In Association with:
GOA – November 2005
278 Bird Species recorded
Leaders Nick Bray & Loven Pereira
Day 1 Saturday 5th November
This superb tour certainly started well, with everyone checking in early and our Monarch flight departing on time. In fact the whole process had been hassle free and the direct flight to Dabolim Airport in the Indian state of Goa ran extremely smoothly.
Day 2 Sunday 6th November
After an uneventful overnight flight we touched down in Goa bang on time, and were soon meeting our exceptional guide, Loven Pereira from Backwoods Camp before driving the hour or so to the Marina Dourhada Hotel. The whole group were obviously excited to be here and soon birds were being called out from the coach, with numerous Black and Brahminy Kites being the highlight. After checking into our rooms and having lunch, some time off was needed to relax and recover from the overnight flight. However, the temptation of new birds proved irresistible to everybody and we scanned the hotel grounds in the search of some much needed lifers. It was simply great to be out in the sunshine and birding properly, as although we had seen lots of species from the coach it’s not an entirely satisfactory way of birdwatching. Much of our time was taken up watching the numerous Black and Brahminy Kites soaring over the lake in the hotel’s grounds, plus some good perched views as well. Other common Indian birds here included several noisy parties of Jungle Mynas, a large flock of Red-rumped Swallows and House Swifts, as well as Indian Roller, White-browed Wagtail and House Crow. The lake opposite the hotel entrance proved rather productive with Little Cormorant, Indian Pond-heron, Osprey, Shikra, Common and White-throated Kingfishers, Green Bee-eater, Long-tailed Shrike, Ashy Woodswallow, Black Drongo and Pied Bushchat. In fact there was more than enough to keep everyone occupied, but we somehow managed to drag ourselves away and drive the short distance to Arpora Forest where the promise of more goodies proved irresistible. The drive along the road produced an endemic Malabar Lark, whilst Rod picked up a couple of White-rumped Munias on some telegraph wires. On arrival we didn’t walk more than 300 metres, and stationed ourselves around a clearing which enabled us to have a clear view of the surrounding area. We stayed here for several hours, just letting the birds come to us – and boy did this pay off. First up was a pair of Red Spurfowl that flew across the clearing in plain view and disappeared into dense cover, and this was soon followed by a pair of confiding Blue-faced Malkohas that eventually, after much skulking as is the norm, came right out into the open and perched on top of a bush for everyone to see. With new birds appearing at regular intervals, we soaked up all the action and couldn’t believe how productive this little area was, with several Black-headed Cuckoo-shrikes maintaining our adrenalin rush, although they proved frustrating for quite some time. More White-rumped Munias followed, whilst Grey-breasted Prinia, Greenish Warbler, Indian Golden Oriole (a recent split from Eurasian Golden Oriole), Common Iora and the endemic White-cheeked Barbet and Nilgiri Flowerpecker (a recent split from Plain Flowerpecker) all appeared in quick succession. A large tree at the edge of the clearing seemed to act like a magnet with Indian Robin, Oriental Magpie-robin, several more Black-headed Cuckoo-shrikes, Ashy Drongo, another White-cheeked Barbet, as well as Red-whiskered, White-browed and Red-vented Bulbuls all appearing more or less at the same time! A small party of Orange Minivets (a recent split from Scarlet Minivet) were next on our ever growing lists and performed well beside a White-bellied Drongo, whilst a female Asian Koel was scoped nearby. A very close Nilgiri Flowerpecker proved rather photogenic, whilst Purple and Purple-rumped Sunbirds, Long-tailed Shrike, Grey-breasted Prinia, Vernal Hanging-parrot and Blyth’s Reed Warbler were all just reward for our patience in remaining in the same spot for so long. Returning to the coach, Indian Yellow Tit (a recent split from Black-lored Yellow Tit), White-spotted Fantail (a recent split from White-throated Fantail) and Common Tailorbird provided a good finale to an action-packed couple of hours birding.
I think the evening meal accompanied by the local Kingfisher beer tasted better than ever after such a feast of birds.
