I was alone. Motionless, I stood for nearly two hours on one side of a small stream cutting across a dense shola, deep inside the Anamalais ( 24 kms drive from Topslip). Dry leaves were falling all around me as the soothing sound of the gently flowing water filled my ears. A couple of Ruddy Mongoose suddenly broke cover and crossed the stream without even glancing at me. Not too far away I heard a Nilgiri Langur jump from one branch to another. I got a fleeting glimpse of a Mouse Deer as it hopped about inside the shola. Many of these forest sounds can alarm you if you are not used to being alone in the forest. For me it was Nirvana!


My single aim this day was to photograph the Wynaad Laughingthrush. This being my fourth visit to the area for the same reason, I knew that they were there inside the shola. They are normally in a group of about twenty individuals, and constantly call to each other if they sense anything alarming. When everything is normal, you can hear them hopping inside the shola as they overturn dry leaves searching for food. 


All my previous attempts to photograph the Wynaad Laughingthrush had failed. They are always inside the dense cover of the forest, which is very dark even during the day. It is just not possible to photograph them from inside the dense shola as these birds are so paranoid when disturbed, that they will not sit still for even a second!  As I concentrated on their hopping sound, hoping they would break cover for a drink in the stream, I noticed a bird creep to the bank. My heart raced as I slowly pointed my camera in its direction. The first bird broke cover dived into the water and was back into the shola before I could blink! This happened again with the second and third bird and then they vanished into the shola. Perhaps they sensed something?  However, I did manage to shoot a few frames in its general direction and I did get my first blur image of this bird!



Thus, began our two weeks journey into the western ghats!  Scintillating!!


Topslip, Anamalaia - February 07 to 10th 2006


Pratap Singh, Krishna Narain and Myself reached the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park, previously known as the Anamalai Wildlife Sanctuary on the 7th of February, 2006. A 100 kms drive from the Coiambatore Airport via Pollachi.  At Pollachi, we confirmed our booking at the warden's office, Mr. Vardharajan the current Wildlife Warden was kind enough to offer us a cup of coffee and confirm our bookings at the Cheetal Lodge at Topslip.


If you wish to stay at Topslip, you need to make your booking at the below office:


The Wildlife Warden,

Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary,

365/1, Meenkarai Raod,

Pollachi - 642 001. 

Coimbatore District, Tamilnadu.


Phone : 04259-225356



A stone throw away from Topslip is the Karian Shola. Here several Sri Lanka Frogmouths sit motionless during the day and at dusk they set out to get their meal, which are mainly insects. You can hear their weird calls at dusk.


Topslip is a great place for birding. You can walk around the forest with a guide provided by the Tamilnadu Forest Department. Ticks and Leaches are common depending on the season. So are elephants. Several bird species like the Wynad Laughingthrush, White-bellied Treepie, Rufous Babbler, Oriental Bay Owl, Brown Hawk Owl and Great Hornbill live in this area.


After photographing (click below links to view some of the images) and recording calls of several species of birds in the Anamalais area, we moved to the adjoining Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary , which is situated in Kerala on the 10th of February, 2006.
















*We had a brief chat with Poornima who is continuing her research work on Orchids in the Anamalais and wished her well. She stays at Topslip and was just back after saving a baby elephant that had fallen into a ditch.




Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary - February 10th to 13th 2006


Mr. Shrawan Kumar Verma the Wildlife Warden in-charge of the Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary met us at the Cheetal Lodge at Topslip and took us to his home at Anappady (a very shot drive form Topslip). We received a warm welcome from him as we sipped tea at his home. That night we checked into the Thunakkadavu IB and spent the next three nights there.




You can contact Mr. Verma here :


Shrawan Kumar Verma,

DCF & Wildlife Warden,

Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary,

Anappady, Thunakkadavu P.O.,

Parambikulam, Pin: 678 661.

Palallad District, Kerala State.


Phone : O4253-244500/277250

Email :



There is this small tree house on a fig tree. If you spend some time in this tree house, during its fruiting season, you are sure to see these large awe inspiring birds at close proximity. The Great Hornbill is 105 cms in size and its call when heard from close distance for the first time can make you jump out of your skin! Krishna Narain whispered Elephants as I said Tiger, when we heard its call for the first time, as we spent several quite hours in this tree house deep inside the Parambikulam Forest.





The road along the lake, which leads to the IB we stayed in, abounds with birdlife. As you drive or walk along this road you will see plenty of raptors. The Crested Serpent Eagle, The Grey-headed Fish eagle, The Osprey, The Jungle Owlet all live here and can be easily seen. On a morning walk along this road, Krishna Narain saw a Leopard at close quarters!



