Goa - Birding Trip

23rd-30th January 2004

By Dave Ferguson, Mike Collard and Jim Rose

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Indian Roller - The only one we saw - Near Panjim

This trip report describes a one week birding trip to Goa by Dave Ferguson, Mike Collard and Jim Rose. The good reports of other birders decided us to spend three of these days at the Backwoods Camp in the foothills of the Western Ghats. While essentially a birding trip, all three have digiscoping and/or camcorder equipment so a significant number of birds were caught on "digital media". The report contains pictures of over 90 species of birds that were taken during the week.

All of the pictures of birds shown on this website were taken as part of general bird watching. No stake-outs for specific species were made and no more than a few minutes were spent photographing any one bird. With over 90 species photographed/videoed during one week, this essentially goes without saying.

Thanks to Gerry and Doris Marsh who gave advice. Special thanks to our wives for not objecting too much on the group’s fifth trip abroad.

 

Books

We used A Pocket Guide to the Indian Subcontinent by Grimmett, Inskipp and Inskipp and A Field Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent by Kazmierczak. Both are good books with the former having slightly better illustrations. The Independent Birders’ Guide by Peter Harris is indispensable on sites although Backwoods Camp is not mentioned because it did not exist when the book was published. The species list is now out of date. The popularity of Goa as a birders’ destination combined with the relative accessibility of the Western Ghats because of Backwoods has shown that some species formerly considered to be rare are in fact relatively frequent. Vultures, considered by Harris to be common, are now rare because of a vetinary drug used on cattle.

 

Costs

We booked a package with Unijet which was a very reasonable 339 for a week’s b &b. We spent another 20 each for a taxi transfer (more on this later) and a further 17 each to be seated together on the plane.

The rate of exchange was 1 = 81 Rupees (Rs). We changed travellers’ cheques at the hotel.

A three course set meal with four choices per course at the hotel cost 250 Rs. A 650 ml bottle of the very acceptable Kingfisher lager cost 60 Rs. A day’s hire of a taxi with driver was about 1200 Rs. A taxi from the hotel to the foot of Baga Hill was 50 Rs.

 

Hotel

We stayed at the Beira Mar Hotel in Baga. The main reason for staying at this hotel was its location. Immediately behind the swimming pool is a small marsh which held the possibility of Painted Snipe and Cinnamon Bittern. If you were lucky you would be in a room whose balcony overlooked the marsh and the fields beyond. In the event we were lucky with the room although not with the bittern and the snipe.

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Top - Front Entrance to Hotel

Centre - The hotel from Baga Fields

Below - View from Our Balcony. Looking over  Baga Fields.  Many Indian Pond Herons and other birds would feed in the pools and a Lesser Spotted Eagle perched in the small single tree in the field on the RHS of the picture!

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The room was large (it held the three of us comfortably) though bleak, the food was good though this is not important in Baga as there are dozens of excellent eating places all round, the staff pleasant and helpful. With all the digital equipment we had with us electricity was important. The single socket in the room was a combined round three pin/two pin type. Luckily we had an adapter which (just about) fitted.

Unfortunately this hotel has been badly designed and is poorly maintained. It has a dilapidated appearance, but, more importantly, the area around the building is full of unnecessary and dangerous obstructions. One of these, a step up to a volleyball court, caught DF out when he was walking in the dark to the bus that was to take us to Backwoods. He tripped over this unlit step, crashed onto the concrete, badly grazed one hand, pulled a tendon in a leg, and broke his bins and a camera lens. If you stay at this hotel be very careful!

 

Transport

While we were in Baga we used the services of Naresh who is a driver/guide. He is a very pleasant person and very good at finding target birds. His persistent search for Rufous-tailed Larks was something to see. He is highly recommended. He can be contacted on 08322279479.  He drives a dark blue taxi No GA-01-V-1174 which can usually be found outside the Beira Mar.

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Naresh and his taxi. 

Food

The food in Goa is little short of amazing. Great Indian and Chinese meals can be had at very reasonable prices. We also ate at a more upmarket - and, therefore, expensive - Italian restaurant called Fiesta. Service is usually slow although this didn’t matter too much as this was when we did our notes for the day. Breakfast was the main problem. To maximise birding time we did without. On one occasion we ordered sandwiches the night before, but this resulted in a delay while they made them so we didn’t do it again. Naresh solved the problem one day by buying us vegetable samosas which, as usual, were excellent. We also managed on fruit cake which we brought with us. One day we ate at the restaurant at Maem Lake which was pretty good.

 

Backwoods

Backwoods Camp is in the foothills of the Western Ghats near the temple of Tambdi Surla and is in the Bhagwan Mahaveer Widlife Sanctuary. The Backwoods Camp is run by three highly professional Goan birders (For more details see www.backwoods..

We stayed for two nights. Our Backwoods experience began at 05.30 hrs on Tuesday when a bus picked us up at our hotel (after DF had fallen over and broken his bins). We drove for two hours in the dark in a fairly cramped bus to a location somewhere in the Ghats, arriving shortly after dawn. We then drove somewhere else for another stop and then to the camp where we had breakfast.

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Backwoods camp - The tents were in fact very comfortable and much cooler than the hotel on the coast.

Below - The "dining area" at Backwoods.  A place to eat, drink and discuss birding.

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The routine became: 06.30 for 07.00 with tea/coffee and biscuits; a walk or drive and walk; breakfast at 10.00; another walk; lunch at 13.00; free time; tea/coffee and biscuits at 15.30; evening walk. The walks were quite easy except for a boulder-strewn dry river for Blue-eared Kingfisher. There were 24 in the party which were split into two groups. The relatively large group size was not too much of a problem except on narrow paths in the forest when we searching for a very elusive bird such as Indian Blue Robin.

Our guide, Leio, had the eyes of a hawk, the ears of an owl, the fieldcraft of Hawkeye, and the knowledge of Einstein. Without him we would not have seen half the birds. We are not that keen on guided birding, but here we had little choice, and, to be honest, it was quite a pleasant experience.

The accommodation was in twin-bedded tents or cabins. Each had its own toilet and (cold) shower. JR and DF shared one tent while MC shared with a member of another group of three. The beds were actually more comfortable than those in the hotel and indeed the accommodation was very acceptable. The food too was pretty good, being tasty and plentiful if somewhat limited in range.

During our time at the camp we saw 115 species of bird while at least another 15 were present. All this cost 4000 Rs each. If you are going to Goa, Backwoods is a must.

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For further information please contact :-

Jim Rose 

Dave Ferguson 

Mike Collard 

All photographs are copyright.  Please contact the relevant person  if you wish to copy or reproduce any of the photgraphs.   All bird photographs have the initials of the photographer.  "JER" denotes Jim Rose,   "MCC"  Mike Collard and "DMF" Dave Ferguson.

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