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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Goa Revisited: 12th January to 9th February 2006,
Our first visit to Goa since we became interested in birding came in January 2004, and my article titled “Birding by Beginners”, surprisingly generated quite a bit of interest, resulting in many E Mails from interested readers. During that visit we stayed in Arpora, at the superb Marinha Dourada hotel, and enjoyed a great holiday with plenty of birding opportunities.
Once again we decided to stay at the same hotel, but to extend our holiday from the previous three weeks, on a bed and breakfast arrangement, to a whole month in the sun. The last time we visited, we both said after three weeks, “wish we had another week” so this year we decided to do just that. During that visit we amassed a total of 219 species of birds, which wasn’t that bad for relative beginners on a “do it yourself basis”.
There are of course many birding companies who visit Goa, and bird from first thing in the morning to last thing at night, but that is just not us. We have always found that a holiday should be for doing what we both enjoy, and also having time to relax at the same time. The extensive research I carried out before we left enabled me to work out an appropriate programme once we had reached Goa, integrating our birding requirements suitably spaced out.
From the many reports I downloaded from the WWW, I highlighted specific areas that would be desirable to visit to give us the best opportunity to increase our list, and of course to see other of areas of the small country of Goa. We set ourselves an overall target of between 250 to 300 species during the holiday, and a grand total of 300 species for Goa, so there would be plenty of scope for us. A count of 300 species seems quite small from a total Goa list of more than 450, but as in many other countries, the birds you can find during the winter months varies considerably from those achievable during the monsoon, and of course migration must be taken into consideration as well.
Our holiday started with a flight from Gatwick at the unearthly hour of 1:45am on Thursday 12th January, but the one advantage being that the flight was direct, rather than stopping off at Bahrain for refuelling. With the time difference being five and a half hours in front of that of England, after a nine hour flight we eventually arrived in Goa at 4:30pm, and once we had been through the maze of checks at the airport, and the inevitable late arrivals, we finally reached the hotel as the sun was setting at about 6:30pm. Although we spotted various species during our transfer to the hotel, we decided that as they were all common so we would ignore them.
No unpacking that day, just a quick wash and brush up, change into our shorts and tea shirts, and off to the beach shacks for our evening meal. There is no need to change into best bib and tucker in Goa, as everything is very laid back and relaxed. We were disappointed when we reached St Anthony’s on Baga beach where we had enjoyed wonderful food and hospitality on our previous visit, to find out that it had changed hands; however we thought we would try it. Not bad, but the ambience of two years ago was missing despite the food being quite acceptable. Feeling satisfactorily fed and watered, we returned to our hotel for an early night: no unpacking, just sleep.
When we visited the Annual Bird Fair at Rutland Water in the summer, we booked our visit to Backwoods Bird Camp in the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary in the wooded foothills of the Western Ghats, and another upriver trip to locate the rare Collared Kingfisher, even though we had seen it in 2004. We had booked Backwoods for the 18th January, giving us five days to explore the surrounding areas before departing for the Ghats.
When we awoke on our first morning in Goa, “surprise-surprise”, the sun was shining in a clear blue sky, and the temperature pleasantly warm. After a hearty breakfast, our first port of call had to be the adjacent salt pans, just over the road from the hotel, where there were species in abundance, especially if you were a newcomer to the Indian Subcontinent.
Brahminy and Black Kites soared overhead continually being mobbed by House Crows, and soon spotted the familiar Common Kingfisher fishing in one of the pans. The telephone wires around the pans held two of the other common kingfishers, the White-throated bedecked in his beautiful blue, copper- red and white plumage, and the large Stork-billed aptly named because of its enormous bill. Also on the wires were male and female Pied Bushchat, and a selection of Swallows, including Red-rumped, Wire-tailed, and the beautiful Ashy Woodswallow. The pans also held quite a wide range of waders and various water birds including Cattle Egret, Great White Egret, Little Egret and Intermediate Egrets, Grey Heron, Indian Pond Heron, There were also waders in abundance including Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Common, Wood, Green and Marsh Sandpipers, Little and Common Ringed Plover, Red-wattled Lapwing, We also spotted the Grey Heron sunning himself on a distant pan, and Little Green Bee-eater, the most common of the Bee-eaters on the wires, whilst Paddyfield Pipits scuttled about in the surrounding grassland. Suddenly our attention was drawn to a patch of grass where a superb Eurasian Hoopoe was busily searching the ground for insects. A further scan of the far pan gave us between 50 and 100 Small Pratincole, and a lone Little Cormorant on the larger lake, a three Pacific Golden Plovers. As we left for the sun beds around the pool, we came across an Indian guy scanning the pans with his binoculars. “Have you picked out the Oriental Pratincole” he asked. Of course the answer was “no”, so he volunteered to show us, but inevitably it had gone. During our conversation with him we found out that his name was Raymond. During my research before we left, I highlighted a number of taxi drivers/bird guides which we could use, and Raymond was top of my list; what a bit of luck. We arranged to go out with him the next day to Diva Island. It was now getting quite hot so it was time for us to move into the shade around the pool area. We settled down, binoculars beside us, ready for a snooze, but there was too much going on around us. I decided that a short walk around the gardens was in order, and I soon came across a pair of White-browed Wagtails busily taking dry grass to a nest they were building in a boat on one of the hotel lakes. Over the far side of another of the lakes a Striated (Green) Heron was fishing, as House (Little) Swifts and Asian Palm Swifts swooped overhead. Back to the sun beds we watched White-rumped Munias and Purple-rumped Sunbirds carting dried grass into the pale blue flowering vines which separated adjacent apartments, and vast flocks of Rock Doves streaming over towards Baga Hill. