Saturday, May 10, 2014

Up on a Mountain Tree at Mudumalai, Nilgiris

It was not a great month to visit reserve forests that are down south. It was hot, humid and planning a road trip was a mute acceptance to getting fried by the mighty sun. But, the occurrence of a long weekend, with no such holidays in the next few months, prompted us to plan for a vacation. On calling the Parambikulam forest lodge, we were discouraged by the booking officer’s comments that it will be too dry and hot, and will make the animal sightings limited. Upon further research, we decided to go to Masinagudi because of the shorter drive from Bangalore.

With no other expectations, except birding on our mind, we reached the reserve at 12:30 in the afternoon of May 1. The feared sunny ride had been replaced by a cloud cover and a light drizzle. This lasted with us for the entire trip over the next 5 days.

We passed through the Bandipur reserve across the Karnataka state border into the Mudumalai park in Tamil Nadu and drove further to reach Jungle Retreat in Masinagudi (  The resort is on a 36 acre campus with its boundary touching the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. They have a resident ornithologist and tree-houses with 2 rooms – perfect for 2 couples keen on birding.

It had rained twice in the last one week- the forest has transformed itself from brown  to green. The moment we walked into the resort, we started noticing new birds. The first was Blue faced Malkoha and next came the Tickles blue flycatcher. They were engaged in their activity and not really disturbed by our peering eyes. 

Tickles Blue flycatcher
 We were then taken in a jeep to our tree house  that had 2 spacious bedrooms built on a silver oak tree!

From the comfort of the 2 storey structure,  a jungle fowl, a hare and a pea hen were seen walking across – all at the same spot.

The evening safari, though meant for wildlife, proved to be good for birding. Rajkumar the resident ornithologist had accompanied us on this safari.
We spotted elephants, wild dogs, sambar deers, spotted deers and a sloth bear scratching himself as he sat eating ants. The afternoon rain had meant that the ground was easy to dig into for the bears.  We missed spotting any tigers, though the group that surveyed the same route half hour after us saw a tiger crossing the road.

Oiental whiteeye

Gunda accompanying us on the trail

Brown Fish Owl


Small minivet

Changeable Hawk eagle - Juvenile
Even with clear signs on “Not to feed wildlife” visible, cars were feeding peacocks – just for the pleasure of seeing them up close. Any responsible nature-lover would avoid this – processed food is bad for us and even more so for the animals! And they may get run-over in the middle of the road by bad drivers.

We returned to the retreat at 8 pm, just in time to watch a movie that portrays the story of Jungle Retreat. The presentation covered the various species photographed in the campus over the years and how conservation can go hand in hand with tourism.

10 p.m. and it was time to go back to the room.

As we were taken on the jeep, accompanied by a guard, the excitement and apprehension of staying in a tree house in the middle of the tiger reserve dawned upon us. The guard checked the place and signaled us to quickly climb the steps to our forest rooms. We did so in a manner in which squirrels climb a tree – as nimble and fast as possible. Up in the room (if it can be called that), we made a plan to wake up mid-night to have a look outside to spot any animals.

We woke up the next morning at 5:45! In the mornings of such trips, the chirping grows on the moment producing a tune that cannot be replicated. The mountains looked really blue! We got ready and set off for our birding with Raj kumar at 6 45.

Over the past 18 years, the resort owners have grown the right trees and shrubs that offer a seamless expanse of land to the wild-life.  Rajkumar meticulously took us to each nook and corner, and with his experience we spotted many endemic species. After breakfast, we again set out on the jeep to view Owls and woodpeckers. Being a local person, Rajkumar knew the possible locations of the birds.

The third day we departed early in the morning. The plan was to drive to Tiruppur and stay for the night. Route planned: Masinagudi -> Ooty -> Coonoor -> Mettupalayam -> Annur -> Tiruppur

We had been told that at the last checkpost, that comes on the way to Ooty, we should try to climb down a trail and spot endemic Nilgiris species of birds and animals.   We were told to ask for the “Avalanche lake eco-tour” after reaching Ooty. We missed doing both –the trail and the safari.

We missed the check-post and also reached pretty late at the gate leading to the lake. You have to reach before 9:30 am to get the tokens for a jeep safari. Nevertheless, we has entered crisp green mountains to reach the lake.  Saw some butterflies – bright copper green and purple. 

And we spotted 3 endemic brids – I was floating in the airJ.
This fellow went flying from one side of the road to another and at first glance, all that we could see was streak of orange. Couldn’t get a better pic! 

Black and Orange Flycatcher
  We also saw the Nilgiris Flycatcher and the Laughing thrush.
Nilgiris flycatcher

Nilgiris Laughing Thrush

Stay at Jungle Retreat was very good – the caretakers were warm with a genuine interest in the guest’s comfort and the reserve’s environment. There were lots of pets too – 4 dogs and 11 cats lazing around at the retreat. The best outcome of the trip, was the fact that our friends are bitten by the birding bug too – an interest that is well shared.

