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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Goa: 15th January 2004 to 6th February 2004,
Birding by beginners. - Brian & Isabel Eady
Having first become interested in birding whilst on a holiday to The Gambia just four years ago, we decided to venture further afield, and chose Goa, a small Indian state on the west coast of the Indian sub-continent.
Goa, formerly a Portuguese colony, measures a mere 60 miles from north to south, and only 30 miles from east to west, and is divided into three major regions. Northern Goa, comprising Pernem & Bardez is divided by the Chapora River, and is further separated from the central region of the Capital Panji, and Tiswadi by the Mandovi River. The remaining southern states of Goa are separated from the central area by the mighty Zuari River. These major rivers can be crossed only by their individual bridges which make a short trip west to east quite a lengthy excursion.
We booked our three week Goan holiday some 9 months previous, and decided to stay at the Marinha Dourada hotel in Arpora on a bed and breakfast arrangement.
After a 12 hour flight, including a refuelling stop at Bahrain, we finally arrived at our hotel and were very pleased with ourselves after seeing some of the other places where fellow holiday makers were dropped off. As the Rep said," now we are going to the posh area". The hotel was in an ideal setting, with the main hotel areas fringed by palm trees and two lakes fed by salt water from the tidal river adjacent to the hotel grounds. We were more than pleased to find that the hotel room contained a fully stocked fridge/mini-bar at very reasonable prices.
The five and a half hours difference from G M T meant that instead of reaching the hotel at six thirty in the morning, it was now just past midday, so we were both feeling quite tired as we had little or no sleep on the plane. However, after dumping our cases in the room we decided it was time to don our shorts and stretch our legs.
Birding in the Gambia became quite easy for us after the second visit, as the birds became more familiar to us, whereas Goa, within a completely new continent, would present us with more difficult identification problems. To help us with this, we purchased two videos of Birds of Goa by Malcolm Rymer, another by Bill Oddie, and Guide to the Birds of the Indian Sub-continent by Grimitt and the Inskips. After playing the videos many times, we felt that we could venture into the unknown with a reasonable degree of confidence, and set ourselves a target of between 200 and 250 different species of birds. After downloading about a dozen reports from the internet, it helped us to know what birds we could expect on each of the sites we visited. We also purchased a site guide by Peter Harris to give us further assistance.
We had decided before we left that our birding would be confined to early morning and late afternoon to miss the heat of the day, during which time we would relax around the pool or on the beach. We had booked a couple of excursions via the Internet, one at a bird camp (Backwoods) in the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary up in the wooded foothills of the Western Ghats, and another upriver trip to locate the rare Collared Kingfisher.
We strolled around the hotel lakes and admired the superb Brahminy and Black Kites as they soared overhead, and soon spotted the familiar Common Kingfisher fishing in one of the lakes from a nearby fence. A flash of black and white, and a splash in the water, gave us another Kingfisher, The Lesser Pied, which we had been accustomed to seeing in The Gambia. We arrived at the Hotel reception area and decided to change some money as all we had was English pounds. The rate was 80 Rupees to the pound, which made the conversion quite easy.
Just across the road from the hotel was an area of saltpans, and dried up paddy fields, and at a first glance it was noticeable that there was quite a lot of birdlife there. Telephone lines were by the roadside, and almost immediately we had two more Kingfishers resting on the wires. What eventually turned out to be a very common species, the White-throated or Smyrna Kingfisher, bedecked in his beautiful blue, copper- red and white plumage, and the aptly named Stork-billed Kingfisher because of it's enormous bill. Goa boasts eight species of Kingfishers, and would you believe it, we had seen four of them without going anywhere. It was beautifully warm now, considering the cold and miserable weather before we left, we thought how lucky we really were.
A quick scan of the salt pans revealed quite a lot of water birds. All of the White Egrets, Cattle, Great White, Little and Intermediate, the Grey Heron, Indian Pond Heron, a very common species, and various waders adorned the pans. Most of the common waders could be seen, including Redshank, Greenshank, Common, Wood, Green and Marsh Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plover, Red Wattled Lapwing, a new one for us, and both the Red Rumped and Wire Tailed Swallows. We also came across the common Paddyfield Pipit, and the Malabar Lark proudly showing off his quite considerable crest, the first of the Mynas, the Jungle Myrna, and the Long Tailed Shrike carrying the same name as the Gambian version, but a completely different bird.
We also spotted both the Little Green, and Blue Tailed Bee Eaters, and across on a nearby lake Little Cormorants perched waiting for a fishing opportunity. We soon realised that we were rather silly to stay out in the midday sun so retired to the shade of the hotel pool.
As the evening approached, we decided to visit the Hotel Beira Mar, which according to the reports, was supposed to be where many of the birders collected at the end of the day. The edge of the swimming pool area overlooked the marsh, dried paddy fields and small pools, and also some fields grazed by cattle. Palm trees could be seen in the background, and telephone lines ran from left to right across the fields. To the right was the pool where the Painted Snipe and cinnamon Bittern were supposed to appear, but alas, not for us. We ordered a cool beer each and waited in apprehension for a few more birds.