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and having brief naps to catch up with the jet-lag which was affecting both of us. As 4:00 o clock approached it was time for a cup of tea and a bickie before going up to Baga Fields for our next sortie. We caught the 5:00pm courtesy bus from the hotel and were dropped off at the “ugly” bridge ready for our walk across the fields. We set off towards the pool behind the hotel Cavala, where, on our previous visit we saw seven painted snipe. We spotted several Ashy and Black (Fork-tailed) Drongos on the way, and came across a group of House Sparrows in the nearby bushes. We reached our pre-arranged destination, but no Painted Snipe this time, only a gaggle of Jungle Mynas, the occasional Common Myna, and a number of juvenile White-breasted Waterhen walking about on the presumed water hyacinths. We strolled aimlessly towards a group of bushes, and alarmed a vast flock of small birds which settled in a nearby tree. There must have been hundreds which turned out to be Scaly-breasted Munias and unbeknown to us at the time, it was to be the only time we saw them the whole holiday. We had good views of the Common Stonechats, both male and female perched on wispy stands of grass, and groups of Rose-coloured and Chestnut-tailed Starlings chattered noisily in a nearby tree. The inevitable Red-whiskers Bulbul, Oriental Magpie Robin and Long-tailed Shrikes were the only new ones we saw for the holiday on this first day and although we had a quite lazy day, amassed a total of 49 species but with only one addition to our Goa list, the Common-ringed Plover.
Day 2 arrived and we eagerly awaited our visit to Diva Island with Raymond. Diva Island is situated in the river Mandovi estuary and lies adjacent to the more renowned Chorao Island which houses the famous Dr Ali Bird Sanctuary. It is reached by a regular ferry from the town Old Goa, and is a very special place for raptors. We were due to be picked up at 2:00pm after lunch. Our first view from our balcony gave us a Common Tailorbird and quite a number of White-rumped Munias in the Coconut palm just outside our room. Meanwhile, after a substantial breakfast, we decided to have a look at the nearby Baga Hill, which by all accounts had been decimated by extensive bulldozing of wide tracks ready for future building work. We soon became aware of what we had been told, and were disappointed to see the results. However we decided to have a look and the results were quite pleasing. The side tracks off the main track gave far greater birding opportunities, since from the old track, the birds which appeared were in the deep undergrowth and difficult to view, now you could walk directly into far better viewing positions. The first sighting of the day was the Greater Coucal (Crow Pheasant) at the bottom of the hill, and we soon added Plum-headed Parakeets, Black-lored Tit and a superb Rufous Treepie. Common Iora soon followed, and from one of the side tracks we had wonderful views of male and female Small Minivets, and the very vocal Coppersmith Barbet. At another of the side tracks we were alerted to a scuffle on the side of the track which turned out to be a couple of White-throated Fantails displaying beautifully. We soon added White-cheeked Barbet, Asian Brown Flycatcher, White-bellied Drongo and a very vocal Spotted Dove to our list, and realised that the work that had been carried out seemed to be advantageous.
After lunch we were picked up on time by Raymond, and proceeded to Old Goa for the short ferry trip to Diva Island. Well onto the island Raymond parked in the shade of a large very old tree. He spent a little time looking for the elusive Rufous-tailed Lark without luck but we did add Richards Pipit, a lifer for us, Eurasian and Oriental Skylark to our ever increasing list. Eurasian Skylark was another new one for Goa. A superb pair of Western Marsh Harriers quartered the fields, as did a beautiful female Pallid Harrier, and an Osprey, Black and Brahminy Kites could be seen in a nearby tree, as a Shikra passed overhead. We left Diva Island and soon saw an Indian Roller on roadside telegraph wires. As we passed along the shoreline of the Mandovi River, Raymond pulled over to the side of the road and pointed over to the distant river bank he spotted a Lesser Adjutant Stork, another lifer for us, as was a Terek Sandpiper just a few metres from us. A further addition to the list was a large number of Gull billed Terns over the river and a Western Reef Heron fishing on the near river bank. On the way back to the hotel, Raymond turned off the road and we soon arrived at Saligo Zor. It was most disappointing to see how the area had been spoilt. A new house had been built, obstructing the way to the small plateau area where we saw scores of birds two years ago, and a large shack had been thrown together close to the spring. We were directed beyond the spring, and up the side of the hill. Raymond pointed out a Brown Wood Owl, which gave me a very uncomfortable videoing experience. Filming whilst enormous mosquitoes were attacking my legs was no joke, but I did get some quite acceptable footage. We arrived back at the hotel and did very little for the rest of the day. After the first two days we had had a total of 75 species for the holiday including an additional 5 for our Goa list and 4 lifers.
