That includes 14 endemic and 2 critically endangered species

The Malabar Ornithological Survey 2010-11, the first ever comprehensive study on avifauna in north Kerala, has proved that the Wayanad part of the Western Ghats is a critical habitat for endemic as well as endangered birds.

The team sighted 200 species, including 14 of the 16 endemic species and two critically endangered species, during the two-month survey in Wayanad district.

C. Sasikumar, ornithologist and the team's principal investigator, told TheHindu on Tuesday that the Vellarimala-Chembra regions were of high conservation value because of its unique biodiversity.

“We found an excellent population of black-chinned laughing thrush, an endemic and endangered bird species, whose presence is mostly confined to the Vellarimala and Brahmagiri mountains of Wayanad region,” he said.

The residents

Other endemic birds reported from the region include the Black-and-Orange Flycatcher, Rufous-bellied Shortwing, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Wayanad laughing thrush, Small Sunbird, Malabar Grey Hornbill and White-bellied Blue Flycatcher.

Among them, the Black-and-Orange Flycatcher, the Nilgiri Flycatcher and the Shortwing were strictly confined to the high altitude region, especially the shola forests, according to C.K. Vishnudas, team member. The team sighted some rare species, including the Scaly Thrush, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Black-capped Kingfisher, Olive-backed Tree Pipit, Speckled Piculet, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, Mountain Hawk-Eagle and Jerdon's Baza.

The team also found Brown-rock Pipit on the Chembra mountain, the first record of the species from north of the Palghat Gap, P.A. Vinayan, another team member said. Rufous-bellied Shortwing, a sister species of the White-bellied Shortwing, a species seen south of the Palghat Gap, was a candidate to be labelled new species, based on some recent DNA studies, he said.

The region had become a critical habitat of the highly endemic and threatened bird species of northern Kerala, Mr. Sasikumar said. The team intended to suggest in their report that the government declare the Vellarimala and Chembra regions as a national park to conserve the birds. A few months ago, a team of scientists of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Kalpetta, discovered 14 new species of plants in the region

Unique habitat

Mr. Sasikumar said the mountain ranges, situated 3,000 to 7,000 feet above the sea level and spread over 200 sq. km., were unique and incomparable to any other part of the Western Ghats.

At present, these hill ranges were protected under the reserve forest and vested forest category. However, this was not sufficient for the long-term survival of the endemics species.

Reports of encroachment

There were reports that attempts were on to encroach into prime forest, he said. Once the region is declared a sanctuary or a national park, more resources could be channelled for protecting and monitoring the endemic and threatened species, he pointed out.

S. Raju and V.A. Shebin were the other members of the team.