As the mist clears, I’m standing amidst coffee shrubs and the air comes alive with birdsong. I am under a strangler fig,watching a multitude of birds flying in to feed on the tiny fruits. Crimson-fronted Barbets, White-headed Starlings, Chestnut-tailed Starlings, Plum-headed and Malabar Parakeets, Nilgiri Flowerpeckers, Yellow-browed Bulbuls, Pompadour Green Pigeons, all on the same tree. Asian Brown, Verditer and Brown-breasted Flycatchers went after insects flushed out by the other birds. It was truly a sight to behold.
Malabar Barbet Megalaima malabarica
Sandwiched between the evergreen forests of the Western Ghats and the deciduous forests along the plains, Coorg or Kodagu is a paradise for birdwatchers. Coffee plantations, along with the Devarakadus or sacred groves, and the bordering forests offer shelter and food to over 356 species of birds of which 275 are residents. Coorg is one of the few regions that is home to all 16 endemic birds of the Western Ghats.The four important bird areas (IBA) in Coorg are the Brahmagiri WLS, Nagarahole NP, Pushpagiri WLS and the Talakaveri WLS.
Riverine forests of Coorg
The Wynaad Laughing Thrush, though common in certain areas of Coorg, is rarely seen due to its skulking nature. Found in small bamboo patches along forest streams and rivers, they usually feed on the ground, tossing leaf litter in their search for insects. They are quite gregarious and can be heard calling to each other.
Wynaad Laughing Thrush Garrulax delesserti
White-bellied Shortwing is found in the high sholas of the Brahmagiri range along with the Black and Orange Flycatcher and the Nilgiri Laughing Thrush. The endemic Broad-tailed Grassbird is restricted to the grassy tops of the hill ranges in Coorg.
White-bellied Shortwing or Nilgiri Blue Robin Myiomela major
With its resplendent colors, the Malabar Trogon is a favorite amongst birders and is usually found in moist evergreen forests though it has been sighted even in deciduous forests like Nagarahole. They move silently through the forest catching insects on the wing. The bird is very quiet and it is uncommon to hear the flutter of its wings when it flies.
Malabar Trogon Harpactes fasciatus
The White-bellied Treepie is a handsome bird, usually found along the forests of the southern edges of Coorg. They are rarely seen in coffee plantations or in the deciduous forests on the northern side of Coorg. The bird jumps up and down on the branch while calling out loudly, quite a comical behaviour.
White-bellied Treepie Dendrocitta leucogastra
The Stork-billed Kingfisher is found along rivers and its loud calls can be heard from far away. The rare and colorful Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher and the Blue-eared Kingfisher are found around tiny streams deep in the forest.
Stork-billed Kingfisher Pelargopsis capensis
The Sri Lanka Frogmouth is quite common in the foothills of the forests on the Southern border of Coorg. However, being largely nocturnal, they are difficult to spot during the day. They generally call at sunset and that is the best way to locate these birds. Coorg is the closest place from Bangalore where the Sri Lanka Frogmouth can be seen.
Sri Lanka Frogmouth or Ceylon Frogmouth Batrachostomus moniliger
Raptors like the Jerdon’s Baza, Black Eagle and the Rufous-bellied Eagle are usually seen between 9am and 11am soaring above thickly forested areas. Crested Serpent Eagles and Oriental Honey Buzzards are commonly seen in coffee plantations. Even the uncommon Black Baza is sighted regularly in some parts of Coorg, bordering Kerala. A winter visitor, it is usually seen in groups of two to five birds, circling over dense forests. This crow-sized raptor is somewhat crepuscular in nature and can be seen feeding early in the morning and late in the evenings.
Black Baza Aviceda leuphotes
Open meadows and disused paddy fields are a good location to look for the endemic Malabar Lark and other birds like the Oriental Skylark and Snipe.
Malabar Lark Galerida malabarica
With its hauntingly tuneful song and beautiful coloration, the Malabar Whistling Thrush is one of the most sought after birds amongst birders. An otherwise shy bird, it is found all over the district near streams flowing through forest patches. Waking up to the lilting early morning song of the ‘whistling schoolboy’ is a memorable experience and something that you will cherish all your life.
Malabar Whistling Thrush Myophonus horsfieldii
Coorg is home to most of the bulbul species found in the South. The Red-whiskered, Red-vented and Yellow-browed Bulbuls are common in the coffee plantations. The Grey-headed and Flame-throated Bulbuls are usually found in forest patches and tend to be very elusive. The Black Bulbul is found at higher elevations along the ghats. The endemic Flame-throated Bulbul is a strikingly beautiful bird and is usually found in pairs.
Flame-throated Bulbul Pycnonotus gularis
Birds in Coorg tend to be most active from sunrise till about 10am and from 3pm till sunset. Some of the best places to look for endemic birds are the Brahmagiri and Pushpagiri hill ranges. Prior permission needs to be taken from the respective range forest officers since these are both wildlife sanctuaries. When birding in coffee plantations, it would be wise to take prior permission from the plantation owners.
The weather is generally pleasant and birding can be quite good even in the monsoon season. However, leech socks are recommended when birding in the forests.Coorg is a five hour drive from Bangalore, and being a popular holiday destination, there are plenty of accommodation options ranging from five star hotels to premium and budget homestays. The local cuisine is fantastic and to experience the local culture it would be best to stay at a plantation homestay.