Goa - Birding Day by Day

23rd-30th January 2004

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A group of potential future bird guides try out our scopes.


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Elephant dung being left out to dry.  It is apparently a good fuel.

Friday 23 January 2004

We had left on time from Gatwick the previous evening and arrived one hour ahead of schedule because of strong tail winds. This time saving was soon cancelled out. After the interminable entry procedure we discovered that our taxi transfer had not turned up - which we had paid extra for! We had to wait 30 minutes while a replacement taxi was found. We then had a white-knuckle ride in an ancient Indian Austin to our hotel.

To our delight we had been allocated a room with a balcony overlooking the marsh and fields at the back of the hotel. A large pale brown eagle perched in a bare tree a mere 100m away immediately baffled us. It turned out to be an immature Lesser Spotted Eagle. The bee-eaters were Greens and Blue-taileds, the drongos were Black, the kites were Black and Brahminy, the crows were House, the herons were Indian Pond, the lapwings were Red-wattled, the kingfishers were White-breasted. Over the ridge of Baga Hill a Crested Serpent Eagle and a White-bellied Sea-eagle soared. Our only Ashy Woodswallows were seen on the wires It was heady stuff.

We set off across the fields to the water we could see to the north-east. We soon found some familiar waders and the first of the baffling pipits (a Blyth’s). A couple of Malabar Larks were much easier. Overhead were Barn, Wire-tailed and Red-rumped Swallows. There were a few Pied Stonechats but the best was a magnificent Stork-billed Kingfisher perched by the river.

As dusk was falling we heard of a group of eight Painted Snipe near the Hotel Cavala. We made it before the sun set. There they were, amazing birds sitting quietly at the edge of a small pool.

Saturday 24 January 2004

We had booked Naresh by phone from England to taxi us around on Saturday. We had met him the previous evening outside our hotel. There he was at the appointed time; we were slightly late as we had to wait for our sandwiches. The planned route was Carambolim Woods - Carambolim Lake - Saligao Zor. The first stop was a stake-out for Brown Hawk Owl. We also picked up a number of common Goan birds. At the marsh next door were a small group of Terek Sandpipers and about 20 Small Pratincoles. A bonus was two circling Lesser Adjutants. Then we were off to the lake.

On the track to the water we had views of our first Indian Robin. At the lake itself Purple Swamphens were everywhere; somewhat fewer were the jacanas, Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed, the latter in their rather quiet winter plumage. A large flock of Lesser Whistling-ducks flew around but only about ten Cotton Pygmy-geese were present. There were no Comb or Spot-billed Ducks although they had been seen a week previously. We did see a Hoopoe and a Great Coucal.

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Carambolim Lake - The extensive floating weed that covers the majority of the lake can be seen.

On the other side of the lake we saw 18 stunning Asian Open-bills while a very confiding Brahminy Kite gave excellent photographing opportunities

From the lake we drove to Saligao Zor, a spring surrounded by jungle-covered hillside. Naresh found the three target birds fairly quickly. The first was a splendid Brown Wood Owl, the next was a white male Asian Paradise Flycatcher, and the trickiest was a Malabar Whistling Thrush dodging about the stones in a dry stream bed. Supporting cast included White-browed Fantail, Puff-throated Babbler, Ashy Drongo and Black-hooded Orioles.

We returned to the hotel fairly early in the afternoon so we took a quick taxi ride to the foot of Baga Hill. We began with a Crimson Sunbird and progressed with Jungle Babbler and White-browed Bulbul. At the top, which opens out, we did a short raptor watch. The action appeared to be to the east where we picked up a Changeable Hawk-eagle and an Oriental Honey-buzzard. A White-breasted Sea-eagle was much closer.

Sunday 25 January 2004

This time the planned route with Naresh was Morjim Beach - Maem Lake - Tikanem - Chorao Island. It proved to be a long eventful day.

We had decided on Morjim Beach first because we had heard that the Caspian Plover which had been present there for a few days tended to disappear in the afternoon. We walked onto the sand and promptly ran into an amazingly tame group of Small Pratincoles sitting high on the beach. Beyond were Kentish, Lesser Sand and Greater Sand Plovers, but no Caspian. On a distant sand bar were about 20 Pallas’s Gulls with Brown and Black-headed Gulls. Sandwich Terns flew around but we could not find any Crested. Then we located the Caspian, darker breasted and thinner billed than the Sand Plovers. Walking back over the dunes, MC flushed a Barred Button-quail; we eventually found three. Naresh found a small flock of Brahminy Starlings and while we were following these we saw a slim black bird with a curved bill and a square tail on a wire. It was a Drongo Cuckoo, not a common bird in Goa. We also met our first Long-tailed Shrike and Oriental Magpie-robin.