White breasted Waterhen flitted in and out of the foliage around the pools on the right hand side; a lone Greater Coucal disappeared into the bushes. A cry of "snipe" echoed from one of the birders standing by the poolside, and lo and behold five landed just beyond us in one of the pools. After series of arguments, it was finally agreed that they were not the Pintail variety, but in fact Common Snipe, the same as we see in the UK. Another of the Kingfishers was spotted on the wires, this one the Black Capped variety, which raised our total to five of the eight required. We also saw the Common Myna, Chestnut tailed starling, and Scaly Breasted Munia. As dusk fell, the Spotted Owlet decided to pay us a visit.
Dusk falls very quickly in Goa, and in next to no time it was dark. Having feasted on aircraft food for the previous 24 hours we decided to treat ourselves to Chicken in the Basket. The chicken was great but there was no basket, but at just 200 rupees (£2-50) for the two of us, we were more than happy.
We retired to bed early that evening, and were very satisfied with our first half day. We had seen 50 species of birds of which 32 were new ones for us.
As expected, after a good night's sleep we woke early next morning, unfortunately it was 1:30am which was 7:00am back in England, our normal time, so we still had considerably more sleep to catch up on. Obviously our body clocks had to adjust to Goan time. We both decided to have an easy day and relax around the pool. I did however stroll across the road to the salt pans and was surprised to see two more new birds, a gathering of Small Pratincole, and a number of Pacific Golden Plover. The Pratincole is a lovely wader, so dainty and sleek, whilst the Pacific variety of Golden Plover is similar to the European variety. Another small bird graced the wires, a Pied Bushchat, all black with a white streak down each wing, and a white rump. So far so good, we seem to be coping with the new species without to much trouble, although we had come across quite a number of birds we were unable to identify, especially "a small brown job" with a long upright tail which was moved from side to side, later identified as an Ashy Prinia.
After a restful day, as late afternoon approached, we decided it was time to explore another "on the doorstep" birding site, Baga Fields. These fields are wide open expanses of dried up paddies, probably very wet in the Monsoon season, which is from June until late September. Wherever you looked there were birds. The common House Crow, with his brown neck, similar to our Jackdaw was abundant. Bee eaters were everywhere, Black and Ashy Drongos, with their long forked tails, and Black and Brahminy kites, soaring above the fields in the warm evening sky. By the river, Kingfishers adorned the bushes, and low and behold a bird which we had been looking for ever since we first went to The Gambia appeared, the Common Hoopoe. What a beautiful bird it is, a resident and winter visitor to many parts of the Indian Subcontinent. The Hoopoe has a rufous orange or orange buff body with black and white wings and tail, and black tipped fan-like crest, and a long dagger-like curved bill, which was always being used to locate insects as he busily covered the ground. Marsh Harriers quartered the fields, and Common and Jungle Mynas, together with Rose Coloured and Chestnut-tailed Starlings accumulated in the low bushes and trees. Flocks of Bayer Weavers, and Short Toed Larks swooped onto the fields picking up scattered grain of rice left over from the harvest. A flash of turquoise blue caught our eyes, as an Indian Roller landed in a nearby tree. We had seen a number of the Roller species in The Gambia, but this was a new one for us. As the shadows began to lengthen we looked towards the Arabian Sea and could see the sun disappearing below the palm trees and the sky reddening into a beautiful sunset. We knew from our last visit to Goa some six years ago, that when the sun disappears, in next to no time it would be dark, so it was time to make our way back to the hotel. This was all very well, but two had days gone, and I still had not used my camcorder. I have always tried to capture our birding holidays on film, not only as a reminder of our holidays, but also to use for bird identification at some later date, for some of the species we were not sure of. Still, we still had another nineteen days to go, so plenty of time.
