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Birdwatching in Southern India

The Western Ghats also known as the Sahyadri Mountains is a mountain range along the western side of India. It runs north to south along the western edge of the Deccan Plateau, and separates the plateau from a narrow coastal plain along the Arabian Sea. The Western Ghats block rainfall to the Deccan Plateau. About sixty percent of the Western Ghats are located in the state of Karnataka.These hills cover 1,60,000 sq km and form the catchment area for a complex of river systems that drain almost 40 percent of India. The average elevation is around 1,200 metres.
The area is one of the world’s ten "Hottest biodiversity hotspots" and has over 5000 species of flowering plants, 139 mammal species, 508 bird species and 179 amphibian species. At least 325 globally threatened species occur in the Western Ghats.

"Western ghats, Southern slopes"

The mountains intercept the rain-bearing westerly monsoon winds, and are consequently an area of high rainfall, particularly on their western side. The dense forests also contribute to the precipitation of the area by acting as a substrate for condensation of moist rising orographic winds from the sea, and releasing much of the moisture back into the air via transpiration, allowing it to later condense and fall again as rain.
The Western Ghats are home to four tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forest ecoregions – the North Western Ghats moist deciduous forests, North Western Ghats montane rain forests, South Western Ghats moist deciduous forests, and South Western Ghats montane rain forests.
The northern portion of the range is generally drier than the southern portion, and at lower elevations makes up the North Western Ghats moist deciduous forests ecoregion, with mostly deciduous forests made up predominantly of teak. Above 1,000 meters elevation are the cooler and wetter North Western Ghats montane rain forests, whose evergreen forests are characterized by trees of family Lauraceae.
The evergreen Wayanad forests of Kerala mark the transition zone between the northern and southern ecoregions of the Western Ghats. The southern ecoregions are generally wetter and more species-rich. At lower elevations are the South Western Ghats moist deciduous forests, with Cullenia the characteristic tree genus, accompanied by teak, dipterocarps, and other trees. The moist forests transition to the drier South Deccan Plateau dry deciduous forests, which lie in its rain shadow to the east.

"Ceylon Frogmouth"

Above 1,000 meters are the South Western Ghats montane rain forests, also cooler and wetter than the surrounding lowland forests, and dominated by evergreen trees, although some montane grasslands and stunted forests can be found at the highest elevations. The South Western Ghats montane rain forests are the most species-rich ecoregion in peninsular India; eighty percent of the flowering plant species of the entire Western Ghats range are found in this ecoregion.
Though this area covers barely five percent of India's land, 27 percent of all species of higher plants in India (4,000 of 15,000 species) are found here. Almost 1,800 of these are endemic to the region. The range is home to at least 84 amphibian species, 16 bird species, seven mammals, and 1,600 flowering plants which are not found elsewhere in the world.
In 2006, India applied to the UNESCO MAB for the Western Ghats to be listed as a protected World Heritage Site.
Bird Life: There are at least 508 bird species, which have been recorded from the Western Ghats region.
Recent taxonomic revision in Rasmussen & Anderton (2005) recognizes 192 South Asian endemic species among birds occurring in India. Of these, 30 species are restricted to the Western Ghats where our South India tour is carried out. On this tour it is possible to find nearly all of them and also several other widespread South Asian endemics. Some of these endemics are the endangered Rufous-breasted Laughingthrush, the vulnerable Nilgiri Wood-pigeon, White-bellied Shortwing and Broad-tailed Grassbird, the near threatened, Grey-breasted Laughingthrush, Black-and-rufous Flycatcher, Nilgiri Flycatcher, and Nilgiri Pipit and the least concern Malabar Parakeet, Malabar Grey Hornbill, White-bellied Treepie, Grey-headed Bulbul, Rufous Babbler, Wynaad Laughingthrush, White-bellied Blue-flycatchers and the Crimson-backed Sunbird.