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Various Gulls including Pallas's Gull
Except for the Mandovi River, where Brown-headed Gulls were seen, Morjim Beach was the only place where we found gulls. About 20 Pallas’s Gulls were present along with (presumed) Caspian ( thought Yellow Legged ) Gulls and Heuglin’s Gulls. Brown-headed and Black-headed Gulls were rather easier to identify.    Photo - JER

From Morjim Beach we drove to Maem Lake for Brown Fish Owl and whatever else we could find. Initially this turned out to be raptors: Oriental Honey-buzzard, Shikra and two Changeable Hawk-eagles were pointed our by Naresh, perched in their regular tree. Then there were drongos: a White-bellied and a Bronzed; warblers: Blyth’s Reed, Greenish, Booted (or Sykes’), and a Tytler’s Leaf. A cuckoo-shrike turned out to be a female Black-headed. We failed on the owl probably because we were too late in the day and the bird had been disturbed by wood-gatherers. Naresh had wanted to go to the lake first because of this but we had decided the Caspian Plover took precedence.

We next went on the trail of Rufous-tailed Larks. A large fallow field at Tikanem was the location. It took a while to find the larks, but during this time we had fun with pipits and larks. One pipit was a Richard’s while another was a Tree. A baffling lark turned out to be an Oriental. A tree full of Chestnut-shouldered Petronias also kept us entertained.

The other speciality of this area is Woolly-necked Stork. We eventually saw eight along with a Lesser Adjutant and a Greater Spotted Eagle.

Next stop was Chorao Island. Here were waders, in particular Pacific Golden Plovers and Terek Sandpipers. From the ferry we saw thousands of Pintails and Brown-headed Gulls in flight.

Monday 26th January 2004

Today was to be in two parts: morning in Arpora Forest and afternoon at Dona Paula and Santa Cruz with lunch at the hotel in between. Dawn in the forest began with Orange-headed Ground Thrush, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Small Minivet, Puff-throated Babbler, Black-lored Tit and Rufous Treepie in quick succession. But we dipped on Blue-faced Malkoha and Indian Pitta. We did see an adult and two young White-bellied Sea Eagles at their nest.

In the afternoon, in the rather strange habitat of Dona Paula which consists of an area of volcanic rock overlain with a sparse covering of dry grass and surrounded by new housing, we found Ashy-crowned Finch-lark and Yellow-wattled Lapwing. The paddy-fields at Santa Cruz were rather unproductive but the nearby saltpans turned up more waders, including Pacific Golden Plover and Terek Sandpiper and a Curlew Sandpiper, which is unusual in Goa.

Tuesday 27th January 2004

The trip to Backwoods started badly. DF tripped over an unlit step and smashed himself, his bins and a lens. He was thus on his way to Backwoods binless and pouring blood from one hand. The hand was treated by Leio, our guide, who promised to lend him a pair of bins on arrival at the camp. Meanwhile frustration.

The first stop turned up a Western Ghats endemic - Malabar Grey Hornbill which was quickly followed by Malabar Pied Hornbill. Also here were Blue-winged Leafbird, Black-rumped Flameback, Greater Flameback, Rufous and Heart-spotted Woodpeckers. Another stop gave us Crimson-fronted and White-cheeked Barbets, Pompadour Green-pigeon and Little Spiderhunter. Then we were at the camp.

After checking into the tent, eating breakfast and, in DF’s case, collecting an old but serviceable pair of bins, we were on the first of our walks.

 The sequence of events becomes a bit blurred at this point. It is also probably not useful to list all the birds we saw - there were so many. But we remember the first notable bird very well - a pair of Sri Lankan Frogmouths roosting in a clump of bamboo right by the camp. A walk up a dry river bed for Blue-eared Kingfisher produced the target bird quite quickly. While we were looking at this and a Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, JR had scoped a small orange kingfisher sitting quietly in a bush. He called Leio’s attention to it. On looking through the scope our leader went ballistic. ‘OH MY GOD!’ he kept saying. He could hardly get the words out. ‘It’s an Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher!’ It transpired this was the first he had seen since November.

