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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

India: Goa

2007 Tour Narrative

In Brief: We advertise our Goa tour as a relatively relaxed, comfortable introduction to India…and it’s exactly that. In November 2007, just as we’ve done on all eleven of our previous Goa tours, we stayed in just one hotel—14 consecutive nights without packing and unpacking! Our comfortable pace, Goa’s mostly superb weather, deliciously varied food, some exciting shopping opportunities, and birds galore once again made for a successful tour.

In Detail: The tour started well with an on-time charter flight to the balmy haven of Goa on India’s west coast. We took it easy on our first day, only briefly venturing out from our hotel on a late-afternoon sortie that proved very productive, with a fly-over Oriental Honey-Buzzard and a pair of Greater Painted-snipe from the poolside patio being the pick of the bunch.

We were busier the following day. Breakfast was followed by a visit to a small mangrove marsh 20 minutes’ drive to the south. We failed to find the site’s premier avian attraction, a resident pair of Indian Pittas, but we did all have good looks at a Verditer Flycatcher as well as our first Booted Eagle and Purple-rumped Sunbirds (we watched a male sunbird visiting its pendulum nest). Our pitta problem was soon solved when Raymond, our lead driver, took us to a “new” site nearby. Within minutes of arriving we were all being treated to some superb, lengthy, scope-filling views of Indian Pitta. “Bird of the Trip” right then and there, and we’d been in the country little over 24 hours! Raymond’s abilities and knowledge continued to impress throughout the entire tour, and I lost count of how many times he came through with a good bird or a new site.

Moving on from the pitta site, we next explored an area of arid scrub near the old Portuguese fort (now a prison) at Aguada. A midday break was followed by an afternoon excursion north to Morjim beach, a magnificently photogenic site on the northern shore of the mouth of the Chapora River. Here the fabulous sandy beach is invariably thronged with a wide variety of gulls and terns. We made three visits here on this year’s tour…and found a few different species each time. Today’s visit produced decent looks at all the gull species we would encounter on the tour, with Great Black-headed and Slender-billed being particularly well appreciated.

There we have the essential pattern of our Goan excursions. Flexibility was the key: some people joined all the trips, some didn’t. On a good number of days we’d start quite early and have a midday break back at the hotel before venturing back out; on other days we’d return to the hotel mid-afternoon and have the rest of the time off, occasionally reconvening poolside to view the neighboring marsh in search of Greater Painted-snipe or Chestnut Bittern. On still other days we’d venture further afield, staying out all day.

By the end of the tour we’d explored most of the state’s premier birding sites; several of them, such as Morjim, Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary, Mayem Lake, and Tambdi Surla, held impressive numbers of birds, and we visited them a couple of times. We all had our favorites among the sites and the birds. Our first visit to Bondla yielded some impressive Heart-spotted Woodpeckers and our first crocodile, while our second trip yielded views of both Oriental Scops Owl and Ceylon Frogmouth. On our first trip to Mayem we were rewarded with a fabulous Malabar Pied Hornbill encounter, while visit number one to the ancient Hindu temple at Tambdi Surla scored with a pair of Blue-eared Kingfishers among other things. Our second trip here yielded a few different species, including a Malabar Barbet excavating a nest hole and a Malabar Gray Hornbill quietly gorging itself on ripening fruit.

Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary was again my favorite site. A small forest reserve at the base of the Western Ghats, it holds a number of species that we never see in the coastal strip. Other highlights here included several Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters and some stunningly cooperative White-rumped Shamas. Malabar Trogons were seen twice: a family party kept us captivated on our first visit, while a superb male perched in almost full sunlight was perhaps the single most memorable encounter on our second visit.

Further goodies at Tambdi Surla included a juvenile Rufous-bellied Eagle, umpteen close range Black-throated Munias, and our only Red-headed Buntings of the trip. On our way back to the coast after our first visit, we stopped off at the Carambolim Grassland, where we were surprised to find a stray Blue-cheeked Bee-eater among a large flock of Blue-tailed. A subsequent visit yielded a couple of appealingly close Broad-billed Sandpipers.

The bird list continued to grow: Indian Peafowl, Lesser Adjutant, Little Spiderhunter, and both Pallid and a stray juvenile Pied Harrier were all highlights. Other birders had been seeing Amur Falcons (and had the photos to back up their claims!), but we weren’t finding any—not until well into our second week, that is. True to form they then came thick and fast, and we even managed to see six different birds in a single day! It’s daunting to think that this diminutive falcon’s next port of call would be South Africa!

Towards the end of the tour we had an exciting backwater boat trip in search of still more kingfishers. We finally tallied seven species of these true avian gems, but exactly how Raymond managed to be the first of us to spot five of the six Collared Kingfishers we saw on our “crocodile trip” I’ll never know. Good though these Collareds were, Black-capped Kingfisher, a species that had eluded us for most of the tour, outranked it in our end-of-the-tour poll for “Bird of the Trip.” Other goodies on the boat trip included two of the largest Marsh Mugger crocodiles I had ever seen, a squadron of Woolly-necked Storks, and an impressive array of raptors including a fantastic fly-by male Pallid Harrier and no less than three species of Aquila eagle.

We really were busy, but somehow we managed to fit in an afternoon visit to an impressive mixed harrier roost and a sightseeing excursion around the old Portuguese fort at Tiracol. Another guided tour around the former capital at Old Goa rounded off what had been an exciting and rewarding tour.

I can’t finish without mentioning our drivers, Raymond, Santosh, Victor, and Suresh. They all showed a superb mastery of Indian roads, and they were as entertaining and enthusiastic as ever. Not content with just chauffeuring us from A to B, they excelled at pointing out a good number of birds as well.

At the end of our previous tour to Goa, I wrote “despite an economy that’s among the planet’s fastest growing, India remains one of Asia’s poorest countries, and, while there clearly is considerable private wealth, there remains considerable desperate poverty. Fortunately, however, Goa has been largely spared the squalor and impoverishment that is the fate of the nation’s larger cities such as Bombay and Calcutta.” These sentiments, the good and the bad, remain and will undoubtedly do so for many more years to come.

Paul Holt

Created: 19 February 2008