Day 3 Monday 7th November
Our first Stork-billed Kingfisher perched on the telegraph wires at the entrance to the hotel was a good start to the day, before heading off in the coach to Carambolim Lake, and we were not to be disappointed as this huge body of water was literally full of birds. A large gathering of egrets amongst the grassy vegetation held Little, Great and Intermediate, with the latter two providing useful side-by-side comparisons. A scope is essential here, and patient scanning revealed good numbers of Bronze-winged Jacanas, with the more obvious Purple Swamphen also quite common. Once we had all got our eye in, it wasn’t too long before several graceful Pheasant-tailed Jacanas were found, whilst other commoner species easily seen here included Little Cormorant, Oriental Darter, and several groups of Lesser Whistling-ducks. However, a pair of Cotton Pygmy-goose proved really tricky to pick up on the far side of the lake, as they often disappeared behind the large lily pads. Meanwhile on the other side of the road, which consisted of rice paddies and flooded fields, a huge flock of several hundred Baya Weavers obviously found it attractive, whilst all the time a Peregrine Falcon watched from its vantage point on top of a pylon. And the roadside trees provided us with several Bright Green Warblers and a nest-building Purple-rumped Sunbird. A short drive to the opposite side of the lake was then made and we followed a path down to the water’s edge. However in true BIRDSEEKERS style we took ages to walk the short distance, and as is often the case once one good bird turned up, then several more followed. A few Blue-tailed Bee-eaters made for impressive viewing as they sallied forth from a lone tree. In the clear sunlight, their blue tails really shone, and everyone was impressed with the views through the scopes. As we watched them, a couple of Grey-headed Starlings (recently split from Chestnut-tailed Starling) flew in and landed in the same tree. Shortly after this a juvenile Rosy Starling was seen nearby with a Jungle Myna, whilst just behind them a large fruiting tree appeared to be bursting with activity. First of all a White-cheeked Barbet was seen, but disappeared quickly only to be replaced by 3 Coppersmith Barbets. Once again the perfect light really enhanced the red and yellow colours of their faces perfectly, and as we watched them a male Asian Koel flew in as well. Walking along the path produced an Ashy Prinia and a rather handsome and very close Long-tailed Shrike, whilst Loven picked up a Pale-billed Flowerpecker in the tree above us that allowed everyone some terrific views. Nearby an Ashy and a Grey-breasted Prinia gave side-by-side views, before we finally arrived at the lake, where 3 more Cotton Pygmy-geese flew by and landed in an open area right in front of us. There were also several Common Kingfishers here, along with a small flock of Garganey flying by, plus many of the same birds we had seen earlier. Several butterflies were present including Plain Tiger, Blue Wanderer, Common Jezebel and Grey Pansy.So by now it was starting to get really warm, even though it was only 10am so we purchased some cool drinks in a nearby bar before driving a short distance away to Carambolim Wood. The fields just before the wood held Indian Roller, Paddyfield Pipit, Common Stonechat, and a very close and confiding Malabar Lark. In the wood, a pair of cooperative Jungle Owlets gave superb views, as did Yellow-browed Bulbul, Loten’s Sunbird and Black-rumped Flameback. But the small marsh at the far side of the wood only provided some commoner waders we had already seen, plus a few Little Ringed Plovers, so we returned to the coach and headed back to the hotel for lunch.
Loven arrived right on time at 4pm and we drove the short distance to Baga Fields, where we walked out amongst the dried up rice paddies and grassland. Almost immediately a large, dark looking pipit flew up out of the grass and landed on top of a tussock allowing prolonged views. The combination of heavy streaking, obvious pale lores, large bill plus the distinctive call were all characteristics of Richard’s Pipit. A short distance away, a flock of Plum-headed Parakeets flew into a tree and allowed us to approach reasonably close, with the male birds showing off their brightly coloured hoods to great effect. As we were watching them it became apparent that the trees in this corner of the fields were alive with birds, and they included yet more Grey-headed Starlings, as well as our first Brahminy Starlings, and the first of about 50 Rosy Starlings we were to see this afternoon (much to Kath’s delight). The light and the temperature were both perfect, as was the numerous close flight views of at least 4 Barred Buttonquails, and as we searched for these elusive creatures in the long grass, we also saw a very confiding Zitting Cisticola that perched on top of some stems for at least 5 minutes, and was joined by a Plain Prinia as well. With several Malabar Larks, a couple of brief Tawny Pipits and a flyover Tree Pipit, plus Common Stonechat and Long-tailed Shrike, we were having a good time. A flock of Scaly-breasted and White-rumped Munias on a telegraph wire were joined by a Paddyfield Pipit, whilst we flushed a couple of Common Snipe from the grass as well as 2 Pintail Snipe, allowing good comparisons of the wings in flight. So another good day came to a close, and during dinner we were able to reflect on the superb views of some excellent birds today.