There were two other sites within easy walking distance, Baga Hill and Arpora Forest. We decided to try Baga Hill first as this was one of the best sites to see the Indian Peafowl. We had seen them in zoos, and other sanctuaries, but to see them in the wild would be something else. All the documentation that we had read prior to our holiday suggested an early start to be on the ridge by daybreak. Not knowing the pathways to the top, we decided to get a local taxi for the short journey. However, this proved to be the wrong choice. The taxi driver had no idea where the entrance path was situated, and he did confess that this was the first time he had taken birdwatchers in his cab - just our luck. After trying to remember what the Peter Harris guide had told us, we found a pathway just past the "ugly bridge". The "ugly bridge" as it seemed to be called in all the reports we had read, was an awful concrete box-like construction which allowed vehicles to cross the Baga River to the beach. In the gloomy light we continued up the path. When we came across arrows painted on the rocks pointing to "Hilda's beauty parlour" we knew we were on the right track. The climb was tricky. It was very narrow and rocky, and with the light still not very good, we were pleased when we reached the top. Dawn had just broken, and as the sun came into view, we could feel it's gentle warming rays. It was magical, nobody else in sight, and no Peafowl. The ridge stretched for about a mile or so, and was a quite flat scrubby area with distinct pathways for us to follow. Birds were now starting to sing beautifully. We noticed a small black bird with a white shoulder patch and a reddish rump, holding his tail erect. It was similar to the Pied Bush-chat we had seen earlier. After scanning the pages of our Field Guide, we realised it was in fact an Indian Robin. Raptors soared overhead, and of course being on the top of the hill they seemed much closer to us. It was there we saw our first Honey Buzzard, and the huge White Bellied Fish Eagle, which allegedly nested in the Arpora Forest. There were Drongos everywhere, and the delightful song of the Bulbuls filled the air. The two most common of the species are The Red Whiskered, and the Red Vented varieties. It was the Red Whiskered one that we saw first. In fact they were everywhere, but always on the move, so close observation was difficult. It wasn't until we met another couple of birders along the track that we saw the Red Vented variety. This was one of the nice things about Goa. As long as you had a pair of binoculars around your neck, you always had someone to talk to. Majority of the birders we met were very helpful, and it was only a very small minority who were somewhat aloof. As we reached the end of the ridge, the sun was now beginning to feel quite warm, and we could not help but feel for the friends we left at home in the cold wet English winter. We heard quite a hubbub in the scrub ahead of us, and investigation showed that it was a group of Babblers, but which ones? There are 55 species of Babblers in the Indian Sub-continent, not of course in Goa, but the field guide we had, showed all of them. We narrowed it down to two species, the Puff Throated or the Jungle Babbler. We opted for Jungle Babbler because according to the book, the Puff throated variety is more of an individualist and seldom seen groups. We, by now had reached the pathway down, a much better and wider route. It was fast approaching ten thirty, so we realised we would have missed breakfast at the hotel. We had heard of "Lila's Café" so made up our minds that that would be our destination once we reached the bottom. On the way down we met a group of birders allied to one of the many Birdwatching Holiday groups who seem to travel all over the world. There we a group of about a dozen, and standing at the back was an Indian guy. We briefly had words with him and he asked my name. I said Brian, and to our utter amazement he said Brian and Isabel Eady, you're coming on a boat trip with me on Friday. Needless to say we were dumfounded. How, out of all the white people who were on holiday in Goa, did he know our names? It transpired that whilst back at home we had exchanged E Mails regarding the Backwoods trip and the River trip, and he was Loven, one of the co-leaders, and he put two and two together and made an assumption which was spot-on. By the time we reached Lila's café we were starving, so filled up with a full English breakfast, at a very reasonable price. Lila's is a very popular place for birders to gather for breakfast, and it was packed.
Whilst on one of our walks the next day we came across a Taxi driver named Chandra. We recognised the name from the Goa videos, and it transpired that he was the guide who transported Malcolm Rymer during the making of his videos. We arranged a trip with him to Carambolim Lake the following morning. He suggested a very early pick up time so we would arrive by daybreak. The Carambolim area was reputed to be a must from all the birding reports, so we waited with anticipation.
With the moon still in the sky, we arrived at the entrance to the hotel, and Chandra was waiting for us. It was about an hours drive to Carambolim, but an early start meant that we missed the traffic congestion around the capital Panji. We arrived at the lake just as dawn was breaking, and immediately looking through the palm trees to see a group of storks on the newly emerging rice paddy. In some areas of Goa, if it is wet enough, they can have two crops of rice each year, and this area, because of the fresh water source from the lake, was one of them. The Storks turned out to be Asian Open-billed; there were about fifteen to twenty of them. One of the reasons for the early start was to see the Storks, since soon after daybreak they depart to distant feeding grounds. It is also possible to see other Storks at this site, but unfortunately not this time. The lake was fast becoming clogged with weed and water lilies, and did not support the vast array of birds as in the past. However we did manage to see quite a few new ones for this holiday. The Purple Gallinule, a large bird with purplish blue colouration and a large red bill outnumbered the humble Moorhen. There were also Coot moving about between the water lilies, and both of the varieties of Jacana were walking about on top of the weed. The feet of the Jacana are huge, enabling them to spread their weight over quite a large area, and so to speak "walk on water". The Pheasant- tailed Jacana did not sport his breeding plumage, which is quite grand with his long tail and brilliant feathering, was quite easy to identify from his cousin the Bronze-winged species. A number of the diminutive Cotton Pygmy Geese was also present, although only in small numbers. The Pygmy Goose is not a member of the Goose family, but is in fact a perching duck, as his other name, the Cotton Teal suggests. A Yellow Wagtail worked vigorously, trying to find insects and grubs at the marshy waters edge. We expected to see a lot more ducks at this site, but it was not until we got back to the hotel that we were told "you go early for the Storks, the Ducks arrive later in the day". Chandra parked his cab, and we walked in to the small Carambilim village which was a well wooded area. He peered into the tree canopy and pointed to top. Brown Hawk Owl he said. Obviously, he knew the roost, because it was all that we could do to find the bird. Once found, the bird was quite clearly visible, but we would never have found it on our own. Further down the road he pointed out a male Asian Paradise Flycatcher, his white body and long white tail contrasting with a black head, in the warm morning sunlight. Across the road he spotted one of the Woodpecker species. A Black-rumped Flameback moved effortlessly up the trunk of a palm tree, until he disappeared into the palm fronds. This was quite a large bird with a vivid red crest and vent, and a fiery orange-red back, hence the name. We walked back along the road and into a lightly wooded area. Chandra pointed to a hole in a nearby tree where a pair of Spotted-Owlets was nesting. One sat on a nearby branch, and the other was peering from the nesting hole. As time moved on, we decided it was time to return to our hotel, which we reached at about 2 o clock. For the morning, a total of about 8 hours, the price was 870 rupees, just under eleven pounds, not bad for good mornings birding. We were very pleased with the trip and booked Chandra for the next morning at the same time to go to Morji beach, about an hour away but in a northerly direction
Arpora, where we were staying was the most northerly of the tourist areas. North of the Chapora River was way behind, since it is only recently that a bridge had been built across the river. Previously the river had to be crossed by an antiquated ferry which made tourist development quite impossible.
