THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE WINGED BUDDHA
I and my friends were excited when we got the opportunity to visit the Thattekad Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, described by the renowned ornithologist as the richest bird habitat in Peninsular India. The Malayalam word ‘Thattekad’ means flat forest. The bird sanctuary is nestled between the Cheruthoni and Periyar rivers in Kerala.
We discovered that the rain gods had visited the sanctuary just before we did. The verdant forest foliage seemed to glisten with millions of crystals after the rain. The treetops teased us by randomly sprinkling raindrops. Just as we yearned for background music, a Cicada performed a splendid symphony. If only there was a Grammy for birds! We silently thanked the Cicada and went in search of the Malabar Trogon.
Malabar Trogon (Female)
We saw a ripe red berry tucked in a long, curved orange beak. It was the Malabar Hornbill enjoying his midday snack. I was about to capture the moment when a bold pattern caught my attention. It was the sight we were waiting for. A pastel brown female Malabar trogon with sword-edge patterns on her wings. Clearly, she was enjoying our attention, for her tail was flapping in a dance of its own. She seemed to be wearing a white collar, but it turned out to be a stripe that separated her glossy black head from her brown body. We enjoyed her company for over half an hour while waiting for the male Malabar Trogon. Finally, we spotted him on a treetop, but we couldn’t get a clear shot because of the raindrops lingering around. We felt lucky to just lay eyes on the gorgeous pair.
Brown Wood Owl
We walked further into the forest and found the banks of a stream. We tuned in to its gurgling music as we waited for the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher. Like a movie star, he made us wait for more than an hour. He still didn’t arrive, so our guide distracted us with a brown Wood Owl. He was meditating like Buddha, with closed eyes, but was as cute as a teddy bear. As I moved closer, he became distracted by a rolling stone and opened one eye. I thought he was going to curse me for disturbing his penance, but he closed his eyes and continued meditating.
Golden-Fronted Leaf Bird
A few yards away, we spotted his aggressive cousin, the Jungle Owlet. He was hunting for fishes in the stream. It was funny to see a nocturnal bird being so active in the day. I moved away from the stream and spotted an unusual leaf dangling from a rock. It suddenly moved towards me to reveal two sparkling eyes and a beak. It was a juvenile Golden Fronted Leaf Bird with camouflage skills as good as a soldier.
Flame Throated Bulbul
Then, a gorgeous duo captured our eyes. A Flame Throated Bulbul and Blyth’s Starling were perched on a huge tree, busy feasting on berries. My stomach rumbled too, for we had spent a good two hours watching the winged beauties, but time stood still. I too had to travel with wings, but it was a flight. I bid ciao to the fascinating flutterers and headed back to the urban jungle. You can join me the next time I return to the real jungle on another exciting bird watching expedition. Simply write to firstname.lastname@example.org
How to reach Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, Thattekad, Kerala, India.
Nearest railway station: Aluva, about 48 km away
Nearest airport: Cochin International Airport, about 44 km
Best time to visit: October to March (preferably with terrain guide)
Photos by: Adithya Sharma | Write-up by Siluvai Amalan & Niranjani Ravi