This is a diary of a two week birding trip to Goa in November/ December 2001. We were accompanied by Chris and John Hamilton. We found the Peter Harris guide to birding in Goa essential both for research before we went and as a valuable aid during the trip.
22 November - We were picked up on time at 1pm for the two hour drive to Gatwick. We arrived just after 3pm and despite the added security we were processed and checked in within a few minutes. Our flight wasn't until 7:10pm so we had plenty of time to kill. John and Chris arrived shortly after 4pm.
Our flight was with AIR2000. We'd booked a straight two week package through Lunn Poly as the cheapest option. Eventually after a long wait we boarded the plane which took off a little behind schedule. The flight time was just under nine hours so we were due to land in Goa at 10am local time Friday morning. After a couple of hours we were served an evening meal which was just about OK. We then tried to settle down for the night.
23 November - Needless to say none of us enjoyed much sleep. Dawn broke as we crossed the rocky bare desert and spectacular mountains of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf of Oman. We touched down on time at 10am at Dabolim airport. As we left the plane to walk across the tarmac we become aware of the intense heat. We also noticed the significant numbers of uniformed personnel waiting to greet us - it is after all a naval airport.
However immigration and baggage retrieval presented no problems and we were soon on our way out of the terminal building where in a scene of absolute chaos we found our tour rep. The coach was parked about a hundred yards away - it seemed much further as we fought off numerous 'porters' trying to wrestle our suitcases out of our hands! The coaches were parked in the main thoroughfare past the airport so we had constant traffic to contend with as well - not to mention the heat!
Eventually we were safely on the coach watching Red-rumped Swallows over the airport buildings before we set off on the hour or so journey to Baga. The coach was a battered old vehicle with air-conditioning provided by portable fans and open windows. Many of the seats adopted the "lie-back" position after every bump! The driving was interesting to say the least - a sort of "give no quarter" attitude - just a toot of the horn seemed to mean "I'm coming through no matter what!"
The roads were just full of cattle, goats, scooters and people on foot - it was chaos particularly in the towns and villages. The poverty was very obvious - groups of women washed clothes on the river banks and many of the houses were little more than palm covered lean-to's. There were also many large but faded colonial type properties. Wherever there was habitation colourful stalls and bazaars lined the pavements. Our route took us through Panjim, the capital of Goa. Here the road chaos was much more organised!
It had been difficult to bird en route but we'd chalked up one lifer, Indian Pond Heron, a very common species. Predictably we also saw many Black Kites, House Crows and Cattle Egrets.
We arrived at the Hotel Beira Mar in Baga just after noon. We were quickly shown to our rooms which, rather disappointingly, were at the rear of the hotel and didn't look out over the paddy fields. Our room was very sparsely furnished and in desperate need of refurbishment. The good news was that the fan worked very effectively so fairly shortly we were feeling cooler and more relaxed.
Our plan was to spend the afternoon on the hotel terrace taking it all in. After unpacking a few clothes we collected Chris and John and headed for the bar. We ordered Kingfisher beers at 75p a pint and settled down in the shade to enjoy the birds. The terrace overlooked a marshy area, paddies and other cultivated fields. By this time we were starving so we ordered snacks. Chris and John opted for safety first with omelette and chips, Jean had chicken satay whereas I reached a new level of sophistication with vegetable samosas and chips! Including the beers it worked out at 300 rupees ( about £4.50 ) per couple.
Indian Pond Herons were numerous as were Cattle and Little Egrets together with the odd Great Egret and Grey Heron. Brahminy Kite, a new bird for us, was ever present - in fact we probably saw at least two dozen each day. We chalked up another ten lifers in the next two hours. Most of these were seen daily in and around Baga. These were House Swift, a common species, Red-wattled Lapwing, Common and Jungle Mynas, the former not at all common, White-rumped and Scaly-breasted Munias, Asian Palm Swift, Asian Koel, always in the hotel grounds, White-browed Wagtail and another common species, Red-whiskered Bulbul. Other "ever present" species noted that first afternoon were Marsh Harrier, Redshank, Greenshank and both Common and White-throated Kingfishers. We also saw a huge Monitor Lizard loafing across the paddies just behind the hotel.
Still suffering from lack of sleep we returned to our rooms for a mid-afternoon siesta. I managed an hour or so but Jean found the bed too hard! At 5pm we returned to the terrace to bird until dark. As we walked out into the garden an Oriental Magpie Robin was singing and three White-cheeked Barbets were feeding in a nearby bush - two more lifers!