Morji beach was spectacular. As we approached we could see hundreds of Gulls and Terns on the beach, or in the air waiting to alight. We parked in a clearing in the shade under some palm trees. It was still quite early, but the sun had appeared and it was another beautiful morning. We were ushered across the road, and Chandra pointed into a large tree. Five magnificent Black Crowned Night Heron were awakening from their night-time roost. Once again they were new ones for this holiday, although we had seen them before in The Gambia. We crossed the road and made our way to find a position behind the Gulls, so that the sun was at our backs. Suddenly, without warning, up they went dispersing far and wide. It was an unsuspecting Indian Gentleman (to use a polite term) walking straight through the middle of them. It was fully 45 minutes before the first ones started to reappear. By this time the tide had started to recede, making the viewing quite difficult. We did see most of the birds we had expected, but the Caspian Terns and Plover eluded us. Common, Sandwich, and Lesser Crested Terns, Black and Brown Headed Gulls, the huge Pallas's Gull, Heuglin's and Yellow Legged Gulls were all added to our list. Further along the beach we found Small Pratincole, Greater and Lesser Sand Plover and Kentish Plover. We found a small water hole where a Black Kite and Brahminy Kite were both quenching their thirst, a wonderful close filming opportunity. We ventured further up the beach to a series of shacks where we also needed a drink. Nearby was an enclosure which turned out to be a turtle nest monitoring station. The beach is a protected area for the nesting turtles, which come onto the beach, dig a hole, lay their eggs, cover them up and return to the water. The chart showed when they nested, when they hatched and how many babes emerged. Some had none and some had in excess of 120. What a wonderful job. We returned from Morji just after noon, with fond memories, and looked forward to a future visit on our return in a couple of years. As we had missed breakfast again, we had a light snack, and settled down for a quiet afternoon in the shade.
Even lying in the shade on our sun beds still gave us birding opportunities. Black and Brahminy Kites, Booted Eagles, Honey Buzzards, and some un-identified Raptors, soared overhead. Kingfishers were constantly fishing in the lakes, and the ever present White Browed Wagtail busily hunting for food in the lawned areas. Egrets, Heron, and Cormorants were constantly fly past to the saltpans, and a Striated (Little Green) Heron paid us a visit.
As late afternoon approached we decided that there was time to do a quick reconnaissance into Arpora Forest, our target being the Fish Eagles nest. We followed the instructions we had been given by some friends we met, and reached the suggested clearing with a single tree centrally situated. As instructed, we walked across the clearing, turned around and there in the distance we could see the nest, with two Fish Eagles perched in the same tree.
One took off and obligingly gave us a close-up flypast. The light was fading fast, and being in the middle of a forest in the dark didn't appeal to us, so we decided to make our way back to the road. We had no idea where we were, and didn't recognise the road, or any of the surroundings. We suggested that we had to turn right, but soon came to the conclusion it should have been left, and after about ten minutes, in the fading gloom, we reached an adjoining road, which eventually led to our hotel
The following day, and the next morning, we walked the areas we knew, and picked up a few more birds that we hadn't already seen. Shikra, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Large Billed Crow, Common Iora, Common Kestrel, Little Swift, and Pin-tailed Snipe were all welcome editions to our checklist, and our total by now was growing rapidly. During a walk up Baga Hill we were fortunate to come across an elderly gentleman called John. He had been coming to Goa for many years, and travelled around on a bicycle. In our conversation, we spoke about eating places, and he asked us if we had tried St Anthony's, a beach shack on Baga Beach. We tried it, and ate there every evening that was available to us. A drink before the meal, a main course each, and a desert was just an average of 300 Rupees (£3:75) between us, and the Rough Guide to Goa says "a touch pricey", I don't think so.
