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Location India, Tamil Nadu
Central coordinates 76o 35.50' East  11o 17.93' North
IBA criteria A1, A2, A3
Area 7,846 ha
Altitude 0
Year of IBA assessment 2004

Bombay Natural History Society



Site description Avalanche, a part of the Nilgiri Hills, lies in the extreme northwest of Tamil Nadu, on the interstate boundaries with Karnataka and Kerala. Avalanche Reserve Forest encompasses an area of 7,846 ha. The terrain is undulating with a few remnant patches of grassland and sholas, the latter confined to the folds of hills and depressions. There are numerous streams draining into the reservoirs of the Canada and Emerald Dams that have submerged a considerable area. The climate is generally cool throughout the year, with frost formation mainly during November and December. This site forms one of the key areas for the conservation of many endemics and threatened bird species of the Western Ghats, such as the Rufous-breasted or Nilgiri Laughingthrush Garrulax cachinnans. Increasing anthropogenic pressure from the nearby settlements is a cause of concern for this IBA. The vegetation cover mainly constitutes monoculture plantations of exotics Wattle Acacia mearnsii, Blue Gum Eucalyptus globulus and Pine Pinus patula. The vegetation can be classified into three major types namely, Southern Montane Wet Temperate Forest (Shola), grasslands and exotic plantations. Details of the flora are included in the authoritative works of Gamble (1915-25) and Fyson (1915-20). Southern Montane Wet Forests classified by Champion and Seth (1968), generally found above 1,800 m, are common in Avalanche and consist of medium sized evergreen trees upto 20 m. Such forest patches usually occur as a rule at the heads of streams in the folds of converging slopes and include species of both tropical and temperate regions. Several genera of distinctly Himalayan origin, such as Rhododendron, Hypericum, Rubus, Lonicera, Gaultheria and Pittosporum are common. Over the past hundred years, sholas have been converted to monoculture plantations or tea estates and this continued up to the late 1970s. Now, fortunately this has been stopped and the remnant sholas have been protected. Grasslands in Avalanche Reserve Forest were the worst affected by plantations, as a result of which hardly any undisturbed grassland remains. Fragments of grassland are seen between the mosaic of plantations and shola patches. During monsoon, the natural grasslands harbour many species of Balsam and Orchids, some rare and endemic. Systematic plantation of exotic species began in 1953, coverning about 70% of this IBA; largely Wattle, Eucalyptus, Pine and Tea were planted. Plantation is proportionally the largest vegetation type in Avalanche. Thickets of Wattle and stands of Pine are seen everywhere. Tea plantations are mainly found in the area from Murlimunth towards Emerald village.

Key Biodiversity 

AVIFAUNA: This is one of the most important bird areas in the Nilgiris. The shola in this IBA harbours several endemic and habitat-specialist bird species such as the Nilgiri Laughingthrush, White-bellied Shortwing Brachypteryx major and Nilgiri Wood -Pigeon Columba elphinstonii. Grassland species of conservation interest include the Nilgiri Pipit Anthus nilghiriensis, which is a common species in suitable habitats in the IBA. The remnant grasslands also provide foraging ground to many raptors such as the Common Buzzard Buteo buteo, White-eyed Buzzard Butastur teesa, Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus, and Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus, to name a few. The Common Kestrel breeds in this IBA. The plantations in this IBA are the least important habitat type, and support mainly generalist species such as the Grey Tit Parus major, White-eye Zosterops palpebrosus and warblers in winter (Zarri et al. 2002). The wattle plantation in Avalanche also supports a small wintering population of the Kashmir Flycatcher Ficedula subrubra. During a recent survey of this species in the Nilgiris Upper Plateau, 12 of the 16 individuals birds sighted altogether were recorded from this IBA (Zarri and Rahmani, in press). The Woodcock Scolopax rusticola, which was once a prized game bird, has severely declined over the last few decades in most parts of its range in India. It is still found in Avalanche, but is an extremely rare winter visitor. The water reservoir in this IBA is devoid of vegetation, and supports no significant bird species except a few Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos and Large Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo. Fish fauna is limited to two species, one of them the highly prized game fish, Rainbow Trout Salmo gairdneri, which was successfully introduced here in 1911 to the detriment of many endemic species. The site lies in the Western Ghats Endemic Bird Area (EBA), where Stattersfield et al. (1998) have listed 16 restricted range species. Eight of them are found in this IBA. All the five restricted range species associated with Wet Temperate sholas and Subtropical Broadleaf Hill Forest (Stattersfield et al. 1998) are found, which proves that some shola habitat is still available despite extensive plantation in the past. The occurrence of such species also necessitates further protection of the site. Avalanche is located in Biome-10 (Indian Peninsula Tropical Moist Forests). Fifteen species represent this biome. Only two species, the White-cheeked Barbet Pomatorhinus horsfieldii and Indian Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus horsfieldii have been recorded to date. The Indian Scimitar Babbler is much widely distributed, so it may not be the best example of this biome. The site is an important wintering area for many birds that are listed in other biomes such as Tickell’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus affinis, Large-billed Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus magnirostris, Brownbreasted Flycatcher Muscicapa muttui, Blue-headed Rock-thrush Monticola cinclorhynchus and Indian Blue Robin Luscinia brunnea.

