Encounter: The Nilgiri Flycatcher

In the dark, mysteriously beautiful shola forests of the Nilgiris, look out for a little blue bird that will drive your blues away  

There’s something common to the Nilgiris and this diminutive flycatcher — the color blue. The Nilgiris — literally Blue Hills — get their name from the purple-blue flowers of the Kurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana) that carpet their slopes once in 12 years. As for the male Nilgiri Flycatcher, it develops a dark metallic blue color as it reaches adulthood.

All my run-ins with the Nilgiri Flycatcher (Eumyias albicaudatus) have been in various parts of Ooty, which is part of the limited habitat that this bird occupies, and one reason why it has been classified as a near-threatened species in the IUCN Red list.

I saw it first on a trip to Mukurthi National Park, inside a small pocket of shola forest, as the bird hopped from one low branch to another looking for small winged insects. It was just one member of a mixed hunting flock. It soon disappeared into the dense undergrowth where it was too dark to discern anything.

I saw them in plenty in August 2009 on a couple of drives to Ooty. This time the sightings were elaborate, and it was exciting to watch them sally around catching insects on the wing, and letting out shrill warbles interspersed with sharp cheeps. A juvenile obliged me, letting me take a few snaps as it perched on a branch a few metres away from the road.
But the best sighting was this year in March when a two-day trip resulted in an hour-long encounter with a rotund male specimen, who hopped around quite close to us. First, it perched on some kind of hibiscus bush and later on a wall, often giving us curious glances, and letting us photograph him to our heart’s content. 

The Little Blue Bird of the Blue Hills from Green Ogre on Vimeo.

Text and photographs by Sandeep Somasekharan
Video by Beej


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