Please note: this page gives details of our 2010 trip.

For details of our 2011 trip please click here



birds of the beautiful southern hill country



"We loved Kerala and never imagined that we would see so many wonderful birds.  Magical moments like the walk back in the dark from the owl hunt and seeing our first frogmouth will stay with us for a very long time."......  Mr and Mrs T, Fleet.





The subcontinent of India is truly fascinating, and Kerala in particular has much to offer. It is possibly the most beautiful state, and certainly the most affluent and literate. National Geographic rate it as one of the world’s top ‘must visit’ destinations. We have been able to freeze the price whilst providing what we consider the best possible tour of Kerala - Roger first visited here in 1978 and knows the place well. For 2010 we have the bonus that one of our local contacts has found regular sites for Ceylon Bay Owl and Forest Eagle Owl - both magnificent birds to aim for.



The various forest types in the Western Ghats are each home to their own special birds, many of which are endemic. There are also quite a number of species that can only be found in either this small south-west corner or the remote north-east of India – and Kerala is by far the easier place to visit. Forest bird flocks are rich in colourful, exotic species  such as White-bellied Treepie, Flame-throated Bulbul, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Orange Minivet and Asian Paradise Flycatcher. We have located some wonderful bird-filled sites, with Kerala Laughingthrushes and daytime roosting Ceylon Frogmouths. Other local specialities include Malabar Whistling Thrush, Tickell’s Warbler, Grey Junglefowl, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Malabar Barbet and, of course, Indian Pitta.


It is not just the ancient forests that hold birds, they are everywhere. Along the way we shall visit coastal marshes, stands of teak, flooded paddies and dry country too. We will enlist the help of local experts to give us that essential extra information that will help make the experience so rewarding. Our records of rare and difficult species have been remarkable on this itinerary.


For four nights we will stay within the superb Periyar National Park with excellent birding on the doorstep. There are mammals too, including Indian Elephant, Indian Bison, Nilgiri Langur, Bonnet Macaque, Asian Wild Dog and Giant Malabar Squirrels. Add the palm-fringed waterways of the coast, the perfect climate of the hills, the masses of dazzling butterflies, the temples, the cuisine and the warming winter sunshine…





Our lovely Heritage hotel, built Keralan-style, and close to the famous Kovalam beach, is ideal for our first three nights. It is within easy reach of Trivandrum airport, offers a fine multi-cuisine restaurant, and is close to some good birding sites.


Many of the commoner Indian birds abound, so we will scan our 15 acre garden for Indian Koel, Purple-rumped Sunbird and Shikra amongst others. Paddyfields hold Indian Reed Warbler, Yellow-billed Babbler, Common Myna and the beautiful Indian Roller. Nearby lakes and waterways have Brahminy Kite, Black Kite, Striated Heron, White-breasted Kingfisher, Whiskered Tern and other water birds.


Nearby is a working coastal marsh (they soak coconut husks here) where we will look for Yellow Bittern as well as Western Reef Herons, Little Cormorants, Intermediate Egrets, Pacific Golden Plovers and beautiful Bronze-winged Jacanas. The delicate Blue-tailed Bee-eater is common, hawking above the wintering waders, along with Palm Swifts and Indian Swiftlets. 


From here we will take a day trip to the very tip of India, which is marked by a massive offshore statue. Here we can find Asian Openbill, Crested and Lesser Crested Terns, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Long-tailed Shrike and any number of waders. Every visit so far has turned up a surprise, including Crab Plover, Brown Noddy, Oriental Hobby and Grey-necked Bunting.



We will then drive up into the Cardamom Hills, birding en route, to the excellent Aranya Nivas Hotel. With its own grounds, inside the wonderful hill reserve of Periyar, this will be our base for the next four nights. The sanctuary is part of Project Tiger but the big cats tend to stay inside the undisturbed core area. Tigers are seen, but only rarely, so we are able to walk freely when accompanied by a reserve guide. We will concentrate our efforts in the mornings and evenings, perhaps with tea on the veranda in the afternoon. Bird diversity is high. Legge's Hawk-eagle, Oriental Honey-buzzard and Crested Serpent Eagle are common residents, as is the endemic White-bellied Treepie. Greenish Warblers replace the Green Warblers of lower altitude; Yellow-browed Bulbuls, Malabar Grey Hornbills and Malabar Parakeets are drawn to the fruiting trees; whilst the remarkable calls of the Southern Hill Myna ring around the forest. Orange and Small Minivets are like jewels, while Stork-billed and Pied Kingfishers hunt the lake. Great Hornbills were seen every day here in 2009.


