Kerryn and I have both just finished reading ‘The Search for the Rarest Bird in the World’ by Vernon Head. It’s a beautifully written account of a largely South African expedition to a remote corner of Ethiopia, to find the first living Nechisar Nightjar. We won’t give too much of the story away, because if you enjoy looking for birds it’s a highly recommended read. But it did remind us of an experience that we had during our trip to India last year.

We arrived at the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, in Kerala’s Western Ghats, hoping for a bit of peace and quiet. After the mayhem of Rajasthan, and then getting horribly sick in Mumbai, we both felt like we needed a bit of nature in our lives. We certainly weren’t counting on finding a bird that people from all over the world come to see – a bird that for 50 odd years was believed to no longer exist.

After checking in at the quaint Jungle Bird Homestay, we got in touch with a guide to show us around the reserve. At sunrise the next morning – with an ancient pair of borrowed binoculars weighing down our daypack – we headed off to find our guy. Much to our relief, he was right on time, and after a quick bus ride to the sanctuary’s main gate, we were soon picking our way through the pristine broadleaf woodlands of the Western Ghats.

Within an hour we had a spotted some beautiful birds – several species of dainty flycatchers, iridescent sunbirds, multi-coloured barbets and a couple of skulking cuckoos. At a particularly dense thicket, our guide led us off the path, telling us to follow as stealthily as we could. After tiptoeing over dead leaves for about a hundred meters, he stopped and started pointing excitedly at something in the tree ahead. There, no more than four meters away, were two of the weirdest looking birds that we have ever seen. We thought they looked like the lovechildren of a pearl-spotted owlet and a fiery-necked nightjar, but our guide cleared things up. “Sri Lankan Frogmouth.” he whispered, “Very rare.” Our 24-120mm travel lens is hardly ideal for bird photography, but being so close we managed a few half decent pics. The birds seemed pretty chilled in our company, so much so that they soon drifted off to sleep.

Later that evening, we were fortunate enough to learn the full story behind the Sri Lankan Frogmouths of the Western Ghats. A group of birders from Mumbai were staying at our homestay, and they had organised a talk with one of India’s leading ornithologists – the man credited with the rediscovery of the birds. After dinner, we all sat around a fire as he told us how he had spent 9 months trekking the Western Ghats looking for a bird that most people considered extinct. You can only imagine how much determination and perseverance that must have taken. You can also imagine how stoked he must have been when he eventually spotted one!

Bird watching was never very high up on our agenda for India, but we’re super glad we made the detour inland off the Keralan coast. Along with the Andamans, Thattekad Bird Sanctuary was the most chilled out place we visited on the sub-continent. If you’re ever in Kerala and feel like you need a break from the crowded backwaters and beaches, we can’t recommend it highly enough.


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