Day 3 was destined to be a rest day with no birding trips arranged, but of course we would continue to explore the local patches. After an early start, and a 20 minutes walk, saw us at Arpora Forest by 7:30am, and there were birds galore. Bright Yellow Eurasian Golden Orioles were numerous and we saw our first lifer of the day when a pair of White Browed Bulbuls was seen in a nearby tree. We had a number of different species of Sunbirds, although they were so quick it was quite difficult to identify them. We did however score with a pair of the common Purple Sunbirds busy building a nest in a nearby bush, and soon had the Crimson-backed and Lotens Sunbirds, quite unmistakable, a tiny bird purple/black bird with a long hooked bill. A chattering in the undergrowth gave us a noisy group of Jungle Babblers which disturbed an Orange-headed Ground Thrush hunting for titbits at the base of the bushes. Red-whiskered Bulbuls were a bit of a nuisance as there were so many of them, and of course when you see movement or see a bird fly into a tree, it is natural to immediately train you binis on whatever you see. However despite the multitude of R W Bs we did find a nice pair of the Red-vented species with their Black heads and aptly red vents. As we walked through the forest trails a noise in the leaves gave us a lone Puff Throated Babbler, although further exploration gave us many more. When we were in the forest two years ago, a massive nest of the White-bellied Sea Eagle which had been growing bigger each year, was hard to miss, but now it seemed to have disappeared. Seeing flashes of brilliant green every few minutes left us very frustrated as without the birds settling, it was very difficult to identify which of the two species of Leafbirds we were seeing. There are two species common to Goa, and after quite a while we did identify the Golden-fronted Leafbird, the more common of the two. There seemed to be scores of little brown jobs all over the forest, so difficult to identify, but we did manage to score with the Pale-billed Flowerpecker. We returned from the forest just in time for a late breakfast, which finished at 10:30am, and were pleased to find a Blue-tailed Bee-eater on the wires by the salt pans, and a Malibar Lark walking about with the Pipits. During the hottest period of the day we relaxed in the shade and were surprised to meet birders who we recognised from two years ago. A large wide winged bird circled in the sky with numerous Black and Brahminy kites, and Don identified it as a Black Eagle, seen on our last visit at Backwoods Bird Camp. A short walk up Baga Hill in the evening enabled us to add Large Billed Crow to our list which now stood at 89 for the holiday, 6 for our Goa list and 5 Lifers.
For day 4 we had made arrangements to be picked up at 2:00 pm by Raymond for a visit to Morji beach. We asked Raymond what had happened to the Sea Eagles nest. He said that this year’s monsoon was much heavier and later than usual, and the nest had been washed out of the tree. He assured us that the pair of Sea Eagles had rebuilt at Old Goa, and still followed the same route to fish in the sea, so we should still see them. On the way to Morji, Raymond turned off the road to his village where he had recently found a Grey Headed Plover. Unfortunately it was too late in the afternoon and it had relocated to a different area, but we did pick up Black-winged Stilt. When we reached Morji beach it was still as spectacular as we remembered it two years ago, with masses of Gulls and Terns conveniently roosting on the beach. Last time we visited Morji the tide was much too high so that viewing of the birds was very difficult, but this time Raymond had judged the tide perfectly. We parked in a clearing in the shade under some palm trees, and crossed the road to see if the Night Herons were still in their roost, but like the Grey-headed Plover they had moved on. We did however find a number of Asian Koels noisily showing their disapproval at our presence. A few Rose-ringed Parakeets were in the palm trees nearby.
We crossed the road and made our way to find a position to view the Gulls & Terns, so that the sun was behind us, Raymond drew our attention to four Eurasian Oystercatchers on a distant sandbank. Scanning the Gulls we soon added more to our list. Black and Brown-headed Gulls were the more numerous, and quite a few of the large Pallas’s (Greater Black-head) Gulls were just developing their black heads. Other gulls we also found were the Heuglin’s, the darkest plumaged gull of the region, the Yellow Legged Gull, similar to our Herring Gull, and the Slender-billed, easily recognised by its all white head, and pale orange/yellow bill. Amongst the Terns we found the unmistakable Caspian Tern with is huge red bill, Lesser-crested Tern, Sandwich Tern and waders including the Greater, Lesser Sand Plovers and the Kentish Plover, less numerous than the previous two. When we arrived back at out hotel, there was still time for a quick cuppa and then off for another stroll. We decided to do the river walk which we had enjoyed two years ago. It wasn’t a birding walk, but is was still a very pleasant and relaxing way to spend the hour or so before our evening meal. We noticed that the area was changing fast with new places being built and the Sun Village hotel expanding up towards Baga Hill. The result of the late monsoon was very noticeable, since once we got to the end of the buildings, the area where we used to walk further along the river, was completely flooded, so we could go no further. We had of course seen numerous birds during our walk but no new ones until we spotted a pair of Parakeets perched on a rotting palm tree, which contained a number of holes near the top. We scrutinised the birds and noticed a large maroon patch on each of the bird’s wings. It was obvious that they were neither the Plum-headed nor Rose-ringed Parakeets, but in fact were the rather scarce Alexandrines: what a find, a new one for the holiday and another lifer. We watched them for some time, and actually counted at least three separate pairs, some already in their nesting holes. The following morning we couldn’t wait to mention our find to Don, who said that in the eleven years he had been visiting Goa, had only ever come across them on one occasion. Obviously, once the word got out, that walk suddenly became very popular.
The new count for our holiday was now 107, with 9 additions to our Goa total and now 6 lifers.
Day 5 another scheduled rest day before our visit to Backwoods, with most of our birding done from around the pool where we did add another couple to our list, namely the Oriental Honey Buzzard, and Booted Eagle. A short walk in the Arpora Forest enabled us to find the Blue-winged Leafbird, Greater Flameback and the Black Headed Munia, yet another lifer. Day five was one of the quietest days we had had, but we knew how hectic our visit to Backwoods would be, so a good rest day was in order. The holiday totals now stood at 112, 10, and 7 but with Backwoods starting the next day, we expected our totals to rise dramatically.
