is ensuring that I get all opportunities for the birders to spot rare winged beauties like rare birds Ceylon Frogmouth, Indian Pitta, and Malabar Trogon. To name the other beautiful ones, let me share a small list: Black-headed oriole, Crested Goshawk, Changeable hawk-eagle, Dollar bird, Emerald Dove, Indian swiftlet, Malabar grey hornbill, Malabar trogon, Red-wattled Lapwing, Scarlet minivet, Racket-tailed Drongo, Black Cormorant, etc. The regions near the water bodies here are home to the very cute Whistling Duck, the Red Kingfisher, Water Hen, Yellow Oriole, Little Tern, Orange Minivet, Wagtail, Greytit, and White-breasted woodpecker. So day 15, and 16 are spent at this amazing place, where we again spot Owls and Nightjars every evening before the guests enjoy the night at the Hotel which is again surrounded by the greens to ensure that they have the best experience of their lifetime.
On day 17 I take the birders out for the final birding trip in the morning around the forests near their hotel. Late morning they need to check out from the hotel and then the drivers and I drop them to Cochin via a two-hour road trip. It is from Cochin that they depart to Delhi for their trip to their homelands the next day. Every time they bid adieu, I too turn nostalgic, as some leave behind great memories, while others stay in touch as great friends. I was a guide, am left deeply humbled by this gesture. So when are YOU joining me for this amazing birding trip to South India and the Andamans? I will look forward to your arrival.