Southern India's Western Ghats (with Andaman Islands extension)
The western edge of India's southern peninsula is dominated by the Western Ghats, a range of low mountains swathed in a mosaic of tropical forests and plateau grasslands. One of the most ecologically rich parts of the world, these hills are home to no less than 30 endemic or near-endemic birds, among an extensive selection of more widespread south Indian peninsular endemics and winter migrants in some of India’s most scenic localities.
Our comprehensive tour places emphasis on finding all available endemics in a 350km stretch of the ghats, in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. We begin in the eastern foothills in the deciduous forest and tropical thorn scrub of Mudumalai National Park whose rich birdlife, comprising endemics such as Malabar Lark and Nilgiri Flowerpecker, is accompanied by a good density of large mammals, including Asian Elephant. Moving south, our next halt is the hill station of Ooty, home to altitude-dependent endemics including Nilgiri Blue Robin and Nilgiri Laughingthrush. From here we travel considerably south into the Cardamom Hills to Munnar. In tea estates and the native montane shola-grassland mosaic of the hills’ upper reaches we hope to come across specialities restricted to these higher elevations, such as Black and Orange Flycatcher and Palani Laughingthrush as well as a number of endemic mammals, most notably Nilgiri Tahr. From Munnar we continue south to our penultimate site, Periyar National Park, pausing en-route to look for the highly localised endemic Yellow-throated Bulbul. In the hills around the Periyar reservoir we will target some of the more skulking endemics including the patchily distributed Wynaad Laughingthrush, with plentiful mammals including Gaur (Indian Bison). Finally, we descend to the lowlands and the lush tropical forest of Thattekad Bird Sanctuary. Perhaps the richest bird habitat in peninsula India this vital remnant rainforest offers a rich array of endemics including White-bellied Treepie and Malabar Grey Hornbill, as well as an enticing selection of night birds including Ceylon Frogmouth, Ceylon Bay Owl and Spot-bellied Eagle-owl.
On the other side of the country, the pre-tour extension visits the remote and idyllic Andaman and Nicobar Archipelago 1100km off India’s east coast, home to a further 30 endemics evolved here as a result of sheer isolation. Of these, 21 can be found on the easily accessible island of South Andaman, where native tropical rainforests and coastal mangroves host Andaman Woodpecker, Andaman Teal, the secretive Andaman Crake, and five endemic owls among a diverse selection of kingfishers, rails, crakes, waders, and species such as Mangrove Whistler more commonly associated with Southeast Asia.
Our tour provides a thorough exploration of the Western Ghats’, and optionally South Andaman, exploring some of India’s premier birding destinations. No other part of India is richer in endemics than these two areas combined; visited together they offer an impressive number of regional specialities, and an extensive selection of Indian and Asian species.
6 December - 16 December 2019
Extn - Andaman Islands: 2-6 Dec 2019
24 January - 3 February 2020
Extn - Andaman Islands: 20-24 Jan 2020
(also available as a custom tour)
Ground price: £ 1965
Single room supplement: £ 375
Deposit: £ 500
Extn - Andaman Islands: £ 1125 / srs £ 235
The price includes: Accommodation, all meals, bottled drinking water, all ground transport, all birding/wildlife activities as described, entry fees, guiding, pre-tour information, species checklists.
The price excludes: Flights, visa fees, travel insurance, drinks other than water, tips and any other expenses of a personal nature.
Maximum group size: 8
Accommodation: Comfortable rooms with private facilities in wildlife lodges and hotels.
Tour grading: Easy to moderate. Birding will be mostly on foot, often in warm, humid conditions; the tour is intensive in terms of time spent in the field.
Key species: Black-and-Orange Flycatcher, Nilgiri and White-bellied Blue Robins, Nilgiri, Palani and Wynaad Laughingthrushes, White-bellied Treepie, Malabar Trogon, Yellow-throated Bulbul, Kashmir Flycatcher, Broad-tailed Grassbird, Ceylon Frogmouth, Ceylon Bay Owl, Spot-bellied Eagle-owl, Nilgiri Langur, Nilgiri Tahr.
Day 1-3: Bangalore to Mudumalai National Park
Arrivals into Bangalore international airport this morning, driving west to Mudumalai National Park in Tamil Nadu for a two-night stay. Much of Mudumalai lies in the rain shadow of the ghats, and in the dry deciduous forest and thorn scrub we will look for endemics that favour these conditions, such as Malabar Woodshrike, Grey-headed Bulbul and Malabar Lark, alongside Painted Spurfowl, Sirkeer and Blue-faced Malkohas, Indian Nuthatch, numerous babblers and woodpeckers, and the highly localised White-bellied Minivet. We will depart on the drive up into the Nilgiri Hills by mid-afternoon on day 3, for a two-night stay in the former colonial hill station of Ooty.