On day 6 we were duly picked up at the scheduled 5:15am for our estimated two hour trip to the Western Ghats. Apart from the driver, Loven was on the bus to meet us. We were surprised to see that nobody else from the hotel were doing the trip, but to be quite honest there seemed to be a shortage of birders around the hotel. We organised the trip quite early in our holiday with a view to meeting other birders, and maybe sharing some of our trips with them, still there were other hotels in the area, so there would still be others to keep us company. To our surprise, instead of turning right to pick up from the renowned birders hotel, the Biera Mar, the driver turned to the left, towards the capital Panjim; imagine our surprise when we found out that we were the only two people on the trip for four days. We were full of mixed emotions, one that we would not have anyone else for company except ourselves, and conversely, one to one birding with Loven – unbelievable. As we continued our journey, and the sun peeped over the wooded hillsides, views became quite spectacular. The driver dropped us and Loven off short of the camp leaving us to walk the last half mile. As soon as we alighted from the bus we could hear a crescendo of birdsong from the surrounding trees and bushes, and we soon started adding to our list. There were of course some birds we had come across during the previous few days, but new ones for the trip were Spangled Drongo, Grey –breasted Prinia, Common Wood Shrike, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Black Bulbul, Thick Billed Flowerpecker, Chestnut-shouldered Petronia, and Black–crested Bulbul. We soon realised that maybe with just the two of us we would be able to see many more birds, in fact, every one Loven saw, so did we. Loven had his scope, so anything we couldn’t find, we could view it through his scope. The only disappointment was that my camcorder had been playing up during the first days of our holiday, and had not improved sufficiently to be able to get good film footage. It first went wrong in Kenya last year and later seemed to correct itself, but alas this time it was worse than ever losing both the horizontal and vertical holds in the focus, and of course in the picture produced. We arrived at the camp and shown to our quarters. Backwoods camp has accommodation for about two dozen people, located in six tents and six wooden shacks right in the heart of the jungle. We were located in the tent nearest to the restaurant area where we were soon tucking into a breakfast of toast and chapattis liberally coated with butter and jam or marmalade, together with cups of tea or coffee. After breakfast we departed for another walk in the forest where we soon came across Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Streak-throated Swallow, Scarlet Minivet, the diminutive Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Black-hooded Oriole, the very large Malibar Pied Hornbill, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Tickel’s Blue Flycatcher, Nilgiri Blackbird, Red-throated Flycatcher, Indian Swiftlet, Eurasian Crag Martin and the superb Greater Racket-tailed Drongo with his extensive tail streamers. Moving on we soon spotted Crimson-fronted Barbet, Black-crested Bulbul, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Grey Wagtail, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, a superb bird with an extraordinary long white tail, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Dark-fronted Babbler, Bronze Drongo, Malibar Whistling Thrush, and the brilliant red Malibar Trogon. The quite rare Forest Wagtail was soon added to our list, pleasing Loven who said his sightings of this species had been few and far between, and believe it or not, we had four more sightings during our stay at Backwoods Camp. Just before returning for our lunch we added Crested Goshawk perched high in a tree. After a good lunch, and a period of relaxation we were off again into the forest, soon picking up more beauties. Black-naped Monarch was the first to show itself, quickly followed by the Greater Flameback, many noisy Malibar Grey Hornbills, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, Western-crowned Leaf Warbler, Black-throated Munia, Malibar Parakeet, the elusive last time Chestnut-headed Bee eater, Pompedour Green Pigeon, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, a flyover Black-naped Oriole, roosting Vernal Hanging Parrots, and the final one of the day Crested Treeswift. It had been a wonderful first day at Backwoods Camp, since, not only did we have quite a number of birds, but we saw them on numerous occasions, enabling us to get to know them better. After a good dinner it was time to catch up with the day’s sightings which finished at 160 for the holiday, 18 new ones for the Goa list and 15 life birds. Loven came down from the house to have a chat with us and introduced his brother who would be coming out with us for the next two days. Suddenly it was time to retire: where had the evening gone?
Once again we rose early for Day 7 and after tea and biscuits at 6:30am, before sunrise, were taken to the back of the kitchen area. Amazingly there was the Indian Pitta scratching around in the leaves. Although we saw the Pitta disappearing into the bushes on our last visit, this was very special, and on most birders “special want list”. Oriental Magpie Robins and Orange-headed Thrushes seem to be very common on this visit, as were the Malibar Grey Hornbills. Of course the more we birded at Backwoods, the harder it would become to add new ones to our list. We drove to a clearing in the forest where the birdsong was almost deafening, and saw many of the birds we found on the first day. We added another to our list when a couple of shrikes appeared: the Black–headed Cuckoo Shrike and the Large Woodshrike were both welcome additions. We drove to the area of the Tamdi Surla temple where we made our way to the boulder-strewn river bed. The aim was to look for the elusive Oriental Dwarf and the Blue-eared Kingfishers, but alas they were not to be found, although we did have the opportunity to view many of the birds that we had seen already. We continued our morning with another walk in the forest where we were directed to a bamboo thicket. Loven pointed out a pair of Sri-Lankan Frogmouths sitting high in the thicket very close to one another. We added Tree Pipit, Common Rosefinch and Plain Flowerpecker to our ever increasing list before we returned for lunch at the camp. Later in the afternoon we were taken to the area for Raptor watching. It was very hot, and Loven had recorded 39 degrees on his watch thermometer so an area of shade was called for. Mountain Hawk Eagle, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle and Shikra were all added to our total before we moved to another region of the forest. We parked near to a small bridge and were soon picking up even more species. Hill Myna, Drongo Cuckoo, Brown-backed Needletail, Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike, Brown Shrike, Northern House Martin, and a fly over Woolly-necked Stork were soon added, as was the Jerdon’s Nightjar later in the day. By the end of the day our new total stood at 179 for the holiday, 25 new additions to the Goa list and 23 lifers.