Day 4 Tuesday 8th November
We met Loven and our coach at 6.30am after a nice little breakfast at our hotel, and headed off to Mojem Beach. On arrival there was a cool wind blowing that made the mornings proceedings even better, and within a couple minutes walk along the beach we were scoping our first gulls and waders of the day. In fact Loven had taken us to a slightly different site which was just upriver from the main roost, and we scanned a smallish gathering of birds at the mouth of the river. The most numerous bird was Brown-headed Gull with various plumage phases present, and we had a really good look at them before sifting through and finding a couple of the more familiar Black-headed Gulls. Meanwhile just in front of us 3 Kentish Plovers and a Common Sandpiper fed along the tideline, whilst a party of 6 Eurasian Oystercatchers were a good sighting and an immature White-bellied Sea Eagle gave a spectacular display as it was being mobbed by the numerous Black Kites. Overhead we saw an Osprey and a Black-eared Kite (a very distinctive race of Black Kite), whilst a Greater Coucal was perched on a nearby bush. There was a tremendous amount of ‘comings and goings’ with birds arriving and departing all the time. Somehow an adult Slender-billed Gull appeared in the flock out of nowhere, and was the first of at least 10 that joined this roost, with some showing a really attractive bright rosy-pink flush to their underparts. There were also some Sandwich Terns flying around, along with just a couple Gull-billed Terns, whilst our first Lesser Crested Terns were a real crowd pleaser, and at one stage a lone Great Crested Tern flew in and began to preen, which was a bonus. A short walk around the corner found us watching the main roost, where up to a 1000 Brown-headed Gulls littered the beach. However, our attention was initially distracted by a roost of what appeared to be Lesser Sand Plovers, but as it later turned out maybe up to 10 Greater Sand Plovers was also present, along with some more Kentish Plovers. Anyway, back to the gull roost, and we were able to pick up the huge, dark-mantled Heuglin’s Gull as well as the paler backed Steppe Gull, plus more Slender-billed Gulls, whilst a Western Reef Heron flying along the coast was also new for our lists. We had a really great time here enjoying the spectacle of all these birds, and once everyone was satisfied we walked over to the beach bar and ordered some drinks. From here we could still scan the roost and the ocean, which led to a Pomarine Skua being found harrying some terns not far offshore. This rare (for Goa) bird was present for about 5 minutes and gave reasonable views through the scopes, and as we watched it several Little Terns were also found. In fact the skua even had Loven running for his trusty scope! Around the bar we saw Blue-tailed and Green Bee-eaters and a close perched Red-rumped Swallow. A short walk from here produced a Black-crowned Night-heron roosting in a large tree, and then we drove to a small estuary which produced Black-hooded and Indian Golden Orioles, a Common Hawk-cuckoo was found by Kath, and an Oriental Honey Buzzard was picked up by Rod. The tide was unfortunately in and no mud was exposed so we returned to the coach, catching a glimpse of an Asian Paradise-flycatcher, and also seeing a pair of Indian Yellow (Black-lored) Tits on the walk back. After lunch we drove to an area of mature woodland called Saligao, where a short walk led us uphill to a spring which the villagers used to supply water in large containers for their homes. In fact there was a regular procession of people topping up with water, but that didn’t seem to affect the birds in the dense woodland. We had already seen some brief Small Minivets, some flyover endemic Grey-fronted Green-pigeons (a recent split from Pompadour Green-pigeon), Bright-green Warbler (now attained full species status from Greenish Warbler) and Indian Spotted Eagle before reaching the spring. On arrival we had a mad two minute rush when firstly a Black-naped Monarch decided to show itself, and was quickly followed by a gang of Brown-cheeked Fulvettas and a white morph Asian Paradise-flycatcher. Loven then pulled a ‘rabbit out of the hat’ when he eventually located an awesome Brown Wood Owl perched high up amongst some dense foliage on the hillside above us. Once the scope had been set up everyone took it in turns to walk into the forest and get some really nice views – what a bird! So we returned to the wonderful Marina Dourhada in plenty of time for a wash and brush up before dinner, where the usual hilarity ensued.
Day 5 Wednesday 9th November
This morning we took a packed breakfast with us to Dona Paula, which was about a 35 minute drive and on arrival walked onto the dry, grassy area. Almost immediately we found an Oriental Skylark, which kindly alighted on top of a volcanic rock for us to scope after singing high above us in the clear blue sky. There were also a few groups of Greater Short-toed Larks flying around, giving their distinctive call, and we eventually managed to locate some on the ground. Meanwhile we were distracted by a flyby Eurasian Hoopoe, before we found another key target species in the form of a pair of Ashy-crowned Sparrow-larks, with the male in particular being a fine specimen! As we watched them, a few Malabar Larks appeared and a close Tree Pipit was also seen. Then we turned our attention to the surrounding bushes, with each one seemingly playing host to its very own Blyth’s Reed Warbler, with Brahminy Starling, and both Ashy and Plain Prinias also being seen. Kath then picked up a bird perched on top of a nearby bush that turned out to be a Red-headed Bunting, and which took quite a while to positively identify due to its non-breeding plumage. Nearby a pair of Tawny Pipits were found, and we spent some time watching several Wire-tailed and Red-rumped Swallows that were perched on telegraph wires. So by now our stomachs were practically