As we joined other birders on the pool-side terrace we ordered four more Kingfishers. This really was civilised birding! Birders staying in Baga congregate at the Beira Mar at dusk to watch the birds going to roost over the paddy fields. Eight more lifers awaited us - Long-tailed Shrike and Black Drongo, both seen daily at most sites, White-breasted Waterhen, always a few behind the hotel, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Black-capped and Stork-billed Kingfishers, Greater Coucal and finally a pair of Spotted Owlets. We also had Little Ringed Plover, Wood Sandpiper, Yellow Wagtail and the very common Green Bee-eater.
We were "entertained" by a House Crow which managed to get caught in electricity wires over the fields and electrocute itself. In the process it blew the power not only in our hotel but also many other buildings. We watched as a couple of guys waded across to free the crow using a long bamboo pole and soon after the power was restored.
It was dark by 6:30pm and the insects were biting so we moved across to the open air restaurant which is adjacent to the terrace. An early night was called for so we ordered fairly promptly. The food was pretty good when it eventually came and including beers the bill came to just over £5 per couple.
As we ate we were approached by at least three different taxi drivers offering their services - many of the taxi drivers know the ropes and tout for business from the birders..
We'd enjoyed our introduction to some exotic species on our first afternoon. The trip total was 42 species including 22 new birds.
24 November - having slept fairly well despite the hard beds we were up at 6am when it was still dark. The inevitable power cut occurred whilst Jean was in the shower so we got ready by candlelight. Soon after 6:30am we had joined Chris and John on the terrace for early morning birding.
Obviously many of yesterday's species were still around - Spotted Owlet, a flock of Jungle Mynas, Black-capped and White-throated Kingfishers, White-rumped Munia, Asian Koel, Black Drongo and Oriental Magpie Robin singing from the same perch. We also had our first Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, Indian Cormorant and a Purple-rumped Sunbird.
We had coffee and toast for breakfast; the only alternative was porridge or dry bread! Service was pretty slow - a few slices of toast appeared every few minutes! After breakfast we spent most of the morning, at least until it became too hot, birding the fields behind the hotel. Another sixteen species, including six lifers, were added to the trip total. The lifers were Paddyfield Pipit, which proved to be the most common species of pipit, Malabar Lark, very similar to Crested Lark but much darker and more rufous in tone, Intermediate Egret, quite straightforward to sort out once you get your eye in, a male Pied Bushchat, reportedly common but we didn't see too many, Indian Roller, a stunning pair on overhead wires and finally very brief glimpses of a Plain Prinia ( much better views obtained later).
The morning wasn't just about new birds. There were both Brahminy and Black Kites in the air all the time, numerous Green Bee-eaters and the fairly impressive sight of up to five thousand Red-rumped Swallows perched on telegraph wires. Other trip ticks included a single Purple Heron, Eurasian Coot, Osprey, oddly enough a Eurasian Sparrowhawk, both Common and Green Sandpipers, Temminck's Stint, Richard's Pipit, Common Stonechat and Clamorous Reed Warbler, the latter giving much better views than the one we'd seen in Israel last year.
By 11:30am it was much too hot so we retreated to the hotel terrace for an early lunch. Over lunch the trip total increased by another five species. These included a stunning female Painted Snipe which was our tenth lifer of the day, Eurasian Collared Dove, Kestrel, a very dark Greater Spotted Eagle and half a dozen Lesser Spotted Eagles.
After a siesta of an hour or so we headed for Baga Hill, a short ten minute taxi ride from the hotel. The taxi drivers outside the Beira Mar are familiar with the birding scene and many of them know the appropriate sites. Fortunately we found Santosh, a reliable driver who we used for most of the trip. However when the four of us crammed into the small tourist van for the short trip to Baga Hill we realised that for longer journeys we'd need two vehicles. Our taxi took us north through the roadside stalls narrowly avoiding scooters and dogs. We passed Baga beach before taking a pot-holed dirt track towards the river; crossed via a narrow concrete tunnel bridge then we were back on a paved road for the final few hundred metres.