Friday afternoon was our scheduled trip up river to find the Collared Kingfisher, a very rare species in Goa. The boat trip was headed by Leo, one of the Backwoods trio. The wider stretches of the river gave us yet more new species for the holiday. A number of Greater Crested and Gull Billed Terns, a pair of Eurasian Spoonbills, groups of Sanderling, a Western Reef Heron and a Eurasian Curlew swelled our list even more, and of course the rare White Collared Kingfisher pleased us immensely. Most of the other Kingfishers were seen up river but the Blue eared, and Oriental Dwarf ones, we would have to wait for.
It was now another 4 days to wait until we went to Backwoods camp so for the next few days we concentrated on videoing some of the mounting number of birds we had already seen. We did however add the Ashy Wood Swallow to our list, and at last sorted out some of the Sunbirds.
Our pick-up time for Backwoods Camp was 5:15am, a little early for a holiday trip, but essential for the one and a half to two hour journey. We were picked up right on time and after a few more pick-ups, the eleven of us settled back for the journey. Dawn eventually came, and just as the sun was making an appearance, the mini-coach pulled into a clearing of fruiting trees. The birdlife here was abundant. Both the impressive Malabar Pied and Malabar Grey Hornbills we feeding on the fruit, the Greater Racket Tailed Drongos, with their long tail streamers, were noisily moving about in the trees, and the song of the bulbuls filled the still morning air. Orioles could be seen lighting up the foliage with their vivid yellow feathering, and woodpeckers could be heard drumming on the trees. After about thirty minutes we were on our way once again, end eventually reached the entrance to the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary, up in the Western Ghats.
We stopped roadside and all disembarked from the coach. We realised after the coach departed, that this was the start of our eagerly anticipated adventure. As we walked into the forest, birdsong filled the air, and wherever you looked you could see birds. Most of the birders on the trip had scopes as well as binoculars, except us. We were advised before we left that scopes were a waste of time up here, and that the birding was not very good, so much for that advice. However, we did have our camcorder with us, so hoped for some good filming opportunities. We soon realised that forest birding was not easy, and had to have all our wits about us to see the birds that were being highlighted. It became easier the further we went, but camcorder work was almost impossible, but for just a few occasions. On this walk we had Besra, Black, Black Crested, Grey Headed Bulbuls, Asian Brown, Brown Breasted and Paradise Flycatchers, Black Hooded and Eurasian Golden Oriole, Black Throated Munia, quite a rare one, Chestnut Shouldered Petronia, Common Iora, Crimson Backed, Crimson Fronted, Loten's, Purple and Purple Rumped Sunbirds, and we hadn't reached the camp yet.
Once there we were 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 had tent number five, which comprised two beds a light and an electric fan. The door at the front had a zip which could be closed to the bottom, and though the back zip was the "bathroom", a sink, a flush toilet and a cold shower. We had heard stories of having to share our tent with Tree Frogs and an assortment of other creepy crawlies, but we cold not see any at the moment. After dumping our travel bag we all met for breakfast. There were two parties, one group were staying for three nights, and the remainder, which included us, for only two nights. Each of the groups had its own leader, who would stay with them for the whole of the visit. Breakfast consisted of toast and chapattis covered with butter and thick strawberry jam finished up with a cup of tea or coffee. After breakfast we went on another walk, but before we left we were shown to a dense bamboo thicket. Inside, although difficult to see were a pair of Sri Lankan Frogmouths, the weirdest birds we had ever seen. They appeared to have no beak, but, like the name had a face just like a frog; strange. We moved of in our transport and eventually stopped in a clearing. Once again birds were everywhere. After Leo had spent a few minutes whistling, and looking into the undergrowth, he beckoned us forward. He pointed out a brightly coloured red bird high in the trees, it was the Malabar Trogon. We saw numerous striking Scarlet Minivets, which we were to see on almost every walk, and similarly coloured Small Minivets. Parakeets screeched overhead, Ring Necked, Plum Headed and Malabar, and Vernal Hanging Parrots could be seen flying past at breakneck speed. We moved forwards until we reached a dried up river bed, where the walking was extremely difficult. Lea scanned the surrounding bushes and next to no time had located the Blue Eared Kingfisher another of the rare species. A bird flew from right to left into the bushes low down by the river bank. Binoculars and scopes were raised to see what it was; it had disappeared, so attentions turned to other areas of the river bed. One of the birders called to Leo." I've got my scope on something here". Leo looked and immediately told everyone to focus into that area of the bushes. It turned out to be the only Kingfisher species we had not seen, the Oriental Dwarf. Leo said that he had not located the bird for some months, and was extremely excited. Now we had all eight species, great. We returned for lunch just after one o clock, and told the other group of our find. They were going to the same place in the afternoon, and wondered if they would be lucky also. Lunch was rice and a mild curry, not to my taste but not too bad. We were then left to do our own thing until about 3:30pm when we went for tea and biscuits.
We were all told to don long trousers for the next excursion as we could be eaten alive by mosquitoes and sand flies. Unfortunately I hadn't taken any, so rather than miss the walk, decided to take a chance in just my shorts. The afternoon walk, on which we added a few more species to our list, terminated with a ride to the Mahadeva Temple at Tambdi Surla, which had survived some 700 years through the Muslim onslaught and religious bigotry of the Portuguese era. This area was where we would be looking for Nightjars as dusk fell. It still gave us time to continue our birding in the trees and bushes around the clearing. At the temple, a beautiful Grey Wagtail hunted on the ground trying to unearth some tasty morsel, Black and Crested Serpent Eagles soared overhead, and the Greater Flameback gave a brief appearance. Another of the woodpeckers, the Heart Spotted, could be seen high in one of the trees, and a number of Mountain Imperial Pigeons alighted in the hillside. We also spotted the Pompadour Green Pigeon. One of the group jokingly complained that he had not seen the White Bellied Woodpecker yet; both groups had now joined together for the Nightjar watch. Within a few minutes the bird appeared, giving us a wonderful view as he also dropped onto a tree on the hillside. Leo, and Pramod, the other group leader waited anxiously with their spotlight ready for the Nightjars. First one, then another was caught the beam of the spotlight, and for the next few minutes we had wonderful views as they swooped around the evening sky: They were the Indian Grey and Jerdon's Nightjars. Luckily there were no insects, so I returned unscathed. We returned to the camp at about 7:15pm, and were told that soup would be served at 8 and the main meal at 8:30pm. Following the meal we sat around chatting and listened with amazement to four Swedish birders checking their checklists." I saw 3, you saw 2 he saw 3 and he saw 1 and heard 2", a total of 11, OK? It caused a degree of hilarity as other birders sat open-mouthed as the group continued with their list. Schedule for the next day was, alarm call at 6:00am, coffee or tea at 6:30am, and out at 7:00am.
We settled down early the first night, and being tired, ignored the calls of the monkeys in the trees, and soon dropped off. The beds were not too bad, and we both felt refreshed in the morning. Isabel said that she was alarmed in the night when she woke and saw something long and black on the floor of the tent. It was about six inches long and very straight. She laughed when she realised it was my pen that had fallen onto the floor. It's surprising how the mind can play tricks.
The morning walk started around the camp, very leisurely at first, as we were looking for the Indian Pitta, a skulking bird, generally found on the ground. Our guide knew the possible site for the Pitta, but unfortunately he was nowhere to be seen. Our walk continued on a narrow pathway through the dense undergrowth until we reached another bamboo thicket. As we peered though the foliage we could clearly see the shape of a smallish bird sitting quite motionless on a branch. It was the Oriental Scops Owl showing his prominent ear tufts. It was even smaller than the Spotted Owlet which we had seen at Carambolim. Further down the track we had good views of the Paradise Flycatcher displaying once again, and our first Asian Fairy Bluebird, his violet-blue upper parts glistening in the morning sun. Vivid green Leafbirds flitted from bush to bush, and we were directed to a small bird on the branch of a nearby tree. It was moving up the branch in a way similar to our own Nuthatch. It was in fact the scarce Velvet Fronted species, with a violet-blue back but with lilac under parts and a bright black tipped red bill. We added The Bronze Drongo, the rare Nilgiri Flycatcher, Dark Fronted Babbler and Crimson Backed Sunbird to our mounting list. We also had better views of some of the other species we had seen the day previous. We were directed to peer low down in the undergrowth to look for the very elusive Indian Blue Robin, but apart from a fleeting glimpse of what could have been anything we decided to return for lunch. Just before we reached the confines of the camp we spotted a bright green backed bird hurrying through the leaf-strewn forest floor; it was the beautiful Emerald Dove.
After lunch we had a break and decided to look for the elusive Pitta, but again with no luck. The beautifully marked Orange Headed Ground Thrush came down for a drink at an ornamental pool, and at last I could get some good video-camera footage. A black and white Magpie Robin displayed in a nearby bush, and a male and female Purple Sunbird was working hard on nest building. This place was just magical, a must for any birdwatchers who visit Goa. It transpired that the second group were somewhat disappointed with their failure to see yesterday's star bird, the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher. In the afternoon we were transported by coach to a different part of the forest. We walked into a nearby field surrounded by palms and other deciduous trees. A group of young Indian children joined us, inquisitive about what was going on. As some of the group peered through their scopes at soaring Eagles, another youngster appeared onto the field rolling a bicycle wheel like a hoop. He was closely followed by another, this time with the tyre. The others started to play catch with a ball, just like we used to do when we were kids. The ball was thrown into the group of birders, who threw it back, much to the delight of the children. It wasn't a ball, it was the remains of an old sock stuffed and sewn together. It gave me an opportunity to get some interesting video material. As one of the birders remarked, "They probably had that for Christmas". It certainly struck home, there were young children enjoying themselves with an old sock, and a group of birders with literally thousands of pounds worth of equipment. How the other half lives!! Not many more birds were added to the list that afternoon, except for a couple of raptors, and a Common Wood Shrike. It didn't matter that we had seen most of the birds before, it gave as a good chance to familiarise ourselves with the different species. We moved away and found ourselves back to the Tambdi Surla temple site with the other group already there, which we found quite strange. Leo said that we would be looking for the giant Great Hornbill, which he had expected to see the previous evening.
This Hornbill is enormous, measuring 95 to 105 cms head to tail, with a huge casque on the top of his head. By all accounts this is the largest of the birds to be found in Goa, but unfortunately not by us, as he failed to turn up. We still had good views of the other Hornbills, and the White Bellied Woodpecker paid us another visit.
After the evening meal, the groups sat around and exchanged stories. It was very pleasant, and we made some good acquaintances. Len and Stan, together with his wife were both from our hotel, and had helped us immensely during our stay at the Backwoods Camp. Although we were birding beginners it didn't seem to matter.
The last morning was spent Raptor watching. On the way we came across two birds, one large and the other slightly smaller, perched in a tree some fifty yards from the road. They were obviously birds of prey, but which one? After a good deal of discussion, and friendly arguments, it was decided that the larger one was a Bonelli's Eagle and the smaller one was an Oriental Honey Buzzard. We must have been there a good 30 minutes before a decision could made on their identification, yet when we got to the Raptor site, they were identifying birds that looked like mere flies in the sky. It appeared that with Raptors, most of them is seen on the wing, and so identified from the wing shapes and patterns, so when one is found roosting, identification was more difficult. For us Raptor watching was the most disappointing part of the three days we had spent there, more than likely due to our inadequacies.
After a good lunch it was time to leave for our respective hotels, but there was still a few minutes left to look for the elusive Pitta. We walked up towards our transport, after wishing the other group good birding for the next day, and would you believe it under one of the bushes was that very bird; wonderful. We also spotted a couple of the beautiful Forest wagtails to our list. On our return journey everyone said what a fantastic few days we had had, and it was a wonderful experience. We had learnt so much, and made some very good friends. With the birds we actually saw, our overall total had reached a tantalising 199 different species, although there were about a dozen that some of the group saw that we didn't.
We had a lazy afternoon and could not wait to have a good plate full of chicken and chips for our evening meal, definitely no rice.
The following day we met Len, who invited us to go with him on the following Tuesday to Bondla, another sanctuary up in the Western Ghats. He had arranged the trip with Len and his wife Val, and another guy called John, and they would be guided by an Indian birder called Abhi, who also was the driver. We would follow in a second taxi organised by the guide. In the meantime we had plenty of time to ourselves to catch op with more videoing, and hoping to find the birds to make our total over the 200. Talking to some friends around the pool who had recently gone to the Beira Mar Hotel, the question of Greater Painted Snipe was brought up. He told us that he had not seen them up at the hotel, but had been told that there were some to be seen at the top of the Baga fields near the hotel Cavala, in a weed covered pool. That evening the Baga fields was our first port of call. As we traced our steps across the football pitch towards the Cavala hotel, we came across a tree full of Common House Sparrows, the first we had seen since the airport. We were attracted by a couple of birds which alighted on the fields in front of us. They were Hoopoes, which we approached and obtained some super shots on the video camera. We reached the pool with anticipation, stared across into some rushes, and there sat not one, but six Greater Painted Snipe. This was too easy, one of the most difficult birds to see and we had found six. Overjoyed, not only that we had found these birds, but we had reached our target of 200, and we still had almost a week of our holiday remaining. A trip into Arpora Forest gave us the Eurasian Golden Oriole and the Black Hooded Oriole, but by now finding new species was becoming more and more difficult. Still it was still nice to see the countryside, the people and of course the birds.
We arranged to go with Len to a site called Saligao Zor just 6 kilometres away. Once again an early start was called for, and we were up bright and early. As we approached the site we had excellent views of both the male and female Asian Koel. The Zor, which was the Indian for a spring, was the gathering place for many of the locals, who bathed, and washed their clothes in the fresh flowing water. It was most interesting to watch them as ladies arrived with enormous pots and pitchers which they filled with the fresh water, and carried them home on their heads. Other ladies, with bundles of washing gathered at the spring chattering incessantly as they used the rocks as a washing aid. Spreading the garments on the rocks, they rubbed soap into them and violently scrubbed until they were full of soapy lather, and then smashing them on the rocks before rinsing them in clean water. They all seemed to be working in unison, all for one and one for all. It was something else to see them all so happy, as small children sat on the top of the Zor, as if watching, and learning for the future. Behind the Zor was a group of very tall trees, which were the roosting places for a pair of Owls. As we gazed into the branches we could see a pair of Brown Wood Owls complete with their bespectacled like faces staring back at us. They were truly beautiful birds, similar to our own Barn Owl, but much darker plumaged and quite a bit larger. As we watched, one of them flew across to another tree and sat in an obvious fork, and disappeared into a hole, which could have been its nesting place. We moved away quite pleased with our find, and walked up a slope to a small village area, which was bathed in birdsong. Superb Golden Orioles, Barbets, and a new on for us, the White Throated Fantail busily fed on the fruiting trees. We also noted the Red Throated Flycatcher and Grey Headed Bulbul, which were seen at Backwoods, but not by us. A Large Wood Shrike sat in a tree and was shrouded by twigs, I wasn't certain, but was assured that the identification was correct.