growling, so we walked to the coach finding a brief Bluethroat, and during breakfast a close perched Shikra was found and a classic adult White-bellied Sea Eagle flew over. From here it didn’t take long to get to Batim Lake, where several hundred Garganey were seen out on the water, and amongst them were quite a few Cotton Pygmy-geese, as well as a couple Northern Shoveler, Lesser Whistling-ducks, Common Coot and a lone Northern Pintail. Around the edges of the water we saw both Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas and Purple Swamphen, whilst overhead a couple Oriental Honey Buzzards showed well. Leaving here we passed Santa Cruz marshes, where all the rice fields were overgrown, so we headed back to the hotel. It was nice to get back to the hotel early and relax, before our coach arrived at 3.30pm and we headed to a marsh, picking Loven up along the way. We had a great time here, with several hundred Small Pratincoles wheeling across the marsh before alighting amongst the old rice fields. A flock of 10 Ruddy Shelduck was unexpected, and Loven picked up a Yellow-wattled Lapwing which we had missed earlier this morning. Other species included Grey Wagtail and a close, perched Stork-billed Kingfisher, but it was the waders that we wanted to pay particular attention to. Most of them were Common Redshank, Common Greenshank and Wood Sandpipers, but we also picked out some Lesser Sand Plovers and a couple Western Black-tailed Godwits. Meanwhile behind us in a small garden a couple Tawny-bellied Babblers played hide and seek with us, before finally being nailed by everyone, and we also had Jerdon’s Leafbird (a recent split from Blue-winged Leafbird), Grey-fronted Green-pigeon, Green Bee-eater, and a flock of Small Minivets. We walked a little further along to try and get a different viewpoint over the marsh and ended up getting closer views of the Small Pratincoles, as well as a rare White-winged Tern, a sexy looking Black-capped Kingfisher, and a solitary Ruff. Leaving here a short drive took us back to Mojem Beach where unfortunately the area was crowded with people, however a flock of sand plovers flew in and landed on the tideline quite close to us, and John managed to pick out a Terek Sandpiper. Some of the others in the group managed to get on it before a passing cyclist (on the beach?!) flushed them all. However the sight of a sky full of Small Pratincoles was a nice way to end the day.
Day 6 Thursday 10th November
After a 6.00am breakfast we drove just 5 minutes to Arpora Woods once again, and within a couple minutes we were watching a superb looking Orange-headed Thrush feeding in an open grassy area. This little spot also held Indian Golden Oriole, Greenish Warbler and the usual bulbuls. A little further along, the path opened out and we could view an area of low bushes, where we saw a nice looking Grey-headed Bulbul, and as we watched this a Loten’s Sunbird flew in, quickly followed by Indian Yellow Tit and a couple of White-browed Bulbuls. And then a White-cheeked Barbet appeared in the same bush, whilst a pair of Tickell’s Blue Flycatchers began sunning themselves right out on top of the bush! Then Loven picked up a pair of Large Cuckooshrikes which duly perched up for us to scope, and good views were also had of an Indian Blackbird confirming its status as a recently split species - bearing no resemblance at all to the blackbird we are familiar with at home. Just around the corner in an open glade we had a pair of Rufous Woodpeckers, and they were followed by a cracking Golden-fronted Leafbird that flew in and perched on a close bush, calling all the time. Leaving here we watched a pair of White-bellied Sea Eagles nest building, a noisy gang of Jungle Babblers, flyover Eurasian Crag Martin, Purple Sunbird, and a distant Black-hooded Oriole. We decided to move on from here as the day was getting very warm, so we tried a narrow path through the woods that wasn’t very productive, with only Nilgiri Flowerpecker and Grey-headed Bulbul being noteworthy! So we walked back to the coach, finding a Pied (Bar-winged) Flycatcher-shrike singing directly over the path, giving brief but close views. A welcoming stop for drinks was made in a little village before we walked down to view the river, where a flock of Common Redshanks and several Common Greenshanks fed, plus our first Eurasian Whimbrel. A Striated Heron flew upriver, as did a Gull-billed Tern. A fine Peacock Pansy butterfly was admired by everyone and we also found a Common Garden Lizard before enticing a Spotted Owlet to fly in and perch above us in a large tree. Returning to the Marinha Dourhada by midday, gave us several hours to relax before boarding the coach at 3.30pm for the visit to Fort Aguada. A couple of Whiskered Terns were quartering the pools outside the hotel, and we had our daily helping of Osprey here as well before driving off. Fort Aguada was crowded with people visiting the old fortifications and at first things looked a little bleak as we scanned a slope of the headland, only seeing Ashy Drongo, Indian Golden Oriole and some other common birds. So we tried a different spot and came up trumps with a couple Indian Peafowl being found. So we left here and drove to the dreary Beira Mar Hotel, where we stationed ourselves next to the swimming pool and scanned the marsh until dark. The marsh is not as good as it used to be, as the vegetation and grasses are getting taller each year, and finding the sites specialties requires a good slice of luck and a lot of hours staring at nothing. We had White-breasted Waterhen, Marsh Harrier, Black-capped Kingfisher, Long-tailed Shrike, Ashy Prinia, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, White-rumped Munias, and lots of Mosquito’s. However, once the light had all but faded, a pair of Greater Painted Snipes finally showed themselves at a tiny overgrown pool. It wasn’t a great sighting, and we were all relieved to return to our excellent hotel!
