The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Asia (excluding the Middle East)

SOUTHERN INDIA & THE ANDAMAN ISLANDS

Including The Andaman Islands

Tuesday 17th November – Wednesday 2nd December 2020

Leaders: Dave Farrow and a local bird guide

16 Days Group Size Limit 8
Wednesday 17th November – Thursday 2nd December 2021

Leader: Birdquest leader to be announced and a local bird guide

16 Days Group Size Limit 8

Birdquest’s Southern India & Andaman Islands birding tour provides comprehensive coverage of two of the finest areas for birdwatching holidays in the Indian Subcontinent region. Our Southern India & Andaman Islands birding tour concentrates on the many endemics of these two interesting areas, but also turns up a large number of more widespread species.

The Indian subcontinent is one of the greatest birding destinations on the planet. Despite the accelerating pace of development, birds are still omnipresent, abundant and tame in a way that is unknown elsewhere in Asia. Even more importantly, the subcontinent has a veritable feast of special birds, and there is no region in this important part of Asia that is richer in endemics than Southern India, Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands, which between them hold the extraordinary total of 109 endemic species!

Lying around 1100 kilometres (nearly 700 miles) to the east of peninsular India, in the Andaman Sea, the Andaman Islands are remote from the subcontinent and, indeed, is rather closer to southern Burma and Sumatra. This isolation is reflected in the avifauna, which has more affinities with the Malaysian subregion than with India. With 21 endemics (some shared with the Nicobar Islands), including five owls and such spectacular species as Andaman Serpent Eagle, Andaman Woodpecker and Andaman Treepie, a visit to the Andaman Islands is a marvellous addition to this superb tour.

Southern India is one of the jewels in the crown of Indian subcontinent birding. With 37 endemics (even more than possessed by Sri Lanka) and many more regional endemics shared only with Sri Lanka, it clearly commands attention. Southern India is also the region where the subcontinent’s distinctive culture is at its most intense, but compared to the more densely populated northern Indian states, the pace of life here is a little slower and gentler, and the lush, green countryside is somehow more vivid.

The endemic birds of southern India are very varied, ranging from the svelte Grey Junglefowl to three smart laughingthrushes and the perky Black-and-orange Flycatcher. Most of the endemics are restricted to the Western Ghats, a complex of forested hills and mountains that parallels the west coast of the peninsula and which have a profound effect on the region’s climate. Although situated far to the south of the Himalayas, they show strong ornithological affinities with them, many Himalayan forms reappearing here whilst occurring nowhere else in the peninsula. The Western Ghats may not be as high as the Himalayas, reaching only 2695m at their highest point, but they have their own unique splendour. An excellent system of national parks protects large tracts of pristine forest and grassland, and these in turn harbour good numbers of large mammals and a diverse avifauna, making birding in the region a delight.

During our exploration of this marvellous area, we will travel through the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala and we have a good chance of finding all of the region’s key specialities.

The mainland part of our Southern India birding tour will begin at Chennai (formerly Madras), from where we head west to the dry deciduous forests and open, scrubby country around Mudumalai. The latter harbour a wide range of specialities including Blue-faced Malkoha, White-cheeked Barbet, Malabar Lark, Grey-headed and White-browed Bulbuls, Yellow-billed Babbler, Indian Nuthatch and Nilgiri Flowerpecker.

We will then motor up to ‘Ooty’ (Ootacamund), a former colonial hill station in the Nilgiri Hills where the relict patches of forest hold specialities such as Grey Junglefowl, Nilgiri Woodpigeon, Indian Scimitar Babbler, Black-chinned (or Nilgiri) Laughingthrush, the spectacular Black-and-orange Flycatcher, Nilgiri Flycatcher, White-spotted Fantail, Nilgiri Blue Robin and Indian Blackbird.

To the south, in the hills around Munnar, the rolling grasslands above the tea estates hold Nilgiri Pipit and the forested sholas and lower altitude relict forest patches provide a home for Grey-fronted Green Pigeon, the uncommon Yellow-throated Bulbul, Kerala (or Grey-breasted) Laughingthrush, White-bellied Blue Robin and Crimson-backed (or Small) Sunbird.

At Periyar National Park the specialities include Crested Hawk-Eagle, Malabar Parakeet, Jerdon’s Nightjar, Indian Swiftlet, the beautiful Malabar Trogon, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Crimson-throated (or Malabar) Barbet, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Malabar Woodshrike, the shy Wynaad Laughingthrush, Rufous and Dark-fronted Babblers, Malabar Whistling Thrush, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, White-bellied Treepie, Malabar White-headed (or Blyth’s) Starling and Rufous-bellied Munia.