The hill is heavily wooded and as such holds a different selection of birds. We spent just under two hours there. Birding wasn't easy due to the amount of cover but our efforts were rewarded with another thirteen lifers, the stars of which had to be a pair of diminutive Coppersmith Barbets calling from the top of the tallest tree. In the first few minutes we managed brief glimpses of a Rufous Treepie. We eventually pinned it down but it was surprisingly difficult to see for such a large colourful bird. Common Iora and Spotted Dove together with two more species of Drongo, White-bellied and Bronzed kept the list moving before an Oriental Honey Buzzard drifted overhead. A single Asian Brown Flycatcher didn't present too much of an identification challenge but we had to take a little more care with a pair of White-throated Fantails. As we retraced our steps Black-lored Tit and Black-hooded Oriole were found before our attention was drawn to the manic screeching of a pair of very colourful Black-rumped Flamebacks which we managed to get in the scope! Finally a commotion lower down the hill gave us our first Shikra, also perched and 'scoped.
Santosh was waiting with his tourist van to take us back to the Beira Mar where there was enough daylight left for an hour's birding on the terrace while drinking ice-cold beers. We'd also booked Santosh for 6:30am in the morning for a return trip to Baga Hill.
The Spotted Owlets again performed well for the assembled birders. We also had four Black-crowned Night Herons flying over the hotel for our final trip tick of the day. We had a chat to Tony Marr, the Wildwings tour leader - he introduced us to another taxi driver, Naresh, who he recommended to us. Naresh was booked for tomorrow, Sunday, so we arranged to use him ( with Santosh ) from Monday onwards. We again ate in the hotel restaurant enjoying tasty curries at reasonable prices. We were all in bed before 10pm.
The trip total was now 80 including 45 lifers.
25 November - we were up at 5:30am for another early start and the power stayed on so we were ready in good time. Santosh was already waiting as we walked towards the hotel entrance at 6:30am.
As we headed for Baga Hill we had excellent views of a Greater Coucal en route. Santosh took us to the same trail where he said he would wait for us. He parked up for a kip in the van as we set off up Baga Hill. We encountered a few feral hogs and had to run the gauntlet of a couple of snappy dogs which soon ran off when we raised our voices.
Birding was again difficult as there were many birds calling and singing but not many showing. The Coppersmith Barbet was calling from the same tree - we also saw Spotted Dove, Common Iora, Red-whiskered Bulbul and White-cheeked Barbet. As the sun got up the birds obviously became more active. Our first new birds of the day were Crimson Sunbird and Pale-billed Flowerpecker. We also added Greenish Warbler, which turned out to be quite common, to the trip list.
We spent some time at the top of the hill where we identified our first Loten's Sunbird. A Eurasian Golden Oriole was also recorded there and a couple of Alpine Swifts overhead were our only ones of the trip. The views of the surrounding countryside and the Arabian Sea in the distance were breathtaking but the heat was becoming unbearable so we sought the shade of the hillside. We found a stunning rufous morph Asian Paradise Flycatcher and close by a small feeding flock of up to ten Tawny-bellied Babblers. We again saw the Shikra and Rose-ringed Parakeet was also added to the list. Finally a much larger and darker crow was identified as our first Large-billed Crow. We then decided it was time for breakfast.
Santosh drove us the short distance to Lila's, a German owned restaurant frequented by Europeans. We all ordered freshly pressed fruit juices, orange and water melon, followed by huge quantities of eggs, bacon and fried potatoes. We were back at the hotel by about 11:30am having arranged for Santosh to pick us up again later at 3:30pm when it would be a little cooler.
The usual array of kingfishers, bee-eaters, munias and water birds entertained us as we sat in the shade on the hotel terrace. We also watched a Mongoose running through the flower bed on the edge of the terrace. We chalked up lifer number seven when a White-bellied Sea-eagle soared overhead giving stunning views.
Santosh drove us to a wooded area by a well on the edge of Saligao, a small village just twenty minutes from Baga. En route we saw Indian Roller and Pied Bushchat. As we were birding around the well a steady stream of locals turned up to bathe, fill water jugs, do the washing ( the women always carry these heavy loads gracefully on their heads ) and there was even a youth washing his motor bike. The site was a stakeout for a pair of Brown Wood Owls and after a few minutes Santosh located the birds high in the trees about fifty yards behind the well. We had excellent views as I managed to 'scope them. The birds seemed unaffected by us - the constant use of the well by the villagers probably causes a level of disturbance with which the birds are familiar.