Day 7 Friday 11th November
After a slightly delayed start we drove to the Mandovi River and caught a small ferry across to Chorao Island. Once again it was a beautiful morning and the cool breeze as we crossed the river was very refreshing, and once on the other side we headed straight to Maem Lake. A path ran along the edge of the lake, and we followed it until it was impossible to go any further, so we stationed ourselves in this one spot for several hours and watched the dense surrounding forest come to life. A nearby tree played host to a Little Spiderhunter, but he didn’t play ball for ages and all we could catch were just glimpses as it fed high up above us. However, we all had superb views a little later in the morning, but that was after a Malabar Pied Hornbill flew in and began calling from the top of a dead tree. It was over the other side of the lake, but even at that distance it was possible to see how huge it was. Once it had flown away we concentrated on the surrounding trees, where Bronzed and Greater Racket-tailed Drongos showed well, as did a Banded Bay Cuckoo which flew around several times before allowing us to scope it perched on a bare branch. In fact it appeared again later on, but this time at very close range. Higher up the hillside behind us a Crested Treeswift flew over the trees, whilst a pair of raucous Rufous Treepies appeared as well. Next up was a delightful Yellow-crowned Woodpecker picking its way up the trunk of a small tree, and that was followed by Asian Paradise-flycatcher, Golden-fronted Leafbird, several showy Blyth’s Reed Warblers, Ashy Prinia and a flock of Jungle Babblers. We had lunch at the restaurant beside the lake before walking across a dry, grassy area which was alive with pipits. First of all a Richard’s Pipit flew up onto the telegraph wires allowing us all to scope it, then a Blyth’s Pipit flew up and landed there as well, and it was ideal to be able to compare the structural and plumage features. With Paddyfield and Tawny Pipit here as well, it certainly was a productive spot. But it was over 100 Fahrenheit here so drove off to a shady spot where we could view some fields from the shade. A flock of over 100 Glossy Ibis were feeding out in a marshy area, and a couple Black-headed Ibis were here as well, along with 5 Woolly-necked Storks. Overhead several raptors were thermalling, and a couple Indian Spotted Eagles came much lower down and quite close to us. We watched them for a while, before a Greater Spotted Eagle came into view, and the experience of comparing the two species was an invaluable lesson for everyone, especially when an adult Steppe Eagle circled right over us as well. Just as we were driving away a male Montagu’s Harrier appeared and quartered the fields alongside our coach. It was a short drive to catch the ferry back to the mainland, but on arrival there was some mud still exposed on the estuary. A quick scan turned out to be a protracted affair, especially when the first of 25 Terek Sandpipers was spotted. Also here was Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Eurasian Curlew, Grey Plover, Lesser Sand Plover and 35 Gull-billed Terns. And just as we were about to leave an immature Montagu’s Harrier was seen flushing a flock of Greater Short-toed Larks. Once we had finally crossed the river we drove to Ciba-Geigy pools where we viewed the area from the roof of a nearby tower block! Several Indian Cormorants and Oriental Darters were perched in the surrounding trees, and we also had a couple Common Ringed Plovers, Purple Swamphen, and Bronze-winged Jacana. We also observed 7 Ruddy Shelduck, Peregrine Falcon, male Pallid Harrier, and 30+ Asian Openbills all flying overhead, with the latter birds settling in the trees near the pool.
Day 8 Saturday 12th November
Another fine day dawned and we were soon on the road to Dona Paula jetty, where we boarded our boat for a trip up the Zuari River. The river is incredibly wide at the mouth and it takes a couple hours to reach the mangroves, or it did for us as the River Police detained us for a while whilst the paperwork was checked. However, before that we had excellent views of several Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins close in around our boat showing their small stubby dorsal fins, and we were also privileged to watch them leaping out of the water in a superb display. Amongst them, a couple Bottle-nosed Dolphins were also seen as well. The other highlight before the police stop were the numerous Great Crested Terns perched on some posts in the river, with a few Lesser Crested Terns. Eventually we reached the mangroves and started a protracted search for Collared Kingfisher. Back and forth, up and down, and through narrow creeks we searched and searched and with every passing minute it was looking bleak. A superb Slaty-legged Crake was found by Rod skulking at the base of the mangroves, and we stopped the boat and watched it for a while before continuing our search. Eventually Loven shouted that he had seen our target bird and we manoeuvred the boat so everyone could get decent views of a pair of superb Collared Kingfishers. Once everyone was satisfied we carried on upriver to meet our coach at a prearranged rendezvous point, and on the way passed a small estuary where 6 Pacific Golden Plovers and a Marsh Sandpiper were seen. After lunch at the hotel, we revisited ‘our’ wader site where 6 Terek Sandpipers showed reasonably well out on the tidal flats, and the Common Hawk-cuckoo was still sat in the same tree as when it was first discovered. With things a little quiet here, we drove around to the other side of the marsh and found our first Temminck’s Stints amongst the more numerous Little Stints, which was quite a challenge as the birds kept disappearing behind grass tussocks all the time. There were plenty of commoner waders present as well, including what could have been over 200 Wood Sandpipers and a large group of Small Pratincoles, as well as Whiskered and White-winged Terns perched on the mud. The piece de resistance came when Janice casually stated “there are two falcons perched on telegraph wires”, and on closer inspection they turned out to be a pair of Amur Falcons. Now these are a rare wintering visitor to Goa, and we later found out that they heralded a mini invasion, with several others also being seen at a few coastal sites.
