It had been a while since we, as a family, spent quality time at the beautiful, rural villages of Pollachi and the bio-diverse rich forests of the Anamalai Tiger Reserve. We wanted to experience this amazing landscape along with our five year old son, who shows a lot of interest in nature, wildlife and birds, specifically nightjars and owls!
After a few nights at Valparai, we descended 40 hairpin bends down the picturesque ghat road one December morning, to reach the Serenity Resort at the base of the Anamalai mountains at Sethumadai. The Aliyar-Valparai road is spectacularly rich in wildlife, where one can see endangered and endemic mammals like Nilgiri tahr, Lion-tailed Macaque, Nilgiri langur and Nilgiri marten, right on the road! We stopped next to a fruiting ficus growing up from the valley to watch Nilgiri langurs and birds like Rusty-tailed Flycatchers, Thick-billed Flowerpeckers, White-cheeked and Malabar Barbets gorge on the near overripe fruit.
Serenity is a small yet elegantly appointed property set in the middle of a private farmland, with the towering Anamalais forming a stunning backdrop. We had been here a decade ago and things hadn’t changed much. A long jeep track from Aliyar to Serenity and beyond, with coconut groves on one side and farmlands on the other, interspersed by patches of reserve forest (adjoining the Anamalai Tiger Reserve) offers several opportunities for spotting wildlife. Early mornings and late evenings are the best time to get lucky with the winged creatures.
On our way into the resort we were literally welcomed by an elegant Blue-bearded Bee-eater, perched on a bare branch of a tall silk cotton tree. The uninterrupted and marvellous views of this not-so-common bird, was definitely a wonderful start to our three days sojourn in the area.
After a quick lunch of simple, homely vegetarian fare, set-up just for the three of us at Serenity, we restlessly waited for the sun to start going down. Knowing that several gems were out there for our spotting was making us quite impatient. About 3p.m., joined by Pravin and Keerthana, from Thadam Experiences – a specialized travel consultancy, we drove along the jeep track along the Feeder canal road.
Our first encounter was a flock of about 20 wintering Grey-headed Starlings in a feeding frenzy on a fruiting shrub. Nearby were a couple of Brown Shrikes, also a winter visitor, patiently waiting to hawk insects. Jungle Babblers, Shikra and Ashy Drongo were common as we drove along the canal.
As the sun set, and the frenzied bird activity calmed down, we found that the surrounding forest had reincarnated itself into a magical landscape in the magical hour between day and night, unfolding its hidden treasures. With only the jeep lights in low beam to show us the way and the wildlife, we continued our drive.
The headlights caught first an Indian Scops owl and then an Indian Jungle Nightjar. The former was on a short stump by the side of the road and the nightjar was, as always, on the road. We were able to take high ISO (no flash) pictures with lenses extended out of windows. The orange hue of the headlights added a dramatic effect on these nocturnal birds.
Shortly, we had a chance encounter with a roosting Little Buttonquail. It was dusk, and the diminutive bird was getting ready to settle for the night in a small clearing by the side of the road when we caught sight of its large eyes.
At the next bend, we caught just the head of a large bird inside the canal at eye-level. It was a Brown Fish Owl possibly looking to catch fish in the flowing waters. The raptor took flight at the sound of the jeep and as its talons came out of the water we were in for a surprise – the owl had caught an egret and was carrying it out of the water! As soon as it flew out of the headlights range, we were sure we had lost him. But, Nature does not give up easily on its enthusiasts. A little ahead we found him sitting on a low branch, feasting on his catch! We couldn’t have asked for a better sighting. At a comfortable distance we watch him feed for almost 10-minutes.
It had been a long day and we decided to head back to the resort. But our adventure was not over yet. We encountered the elusive Slender Loris slogging through the twigs, an Indian porcupine with its pups sauntering across the road and the crossing of a few Indian Gaur, the largest wild bovine in the world.
And that brought us to the end of an adventurous, adrenaline-filled, special day. When the wilderness decided to share with us some of her well kept secrets!