Birding on the beach in Goa. Photo: Steve Matherly
The restful haven of Goa, with its balmy seas, cloudless blue skies, stunning sunsets, and endless white sandy beaches fringed with palm trees, is an increasingly popular holiday destination. Lying on the Arabian Sea, well within the Tropic of Cancer and approximately 250 miles south of Bombay, Goa boasts much more than an idyllic coastline and ‘winter’ temperatures of 80-90°F. A former Portuguese colony, it has a unique blend of European culture and Indian ambience that gives it a distinct Mediterranean feel.
Although only 80 miles long and 50 miles wide, the state of Goa is a birdwatcher’s paradise. There are many excellent habitats - wide river estuaries, mangrove swamps, marshes, scrub-covered hillsides, arid fields, rich forest reserves at the foot of the majestic Western Ghats and a spectacular bird-thronged lake at Carambolim.
During this relaxed, bird-filled tour we’ll have ample time to explore most of Goa’s major birding sites and to familiarise ourselves with a wide selection of its birds. We’ll encounter many species endemic to Peninsular and South India, as well as a large selection of wintering Palearctic species and numerous other more exotic Asian birds. Combine this with the unique, delicious food and easy-going Goan lifestyle and you have the makings of a perfect birding holiday. The tropical setting, the beaches and the local culture also make this a great place for a non-birding partner to explore or just relax.
Day 1: The tour begins with an overnight flight from London to Goa.
Day 2: After arriving in the early hours of the morning, we’ll immediately drive north to our hotel which will be our base for the next two weeks. Once we have checked in and had time to recover from the flight, we’ll spend the rest of the day getting to know some of the common birds close to our hotel. These should include the ever-present Brahminy and Black Kites, Indian Pond Herons, Eastern Cattle Egrets, Indian Rollers and Black Drongos. Blyth’s Reed Warblers and striking Black-rumped Flamebacks are common here and we are bound to encounter both. Night in northern Goa.
Days 3-12: We’ll spend numerous enjoyable few days getting to know Goa and its birds. A small marsh not very far from our hotel can hold a nice selection of birds and if the rains have been good we can look for Cinnamon and Black Bitterns, Greater Painted-snipe, Black-winged Stilt, Marsh Sandpiper, Small Pratincole, Red-wattled Lapwing, Pacific Golden Plover, Pintail Snipe, White-breasted Waterhen, Watercock, Slaty-breasted Rail, Ruddy-breasted and Baillon’s Crakes, Rosy Starling, White-breasted and Pied Kingfishers, and a host of smaller birds including Malabar Crested Lark, and Blyth’s, Richard’s and Paddyfield Pipits. Elsewhere, the common birds we can expect to find include dazzling Little Green Bee-eater, Asian Koel, Long-tailed Shrike, Indian Robin, Wire-tailed Swallow, Ashy Wood-swallow, and Greenish Warblers, while an Oriental Honey-buzzard or White-bellied Sea Eagle may drift overhead. Nights in northern Goa.
On several days we’ll leave the coast behind and head inland to explore the forests of the Western Ghats. We’ll visit Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary (Mollem), not far from the village of Dhargem which boasts a Hindu temple dating back to the 11th century. The mixture of woodland, paddies, and small fields here offer a wonderful selection of birds. We’ll search the undergrowth for a star of the region, the jewel-like Indian Pitta, and may also come across a stunning Orange-headed Thrush or a White-rumped Shama, arguably one of the best songsters in the world. Amongst the open woodland and bamboo groves we hope to find such charismatic species as Grey Junglefowl, White-bellied and Heart-spotted Woodpeckers, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Grey-fronted Green Pigeon, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Black-naped Oriole and Malabar Whistling Thrush.
We may find ourselves in the middle of a mixed feeding flock full of such gems as Yellow-browed, Grey-headed, and Flame-throated Bulbuls - this last stunning species being Goa’s state bird. These in turn may be joined by the equally stunning Asian Fairy Bluebird, Dark-fronted Babbler, Asian Paradise-flycatcher, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher or Indian Blue Robin. The birding does not stop when night falls either and we’ll go out at least once after dark in the hope of finding Oriental and Indian Scops Owls, Brown Fish-owl and, with luck, Spot-bellied Eagle Owl. However perhaps the star of any nocturnal birding will be the strange Sri Lanka Frogmouth whose equally strange, eerie grating call is so distinctive. On other days we’ll visit Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary where many of these same birds can be found, with some such as the relatively rare White-tailed Blue Flycatcher and Forest Wagtail in better numbers than at Mollem.
There is no fixed itinerary; instead the leader will use his knowledge of the area to decide each day how and where the excursions will run. At the same time he will ensure that all the main birding habitats in Goa are visited - some of them several times. All the sites are within a comfortable two hour’s drive from our hotel and most are much less. The excursions are fun, with a relaxed pace, and with the accent on obtaining good views of the birds. Sites that we’ll visit will include the Baga fields; Fort Aguada (where we’ll look for Indian Peafowl, Sykes’s Warbler and Blue Rock Thrush); Fort Tiracol for the elusive Jungle Bush-quail; Candolim marsh, the Nerul bridge and the Santa Cruz pools and paddies for shorebirds; Dona Paula and Neura for arid grassland species such as Yellow-wattled Lapwing and Ashy-crowned Finch-lark; Mayem lake; Tikanem, Chorao and Divar Islands for Lesser Adjutants and Carambolim lake, and Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary. We will also spend time sightseeing in Old Goa.
And, of course, there are Goa’s famous white sand beaches. One in particular, Morjim, at the mouth of the Chapora River, is relatively quiet and normally harbours thousands of gulls and terns. We’ll visit this beautiful site at least twice and would hope to see up to six species of gull including several impressive Great Black-headed Gulls and, if we are lucky, perhaps as many as nine or ten species of tern including both Lesser and Great Crested. Both Brahminy Starlings and Barred Buttonquail are occasionally seen here and the river mouth also holds a large gathering of shorebirds which, with luck, might include an elusive Crab-plover.
On one day we’ll have a boat trip into the backwaters and creeks of one of the State’s larger rivers, where we hope to encounter the endemic Goan subspecies of Collared Kingfisher as well as Woolly-necked Stork and the aptly named Mugger Crocodile. We’ll visit a harrier roost that contains good numbers of ghostly Pallid Harriers, while Booted Eagle and both Greater and Indian Spotted Eagles are also fairly common. We also have a couple of reasonably reliable sites for Black, Rufous-bellied and Crested Hawk-eagles.
For non-birders Goa offers a great variety of activities and entertainment. This lively friendly resort has numerous shops, restaurants and bars as well as abundant sunshine, sandy beaches and varied sightseeing opportunities. A variety of optional sightseeing trips are included - one out to the former Portuguese capital at Old Goa, a city that in its fifteenth century heyday was the largest and richest city in the whole of Asia, and boasted a population that then exceeded that of London! Other excursions will include a back-water river trip in search of crocodiles and the endemic Goan subspecies of Collared Kingfisher. There is also the chance to visit some of the local markets. Nights in northern Goa.
Day 13: In the early morning we’ll catch a flight back to London where the tour concludes.
Updated: 21 February 2017