Monthly Archives: April 2011

Marsh Harrier Wintering in Kannur Kaipad Wetlands

Eurasian Marsh Harrier wintering in Odayammadam Kaipad, Cherukunnu, Kannur, Early March 2011

I revisited the old rented house that my family occupied during the early 1980s in Odayammadam near Cherukunnu in Kannur on March 5, 2011.

Cultivation near Kaipad wetlands near Odayamadam, Kannur


I began my journey down the memory lane from Kasaragod on bike and reached Pallychal, the bus stop for Odayammadam only in the afternoon riding continuously for more than 100 km in a go.

Kaipad wetland and the laterite hills around

After a short stroll around the old house, school and temple ground and after taking a few snaps of the temple pond in which I learned swimming I went straight to the ancient Pulayarkottam or the shrine of the Pulayas towards the west on the banks of the unique wetland ecosystem called Kaipad in Kannur.

Upside down: Incredible flight formations of MH at Kaipad, Kannur, March 2011

Here once I watched Pottan, Gulikan, Chamundi and Valiyambrati Theyyams as a child; at the edge of the wetland called Kaipad which is actually a backwater like formation of river Kuppam connected to Pazhayangadi estuarine ecosystem.

A breeding adult male Marsh Harrier winterig in Kaipad, Cherukunnu, Kannur, March 2011

As I am revisiting the place after almost three decades I could see the changes in natural and cultural ecology.  The Kaipad was traditionally used as cultivating land for paddy.  But now Odayammadam Kaipad is not cultivated and is engulfed by wild grass.  Navigation, shrimp culture and wetland birds have also diminished.

Pulayarkottam shrine at the edge of Kaipad wetland, Odayammadam, Kannur

A local crab-hunter told me that even crustaceans have shrunk in the wetland.  I could see a few Common and Spotted Sandpipers here and there.  To my delight a Eurasian Marsh Harrier appeared from behind the mangroves.

Undulating and amzing in flight: Marsh Harrier at Kannur Kaipad wetland, March 2011

It displayed its undulating flight formations skimming the canopies of tall mangroves in the Kaipad.  This hunter of the air is wintering in Malabar miles away from his European or North African home.

The beauty of Kaipad wetland, Kannur

I was happy to see this swift and agile bird of prey which was a breeding adult male in its prime.  After a few hours in the wetland I started my return journey to Kasaragod on bike.

Awsome flight of Marsh Harrier above the mangroves of Kaipad wetland, Kannur

In between I also climbed up the laterite hillocks rising from the sea level wetlands and admired the breathtaking view of Kaipad and surrounding backwaters of Kuppam river from atop in the yellow light of evening.

Aerial view of Kaipad from atop the hill

As a boy it was a real passion to get to the top of these hillocks and watch the widening wetlands, the horizon and the blue line of the sea to the west, especially at dusk when it turns golden.

Pierrot on the hillside

I often escaped to the hills as I escaped to the Theyyams and drums at night, slipping and scooting away from home under the cover of darkness.  But it was getting darker and I had to ride the 100 km back to Kasaragod and do nothing but to pull the throttle.

Odayamadam temple pond, Pallychal, Kannur. The gate of our old rented house towards right


Odayamadam primary school near temple. Green room of Theyyam towards right

Pipals still before the temple in Odayamadam

Thara junction, Cherukunnu, Kannur

Wild blossoms on the hillock near Kaipad wetland, Kannur

Whiskered Tern in flight above Kaipad

Spotted or Wood Sandpiper in Kannur Kaipad wetland

Summer vegetable cultivation in paddy fields, Odayamadam,Kannur

Mangrove blossoms in Kannur Kaipad wetland

Trekking the Tiger Trail in Thekady


Forests, grasslands and mountains around Periyar lake, Thekady near Kumaly

Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) in the Kerala region of the Western Ghats is approachable from Thekady near Kumaly in Iduki district.  The artificial lake formed by the Mullaperiyar dam makes it an ethereal paradise with surrounding evergreen forests and grasslands.  Rivers Mullayar and Periyar join hands to form this high altitude lake situated well above 800m.

A Mannan tribal hut built by the guides near landing in Thekady

Wild boars near the lake

Boating in the lake offers a spectacular view of the flora and fauna.  Trekking inside the surrounding forests are also an intimate way to explore this unique wildlife sanctuary at the border of Kerala and Tamilnadu.  Plenty of trails and guides are available now with the Eco Development Committees.