On the whole, we saw about 75 species out of which 30 were new species which got added to our list. These were some of the birds we wanted to see over here but missed seeing them – Yellow footed pigeon, vulture, Honey Buzzard, Crested Serpent eagle.
The complete bird list is given below.

Some people never change – irrespective of whether we are in the city or a serene forest. This is place created out of Tourist’s neglect in carrying and thrashing plastics inside the forest! It is smelly and is part of the reserve.  In this trip too, we avoided buying any  packed food and snacks – a little planning avoids unnecessary waste.
River of Plastic

Travel Meter
Distance for Bangalore to Masinagudi: 250 kms
Distance from Masinagudi to Ooty: 40 kms - has a lot of hairpin bends and is steep.
Distance from Ooty to Tiruppur: 200 Kms

Amount of petrol put in an i10 car = Rs 4000 till Tiruppur

Stayed at: Jungle Retreat – Excellent hospitality. More economical options might be available in the town.
Activities: Birding, Safari, Swimming Pool, Nature Interpretation walks
Suggest everyone to carry a torch, as you may be able to sometimes spot animals even in the evening and night
Jungle Retreat has Camera traps with Night Vision and you can choose where to put the camera traps and watch the video the next day to see who has visited near the camera the previous night.
Rooms: Twin tree House and Cottages.
The tree house will not be available during the monsoons. Among the tree houses, only one is near the swimming pool that is said to attract wild animals in the night in summers. This is clearly visible from some of the older footage from the camera traps.
For eating, there are a few small hotels available in the Masinagudi Town offering  south-Indian menu. They can be found on the main road itself in Masinagudi town.
For the Bandipur Safari :
2 options are available:
1.       Government vehicle Safari
Timings: 6 am to 9am and 4 pm to 6 pm
Cost: Rs 150/person
Tickets can be purchased at the forest office just before the Safari starts.

2.       Private operators who take their guests for 2 to 2 ½ hour deep jungle exploration
Cost: Approx 1350/person
Contact: Some resorts in Bandipur offer this.

For the Mudumalai Safari:
There is no government operated vehicles here. No deep-jungle safari is allowed for any vehicle.
Private operators (resorts )manage safaris that will pass through the main road connecting TN and Karnataka.

Stay: There are multiple stay options available in the town.
Activities: Safari at Avalanche – reach early by 9:15 am at the entry gate
To reach Avalanchi lake and Emerald lake – Go to Avalanchi dam and then drive further on the same road for around 5 mins. There is no signboard for the Avalanchi lake.
Single jeeps can be hired for Rs.1200 for a 3 hour tour
To know details about trekking, safari available, you can contact the Nilgiri South Forest Office- Walking distance from Hotel Tamilnadu.

Road to Coimbatore via Coonoor from Ooty is a one way on Saturday and Sunday. It will be better to take the Kotagiri route directly to Mettupalayam and proceed to Coimbatore.

Bird list:
  1. Red vented Bulbul
  2. Black Drongo
  3. Indian Robin
  4. Common Mynah
  5. Copper smith barbett
  6. Gold fronted leaf bird
  7. Pied buschat
  8. Puff throated babbler
  9. White cheeked barbett
  10. Iora
  11. Purple rumped sunbird
  12. Green bee eater
  13. Cattle egret
  14. White throated kingfisher
  15. Pond Heron
  16. Magpie Robin
  17. Roufous treepie
  18. Red whiskered
  19. Common Tailorbird
  20. Orange Minivet
  21. Small Minivet
  22. Asian Blue Fairy Bird
  23. Malabar Grey Hornbill
  24. Hoopoe
  25. Indian Roller
  26. Long Tailed Shrike
  27. Jungle Mynah
  28. Wire-tailed swallow
  29. Ashy Drongo
  30. Spotted Owlet
  31. Great tit
  32. Black Kite
  33. Black Eagle
  34. Changeable Hawk Eagle
  35. Jungle Bush Quail
  36. Grey Francolin
  37. Indian peafowl
  38. Grey Jungle fowl
  39. Yellow wattled Lapwing
  40. Spotted Dove
  41. Plum headed
  42. Jerdons Nightjar
  43. Brown fish Owl
  44. Lesser Goldenback
  45. Brown-capped Pygmy  Wood pecker
  46. Streak Throated wood pecker
  47. Coomon-wood shrike
  48. Bronzed drongo
  49. Brahmini Mynah
  50. White browed Fantail
  51. Grey Breasted Prinia
  52. Red-rumped swallow
  53. Hill swallow
  54. White-throated bulbul
  55. Yellow billed babbler
  56. Brown cheeked fulvetta
  57. Grey wagtail
  58. Purple sunbird
  59. House sparrow
  60. Chestnut shouldered Petronia
  61. white rumped shama
  62. White rumped Spinetail
  63. Jerdons Bushlark
  64. Yellow browed bulbul
  65. White bellied drongo
  66. Oriental White Eye
  67. Black and Orange Flycatcher
  68. Nilgiri Flycatcher
  69. Black chinned Laughing thrush
  70. Nilgiri Flowerpecker
  71. Indian Pitta
  72. Malabar Parakeet
  73. Common Hawk cuckoo

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