Horsing around Horsley Hills!

Horsley Hills, where I had started birding five years ago, beckoned again early this year. And rewarded me with an enriching morning

On the last weekend of March this year, after almost five years, I revisited the place of my first ever birding trip – Horsley Hills near Madanapalle in Andra Pradesh. I had actually gone to the famed Rishi Valley School in Madanapalle on a short visit with my parents. Although I could not do any birding there on the first day, I decided to take my parents to Horsley Hills early next morning and try and squeeze in a couple of hours of birding.

We were at Horsley hills by 7:30 AM. It was going to be a short outing, and as we needed to get back to the school by noon, I wanted to make full use of the time there. After parking the car, I strayed away from my folks and birded with my trusty old binocs. I also carried my camera hoping to get nothing more than a few record shots especially of the yellow-throated bulbul that is found here. The Yellow-throated Bulbuls, although hard to find elsewhere, are known to be pretty common in these hills.

Soon enough, I started seeing the common birds such as sunbirds and tailorbirds going about their early morning business of finding food around the gardens planted by the AP tourism department.

Later, as I walked near one of the hotel buildings, I saw a drongo perched on a tree. I thought to myself, Black Drongo. But then, there was something different about this drongo. It wasn’t exactly black; it was greyish with a bluish tinge on its feathers and lacked the white rictal spot that distinguishes a black drongo from other drongos. But the tail was long and deeply forked just as in the Black Drongo. The only thing this bird could be was an Ashy Drongo, overstaying its winter visit.
As I strained to get a good look at the drongo high up in the Jacaranda tree, I spied a movement from the corner of my eye. In the darkness of the trees and shrubs was perched a male Blue-capped Rock Thrush. Whenever I tried to get close enough for a good look, it moved away further behind the hotel buildings. I dogged it for a while slowly until it came to rest on a tree. Here it remained motionless for a while. This was enough for me to take a good look and also manage a shot with my cam.
Only after I was done with the thrush did I realize that it had led me right behind the buildings where it was a bit rocky but with shrubs, grass and plenty of tree cover as well. I looked around saw a pipit. As identification of pipits is tricky and because I did not have my field guide with me, I took a couple of shots of the obliging bird to ID it at my leisure. Days after reaching home and after hours of painful examination, I narrowed down on two species – Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni) and Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis). I think it’s the Olive-backed because I couldn’t find any clear makings on the upperparts. Even so, I can’t be one hundred percent sure which pipit I saw.
The next bird that I saw drove me crazy for a while. I had a tough time trying to find out the features that would help me later id the bird. I started jotting down its appearance in my mind. It was blue. A slaty blue. Well, that was it. There was no other clearly defined marking on its body except that its primaries were a little darker. And what a bird it was!
It moved from tree to ground, ground to rock, rock to balcony, balcony to roof! I felt its movements were similar to those of a myna or a thrush. I took a couple of good looks at it, took a shot for identification and moved on. Later, when I checked the field guide, I realized that this was a Blue Rock Thrush.
Tired of chasing after the rock thrush, I headed back to the gardens. Here I spent time with some Oriental White-eyes playing hide and seek.
It was now quite late in the morning and we were famished. We decided to go to the restaurant where they had buffet breakfast served just outside the entrance of the building. I was happily hogging away when I saw a small bird flutter about in the tree next to us. I reached for the camera and looked through the view finder.

Perched on a twig was a very pretty small white bird with dark blue over its head, face and back. This was the Ultramarine Flycatcher, a rare winter visitor prolonging its stay in the south. I spent a good fifteen minutes with this bird before it decided to forage elsewhere. The same area was then taken over by coppersmith barbets and I enjoyed watching them feed on berries from the tree. Unfortunately, as the light was not great for photography, I could only manage a single shot.

It was almost noon, and we decided to leave. Mom drove since I was tired. I had seen quite a number of birds in just a couple of hours. Yet I was a bit disappointed that I was not blessed with a sighting of the Yellow-throated Bulbul.
But Gaia was really in a good mood that day, I guess. As the car slowed at one of the hairpin bends, I saw a small flock of white-and-yellow birds moving about in the shrubs close to the road. I got down and scanned the bushes. There, flitting around a small dense tree, was a pair of Yellow-throated Bulbuls!

And as I had hoped, I also got a record shot!

Posted from Horsley Hills, Andhra Pradesh, India.

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