• John Nat Arifin

4D3N Bird Photography Trip to Ganeshgudi, Karnataka, Western Ghats India.

Updated: Aug 27, 2019

Why Bird Photography at Geneshgudi ? Jayakumar, a friend of mine had told me of a great birding hot spot where I could see 40-50 species of birds just by heading to one location in Ganeshgudi, in Western Ghats, Karnataka, India. Boy was he right. It was mid February that just within 3 hours in the afternoon that I got to photograph at least 20 species when I arrived at the Old Magazine House in Ganeshgudi, Karnataka in the Western Ghats. The next few days, I got 40 more new species on my 4 day 3 night visit. 4D3N Bird Photography Trip to Ganeshgudi, Karnataka, Western Ghats India.

An important endemic area in the Western Ghats, Ganeshgudi is home to many of the endemic bird species including the Malabar Whistling Thrush, Malabar Barbet, White-bellied Blue-flycatcher and Crimson-backed Sunbird to name a few that I managed to see and photograph. Upon reaching Bangalore after a 4 hour flight from Singapore, the next morning, our local driver took 8 hours to drive along the highway to Ganeshgudi, near Dandeli, in north Karnataka. Between Bangalore and Ganeshgudi, there were not many places to have lunch, we only stoped for dosa and tea at Davangere.

4D3N Bird Photography Trip to Ganeshgudi, Karnataka, Western Ghats India
Male, White-bellied Blue Flycather (endemic to Western Ghats, India)

4D3N Bird Photography Trip to Ganeshgudi, Karnataka, Western Ghats India
Female, White-bellied Blue Flycather (endemic to Western Ghats, India)

4D3N Bird Photography Trip to Ganeshgudi, Karnataka, Western Ghats India
Male, Crimson-backed Sunbird (male) Endemic to Western Ghats, India

4D3N Bird Photography Trip to Ganeshgudi, Karnataka, Western Ghats India

Day 1: 15 February.

It was 4:15 pm in the afternoon when I arrived at the Old Magazine House, managed by the Jungle Lodges & Resorts. We drove through the final 1km narrow driveway on the dirt road, with trees on both sides leading to the reception and chalets. Mr. Krishna Rao, the manager was expecting our arrival an hour earlier.  We got delayed because of road block due to fallen tree. I wasted no time, took my camera to the hide at the fringe of the forest to start photographing when lighting was still good and bird activity was very high in the afternoon. Within 2.5 hours, I managed to capture 20 species of birds, a few I have not seen before such as Blue-capped Rock-Thrush, Dark Sided Babbler, Black Lorde Tit. In my final 30 minutes, as light was fading, the birds were still active. I had to shoot at ISO 3200 at speed of 1/20 second with my 600 mm f/4.0 lens on EOS 5D Mark 3 to get an acceptable image without the motion blur. The trip was off to a great start at Ganeshgudi. 

The guests at The Old Magazine House mostly consisted of nature lovers, bird lovers or photographers. On any single day, there were about 10 people at maximum staying to photograph the birds. Most stayed for about two nights and they came from either Mumbai, Bangalore or New Delhi. There also wasn't a need to move far to see birds at the fringe of the forest from the hide. Catering to their demographic,  accommodations, meals and tea were all served around the vicinity. Spending time among photographers during meals gave many of us many opportunities to get know each other and discuss bird life all around India. Every night, we end the day around a campfire to enjoy the cool evening air and exchange notes before we get ready for the next day.

Day 2 : 16 February.

At exactly 6:30 am, I was pleasantly awaken by the melodious whistle from non other than the Malabar Whistling Thrush. It sounded like someone was whistling just right outside the window. That morning, I had made appointment to meet Joma, the senior resident bird guide. Although Joma spoke very little English, his command for local birds was amazing. At 7:15 am, Joma took me along the stretch of road with trees on both sides, with the golden sun rays beaming through the leaves in the forest splashing like a starburst greeting us towards the main road. We spotted birds that we did not find near the hide at the Old Magazine House. There was a White-cheeked Barbet, Coppersmith Barbet and Malabar Barbet. Then two bulbuls namely Yellow-browed and Ruby-throated. We also spotted a Wood Shrike in the beautiful morning sun along with a female Asian-brown Flycatcher. Then came the Black-hooded Cuckoo-shrike and an Ashy Drongo with a slightly darker colour from the one I photographed in Borneo which was greyish.

Ashy Drongo (left) in Ganeshgudi. Ashy Drongo in Sarawak Borneo (right) with lighter colour

On our way back to the Old Magazine House for breakfast, Just right at the entrance along the main road, Joma suddenly stopped and put his hands over his ears. He then alerted me of the call of the star bird, the Malabar Trogon. However, I could not see where the bird was coming from. Joma pointed to the ground where I should set my camera and asked me to be still and quiet. A few anxious  moments passed, with all the excitement to see the star bird still stubbornly hidden. I saw some movements among the leaves above, suddenly, a handsome male Malabar Trogon landed on the open branch sat motionless in the canopy, staring down at us wearing  a black head, a black breast, a white necklace and dressed with the unmistakable pink underpart. It was the moment that all birders to Geneshgudi been wanting to see, the MalabarTrogon. He was not alone, a female Malabar Trogon came along. I saw the Trogon flew down to the stream nearby among the thick undergrowth to bath. With Malabar Trogon, Malabar Barbet and White-cheeked Barbet in the pocket, we were excited to go back to for our breakfast to share our exciting sightings with other birders.