Mr Verma is keen on starting a "Nature Camp" at Parambikulam. He took us to the second highest peak in the area where he has already started work on the basic infrastructure. Mr. Verma is an Mtech. from IIT Delhi and an IFS officer who is quite determined to encourage "Nature Lovers" and told us that he would be most happy to welcome them to the "Nature Camps".



400 year old tree!


Giri Cavale joined us on the 11th. We spent some time near the Salim Ali Center and gaped at the 400 year old teak tree nearby. We spent some good time At Parambikulam, photographing and recording bird calls in the area until the 13th.


Some images from Parambikulam:












Kerala Forest Research Institute, Peechi - February 13th to 15th 2006


On the 13th Morning, after making one more "failed" attempt at photographing the Wynaad Laughingthrush at Topslip, we drove to Peechi and stayed at "KFRI"


The Kerala Forest Research Institute  ( is located at Peechi about 20 kms East of Thrissur. While Pratap Singh attend a conference on "Weed Management" , we spent the next day (14th) roaming the forests of Peechi "all day"!  The catch of the day as we trekked through the winding forest paths and banks of the "Peechi Dam" was the call of the Mountain Hawk Eagle.


On the 15th we checked out of KFRI after lunch and reached Thattekkad in the evening.


Thattekkad  Bird Sanctuary - February 15th to 20th 2006


At about five in the evening, we drove up to the gate of the Thattekkad  Bird Sanctuary.  Mr. Rajendran (Forester) was there to greet us. He told us that elephants had surrounded the Watch Tower (about 1 KM away from the gate) where we were to stay a few days and suggested that we stay at the Forest Inspection Bungalow (IB) across the road instead. Mr. Vinod our guide who appeared on the scene was of the same opinion.


No way!  Krishna Narain was the first out. Without another word he started walking towards the tower and then Pratap Singh followed. Giri took to his heels behind them with Vinod and suddenly I was alone with the vehicle, all the luggage and a decision to make! The main problem was that the elephants were not used to vehicles in the area and we had a lot of luggage.


I went with Mr. Rajendran to the IB and made dinner arrangements for all of us and then took a guard with me and as silently as possible drove to the tower. I was quite nervous, as this was new territory for me. As I drove towards the tower, I could see the others walking ahead, they had just seen a pair of Baza and were quite exited.  Soon, we all reached the tower safely.  As soon as our luggage was out of our vehicle, we made sure that the vehicle was safely parked back at the IB.


It was almost dusk when we reached the tower. Vinod took Pratap Singh for a walk and came running back immediately. He had sighted an elephant just behind the tower. A Malabar Whistling Thrush dashed away, a single Pitta came hopping by and sat close to us, unafraid. Frogmouths, Nightjars and Owls were beginning to call from the close by shola making Pratap Singh and Krishna Narain work hard at recording their calls.


Birdlife abounds all around this Watch Tower. One side of the tower is a shola and on the other side water. The tower has three levels. I pitched my tent at the first level while Giri took the single bed at the middle level. Pratap Singh and Krishna Narain took the two bed room at the top. At about 8 pm our food arrived in a small silent canoe. So, that night we all settled down in the tower and listened to the various birds calling around us along with the occasional trumpet of the elephants.


The next morning Vinod came running to me with the news that they had spotted a Dollorbird and a Blue-bearded Bee-eater nearby. I quickly went there and was able to photograph them along with a Greenish Warbler. We then cautiously walked through the forest all around the Tower. Now and then Vinod would urgently lead us back towards the tower as he would have sighted an elephant ahead. Just behind the tower, we found three Sri Lanka Frogmouths sitting motionless in the shola. All of us were able to get good images of them. At one time as I was focusing on a frogmouth I could actually see an elephant flapping its ear in the background! The RFO Mr. Vijaykumar was kind enough to come and meet us at the tower with words of encouragement.




That afternoon I decided to go with Vinod to another small watchtower in the small canoe. A mistake, I realized later as I heard the story of a similar canoe overturning and making the occupants wet!


I spent a good two hours waiting in the watchtower and all I got was a blur shot of a snake swimming in the water. King Cobra?



As we were heading back to the tower late evening, our walky (that Giri had so thoughtfully provided) crackled- careful elephants the voice whispered .. as we looked ahead, there it was, a mountain in the water right on our path to the tower!