Day 8 dawned and we were ready for our trip to Bondla, another sanctuary within the Western Ghats, but obviously much closer to Backwoods than the drive from the coastal region, which is one of the reasons we opted for a four day stay at Backwoods rather that the three day two night stay. After a reasonably short journey we arrived at the Bondla sanctuary. We pulled into the side of the road and proceeded to a clearing, where once again there were birds everywhere. We wondered what the chances would be for adding new birds to our list, and were soon quite pleased when we found Rufous Woodpecker, Blue-faced Malkoha, Grey-headed Bulbul, Brown-headed Barbet and Little Spiderhunter. It was surprising when we walked up a slight incline, the profusion of Velvet-fronted Nuthatches which seemed to be on almost every tree. There were as many, if not more birds here as at Backwoods, but most of them we had already recorded. Emerald Dove, White-rumped Sharma, Verditer Flycatcher and a beautiful female Blue-capped Rock Thrush were soon more welcome additions as was a distant view of a male Indian Peafowl. We had seen Indian Peafowl on our previous visit to Goa, but only the female and juveniles, so this was a bonus. On the way out of Bondla Isabel, my wife, noticed movement in the trees to the right of us. We stopped the car and were treated to magnificent views of a male Grey Junglefowl just walking quite slowly through the trees before disappearing into the undergrowth. We certainly were experiencing some superb birding, much better than two years ago when many of our sightings were far more fleeting glances. We arrived back at camp and once again, after dinner we spent time collating our sightings. With one last day at backwoods, our totals now stood at 191 for the holiday, 27 new ones for Goa and the Verditer Flycatcher increased our lifers up to 24. Loven came down for a chat after dinner and asked to have a look at our list so far. I had collated the complete checklist before leaving for Goa, so filling in the details after each day was quite easy, and having shaded the species we had seen on our last visit, all of our new species was simple. He asked us if there were birds on our “want” list which we hadn’t yet seen, so that the last day could be used to try and catch up with some of them. As we had seen so many, there were very few still required, but we did highlight Great Pied Hornbill, a massive bird almost twice the size of the other Hornbills, Speckled Piculet and White-bellied Woodpecker. Loven explained that as he had to return to the coast the following day, his colleague Leio would be our guide for the remaining day.
Day 9 was catch-up day, and Loven had already primed Leio with our requirements before we set out. We travelled down to a spot where Leio knew the Hornbills roosted way up on a distant hill. As soon as we arrived he said he thought we may be lucky as he could hear them calling in the distance, however, if they got up and went the other direction we would be out of luck. As we waited in the shade of a large tree we were once again treated to a birding bonanza, and had yet more wonderful views of some of the beautiful birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Malibar Pied Hornbills, the second largest of the family, were plentiful and gave us quite a few heart stopping moments thinking we had seen the target bird, but it was not to be. After more than an hour we realise when the calling stopped, they had eluded us, but we had picked up two more species, the Clamorous Reed Warbler and the Large-billed Leaf Warbler. We returned to camp, had our breakfast, and we were again out on our travels, this time to try to catch up once more with the two Kingfisher species still lacking. Once we had reached an area up river where Leio expected to see them, he went ahead to search on his own. Before leaving, he told us to carefully watch out for any Kingfishers flying past, and we were rewarded by a sighting of what we thought was the Blue-eared variety speeding past at breakneck speed. It didn’t really matter whether it was or wasn’t since we had seen both species on our last visit to Goa in 2004. Further searches for other species on our “want” list once again proved fruitless, but overall we had spent a wonderful four days up in the Western Ghats, having what must have been a unique experience for both of us. After lunch we boarded a taxi, prearranged for us, for our return to the coast and our hotel. The final count for our extraordinary trip was 129 species of birds, many of which were endemics and can only be seen in the ridge hillsides of the Western Ghats. Our grand total now stood at 193 species for our holiday, 29 new additions for Goa and 26 new life birds. I have no hesitation to advise anyone who reads this trip report that if you visit Goa, a visit to Backwoods is a must, a quite incredible experience.
After quite a hectic past four days, day 10 was to be a “do nothing day” and we did just that, however we did pick up two more species for the holiday from our sun beds, namely the majestic White-bellied Sea (Fish) Eagle and a large Tawny Eagle flying over the hotel.
Feeling quite refreshed after a good day and nights rest and some good old traditional food, we worked the local patch morning and evening, and believe it or not we were still finding new birds. Arpora Forest gave us White-browed Fantail, two wonderful separate sightings of the Indian Pitta, and the diminutive Yellow-crowned Woodpecker and the Baga fields threw up Indian Robin, male and female, Tawny Pipit, and Greater Short-toed Lark.
