The Gateway to Paradise

If I can find the Bar-headed Goose, the Peregrine Falcon, the White-rumped Shama and many other endemic bird species of the Western Ghats in one location, I would certainly call that place Paradise.

Thekkanthottam is located at the foothills of Palanis. The semi-deciduous forest, with the Palar - Porunthalar dam to the northwest, provides a good habitat for many bird species. The dam was built across the rivers Palar and Porunthalar which originate in the Palani hills. After the northeast monsoon, the dam attracts many migratory birds. The Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus) and the Eurasian Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca) spend the winter here. The birds can be seen either from the watchtower built by the forest department at the ghat road or by walking into the forest with permission from the department. Those who want to go bird watching on foot need to cross the canal which brings water from the hills, some of it being the drinking water of Palani municipality.

There is a small temple at the entrance of the forest. The huge fig trees at the entrance to the forest attract many birds and mammals. The broad wall built by the British along the canal directs the water for irrigation to nearby villages. The wall is not so high, so it is easy to walk on it to watch birds at eye level. Since the forest was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 2013, the forest gets more protection. Of late the movements of mammals are seen. The Grizzled Giant Squirrel, the Bonnet Macaque, the Grey Langur, the Indian Gaur, the Sambar Deer, wild pigs and Asian Elephants are not uncommon in recent years.

The trusted spots for sighting Dholes and Leopards are also notable. Once I saw a herd of Chitals moving back to the forest from the dam. Thekkanthottam is one of the unique places where four different types of migratory wagtails are seen. The Grey Wagtail, the Forest Wagtail, the Yellow Wagtail and the Citrine Wagtails come here, in addition to the resident Pied Wagtail. The Indian Paradise Flycatcher and the Tickells Blue Flycatchers are common and can be found all around the year. The ground-living birds like the Peafowl, the Grey Jungle Fowl, the Painted Spurfowl and the Red Spurfowl can be seen in the same forest. The fowls govern the land, while the raptors rule the sky.

I have observed the Osprey, the Lesser Fish-eagle, the Rufuos Bellied Eagle, the Short-toed Snake Eagle, the Bonnillies Eagle, the Oriental Honey Buzzard, the Crested Serpent Eagle and the Peregrine Falcon. In addition, there are Pipits, Bulbuls, Sunbirds, Orioles, Woodpeckers, Robins, Thrushes, Shrikes and other forest species in this habitat in the forest. The backwaters of the dam and the grazing areas are perfect habitats for Storks like the Woolly-necked Stork, Painted Stork and Open billed Storks.

We watched ospreys in winter. They are found in all the continents except Antarctica. They are fish-catchers and well known for their hunting technique. I have seen it once in Pulicat lake near Chennai. They prey on fish from the sea as well as freshwater. Thekkanthottam must be a good habitat for osprey as the forest and dam are very close by. But these dams restrict the water flow during some periods of the year, the habitat for osprey would have been impacted.

The Lesser Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus humilis) is also dependent on fish but unlike ospreys they depend on freshwater fishes. Lesser Fish Eagles can be found in some parts of Western Ghats and the Himalayas in India. This eagle can be found in most of the countries of south-east Asia and I have seen this once in the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary which probably indicates that the quality of water is good. Unfortunately, their population is declining according to the IUCN, due to loss of habitat. If the freshwater streams are polluted continuously, this species will be pushed to brink of extinction. 

Lesser Fish Eagle at Thekkanthottam- [Photographer - Vishaka Guru]

There is a musical bird which can be seen in this terrain called White -rumped Shama (Copsychus malabaricus), commonly found in healthy forest areas of southeast Asia. It is well known for its song. I have seen them several times along streams in dense forests. The Tamil name for this bird is Solaipadi, and refers to the behaviour of the bird, as it sings in dense forest areas.

The Jungle Owlet (Glaucidium radiatum) is a perfectly camouflaged bird found all around the year. They can be found either when they fly or when they call. They are difficult to spot when still. I once saw one in the summer, before the first rain. The teak trees were shedding their leaves and the forest was an open enough to spot birds even from afar. I saw a jungle owlet fly and perched on eye level on a bare tree. 

Though nature provides a suitable habitat for many creatures, there are huge disturbances from humans. The Palani Ghat road is a noisy one, used and littered by tourists without any care for the environment. I once came across a Grizzled Giant Squirrel that had been overrun. 

The honking of the traffic causes high decibel levels that can be heard deep in the forest. The government should limit the traffic to the hills according to the carrying capacity. All the vehicles should be scrutinized to avoid carrying plastic bags to the hills. Grey Langurs and Bonnet Macaques are gathering at the roadside and waiting for the travellers to feed.

Until we take the responsibility to protect our paradise, do we really deserve to enter?

Article Published in Leaf Litter Magazine Mar 2022. ©Satheesh Muthu Gopal


Read my below articles also and leave your comments.

  1. Lunch With a Falcon
  2. Reclamation in Kuthiraiyar
  3. The remaining grasslands of Palani Hills
  4. Palani Hills - Shrinking Heaven
  5. Glatt : A Swiss River
  6. Painted Beauty

Post a Comment


  1. Honestly this article has too many informations and it’s worth understanding all these.. Kindly keep writing ✍️ Feed us more knowledge 😊

  2. Really come to know the meaning of paradise😀💪👌

  3. Wonderful place. Fondly remember the butterfly walk we made there for which you have arranged the permission through your father. Also fondly remember the meeting we had with him and lunch hosted by him.

  4. Excellent write up 👏🏻😍 Happy to be a part of this wonderful bird paradise 😇

  5. Excellent Brother..Keep rocking 👏 👌