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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

India: The South and the Andaman Islands

Sunday 26 November to Sunday 10 December 2017
Andaman Islands Extension to Sunday 17 December
with Paul Holt and a local leader

Price: $4,300*

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Grey-fronted Green Pigeon is one of many Indian endemics we’ll see on the tour. Photo: Paul Holt

India has long fascinated naturalists and travelers alike, and it’s easy to see why. The fabulously rich wildlife, the cultural and geographic diversity, and the Indian people themselves combine to make this a fascinating place to visit again and again.

Compared with the north, southern India has been relatively poorly explored by visiting birdwatchers, a fact that is all the more surprising considering the high number of species that are either endemic to peninsular India or shared only with neighboring Sri Lanka. Southern India is strikingly different from the north in so many ways: life is seemingly more relaxed and a good deal more genteel. The south’s magnificent coastline is caressed by balmy tropical winds and nurtured by monsoon rains. On this tour we’ll visit some of southern India’s startlingly rich nature reserves and spectacular resorts in search of the region’s special avifauna. We’ll spend time in India’s three southernmost states, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala; we’ll birdwatch near tea plantations in the Western Ghats and Nilgiri mountains; and we’ll study shorebirds on the Coromandel coast and hunt for endemics in several of the region’s best national parks.

We also offer an exciting optional extension to the sun-drenched tropical paradise of the Andaman Islands, an archipelago closer to Myanmar than the Indian mainland and home to another 19 endemics.

Day 1: The tour begins with the departure of the Sunbird group from London to Cochin (Kochi), India. Participants traveling directly to Cochin (Kochi), the capital of mystical Kerala, should arrive no later than this evening (see Note **, below).

Day 2: Following the arrival of the Sunbird group this morning, we’ll drive to Ooty (short for Ootacamund). Perched at 7,250 feet in the towering Nilgiris, Ooty is south India’s premier hill station and a retreat from the oppressive summer heat of the plains; it’s also a modern bustling city with a distinctly faded colonial charm. Although this is largely a travel day, our route will take us through a patchwork of agricultural fields, wetlands, and arid waste ground, where we’ll make several stops to search for our first south Indian specialties. Night in Ooty.

Day 3: We’ll spend the whole day around Ooty, exploring a variety of areas close to the town and concentrating on finding some of the region’s higher-altitude specialties, such as Black-chinned Laughingthrush, Black-and-orange Flycatcher, Nilgiri Woodpigeon, Indian Blackbird, and the skulking but not uncommon Nilgiri Blue Robin. We may also see our first strikingly patterned Nilgiri Langurs today. Night in Ooty.

Day 4: Leaving Ooty and the Nilgiri Hills we’ll descend a short distance onto the plains to our next accommodation just outside Mudumalai National Park. Along the way we’ll stop to search for such delights as Nilgiri Thrush (a recent split from the White’s and Scaly Thrush complex) as well as Nilgiri Flycatcher, Malabar Lark, White-bellied Minivet, and Booted Warbler. Like many of India’s tiger reserves, Mudumalai National Park has restricted access, and we’ll spend much of our time exploring areas of dry deciduous forest and thorny scrub outside the park, looking for a variety of species including Red Spurfowl, both Gray-fronted and Yellow-footed Green-Pigeons, Blue-faced Malkoha, Gray-headed Bulbul, Tawny-bellied Babbler, and the elusive Painted Bush-Quail. Up to 12 species of woodpecker can be seen here, and Mudumalai is also our best site for Indian Pitta. Night near Mudumalai National Park.

Day 5: Venturing away from Mudumalai we’ll explore two very different areas today, one an area of lowland, moist evergreen forest where we hope to find species such as Indian Rufous and Dark-fronted Babblers, Indian Blue Robin and, if we’re very lucky, the enigmatic White-naped Tit.  Later in the day we’ll visit an area of scrub and arid grassland in search of specialties typical of the extensive tracts of dry deciduous forest, including the endemic Gray Junglefowl, Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers, White-eyed Buzzard, and Blyth’s Pipit. Night near Mudumalai National Park.

Day 6: After a final morning in the vicinity of our comfortable guest house, we’ll return to Ooty for the night.

Day 7: We’ll leave Ooty and drive back down to the plains through the bustling textile city of Coimbatore before climbing back up to Munnar, a hill station more famous for its tea than its tourism. Night near Munnar.

Day 8: Munnar is a convenient and comfortable base from which to explore the areas around Rajamalai Sanctuary (part of the unique Eravikulam National Park), well above the highest of the tea plantations. The sanctuary and its surroundings consist of high rolling grassy hills interspersed with valleys dotted with small patches of shola evergreen forest, a distinctive and biologically rich habitat. Once again we’ll concentrate on the region’s endemics, notably White-bellied Blue Robin, Kerala Laughingthrush, and Nilgiri Pipit. Rajamalai is also a spectacular setting in which to search again for Painted Bush-quail, Indian Scimitar-babbler, and Nilgiri Flycatcher, among many others. In spite of the tourist crowds, we will have a reasonable chance of encountering the rare Nilgiri Tahr, a large wild goat endemic to the grass hills of southern India. Night near Munnar.