We had pre-arranged a trip with Raymond for day 12 to Carambolin Lake, about an hours drive away. Raymond once again was spot on time, 6:45am, and in no time we were passing by the shores of the lake, beyond the village to what was known as the flood plains. Once there we started again adding more birds to our list. A roost of Grey Plover, Little Stint, and a Ruff were added, and many other familiar waders were on view. Across the road we had Plain and Ashy Prinia, and walking back from the flood plains through the village, we caught up with a Jungle Owlet, a completely new on for us, a couple of Spotted Owlets, and two superb Brown Hawk Owls roosting high in a tree, and a quite obliging Common Flameback. We drove to the far end of the lake where we came across a quite amazing looking bird as it hunted around for food on a bare track. It was almost the colour of our common collar dove, not white, and it did not have red eyes so it could not have been an albino. It was with a group of Tawny and Tree Pipits, and had faint striping on the breast. Raymond was quite perplexed, and after searching through his books, was unable to identify it. The lake contained many of the birds we had seen on our 2004 visit to Carambolin, Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, the handsome Purple Swamphen, our Common Moorhen and Coot, Lesser Whistling Ducks, Cotton Pygmy Goose Indian Cormorant, a distant Purple Heron, Common Snipe, and two more lifers for us, the Glossy Ibis and Citrine Wagtail. We moved back to the road that runs along part of the lake, parked, and disembarked. There were women in the rice fields thinning out and re-planting the rice, a terrible back breaking job, calf deep in muddy water all day long. In the distance we saw a group of Asian Open-billed Storks, on the ridges between the fields we has Bar-tailed Godwit, and on the lake a group of Garganey. Our trip to Carambolin had been a great success, and with the couple of new birds of the previous two days, our holiday total had increased to 226, our additions to the Goa list to 40, and our life birds to 31.
We had booked to go to Mayem Lake and Chorao Island in two days time, so this was to be another quiet day. We did a bit of local birding in the morning, and had scheduled a visit to the renowned Biera Mar in the evening. We caught the courtesy bus to Baga and walked the remaining distance to the Biera Mar hotel. It was quite quiet up there but once again we added birds to our total. We had a brief sighting of the Greater-painted Snipe, in the marshy area below the balcony, Bayer Weavers on the wires, and another great desirable a Bluethroat, a first for us, perched in the bushes. We scoured the area for more species but only saw what had been seen before.
It was day 14, and Mayem Lake was a completely new venue for us, having never been there before. Surprisingly, Mayem Lake is not as it seems. We were expecting it to be a venue for waders and water birds, ducks etc, but how wrong we were: it is renowned for the wooded areas around the lake, which holds many different species of woodland birds. Raymond pointed to a tree over the other side of the lake where a group of birds were roosting, “Orange-breasted Green Pigeons” he said, “they will all be gone when we come back”. We sighted various woodpeckers in the trees on the hillside, hosts of other woodland birds, but nothing new. Raymond could hear the call of a Changeable Hawk Eagle, but could not find it. He also heard a leopard calling but assured us it was well out of our range, so we continued our walk around the lake. Once on the other side, looking back over the lake we saw the aforementioned Eagle sitting clearly in a tree at the top of the hillside. Raymond also knew the daytime roost of a Grey Nightjar, but alas it was not there on this occasion. On our way back we had Booted Warbler, yet another lifer. We looked back over the lake and just as Raymond predicted, there was not a Green Pigeon in sight. We left the lake and made our way back to Chorao Island, the home of the very famous Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. On the way we found a superb Peregrine Falcon perched on the telegraph wires, a beautiful bird giving us stunning views. When we reached the sanctuary, surprisingly we turned to the left and not right where the entrance to the sanctuary was situated. As we walked along the causeway we sighted large numbers of birds on a far sandbank. Through his scope Raymond identified Northern Pintail ducks, Whimbrel, Black-headed Ibis, and when I asked him about a large bird to the left of where he was looking, he became quite excited, as it was a Sarus Crane, a very rare bird for Goa. It was standing head and shoulders above a couple of Great White Egrets standing nearby, and was quite unmistakable, comparing the picture in the field guide and the bird itself. One of the guides for the sanctuary was with us, and he also was extremely excited because he had never seen the species before either. On our return journey Raymond diverted to the coastal resort of Candolim where he pointed out a Collared Scops Owl peering eerily out of its nesting hole. I don’t honestly know how he finds these birds as they are so often in such remote and strange places, but that’s the advantage of having a taxi driver who also is a good birder. Many of the taxi drivers know where the roosts of certain birds are, they know where the birding sites are, but when dropped off you have no idea where to go. So my advice to anyone visiting Goa is to pick your driver very carefully, or you could end up wasting a great deal of time. The afternoon was spent around the pool where we caught up with our records from the past two days, which stood at 240 for the holiday 53 additions to our Goa list and 38 lifers.
The following day was a very quiet one spent relaxing, and it was apparent that the number of birders around the hotel had increased quite dramatically since the first week of our holiday. It was surprising how more and more familiar faces seemed to appear. We counted at least forty who we recognised from two years ago, and there were probably more. It appears that many of the hotel guests return every year, booking the hotel room at the end of their holiday, and then flying down to Goa privately via Mumbai (Bombay). It you book with a tour company the maximum stay is for limited to four weeks, however if you book and travel privately, you can make the most of your visa and stay for any time up to six months, and that was what was happening. A walk in the forest in the evening was very disappointing. The locals had been trying to burn the dried grass and weeds from their fields, and it appeared that the fire was caught by the wind and got out of control, spoiling much of the habitat. With some of the bushes still smouldering there was a distinct shortage of birds in the forest, and when we arrived back at the hotel we were filthy from the blackened foliage. We only added one bird that day: a flyover Short Toed Eagle.