Malabar Trogon (Male) on the left and Malabar Whistling Thrush on the right

In the late morning after breakfast, the lighting around the hide was harsh and most cameras were not clicking as bird activity was Low. Many of us ended drinking tea, eating biscuits and chit-chatting our time away till lunch (but still keeping our eyes on the birds that might land). After our sumptuous lunch, the bird wave started again around 2;00 pm. We had Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Verditer Flycatcher, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Indian Scimitar Babbler and Rufous Woodpecker stopping by near the hide other than the normal Oriental White-eye, Puff-throated Babbler, Indian Blue Robin, Blyth’s Starling and Orange-headed Thrush.


Indian Scimitar Babler

Just before sunset we left the Old Magazine House to the river  for the Malabar Pied Hornbills. It was a different kind of bird photography as most of the birds were in flight such as the Brahminy’s Kite, Caspian Terns and Indian Cormorants. As the light was fading, it was a big challenge to photograph the hornbills in flight to roost for the day. I managed to capture their flight shots at 1/1000 sec at ISO 3200 on the 100-400mm lens on the 7D Mark II.

Malabar Pied Hornbil over Kali River in Ganeshgudi

Day 3:  17 February. 

For a change, I decided to stay near the hide before breakfast. Unfortunately bird activity was rather quiet just like the day before. Nevertheless, we managed to see and capture a few new species like Little Spider-hunter, Crimson-backed Sunbird, Malabar Whistling Thrush, White-rumpled Shama, Black-naped Monarch, Red Whiskered Bulbul and Purple Sunbird. 

As predicted, the afternoon was more productive at the hide.

The Orange-headed Thrush, Z. C. Cyanotus of the Western Ghats has vertical black head stripes different from the one in Singapore Z.c. Citrina without stripes.

Orange Headed Thrush in Ganeshgudi with vertical black stripes. Orange Head Thrush in Singapore (Right).


Day 4: 18 February. 

The Malabar Whistling Thrush woke me up right on the dot. We walked to the main road just like the first morning to look for the Malabar Trogon with other birding friends. There was no trogon but found Large Coucal, Golden Fronted Leafbird, Little Spider Hunter feeding on the banana flower, Crimson-backed Sunbird and Paradise Flycatcher along the way and white rumped Munias.

Day 5: 19 February. 

We left Old Magazine House at around 10:30 am for Bangalore after giving  another try on the Malabar Trogon at where we found them but the bird refused to show up.

Summary of what we photographed at Ganeshgudi, Karnataka, India

No two days in the field can yield the same and no amount of advanced planning can generate the identical result. There will be moments of joy and equally days of despair and disappointment when the target species failed to show up. Nevertheless, the last few days had given us a taste of the birds diversity of the Western Ghats and identifying almost 60 species of birds in Ganeshgudi, Karnataka, India. Here are the list of birds we photographed in Old Magazine House, Ganeshgudi, Western Ghats, Karnataka, India.

  1. Malabar-pied Hornbill

  2. Malabar-grey Hornbill

  3. Malabar-whistling Thrush

  4. Malabar Trogon 

  5. Malabar Barbet

  6. White-cheeked Barbet

  7. Coppersmith Barbet

  8. Orange-headed Thrush (Zoothera cyanotus)

  9. Blue-capped Rock Thrush

  10. Asian Paradise-Flycatcher(White male, rufous male & female)

  11. Tickell’ s Blue Flycatcher

  12. Asian Brown Flycatcher

  13. Taiga Flycatcher

  14. Verditer Flycatcher

  15. Rusty-tailed Flycatcher

  16. White-bellied Blue Flycatcher

  17. Asian Brown Flycatcher

  18. Brown-breasted Flycatcher

  19. Purple Sunbird

  20. Crimson-backed sunbird

  21. Puff-throated Babbler

  22. Indian Scimitar Babbler

  23. Dark-fronted Babbler

  24. Ruby-throated Bulbul

  25. Yellow-browed Bulbul

  26. Red-whiskered Bulbul

  27. Shikha

  28. Hill Myna

  29. Blyth’s Starling

  30. Rufous Woodpecker

  31. Golden-backed Woodpecker

  32. Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

  33. Chestnut-headed Bee-eater

  34. Blue-bearded Bee-eater

  35. Blyth’s Reed Warbler

  36. Oriental White-eye

  37. White-rumped Munia

  38. Indian Blue Robin

  39. Magpie Robin

  40. Black-lored Tit

  41. Caspian Tern

  42. Brahminy’s Kite

  43. Black kite

  44. Indian Cormorant

  45. Golden-fronted leafbird

  46. Wood Shrike

  47. Greater Coucal 

  48. Ashy Dongo

  49. Black Drongo

  50. Greater Racket-tail Drongo

  51. Black-napes Monarch

  52. Little Spider-hunter

  53. Emerald Dove 

  54. White-rumped Shama

  55. Brown-cheeked Fulveta

  56. Oriental Honey Buzzards 

  57. White-browed Wagtail 

  58. Yellow Wagtail

  59. Large-billed Crow

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