We will also visit Thatekkad sanctuary where we have a chance to find the rare Sri Lanka Bay Owl, as well as Sri Lanka Frogmouth and more widespread owls.

Finally, we will take our leave of the Western Ghats and head for the famous city of Kochi (or Cochin) prior to the end of the tour.

Birdquest has operated Southern India birding tours since 1985.

What makes the Birdquest Southern India & Andaman Islands birding tour tour special? Fantastic itinerary and great leadership aside, the Birdquest group size limit is significantly lower than for many Southern India birding tours. As most of the birding is in forest areas, this represents a significant advantage for our participants.

In 2020 and 2021 this tour can be taken together with: SRI LANKA

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are of good standard throughout. Road transport is by small coach. Roads are variable in quality (averaging good to mediocre).

Walking: The walking effort during our Southern India & Andaman Islands birding tour is mostly easy, but there are some moderate grade walks.

Climate: Generally warm or hot, dry and sunny at lower altitudes but cool or rarely even quite cold at higher altitudes. Overcast weather or early morning mist is not uncommon and some rain is possible at this season. It will be rather humid in coastal areas.

Bird/Mammal Photography: Opportunities during our Southern India & Andaman Islands birding tour are worthwhile.


SOUTHERN INDIA & ANDAMAN ISLANDS BIRDING TOUR: PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees. Our tour prices also include all flight costs and all tipping, including tips for local guides and drivers. Some bird tour operators do not do this, yet for participants these costs are an unavoidable part of the tour. The value of these inclusions on this Birdquest tour amounts to approximately $650. Flights included in India are: Port Blair-Chennai and Chennai-Coimbatore.

Deposit: £440, $570, €500.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates and deposit amount)


2020: £4100, $5190, €4530. Port Blair/Kochi (Cochin).

Single Supplement: 2020: £620, $790, €680.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

SOUTHERN INDIA & ANDAMAN ISLANDS BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Southern India & Andaman Islands Birding Tour: Day 1  Our tour begins this morning at Port Blair in India’s Andaman Islands, where we will stay for five nights. We will have time for some initial exploration on South Andaman island this afternoon.

Southern India & Andaman Islands Birding Tour: Days 2-5  The Andaman Islands consist of several hundred islands and a range of hills, rising to 800m, forms a spine along the main chain of the archipelago. Two monsoons a year ensure a high rainfall which, together with the tropical climate, creates ideal conditions for the development of rainforest. Indeed, much of the land surface of the Andamans is still covered in pristine forest and we will be concentrating on this rich habitat during our stay in these rarely visited islands. For part of the time we will also search for waders and other coastal species in the areas of mangroves and marshes, or along the idyllic, palm-fringed, sandy beaches.

The birdlife is, as one would expect from the position of the islands, a mixture of Indian and South-East Asian forms, but the long period of isolation has also resulted in a high degree of endemism.

A number of the endemics are fairly straightforward to find, and these include Andaman Serpent Eagle, Andaman Cuckoo-Dove, Andaman Green Pigeon, Andaman Coucal, Andaman Hawk-Owl, Hume’s Hawk-Owl, Walden’s Scops Owl, Andaman Woodpecker, Andaman Cuckooshrike, Andaman Bulbul, Andaman Shama, Andaman Flowerpecker, Andaman Drongo, White-headed Starling and Andaman Treepie.

We should also find several of the more elusive endemics, which include Andaman Teal, Andaman Crake, Andaman Wood Pigeon, Andaman Scops Owl, Andaman Masked Owl (or Andaman Barn Owl)and Andaman Nightjar.

Amongst the many other species we will be looking for on South Andaman are Yellow and Cinnamon Bitterns, Striated (or Little) Heron, Pacific Reef Egret, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Watercock, Pacific Golden Plover, Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, Green Imperial Pigeon, Red Turtle Dove, Alexandrine, Red-breasted and Long-tailed Parakeets, Violet Cuckoo, Edible-nest and White-bellied Swiftlets, Brown Needletail, Collared Kingfisher, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Black-naped Oriole, the distinctive andamanensis race of the Scarlet Minivet, Thick-billed, Oriental Reed, Pallas’s Grasshopper, Dusky and Yellow-browed Warblers, and Olive-backed Sunbird. With luck we will also come across Ruddy-breasted Crake, Slaty-breasted Rail or Mangrove Whistler.

Southern India & Andaman Islands Birding Tour: Day 6  Today we will catch a morning flight to Chennai (formerly Madras) on the southeastrern coast of mainland India and then an onward connection to Coimbatore. From there we will head for the edge of Mudumalai National Park, situated at the foot of the towering northern escarpment of the Nilgiri Hills, for an overnight stay.