Day 9 Sunday 13th November
After a 5.45am departure from the excellent Marina Dourhada, we arrived at Backwoods Camp about an hour and forty five minutes later. On arrival we had tea and coffee, during which Billie and Pam wandered around the camp and came up trumps with superb views of the ever elusive Indian Pitta. A short walk before breakfast into the surrounding forest and along the approach road gave us several Chestnut-shouldered Petronias, nice views of a pair of Crimson-backed Sunbirds, whilst a few Mountain Imperial-pigeons flew over and a Crested Goshawk gave a great display. An open area along the approach road was very productive, with Brown Shrike, Verditer Flycatcher, and a flock of Square-tailed Black Bulbuls (split from Himalayan Black Bulbul) flying over. Walking back to camp, a Malabar Barbet (formerly called Crimson-fronted Barbet) sang from the top of a tree overhead, and we also saw a Common Woodshrike, a pair of White-rumped Shama, and several Brown-cheeked Fulvettas. At breakfast, a female Asian Fairy-bluebird flew in next to us, before we walked into the forest seeing a superb Heart-spotted Woodpecker. A couple were foraging in the canopy high above us and after a frustrating wait began to feed right out in the open, and whilst watching them an Indian Pygmy Woodpecker (formerly called Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker) was also found, along with a few Orange Minivets. We decided to stop at the far end of the track and scan the surrounding hills, with John picking up an awesome Mountain Hawk-eagle which soared around the clear blue sky for quite a while. But by now it was getting pretty warm, so we stood in the shade of a couple large trees and continued our scan of the area, with Loven spotting a very distant Booted Eagle, whilst another flock of Square-tailed Black Bulbuls flew over. Eventually things quietened down so we returned to camp for a rest before lunch, during which time an Orange-headed Thrush and Indian Blackbird were seen skulking amongst the leaf litter, and during our so-called ‘siesta time’ the more restless amongst us managed to see the stunning Malabar Whistling Thrush, whilst Rod found a Great Hornbill close to camp. We all met up at 3.30pm for tea and biscuits before venturing into the forest once again, where a splendid and obliging male Malabar Trogon was scoped. We then hit the jackpot when a White-bellied Woodpecker started drumming nearby, and after a while we tracked it down with everyone managing decent views of a pair as they flew amongst the tall trees, and settling briefly a couple of times. However, the forest was a little quiet, but our walk back to camp still produced a Vernal Hanging-parrot which was scoped at the top of a tree and an acrobatic Little Spiderhunter that was seen feeding in a banana tree. After a wash and brush up, an excellent dinner was consumed in the communal dining area this evening to round off a very good day’s birding.
Day 10 Monday 14th November
Our pre-breakfast excursion this morning was taken close to Tambdi Surla Temple, where our first bird of the day was a Large-billed Leaf Warbler. Sometimes this is a tricky species to see, but we were treated to some excellent views as first of all it was spotted low down in some bushes below us before working its way slowly up to the top of a small tree. Then we walked along a trail, and saw a Black Eagle circling against the hill above us, before arriving at a meadow surrounded by dense forest. A couple of Verditer Flycatchers were perched at the top of a tree, before a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo appeared, but after a while it was apparent that things were a little quiet so we headed back to camp for breakfast. We did stop at the beginning of the track that leads to camp and walked the rest of the way back, which turned out to be a good move as a Grey-necked Bunting was a good find perched on a wooden structure in a small meadow. As we were watching this, a Red-breasted Flycatcher began calling and gave brief views before we heard and then found a Taiga Flycatcher nearby, whilst 3 Greater Flamebacks flew over. A quick scan of the surrounding hills revealed a soaring Booted Eagle, which was later joined by an Oriental Honey Buzzard. After a very good and filling breakfast we headed into the forest, where we found a small flock that contained a couple of Asian Fairy Bluebirds, Orange Minivets, Yellow-browed Bulbuls, and a nice male Malabar Trogon. We then got as far as the river before returning to camp for a siesta and some time off to relax. However with Orange-headed Thrush of the nominate race citrina, a rare occurrence this far south, Malabar Whistling-thrush, and a flock of Western Crowned Warblers all around the camp we were kept busy for a while. Meanwhile, the Indian Pitta gave very brief views near the dining area, before Loven showed us a well hidden pair of roosting Sri Lanka Frogmouths in the bamboo. They were totally oblivious to our presence and everyone was amazed with the views of this much wanted bird. We then drove back to the Temple area, seeing a Eurasian Hoopoe along the way and took the same trail as this morning. Their was much more activity this evening, with several Mountain Imperial-pigeons being seen, along with 2 Black Eagles, an immature Rufous-bellied Eagle right overhead, White-rumped Needletail, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Malabar Parakeet, Flame-throated Bulbul (one of three splits from what was formerly Black-crested Bulbul), and Lesser Whitethroat. In fact time passed all too quickly as birds kept turning up at regular intervals and we had a very good time before returning to camp for dinner.Later that evening we took a short drive to a grassy hillside where a careful walk across the stony escarpment produced perched views of 4 Grey Nightjars and a single and rather shy Jerdon’s Nightjar.