A high pitched whistle indicated the presence of a Malabar Whistling Thrush. It wasn't long before Santosh found this beautiful dark blue thrush on a rock on the edge of the stream. We also had to duck and dodge the Giant Forest Spiders in their enormous webs. Two more lifers quickly followed when we found a White-browed Fantail and then identified a pair of Black-headed Munias, our only ones of the trip. A very large pale accipiter which drifted over the forest clearing was probably a Northern Goshawk - we also had a Greater Spotted Eagle.
We arrived back at the Beira Mar for a beer and a half hour's birding from the terrace before dusk. We added four more species to the trip total; two of these, Watercock and Slaty-breasted Rail, were lifers. The others were Rosy Starling and a red spotted Bluethroat. As usual the Spotted Owlets were showing well above the restaurant as we watched several Black-crowned Night Herons leaving their roost.
Once again we ate in the hotel restaurant which was much busier than last night. Two guys singing to a keyboard provided live entertainment; there was also a Goan candle dance performed by two ladies in traditional dress ( unfortunately their candles went out almost immediately! ). Naresh called in to see us and we booked him for a trip to Carambolim Lake tomorrow afternoon.
The trip total had reached 100 including 58 lifers.
26 November - we were on the terrace at 6:30 am for a spot of pre breakfast birding. It was misty and pleasantly cool as we scanned the fields where all the usual species were on view. We were becoming slightly blas¾! Chris and John joined us in time to see a female Watercock giving excellent views and a flock of around two dozen Short-toed Larks flying over; these were our first of the trip.
Our plan today was to spend the morning walking through the paddies and the late afternoon at Carambolim Lake. After breakfast we left the Beira Mar and evaded the taxi drivers touting for our business - their shouts of "Indian Pitta" didn't impress us! We walked down the busy street avoiding the hazards - motor scooters, buses, taxis, pedestrians and traders, not to mention the usual cattle!
It wasn't too long before we reached a small wooded area adjacent to the paddies on the edge of Baga. We found a fairly active feeding flock which included our first Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, two Asian Paradise Flycatchers, Common Iora, Rufous Treepie, Plain Prinia, Black-lored Tit and a few Greenish type Warblers. Of the latter we sorted out at least one Green Warbler of the nitidanus sub-species.
On the paddies there were many egrets, Yellow Wagtails, Red-wattled Lapwings, Indian Pond Herons, Red-rumped Swallows and Wood Sandpipers together with one or two Oriental Skylarks. We also saw a Paddyfield Warbler close by. A little further on we added two more lifers to the growing list - Little Cormorant and Blyth's Reed Warbler, the latter proving to be very common at most sites in Goa.
We were back at the Beira Mar by 11am drinking pepsi and hiding from the heat! We enjoyed another early lunch on the hotel terrace.
At 2pm we were heading for Carambolim Lake accompanied by Steve, a birder from Scarborough. As the taxis could take three comfortably and we'd planned to use both Naresh and Santosh for the longer trips we had plenty of room. It was almost an hour's drive via Panjim and Old Goa. The trip wasn't quite as hair-raising as the journey from the airport but still an eye opener. There are clearly no rules other than to use whatever road is available ( avoiding potholes ) with no regard for other road users.
Western Reef Heron and Gull-billed Tern roosting on the mud exposed by low tide were added to the trip list as we drove out of Panjim alongside the river. We made good progress and arrived at Carambolim Lake shortly before 3pm. Our drivers parked in the shade and played cards ( the cabbies are always gambling! ) whilst we enjoyed a couple of hours of excellent birding - eighteen birds including nine lifers were added to the list.
There were more than five hundred Purple Swamphens, half a dozen Cotton Pygmy Geese, similar numbers of Comb Ducks, many Lesser Whistling Ducks, two Pied Kingfishers and both Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas. Moorhen, Shoveler, Garganey, Mallard and very surprisingly Tufted Duck were also noted. Raptors included a Greater Spotted Eagle, Peregrine and a female Pallid Harrier. A field behind us held a dozen Glossy Ibis, up to thirty Asian Openbill Storks and a flock of more than five hundred Baya Weavers, the latter on overhead wires. Finally a small flock of prinias including both Plain and Ashy flitted around in the reeds in front of us.
We moved on just a couple of miles through Carambolim village ( ramshackled and incredibly poor! ) to a small wooded area. Apparently the woods are a stake-out for one of the larger owls but all we had was a pair of Spotted Owlets. However Jean did find a pair of Red-vented Bulbuls, our only ones of the trip. We walked through the woods to a marshy area where three more new birds awaited us. Firstly whilst watching Barn Swallows a single Wire-tailed Swallow appeared amongst them and then an Oriental Darter flew over. Finally as we made our way back to the vans an Indian Robin gave brief but adequate views.
