September 18, 2015, Val Parai, India — Harsha and I met a group of birders today in a tract of wet forest called Vazhachal. About a dozen of us spent several hours working slowly along a one-lane road, stopping each time we found a flock of birds.
Today’s group included a real estate businessman, an HR specialist, two senior research scientists, an expert in small carnivores, a professional wildlife photographer, two doctors, an ornithologist, and a graduate student. They’d all heard about my big year and coordinated with Harsha to join us today, just for the fun of it! Not all of these birders had met each other before, even though they live in the same state in southwest India, so this outing was something of a social occasion, too. All of them are rabid eBird users like me, and it was great to spend the day with a group of like-minded bird lovers.
In the afternoon we reached Val Parai, among the tea plantations of the Western Ghats highlands. We stopped for tea (what else?) and, while we stood there, a cry went up: “Great Hornbills!” Two massive birds swooped through the trees and landed in full view. They looked like colorful, dinosaur-inspired cartoon characters: Male Great Hornbills, seemingly the size of a German Shepherd, spar by slamming beaks together in midair, and they paint their wings and heads with a yellow pigment produced in a gland near the base of their tail. They nest in huge tree cavities, and, once the eggs are laid, the female builds a wall over the entrance and imprisons herself inside the nest for two months, fed during that time through a tiny slot by the male. What a strange animal.
This evening I was invited to give a talk at a tea plantation's fancy bungalow in Val Parai and about 30 researchers and local tea estate owners arrived to listen. It was fun to share some stories and adventures!
New birds today: 7
Year list: 4369