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Endemics of the Western Ghats & the Andaman Islands

Ooty - Mudumalai - Anamalai (Top Slip) - Chinnar - Munnar & Eravikulam - Thattekad - South Andaman

 

Overview

 

A thorough exploration of two of India's most important Endemic Bird Areas, providing the chance of all available endemic or near-endemic birds (28 and 20 respectively) of southern India's Western Ghats and the remote Andaman Islands.

 

In the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu the southern portion of the Western Ghats, a range of low mountains extending for almost 1500km parallel to the west coast of peninsular India, is home to the South Western Ghats Montane Rainforest eco-region, one of the most ecologically rich parts of the world.  Although the ghats (literally 'steps') lie squarely in the tropics the high ranges exhibit extra-tropical climate due to altitudinal influence, the unique admixture of qualities supporting an incredible diversity of species with a remarkable degree of endemism; the ghats are home to 28 endemic and near-endemic birds, with a further 13 shared only with Sri Lanka, making the Western Ghats Endemic Bird Area one of the most important in Asia.

 

Our tour begins with a scenic journey through a 350km stretch of the southern ghats, where local variations in elevation and habitat present distinct combinations of species.  From the unique montane Shola forest and rolling grassland ecosystem of the highest plateaus, home to altitude-restricted endemics, we descend into lush foothill rainforests, with their enigmatic forest specialities.

 

From here we make our way to the Andaman Islands, part of a remote archipelago 1100km off the east coast of mainland India.  Like the Western Ghats, this tropical paradise is home to a spectacular number of endemic birds, evolved here as a result of sheer isolation and afforded considerable protection as a result of inaccessibility - only 26 of the 204 islands are inhabited, resulting in an extraordinarily extensive cover of natural vegetation; tropical rainforest and coastal mangroves.  20 endemic and near-endemic species (some shared with the Nicobar Islands) are found in the easily accessible islands of the Andaman chain, as part of a rich and varied avifauna incorporating a number of species more commonly associated with Southeast Asia than India.

 

Both the Western Ghats and the Andaman Islands offer exciting birding rich with regional endemics among a selection of more widespread Indian and Asian species, augmented by some interesting winter migrants.  

 

 

Outline Itinerary:  

Day 01 - arrive Kochi (Cochin), transfer to Ooty

Day 02 - Ooty

Day 03 - Ooty to Mudumalai National Park

Day 04 - Mudumalai to Ooty

Day 05 - Ooty to Anamalai (Top Slip)

Day 06 - Anamalai to Munnar via Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary

Day 07 - Munnar, Eravikulam National Park & Bodi Ghat

Day 08 - Munnar, Eravikulam National Park & Bodi Ghat

Day 09 - Munnar to Thattekad (Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary)

Day 10 - Thattekad

Day 11 - Thattekad

Day 12 - Thattekad to Kochi, fly to Chennai (Madras)

Day 13 - fly to Port Blair, South Andaman

Days 14-16 - South Andaman, based at Port Blair

Day 17 - fly to Chennai

Day 18 - depart Chennai

 

 

Tour focus: Endemic birds of South India & the Andaman Islands, accompanied by a rich diversity of mammals & butterflies. 

 

Best time to visit:  November to March

 

 

Highlights:  

• Comprehensive coverage of the southern Western Ghats, from lowland rainforest to upland plateaus

• Wide coverage of various habitats on the island of South Andaman, from mangroves to littoral rainforest

• Relaxed birding with a rich resident and migratory birdlife in varied habitats

• Realistic opportunities of all Western Ghats endemics and 20 Andaman Island endemics

• A good selction of butterflies and mammals in mainland India, including Western Ghats endemics

• Lush rainforests and scenic hills complete with tea plantations and colonial architecture

• A tropical island idyll

• Comfortable lodging and excellent, varied but largely local cuisine, particularly seafood in the Andamans

 

Tour info

 

Tour code:  SI001/AI002

 

To register: Contact us, or see our tour calendar, for forthcoming dates and prices, or to arrange a custom tour.

  

Duration: 17 nights / 18 days

 

Arrival & departure:  This tour starts in Kochi (Cochin) / ends in Chennai (Madras)

Arrival in Kochi should be by 1000hrs on day 1, departure from Chennai at any time on day 18.  You may required additional domestic flights and accommodation before/after the tour, which we would be happy to arrange for you.

