A place which I have begun to love quite a bit and started spending few hours at almost every other weekend this year. The charm of this place for me lies in its unique avifauna. At a stone’s throw near Bangalore this is a convenient place for those who are interested in bird watching/photography. I am talking about Nandi Hills or Nandidurg as it was called during the days of the Raj. Some of the birds found here are endemic to Western Ghats with the exception of this place. Though it is just 60 kms from Bangalore, the terrain is quite different. The elevation of Nandi Hills is 1478 m which makes it around 500 m higher than that of Bangalore. A winding road with 40 curves leads you atop the hill where the vehicles can be parked and one can walk around. There are many trails and we are still in the process of exploring them. We have been seeing some new species or the other on each visit to Nandi Hills. At times we have not seen/heard any birds for a while and the situation changes all of a sudden with the birds giving us an appearance when we are on the verge of giving up.
Asian Paradise Flycatcher
The Asian Paradise Flycatcher is one of the most beautiful birds found in India with the males of the species having long plumes. It is usually found in forests and other well wooded areas. It had eluded us on a few occasions before we started visiting Nandi Hills for birdwatching. On every visit to Nandi Hills we have seen one of either White Morph Male or Rufous Morph Male or the female. The body of the bird is small compared to its tail. The eye has a blue ring around it and there is a small blue patch below the eye. The Paradise Flycatchers used to be classified with other flycatchers in the old world flycatcher family of Muscicapidae. Now they are placed in the Monarchidae family along-with the Monarch Flycatchers. We saw this beautiful bird following a group of Tawny-bellied Babblers who were foraging for insects and feeding on the insects that they found.
Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher
The male of the Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher is a brightly coloured bird (Striking Blue with a dash of Orange/Yellow). I had seen the female of this species which is of a duller hue compared to the male only once before on a trip to Masinagudi. The male is a songster and we have been entertained by these tiny birds during multiple visits with their sweet tune. We have seen the male on almost every visit.
|Male front view|
|Male rear view|
This small bird is a migrant and was a lifer for us. Both male and female have greyish-brown upper parts and white underparts. The distinction being the Reddish throat on the male. Most of our sightings were of the female. We got to see a first winter male with the red throat just about there and a brief glimpse of an adult male before it flew away. Hopefully next winter we’ll get better glimpses of the male.
|First winter male|
Blue-capped Rock Thrush
The Blue-capped Rock Thrush is another bird which we have managed to see on almost every other visit. Both the male and the female birds have posed for us! These birds freeze when they sense human presence nearby. The female especially gets camouflaged as she is Brown in colour with scales on the underparts and blends well with the branches of the trees. The male is a bright blue with an orange belly and white spot on the wings. The male also has a slightly varying blue color and that is the reason it is called the Blue-capped Rock Thrush. On one occasion the grounds around the parking lot were wet due to a drizzle on the previous day. The Thrush was on a hunting spree and gobbling up termites. When we tried to get nearer to it the Thrush posed for us like a proud hunter with the hapless termite at its feet.
|Male as the proud hunter|
Malabar Whistling Thrush
This majestic bird which can be mistaken for a Crow due to its coloration and size when seen from far had eluded us for a long time. On many occasions before during trips to Kabini, Masinagudi and so on, we had woken up to the whistling sound made by this bird which is also called the Whistling Schoolboy! An elusive bird, this is endemic to Western Ghats. In the last few visits here we have managed to see this bird from close quarters regularly. Not sure if this is a migrant or a resident here. It is predominantly dark blue in colour interspersed with black. But the blue colour stands out only if one sees it nearby and the light is good. When you do get a closeup view of the bird, the iridescent blue patterns on the chest stand out.
An elegant bird which has been a lifer for us. What grace in its movement! This lovely bird migrates from the Himalayas every year during winter and returns back on the onset of summer. The Pied Thrush is not what you’d call common in Nandi Hills and we’ve seen many wanting to sight this lovely bird. The fact that the bird is very secretive only makes this more difficult. We were fortunate enough to have a good glimpse of the bird once. We saw only the male. The body of the male is covered in a combination of black and white. Like with most birds, the coloration of the male is the reason behind the common name of the bird.