Electronic map of India

Year round birdwatching tours in Southern India

13 day Western Ghats, Birds and Tigers tour (November to March)
5 day birding tour of South India

Tour I
13 DAYS: Western Ghats.

Expect 300+ birds.

Day 1: Mysore/Ranganthittu.
Drive from Bangalore to Mysore with stops along the way to view a nesting colony of the critically endangered Long Billed Vulture (Gyps indicus). We will also be visiting a nesting colony of Painted Storks and Spot-Billed pelicans with a brief stop at a lake along the way to view waders. Check into the hotel at Mysore and have lunch. Spend the evening at the famous heronry called Ranganthittu on the banks of the river Cauvery close to Mysore. Specialty birds here are the Indian Eagle Owl, Eurasian spoonbill, Black-crowned night heron, three species of Cormorant, River Tern and Thick Knee. If time permits we will visit the beautiful Mysore Palace before returning to the hotel for the night.
Day 2: Bandipur.
Proceed to the Bandipur National Park which is home to the largest population of wild tigers in South India. Evening safari through the Bandipur National park where we have a good chance of spotting a tiger in the wild. Birds that we should see on safari are Grey Junglefowl, Malabar Parakeet, Indian Swiftlet, Pompadour Green Pigeon, Crested Hawk Eagle, White-bellied Drongo, Tawny-bellied Babbler, Indian Scimitar Babbler and Jerdon's Bushlark.
Overnight at a comfortable jungle lodge at Bandipur.

"Critically endangered Long billed vultures (Gyps Indicus)"

Day 3-4: Masinagudi.
Continue birding at Bandipur and then proceed to Masinagudi which is located on the northern foothills of the Nilgiris, adjacent to the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary. The area immediately surrounding Masinagudi town falls in the rain-shadow of the Nilgiris and consequently, the vegetation here largely comprises dry, thorny scrub species with few patches of luxuriant riverine forest. Visibility is excellent for birding and birdlife is very good, with over 250 species recorded from here and the adjacent deciduous forests of the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary and Bandipur Tiger Reserve. Some of the bird specialties from these locations include the white-bellied minivet, Jerdon’s bushlark, Malabar lark, grey-headed bulbul, white-bellied woodpecker, sirkeer malkoha. We also have a good chance of spotting the critically endangered White-rumped, Long-billed and Red-headed Vultures.
Overnight at Masinagudi.
Day 5: Ooty.
Early morning birding around Kalhatty waterfalls for a chance to see the Painted Bush Quail and then leave for Ooty the nearby hill station. Birding around Ooty we should see the Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike, Black-and-orange Flycatcher, Rufous Babbler, Dark-fronted Babbler, Nilgiri Laughingthrush, Nilgiri Flycatcher and Nilgiri Flowerpecker.
Overnight at Ooty.
Day 6-7-8: Top Slip.
We take the long drive to Top Slip via a scenic hill route. Top Slip is famous for it’s large tracts of forests and wildlife - birds, butterflies, elephants, sloth bears, leopards, gaur (Indian Bison), dholes (wild dogs), king cobra and the endangered lion-tailed macaques. Top slip’s forests are excellent habitat for nesting populations of the Great-pied Hornbill.
Overnight at the forest lodges.

"Nesting pelicans near Mysore"