Day 4: Ooty
At 2268m Ooty is among the highest reaches of the ghats, home to some of the most restricted range endemics confined to these elevations. Today, we will explore remnant patches of shola, the native stunted temperate forest unique to these higher hills, for some of the most enticing endemics of the tour, including Nilgiri Blue Robin, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Nilgiri Thrush and Nilgiri Laughingthrush. Other possibilities include Rusty-tailed Flycatcher, Blue-capped Rock-thrush, Southern Hill Myna, and a chance of wintering Kashmir Flycatcher.
Day 5-6: Munnar
On day 5, a long drive south will take us into the Cardamom Hills of Kerala for a two-night stay at Munnar at 1600m. Munnar is uniquely picturesque, dominated by tea plantations but with patches of native woodland and vegetated gullies where we hope to encounter Indian Rufous Babbler, Malabar Whistling-thrush, Alpine and Blyth’s Swifts, Hill Swallow, and Painted Bush-quail. Further afield, in upland plateau grasslands and shola we will look for White-bellied Blue Robin, Palani Laughingthrush, the striking Black and Orange Flycatcher, Nilgiri Pipit, the elusive Broad-tailed Grassbird, and endemic mammals such as Nilgiri Tahr and perhaps the elusive Nilgiri Marten.
Day 7-8: Periyar National Park
We leave Munnar in the morning of day 7, travelling south to Periyar via Bodinayakanur (or Bodi for short) to look for the localised endemic Yellow-throated Bulbul in its preferred rocky scrub habitat in the rain shadow of the ghats. We will arrive at Periyar, our southernmost site, by midday to begin our exploration of this vast area of undulating terrain surrounding the Periyar reservoir. The rich forests and grasslands host a diverse avifauna which includes some of the most elusive endemics, notably Wynaad Laughingthrush,as well as some sought-after winter migrants such as Pied Thrush and an abundance of mammals including Gaur (Indian Bison), Ussuri Dhole (wild dog), Asian Elephant, various deer, Nilgiri Langur, Malabar Giant Squirrel and Travancore Flying Squirrel.
Day 9-10: Thattekad Bird Sanctuary
In the morning of day 9 we make our way to the base of the Cardamom Hills to Thattekad Bird Sanctuary for a two-night stay. The magnificent lowland rainforest of Thattekad is considered the richest bird habitat in peninsular India, comparable and with affinities to the bird-rich Eastern Himalayas. Most of the Western Ghats’ endemics not confined to the sholas and higher altitudes occur here, and among our key targets will be White-bellied Treepie, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Malabar Parakeet and Small Sunbird. We also hope to encounter some of the exceptional selection of night birds found here, that includes Spot-bellied Eagle-owl, Mottled Wood-owl, Ceylon Bay Owl and Ceylon Frogmouth, as well as four species of nightjar. Other possibilities include Malabar Trogon, Great Pied and Malabar Pied Hornbills, White-bellied and Heart-spotted Woodpeckers, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Indian Pitta, Black-throated Munia, Emerald Dove, Black Baza and Grey-headed Fish-eagle. The damp, humid forests are equally rich in butterflies, including exquisite endemics such as Malabar Banded Peacock.
Day 11: Depart Kochi
Depending on group departure plans we may have time for some final birding at Thattekad before leaving for Kochi. Departures from Kochi (Cochin) international airport this afternoon.
**OPTIONAL PRE-TOUR EXTENSION: Andaman Island Endemics
Day 1-4 Port Blair, South Andaman
Arrivals into Port Blair airport in the morning of day 1. Port Blair will be our base for a four-night stay on South Andaman, where we can expect a good introduction to the islands’ more widespread birds, such as Dusky Warbler, Long-tailed Parakeet, White-bellied Sea-eagle, Pacific Reef-egret, a selection of waders and our first endemic, perhaps Andaman Drongo or Andaman White-headed Starling. Further afield, the dense tropical rainforest of Mount Harriet National Park hosts most if not all of island’s available endemics, including Andaman Treepie, Andaman Shama and Andaman Cuckoo-dove, and in the evenings we hope to locate Andaman Nightjar, Andaman and Hume’s Hawk-owls, and Andaman Scops-owl. We will also visit the coastal rainforest of Chiriyatapu looking for endemic Andaman Serpent Eagle, Andaman Woodpecker and the elusive Andaman Crake. Elsewhere, mangrove-lined creeks, marshes and flooded fields host Long-toed Stint, Terek and Broad-billed Sandpipers, Ruddy and Collared Kingfishers, Mangrove Whistler and Andaman Teal.
Day 5: Depart Port Blair
Departures from Port Blair airport this morning or fly to Bangalore to continue with main tour (day 1 of main tour).