Birdwatching in Kerala: A for Asian Koel, B for Barbette …
Live close to nature and you’ll never feel lonely. Don’t drive those sparrows out of your veranda; they won’t hack into your computer. — Ruskin Bond
We caught the bird watching bug, back in 2015, after a few excursions to nearby lakes and bird spots in Bangalore. Of course, then we wanted a bigger adventure. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary in Thattekad felt like a nice idea. So we planned a year-end Kerala trip around it. The Bird Song Homestay had such a nice ring to it. I kept dreaming about it. When we drove into Thattekad from a busier Fort Kochi, the transition was gradual. Though Kerala is pretty in its entirety, there was something special in the pristine views and silences that I felt at Thattekad.
We entered the main gate and I distinctly remember falling in love with the view inside – huge bamboo groves, a small bridge over a river, and a Kingfisher perched atop a lone shoot jutting out of the river. It was almost like a dream. We then drove into the homestay. It felt noisier and more crowded than we had pictured. Fortunately, we were told this is not Bird Song!
Bird Song Homestay
It was a sigh of relief as we backed our car and headed to the end of the road. There was an exotic board of the Ceylon Frogmouth Owl, and how it was extinct until it was revived in this very sanctuary. We turned the corner and saw the bright orange building of Birdsong Homestay, standing out like a candy in the green surroundings. My husband jumped out with his camera as soon as we parked the car beside a mini butterfly farm that they had going on in the garden.
The two-floored house is quite basic. Vinod’s family lives on the ground floor, which is a bit sunken, like a semi-basement. A staircase leads down to the backyard, which was pretty with a small farm and a little pathway to the river. A pair of Brahminy Kites had adopted the homestay and would fly around surveying the property. One of them was a rescue bird with an injured wing. There was also another couple, a certain Mr. Orange Hornbill & Mrs. Grey Hornbill perched ostentatiously atop another tree nearby.
The first floor has two rooms leading to an open balcony with a dining table and some easy chairs to relax in. Food is served in the open balcony for the guests in both rooms.
By the time we settled in our room, there was some piping hot black tea on the table and yummy pakoras. We relaxed and attuned ourselves to the chirpy neighborhood right in the middle of a virgin forest territory. Though this was a buffer zone, it didn’t have any noises around, and all you have to do is look for birds and start your countdown!
Our Thattekad Vacation Experience
The Narayanan family (Vinod & Sini) are the warmest of hosts, and very committed to the food and tea routines. Soon another couple joined us, they were staying in the room next door. And we became friends quite fast, may be due to the nature of this place, or the fact that they shared many a common interest with us. Our three day stay in this quiet abode was a most memorable time.
We had many bird watching adventures with Vinod, relished many sumptuous and healthy home-cooked meals by Sini (including a squid preparation that takes almost 3-4 hours to prepare), and spent silent evenings listening to the sounds of the forest. The bird sanctuary is situated on the banks of the Periyar river. We spent a day kayaking and boating to explore the scenic river vistas. If you are lucky, some sloth bears will stop by for a drink and say hi to you.
The Birdsong home stay remains a special memory to this day. And yes, we did see the Frogmouth too!
My chief interest in bird study has always been its ecology, its life history under natural conditions and not in a laboratory under a microscope. By traveling to these remote, uninhabited places, I could study the birds as they lived and behaved in their habitats. – Dr. Salim Ali.
All artwork is done by Seema Misra, Copyright Lonely Canopy.