A Trip to Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, Thaf tekad, Kerala, India

Radhika Vatsan, Tavish Clureshi


0 n the western side of the Indian subcontinent is the rainward side of the western ghats, a lush green part of the country watered by every passing cloud. Here lies the quiet but beautiful haven for a wide variety of exotic flora and fauna. Thattekad, on the banks of the river Periyar, is a dense monsoon forest, not very far from the port town of Cochin. So here we decided to spend a couple of days, away from the bustle of city life, chasing avian delights.

A pleasant bus ride from Kothamangalam early in the morning landed us on the southern bank of the Periyar, and we stood and gaped at the expanse of water, hardly seeming to flow, surrounded by low, thickly wooded hills. A score of gull-billed terns 

were perched on a telephone wire stretching across the river. We were wondering where the sanctuary was when the conductor tells us it is on the other side of the river. How ever were we going to get across? And then we were treated to a most fascinating sight: there across the river was a BUS, floating towards us on a platform tied across three wooden boats!! So this was how we were to cross! A pretty bamboo hut informs us in green letters that we are at the "Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary." Large pied wagtails are gamboling all over the place. A bamboo bridge stretching invitingly across a placid Jake, with an egret preening itself on one of the supporting poles, draws us across.

The other side is a little swampy forest, and little bird-sounds are heard 

all around ... Swish! That was a Rackettailed Drongo ! Trailing its long tails gracefully behind it, it disappears among the trees ... pushing through the thick undergrowth we follow some calls but the birds are tantalizingly beyond sight... a clearing with what looks like a dried watercourse affords a good spot to rest and watch. The ubiquitous Pond Heron sits patiently near the water, awaiting its prey ... What is that musical warbling sound? Oh! there yonder are three Red-whiskered Bulbuls, playfully chasing each other from tree to tree! There is a movement amongst the leaves on that tree ... wait, there is a little green bird there! Where are the "binocs"? Oh! it's a Gold-mantled Chloropsis (or Jerdon's Leaf-bird), its gold-and-black markings setting it out amongst the leaves... There is a Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, just landed on that branch there ... A little common Kingfisher skims the water making its little screaming noises, and disappears among the overhanging foliage, We are tired now and decide to move back and look for a place to stay.

The Hombill Inspection bungalow offers comfortable accommodation for the day and the kindly old caretaker provides a sumptuous, typically Keralite meal with plenty of coconut in it. There is a tiny village near the sanctuary and we walk along the road past it and come upon a lovely lake. A couple of Red-wattled Lapwings fly screaming by. A family of ducks are waddling about near the shore. We walk on and sit on the opposite bank to watch a pair of raucous Little Cormorants chasing each other along the surface. They land gracefully in the water, using their tails to slow them down, and dive completely in after a quarry, only to emerge yards beyond. One perches on a little twig protruding from the surface and spreads out its wings to the sun to dry. A muddy road leads through the sanctuary to a village about 14 km away, skirting along the river at places and through dense forest. 



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