The Orange-headed Thrush also comes under Zoothera Thrushes. This bird has orange head and underparts while the mantle is bluish grey in case of males. A good friend calls it as the “Ninja” Thrush due to the stripes near the eye. This bird is capable of creating quite a rustling sound as it forages for insects in the dense undergrowth. This would be one way of catching on to its presence. But then the rustling could well be a snake. So… :)
Another lifer for us has been the Eurasian Blackbird or the Indian Blackbird which is classified under Zoothera Thrushes. The bird is black all over with an orange beak and an orange circle around the eye on the male. The female is duller on the orange. From a distance, one could easily mistake it for a Myna and the absence of the yellow of the Myna is what will make one look again to be certain! Our first sighting of the male of this species was when it was foraging on the ground oblivious of our presence. We got a brief glimpse of what we thought was either a female or a juvenile. This bird is a migrant. There is a reasonably popular nursery rhyme featuring the blackbird, also quoted in Agatha Christie‘s novel “A Pocket Full of Rye”.
Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye;
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie!
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?
Indian Blue Robin
Another migrant which was also a lifer for us. The male has dark blue upper parts and orange underparts with a white supercilium. These birds breed in the Himalayas and winter down south. These are very unlike the more regularly seen Indian Robins. Both in terms of colour and also the way they look. The Indian Robins tend to have their tail up and about as they go around which wasn’t visible in these birds. In fact I felt the Indian Blue Robins were more similar to Thrushes in their behavior.
Oriental Magpie Robin
The Oriental Magpie Robin is a songster. We have sighted both the male and the female on most of our visits. They typically flit around branches of trees. The male is predominantly black with a white underparts and a white streak across the wings while the female is grey instead of the black. You can notice this difference in the pictures below. They have a reasonably long tail which is held upright when they move about foraging on the ground or perch. This is the national bird of Bangladesh.
The Olive-backed Pipits can be seen all over the place. They keep foraging in groups on the grass. You can stumble upon them all of a sudden as they blend inconspicuously with the ground. I am told, some of them could also be the Tree Pipits but we haven’t conclusively identified a Tree Pipit till date on Nandi Hills. It does not help that the distinguishing factor is minor differences in patterns on the back and the degree of streaking on the underbelly! :|
You will find many an Ashy Drongo on Nandi Hills. This bird is the joker in the pack given the antics that they are up to and is an excellent imitator of other birds. Given this imitation behavior, many a time they can put you off the track while looking for birds. With the onset of summer, a good experience was to watch these birds flitting across a pond drinking water.
These tiny little fur-balls as we like to call them are one of our favourites. They get their name due to the prominent white circle around their eyes. They are yellow in colour with white underparts and super cute in appearance. The Oriental White-eyes are also one of the tiniest birds in the Indian subcontinent and difficult to photograph given how active they are. The size of the bird, or rather the lack of it, may not be completely evident by the first pic below. So adding the next one to just show the actual size of the bird.
|The small size of the bird may not be evident here|
|This pic shows up the size|
The Shikra is one of the smallest raptors found around here. It had been eluding us for a while. We managed to watch a juvenile from pretty close quarters here during a couple of our visits. On one occasion, we were chasing a Blyth’s Reed Warbler among the pots in the orchard and I happened to look up and noticed the juvenile Shikra perched right above us and keeping an eye on us! On another day as we were shooting a greenish warbler, the bird flew past us onto a tree far away. May be it was a little tired, but it allowed us time to walk all the way there and get a good glimpse of it before taking off.
|The stare of the Shikra|
These tiny Babblers are coloured orange and brown and super cute to look at. They keep moving around in groups and can be pretty noisy. They frequent the bushes around Nehru Nilaya a lot, especially the area around the water tank at the back of Nehru Nilaya. Again another bird, which unlike its cousins the other babblers, is quite small. The second pic below should again show off the size.