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Blue-eared Kingfisher sitting patiently over a shady stream in the Backwoods.  Photo - MCC

It got even better - for some of us - later on. At the top of a tree full of minivets was a cuckoo-shrike. DF and another birder drew the attention of the rest of the group to it but most were more interested in the minivets which, to be honest, were much more colourful. It turned out to be a Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike, the first Leio had seen in Goa.

After tea we went looking for nightjars near the temple of Tambdi Surla. The site was a dry grassy field surrounded by jungle with a good view of a distant range of mountains. While we waited for dusk we saw Mountain Imperial Pigeon and a magnificent White-bellied Woodpecker which got a round of applause as it flew over. Raptor watching produced a distant Indian Black Eagle.

The nightjars arrived on cue. There were two species - Jerdon’s and Grey, the former’s eyes glowing red in the light of Leio’s huge light. Not a bad end to an action-packed day.

Wednesday 28th January 2004

The targets this morning were Spangled Drongo, Oriental Scops Owl and Malabar Trogon. The drongo was found fairly quickly while we were walking along a wide track through scattered trees, but the others involved a walk in single file through jungle. We found two owls low down in its roost tree; the trogons were high up, usually motionless but occasionally flying between trees. There were five. Other birds were Emerald Dove, Asian Fairy-bluebird, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Verditer, White-bellied and Nilgiri Flycatchers - the last certainly unusual in Goa. A non-bird was a huge rat snake that slithered rapidly away from us. Other non-birds seen during our time in Backwoods were magnificent Malabar Giant Squirrels (the size of foxes) and Hanuman Langurs.

In the afternoon we raptor watched. We saw two Rufous-bellied Hawk-eagles and a Mountain Hawk-eagle over the mountain range on the far side of the valley. We watched the Mountain Hawk-eagle fly down a slope and land in a tree against the sky. It seemed an ideal opportunity to determine the limits of digiscoping technology. MC set his Swarovski AT65 to about 40x, his Coolpix to 4x and took some pictures. The results were somewhat blurred but you can see the crest. The bird was between three and four miles away.

We tried for Giant Hornbill in the early evening but they were not seen although we have even better displays from a White-bellied Woodpecker. We had brief views of a female Red-breasted Flycatcher and an Orange-headed Thrush at the temple as we walked back to the bus.

Thursday 29th January 2004

We began the day with an emergency stop. Two large raptors were sitting together in a bare tree very close to the road. They were an Oriental Honey-buzzards.

Our next stop was a bridge over a river. Two Stork-billed Kingfishers flew downstream while a Spangled Drongo gave us excellent views. A male Loten’s Sunbird probed among flowers, warblers dodged about in the bushes - Grey-breasted Prinia, Greenish (which were common), and Blyth’s Reed. We were waiting for Great Hornbill but they didn’t show. We had to make do with Malabar Grey and Malabar Pied.

A very tame and superb adult male Red-breasted Flycatcher gave wonderful photo opportunities outside one of the tents. But we really wanted an Indian Pitta. There were four territories just by the tents and everybody was seeing the birds except us. A big dip was looming when we finally saw one of these amazing birds racing through the leaf litter. Big relief all round.

We finished with another raptor watch which gave us terrific views of an Indian Black Eagle and more distant views of a White-backed Vulture and up to four Crested Serpent Eagles.

After lunch was started the long drive (two hours plus) back to Baga. We returned to our hotel at about 16.30pm which gave us a couple of hours in the fields where we caught up with the Black-capped Kingfisher we had missed on the first day.

The following morning, a rapid taxi ride in the dark to the airport was followed by the absurdist comedy of Indian passport control combined with modern security checks. An uneventful flight brought us back to Gatwick and home.

Next Page

Trip Home Page Owls, Frogmouths
Kingfishers Bee-eaters, Roller, Trogon,Sunbirds, Spiderhunter
Raptors Larks - Pipits -Wagtails
Barbets Bulbuls and Babblers Woodpeckers
Thrushes, Robins and Chats Waterbirds
Waders Flycatchers, Swallows, small Passerines
Pigeons, Doves and Parakeets Miscellaneous Birds
Other Wildlife Mystery Bird
Events - Day by Day Trip List


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