Day 9-10: Munnar.
We will leave for Munnar via the Ghats where we should sight the Large Grey Babbler, Common Babbler, Jungle Bush Quail and the Grey Fancolin. We will proceed to Bodhi Ghats on the way to Munnar and stop over for sighting the rare Yellow Throated Bulbul, Indian Robin, Sirkeer Malkoha, Short Toed Snake Eagle, Bluefaced Malkoha and the Black eagle. We will reach Munnar by evening. The next day we will go birding in the sholas (high altitude montane forests) and grasslands for the Nilgiri Pipit, Painted Bush Quail, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, Black & Orange Flycatcher, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Whitebellied Shortwing, Broadtailed Grassbird, Grasshopper Warbler, Malabar Whistling Thrush. There is a good chance of sighting the Nilgiri Tahr, a Western Ghats endemic mountain goat in the shola-grasslands around Munnar.
Overnight at Munnar.
Day 11-12-13: Thattekad.
The Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary is located on the banks of the Periyar River on the foothills of the Western Ghats of Kerala. The habitat matrix of the location, which includes riverine, lowland evergreen and plantation forests, contain an amazing density of birds and offers excellent opportunities for several Western Ghats bird specialities. Some of the south Indian endemic birds found here include the grey-headed bulbul, rufous babbler, Malabar grey hornbill, Malabar parakeet, white-bellied treepie, Wynaad laughing thrush, ruby-throated bulbul, white-bellied blue fly-catcher, Malabar barbet and Malabar wood shrike. Sightings of rarities such as the black baza, crested goshawk, Red spur fowl, Malabar trogon, Ceylon bay owl and the Ceylon frogmouth are not uncommon. Winter is interesting for several migrant flycatchers, warblers and wetland birds. Overnight at a lovely jungle camp on the banks of the river Periyar. The closest international airport to Thattekad is Kochi which is at a distance of 71 kilometres.

13 Day tour price is: 2 pax Rupee(INR)131,250 per person. 4 pax Rupee(INR)115,500 per person.
Single Supplement Rupee(INR)42,000

Due to currency fluctuations and fuel cost we reserve the right to adjust any pricing prior to departure.

Convert your tour cost into your currency of choice.

Tour II

5 day birding tour of South India

Expect 150+ birds.

Day 1: Bangalore.
Visit the nearby Nandi Hills. Perhaps the nearest and most easily accessible hills around the city, the Nandi Hills, lie almost due north at a distance of 60 km (45 miles) and are visible from here as a compact block of three rocky outcrops, one of them, Nandidurg, rising some 1416m (4813 feet) above mean sea level. Though most of the original forest cover has disappeared, yielding place to secondary growth, primarily thorny scrub, and the inevitable invasion of the exotic Lantana has occurred together with the ’afforestation’ with the Australian Eucalyptus, some percentage of the hill flora has persisted, especially nearer the summit. On this latter is a historical fort, built by native rulers and later captured by Tippu Sultan who lost it to the British forces. Within the limits of this ancient fort, at the present time, is an extensive garden maintained by the Department of Horticulture and an assortment of many exotic trees, shrubs and annuals have been planted amongst the endemic flora. The sides of the hill are clothed with scrub forest mixed with eucalyptus and Lantana almost to two-thirds of the way up and the remaining one-third near the peak, besides the fort garden has more broad-leaved vegetation more typical of the environment. At the base of the hills and surrounding them are more low hills covered with short, thorny scrub along with stands of eucalyptus trees and open cultivation with small ’ravines’ and tanks scattered around. There are a small number of the endemic Nilgiri Wood-pigeon that can be seen at Nandi Hills. The rare and highly endemic Yellow-throated Bulbul is also found here. Other species that can be seen here are, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, Red-rumped Swallow, Eurasian Blackbird, Pied Thrush, Grey Wagtail, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Grey Junglefowl, Puff-throated Babbler, White-eyed Buzzard, Shikra, Besra, Common Snipe, Blue-faced Malkoha.
Overnight at Bangalore.