Boat trips to the more remote, hidden parts of the flooded valley give us a chance to see the real wild India. Jungle walks are the way to see Forest Wagtails, Malabar Trogons, Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters and White-bellied Blue Flycatchers. The enormous White-bellied and dainty Heart-spotted Woodpeckers are both here. Given a little luck, it is possible to see hunting packs of Indian Wild Dog. Sambar Deer, Indian Wild Boar and Malabar Giant Squirrel are all common and we stay here long enough to maximize our chances of seeing Indian Elephant, Sloth Bear, Indian Bison and Short-clawed Otter amongst others.



It will not be easy to drag ourselves away from the magnificent Periyar, but our tour continues to Munnar, home of the Nilgiri Tahr, one of the rarest antelopes in the world, which resembles its goat-like cousins of the Himalayas. We are especially interested in the changes of habitat here, and will see Hill Swallows over the tea plantations and look for Oriental White-eyes, Blyth’s Reed Warblers and Greater Flamebacks amongst the cardamom and pepper groves.


At the nearby Eravikulam Wildlife Sanctuary we have an excellent chance of finding White-bellied Blue Robin, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Nilgiri Blackbird and Kerala Laughingthrush, all of them endemic. We have found Tickell’s Warbler to be common at one spot, and the localized, endemic Nilgiri Pipit to be confiding enough to make identification easy. In 2009 we located Tytler's Warbler and plenty of Black-and-Orange Flycatchers, amongst other specialities..


After two nights at The Royal Retreat we will wend our way down to nearer the mouth of the Periyar River, through some magnificent ancient forest.



Thettakad Bird Sanctuary, or Salim Ali Valley as it is affectionately known, is a tremendous and as yet little visited place. It is alive with Indian Golden, Black-headed and Black-naped Orioles. It was here that David Attenborough filmed Rufous Woodpeckers, nesting in the still-occupied nest of ferocious tree ants. The Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and beautiful Indian Pitta are here in good numbers, as are Asian Fairy Bluebirds, Small Sunbirds and Flame-throated Bulbuls. The rare Black Baza is resident – we saw six on our last visit. Ceylon Frogmouth has been found to be common along with Malabar Whistling Thrush, Tickell’s Flycatcher and much more.


Here we will have a relaxed stay in the excellent Birds Lagoon Resort, with good habitat all around. Our last night will be spent near Cochin airport, from where we fly home.


India is full of extraordinary scenes and events. During the course of our tour we should come across wonderful temples, amazing street life, ceremonial elephants, decorated cattle – all with a kind of memorable, colourful vivacity that is so characteristic of the subcontinent.



Breakfast will be taken at about 7.30am most mornings, occasionally earlier, but later if the previous day has been tiring. We will take quite long lunch breaks if the day is hot. Being within the tropics it is dark by 7pm so early nights compensate for any early mornings. Basic fitness is all that is required. Days will be spent in the field and short/medium length walks on the flat will be undertaken. There will be a little, gentle, uphill walking.



We have taken great care to arrange good accommodation and high quality, safe food for the whole trip. Full-board accommodation is provided, with three nights at the Travancore Heritage Hotel, Kovalam, four nights at the Aranya Nivas Hotel, Periyar, two nights at the Royal Retreat, Munnar, three nights at the Birds Lagoon, near Thettakad and our last night at the Quality Hotel, Cochin near the airport. All rooms have en suite bathrooms. The daytime meal will normally be in our hotel, but will occasionally be a picnic or at a restaurant.



All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and local guides, full-board accommodation (starting with lunch on 16th, ending with breakfast on 29th), soft drinks at meal times, reserve entrance fees, guided walks by reserve staff, boat trips, transport by mini-coach, most tips to local people, international flights and airport taxes.



Our optional travel insurance, payable at the time of booking. Cost of obtaining an Indian visa (approx. £30). Items of a personal nature, alcoholic drinks, laundry. For those who want, we can arrange a half-day tour of a spice farm near Periyar. This can be discussed at the time.



We fly out from either London Heathrow or Manchester to Trivandrum, and fly back from Cochin (both via Dubai) using the scheduled services of Emirates. The outbound flight departs early afternoon and the return flight arrives back late afternoon. Shuttle flights are available on this tour for £70 return (due at time of booking), from other regional airports.



14 nights including

one overnight flight:


Principal leader:


Maximum group size:


Cost with discount

(if you book before

2nd October 2009):


Full Cost:


Single supplement:




Insurance premium:




15th to 29th January 2010


Roger Barnes


12 clients with one leader

and local guides



£2690 per person sharing


£2840 per person sharing






£59 due at time of booking

(£89 for age 65 to 69)

(£118 for age 70 and over)





Brahminy Kite, local race Jungle Owlet and shola forest (below) by Hilary Sills, tour member 2009



Nilgiri Flycatcher, Bluebottle butterfly, fishermen, tea pickers and Yellow Bittern taken on the 2007 tour by Paul King





Indian Pitta by Mark Newsome- we encountered 15 in 2009.




Indian Scops Owl


photos by tour participant Barbara Murphy

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