On 10th Nov 2017, I decided on a quick one day overnight trip to Eldhose Birding Lodge at Thattekad, Kerala . My plan was to reach by afternoon, send the evening and the next morning session and leave Thattekad by noon. I called Eldhose and there was accommodation available. The accommodation itself is a a small neat cottage with an attached bathroom. Nothing fancy but very functional homestay with some delectable home cooked food.
The route map was quite a help. Just note that the navigation will lead you to a rocky area in the middle of a semi forest. At the place the navigation announces that you have reached your destination. On your left, you will see a “sort of concrete” track over the rocks leading into the woods further turning into a mud jungle track. Follow that track and, at any fork turn left and you will reach Eldho’s place after about some 700 odd meters.
From Cochin Airport , Eldhose’s place is about an hour and a half drive away.
I kept my bag in the room and came out to scope the area. I immediately saw a Heart Spotted woodie flittering about near the hide area.
At 3.30 PM we drove out to the river area and waited to see red pumped swallows. The swallows were flying south but no chance of getting a photograph. We say Blue tailed bee eaters, Green bee eaters, Black throated Munias,an Ashy Wood swallow and a few other common birdies. At 4.30 we turned back to Eldhose’s home to view the action from the hide.
The hide area
Eldhose, put out some banana and some “meal worms” in front of his perches. We were four of us squeezed into the hide. We sat on plastic stools and poked the lens though the holes in the hide. The is pretty much a “Ganeshgudi” redux. A couple of Lesser flamebacks, Racquet Tailed drongos , Coucal Pheasants , Ashy Drongo and a few rufous treaties were the main actors that evening. The action is fast and furious. I wanted to see the malabar parakeets, but Eldhose said that August -Sept was the time to see them when they visit his perches. After the rains they get enough food in the forests , hence are seldom seen at the farm.
At one point, the drongo made an imitation of a Shikra call and all the other birds scooted. Then this drongo came in for its own feast. What a smart cookie !
Tip: Id recommend going wide and try to capture the various interactions and the “bullying” that happens to get to the feed. And also get a few videos!
You can easily get by with a 300 – 400 mm. I thought 500 and larger was a bit too much focal length for this hide. I was using my 200-500 and yet again found it a laggard as regards autofocus for the kind of shots that I wanted to get. Got millions of “BOS” ( Bird on a Stick) but, that don’t do much to me . I also tried out the Auto ISO and have a passable one at some crazy ISO32K !! Not the best IQ but, surely usable in a pinch as a record shot. This can definitely make an A4 size print with some good post processing.
We finished the evening hide and grabbed a cup of tea. At 7.30PM Eldhose asked us to sit on neatly arranged chairs , just in front of his house steps. He went and fetched a few frogs and put them in a tray. We waited and in came a “Mottled Wood Owl” and sat on their perch near the frogs. Total garden birding this was. Eldhose highlighted the bird for a short time with his “torch” and we were able to get a few shots. Tip: Set your white balance to Cloudy and ISO some 3200+ for this shot
Next morning 0700H, Eldhose took us near his gate and chucked some meal worms . Out came a shy Pitta from the undergrowth. Pitta was barely a couple of meters away and at eye level. Very close. Tip: Go for the habitat shot
We finished with the pitta in 30 mins and , Eldhose pulled out the jeep to take us to the “Grey Jungle Fowl & Red Spur fowl spot”. This spot is just outside the gate in the rocky area at the jungle edge, as you enter from the road. He spread out some grains and , “grated coconuts” as bait. Wait as we might, the fowls were initially shy and wouldn’t approach. All the time we were in the jeep. Finally a resplendent male in breeding plumage ventured in. Soon there were many more but , no Red Spur fowl. The spur fowls like the grated coconuts, Eldhose mentioned.
By now it was almost 0830 AM and we headed back to Eldhose’s house and sat on his steps. He set out some cut bananas for the bait and soon, there were a bunch of screeching barking Malabar grey hornbills . You can shoot them easily with a 300- 400mm again. Try as I might, for the short fast action, the 200-500mm was just not good enough to keep the AF. I finally settled for a few BOS shots.
Blurry, hand held video but, you get the idea of the feeding setup to help plan your shoot.
The Hornbill feed point . Thats Eldhos’s house in the background.
After breakfast we left to spot a few owls in the jungle with his driver Vinod and guide Danish. Danish is an excellent spotter. A Brown wood owl was located but it was quite high up in the tree. Later at Cheekode , behind a house, we spotted a couple of scops owls. By now it was almost 11.30 and we headed back to base. For this first exploratory trip, this was all to be and by 12 noon I had packed up and was bidding goodbye to Eldhose.
Now that I have “recced” the place, I will plan a more thought through trip with the kind of images that I want.
Note: You need to ask Eldhose the next plan in advance every time. Don’t wait for him to tell you 😉