 

Tour price:  on enquiry

 

Prices: Our tour prices are inclusive of all road transport and domestic flights, accommodation, all or most meals, all birding/wildlife activities, park entry fees, and guiding throughout by one of our professional bird tour leaders.

 

Tour documents: Participants will receive detailed tour information with important details regarding health precautions, accommodation, clothing & what to bring, spending money, the visa application process etc., as well as a comprehensive species checklist and list of recommended field/sound guides. 

  

Maximum group size:  10 

  

Key species

 

Key birds:  in the Western Ghats

 

28 species endemic and near-endemic to the Western Ghats, including:  

• Black & Orange, White-bellied Blue and Nilgiri Flycatchers

• Kerala, Wynaad and Nilgiri Laughingthrushes

• White-bellied and Nilgiri Blue Robins

• Nilgiri Thrush

• Indian Broad-tailed Grass-warbler

• Nilgiri Woodpigeon

• White-bellied Treepie

• Nilgiri Pipit

 

Further species shared only with Sri Lanka, and a host of South Indian specialities, including:

• Malabar Trogon

• Ceylon Frogmouth

• a good selection of owls, with chances of the elusive Ceylon Bay Owl 

 

 

Key birds:  on South Andaman

 

20 endemic and near endemic species, including:

• Andaman (Sunda) Teal

• Andaman Crake

• Andaman Woodpecker

• Andaman Serpent Eagle

• Andaman Woodpigeon and Andaman Green-pigeon

• Andaman Cuckoo-dove

• Andaman Nightjar

• four endemic owls; Andaman and Hume's Hawk-owls, Andaman Scops-owl and Andaman Barn-owl

 

Plus species more commonly associated with Southeast Asia, such as:

• Asian Glossy Starling

• Edible-nest Swiftlet

• Mangrove Whistler

 

 

Key mammals: in the Western Ghats  

• Malabar Giant Squirrel 

• Nilgiri Tahr

• Nilgiri Langur

• Dusky Striped Squirrel

 

Itinerary

 

Days 1-2: arrive Kochi, Kochi to Ooty

Arrive in Kochi, driving north to the erstwhile colonial hill station of Ooty (6hrs), at a height of 2268m in the rolling Nilgiri Hills, or Blue Mountains, becoming acquainted along the way with a wide variety of typical Indian species, such as Black Kite, Black Drongo, Indian Roller, Green Bee-eater, Laughing Dove, Rose-ringed Parakeet, White-throated Kingfisher, Eastern Cattle and Little Egrets, and Indian Pond-heron.  Udhagamandalam, shortened to Ootacamund and finally Ooty by the British, was originally developed as a summer retreat to escape the oppressive heat of the plains. The native forests of this now sprawling settlement have been largely replaced by tea, eucalyptus, conifers, and vast arable farms, however remnant montane shola forests provide refuge to altitude-dependent endemics, in particular Black and Orange Flycatcher, White-bellied Blue Robin and Nilgiri Thrush. The ghats’ second highest peak, Doddabetta (2638m, literally ‘big mountain’) is an excellent place for Nilgiri Blue Robin and Nilgiri Laughingthrush, both often confiding here yet difficult to find elsewhere. Additional species around Ooty include Large-billed Leaf-warbler, Common Rosefinch and Forest Wagtail, while Ooty is also perhaps the only reliable place in southern India to find wintering Kashmir Flycatcher, a species otherwise found in Sri Lanka during the winter months. Spend two nights in a comfortable heritage hotel.