Day 11 Tuesday 15th November
From the small paddyfield adjacent to camp we saw Malabar Grey Hornbill, Brown Shrike and a perched Crested Goshawk just after sunrise; however the Black-naped Oriole that Allan picked up flying into a tree was the star bird of the pre-breakfast session without a shadow of doubt. Along the track leading into Backwoods, we saw a couple of Small Minivets, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Chestnut-shouldered Petronia and Purple Sunbird before heading back for another delicious breakfast. With a few minutes spare after breakfast, some of us made an unsuccessful search for the ever elusive pitta, but managed to see a couple Puff-throated and Dark-fronted Babblers in the process. After breakfast we drove to Tambdi Surla Temple, seeing a pair of Grey Junglefowl and an Indian Roller along the way. On arrival there was the obligatory photo call before we followed a trail upstream which was hard going as the path deteriorated into what was basically a dried up riverbed. However our careful footwork paid off when Loven located a pair of Grey-headed Canary-flycatchers that performed admirably right in front of us. Whilst watching them, a female Indian Blue Robin appeared very close to us and proceeded to also show well, before a Malabar Whistling-thrush flew in and perched for all to see, and a Western Crowned Warbler appeared overhead, with a spectacular Tamil Yeoman butterfly also present. Returning to the coach via the rice fields we stood in the shade of some tall trees and saw Black and Rufous-bellied Eagles soaring above us, plus some briefly perched Square-tailed Black Bulbuls. In the afternoon we took a walk into the forest seeing Asian Fairy Bluebird, female Malabar Trogon, Flame-throated Bulbul, and a couple of Velvet-fronted Nuthatches, whilst a Western Ghats Flying Lizard and an Indian Rat Snake were the non-avian highlights. On return to camp we made a determined search for the elusive Indian Pitta, and almost immediately one began calling nearby, which eventually gave brief views at the edge of a small track. We then searched another area where one had been previously heard, and were rewarded for our patience when unbelievably it flew up onto a branch about a metre above the ground in plain view. It was so close that binoculars were rendered unnecessary and it stayed there for quite some time allowing us to just soak up every detail of its plumage. Wow!! After another “seriously good dinner” (to quote Rod) we decided to stretch our luck and try for owls along the track. Lady luck was definitely on our side as within twenty minutes we had spotlighted both Indian and Oriental Scops-owls perched just above our heads. Wow! Then some of us took off into the forest, where Rod found some incredible-looking Indian Giant Flying Squirrels, with a couple spotlighted above us revealing the flaps of skin between their arms. What an end to a great day.
Day 12 Wednesday 16th November
We left before first light for the drive to Bondla this morning, seeing a pair of Malabar Pied Hornbills perched in a tree, before Loven picked up a bird in flight through the roadside forest which he relocated perched in a tree. Everyone left the coach quietly and I set the scope up on a superb Nilgiri Woodpigeon, enabling the whole group to obtain cracking views of what is usually a very shy bird. Elated with this, we returned to our coach and drove to an open area where we could scan the hillside, and in about half an hour we saw lots of commoner birds with the pick of the bunch being a Crested Hawk-eagle that Kath spotted perched on top of a distant tree. Our next stop was at the dam for a photo stop before driving to the restaurant where omelettes were the order of the day. Walking downhill from here we saw a good bunch of species including Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch, Orange-headed Thrush, Puff-throated Babbler, 30+ Alpine Swifts soaring over the hills, Malabar White-headed Starling, a Crimson-backed Sunbird at a nest, as well as a couple of Malabar Giant Squirrels. The star bird of our walk was the female Blue-capped Rock-thrush hopping around a rocky hillside, whilst Kath had brief views of an Emerald Dove skulking on the forest floor. After an interesting lunch at a spice plantation and a little souvenir shopping, we returned to camp for tea and coffee before going over to the ricefields near the temple, where a small flock of Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters flew over, and we also saw another Grey-necked Bunting and an obliging Crimson-fronted Barbet.
