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A Report from

Goa: 6th-28th January 2005,

Roy Ticehurst

This report is by way of an update on the many previous reports from other birders. My wife (Pat) and I were making our first trip birding/sightseeing outside of Europe, having heard so much about it from friends and other birders, most of whom make it an annual pilgrimage. We were not disappointed and are already making plans for next year! Although experienced birders, effectively we had to start all over again and if we hadn’t got an excellent guide to help us, we would still be there now, flicking through the Field Guide, frantically searching. The species counts below are extremely conservative and low for we wanted to be absolutely sure before ‘ticking’ our list. We missed many, but we knew pretty quickly that we had to return, so we have many species to look forward to next time.

Package Many companies now fly charters into Goa, or you can be independent. Some late deals were £299 for two weeks at un-named accommodation.

Hotel Recommendations from other birders made the Marinha Dourada our first choice, and how right they were. 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!

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 of good quality and hygienic preparation. The fortnightly buffet meal and traditional dancers and fire-eaters is 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 had a recommendation from another birding couple and found Santosh Redkar to be a safe driver (rarity in Goa), outstanding birder 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 the four of us ‘block-booked’ him after the first outing for the following fortnight. He was always on time (many days starting at 5.30 am and finishing at 3pm 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.

Summary 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. Peter Harris’ Independent Birders Guide is now out of print but still very useful (though some sites are no longer any good). Our conservative 233 species (including 181 ‘lifers’) was still fantastic by our standards, though other birders there were beyond 260 and one had 280.

Itinerary:- Very flexible, mixed with shopping, sightseeing and siesta! At least three 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 66 species around this area speaks for itself with highlights of pallid harrier and osprey landing and eating prey, sea eagle, four-each of kingfisher, egret and heron species plus five eagles. Waders coming and going providing constant activity.

Baga Hill. Fears of hotels on the hill-top are founded on the fact that there is now a very long barbed wire fence mounted on concrete posts around the entire area. Much of the scrub has been cleared so the birds have gone. The hillside is still good for woodland birds, though our total was only 12 species.

Arpora Woods. The eagle’s nest is the highlight here with constant coming and going of the parents. The pitta takes some finding but is still around as are woodpeckers, owls and quail. The total of 41 is very conservative and more intensive birding and recording could double this figure.

Beiramar. Insect repellent essential, but an excellent mix is possible here. Particular highlights were really close views (only 2 metres away) of pintail and painted snipe - brown, ruddy breasted and Baillon’s crake – marsh and pallid harriers hunting and landing so close, bee-eaters and others performing non-stop. The 61 species recorded does not do justice to the quality of the sightings.

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 31 species were seen on a short visit.

Bileine Lake. Both jacanas and wattled lapwings were present in good numbers along with kingfishers and waders. 34 species could easily be improved with a longer stay.

Morjim Beach. A big surprise here was a Kittiwake amongst the thousands of gulls. Apparently a first for the region (as indicated by its absence from the Bird Guide). The 14 species here were mainly to be found on three pages of gulls, plovers and terns, but sorting them out on the sand bar was too difficult until the tide pushed them onto the shore about 100 metres away and then identification was much easier

Carambolin. The lake and nearby wood was so good that three visits were made in all resulting in 77 species. For us the open-billed storks, lesser adjutant and darter were most unusual plus the sheer numbers of gallinules and jacanas. A breakfast break in Old Goa was enjoyed, but we couldn’t wait to continue the search back at the woods and lake.

Bondla Reserve To my surprise we parked at the entrance as dawn broke and then walked back down the hill. Santosh soon found us three woodpecker species, various minivets, bulbuls, babblers, blue and orange-headed thrushes, grey and great hornbill then finally the trogon. What a haul and mostly by Santosh’s uncanny sense of hearing…amazing.

Backwoods Camp. The three-day visit is 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. Recorded 104 species but missed many more. The leaders were excited by a dark-sided flycatcher which was a new bird for the area.

River Trips. The best value is the one organised by Backwoods and can be booked by e-mail. Really close views were had of kingfishers, herons and egrets, in all, 51 species plus a very obliging crocodile.

Others. Very few ducks were found until a visit to one lake near Panjim (name unknown) discovered thousands. Ask Santosh for details. Similarly, new sites in the middle of nowhere produced interesting more birds that we had already seen but even closer, as few people went there.

Contacts Santosh Redkar, mobile (+91 9822587709), mobile (+91 9822139859/9822387434/9822144939)

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