Along the way we should see such widespread species as Little Cormorant, Indian Pond Heron, Great, Eastern Cattle, Intermediate and Little Egrets, Red-naped Ibis, Black and Brahminy Kites, Grey-headed Swamphen, Red-wattled Lapwing, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Asian Palm Swift, White-throated Kingfisher, Indian Roller, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, Common Myna, House Crow, Indian Jungle Crow, Red-whiskered Bulbul and Pied Bushchat. This afternoon we will explore Mudumalai.

Southern India & Andaman Islands Birding Tour: Day 7  Mudumalai (together with the adjacent Bandipur sanctuary in Karnataka state) comprises a huge area of mainly dry deciduous forest and scrub. At this time of year the trees are bare and the ground is littered with huge dried leaves like a carpet of poppadoms, making it easy to see the birds but noisy underfoot. The sanctuaries and their buffer zones are situated in the lowlands at the foot of the Nilgiris and the seemingly endless landscape of leafless trees and dry grassland looks as if it must be devoid of birds, but in fact there is a rich variety. Amongst the many species we may well see here are such Peninsular Indian endemics and near-endemics as Painted Bush Quail, Blue-faced Malkoha, White-cheeked Barbet, Malabar Lark, Grey-headed and White-browed Bulbuls, Yellow-billed Babbler, Indian Nuthatch (now treated as distinct from Chestnut-bellied) and Nilgiri Flowerpecker.

More widespread birds include Crested Serpent Eagle, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Spotted Dove, Plum-headed Parakeet, Asian Koel, Spotted Owlet, Crested Treeswift, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Eurasian Hoopoe, Coppersmith Barbet, Streak-throated Woodpecker, Black-rumped and Common Flamebacks, Brown, Bay-backed and Long-tailed Shrikes, Black, Ashy, White-bellied and Bronzed Drongos, Black-headed Cuckoo-Shrike, Brahminy Starling, Black-hooded Oriole, Rufous Treepie, Small Minivet, Orange Minivet, Common Iora, Gold-fronted Leafbird, Red-vented Bulbul, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Common Tailorbird, Blyth’s Reed and Greenish Warblers, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Indian Robin, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, White-browed Fantail, Pale-billed Flowerpecker, Purple-rumped and Purple Sunbirds, and Chestnut-shouldered (or Yellow-throated) Sparrow. If we are lucky we will also find White-naped Woodpecker or the highly localized White-bellied Minivet.

Southern India & Andaman Islands Birding Tour: Day 8  After some final birding in the Mudumalai area we will climb up into the steep, forested slopes of the Nilgiri Hills to Ootacamund (usually shortened to ‘Ooty’) for a two nights stay, stopping for some birding en route.

Southern India & Andaman Islands Birding Tour: Day 9  Ooty is a sprawling hill-station situated at about 2250m (7382ft) in the Nilgiri Hills. The town has a distinctly colonial atmosphere and it is still popular as a place to escape to from the high temperatures of southern India’s lowlands immediately before the arrival of the monsoon rains.

As in many parts of the Western Ghats, most of the natural forest has been replaced with tea plantations and also by eucalyptus and conifer plantations. We shall search some ravines with remaining natural forest for Nilgiri or more widespread South Indian specialities such as Grey Junglefowl, Indian Scimitar Babbler, Black-chinned (or Nilgiri) Laughingthrush, the spectacular Black-and-orange Flycatcher, Nilgiri Flycatcher, White-spotted Fantail, the unobtrusive Nilgiri Blue Robin (formerly included with the shortwings, as White-bellied Shortwing, and often surprisingly confiding) and Indian Blackbird, while with a bit of luck we will also see the uncommon Nilgiri Wood Pigeon.

Other species we may well find include Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Ashy Prinia, Tickell’s Leaf Warbler, Indian Blue Robin, Blue-capped Rock Thrush, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Olive-backed Pipit, Forest Wagtail, Oriental White-eye and Common Rosefinch. Likely mammals include Nilgiri Langur and Indian Giant Squirrel.

Southern India & Andaman Islands Birding Tour: Day 10  Today we head southwards as we descend from the Nilgiri Hills into the plains and then head up into the High Range for a two nights stay at Munnar. On the way we will look out for troops of wizened-looking Bonnet Macaques and handsome Southern Plains Grey Langurs that are a feature of the journey.

Southern India & Andaman Islands Birding Tour: Day 11  Munnar is situated at 1450m (4757ft) and is the centre of a major tea producing region. In consequence, most of the natural forest has been cleared, although remnants still survive. We shall, however, be concentrating our efforts on the plateau of the High Range at Rajamalai (part of the Eravikulam National Park), above the highest tea plantations. This scenically spectacular area comprises a series of high, rounded, bare, rocky ‘whalebacks’ interspersed with grassland and dense patches of natural evergreen forest (known as ‘sholas’) in the sheltered valleys and hollows. Rhododendrons are a particular feature of the sholas although most will not be in flower at the time of our visit.

