Goa, India, November 8th - 23rd 2008

Published by Mark Hows (mark AT hows.org.uk)

Participants: Dr Mark Hows


Marsh Mugger, India
Marsh Mugger, Goa, India © Dr Mark Hows


This was a last minute decision so I signed up with the Birdseekers trip, my first organised trip. I chose Goa as the birds were completely new to me not really done much birding in Asia. It can be self organised and I would have done so apart from the short time I had to sort the trip. The trip was well organised the guides were very good, transport was well organised and the walking was not hard at all. Would I go on one again possibly.

Goa was hot and away from the coast very humid, the locals were friendly and there was no hassle from them, the food was good much better than expected and bottled water and drinks were easily obtained everywhere. Everything was relatively cheap and good quality.

We stayed at 3 places:

A tourist hotel near the coast at Arpora/ Baga – Marinha Dourada

A small hotel near the coast at Paolem – 3J’s Hotel

A woodland camp in Bhagvan Mahaveer Reserve – Backwoods Camp

Saturday 8th

We met up early afternoon for the Flight to Goa, with Thompson / Firstchoice, the airport was very quiet and went smoothly, the flight was OK with films etc. but the food rubbish, take your own!

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater © Dr Mark Hows

Sunday 9th

Ariving Late morning the first birds were feral pigeons at the airport, we met our guide and driver and headed to the Mahrina Dourada hotel in Arpora near Baga about 45 mins drive. We had a quick lunch and then took a quick look at the lagoons opposite the hotle entrance where we picked up the first new species and some old favourites, white throated kingfisher, Indian pond heron, Brahminy kite, red wattled lapwing, osprey. Next stop was the marshes behind the Beira Mar Hotel, a good selection of birds here but I struggled to see them all as I was not too well for a time. Feeling better I appreciated the new birdlife, with white breasted waterhen, Brahminy starling, grey headed starling, scaly breasted munia, black drongo, oriental magpie robin, ashy woodswallow, spotted owlet, pintail snipe to name a few. There were some more familiar species rose coloured starling, bluethroat, pied kingfisher, excellent views of a paddyfield warbler and painted snipe views in the fading light.

Monday 10th

The first full day and we had an early breakfast before driving the short distance to Arpora hill a wooded scrubby hillside. On arrival new species were everywhere black rumped flameback, small minivet, grey headed bulbul, red whiskered bulbul, red vented bulbul, orange headed thrush, common iora, tickell’s blue flycatcher plus many more. The top bird however was a blue bearded bee eater which gave stunning views perched atop a tree. As the morning heated up we moved to a clearer area with broken scrub. A white bellied sea eagle nest with occupants could be seen. The scrub was quite productive with a selection of small birds flowpeckers, sunbirds, jungle babblers, blyths reed warbler, grey breasted prinia. Heading back to the hotel for lunch with a look at the lagoons where the first oriental honey buzzard of the trip flew low over.

The afternoon we headed up to Fort Aguada, and birded the surrounding area, we had a couple of amur falcons showing nicely overhead, a few distant peacocks, but it was good to see them in their natural environment. A thermal held lots of hirundines and swifts as well as black, black eared and brahminy kites. A walk through the scrub produced another peacock, grey fronted green pigeon, vernal hanging parrot and a taiga flycatcher amongst the now more familiar species.

Orange-headed Thrush
Orange-headed Thrush © Dr Mark Hows

Tuesday 11th

A particularly early start getting the first ferry to Chorao island. Our first stop was some rice fields near a village. A slaty breasted rail gave us a brief view amongst the commoner egrets. A few kingfishers pied, white breasted and common showed well. Our first encounter with Malabar lark, paddyfield pipit and white browed wagtail. The village produced a smart jungle owlet roosting in a tree giving us the stare, several plum headed parakeets and good views of ashy prinia. After some breakfast at a restaurant on Maen lake, we took a walk in the dense forest alongside the lake. Some flyover crested treeswifts and aerial acrobatics ofchestnut headed bee eaters entertained. We started to pick up some new forest species Indian pygmy woodpecker, black headed cuckoo shrike, leafbirds, bronzed drongo, paradise flycatcher, white spotted fantail, verditer flycatcher, little spiderhunter plus many more. We called in some scimitar babblers smart looking birds but rather skulking and as we headed for lunch a great pied hornbill flew over.

