Author: Ravi Kailas (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This tiny patch of montane forest, where the High Ranges meet the Palani Hills in the Western Ghats of South India, is packed with (the often unique) biodiversity. I have had the privilege to visit numerous times, and this is a brief account from a recent visit in September 2022.
As I drove from Munnar towards Pampadum Shola (1900m), passing through the chaos of day tourists and the hordes of vehicles transporting them, I was greeted by a vista of cloud kissed, forest cloaked mountains, close to Top Station. A brief shower added to the magic, the deep green canopy of the montane forests contrasting against the overlaying mist. A couple of minutes onward to the reach the check-post to enter Pampadum Shola NP (entry restricted for outsiders from 6p to 6a, but locals allowed through the night). It was too late in the evening (1630), to get on the forest department organised trek (the only way to explore the park), so I just drove through to my hotel, located in the village of Vatavada some 5KM away. The initial couple of kms through dense forest, opens up into a swampy grassland, with lovely vistas of forest cloaked mountains, before the road re-enters the forest, which eventually thins into a eucalyptus plantation, close to park exit at Vatavada. I ‘ambled’ along (in my four wheels) this short drive, enjoying the sights and myriad bird, frog and insect calls, occasionally interrupted by the loud territorial call of Nilgiri Langur or an alarmed Indian Giant Squirrel, emanating from this patch of rain-soaked greenery. A lovely mixed flock, towards dusk, mostly composed of noisy Square-tailed Bulbul feeding on a forest berry, but also White-cheeked Barbet and the rarely seen, diminutive Speckled Piculet. Some other denizens that decided to entertain that evening, included a troop of rain-soaked Nilgiri Langur, a pair of foraging Stripe-necked Mongoose, Gaur and Bonnet Macaque, hanging around a forest accommodation settlement.
Woke up to a cool break of dawn, in my comfortable, albeit not so ideally located hotel. Stepping out of the room, located on a slope above the village, the sparse vegetation was just about coming alive. A hour and a half of casual birding here was quite interesting, with species like Indian Yellow Tit and Nilgiri Flowerpecker, a in the mix, among commoner species.
The forest department organised walk through the NP, only begins at 0900 – obviously set-up to suit the convenience of the forest staff and local guides in mind, rather than to optimise the natural history experience of the effort. I got there a little bit in advance (hoping to kick things off earlier), but it took upto 0920 to get moving (ticketing, etc). While waiting for the guide to arrive, I was shown a mobile phone footage of a Nilgiri Marten, yards from the ticketing office where I was standing, hunting down an Indian Chevrotain, late one morning (this park is known for relatively regular sightings of the rarely seen Nilgiri Marten, but this spectacle would have been something special, even for here)!
The walk follows a disused forest road, along a mountain slope, trending gradually uphill, with mountain streams and vistas of montane forests and surrounding mountains, adding to the engrossing biodiversity of the location. Notwithstanding the late start, the 3 hour walk turned out to be very productive, for excellent birdlife (including species like the endemic White-bellied Sholakili, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon and a superb Legge’s Hawk Eagle soaring over the shola canopy), the endemic Nilgiri Striped Squirrel, a young Large-scaled Green Pit Viper, superbly spotted by Prabhu, the guide, as it was sunning itself on a leaf, by the the path, and, a Travancore Ground Skink, among commoner species. There were also myriad animals signs, including Dhole, Brown Palm Civet and Tiger (?) scat, as well as tracks of Indian Chevrotain
The drive back from the walk, through the shola, produced a species of shrew, rather bold, as it was feeding in the roadside leat litter. A late afternoon vigil at a location where Nilgiri Marten are/were (?) known to cross the road regularly, proved unproductive for the species, but turned up Palani Laughingthrush and Nilgiri Langur. Then it was off to the superbly located Bison Log Hut, my accommodation for the night, which overlooks a swampy clearing within the shola and surrounded by forested mountains. The early evening walk from parking to the hut, a couple of hundred metre uphill slog, was good for some casual birding and included a nice mixed flock of Nilgiri Flycatcher, Indian White-eye, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta and Greenish Warbler. I decided to spend the evening looking around the accommodation for wildlife and was duly rewarded with a sighting of a pair of Dhole running across the clearing, a Stripe-necked Mongoose foraging in the swamp, Nilgiri Langur and a herd of Gaur. Nightfall and it was time to pull out the flashlight to see if thee was anything interesting in the vicinity of the log hut. As predicted by the guide, a (not quite as frugivorous as I had imagined) Brown Palm Civet, decided to poke around near the kitchen, apparently attracted by the smell of local style chicken curry that was part of the menu that night…. the final sighting on a productive day.
The next morning, I spent an hour (from 0630) or so near the Nilgiri Marten crossing point and, somewhat as expected, without luck. However, this vigil did produce a pair of Black and Orange Flycatcher and a typically noisy flock of Palani Laughingthrush. The hour or so drive towards Munnar, so much more relaxed, sans day tourists, at this time of the morning, produced a Crested Goshawk, perched on an open branch by the roadside, lit up by the oblique rays of the morning sun…..
List of Mammals Seen
Brown Palm Civet
Indian Giant Squirrel
Nilgiri Striped Squirrel
Highlight Birds Seen
Black and Orange Flycatcher
Legge’s Hawk Eagle
Nilgiri Wood Pigeon
Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike