Visit your favourite destinations
|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Goa : 16th February-16th March 2006,
Returning to the same birding country or sites can never have quite the same excitement as that first occasion. However, in my report last year I did say ‘ we knew pretty quickly that we had to return, so we have many species to look forward to next time’ …and so it turned out, mainly due to our intrepid bird (and tourist) guide Santosh. We have caught the ‘ Goa bug’ and will be making this pilgrimage for many years to come.....
Santosh, the Goan bird guide and myself with a few hundred gulls and terns in the background put up by some tourists.
So, here is an update on birds, sites, tour packages and tourist options (for those who like to combine birding with tourism). I repeat…’The species counts below are extremely conservative and low for we wanted to be absolutely sure before ‘ticking’ our list.’ What we did achieve, again, were excellent sightings enabling us to watch bird behaviour at very close range and for some considerable time (including difficult species like the elusive pitta through to the gigantic white bellied sea eagle.
Package Many companies now fly charters into Goa (Thomson, Thomas Cook, Jewel In The Crown, Portland, Cosmos, Going Places etc), or you can be independent. Late deals are usually available but don’t forget you need a visa from the embassy (www.hcilondon.org/visa.htm) but we booked on the internet with Thomson at the superb Marinha Dourada (adjacent to the salt pans) However, prices have risen steeply for next winter due to fuel costs.
Hotel Recommendations from other birders made the Marinha Dourada at Arpora our first choice. In our view it is still the best in the area, no mosquitoes as surrounding water is brackish, superb service, excellent food, enjoyable entertainment nightly and a balcony overlooking the fish pans…what more could anyone want? A peaceful place with lovely, spacious grounds and an air of opulence, even though it was fully booked the whole time, making breakfast a bit of a bun fight some mornings!
The Beiramar in Baga is still popular with birders but is looking a little ragged now and in need of TLC. It is still a good place to head for at the end of the day as birding from the swimming pool area is excellent, if you can find a space, and the meals in the adjacent restaurant at £3.30 for a 3-course one with beer or a glass of wine, is excellent value. If you want to be near the beach and all the hustle and bustle of the shopkeepers along the ‘high street’, then this is the place.
Food You need never leave the Marinha as prices are only slightly higher than the beach bars and you are guaranteed good quality and hygienic preparation. The fortnightly buffet meal and traditional dancers and fire-eaters are still not to be missed.
Weather Guaranteed 30° in cloudless skies.
Guides Beware! Every taxi driver claims to be a birder and to know all the best sites. In reality only about 2% do! We used Santosh Redkar as our guide again for the same reasons as last year…he is a safe driver (rarity in Goa), an even more outstanding birder than last year (he now knows the calls of over 300 birds!) and a lovely man who enjoyed informing us about customs, pastimes and just about anything to do with Goa. His experience as a local guide with Wildwings, Sunbird and RSPB groups certainly showed as he knew when to lead and when to let us just enjoy the birds without interruption. He knows all the calls, sites, roosts, etc. and also helps with carrying scopes and setting them up. He undersells himself and could charge much more than the normal taxi rates. We tipped him generously and we ‘block-booked’ him again to be sure of getting him as his business has flourished and many other birders wanted his services. As before, he was always on time (many days starting at 5.30 am and finishing at 5.30 pm or later) and never let us down. He knew where to shop for ‘real’ bargains in clothes/shoes/wooden furniture etc. and where to buy half price books on birds or surf the internet. He ‘made’ the holiday.
General Pocket Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent by Grimmett Inskip and Inskip was our bible (obtainable locally for £10) but Santosh was far quicker! We left the choice of sites largely to him also, unless we wanted a return visit. Our conservative 232 species (one less than last year but included a different set of birds, with more lifers, as we were a month later and the birds were slightly less abundant due to a ‘double monsoon’ season which resulted in many nesting failures). We were delighted with all our bird trips and tourist outings; though realize that really serious birders will only be impressed with figures nearer 300 species. This is exactly what Santosh did in January when he guided six Dutch birders during an intensive ‘dawn til dusk’ fortnight and bagged 295 species, which was six less than his record for last year.
Itinerary:- Very flexible, mixed with shopping, sightseeing and siesta! At least seven days with no birding whatsoever, some fairly intense for the morning and others a slow pace for most of the day.
Saltpans . Though used by locals for fishing, the birds seemed remarkably tolerant, waiting patiently only ten feet away until the disturbance was over. A total of 71 species (66 last year) were seen around this area speaks for itself with highlights of spotted eagle and osprey landing and eating prey, four-each of kingfisher, egret and heron species plus five eagles. Waders coming and going provided constant activity but the highlight for me every day was the very impressive dusk ‘return to roost’ of hundreds of parrot, egrets, cormorants, crows etc. to the adjacent palm trees.
Baga Hill. Hotels on the hill are imminent as the roads are now constructed with access about 100m from MoJo’s. The very long barbed wire fence on top is protecting the site from birdwatchers and will soon be a continuation of the Sun Village site nearby. Much of the scrub has been cleared so the birds have gone. The hillside still has some woodland birds but this will all change in the next six months.
Arpora Woods. The eagle’s new nest is the highlight here with constant coming and going of the parents. Pittas were found on most mornings but as usual take some finding. The total of 70 species (29 more than last year) reflects many more visits as it is only a ten minute walk from the hotel.