We quickly diverted our canoe to the nearest shore and tried to sneak back to the tower by foot. As we were about to reach the tower we had to run back as the elephant had reached the shore and stood right on our path to the tower.  We ran back to our canoe and watched six other elephants which included two young cross the water and follow the first elephants path. The Walky crackled again-where is Pratap Singh? The voice asked. No one knew. Vinod ran around and finally traced him in a nearby area, he was quite safe! After a while, we cautiously went back to the tower in our unstable canoe. A sigh of relief! That whole night the elephants were right next to our tower and made tremendous noise during the night. Pratap Singh and myself made a decision to move to the IB the next day as any work near the tower seemed impossible with the elephants around. Krishna Narain and Giri decided to stay back and had several stories to tell us later about the elephants of Thattekkad!


Next morning  (17th) we slowly sneaked in our vehicle to the tower loaded our luggage and left for the IB. Just as we felt that we were a safe distance from the elephants, the back left tyre of our vehicle burst!  We had great fun figuring out how to replace the flat one with the spare one and then noticed that the front left tyre was also damaged!


Krishna Narain and Pratap Singh took another vehicle and went off to record bird calls in another area with Vinod. I then called Yathin who was taking the 2 pm flight from Bangalore to Cochin to join us and requested him to get two new tyres from Bangalore as they were not available in Cochin. Giri drove to Cochin with Maani  (our caretaker at the tower)  and they came back with a  "as good as new" vehicle after getting all problems fixed at Cochin! That day I spent in and around the IB.


We had a brief meeting with Mr. Charynkunje, Wildlife Warden, Idduki  who is incharge of Thattekkad. Thanks to him we had a trouble free stay there. In the evening Krishna Narain, Giri and Yathin left for the Watch Tower to enjoy the company of the elephants while Pratap Singh and Myself stayed at the IB.


Next morning (18th) Pratap Singh, Vinod and Myself left for a place called Edamalayar (25 kms drive from the IB) and spent the whole day there. I was able to photograph many species in the area including a Blyth's Pipit that we encountered on our way just outside Thattekkad. Pratap Singh continued to record birdcalls all day.


Next morning (19th) Yathin joined the three of us early and we left to a place called Pooyankutty (25 kms from the IB, along the old Munar road), while Krishna Narain and Giri stayed back at the tower. They did manage to record several birdcalls and spotted several birds including Bazas. Again we spent the whole day out, the highlight being close encounters with a group of Wynad Laughingthrushes! No photograph again!!


That afternoon we made a brief drive to a place called Urulanthanny and were able to photograph the Dollorbird in good light.



Please click on the below links to view some images from Thattekkad :


















All of us regrouped and stayed that night at the IB, our last night on this trip! We exchanged several stories, the major one being an elephant charge at Giri.

Vinod and Maani were extremely helpful like all the others we met at Thattekkad and made our stay very comfortable.


The entire Watch Tower can be booked at Rs. 600/ night. Three beds are available. Food will be supplied there at extre cost.


Contact :  Asst. Wildlife Warden, Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary, Ph: 04852588302


You can also contact Vinod Narayanan for help at 0485 2588332 or 9846703732.


On 20th we left for home! Krishna Narain, Pratap Singh and Myself flew out of the Cochin Airport as Yathin and Giri drove all the way back to Bangalore. That brings us to the end of an extremely memorable two weeks in the western ghats!


Many thanks to Partap Singh for making all the arrangements for all our accommodations. I must add that everyday of the trip Pratap Singh would wake up at the first call of any bird and sleep only after the last bird stopped calling-I wonder if he slept at all! He is obviously the only human on earth to have recorded calls of over 700 species of birds found in India.


Many thanks to Krishna Narain, Giri Cavale and Yathin for making the trip comfortable in many ways!


Krishna Narain will be uploading calls of several birds that he and Giri recorded during the trip on to Indiabirds soon. Here is the list:


Great Hornbill, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Yellow-browed Bulbul,

Black-crested Bulbul, White-bellied Treepie, Asian Fairy Bluebird,

Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Oriental Scops Owl, Sri Lanka Frogmouth,

Scarlet Minivet, Ashy Drongo, Little Spiderhunter,

White-bellied Woodpecker, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Indian Pond Heron,

Large Woodshrike, Rofous Babbler, Brown Hawk Owl.



You can view Yathin's journal here:


Grateful thanks to all the Forest Officers and guides who helped us along, giving us this opportunity to share the joy! I do hope you enjoy the images. All the images were shot on the run! I do have a few more, which I will continue to post on


INP -  








Vijay Cavale

February, 2006