 

Days 3-4: Mudumalai

Leave Ooty early morning on day 3, descending via the forested and often bird-rich Kalhatty Road to Mudumalai National Park (2hrs) at the foot of the Nilgiri Hills. Mudumalai is part of the larger Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve aimed at preserving some 5500 sq km of southern India’s finest forests. Forest types within Mudumalai range from tropical moist deciduous on windward western slopes to tropical dry deciduous and southern tropical thorn on leeward eastern slopes, with the overall impression of a far drier ecosystem than that which prevails in the hills and further south, particularly in the spring when trees lose their leaves and the landscape appears barren. The leafless trees and dry grasslands are however rich in birds, presenting a new selection of species with specialities here including the highly localised White-bellied Minivet. A limited selection of endemics occur in this habitat, including Malabar Lark, Nilgiri Flowerpecker, Malabar Woodshrike and Grey-headed Bulbul, however Mudumalai is home to a host of species, many unlikely to be seen elsewhere, including Tawny-bellied and Yellow-eyed Babblers, White-browed Bulbul, Indian Nuthatch, Blue-faced and Sirkeer Malkohas, Streak-throated Woodpecker, Red and Painted Spurfowl and Painted Bush-quail. Mudumalai also boasts an array of mammals, including one of the largest populations of Asian Elephant in India. Spend the night of day 3 in a comfortable wildlife lodge on the edge of the sanctuary, and having spent most of day 4 at Mudumalai return to Ooty for the night.

 

Day 5: Ooty to Anamalai (Top Slip)

Depart Ooty for Anamalai (3hrs), arriving by noon to spend the afternoon birding among the bamboo brakes and deciduous forests of the Palghat Gap, whose lower altitudes support a habitat invaluable to those species not usually associated with higher elevations. The vegetation here is a rich combination of coastal Malabar and peninsular Deccan elements, which have endowed the sanctuary with a rich floral diversity, and resultant variety of fauna. Key targets here include White-bellied Treepie, Malabar Woodshrike, Heart-spotted and Rufous Woodpeckers, Lesser Yellownape, Emerald Dove, Malabar Parakeet, Malabar Barbet, Flame-throated Bulbul, Small Sunbird, Malabar Grey, Malabar Pied and Great Pied Hornbills, Malabar Trogon, Malabar White-headed Starling and Common Hill Myna. Night in comfortable plantation homestay.

 

Day 6: Anamalai to Chinnar to Munnar 

Depart Anamalai heading towards Munnar (3hrs), spending much of the day at Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. In contrast to most protected areas within the Western Ghats, Chinnar, which lies in the rain shadow of the ghats, is dominated by thorn scrub and dry deciduous forest and of huge ecological importance as a pocket of this distinct habitat type. The rugged terrain within the sanctuary is dissected by two perennial rivers, whose riparian forests support a healthy population of Grizzled Giant Squirrel. Forest (Spot-bellied) Eagle-owl, Eurasian Eagle-owl and Brown Fish-owl are some of our primary avian targets here, alongside Black Baza, White-bellied and White-naped Woodpeckers, Speckled Piculet, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Sirkeer Malkoha and Rain Quail.  Journey on through the dramatic scenery of the Kannan Devan Hills to Munnar at 1600m (4hrs).  Spend the night in a comfortable mountainside resort.

 

Days 7-8: Munnar, Eravikulam & Bodi Ghat

Spend two further days at Munnar and nearby Eravikulam National Park.  Munnar is uniquely picturesque, and although, like Ooty, the vast expanses of tea estates that envelop this erstwhile colonial hill station have all but decimated much of the natural vegetation the vista they have created is spectacular, while the resultant combination of open grassland, vegetated gullies, and patches of woodland shading cardamom crops has allowed a variety of species to flourish here.  Kerala Laughingthrush, Malabar Whistling-thrush, Rufous Babbler and Indian Scimitar-babbler can be found foraging in the understorey, while Bonelli's and Black Eagles, Alpine and Fork-tailed Swifts, and Brown-throated Needletail are regularly seen over the hillslopes alongside Indian Swiftlet and Hill Swallow, both endemic to the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka.  Our birding at Munnar will be concentrated at Eravikulam National Park, an upland plateau which encompasses the ghats' highest peak.  Eravikulam preserves the largest and least disturbed remaining patch of the montane Shola (stunted forest) grassland ecosystem unique to the southern portion of the Western Ghats, once prevalent throughout the upper reaches of the Nilgiri and Anamalai Hills but largely devastated in the bid to raise tea plantations.  The interspersion of forest within the extensive rolling grassland creates a specialised habitat, but one whose limited species include some of the most restricted-range of endemics, having affinities only in the distant evergreen forests of northeast India or Southeast Asia, and in many cases nowhere else in the world.  Key species here include White-bellied Blue Robin, Black and Orange and Nilgiri Flycatchers, Nilgiri Pipit, the nomadic Nilgiri Woodpigeon, and the elusive Indian Broad-tailed Grass-warbler, alongside the endemic and inquisitive Nilgiri Tahr (a small mountain goat), Nilgiri Langur, Dusky Striped Squirrel, and butterflies such as Red-disc Bushbrown, confined solely to the Shola-grassland ecosystem.  Spend two further nights in a comfortable mountainside resort.