This is a rather specialized habitat but the limited variety of species includes several endemics; in particular the uncommon Yellow-throated Bulbul, Kerala (or Grey-breasted) Laughingthrush, White-bellied Blue Robin (previously treated as a race of Nilgiri Blue Robin) and Nilgiri Pipit. We have another chance here for Nilgiri Wood Pigeon and if we are in luck we will find Painted Bush Quail and Broad-tailed Grassbird (or Indian Broad-tailed Grass Warbler).

Other species we may find in the area are Bonelli’s and Black Eagles, Alpine Swift, Hill Swallow, Square-tailed Black Bulbul, Blue Rock Thrush and Western Crowned Warbler.

The grassy plateau is also one of the last haunts of the rare Nilgiri Tahr, a curious kind of wild goat with small horns, and we have a good chance of finding some. Patches of remaining forest at lower altitudes hold the endemic Grey-fronted Green Pigeon and the endemic Crimson-backed (or Small) Sunbird, as well as Asian Fairy-Bluebird and Southern (or Lesser) Hill Myna. We may also come across Mountain Imperial Pigeon.

Southern India & Andaman Islands Birding Tour: Day 12  This morning we will continue to Periyar National Park for a two nights stay. This afternoon we will begin our exploration of the park.

Southern India & Andaman Islands Birding Tour: Day 13  The extensive forests of Periyar National Park are justly famed for their wildlife, and in particular for the numbers of large mammals, including Asian (or Indian) Elephant, the magnificent Gaur (or Indian Bison), Wild Boar, Chital (or Spotted Deer) and Sambar. The handsome endemic Nilgiri Langur is also particularly common here.

During our stay we shall concentrate on the mixed and evergreen forest and some of the endemic and near-endemic species we shall be hoping to see are Crested Hawk-Eagle, Malabar Parakeet, Jerdon’s Nightjar, Indian Swiftlet, the beautiful Malabar Trogon, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Crimson-throated (or Malabar) Barbet, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Malabar Woodshrike, the shy Wynaad Laughingthrush, Rufous and Dark-fronted Babblers, Malabar Whistling Thrush, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, White-bellied Treepie, Malabar White-headed (or Blyth’s) Starling and Rufous-bellied Munia.

If we are quiet on the forest trails we may hear the gentle rustle of dry leaves, usually the first sign of a feeding Red Spurfowl, Indian Pitta, Puff-throated Babbler or Orange-headed Thrush. Sri Lanka Frogmouth occurs in these forests and we may be able to locate one or two at a daytime roost (where their beautiful and intricately mottled plumage makes them amazingly hard to pick out). Oriental Scops Owls are remarkably common here and we may also encounter Indian Scops Owl and Brown Boobook (or Brown Hawk-Owl).

Other species which we may well also find at Periyar include Oriental (or Crested) Honey-Buzzard, Indian Peafowl, White-breasted Waterhen, Emerald Dove, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Greater Coucal, Jungle Owlet (of the distinctive race malabaricum), Little Swift, Chestnut-headed and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, the huge Great Hornbill, Brown-capped Pygmy, White-bellied, Heart-spotted and possibly Rufous Woodpeckers, Lesser Yellownape, Greater Flameback, Paddyfield Pipit, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Indian Golden Oriole, Large Cuckoo-Shrike, Black-naped Monarch, Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, Grey-breasted Prinia and wintering Brown-breasted and Rusty-tailed Flycatchers, and Large-billed Leaf and Green Warblers.

Southern India & Andaman Islands Birding Tour: Day 14  After a final morning at Periyar, we will transfer to Thattekad sanctuary, not far from Kochi (Cochin), for a two nights stay.

Southern India & Andaman Islands Birding Tour: Day 15  Thattekad’s avifauna is very similar to that at Periyar, so we have a chance to catch up on anything we may have missed, but here we also have a realistic chance of encountering the rare and elusive Sri Lanka Bay Owl and the impressive Spot-bellied Eagle Owl.

Southern India & Andaman Islands Birding Tour: Day 16  Our Southern India & Andaman Islands birding tour ends this morning at Kochi (Cochin) airport.

SOUTHERN INDIA & SRI LANKA TOUR REPORT 2018

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SOUTHERN INDIA & SRI LANKA TOUR REPORT 2017

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SOUTHERN INDIA & SRI LANKA TOUR REPORT 2016

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