After some lunch it was on to another part of the island. We walked around some ricefields but not finding any new birds but they were still good none the same, there were no raptors which was our real target. Pushing on to another area we found some black winged stilts on a small river. We headed to back to the ferry area and birded along the shore, a good selection of waders, with several terek sandpipers and a striated heron the highlights. The light fading we took the ferry back to the mainland and back to the hotel.

Long-tailed Shrike
Long-tailed Shrike © Dr Mark Hows

Wednesday 12th

We headed to Karomblin lake we started at the north side of the lake encountering many of the commoner species, some asian openbills flew over. We took a walk through a small village in woodland a site for brown hawk owl which were quite difficult to view in the high canopy, several other species including white cheeked barbet were also seen. Next stop was the touristy part of the lake, we had an excellent vantage point and there were lots of birds about, purple swamphen, purple heron, lesser whistling duck, cotton pygmy goose, common coot, moorhen, grey heron, oriental darter, Indian cormorant, little cormorant, the usual egrets, Indian pond heron and both bronze winged and . A watersnake paid us a close visit as did some common kingfishers. An excellent morning we headed back to the hotel for lunch.

After a leisurely lunch photographing butterflies and lizards in the hotel, we popped out to the next village where our guide quickly found brown wood owl while we watched Asian paradise flycatcher, crimson backed sunbird, common iora. A walk through the village gave good views of grey fronted green pigeons, asian koel, great spotted eagle, booted eagle, Indian spotted eagle.

Thursday 13th

This morning we went to the beach, where there is a large roost of gulls, terns and plovers. Greater and Kentish plovers were picked out from the large numbers of lesser sandplovers. We then concentrated on the gull / tern flock and picked out a few slender billed gulls and a single Pallas’s gull amongst the steppe and heuglins gulls. There were large numbers of brown headed gulls, black headed gulls and some lesser crested terns and a lone sandwich tern. Looking out to sea and several indo pacific humpback dolphins were close in, some bottlenose dolphins were also found a bit further out. The heat really becoming oppressive we headed for some cold drinks, but not before some butterfly photographing where at least a dozen species were performing well. We stopped at a paddyfield full of egrets a couple of western reef egrets the highlight and a bright green warbler a pre lunch bonus in the roadside trees.

After a lunchtime swim at the hotel, we returned to the Beira mar hotel and I was able to appreciate the birdlife better on this visit. The species were pretty much the same although a Asian brown flycatcher was a bonus as was the excellent views of three painted snipe including a nice female.

Indian Robin
Indian Robin © Dr Mark Hows

Friday 14th

An early trip out to Dona Paula to an area of wasteland good for larks and scrub species. This area is desolate with half built roads, junk, wild dogs and not a top place to visit. Despite all this there are birds here oriental skylark was quickly picked up as were Indian robins a flock of greater short toed larks, paddyfield pipit, a nice Indian roller and some white browed bulbuls a tree with at least 12 hoopoes in was a good find. We checked long and hard for sparrow larks but with no luck. Having had enough of this area it was on to Santa Cruz and Goa Velha, a small lakes with a good selection of ducks including a lone spot billed duck, jacanas, swamphens and some common waders.

The afternoon we headed across the river to Divar island, slaty breasted rail was seen in the mangroves. A mixed flock of blue tailed and blue cheeked bee eaters, a Jacobin cuckoo and a nice western reef heron. The ferry back we encountered a small flock of Small pratincole flying past.

Malabar Whistling Thrush
Malabar Whistling Thrush © Dr Mark Hows

Saturday 15th

Another early start with a quick stop at Dona Paula but again no sparrowlarks so onwards to the Zuari river where we started out boat trip. In the wide part of the river we encountered greater crested terns, osprey and a white bellied sea eagle all perched up on some posts. Some unusual fish tail skipping atop the water were of interest, plenty of gulls and gull billed terns flying past. As we entered the narrows stork billed, white throated, common and black capped kingfishers but no collared kingfishers our main target, some perched brahminy kites a shikra and a large marsh mugger was sitting on the river bank eyeing us up. We headed back to the hotel via some paddyfields where we found some small pratincoles. After lunch it was back up Arpora hill to mop up a few species we were missing from the area. A black headed cuckoo shrike was one, another amur falcon and a short but excellent view of Indian pitta. A few common languars were disturbing things in the forest but we still had a good selection of birds. A Malabar toad was present in the restaurant area during dinner.