 

Days 9-11: Munnar to Thattekad

Descend through the foothills of the Western Ghats to Thattekad Bird Sanctuary (2hrs) at the foot of Kerala's Cardamom Hills.  Spend the remainder of the day, and following two days at Thattekad, birding in this small patch of lush lowland forest.  Officially named Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary in honour of the eminent Indian ornithologist, Thattekad lies along the banks of the Periyar River, preserving the last remnant of a habitat once extant across much of this region, now largely converted to agricultural land and extensive plantations.  The gently undulating terrain is densely covered with tropical deciduous and evergreen forest dissected by streams, riverine vegetation, and patches of scrub and grassland, its birdlife rich and varied as a result.  Specialities here include a significant number of Western Ghats endemics, including White-bellied Treepie, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, Grey-headed Bulbul, Kerala and scarcer Wynaad Laughingthrushes, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Malabar Barbet and Malabar Parakeet, among Dollarbird, White-bellied and Heart-spotted Woodpeckers, Speckled Piculet, Malabar Trogon, Black-naped and Black-hooded Orioles, Tickell's Blue and Blue-throated Flycatchers, Black-throated Munia, Red Spurfowl, the striking Black Baza, Grey-headed Fish-eagle and Crested Serpent-eagle.  The sanctuary and surrounding areas are exceptional for night birds, which we will place particular emphasis on finding during our stay.  These include Ceylon Frogmouth, Great-eared Nightjar, Brown Fish-owl, Oriental Scops-owl, with good chances here of the scarce and elusive Mottled Wood-owl, Forest Eagle-owl and Ceylon Bay Owl.  The wet, humid forests are extremely rich in butterflies, while mammals include the endemic Malabar Giant Squirrel, Bonnet Macaque and Asian Elephant.  Nights in a comfortable heritage lodge on the edge of the sanctuary. 

 

Day 12: Thattekad to Kochi, flight to Chennai

Set out for Kochi (2hrs) in the morning, connecting to a flight across the Indian peninsula to the east coast city of Chennai.  Night in a comfortable city hotel in Chennai.

 

Days 13-17: Port Blair, South Andaman

Depart Chennai on an early morning flight across the Bay of Bengal to the island of South Andaman on day 13, to spend four days based at Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman Islands. Around the town we may find some of the Island's more common inhabitants, such as Pacific Reef-egret, various warblers including Oriental Reed and Dusky, Long-tailed and Red-breasted Parakeets and White-bellied Sea-eagle, but the more interesting birding will take us further afield. Visits to Chiriyatapu ('bird point'), a small patch of coastal rainforest at the southernmost tip of the island, and Mount Harriett National Park, a patch of rainforest at the island’s highest point, will provide chances of all of the endemics occurring on South Andaman. Many of these, including Andaman Treepie, Andaman Shama, Andaman Bulbul, Andaman White-headed Starling and most commonly the near-endemic Andaman Drongo, associate with species such as Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Black-naped Blue Monarch, Dollarbird, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Black-naped Oriole, Vernal Hanging-parrot, Large Cuckooshrike, and Asian Glossy Starling in fast-moving mixed-species feeding flocks, while others, in particular Andaman Crake, Andaman Woodpecker and Andaman Cuckoo-dove are often more elusive. Mount Harriett is an exceptional watchpoint for raptors, swifts, and hirundines, in particular the endemic Andaman Serpent Eagle, as well as Crested Serpent Eagle, Changeable Hawk Eagle, White-bellied (Glossy) and Edible-nest Swiftlets, Brown-throated Needletail, as well as the elusive Andaman Woodpigeon. Both Chiriyatapu and Mount Harriett are exceptional for night birds which we will place particular emphasis on finding during visits here - these include Andaman and Hume's Hawk Owls, Andaman Scops Owl, Andaman Barn-owl and Andaman Nightjar, all endemic to the islands.Throughout the Andamans almost every waterway and coastline is edged with mangrove swamps, most extensively at Sippighat, which provide refuge to Ruddy, Collared, Black-capped and Stork-billed Kingfishers, Chestnut and Yellow Bitterns, Slaty-breasted Rail, Ruddy-breasted and Eastern Baillon's Crakes, Watercock and Mangrove Whistler.  Coastlines and marshes host a variety of waders, such as Ruddy Turnstone, Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers, Wood, Terek, Broad-billed and Curlew Sandpipers, Rufous-necked Stint, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Grey Plover and rarer Beach Thick-knee and Crab Plover, while flooded fields inland provide refuge to good numbers of Andaman (Sunda) Teal among commoner Lesser Whistling Duck, Cotton Teal, and both Indian and Chinese Pond Herons, indistinguishable outside of breeding plumage. Spend four nights in a comfortable sea-view hotel in Port Blair; return flight to Chennai in the afternoon of day 17.

