Thursday, September 17, 2015

Tractor Egrets and Cattle Drongos?! A Trip to Nedumpara

My dad's side of the family stems from a place called Puttenvariyam in the village of Nedumpara near the city of Shoranur in Kerala. PHEW.

Anyway, this summer (May 7, May 8, May 9) , we (my dad and I) took a train there to spend 3 days with my uncle and aunt there.

The odds of getting the train were very low in the first place, when we booked the ticket, we saw that our waitlist was 17! That meant 17 people had to not go by that train for us to have a chance. But the gods of fate smiled down upon us, and somehow, we got the train!

We reached Shoranur, and were picked up by my uncle in his white Ambassador car. Soon, we reached Puttenvariyam, and had some legendary dosas for breakfast. Then, we went birding for the first time.

It was AMAZING. It seemed as if every bird in Nedumpara had come to greet us upon our arrival. We saw birds like Woolly-necked Stork, Asian Openbill, Waterhens, Needletails, and Munias. A small bird hopping around the field was a Paddyfield Pipit. Ashy Woodswallows (which my dad calls Whooshy Adswallows) flew around, along with a few Indian Swiftlets and Barn Swallows. Suddenly, a small black-and-yellow bird alighted on a telephone pole. I looked at it closely. A Streaked Weaver: a lifer for me! Totally, we saw 54 birds on that single hour-long outing to the paddyfields. Wow!

2 interesting 'new species' were seen on that trip: what my dad calls Cattle Drongos and Tractor Egrets.

The Tractor Egrets were the Cattle Egrets that followed the harvesting tractor while harvesting the rice and caught up the insects jumping out. All birds, of course, eventually adapt to modern technology.
The Cattle Drongos filled in the role of the egrets and decided to firmly stick to the cows on the field and feast on insects.

The peacock appeared for the first time around 9 in the morning. We had heard its raucous call on our first outing, but this time we could actually see it. We went into the field to get a better look. It was a peahen, calmly pecking at the (insects?) in the grass without a care in the world. We discovered that there was a resident waterhen in the farm, and it would run around helter-skelter and hide in the cow's hay when alarmed.

Speaking of the cows, there are 5 there. Two black-and-white cows, one huge black one, a brown one and a calf I call Daredevil.Why, you ask? When my uncle let him out to see his mother for the first time after we came, he went sort of hyper. He started jumping about and skidding in the mud and generally having a whale of a time. Finally, it took the combined efforts of my cousin and uncle to rein him in.

The afternoon was searing hot, not to mention humid. You go out, you sweat like crazy. The next time we could go birding was only at 4 in the evening. Not much was seen: the sun was still there, and there was little to hear as well. it began to rain quite heavily around 5.

The next morning, we ditched birding to visit the nearby temples. There are 2 temples very close to the house, the Kulashekharanelloor Shiva temple and the Chirakkulangara Bhagavati Temple. The Shiva temple is said to be one of the 108 temles built by Parashurama, the incarnation of Vishnu in kerala. The Bhagavati temple is even more fascinating. The stone idol there is 'SwayamBhoo' or self-born. My father (who has been coming to this temple since his childhood) says it's true and as time passes, he can actually see the image of the goddess emerging from the stone. After praying there, we headed towards the Katyayini Bhagavati Temple in Cheruthuruthy, the nearest town.

At the Katyayini Temple, there is actually no idol: there is just a Valkannadi, which is said to be a representation of the goddess. When we returned, it was too hot and humid to bird. We eventually ended up going at around 4:10 to bird. Only the general species were seen though.

The next morning, we visited the Mookuthala Temple, opposite which is my grandmother's ancestral property. We have been there many times before, and I know that it was one of tthe places the great Bhakti saint Adi Shankaracharya visited. It is also the place where the legendary poet Melpattur Narayana Bhattathiri spent his last few years. There was a huge variety of different species there. My dad snapped an amazing photo of 3 birds on a single tree: A Black Drongo, Racket-tailed Drongo and an Indian Grey Hornbill! We saw a shy Red Spurfowl and 2 Orange-headed Thrushes on our way back.

We paid a visit to my 3rd cousins opposite the temple, who live right next to my great-grandfather's house. Sadly, my great-grandfather's plot (which got sold when he died) is now the centre of a hollow-brick producing unit.

The next day, we did not bird much in the morning; the afternoon was the only time we could bird because we were leaving in the evening. However, a very obliging Black-rumped Flameback gave us good views. Suddenly, a Rufous Woodpecker alighted on the branch right in front of us. Wow!

It started raining extremely heavily around 4 in the evening, and persisted till seven or so. No just-before-leaving birding. :{

We boarded the Sam Tourist bus, which strangely chose its pickup point at a pub near Thrissur (30 km away). We reached home, happy to return but sad to have left Kerala at the same time.


Black-hooded Oriole

Whooshy Adswallows: No Third Wheels here!

Jackfruit: the world's largest fruit
Grown at home in Nedumpara. Delicious!

Triple Treat: Treepie, Hornbill and Drongo

A game of cricket in the fields

A Woolly Necked Stork (I believe someone calls it Wholly Naked Stork)

The uncomparable Peacock

The Not-so-Common Iora
Tractor Egrets (Egretta tractoricus)

A Hornbill wolfing down ants

The rice harvest kept to dry in the attic

The Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo

My mom's favourite: Greater Flameback

Munia Party

The Cattle Drongo (Drongo moomoo?)