Sky and lake blues in Thekady

Jungle Babbler in Thekady

Adv. Sureshbabu Thomas invited me for a brief expedition inside the PTR forests and we reached Kumaly on 21 April 2011 by night.  We stayed at the Ambady Hotel run by his nephew and the next morning forest guide Rajkumar took us to the forest.  Adv. Suraj was also with us.

Across the lake on bamboo raft: Adv. Sureshbabu Thomas leading the expedition

All arrangements were done by our host Tintu and he also provided us with those precious pairs of leech socks that are essential for trekking inside the reserve as summer showers are a daily phenomenon now in high range.

Stream Glory sailing on the bamboo raft in Periyar lake

From the boat landing we went left to cross the lake on a bamboo raft and then entered the trek path along the edge of the water.

Ambady designed by Laury Baker in Kumaly

A wild boar came against us with its threatening teeth.  It avoided confrontation and fortunately kept a distance from us as it crossed us.

Wild Boar encounter in Thekady

Red-wattled Lapwings and Great and Little Cormorants are plenty along the lake.  Pied and White-throated Kingfishers are also plenty in the lake.  On hearing a heavy wing beat like a chopper our guide Rajkumar quickly led us to a huge tree by the lake and we saw two Great Hornbills flying away from the gigantic tree.  I remembered seeing the Great Hornbills crossing the lake while on a boat journey in the lake a few years back.

Grasslands and evergreen forests around Periyar lake

Woolly-necked Stork and Median Egrets in Periyar lake

We heard the calls of Scimitar Babblers all around the forests in the morning.  We could see several Median Egrets and a Woolly-necked Stork near a shallow stretch of the lake.  Paddy field Pipits are also seen here.  Chestnut-headed Beeeaters are abundant.

A moth in PTR, Thekady

Little Spider Hunters and Purple Sunbirds are also common.  We could see a Honey Buzzard passing and a Crested Serpent Eagle resting on a tall bare branch.

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch in PTR

Chestnut-headed Beeeater in PTR, 22 Apl 2011

A few miles away from the landing towards east we saw fresh pug marks of the tiger.  It was just a few hours old as it was evident from the rain drenched soil according to Rajkumar who hails from the indigenous Mannan tribe.  He is also aware of all the birds, mammals, butterflies and plants.  He also showed us some wild orchids with flowers.

Borwn-capped Pygmy Woodpecker in PTR, Thekady

We could also find the droppings of Porcupine, Sloth Bear, Jungle cats and wild dogs.We also saw the presence of an elephant herd through their fresh dung in the grass near water and heard the sound of reeds being broken by the pachyderms inside the thick jungle.  While waiting for the giants we could see a Stripe-necked Mongoose with its striking chestnut color against the green of the grass.

Tiger pug marks in PTR, Thekady

Rajkumar showed us some Malabar Parkeets, Plum-headed Parakeets and Velvet-fronted Nuthatches.  He also showed us a few Brwon-capped Pygmy Woodpeckers so close.

Common Flameback Woodpecker in PTR

Then we entered the thick evergreen forest and thanks to the leech socks given by Tintu we were saved from the attacking vampires from all sides craving for our blood.

Pipit in Elaphant dung in PTR

We could see plenty of Malabar Grey Hornbills and Malabar Trogons inside the forest.  Out learned guide made me notice the call of Trogons.  Plenty of Red Helen butterflies are seen inside the semi evergreen patches.  Tamil Yeomans,

Four Ring butterfly in PTR, Thekady

Common Castors, Grass Yellows, Southern Rustic etc. are also common.  Though he searched for Frogmouths we could not find them.  They are also plenty in the evergreen shelters in PTR but locating them is tricky because of their perfect camouflage.

Rajkumar helping Suraj to get rid of leeches

Stripe-necked Mongoose in PTR, Thekady

Towards the end of the trail we saw plenty of Neelgiri Langurs and Bonnet Macaques.  A single Common Map butterfly and Forest and Stream Glory damselflies also appeared  before us.  It took a few hours to get back to the landing.

People from all over the world in PTR, Thekady. Note the leech socks on

Wild orchid blossom in PTR, Thekady

We rested in the room for a few hours after lunch and returned to Kottayam by evening.  The summer showers this year have been a blessing so far in Kottayam and Iduki districts but it is harming farmers in Kuttanad.

The return: Adv. Suraj pulling the raft-rope

Tamil Yeoman in PTR