White-bellied Shortwing: A rare endemic of the Western Ghats, this sparrow-sized bird (with long legs for hopping) mostly forages on the ground for worms and grubs. “Endemic” refers to a species found in one geographic region and nowhere else.
Malabar Whistling Thrush: Famous for its startling human-like whistle, this bird is crow-like in size and gait. In the shade, even the plumage appears black until sunlight removes the deception and reveals the gleam of metallic blue. This bird wakes you up to its “idle schoolboy” tunes.
Oriental White-eye: Smaller than a hibiscus flower, this restless lilliput sips nectar, nibbles on fruit and gobbles insects.
Indian Blue Robin: A winter visitor from the Himalayas, the Indian Blue Robin forages in the undergrowth. The signature white eyebrow, a black eye patch, and orange breast make for a visiting card with great brand recall!
Black-and-Orange Flycatcher: A rare endemic of the southern part of the Ghats, this little bird feeds more on the ground (like a thrush) on a menu of worms, and hunts less on the wing as a flycatcher is supposed to.
Common Hoopoe: Easily identified by its long, slim beak like a bent needle, with the nostril as the eye of the needle, and a crest of black-tipped feathers, which spring up like a Roman war helmet or alternately a mohawk hairdo. Salman Rushdie, in “Haroun and the Sea of Stories”, creates an endearing character out of this bird.
Nilgiri Flycatcher: This is a threatened endemic found high in the hills. Check out its fine tipped bill - a fork-like contraption to pick its terrestrial buffet unlike the flat broad bills typical of flycatchers to hawk insects in flight.
Indian Pitta: One look at its feathers, and you know why this fellow is called a jewel thrush. Its lanky legs are used to hop and jump in typical thrush-like manner. The ornamented wings are used only as much as those of a yard chicken, except when it migrates locally. A meowing call gives away its presence when evening melts into dusk.
Eurasian Blackbird: This one being widespread in the Western world, features in nursery rhymes, Shakespeare and postage stamps. The male (in photo) is a good vocalist and mimic to boot.
Grey-breasted Laughingthrush: Birding jargon can be funny. Say, “laughingthrushes” belong to the babbler family! This one is endemic to these hills. And the name “laughingthrush” because the calls resemble human laughter.
Grey Wagtail: “Wagtail” -- because it wags its tail, not dog-like sideways but up and down. Grey not on face value, but to tell it apart from its cousins - Citrine, Yellow, White and Pied.
Long-tailed Shrike: Shrikes, also called “butcher-birds”, impale their prey, mostly insects and lizards, in thorny bushes to snack on them later. Marked out by a black band over the eyes -- like Zorro’s mask -- shrikes skillfully mimic the calls of other birds.
Streak-throated Woodpecker: This woodpecker lives around plantations where we found it.
Pied Bushchat: A "pied" bird is one that has a predominantly black-and-white coloration. The name suits only the male but the female is a dull brown.
Tickell's leaf warbler: Warblers are varied species of small, dull-feathered songbirds that look so confusingly similar that British birders call them “Little Brown Jobs” or LBJs.
Greater Flameback: Flamebacks are woodpeckers so named for their fire-hued backs. Forever facing tree trunks, woodpeckers mostly have their brightly coloured backs to you.
Red-whiskered Bulbul: This common bird is called Sipahi (soldier) bulbul maybe because of its moustache and helmet.
Squirrels great and small: Birds are not the only treats for the observant nature-lover. The tiny Dusky Striped Squirrel (left) is a rare customer and as small as squirrels get in this part of the world. We found this one eating tree bark. Squirrels as we know them are small, dull-colored and confiding but the Malabar Giant Squirrel (right) is none of the above. Its enormous tail makes it look bigger. It keeps to the upper canopy where it even builds bird-like nests.
Munnar landscape: Most tourists know Munnar for its tea gardens. with its small, rolling hills, lantana hedges and wild roses, Munnar is perched atop the highest ranges of the Western Ghats. Jacarandas (top right) were in glorious bloom by March end. Put on your shades and the exquisite purple turns to blue. Thirty-five km from Munnar is the Pampadum Shola National Park. “Pampadam Shola” translates to “the forest where the snake dances”. These evergreen montane forests (if you ignore the gum trees) lie along the Kochi-Kodaikanal Road, the highest motorway south of the Himalayas.
ABOUT THE WRITER/ PHOTOGRAPHER:
Gayatri Hazarika is a communication specialist in the IT industry. A passionate traveler, she lives in Bangalore.