The sun was setting as we left Carambolim so we hit Old Goa and Panjim in the rush hour. In Old Goa it was the last day of the Festival of Light so all the temples and churches were lit up and decorated. There was a huge street market with hundreds of people, many in traditional dress - it was quite a spectacle. The return journey was more hair raising than the outward one but Santosh seemed to be in control although being stuck behind a lorry and losing Naresh seemed to make his driving more erratic.
We arrived back at the Beira Mar just before 7pm and paid the drivers 600 rupees each - it worked out at about £3.60 each for the five hour trip.
A message had been left at Reception to tell us that we would be picked up at 5:30am tomorrow for the trip to the camp. As we had yet another power cut we changed by candlelight then headed for the hotel restaurant. After the hot dusty drive the Kingfisher beers went down well. There were only five other people dining all of whom were also going to the camp. Three of them, Doris, Gerald and Colin from Slough had been to the camp before and were singing its praises.
Trip total 132 including 76 lifers.
27 November - we were rudely awakened by the alarm at about 4:15am. Just over an hour later we were showered, packed and boarding the bus. Pramod, who was to be our leader for the next three days, introduced himself and we were on the road on time at 5:30am. It was dark for the first hour but there were still plenty of hazards en route. Initially we followed the same route as yesterday through Panjim and Old Goa then we were into new territory in the busy town of Ponda before climbing up to the Western Ghats. The road was in a dreadful state of repair and we drove on bare soil at times. The final couple of miles took us down an incredibly rough track which included about 100yds of stony river bed! At 7:15am we arrived at the camp.
The Backwoods Camp is located in Molem forest at the foot of the Western Ghats. Three days of guided forest birding lay ahead of us. After coffee and biscuits Pramod took us for our first walk before breakfast which was at 9:30am. Having seen our first stunning Orange-headed Ground Thrush in the camp we chalked up another fifteen lifers in just under two hours. Most of these were seen on a large fruiting tree by the river. As we walked to the river we saw Crimson-backed Sunbird, the most common sunbird in the forest, Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters and Ashy Drongo. We also saw a Giant Indian Squirrel which has a superb chestnut tail.
At the river half a dozen Crimson-fronted Barbets fed in the fruiting tree the whole time we were there -along with both Coppersmith and White-cheeked Barbets. A Heart-spotted Woodpecker, two Black-crested Bulbuls and five Asian Fairy Bluebirds joined them. Whilst watching Black-hooded Orioles in a nearby tree three Vernal Hanging Parrots flew in but despite their gaudy plumage they were very difficult to see well. Meanwhile a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo had become our tenth new bird. Numbers eleven, twelve and thirteen quickly followed with Thick-billed Flowerpecker, Chestnut-shouldered Petronia and Yellow-browed Bulbul.
The excitement mounted when at least eight Pompadour Green Pigeons alighted in the fruiting tree and three Scarlet Minivets flew overhead. A bird flitting about in an adjacent bush was identified by Pramod as a Little Spiderhunter - unfortunately we didn't see it well enough and as it was the only one of the trip it was one that got away. Finally on the way back to the camp we found another of the small blue flycatchers, a Black-naped Monarch.
Breakfast proved interesting - bombay potatoes and chapatis together with jam and butter! Not to everyones taste but Jean and I enjoyed it. The dining area was straw covered and open-sided and furnished with bamboo chairs - the food arrived in clay pots and was laid out on a row of tree stumps.
The second walk was a little more arduous than the first. Although we were still in the forest the terrain was hilly with loose rocks and thorny bushes. Coupled with the heat it made for a difficult couple of hours. However the birds more than compensated with another seven new species. During the walk we also saw two Red-breasted Flycatchers, one of which was the sub-species albicilla.
The superb Forest Wagtail was our first "tick". Our second was Western-crowned Warbler which together with Blyth's Reed Warbler was the only warbler species recorded in any numbers. A Malabar Grey Hornbill, one of our most wanted birds, perched obligingly in the canopy enabling 'scope views to be obtained. A party of Dark-fronted Babblers moving through the young bamboo shoots gave brief views. We also found two species of Flameback, Greater and Common, the latter only seen distantly. Then at what was obviously a stake-out on the edge of the camp Pramod showed us a pair of Jungle Owlets. Other species included Oriental Magpie Robin, Bronzed Drongo, Large-billed Crow and Tickell's Blue Flycatcher.