Sunday 16th

Packing all the luggage into the van we headed off for a couple of nights in the south of Goa. We revisited Dona Paula briefly for sparrowlarks to no avail then headed south for about an hour stopping at Curtoim lake. Here were all the usual lake species including excellent views of pheasant tailed jacana and several streak throated swallows perched on the wires along with the Indian red rumped swallow subspecies. A paddyfield had asian openbills mixed egrets, Black headed ibis, pacific golden plover. We arrived at the edge of Paloem our base for the next few days. We birded a road with dry scrubby open fields, a different habitat that any we had already seen, and the birds differed. We quickly had red headed and black headed buntings, chestnut shouldered petronias and both Indian and European rollers a selection of starlings, chats and a baya weaver. After checking into the hotel and a spot of lunch we returned to the fields picking up blyths and richards pipits the pick of the birds was a grey necked bunting we also saw a couple of Malabar pied hornbills and a good selection of raptors.

Black-headed Kingfisher
Black-headed Kingfisher © Dr Mark Hows

Monday 17th

We had a very early start, a mantis was feeding on the small insects on my door as I left. The whole day was to be spent in Cotagao wildlife sanctuary a short drive away. We started in the forest a Malabar giant squirrel was seen in the high canopy and several bonnet macaque’s were noisily feeding round and about. A white breasted waterhen ran across the track well away from any water, and our first encounter with Malabar parakeets flying over. The place was busy with birds and the change in habitat brought us new species, white bellied and heart spotted woodpeckers, Malabar barbet, common woodshrike, pied flycatcher shrike, scarlet minivet, yellow browed bulbul. We finally got a white male asian paradise flycatcher and stunning it was to. A brief view of a stunning asian fairy bluebird wetted the appetite for more. We had some breakfast and birded similar areas with similar results before heading to a bridge over the river for some lunch. Birding was a little quiet during the heat of the day but we watched life go by and photographed some butterflies. The birding got better as time moved on a blue eared kingfisher was excellent and some dark fronted babblers larked about in the bushes. After we took a stroll near a village plenty of parakeets and a couple of Malabar Pied hornbills finished the day off.

Tuesday 18th

Again packing our stuff into the van for the long trip to backwoods camp, we broke the journey with a visit to Chandranath Temple Hill, we stopped the bus on the long climb up for a blue faced malkoha and some emerald doves and the first brown headed barbet of the trip. Then a series of three very showy blue capped rock thrushes and a white male asian paradise flycatcher. A western crowned warbler was floundering in a couple of spider web threads, made by a giant wood spider which are as their name suggests are large. It was out of reach but some improvised sticks and tripods and the warbler was freed and flew off unharmed. The temperature was rising and we climbed the couple of hundred stairs to the temple, where the cold drinks stall was just being set up. So to pass the time we did some raptor watching which produced crested serpent, black and Indian spotted eagles, and I battled with some southern birdwing butterflies for photographs, which I eventually won. The lovely temple viewed and drinks taken we headed to Pondla for lunch in a lovely air-conditioned restaurant with excellent food, which we were reluctant to leave. But leave we did arriving at Backwoods camp and settling into our chalets, with time to wander around and familiarise ourselves with the camp but not after a look at the Sri Lankan frogmouths a pair roost near in the camp. I took a wander round a roosting blue mormon butterfly and some blue napped monarchs by the river the highlights. After a freezing cold shower it was a hearty meal discussion of frogs and gecko’s living in our chalets, I disappointedly had none, so to bed, to find my room now well inhabited, a four clawed gecko, two small brown tree frogs and a massive whip scorpion! The latter was evicted the rest welcome to stay.

White-bellied Sea Eagle
White-bellied Sea Eagle © Dr Mark Hows

Wednesday 19th

The walk to the bus produced a Indian common toad, we headed a short distance down the road to a school, here a tree just coming into flower was attracting lots of birds to it and the surrounding trees. We quickly had Malabar white headed starling vernal hanging parrot both leafbirds barbets, sunbirds plus loads more. Just down the road a white-naped woodpecker was drumming loudly and we found it a short way into the trees. A couple of Indian peafowl were seen in a field on our return to camp. A quick breakfast and we wandered round the camp quickly encountering brown cheeked fulvetta and puff throated babbler. A malabar whistling thrush was the pick. We entered the surrounding forest and picked up more new species velvet fronted nuthatch and a fork-tailed drongo cuckoo. We paid a visit to the elephant before having lunch. After some lunchtime photography it was off a short distance to the Temple where we entered the forest. This area gave us some excellent birds, a male Malabar trogon and a common flameback, black backed dwarf kingfisher and some scimitar babblers. We pitched up at a stream and took a break a brown breasted flycatcher put in a brief appearance before an Indian blue robin passed within 2 feet of me and started feeding and drinking in front of us, amazing, we also encountered a firefly on our walk back to the bus in the fading light. On our return we stopped at a site for nightjars, a single jerdon’s nightjar was quickly spotted and we headed back to camp for dinner. Between courses we popped out and managed to call in an oriental scops owl, a reasonably late night in a warm up for Thursday.

