I was just surfing through the net on national parks and bird sanctuaries in Kerala. I hit on Thattekad bird sanctuary. It took my utmost interest as it was so near to me. It was just 60 km from Cochin and I felt I could do a day outing in some weekend when I am not going home. As usual I started gathering more details from the articles in Google about Thattekad sanctuary. To be very frank there were a lot of articles and travelogues related to Thattekad. But there was something common in all the articles about Thattekad and it was the presence and sighting of a special kind of Nocturnal bird. It was named “The SriLankan Frog mouth”. Almost all the articles were boosting up the sighting and photography of this bird. Then came across some articles where in some of local and foreign tourists have spent almost a week in Thattekad for sighting the bird and photographing it. I have read a lot of this special species, gathered maximum details on the habitat, characters etc. of the same and gradually I also developed an interest in this bird. I wanted to see the bird so badly in its habitat and the hopes were remote that I could photograph it.
The same was planned for the very next Sunday. I started from Cochin by 5.30 am through Moovattupuzha > Kothamangalam route I reached Thattekad by 7.15 am. Before reaching Thattekad I had my Breakfast. But the welcome was not warm at the sanctuary. The real sanctuary is closed for visits due to wild animal encounters (as per their version). They simply tell us that there is nothing to see there and if you want we will arrange for local guide who will take you through the forest and will give you bird sighting. I don’t know whether they are trying to help the local people/ guides in alliance with them. I also had to opt for the suggestion they put forward. But honestly I already had an intuition to take the help of a local guide as I was not a regular tourist and all in wanted was to sight just one bird and I was sure that I had the rarest of rare chances for spotting it without the help of someone who knows about it.
From the ticket counter they contacted a local guide named Vinod who was famous in internet as well in taking local and foreign tourists for day tours. He was dressed in camouflage attire and was carrying a binocular which seemed like a regular affair around his neck. As the sanctuary is closed we need to travel to the other side of the sanctuary traveling 13 km to the Pooyamkutti side. We took a right turn from Kuttambuzha junction into a tarred road which soon turned into a gut road and we were moving inside rich vegetation. After traveling almost five km we stopped and parked my bike on the gut road side and Vinod said we need to walk after this point and we are entering into the forest. I was realizing that all the articles on the abundant presence of different species of birds on the sanctuary were not an exaggeration. I could see lot of birds flying around and I could hear more than that. The chirrups of birds were the only sound inside the thick woods where we stood. The place name was Urulanthanni. We had to cross a stream to enter into the thick woods. Walked through forest trails into the core of the forest. My guide had a vivid knowledge of all the routes and he was extraordinarily verse in spotting and naming the birds. Each and every bird passed though us were named by him and he even named them hearing their sound. I have seen almost all birds photos and names (just out of curiosity I gathered the details in Google) and hence I knew he was not bluffing me when he named them.
We have seen almost 30 varieties of birds in multifarious colors would have heard double that. The saddest thing is that I could capture very few of them. If we are interested in bird photography the most important thing we need is to have a plenty of time and a very high amount of patience. It can be said that of you are a successful bird photographer it is guaranteed that you will never get angry about anything. Both this things I was lacking. I either had time or I was patient. I was simply eager to see what I was searching like the others who spend days and weeks to see that were fools. Stupid I am isn’t it? YES. We walked through the covers for almost 2 hours now. Have seen some birds. But the highlight of the day was yet to happen. We reached an open space on top of a rock boulder. I was shocked to see two small houses of tribal people. The houses were made of woods and tarpaulin so weak that a hush of wind could easily wipe that away it seemed. There were little children also inside that. I wondered (rather feared how the lived there. For past two hours inside the forest I haven’t seen any human being. I wanted to put my doubts up to my guide but hold myself for a little thought and realized that “what we call wild they call Home”.
We rested there for 10 minutes on the open ground. It was 9.30 by then and Vinod said its time for some bird activities. He said by 9.30 the birds come out for their second feeding of the day. But as it was a really sunny days he doubted whether we could get good sighting and pics. To the contrary there were no such bird activities for another 15 minutes and Vinod said we can move little more inside for getting some bird sighting but he demotivated me saying that photography will be difficult due to low light inside the covers. I had to believe him as there was sufficient light only in the open area.
45 minutes more walk inside the covers in various directions. I could only follow him as I have lost the direction after one hour. I was getting anxious as well as tiring. Wanted to ask him whether there is any chance of getting the sight of the bird but I didn’t. He was walking in front of me and suddenly turned around and said “FROG MOUTH” I looked over the tree to where he pointed but could see nothing but some dried leaves hanging. He told me to look carefully and you can see the eyes. I looked again and finally I could identify the bird. It was a moment of happiness and all my exhaust vanished into the blue. I tried getting closer to the bird but didn’t want to disturb it. Vinod said I can go closer as it is a nocturnal bird it won’t move that fast unless and until it feels threatened. Lucky I was as I could get some good snaps. It didn’t blink an eye and as the eyes were open the pics came well. Took some good snaps and it was time to leave the birdie alone. I would not allow anyone to peep into my house and so are they. As they couldn’t resist we should not take advantage of it. I believe I did no harm to the bird and left without any regrets and with a full heart. The mission of the day was accomplished. What I wanted was fulfilled. I wanted to thank Vinod for making this possible for me. I am damn sure that if I ventured this all alone I could have never seen it. His expertise has come in handy and made it possible.
We started turning back through another route this time he was more talkative and explained things to me. After half an hour he turned back and told me that I was very lucky. I thought he was referring to the bird sighting but had no idea that it is happening again. YES he spotted one more Frog mouth and this time with a nest. He pointed to the low lying branch of a huge tree and said it is there. I looked in all directions but couldn’t spot that. All I could see was some dried leaves and branches. It took almost a considerable amount of time to identify the bird. Even after seeing the bird I couldn’t believe that it is. After seeing it through his binocular only I believed it is. But this time it was in its nest. He couldn’t believe it also as Frog mouth makes nest only in the month of December to march and he has not seen frog mouth nesting in September often. It was very hard to catch a picture due to very low light. Yet I managed to get some with flash. It was surprising that the bird didn’t even move when the flash busted. I should admit I was lucky to have seen this. Considering the fact that lot of people comes here to see this bird only and lot of them leave back disappointed. In that case I am lucky, lucky enough to have it sighted twice and in nesting.
I just wanted to turn back after this. I felt like the purpose is served for the day. So were the plans of Vinod to turn back. On the way back we saw some more species of birds. One of which amazed me was named the “Racket tailed drongo”(but the bird was small) which can imitate almost 17 other birds sound. Vinod said it is the most active bird at dusk and dawn.
Soon after the sighting of racket tailed it started raining and we had to run literally to get to a place to take cover. Considering the fact that we are three hours inside the forest hopes were little to get a cover. Rain though a natural beauty becomes the beast when it happens when we are at the wrong place and wrong time. Somehow managed to get completely drenched but saved camera and other gadgets from the rain as I used to carry a big polythene cover always with me. In another one hour we managed to get out of the forest through some other way and we reached the civilization again. Had to walk through a forest trail for almost 30 minutes and took my bike dropped Vinod at Thattekad again, paid him (though little exorbitant it is worth paying I believe) and waved off to Cochin.
I had to stop at two three places due to rain but managed to reach back before dusk with sweet memories of another day out. Especially chasing a bird seemed something I have never done before. It was a refresher one before the bigger event next week.
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