Lunch was served at 1pm and consisted of rice, okra curry, red cabbage and beans. We were then shown to our tents and left to our own devices until 4pm when the next walk was scheduled. Our tent was quite spacious with two single beds and was also en suite! The loo and the shower were through a flap at the back walled with concrete blocks and open to the elements.
Wandering around the camp we found a water snake in the stream - it slid up onto the bank and whilst sunning itself its scales turned from dull brown & black to pale iridescent blue. John brought our attention to a huge Black-faced Langur Monkey sitting up in a tree nearby - its tail was about three feet long. We walked down to the river where after all the exotic species the familiar Grey Wagtail was added to the trip list. Chris cooled down by having a paddle.
Just after 4pm we had our final guided walk of the day. Jean and I, bringing up the rear as usual, struck lucky when we saw a White-rumped Shama albeit briefly - unfortunately no one else saw it! It was a bit of a trudge with not much bird activity although we did register our first Velvet-fronted Nuthatches up in the canopy - we were to get much better views of this stunning little bird the following day. Jean then found a Malabar Trogon which only one or two other people managed to get on - excluding me! It was sulks all round!
As dusk was approaching Pramod took us down to the river where a pair of Brown Hawk Owls appear. A Malabar Whistling Thrush kept us entertained whilst we waited. After a few minutes the owls flew onto their favourite perch and Pramod put the spotlight on the birds for a few seconds only. It was an excellent end to a superb day.
Back at the dining area we ordered Kingfisher beers and dinner was served. A very tasty vegetable soup was followed by a variety of dishes - chicken curry, bean & onion curry, shredded white cabbage with coconut & mustard seed accompanied by salad, rice and lime pickle. After a couple more beers we turned in at about 9pm. The beds were much more comfortable than those at the Beira Mar. Jean used her mosquito net to keep out any creepy-crawlies but I didn't think it necessary. During the night we shared the bathroom with a couple of tiny Tree Frogs which liked to sit under the sink and on the loo!
Trip total 160 including 102 lifers.
28 November - we were up at 5:30am after a reasonable night's sleep. We heard the Brown Hawk Owl calling as dawn broke. An hour later after coffee and biscuits Pramod took us for another forest walk. Today's routine followed yesterday's with guided morning walks, followed by a couple of hours at the camp then early evening birding till dusk.
Our first new bird of the morning was Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, seen on the edge of the camp. We then checked out the fruiting tree on the river. There seemed to be less activity than yesterday but the Crimson-fronted and Coppersmith Barbets were still present. We also saw Greenish Warbler, Ashy Drongo, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Crimson-backed Sunbird, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Golden Oriole, Black-hooded Oriole, Yellow-browed Bulbul and Black-crested Bulbul. Before we left the river Brown-headed Barbet and Plain Flowerpecker became lifers two and three.
It was then slow going at first as Pramod struggled to find a feeding flock. However things livened up when after ploughing through the thorny undergrowth he eventually did - as a result we ended up an hour late for breakfast! Lifer number four quickly followed when Pramod identified a female Purple Sunbird. One of the highlights of the day, our first White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, initially proved elusive but eventually everyone saw it well. It also signalled the arrival of the feeding flock. The flock held a few Chestnut-tailed Starlings, a Chestnut-shouldered Petronia, three or four Velvet-fronted Nuthatches, two new species of woodpecker, Rufous and the tiny Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, the latter being difficult to see well being high in the canopy and finally lifers eight and nine, Small Minivet and Large Woodshrike, of which there were six. Disappointingly our only sighting of Malabar Pied Hornbill was a brief flyover.
At a lower level we found our first Verditer Flycatcher - the shade of blue is indescribable - it's probably one of my favourite birds of the trip! Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch, Western-crowned Warbler and Bronzed Drongo were also seen in the general; area. Our route back to the camp for breakfast took us backwards and forwards over the riverbed. At one of the river crossings Pramod showed us a Blue-capped Rock Thrush - presumably a stake-out!
Our late breakfast at 10:30am consisted of puris ( deep-fried chapattis ) and scrambled egg with onions. Jean opted for puris and jam with a couple of bananas. Dark-fronted Babblers and an Orange-headed Ground Thrush were seen around the camp as we breakfasted. Afterwards we were taken on the camp bus to Tambdi Surla, the oldest Buddhist temple in Goa. On the way we saw a Mahout washing his elephant in the river.