Thursday 20th

We drove the short distance to Bondla reserve, birding up the approach road and entrance area. We picked up an emerald dove and some perched crested tree swifts a brown headed barbet and plenty of showy common species. A little spiderhunter and more brief views of Asian fairy bluebird were had before we took breakfast at a lake. Here we had a large cuckoo shrike and three black naped monarchs. After breakfast the birding was similar with a few more raptors. A late lunch was taken back at camp, the entrance track produced some grey jungle fowl on our return. The afternoon we headed to the ricefields near the temple. Our journey was broken for a red spurfowl. We scanned for raptors picking up a steppe buzzard, black eagle, oriental honey buzzard, shikra, crested goshawk with plenty of flyover Malabar parakeets and mountain imperial pigeons. We searched the skies for swifts and eventually picked our targets, brown throated needletail and white rumped spinetail high above the hills. A surprise was a grasshopper warbler in the scrub in front of us. Our meal was interrupted by a palm civet visiting the kitchen area for scraps offering excellent views. The night was a long one finishing in the early hours, not birding but drinking the local “firewater” a particularly evil brew made from Cashew fruit. A news paper was passed round with a photograph of us at Cotagao on the front page with a short article – birding fame at last!

Wire-tailed Swallow
Wire-tailed Swallow © Dr Mark Hows

Friday 21st

It was difficult to get up after the previous evening but I hauled myself up to stake out the kitchen for Indian Pita, it did not show but the area produced an orange headed thrush, several Indian blackbirds and an Indian grey mongoose. It was then time for a walk on the opposite side of the river from the camp, the forest was more open and the birds a little easier to spot. Several flame throated bulbuls and a speckled piculet a couple of square tailed black bulbuls amongst the commoner species. A very brief view of a Brown fish owl was not enough to count it and we failed to track it down. We walked back down the camp entrance track picking up a Besra for our troubles and a flock of birds at the camp entrance contained a couple of Malabar woodshrikes. Back in camp for breakfast where a common hawk cuckoo was showing nicely.

We headed out for some more raptor watching encountering some more grey jungle fowl and during the raptor watch some Indian swiftlets a black eagle, crested goshawk, crested hawk eagle, the heat oppressive we made for an early retreat to camp. With time to spare I birded the camp finally connecting with the greater flamebacks which had been visiting the chalets windows to feed, a Malabar grey hornbill showing well and a photogenic orange headed thrush.The afternoon we birded the area around the camp but there was nothing doing, a few common species but not much else. We broke up the meal with a night drive within the confines of the park but again nothing at all, which was a bit disappointing.

Saturday 22nd

The last full day and we revisited the forest near the temple but took a longer route, it was a bit quite to start with but we had a couple of brown breasted flycatchers, some scimitar babblers and a female malabar trogon and some flame throated bulbuls. The pick of the birds was a pair of white bellied blue flycatchers along the river. We revisited the temple for some raptor watching and a cultural visit. Both mountain hawk and rufous bellied eagles were seen before heading back the camp for lunch. A couple of low flyover great pied hornbills during lunch was an amazing experience. We birded the camp after lunch then headed out on the local roads but failed to find our target species. We returned to the temple for some more raptor watching but nothing new. We had good views of the palm civet again in the kitchen before an early night.

Sunday 23rd

Up early and packed into the bus for a couple of hours drive back to the airport, nothing apart from common species on the journey. The last bird being feral pigeon the same as the first. The airport went smoothly and the flight was delayed a little, food again rubbish, but I had purchased some alternatives at the airport shops so was ok.


Pocket Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent, R Grimmett, C Inskipp, T Inskipp. Helm 2008. ISBN 978-0-7136-6304-4

If you would like any further information please e-mail me mark@hows.org.uk. Further photos and videos can be found here