Day 16 was the day of the Backwoods river trip, previously booked at the Bird Fair, to find the Collared Kingfisher. Although we had seen the bird on our 2004 holiday, we decided to do the trip again as we did pick up some useful additions last time. This time however was not so successful due to it being high tide, but we did find the target bird and also added Black-capped Kingfisher to our list. On our return journey back to our respective hotels, we were taken to Batim Lake, where we had a chance to pick up a few more water birds. Unfortunately due to the sun being directly into our faces, viewing the vast flock of ducks was proving to be extremely difficult. We did however find the old regulars like Common Moorhen, Common Coot, Little Grebe, Lesser Whistling Duck, and Cotton Pygmy Goose, but identifying others was more difficult. After a while we found many Common Teal, quite a number of Northern Shoveller, but others like, Common Pochard, Gadwall, Spot-billed Duck, Ferriginous Pochard, which some of the members of the group said they saw, were not seen by us. How anyone could see the yellow tipped beak of the Spot-billed Duck from a distance of a quarter of a mile away and into the sun, was beyond us. Maybe some of the group saw birds that they wanted to see???
Although the boat trip proved less successful than 2004, we did pick up a few more additions for our holiday which now stood at 246, with 55 additions for the Goa list but no additional life birds. We had now completed two weeks of our four week holiday, and we both felt that we were getting near to saturation point regarding our bird list, but who knows.
Once again we were due an easy day. A short walk up to the base of Baga Hill gave us, after much deliberation, a Tawny-bellied Babbler. In the evening we went for another visit to the Biera Mar hotel. This time funnily enough it was not quiet. There were a group of birders from Denmark, who had just returned from the three day Backwoods trip, scanning the marshy area of the field below. It was soon quite obvious they were excellent birders and in no time they were finding birds which the others around them hadn’t seen. A couple of Snipe flying in were soon identified as Pintail Snipe - no white trailing edge to the wings, a Paddyfield Warbler was seen in the bushes to the left hand side, and a further Greater-painted Snipe could be seen in the marshy area. They soon showed us Baillon’s Crake, Ruddy breasted Crake, and one of the specialities of the Biera Mar marshes, the elusive Cinnamon Bittern. Western Marsh Harriers and Brahminy Kites were hunting over the fields, a Black-capped, White-throated Kingfishers were on the wires, as were Chestnut-tailed and Rose-coloured Starlings, and various Munias and Baya Weavers. Just as darkness was starting to close in we noticed a Purple Heron walking slowly towards the marshy area. Suddenly he pounced and caught a quite large snake which immediately started to wind itself around the Heron’s beak. We all watched completely transfixed on the unusual happenings in the marsh below. The Heron somehow managed to persuade the snake to unwind itself from its beak, but before it could start its feast, the snake must have secured itself by its tail to the base of a bush. We continued to watch the tussle until it was almost dark, and left with the heron still tugging and pulling at the snake to force it to release its hold. What happened next was anybodies guess, but we had to depart, leaving the battle unresolved. Our totals still continued to creep upwards, and we were now on 252 for the holiday, 60 for the holiday and 43 life birds.
We were now up to day 18, the first day we didn’t add anything to our totals. On day 19 we had booked Raymond to take us to the Donna Paula plateau where we could catch up with a few of the Larks and Pipits. First on the agenda for Raymond was to find the Desert Wheatear which had been there for sometime. The bird usually frequents the Indian Subcontinent much further north, but there have been occasional sightings as far south as Goa. We found the bird in, what appeared to be a group of small fields on the left hand side of the track onto which Raymond had turned, and were fortunate that a group of dogs did not disturb it too much. Over the road he pointed out a number of Yellow-wattled Lapwings all standing quite motionless on the rocky plateau. Donna Paula in a renowned habitat for this species and it is difficult to find them anywhere else in Goa. He then pointed out a number of Ashy-crowned Sparrow Larks looking pristine in the early morning sunshine. Crested Larks, Skylarks, Oriental Skylarks were all there as were most of the Pipits. Raymond pointed to a white building some way away where three Spotted Owlets had obviously roosted for the night, and highlighted a Moustached Warbler in some bushes just a few yards away. For our return journey to the hotel we asked Raymond to go via Batim Lake where we hoped we might be able to pick out a few of the Ducks we had missed out on before. As soon as we arrived Raymond noticed a bird perched on top of a distant tree, and scoping showed it to be a Lesser-spotted Eagle. As for the ducks, well Raymond had the same problem as we did a few days before, and could not find anything different. On our way back we stopped of at a set of salt pans at Pilau where we had a group of Little Stints a lone Temmincks Stint, and a Great Knot. Further along the road we were fortunate to find a Black-shouldered Kite, once again perched on the roadside telegraph wires. Believe it or not we were still adding to our list and to date the numbers stood at 261 for the holiday, 67 new ones for the Goa list and now 47 lifers.
Over the next few days our new sightings were becoming less and less. Sitting by the pool on one of the days we had a stunning sight of about 10 to 12 Black-crowned Night Herons alighting in the bushes by the river just at the end of the hotel gardens. I decided to take my camera to the spot where they were, but could not see one of them: so frustrating. A sighting of the huge Eastern Steppe Eagle flying over the hotel was a quite useful addition. During a walk up Baga Hill one evening, we were startled by two superb Peacocks which flew from their roost in a nearby tree. We assumed that they were the same two birds we had found walking down the track in the same place earlier in the holiday, and the ones we saw feeding in a field from the top of Baga Hill. It was quite amazing to see these birds in flight.
