“Our tour had some long tiring days; we saw some amazing scenery, stayed in great accommodation with excellent food, and above all saw an amazing amount of wonderful wildlife!”
 
I. Sen
Ooty
 
My birding experience at Ooty was one that can never be forgotten. Blue skies and mountains, coffee and tea gardens, blossoming flowers in forests of sandalwoods, occasional footprints of elephants, rustling leaves in the fragrant winds and beautiful waterfalls has made Nilgiris the perfect destination of touring visitors from all over the world. Enveloped in fluffy clouds of eternity, lies Ooty- the jewel in the crown.

My drive to Ooty from Coimbatore was a wonderful experience, with stunning vistas over the Nilgiri Hills as our taxi negotiated dozens of hairpin bends eventually climbing to over 2200 meters. Our first stop was an open, marshy field where we spotted four new species- Purple Heron, Little Ringed Plover, Purple Swamphen and Pheasant-tailed Jacana. We drove on until our second stop at a reservoir where we found a small flock of Spot-billed Pelicans. As our taxi travelled up into the mountains of Ooty, troops of Bonnet Macaques became a fairly common sight along the side of the road. We arrived at Hotel Sinclairs, about an hour before sunset. After checking in, we only had time for some limited birding around the hotel, where we picked up two more “new” species- Ashy Prinia and the House Sparrow

The next few days included driving to several different locations around Ooty in search of various endemic species. We spotted the Rufus-bellied Blue Robin (Brachypteryx major albiventris), the Wynaad Laughing Thrush and the Nilgiri Laughing Thrush.  We also saw a pair of Grizzled Giant Squirrels! Birding at the Cairnhill Reserved Forest, Naduvattum, Muthorai and the Botanical Gardens was absolutely fascinating. The closest shola proved to be Cairnhill (about 10 minutes by motorbike), which was a very rewarding site with excellent sightings of Nilgiri Laughingthrush, White-bellied Shortwing, Black-and-Rufous, Rusty-tailed and Nilgiri Flycatchers.

A long and extremely tiring ride to Naduvattum was worth it, as one can experience the pleasure of walking in an almost intact shola. The birding was slow, with no new sightings, as we didn’t arrive until midday, however we did see a troop of the very impressive Nilgiri Leaf-Monkey. At the Botanical Garden we had close-up, prolonged looks at two very cooperative White-bellied Shortwings in the top end of the gardens, which are less often visited by the public. We also visited the Madumulai National Park. Here we found great birds such as Jungle Bush-Quail, Yellow-footed Pigeon, Brown Fish Owl, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Wire-tailed Swallow, Rufous Treepie, Yellow-eyed Babbler and Large Grey Babbler. The Eurasian Hoopoe was noticeably common here.

There are several other places in and around Ooty that are suitable for bird watching.

As a final note, Ooty is tranquil enough for a pair of lovebirds to get lost among the other dreamers who are seeking quiet havens and parks. It offers the most scenic walks, into dense forests, pretty mountain trails, misty forests, unexpected waterfalls and brilliant bird species. You can also canter away on ponies, not to forget a romantic little picnic in the woods. Nestled in the Nilgiri Hills, enveloped in blue mist, the lovely laidback hill station of Ooty exudes its own special charm. I have developed an absolute fascination for this place, and am looking forward to visiting it again!

-
Binu John
 
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Portblair
 
My journey to the Andamans was more than what I’d call “splendid”. These undulating islands, thickly covered by deep green jungles inhabited by unique bird species and endless varieties of exotic flora and fauna make it a unique tourist attraction. Ringed by palm-fringed, sandy beaches meandering along the coastlines, these islands are home to several indigenous tribal groups.