Jean and one or two others photographed the temple whilst the rest of us searched for birds. It was already noon and very hot so bird activity was at a minimum. We found a pair of Malabar Trogons which gave splendid views to all the group so yesterday's sulks turned to smiles! Not for long, however, as a Brown Shrike proved much more difficult and I dipped again - for good as we didn't see another one! A very distant swift over a ridge was identified as Crested Treeswift - not at all satisfactory for a lifer but we had excellent views at Bondla in the second week of our trip.
We moved on to a raptor watch point to look at Black Eagles which nest in the area. We saw at least two birds which we managed to 'scope. Rather surprisingly there were no other raptors on view. Other species here included Malabar Lark, Paddyfield Pipit and Green Bee-eater.
We returned to the camp for a late lunch. Again we were offered an excellent selection of dishes - rice, a thin soupy dhall, both okra and green bean curries and salad. Leio, one of Pramod's partners, assured us that the salad was safe to eat as it had been prepared using water from the camp's own filtration unit. The lunch was very enjoyable and no one suffered any ill-effects from the salad. After lunch we wrote our diaries in the comparative cool of the dining area. A nearby Tickell's Blue Flycatcher kept us entertained.
By late afternoon we were in the bus again for a short drive to a bridge over an almost dry river bed. We birded the adjacent scrubby areas and also from the bridge until dusk. We had three more new birds, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Puff-throated Babbler and Dusky Crag Martin. We also had a single Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Common Iora, four Wire-tailed Swallows, Long-tailed Shrike, Heart-spotted Woodpecker and a pair of White-bellied Blue Flycatchers together with the more common species such as Red-whiskered Bulbul, Indian Pond Heron and Blyth's Reed Warbler.
At dusk we moved to Pramod's nightjar site. We'd been told to bring our torches as the ground underfoot, a lava field, was fairly uneven and it was almost dark. We sat on a hillside and waited until Pramod picked up a flying Jerdon's Nightjar in his spotlight. Another short but treacherous walk brought us to a perched Grey Nightjar. Pramod shone the spotlight on the bird for just a few seconds so as not to disturb the bird too much. It capped what had once again been a superb day with another twenty new birds.
We drank Kingfisher beers while dinner was being served in the dining area. Another selection of curries awaited us. Chicken soup was followed by chicken vindaloo together with pea, aubergine and green bean curries accompanied by rice. Jean thought it was the best yet! An early start tomorrow meant another early night so we were in bed well before 10pm. This time we had the company of three Tree Frogs in the bathroom!
The trip list had moved on to 180 including 122 lifers.
29 November - we were awake at 3am listening to a Sri Lankan Frogmouth calling. Unfortunately it was the closest we got to one. Apparently by January and February these birds have established territories and can be seen roosting. A couple of hours later at dawn we again heard the Brown Hawk Owl calling.
Coffee and biscuits at 6:30am were followed by the usual pre-breakfast forest walk. We had no new birds but enjoyed good views of many of the species we'd seen over the last couple of days. In particular a party of Scarlet Minivets moved through the camp giving stunning views and a Brown-cheeked Fulvetta heard singing nearby was also seen well.
The two morning walks produced a White-rumped Shama giving semi-decent views, half a dozen Asian Fairy Bluebirds, three Black-naped Monarchs, a single Asian Brown Flycatcher, three Verditer Flycatchers, two pairs of Malabar Trogons, two Rufous Woodpeckers, two Heart-spotted Woodpeckers and three Black-rumped Flamebacks plus the usual mix of barbets, bulbuls, orioles and drongos. The late morning walk also produced our only lifer of the day when two Ashy Woodswallows were seen distantly.
Breakfast was a little more westernised with omelette, toast and jam. For lunch, however, we were again treated to a selection of vegetable curries served with rice . We were asked to vacate our tent before noon to make room for a couple of new arrivals so we moved our gear to John and Chris's tent.
We paid the bill of 7000 rupees plus drinks - it worked out at just over £100 for the two of us for three days guided birding plus full board accommodation for the three days & two nights - excellent value.
