As you descend down the high altitudes of the Western Ghats and reach the coastal belt, habitats change along with the climatic conditions – you can see a lot of wetlands, shores and forest patches. Birds you find here are therefore well-diversified, spanning from waders to some rare wintering forest birds. Winter, if you can call it the season of birding, treats you to some great birds along the coastlines.
Shores and estuaries around Udupi
With a good number of birders from the region reporting bird sightings, we have a few hot-spots for waders. As observed about waders, during high tides, they roost along shore-lines. Malpe Beach and Kaup Beach may be favourite tourist spots, but the birds prefer more secluded spots like Hoode Beach (a small village near Santhekatte-Kallianpur), Mattu-Padukere, Katapadi and Pithrodi (near Udyavar).
You can see a good number of Sandplovers (both lesser and greater), Kentish Plovers, Sanderlings, Dunlins, Great Knot, Whimbrels, Eurasian Curlews, Greenshanks, Redshanks, Ruddy Turnstones, Curlew Sandpipers, Broad-billed Sandpipers, Terek Sandpipers, Common Sandpipers, Green and Wood Sandpipers, Gulls and Terns, to list a few birds.
Smaller waders like Lesser Sandplovers, Greater Sandplovers and Sanderlings are found along sandbanks, feeding on their favourite meals.
Sanderling comes to the open during low tide.
Lesser Sandplover, Greater Sandplover, Ruddy Turnstone and Sanderlings, roosting on a rock at the beach.
Speaking of these areas, Mattu needs a special mention. It is unique in its own way, having a variety of habitats around it; there are paddy fields, estuaries and the sea-shore, all within a distance of less than a kilometre. This makes it a go-to spot for waders. At the other end of the estuary is Pithrody. All these spots are easily accessible from Udupi, and depending on the tide, you can choose to visit the shore or the estuary.
Curlew Sandpipers look for food during the down-flowing waves
Terek Sandpipers are fast movers amongst medium-sized waders. It is interesting to watch them keep moving, looking for food. Photographing them is a challenge considering their speed and the habitat they prefer.
Fast-moving Terek Sandpipers
One can find a lot of smaller marshy patches near Mattu. Skulkers like bitterns enjoy this marshy area.
Black Bittern (immature) waiting for its parents
One advantage of coming to the coastal belt is that you can experience pelagic birding as well, where you sail into the deep seas and witness some serious action from the Arctic Skua, Pomarine Skua, Wilson’s Storm-petrel, Shearwater, Masked Booby etc. Observing these rare birds which rarely come to land, while being confined to a moving boat, is a different experience altogether. More on pelagic birds here.
Arctic Skua flying close to the boat
Assembly of Terek Sandpipers – this probably is the only time when you see them at ease
If you are in search of endemics of the Western Ghats, you will not be disappointed with a visit to Durga village. The village is very close to the foot-hills of the Western Ghats, and many birds come down the hill to the reserve forest adjacent to this village, in search of food. A short drive of 5 kms from Karkala town leads you to the hot-spot, a favourite amongst coastal Karnataka’s bird-watchers. Jerdon’s Nightjars, Brown Wood-owls, Malabar Trogons, Ceylon Frogmouth and Asian Fairy Bluebird are a few of the birds which attract birders.
In winter, some of the rarities like the Blue-throated Blue Flycatcher, Indian Blue Robin and Rusty-tailed Flycatcher show up deep inside the forest. Fairy Bluebirds are also commonly found along the roadside, on tall fruiting trees; their metallic call is something birders will not fail to recognise.
Asian Fairy Bluebird
This lake in the middle of Karkala town attracts many wintering water-birds, besides hosting many resident birds. Many waders depend on this small lake – the Lesser Whistling Duck, Purple Swamphen, Bronze-winged Jacana, Cotton Pygmy Goose, etc. The lake also hosts skulkers like the Greater Painted Snipe, Cinnamon Bittern and Black Bittern, to name a few.
Karkala is about 30 kms from Udupi and 60 kms from Mangalore airport. Mangalore airport is well connected by road. With good accommodation and good local food, the town attracts many nature-lovers.
Manipal – the university town
Small forest patches amongst a thick concrete jungle prove the importance of conserving the rich habitats that are found here. The grasslands, laterite patches and dense forest regions here are home to a wide variety of birds. In the monsoon season, Malabar Pied Hornbills are the major attraction of this place. Palm and fruiting trees occupied by these beauties in black and white can make your rather drowsy morning turn into a cheerful one.
Some regions have the elusive Ceylon Frogmouths and the raiders of the night – Owls and Nightjars. The whole forest comes alive at the fall of the light.
Indian Nightjar roosting over the laterite rocks of Manipal
Birding in Manipal is never a problem – situated just 5 kms from Udupi, Manipal’s ease of access to places and good lodging facilities make your visit a pleasant one.
Someshwara – Seetanadi Herpeto Camp
If you are in search of a place to break your routine and experience some fresh air from deep within a forest, Someshwara Reserve Forest, situated 10 minutes away from Hebri, fits the bill. There are affordable tented accommodations as well as dormitories.
This evergreen forest with a flowing through it is home to a vast variety of flora and fauna. Some major highlights include Malabar Giant Squirrels, Otters, Wild Boars, Lesser Fish-eagles, Malabar Trogons, Black-capped Kingfishers, Blue-eared Kingfishers, Black Eagles and Oriental Dwarf Kingfishers. You may have visited this place several times, but rest assured it has something to surprise you each time.
Male Malabar Trogon scanning for insects from its perch
Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher found near the nature camp at Someshwara
Some of my rare sightings from this place have been the Scaly Thrush, last winter, and a fledgling of the Indian Pitta, indicating the rich biodiversity of this region.