Day 9: This morning we’ll leave Munnar, making a stop to search for another of the region’s endemics, Yellow-throated Bulbul, before continuing south to the Cardamom Hills and Periyar Sanctuary. We’ll spend the next three nights at a hotel near the sanctuary.

Days 10-11: Periyar is probably the best known and most popular wildlife reserve in southern India, and at more than 300 square kilometers is undoubtedly one of the subcontinent’s largest. From our base beside the sprawling multi-fingered lake in the center of the reserve, we’ll explore many of the reserve’s vast and varied habitats. The ornithological pace will be fast and furious, and could include endemics or near-endemics such as Malabar Gray Hornbill, White-bellied Treepie, Wynaad Laughingthrush, Malabar Barbet, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Indian Rufous Babbler, Malabar Whistling-thrush, and perhaps even a roosting Ceylon Frogmouth or Indian Pitta. Other targets include Great Hornbill, White-bellied and Heart-spotted Woodpeckers, Malabar Parakeet, and Malabar Woodshrike, while in the evening we’ll search for some of the region’s nocturnal wildlife. All our birding highlights may be rivaled by our many mammal sightings; previous tours have encountered Asiatic Elephant, Sloth Bear, and even Wild Dog. Nights near the Periyar Sanctuary.

Day 12: Leaving Periyar we’ll have a relatively short drive to Thattekad, a sanctuary in lowland Kerala. Thattekad shares many of the birds atPeriyar, but some, most notably night birds, are easier to see here. Consequently we’ll spend part of at least one night searching for specialties such as Brown Fish-owl, Ceylon Frogmouth, and perhaps even Ceylon Bay Owl. Night at Thattekad.

Day 13: Spending a full day in Thattekad will give us plenty of time to search for species such as Malabar Gray Hornbill, the gaudy Malabar Barbet, Yellow-browed and Flame-throated Bulbuls, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, and Black-throated Munia. The attractive Asian Fairy Bluebird and the vociferous Lesser Hill-myna also occur here, and we’ll hope to see both. Night at Thattekad.

Day 14: Today we’ll drive back down to the lowlands, arriving in Kochi in time for some sightseeing. Kochi is a former Portuguese colonial town and one of India’s largest ports and naval bases. We’ll have a chance to do some more birding, perhaps searching for a few shorebirds such as Broad-billed and Terek Sandpipers; we’ll also spend some time exploring the sights, visiting some of the 500-year old houses and the cantilevered Chinese fishing nets of the Fort Kochi area. Night in Kochi.

Day 15: The tour concludes this morning in Kochi. Those taking the Andamans extension will fly to Chennai (Madras).

Andamans Extension

Day 15: We’ll spend the morning in Kochi before taking a flight to Madras on India’s eastern seaboard. We should have an opportunity to look around the city and to search for a few extra species such as Asian Koel, Jacobin Cuckoo, Yellow-billed Babbler, and Purple-rumped and Long-billed Sunbirds. Night in Chennai.

Day 16: This morning we’ll fly from Madras to Port Blair in the Andaman Islands. We’ll transfer to our hotel and commence our exploration of these remote and rarely visited islands. Nights near Port Blair.

Days 17-20: Lying on the ancient trade route between India and the Far East, the islands are part of a mostly submarine mountain ridge joining Myanmar with Sumatra. There are 204 islands in all, and much of their surface is still covered in high-quality pristine rainforest. The main island, where we’ll concentrate our activities, is surprisingly rugged and yet possess some gorgeous and exotic palm-fringed beaches. No doubt these will distract some of us from the islands’ fascinating avifauna. Ornithologically, the islands are home to a mixture of Indian and South Asian species, including about 19 endemics. Our stay should enable us to see a high proportion of them, perhaps including the imaginatively named Andaman Serpent-Eagle, Andaman Woodpigeon, Andaman Cuckoo-Dove, Andaman Green-Pigeon, Andaman Coucal, Andaman Woodpecker, Andaman Treepie, and Andaman Drongo. We’ll also search for some of the archipelago’s nightbirds: a scops-owl, two hawk-owls, and a nightjar. A wealth of shorebird and migrants can also be expected. Nights near Port Blair.

Day 21: We’ll catch a flight back to Chennai where we’ll have rooms and dinner in an airport hotel. 

Day 22: The extension concludes this morning with transfer to the airport in Chennai (Madras).

Updated: 01 August 2017

Prices

  • 2017 Tour Price : $4,300
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $630
  • Andaman Islands Extension : $2,700
  • Extension Single Occupancy Supplement : $370
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Notes

This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Information on Sunbird and an explanation of Sunbird tour pricing can be found here.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

**Accommodation the night of Day 1 and transfers from and to the airport as needed are included in the tour cost for WINGS participants. Meals are not included until you join the Sunbird group arriving on Day 2.

This tour alternates with Paul Holt’s tour India: The West - Gujarat and the Rann of Kutch.

Maximum group size 12.