|The small size of the bird may not be evident here|
|This pic shows up the size|
The Puff-throated Babbler aka Spotted Babbler can be seen foraging in low undergrowth. They can be very difficult to spot in those areas. They also frequent lawns in the garden area and in the thick grass are nearly invisible as they forage for insects. On one rare occasion, on an early summer morning, we had the fortune to watch some of these bathing at a spot where water was leaking from a pipe.
|Foraging in the grass|
|Bathing at a leaky tap during summer|
Tickell’s Leaf Warbler
A colourful Phylloscopus Warbler this one! We could not identify this one on our first visit here. The greenish brown and yellow hues on this bird made us feel curious to figure out which bird this was. It has a prominent supercilium. During some of our subsequent visits we saw some worn birds where the colours were much paler. They breed in the Himalayas and come down south for winter.
Another Phylloscopus Warbler which breeds in the Himalayas and winters in the South. This one is greyish green above with off white underparts. Like any other Warbler it is difficult to photograph this too as it is very active and keeps flitting from branch to branch making it hard to keep up with it.
Tytler’s Leaf Warbler
I would consider ourselves very fortunate to have seen this tiny beautiful bird which is near threatened due to loss of its natural habitat. It breeds in the Himalayas and winters down South. We had an opportunity to go around this place with Vinay Das, a seasoned birdwatcher from Bangalore and it was on this visit that we saw this bird. It was oblivious to our presence and gave us enough time to watch it clearly. Vinay mentioned that he had always seen this bird during winter here. He identified it based on the dark & longish bill, supercilium and dark legs.
Blyth’s Reed Warbler
The Blyth’s Reed Warbler comes under the Acrocephalus Warblers. It is slightly bigger than all the other Warblers that we saw here. It is found in bushes and rarely comes out in the open. It is heard more often than seen. However it chose to become oblivious of the presence of people and kept foraging in the open for almost half an hour during one of our visits. It was a joy for us to watch this beauty out in the clear for such a long time. It has Olive-brown upper parts and pale underparts. The call of this bird is an intoxicating “tchuck tchuck”.
The White-cheeked Barbet is an elusive bird heard more often than seen. It is excellently camouflaged in the tree cover due to its green body and streaks of brown and white on the head. Its call is an intoxicating “Kotroo Kotroo”. These birds use their bill to make holes in the tree bark where they nest. They start breeding during onset of summer. We sighted these birds on quite a few of our visits here. A White-cheeked Barbet perched on a Jacaranda tree (lavender coloured flowers) in full bloom is definitely a sight to behold!
The Ashy Prinia is a small bird found in most of the places in India. It has Greyish upper parts due to which it gets its name and rufous underparts. Another striking feature is its red eyes. It holds its tail upright most of the time. It can be seen mostly around bushes and scrubs. I always call it the machine gun bird due to its incessant calls which sound like a machine gun being fired :)
The Common Tailorbird is another tiny bird which is super cute in appearance. It has a rufous crown and olive-green upper parts. We have been seeing this one on most of our visits. This particular day as we were contemplating whether we would have any sightings as there were quite a few photographers around, a tailorbird came nearby and posed for us. This moment will always remain in our memories.
There haven’t been too many recorded instances of the Grey-bellied Cuckoo from Nandi Hills. We were lucky to sight a couple of them and photograph this one. This bird too like the other cuckoos (and koels) is a brood parasite. However, unlike their more common cousins the Koels or the Common Hawk-Cuckoos (“brain fever” bird), whenever we’ve seen these birds they’ve been quiet and kept to themselves.
Technically speaking this is not from the Nandi Hills but from the vicinity. We saw these wonderful insectivorous birds at the Bhoganandeeshwara Temple in the village of Nandi at the foothill of Nandi Hills. The striking feature of these colorful birds has to be the crown they sport. Aristophanes called it the “King of Birds” in his ancient Greek comedy “The Birds”. Possibly due to the crown too! It is also the state bird of the state of Punjab in India and the national bird of Israel.