"Malabar Giant Squirrel"

Day 2: Mysore/Ranganthittu
Drive from Bangalore to Mysore with stops along the way to view a nesting colony of the critically endangered Long Billed Vulture (Gyps indicus). We will also be visiting a nesting colony of Painted Storks and Spot-Billed pelicans with a brief stop at a lake along the way to view waders. Check into the hotel at Mysore and have lunch. Spend the evening at the famous heronry called Ranganthittu on the banks of the river Cauvery close to Mysore. Specialty birds here are the Indian Eagle Owl, Eurasian spoonbill, Black-crowned night heron, three species of Cormorant, River Tern and Thick Knee. If time permits we will visit the beautiful Mysore Palace before returning to the hotel for the night.
Day 3-4-5: Coorg/Nagarahole National Park
We leave Mysore and stop at a scrub forest en-route to Coorg. Target birds are, Red Avadavat, Barred Buttonquail, Jungle Bush Quail, Common Hawk Cuckoo, Indian Peafowl, White-browed Fantail, Grey Francolin, Scaly-breasted Munia, Indian Silverbill. We continue through the Nagarahole National Park, birding along the way. This is a tiger preserve and we have a very good chance of spotting a tiger here in the fading light just before dusk. Coorg is coffee country and is at the foothills of the western ghats. We should be able to see a great majority of the western ghats species here during the three days that we will be birding in Coorg. Indian coffee forests stretching forth hundreds of miles are perfect bird sanctuaries because they provide a safe haven for all forms of life. These coffee forests radiate a wide variety of birds in different shapes, sizes, colors, habits and instincts. Each species is present in select numbers and occupy almost every conceivable niche. The coffee mountain has many geographical and environmental zones; comprising of coffee forests, valleys, grass lands, meadows, scrub, marshes, ponds, lakes and rivers. Birds echo a rhythm and the arrival of the seasons. Bird migration, nesting, Courtship, shedding and renewing plumage are excellent indicators of the arrival of seasons.
We will be staying at an estate bungalow surrounded by coffee plantation.

5 Day tour price is: 2 pax is Rupee(INR)57,750 per person. 4 pax is Rupee(INR)52,500 per person.
Single Supplement Rupee(INR)21,000

Due to currency fluctuations and fuel cost we reserve the right to adjust any pricing prior to departure.

Convert your tour cost into your currency of choice.

Price includes accommodation on twin sharing basis, meals, transportation, guide fees, entrance fees. Reception at Airports on arrival and departure. This trip can also be tailor-made to suit your requirements and budget.
Air/Train fare. Personal expenses, bar, mineral water, laundry, telephone, and medical expenses and insurance.
In case of extraordinary weather conditions, we reserve the right to modify the itineraries.
Minimum lead time 3 weeks.
To check availability for tours on short notice, fill out “Request for Quote” form with desirable dates.
Suggested List of clothing and equipment:
Light hiking boots with ankle support for birding during the day and sandals for the evenings. Long sleeved quick dry shirts and trousers preferably pemethrin impregnated. LED Headlamp/Flashlight for night use - Rechargeable AA or AAA batteries are recommended. Sunblock - 30 SPF. Mosquito repellent cream. Wide brimmed hat. Sunglasses. Personal medication. Voltage adaptors if required - We use 220 volt sockets in India. Quick dry camp towels. Water resistant jacket. Sweater for cold evenings. Woolen balaclava. Binoculars 10x42 and 6x30. Spotting scope with tripod. Swiss knife with tweezers and scissors

Should you only need a guide for a day please send a message to Bopanna.   

Birding guide Bopanna Pattada, your local Birdingpal guide
I am very passionate about nature and have been fascinated by birds and animals since childhood. Though I graduated as an engineer and worked for a decade as a software specialist, most of my weekends were spent birding. Since the last few years, I work as a full time birding and fishing guide and find great pleasure in taking other birders and anglers into the outdoors. I spend a great deal of time in the field, to find new locations and practice birdcalls to ensure that my clients have a successful and enjoyable trip. I am trained in first aid techniques and outdoor survival. I speak all the local south Indian languages and have a network of friends spread across the country. I make it a point to keep track of the best restaurants along the route to ensure that my clients taste the best local cuisine. I am also a keen photographer and offer my clients record shots of their sightings at the end of the trip. We use a four-wheel drive vehicle for all trips to ensure that walking around is minimized wherever possible and the vehicle can handle bad roads. Safety and hygiene are of paramount importance during all our tours.