OTHER KEY FAUNA: Troops of Nilgiri Langur Trachypithecus johni are frequently seen all through this IBA, while Bonnet Macaque Macaca radiata is occasionally present near the settlements. Among the large cats, Tiger Panthera tigris and Leopard P. pardus are sighted, the leopard being more frequent. Several other small mammals, such as Jungle Cat Felis chaus, Brown Palm Civet Paradoxurus jerdoni, Striped-necked Mongoose Herpestes vitticollis, and Common Mongoose Herpestes edwardsii have also been recorded. Packs of Wild Dog Cuon alpinus, and Golden Jackal Canis aureus are also to be seen. Nilgiri Marten Martes gwatkinsi is rarely seen, perhaps because of its elusive behaviour. Among the herbivores, Sambar Cervus unicolor and Barking Deer Muntiacus muntjak are fairly common, while Nilgiri Tahr Hemitragus hylocrius can also be sighted near cliffs.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Nilgiri Woodpigeon Columba elphinstonii resident  2004  present  A1, A2, A3  Vulnerable 
Grey-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus priocephalus 2004  present  A2, A3  Near Threatened 
Black-chinned Laughingthrush Strophocincla cachinnans resident  2004  present  A1, A2, A3  Endangered 
Nilgiri Blue Robin Myiomela major resident  2004  present  A1, A2, A3  Endangered 
Kashmir Flycatcher Ficedula subrubra winter  2004  present  A1, A2  Vulnerable 
Black-and-rufous Flycatcher Ficedula nigrorufa resident  2004  present  A2, A3  Near Threatened 
Nilgiri Flycatcher Eumyias albicaudatus resident  2004  present  A2, A3  Near Threatened 
Crimson-backed Sunbird Nectarinia minima 2004  present  A2, A3  Least Concern 
Nilgiri Pipit Anthus nilghiriensis resident  2004  present  A2, A3  Vulnerable 

Habitats

IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Forest   -
Shrubland   -
Grassland   -
Artificial - aquatic   -
Artificial - terrestrial   -

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
forestry -
Notes: Forestry; Plantation

Acknowledgements Key contributor: Ashfaq Ahmed Zarri.

References 

Champion, H. G. and Seth, S. K. (1968) A revised survey of forest types of India. Govt. of India Press, Delhi.

Fyson, R. F. (1915-20) The flora of the Nilgiris and Pulney Hill-tops. Vol. 1. Superintendent, Government Press, Madras.

Gamble, J. S. (1915-25) Flora of the Presidency of Madras. Botanical Survey of India Calcutta.

Stattersfield, A. J., Crosby, M. J., Long, A. J. and Wege, D. C. (1998) Endemic Bird Areas of the World: Priorities for Biodiversity Conservation. BirdLife Conservation Series No. 7. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Zarri, A. A., Rahmani, A. R., and Senthilmurugan, S. (2002) Ecology of Shola and Alpine Grasslands. Annual Report 2. Part 1. Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai.

Zarri, A. A. and Rahmani, A. R. (in press) Wintering records, ecology and behaviour of Kashmir flycatcher (Ficedula subrubra Hartert & Steinbacher). J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc.

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2014) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Avalanche (Nilgiri). Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 22/12/2014

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