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.


"We would both like to thank you for looking after us so well in India.  You organised a magnificent trip which we thoroughly enjoyed.  We were amazed at your energy, local knowledge and bird spotting ability.  We also very much appreciated the company and help of SK, the driver and assistant, and the other members of the tour."......  Mr and Mrs O, Oxon.




                                                                                                                                 Ceylon Frogmouth by tour participant Cliff Buckton


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.


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. One of our local guides has usually been able to show us day-roosting Ceylon Bay Owl and Mottled Wood Owl!


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 and dragonflies, the temples, the cuisine and the warming winter sunshine…






For the first three nights we stay at our lovely Heritage Hotel, in cool Keralan-style rooms on the famous backwaters. We have chosen this spot to start the tour as it is within easy reach of Cochin airport, gives us time to acclimatise, offers a fine restaurant and is close to good birding sites.


Many of the commoner Indian birds abound, so we will scan the area for Indian Koel, Loten’s Sunbird and Shikra amongst others. Paddyfields hold Little Cormorant, Indian Reed Warbler, Purple Heron, Common Myna and the beautiful Bronze-winged Jacana. We have use of a covered launch to explore the surrounding waterways for Brahminy and Black Kites; Striated Heron; Whiskered Tern; Stork-billed, Black-capped, and Common and White-breasted Kingfishers.


The nearby beaches have Western Reef Herons, as well as wintering waders such as Pacific Golden Plover and possibly both Greater and Lesser Sandplovers. Bridled and Crested Terns are offshore. A look around Cochin harbour, with its distinctive Chinese fishing nets, will turn up terns, gulls and, usually, Indo-Pacific Humpbacked Dolphins.


The delicate Blue-tailed Bee-eater is common, along with Palm Swifts and Indian Swiftlets. Pallid Harrier, Indian Spotted Eagle and Red-wattled Lapwing favour the mixed wetland-farmland habitat, and we will search for Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Asian Openbill, Intermediate Egret and Purple Gallinule.



We will then drive up into the Cardamom Hills 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. Mountain 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 forest jewels. We saw Great Pied Hornbill daily here on our last trip.


Boat trips to the more remote, hidden parts of the flooded valley give us a chance to see the real wild India, whilst jungle walks are the way to see Forest Wagtails, Malabar Trogons and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters. 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-eye, Blyth’s Reed Warbler and Greater Flameback amongst the cardamom and pepper groves.


At nearby Eravikulam Wildlife Sanctuary we have a good chance of finding White-bellied Blue Robin, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Nilgiri Blackbird and Kerala Laughingthrush. We have found Tickell’s Warbler to be common, and the localized, endemic Nilgiri Pipit to be confiding enough to make identification easy. On our last trip we found Tytler’s Warbler and plenty of Black-and-orange Flycatchers.


After two nights at The Tea Country Hotel 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. We will stay in the excellent Birds Lagoon Resort. The area is alive with Indian Golden, Black-headed and Black-naped Orioles. The Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and beautiful Indian Pitta are here in good numbers, as are Asian Fairy Bluebird, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Small Sunbird and Flame-throated Bulbul. The rare Black Baza is resident – we have seen them on every visit. Ceylon Frogmouth has been found to be common.


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.


Our last night will be spent near Cochin airport, from where we fly home. Alternatively, we are happy to arrange an extension, cruising on Kerala’s famous backwaters. Call us for details.



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 Kondai Lip Heritage Hotel near Cochin, four nights at the Aranya Nivas Hotel, Periyar, two nights at the Tea Country Hotel, Munnar, three nights at the Birds Lagoon, near Thettakad and one night at the Quality Hotel, Cochin. 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 12th, ending with breakfast on 25th), soft drinks at meal times, reserve entrance fees, guided walks by reserve staff, boat trips, transport by spacious a/c mini-coach, most tips to local people, international flights and airport taxes.



Travel insurance. Cost of obtaining an Indian visa (approx. £40). 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.



Flights are available from either London Heathrow or Manchester to Cochin (both via Dubai) using the scheduled services of Emirates. The outbound flight departs early afternoon and the return flight arrives back late afternoon. Domestic flights from other UK airports are avaiable on this tour. See booking form for details.



14 nights including

one overnight flight:


Principal leader:


Main local guide:


Maximum group size:


Cost with discount

(if you book before

29th September 2010):


Full Cost:


Single supplement:






11th to 25th January 2011


Roger Barnes


Satheesh Nair


12 clients with one leader

and local guides



£2790 per person sharing


£2940 per person sharing







click here to see the photographs in our Kerala Album



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