I recently completed a short business trip from the US to Bangalore, and wanted to have day's birding in the area. Bopanna was the perfect match for my needs, offering short and longer guided outings that would be impossible to organize independently. Pre-trip contact and organization was smooth and informative, and arrangements easy to set up and schedule. I was picked up on-time by my guide for the day, Bopanna, whose approach, knowledge, and companionship made for a superb day in the Nandi Hills and surrounding area. We spent a full day birding and managed to see over 100 species including most of the expected birds and a few endemics. The day exceeded my expectations in every way, a great experience with wonderful birds and scenery, and Bopanna's friendly approach ensuring that it was comfortable and enjoyable.
I can highly recommend Bopanna, and I'm looking forward to being able to take a longer birding trip in the near future.
Simon Lane, Chatham, NJ, USA. simon_c_lane(AT)

Some facts about Southern India.

Southern India is the area encompassing India's states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu as well as the union territories of Lakshadweep and Pondicherry, occupying twenty percent of India's area. The region is also known as Dravida as is used in the National anthem.
South India lies in the peninsular Deccan Plateau and is bounded by the Arabian Sea in the west, the Indian Ocean in the south and the Bay of Bengal in the east. The geography of the region is diverse, encompassing two mountain ranges, the Western and Eastern Ghats, and a plateau heartland. The Godavari, Krishna, Tungabhadra and Kaveri rivers are important non-perennial sources of water.
A majority of Indians from the southern region speak one of the Dravidian languages: Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, and Tulu. During its history, a number of dynastic kingdoms ruled over parts of South India whose invasions across southern and southeastern Asia impacted the history and cultures of modern nation-states such as Sri Lanka, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. The region was colonised by Britain and gradually incorporated into the British Empire.
There is a wide diversity of plants and animals in South India, resulting from its varied climates and geography. Deciduous forests are found along the Western Ghats while tropical dry forests and scrub lands Deccan thorn scrub forests are common in the interior Deccan plateau. The southern Western Ghats have high altitude rain forests called the South Western Ghats montane rain forests. The Malabar Coast moist forests are found on the coastal plains. The Western Ghats itself is a biodiversity hotspot.
According to some experts, the weltanschauung of South Indians is essentially the celebration of the eternal universe through the celebration of the beauty of the body, and motherhood, which is exemplified through their dance, clothing, and sculptures. South Indian women traditionally wear the Saree while the men wear a type of sarong, which could be either a white pancha or a colourful lungi with typical batik patterns.
Rice is the staple diet, while fish is an integral component of coastal South Indian meals. Coconut is an important ingredient in Kerala whereas Andhra Pradesh cuisine is characterized by pickles and spicy curries. Hyderabadi cuisine a legacy of the past, is popular for its Biryani. Dosa, Idli, Uttapam are popular throughout the region. There are large coffee estates in southern Karnataka and parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
The main spiritual traditions of South India include both Shaivite and Vaishnavite branches of Hinduism, although Buddhist and Jain philosophies had been influential several centuries earlier.
In India, Karnataka is well-known for it's rich culture and arts. The ancient city of Vijayanagar (now known as Hampi) in the Bellary district, is a good example. This city was as big as the city of Rome.
Mysore, is a beautiful city with many palaces. The fantastic palaces here, reflect the rich cultural and art pieces of ancient times. The support to arts and crafts given by the Wodeyars (rulers of Mysore ) during their reign can be seen here.

More facts about India.

Guide books and CD’s recommended:

Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide: 2 volumes - Pamela C Rasmussen and John C Anderton
Pocket Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent - R. Grimmett, C. Inskipp & T. Inskipp
A Photographic Guide to the Birds of India - B. Grewal, B. Harvey & O. Pfister

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Bird Recordings from India

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Last update 20/02/2014