Day 13 Thursday 17th November
A Thick-billed Flowerpecker perched on top of a leafless tree was a long overdue addition to our lists this morning before breakfast, and preceded a short and rather birdless walk down to the river. However, you just never know what is around the next corner as far as birding is concerned, and we scored big time a short while later when our only Spangled Drongo of the trip was found further along the road. Leaving here we headed back to camp for breakfast, but our coach screeched to a halt when a stunning Blue-bearded Bee-eater was spotted perched in a roadside tree. Everyone left the vehicle in world record breaking time (for a change!) and scopes were soon set up, with some first class views of such a stunning looking bird. After breakfast a very productive raptor watch took place, starting off with a migrating pair of Woolly-necked Storks over the nearby hills, quickly followed by stunning views of a pair of Besra circling overhead that allowed us to really get to grips with all the identification features and were even watched mobbing a pair of equally stunning Mountain Hawk-eagles. There were also Black and Booted Eagles, as well as Crested Goshawk, and an Oriental Honey Buzzard all seen well to round off a superb couple of hours.
The afternoon session was taken at Molem where we saw an Indian Peafowl, our first Forest Wagtail, and a White-bellied Drongo, whilst a Brown-headed Barbet remained just a distant sound in the dense canopy overhead. Meanwhile a huge Scorpion on the path provided a little amusement, before we returned to camp for yet another great meal.
Day 14 Friday 18th November
The day started with a Square-tailed Black Bulbul perched at the top of a tree near the temple, whilst a Nilgiri Woodpigeon posed nicely over the path in front of us. However, we made what can only be described as an ambitious and adventurous route through the dense forest and across the stream, with our efforts being rewarded with a Brown-breasted Flycatcher posing nicely and a superb Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher perched in a dense stand of bamboo. Sadly it was now time to leave the superb Backwoods Camp and head south. Once everyone had packed we met by the coach where a photo call was the order of the day with the camp’s elephant, and it must have been his blessing which would produce our good fortune later this evening. However, as we left the camp a European Roller was perched on the telegraph wires – an unexpected bonus. Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary was very quiet in the late afternoon with only Forest Wagtail and brief Grey Junglefowl seen, but things picked up dramatically upon our arrival at the bridge in the valley when firstly we found a few Dusky Crag Martins flying overhead, but these were totally overshadowed by a pair of Great Hornbills spotted by yours truly in a distant tree. Through the scope the views were pretty good but when both birds flew across the valley you could really appreciate their immense size. Wow! Our evening meal was a rather lavish affair, taken at an excellent beachside restaurant and accompanied by copious amounts of alcohol!
Day 15 Saturday 19th November
As we stood in a clearing within Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary this morning, the sounds of the forest echoed all around and with the sun rising just above the tree tops and a faint mist dissipating slowly it was a truly magical setting. A close tree held a few Plum-headed Parakeets, along with Grey-headed and Flame-throated Bulbuls, and a troop of Bonnet Macaques for company. Moving inside the forest, we could hear birds singing and our first feeding flock held Indian Pygmy Woodpecker, Black-rumped Flameback, Orange Minivet, Jerdon’s Leafbird, Grey-headed Starling, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and our first Malabar Woodshrike (a split from Large Woodshrike). There was a good selection of commoner species present, but one of the star birds being a rather obliging Fork-tailed Drongo Cuckoo (now a split from Square-tailed Drongo Cuckoo of the Himalayas). Rod had suspected that one was present several hundred metres further down the path, so this find justified his sighting. A Heart-spotted Woodpecker was then seen, followed by another Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher and an obliging Verditer Flycatcher on our abortive attempt for Brown Fish Owl, with a pair of Common Flamebacks providing ample compensation. They showed really well, revealing their white throats, red rumps and single line on the face, and were in a flock containing Black-hooded and Indian Golden Orioles, Ashy and Bronzed Drongos, and more Malabar Woodshrikes. We left here and called into our hotel for a break before heading out once again, and nearby saw a pair of White-bellied Sea Eagles, with several Lesser Pied Kingfishers perched on telegraph wires. At a raptor viewpoint 2 Lesser Adjutants soared over the nearby hills, whilst a couple of Alpine Swifts were seen amongst a large hirundine flock. We also picked up a Common Kestrel and Indian Spotted Eagle before an awesome adult White-rumped Vulture appeared. As we walked across a field to get a better view, a White-eyed Buzzard flew low right in front of us! A superb lunch followed before reaching Curtorim Lake where amazingly a pair of Grey-headed Lapwings was found in exactly the same place as we found them last year! A rare bird this far south in India, they posed nicely in a paddyfield along with Green Sandpiper, White-breasted Waterhen, and several Yellow Wagtails of the race Thunbergi (Grey-headed Wagtail). The lake held over 50 Cotton Pygmy-goose, as well as Lesser Whistling-duck, Little Grebe and Common Moorhen. We finished off with a flock of Black-winged Stilts out in the marsh, and with the sun slowly setting we could hear the fat lady singing and our birding adventure in the marvellous state of Goa had come to an end.
So after another delicious evening meal at our favourite beachside restaurant, we had a good night’s sleep before leaving for the airport early the following morning, where we said our goodbye’s to Loven. He had not only been an exceptional and knowledgeable guide, but I also count him as a good friend as well, and I’m sure we all appreciated his good sense of humour!
On behalf of Loven and myself I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone in this group for making it such a pleasure to lead.