The next day or so passed quickly, we searched for the Peafowl almost every day, but as usual, were out of luck. It was soon time to rise early for our trip to Bondla, which was on the same route as Backwoods, but not quite as far. It was a 5:15am start to arrive at Bondla at first light. Once the respective fees had been paid at the main entrance, we continued along the approach road. We stopped roadside by a small track, and followed Abhi until we reached an almost dead end. He pointed to a large tree, where we could see in the distance a magnificent Brown Fish Owl. He was slightly larger than the Brown Wood Owl we had seen at Saligao, and had two large ear tufts.
A Grey Jungle Fowl was seen scuttling up the leaf covered bank, the warm morning sunlight reflecting on the multi coloured tree canopy. We stopped on the lower approach road and continued on foot, reflecting on the many species available to us, including many species of Sunbirds, and a Sunbird look alike, the Little Spiderhunter. A Paradise Flycatcher posed for us on the way up giving me ample filming opportunities. We reached the central area of the Reserve which incorporated a small zoo, not a very nice place. After exploring the area for a few minutes, Abhi beckoned us forward to a dried up river bed, where an Indian Blue Robin was searching under the leaves for insects. Although some of the group had glimpsed this bird up at Backwoods, we had a superb view of this very elusive species, just a few yards away, and in the open. Our attention was drawn to a rustling in the tree canopy where a Giant Squirrel looked to be feeding on some berries. We had seen the smaller species of Squirrel in Arpora Forest on numerous occasions, but this one was enormous. As we turned around we could see a Thrush sized bird almost completely blue-black in appearance, with a piercing song. It was the Malabar Whistling Thrush. We decided that it was time for lunch, so we retreated to a picnic area where there were tables and benches. We did not realise, but Val had brought a loaf of bread from the hotel, some cheese spread, and a couple of tins of meat from home. This went down very well as none of us had had any breakfast. Whilst we were eating a small brightly coloured bird with orange buff under parts, a blue head and neck, and darker blue wings which carried a white patch, could be seen singing on a branch quite close to us. It turned out to be a Blue Capped Rock Thrush, another new one for our collection. Just across the road from the picnic area was a small bridge, spanning what would have been a river in the wet season. A largish bird with a long tail and orange belly, glossy blue black upperparts and white markings on the rump and outer tail feathers was flying to and from a rotted tree stump. This proved to be the White Rumped Sharma. We added the Malabar Blackbird and Indian Grey Hornbill to our list before it was time to leave. We arrive back at the hotel at about 2:30 in the afternoon so we relaxed for the rest of the day, leaving us just two more days before our holiday would be over. We decided late in the day that we would take a stroll up to Baga Hill. We went up the easy way by the wide track. The time was now 6:15pm so we did not expect to see much at this time of the day; suddenly we were alerted by a rustle in the bushes ahead of us, as a female Peafowl walked across the track just a few yards ahead. We couldn't believe out luck, it was late evening, not early morning. Another fifty yards up the track we saw a further six cross directly in front of us, and when we were almost at the top we saw two more in the undergrowth. It's a bit like the London busses, you wait for ages, and then they all come together. Three weeks seemed a long time before we left, but there were still more sites to visit, still more things to do, maybe next time we will add an extra week to our holiday.
We had an easy time for the next couple of days, just walking around the local area, and relaxing by the swimming pool. We picked up two more species, a Common Rosefinch, and a Brahminy Starling. On the last day, with the cases almost packed, I decided to go on my own to the foot of Baga Hill where a couple of Jungle Owlets had been seen on each of the previous three or four days. I searched for them but they were nowhere to be seen. I heard some noise in the undergrowth and moved forward to investigate. I followed a small narrow path until I reached a second path coming from the right, this would be a good vantage point to see what was making the noise. I set-up my camcorder and tripod on the main pathway and stood very still. Suddenly without warning, after some loud screeching, two birds appeared on the second path. They were fighting each other until one flew away into the bushes. A second one appeared and then they both departed quickly. I knew what they were without referring to the book: they were Red Spurfowl.
This proved to be the last of the Goan bird species we would see, but we were highly delighted with our count of 216 especially as quite a large percentage of them we identified by ourselves without a guide. When we arrived back our room after eating our evening meal the was a note for us saying that our flight home, due to technical problems, had been delayed for 6 hours, but luckily we could stay at the hotel instead of waiting at the airport. We were quite pleased, because the scheduled pick up time was 5:30am in the morning, so a six hour delay was quite OK.
After reflecting on our holiday, we had a wonderful time, picked a superb hotel, in a beautiful country, with very friendly and warm people, and can't wait to visit again in the near future.