A Midsummer Night in Thattekkad

Last Friday and Saturday (8, 9 May 2009)I visited Thattekkad along with nature enthusiasts Adv. Sureshbabu Thomas and Adv. Sooraj. We started around 2pm from Kottayam and reached the sanctuary a few minutes past five.

We were welcomed by the beautiful landscape by refreshing vernal showers. we thoroughly enjoyed the sight of Gulmohar and Manimaruth blossoms bathing in rain in front of our dormitory.

After half an hour we ventured out for an evening walk and casual birding and were again surprised and illuminated by the breathtaking rainbow encompassing the entire horizon above Thoppi Mudi, the highest peak in the Salim Ali Sanctuary.

As we reached the bridge the sun was out again in all its evening glory. We admired the views with our cameras. The first birds were a group of Ashy wood swallows on the electric wires. Then came an un id. raptor. Mixed Tern fleets were also seen high above the river. They were sailing upstream.

We gradually moved to the ‘Cuckoo Paradise’ by crossing the river and walking towards Punnekkad direction in the south. It was getting dark and we heard Indian cuckoo and Hawk cuckoo from the Teak plantation. We saw a Drongo cuckoo too. Near Punnekkad in the open patch, we met plenty of Red wattled lapwings. We also saw un identified swiftlets or needle tails(?) catching the insects just a few meters above the road. My friend Adv. Sureshbabu says he also got a glimpse of a yellow wattled lapwing earlier as we passed this open area on our way to the sanctuary.

The moon was on the rise. It was full moon and we walked or rather flew back to the dormitory in the milky silky moon light. The reflections of the moon and the hilly forests in the waters were simply surreal. Adv. Sooraj reminded me that it was Chithra Paurnami. On coming back I found out that it is also Buddha Poornima, the birthday of the enlightened one, the first great conservationist of human history.

Back in the dormitory at around 10pm, we saw five or six brown hawk owls, right in front of our room on tall trees. On that midsummer night they were enacting some curious courtship dances and rituals. they were rotating their head in an unbelievable fashion. they continued their mixed medleys further into the midnight. (see the photo posted). Later we heard a call very much like that of a Great eared nightjar.

As soon as we got out in the morning around 6.15 Malabar Grey Hornbills appeared on the flowering trees around. Plenty of Racket tailed drongos and bronzed drongos were also visible. it was overcast and bird activity was minimum. My friends spotted a spotted dove. Purple-rumped sunbirds were also plenty.

We saw a Frogmouth pair sitting pretty on a thick undergrowth (see photo), off course with the help of the guide Binil. Plenty of butterflies were around. Also saw red-whiskered, red- vented and Black-crested (ruby throated) bulbuls. Though it was a bit dark plenty of Hill Mynas were visible and vocal. whiskered Terns were seen above water. Also heard the call of fairy blue bird.

A Malabar giant squirrel exhibited his acrobatic skills before us. we were surprised by some wild orchids and mushrooms. we also saw some rare forest trees including wild nutmeg. Old elephant dung was found scattered all along the trail. Around 10am we came back and headed towards Idamalayar.

At Manalar (a few miles before Idamalayar dam)we saw a river tern. Plenty of  Blue Jay and Lime butterflies were seen mud-puddling on the beautiful sandy banks. Many un. id. ones and damsel flies were also present. A leech crept into my footwear, probably from hear and I found the stains only hours later. The vampire had already vanished by then. We went up to the dam gate and returned just before 2pm. We reached Kottayam by four.