 

Day 18: depart Chennai

Depart Chennai on your onward journey.

 

 

What to expect

 

In summary

Easy to moderate walking requirements, some uphill stretches at Eravikulam and Mount Harriett 

•  Comfortable en-suite accommodation throughout

• A variety of excellent cuisine, including some delicious regional specialities  

• Road transport in modern, comfortable car, jeep or minibus 

• Roads variable but generally good, some moderately long drives in the Western Ghats 

• Pleasant weather - warm to hot days, cooler nights that can be cold in the hills 

• Good photographic opportunities throughout, with bird photography more challenging in places

• Exciting birding with knowledgeable guides  

  

 

Tour grading & health requirements

The walking requirements of this tour are easy to moderate.  Although all birding is on foot no long treks are involved, and while there may be some longer walks over uneven terrain our guides will be on hand to advise and there is usually the option to stay back with drivers or at lodges.  There are no specific health considerations providing you are in good health and can walk reasonable distances at a normal walking pace, however the long, full days (most extending from dawn until dusk, usually with a midday break) will require a reasonable level of fitness.  

 

Travel

By modern car(s) or minibus. There will be some moderately long drives, with variable road conditions making journeys slow in places, however we will break long journeys with some en-route birding.  In the hills of the Western Ghats there will be some stretches of winding mountain roads.

 

Climate

The post-monsoon, pre-summer months are a pleasant time to visit southern India, when the climate is comfortable with relatively low humidity in lowland forests and cool temperatures in the higher hills. Days are likely to be warm to hot, accompanied by higher humidity in moist forest areas, with cooler nights and early mornings.  The higher hills are markedly cooler creating agreeable conditions for birding by day followed by clear, cold nights.  The monsoon rains usually recede by late October with the dry season extending until mid May, however rain can extend into December, after which unseasonal showers may occur at any time and should be anticipated.  The climate of the Andaman Islands is tropical and temperatures will be hot by day with nights remaining warm due to the moderating influence of the sea.  The continuous presence of gentle sea breezes provides relief from the otherwise considerable humidity.  Almost all rain falls in the southwest monsoon from May to September and the shorter, less intense northeast monsoon from November to December, although light showers are possible throughout the year.

 

Accommodation & food

Accommodation throughout the tour will be in comfortable, good quality hotels, heritage/plantation bungalows and wildlife lodges, all with private bathroom facilities.  Meals are often served as a buffet incorporating a range of delicious local dishes, with a variety of international cuisines available and fresh seafood a speciality of the Andaman Islands.  On some days breafast and/or lunch may be served as a picnic in the field.

 

Special requirements

None.

  

Map

 

Click the blue location balloons to learn more...

 

 

Images

 

Black Baza Nilgiri Laughing-thrush Nilgiri Blue Robin White-bellied Blue Robin Malabar Lark
Black Baza Nilgiri Laughingthrush Nilgiri Blue Robin White-bellied Blue Robin Malabar Lark
         
Ceylon Frogmouth Ceylon Bay Owl Kashmir flycatcher Andaman Serpent Eagle White-bellied Sea-eagle
Ceylon Frogmouth Ceylon Bay Owl Kashmir Flycatcher Andaman Serpent-eagle White-bellied Sea-eagle