We had decided to go on what was known as the “Crocodile Dundee” trip to find some crocodiles. We departed much later this time and arrived at a boarding point in Old Goa on the Mandovi River. The leader of the group was “Jake the Snake” quite a character, and before we had got very far he put the boatload of passengers at ease with his humour. This was not a birding trip but we fully expected to see quite a few on the way. Over all we had seen eleven crocodiles, of all shapes and sizes, including one which was sitting motionless at the top of the river bank with its mouth wide open. Apparently, if you see a croc in this sort of position, because it has its mouth open, it will stay there for some time, which gave us ample opportunities for camera and video shots. Some of the passengers on the boat laughed with Jake saying it was stuffed. Making sure everyone had taken sufficient photographs, he promptly, in typical “Crocodile Dundee” style, jumped onto the river bank and hustled it into the water; it wasn’t stuffed. We did as we thought find plenty of birds including Lesser-pied, White throated, Stork-billed, Collared, Black-capped and the Common Kingfishers, not bad for a non birding trip. A couple of new additions were Eurasian Curlew and another lifer for us, the Oriental Darter.
We were now moving even closer to the end of our holiday and as we had some friends coming from England and staying in a hotel just up the road from us, we decided to book another trip to Carambolin for the four of us. We met them for dinner on the Sunday evening and they were pleased that we could have a days birding together before we left for home. In the meantime whilst walking Baga fields one evening we picked up Zitting Cisticola, and Bay-backed Shrike, numerous Bluethroats, Ashy and Plain Prinias and we suddenly came across what appeared to be a large Quail or Partridge fly across the track in front of us. Immediately I thought I must get some video footage of this one. As we watched closely, the bird walked along the sandy track, and approached what seemed to be a wicker cage in which we could see another of the same species. Our first thoughts were that someone was trying to trap the bird, but from behind some bushes we noticed two Indian lads watching what was happening. When we spoke to them, only one could speak a few words of English, it appeared that they had brought the birds down from Delhi and were breeding them. Apparently it was the hen in the cage and they were exercising the male; it was quite fascinating, supposingly the male would not fly away whilst the hen was nearby in the cage. The birds they were breeding could be sold at a very good price as they were considered to be a delicacy. When I showed them my video footage, they asked for a photograph, and offered me 200 rupees for one; this must be a first. Unfortunately we could not add this one to the list, but the spectacle was a something different.
The last trip of the holiday was to revisit Carambolin Lake and the surrounding area, and although we did not expect anything new, it was an excellent place to visit. On the way Raymond took us down a narrow track to look for the Brown Fish Owl, one of the only owls we had not seen on this holiday. Glancing over to a field on the right we saw yet another Peacock picking around on the ground. On our last visit we only had one sighting of Peafowl, but this time we have had five. The Brown Fish Owl was not there, so we turned around and headed back to the main road. On the way I spotted a very small Quail at the base of some bushes, but could not identify it from a moving vehicle. Carambolin gave us many of the species we had already logged, but fortunately it also turned up Yellow Wagtail and a group of four Pied Avocets flying over the flood plains, a great addition as they are quite rare in Goa. In the evening we had a brief stroll into the Arpora Forest for a bit of filming, and surprisingly found one of the species of Cuckoos and had good footage of it, which would be helpful in identification. It had good striping on its breast down to its vent and could have been either, Indian Cuckoo, Banded Bay Cuckoo, Lesser Cuckoo, Common Hawk Cuckoo or Plaintive Cuckoo; I haven’t made my mind up yet.
With the last morning of our holiday reaching its conclusion, it was time to count up our final numbers. We had a total of 270 for the holiday, 72 new additions for Goa, and 50 life birds. It the time we had left before departing for the airport we counted up the number of birds we had seen from our sun beds around the pool, and it was amazingly 42 species. With the 72 new species for Goa and the 219 species we saw in 2004, our new total for Goa was now 291, an excellent count, for a couple of do-it-yourself holidays. In the 28 days we spent in Goa this holiday we did see one extreme rarity, one small cloud, but we did not give it a tick.
Our advice to anyone visiting Goa for the first time is – don’t underestimate the power of the sun, wear a hat and where possible, stay in the shade. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, and lay off the beer. Use beach shacks for your meals where possible, the food is prepared and cooked especially for you, although you may have to wait a while before you eat. If you don’t like spicy food, just ask them for plain grilled. If you want something that’s not on the menu, ask them, and they will do their best to comply with your wishes. We ate all of our meals at the Oceanic beach restaurant and never had a problem for the whole of our holiday.
Full Trip List (pdf)
Some useful information is added below:-
Field guide: Birds of the Indian Subcontinent by Grimmett and the Inskipps.
Marinha Dourada Hotel : email@example.com ( the “b” is correct in the E Mail address.)
Backwoods Camp: firstname.lastname@example.org
Raymond – Taxi driver and guide:
Rama M Govekar (Raymond)
Siolim Oxel Bardez, Goa, India, Telephone Number 93261394411 (mobile)
My own E Mail Address: email@example.com
I will be only too pleased to help you, feel free to E Mail me with any questions.
Brian & Isabel Eady