One of my best experiences included the trip to Havelock Island- “The island campers’ paradise”. It was a 5 hour-long journey by boat from Phoenix Bay Jetty, Port Blair, from where an awaiting bus whisked us to Radhanagar Beach. After a 20 minute drive up and downhill, following the green pastures on the serpentine road, the bus screeched to a halt right in front of the mesmerising serene paradise, Radhanagar Beach. This is an ideal destination for nature lovers, island campers and offshore adventure aficionados. An unobtrusive combination of seafront island, cozy camping tents set amidst dense forest, long stretches of clean, golden sand running parallel to the forest, and an hypnotic azure blue-green tinted translucent sea off the coast- the beach I’d always dreamt about!

I took long walks, swam and basked under the bright sun, and being the bird-lover that I am, went to watch the birds in the nearby forests. Some endemics seen included the Andaman Drongo, White-headed Starling and the Andaman Woodpecker. I saw two birds on a mangrove tree. One look and I knew it was a “lifer” for me- a bird species you see for the first time in your life. They were white-headed mynas. Within minutes, a woodpecker with a white-barred black mantle and red crown landed on the same tree. Another “lifer”- the Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker. Both birds are exclusive to the Andamans.

During the last three days of our holiday, every morning at daybreak, I would hear hauntingly long-drawn fluid birdcalls. Peeping out, I saw the Shama singing and pirouetting in a bamboo clump. The plumage was a little different from the Shama in the mainland. Arguably the best songbird, the Shama is a forest dweller and difficult to spot. For a birder, the sight of this bird announcing the arrival of a new day is a consummation devoutly to be wished for. At night I saw three Oriental Scops-owls. These owls sound completely different unlike “normal” Oriental Scops-owls, and very much like an African Scops-owl with a slightly lower-pitched trill.

This was just one of my few experiences at the Andaman Islands…


- Sanjay Jadhav

 
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Dooars
 
Imagine a huge stretch of unending land and virgin forests crisscrossed by the river Teesta and her innumerable tributaries, beautiful motorable roads cut through deep forests with rich wildlife, mauve hills standing at the end of velvet green plains echoing with the melody of birds, fabulous wildlife sanctuaries and valleys carpeted with tea gardens…welcome to Dooars- a place where nature has lavished all her boundaries.

My bird watching experience at Dooars was too fascinating to express in words. There were many wonderful birding encounters, especially at Gorumara Forest. This picturesque landscape of pristine forest, tall elephant grass, rugged reeds, shallow pools, meandering riverspread in the flood plains of Murti and Jaldakha rivers against the background of snow capped Kanchenjunga and other Himalayan ranges was enormously breathtaking.

At Gorumara Forest, I came across a leopard licking its paw on a tree, not to forget a herd of elephants crossing my way. After reaching the main center of the park I was taken to the much-awaited watchtower. From the top of tower I got a panoramic view of almost the entire park and the vast grassland. The view of the rhinos leisurely coming to taste the salted soil below the tower, the gaurs or the Indian bison grazing at the distant meadow, a spotted deer jumping over a small stream and vanishing in the jungle, a flock of hornbill flying away, monkeys becoming very active all of a sudden, and an elephant trumpeting nearby were exciting sights. As I waited silently, I was lucky to experience a priceless glimpse of a majestic Royal Bengal Tiger, creeping out from a bush to drink water.

I was rewarded by the sight of numerous birds like Jerdon’s Baza, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Black-crested Bulbul and Abbott’s Babbler. I also came across the Collared Falconet, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Rufous Woodpecker, and Hooded Pitta. I was blessed with a good view of the Streaked Spiderhunter too!

The rich bio-diversity of Gorumara is reflected in its wonderful avifauna. I was told that the park comprises of more than 200 species of birds. The Hornbills, Woodpeckers, Pigeons, Cuckoos, Minivets, Pheasants and Mynas left me captivated with their calls and plumage display.

This was just one wonderful experience during my stay at Dooars. Time moved like a breeze, and soon I set off for a journey back to my home. It all ended up like an illusion, paved and surrounded by a world of green. I thank nature for a refreshing touch to the heart and soul that would surely remain till the day I live…

- Mohan Das