When we mentioned to a friend that we were visiting Thattekad (Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary), she declared there were no birds in Thattekad. So it is likely to be if you visit Thattekad or any other bird sanctuary on your own. If you have an experience guide with you, you will be enthralled to see and admire many avian beauties in one place and in a very limited time.
Though closer home, a visit to Thattekad Bird Sanctuary never happened until 2012, as is the case with most of the treasures that are near to us. From the many blogs and trip reports, we were familiar with Mr Girish Chandran, an avid birder and guide. He and his family enthusiastically host the visitors in their modest homestay (Jungle Bird Homestay) and open a world of delightful birding in the nearby forest. His mother Sudhamma too is an enthusiastic and self-taught guide. We could not figure out who is more excited!
We reached Girish’s house mid-morning. Girish, a practising advocate, was not at home. Sudhamma, Girsh’s wife, and his daughter welcomed us warmly. Before even showing us the rooms, Sudhamma asked if we would like to do one birding session before lunch. Her enthusiasm was infectious and soon we found ourselves walking through the nearby forest trails. Though this walk didn’t result in spotting any birds except for glimpses of a paradise fly catcher and a jungle fowl, it was refreshing to be in the midst of nature.
We tucked in a sumptuous lunch and enjoyed a siesta. As we finished the evening tea, Girish joined us and took us to a place where we could spot Ceylon frogmouth, of which Thattekad is known for. These nocturnal birds are related to nightjars and roost in pairs and at specific places. If you know the birds’ favourite place, rest assured that they will there unless they are disturbed or threatened.
Later, we waited near a stream to spot the elusive Malabar trogon until it was dark. We had to be satisfied with the calls and fleeting glimpses of this colourful bird. The day ended with a very tasty dinner and a friendly chat with Girish who shared some of his birding experiences as well as encounter with wild elephants.
Next day, we set out early morning in the company of Girish, Sudhamma, and a few foreigners. Of this, and old gentleman from Canada turned out to be a boon for us as he had a spotting scope. And, he was gracious enough to let us peek through it.
Our point-and-shoot camera and DSLR with 100–180 mm lens could not capture any good images of birds. But in the 3 hours we spent on a hillock inside the forest, we spotted about 50–60 species of birds—Malabar starling, golden-fronted leafbird, green pigeon, black-rumped flameback woodpecker, verditer flycatcher, Malabar grey hornbill, black baza, Eurasian golden oriole, scarlet minivet, oriental magpie robin, vernal hanging parrot, pompadour green pigeon, Malabar parakeet, white-rumped needletail, dollar bird, white-cheeked barbet, ashy drongo, hill myna, blue-bearded bee-eater, black-headed cuckooshrike, crimson-fronted barbet, brown-capped pygmy woodpecker, olive-backed pipit, brown shrike, flame throated bulbul, common iora, loten’s sunbird, crimson-backed sunbird, and purple sunbird, to name a few.
Also catching our attention were Malabar giant squirrels running up and down the trees.
Delicious breakfast awaited us at Girish’s home. With a lot of fond memories, we bid adieu to this enterprising family.
On our way back, we explored the Bhoothathankettu Dam, drove through the deserted road to Edamalayar Dam, took a dip in the river, walked on the Suspension Bridge across Thodupuzha river in Madakkatnanam, and rushed along the forest trail to Thommenkuthu Waterfalls as it was closing time.
Thattekad Bird Sanctuary is located at about 12 km from Kothamangalam in Ernakulam, Kerala. The best season to visit the sanctuary is from October to March.