Beiramar . Insect repellent essential, but an excellent mix is possible here. Particular highlights were really close views (only 2 metres away) of ruddy breasted crake, pintail snipe and cinnamon bittern (but no Baillons this year for me) – marsh (but no pallid this year) harriers hunting and landing so close, bee-eaters and others performing non-stop. The 52 species recorded were excellent, but rather lower than last year reflecting more disturbance and fly-tipping.
Aguada Fort. Not really worth a visit now except to enjoy the view. Far too much disturbance.
Maen Lake . This was really good for taking photos of nightjars resting on tree branches, they posed beautifully. Not surprisingly, kingfishers were also good plus orange-breasted pigeons. In all 51 species were seen, 20 more than last year.
Pilerne Lake . No jacanas this time but both wattled lapwings were present along with kingfishers and waders. Only 15 species due to our visit coinciding with that of local children!
Carambolin. The lake and nearby wood was so good yet again resulting in 64 species, 13 down on last year, reflecting the timing and fewer visits.. The sheer numbers of gallinules, jacanas, egrets, herons, ibis, whistling ducks and garganey were most impressive, as was the new viewing platform to get a better view. Nearby woods provided close views of owls and
Bondla Reserve Santosh was outside the hotel at 5.30 am so that once again we arrived at the zoo entrance as dawn broke and enjoyed a leisurely stroll down the road. The great hornbill eluded us this time but we had really close views of the Malabar Grey. A fish owl, perched and flying, three woodpecker species, various minivets, bulbuls, babblers and thrushes soon made our total up to 60, many found by Santosh’s amazing hearing, which otherwise would have been missed. Breakfast, a visit to the zoo followed by lunch at the spice plantation and guided tour was a good balance for the day which ended at 5.30 pm. Santosh’ fees were 1600Rs for his transport and guiding, plus 300Rs each for the lunch and tour. We tipped him 400Rs for giving us such a wonderful and informative day out.
Backwoods Camp. The three-day visit is still a ‘must do’ for all birders and represents excellent value and a wonderful experience. You would be wise to book from England as they are extremely popular and you might not get a place at short notice. The ‘dinner party’ atmosphere coupled with excellent leadership and beautiful surroundings is a sure mix for a magical experience. Though birds were generally hard to find, we still recorded 102 species with highlights being the Savanna and Grey Nightjars only a few feet away plus the resident frogmouths.
Morjim Beach . Big numbers of Pallas, Heuglins, black and brown-headed and slender billed gulls accompanied by various terns and waders really tested my identification skills, but I was soon assisted by Santosh who found good views of each in my scope. With Brahminy starlings, night herons and Alexandrine parakeets in adjacent woodland, last year’s total of 14 species was boosted to 35.
River Trips. The one previously organised by Backwoods was not running due to lack of support. However, Santosh came to the rescue and arranged one on the Zuari River which proved to be most productive and exciting. Really close views were had of kingfishers (including collared), herons and egrets, in all, 51 species (same as last year) plus crocodiles. Door to door personal service (only four birders in the boat) and a 4 hour trip for an inclusive 950Rs plus an ‘optional’ visit to a lake afterwards (with 500 garganey) gave Santosh some generous, well earned tips at the end.
Others. Birds do not stay at the same sites forever, especially owl and nightjar roosts, so Santosh is constantly finding new places, especially when driving along he is constantly listening for calls and then stops, backs up the car and finds new ones. New sites in the middle of nowhere produced more birds that we had already seen but even closer, as few people went there.
Partner’s visits. For those not wishing (or allowed!) to go birding every day, then there are many interesting things to do. The Anjuna and night markets are well known, but try the real thing in Mapusa. Stay overnight at Morjim ( Turtle Bay restaurant & bar) for 300Rs and watch the sunset and enjoy good food. Avoid the Tour Companies’ packages unless you enjoy coach loads of people and have plenty of money! A 12-hour, guided (in English) coach tour of south or north Goa with the Tourist Board ‘bus’ booked at ‘Calangute Residency’ by the beach will cost you £1.50 plus £1.20 for an optional ‘Sunset Cruise’ (not to be missed) is one tenth of the ‘packaged’ price and you get to see the real Goa (listed in the new yellow guide book ‘The Best of Goa’ for 115Rs). How about a ‘Tigers and Tuskers’ two night stay in the neighbouring state of Karnataka? Tour operators charge £86 (in a coach load!), but you can do it with a local company and have personal service throughout, by car and train, for £60. Or ‘Nature’s Heaven’ one-night visit for some bird watching, fishing, nature walks, tribal dancing etc. Ask at local travel agents (Travel Inn) or Sunil. I strongly recommend the Bondla day out (above). These visits should keep ‘bad’ birdwatching partners and friends more than happy.
Santosh Redkar – firstname.lastname@example.org (mobile 0091 9881180424)
Backwoods – email@example.com, (mobile 0091 9822139859/9822387434)
Sunil - firstname.lastname@example.org (mobile – 0091 9326127577)
Turtle Bay Restaurant - (0091 9850452105 or 9850458610 or 9822183474)
More info , photos and lists from email@example.com