Running along the western coast of India for a distance of 1600 km and spanning 7 states is the impressive mountain range called the Western Ghats. The Western Ghats are very important as several important perennial rivers, both west flowing and east flowing have their origin here.
The altitude of the Western Ghats varies enormously. The tallest peak in the entire range is the Anamudi (2695 MSL) in Kerala while Mullayangiri (1930 MSL) is the highest peak in Karnataka. The altitude along with various other factors, play an important role in creating a habitat mosaic which supports a plethora of living forms.
This ancient mountain range is also considered to be one of the very important biodiversity hotspot of the world. Though the Western Ghats account for only a small percentage of area of the country, it harbours an extremely diverse biodiversity. To protect this biodiversity, several protected areas have been set aside. In fact, there are several species that are endemic to this mountain range which include several species of plants, mammals, birds and insects.
There are over 500 species of birds reported from Karnataka. A bulk of these is from the Western Ghats and sixteen species of these are endemic to this region. Here, we have tried to show case these in a two part photo feature.
Rufous Babbler Turdoides subrufa
Like other babblers, the Rufous Babbler too is seen in small noisy flocks. They are often seen foraging for insects on the forest floor amidst leaf litter. Often, it is their loud nasal call that gives their presence away. They can be seen in a wide variety of situations including forests, forest edges and grasslands on the hillsides.
Blue-winged Parakeet or Malabar Parakeet Psittacula columboides
Typically, one would see small flocks of Blue-winged Parakeets dashing through the forests. Their long blue tails, tipped yellow give away their identity. The swift flight is often accompanied by a harsh call. These parakeets are fairly common across the Western Ghats. They also occur in some of the hill ranges of the Eastern Ghats. They feed on seeds, fruits and on nectar. It is a delight to see these birds visiting blossoms of the Indian Coral Tree and the Red Silk Cotton.
Malabar Grey Hornbill Ocyceros griseus
Of the four species of hornbills found in south India, this is the only one without a casque that is so characteristic of hornbills. Fruiting fig trees are a big draw for these birds. The primary diet of these birds is fruits and they therefore, play a very important role in dispersal of seeds. It is amazing to watch these large birds manipulate the small figs with their big beaks. Their loud cackling call is also very characteristic. Their nesting behaviour is similar to the other hornbills. These too nest in tree hollows.
White-bellied Treepie Dendrocitta leucogastra
This relative of the crow is a denizen of evergreen forests of the Western Ghats. The contrasting colours and their long tail gives away their identity. These treepies spend a lot of time on trees and are frequently seen in hunting parties with Greater Racket-tailed Drongos, flycatchers and other forest birds. They are omnivorous and feeds on fruits, large insects and rodents.
Crimson-backed Sunbird Leptocoma minima
See one of these birds in good sunlight and you will never forget the sight for the rest of your life. This sunbird is truly a tiny jewel among the birds of the Western Ghats. This cousin of the more familiar Purple-rumped Sunbird is a common resident of the evergreen forests. It is in every respect a typical sunbird. It can be seen visiting flowers to feed on the nectar and to procure that, it indulges in a good amount of acrobatics.
Black-and-orange Flycatcher Ficedula nigrorufa
This is a very beautiful and brightly coloured flycatcher. It spends a considerable amount of time moving about in the undergrowth of evergreen forests above 1500 MSL. Here it can be seen catching insects in typical flycatcher style. It is usually very confiding and therefore, easy to watch and photograph. Often seen in pairs and the female is duller in colour. It has a soft chattering call.
Nilgiri Laughing Thrush Trochalopteron cachinnans
If you have heard the calls of this laughing thrush, chances are that you will never forget it! The Nilgiri Laughing Thrush occurs in the high altitude forests of Western Ghats, particularly the Nilgiris. They can be seen in noisy flocks, about a dozen or so, in dense undergrowth in the sholas and gardens in hill stations. Here, they rummage through fallen leaves on the forest floor, somewhat reminiscent of Jungle Babblers. Besides insects, they also feed on small fruits. They go up into the trees when disturbed.
Nilgiri Wood Pigeon Columba elphinstonii
Sholas and moist deciduous forests are the home of these large sized pigeons. There are small thriving populations of this bird in the peninsula far removed from its primary habitats – Western Ghats and Nilgiris. Being frugivores, they spend a lot of time in the canopy of the forests foraging for fruits. They are known to come down to the ground sometimes to drink water or to pick up fallen fruits. Their ability to weave through the maze of forest vegetation is quite remarkable. Nilgiri Wood Pigeons can be seen singly or in small flocks. They are also subject to a lot of movement which is perhaps dependant on the availability of fruiting trees.