Pramod offered us the choice of two further guided birding trips - either a two day trip to Cotigao for 1200 rupees each including accommodation or a one day river trip to look for Collared Kingfisher. The river trip was 8000 rupees for ten people. The nine of us, ie. Chris, John, Jean and I plus Trevor and Carol from Norfolk and Colin, Gerald and Doris from Slough, briefly discussed it and chose the river trip for either Sunday or Tuesday. Before we left the camp Pramod had arranged the trip for Sunday. The price included transport from the Beira Mar to the boat and Pramod's services for the duration of the trip.
We birded the camp area until our scheduled leaving time of 2pm. The Tickell's Blue Flycatcher was still present as was the Orange-headed Ground Thrush - we also had two Forest Wagtails and a Red-breasted Flycatcher.
At 2pm we boarded the bus for the eventful return journey which took us through the cities of Ponda, Old Goa and Panjim. We had to manoeuvre our way past herds of cattle, trucks and road works not to mention the hundreds of people and motor scooters. The use of so much manual labour for road works is an eye-opener in the 21st century. Women and children carrying rubble in baskets on their heads and both men and women hacking at the earth with basic tools is hard to accept.
We arrived back at the Beira Mar at around 4pm and spent an hour or so dealing with mundane matters such as washing, sending emails and buying postcards. We'd also booked Naresh for an early morning visit to Arpora Forest the following day. We then joined John and Chris on the terrace for a beer whilst watching the birds going to roost. As usual there were both Stork-billed and White-throated Kingfishers, many Brahminy Kites, White-breasted Waterhen, Black-crowned Night Heron, an Asian Koel calling and a single Spotted Owlet on the wires.
We were in the hotel restaurant soon after 6:30pm and in our rooms a couple of hours later. It had been another long day and unfortunately the loud humming of the hotel generator kept us awake until after 11pm.
Trip total 182 including 123 lifers.
30 November - another early start found us at reception for 6:45am where Naresh was waiting. The four of us crammed into the van for the short fifteen minute drive to Arpora ( or Baga ) Forest, a site we'd not previously visited. The habitat is similar to the slopes of Baga Hill but the wooded areas aren't quite as dense.
As we left the van to walk up the track a party of Jungle Babblers, our first, attracted our attention. Progress was slow as there was plenty of bird activity. We found up to a dozen gaudy male and female Small Minivets, a perched Shikra, Oriental Magpie Robin, Asian Koel, Common Iora, numerous Red-whiskered Bulbuls, White-cheeked Barbet together with four species of drongo, Greater Racket-tailed, Black, Ashy and White-bellied. Two trip ticks followed with a flyover Hoopoe, the only one we saw, and Lesser Whitethroat.
We found three species of sunbird, Purple-rumped, Crimson and a splendid male Purple, the latter particularly pleasing as we'd only seen a female at the camp a couple of days ago. Within the next hour or so we had three more lifers, White-browed Bulbul, Common Hawk Cuckoo and Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike.
We bumped into a couple of other birders, Malcolm Rymer and colleague - they were staying for a month making a commercial video on the birds of Goa. Malcolm had his video camera trained on the nest of a White-bellied Sea Eagle. One bird was on the nest and its mate was soaring above. A Lesser-spotted Eagle also drifted over.
We'd arranged for Naresh to pick us up at 10:45am so we made our way back towards the road. He took us to Lila's where we pigged out on fruit juice, eggs, bacon and fried potatoes once again. We even managed a trip tick as we ate when a Black Stork dropped into the paddies opposite.
We were back at the Beira Mar by 11:30am enjoying a cold drink on the hotel terrace. A Woolly-necked Stork which came up out of the fields behind the hotel became our fifth lifer of the day. We also saw another Lesser-spotted Eagle, two Ospreys plus the usual array of kites, kingfishers, pipits and munias.
At 2:30pm we were on the road again heading for Morji beach. Including a ferry crossing it was a three-quarters of an hour trip so we'd booked both Santosh and Naresh. The ferry was amazing with people and cars crammed into every available space for the short crossing. Off the ferry we had two or three Common Kingfishers, Gull-billed Terns and up to a dozen Wire-tailed Swallows.
We disembarked safely and drove a couple of miles to the beach. Morji beach, located on the northern side of the Chapora estuary, is much less developed than many of the beaches in Goa hence the large number of birds. Apart from a group of small children who pestered us for a while there was no one else on the beach. The birds were distant so we hiked across the sand and notched up another eight species for the trip including three more lifers, Heuglin's Gull, Brown-headed Gull and Lesser Crested Tern. Jean also "ticked" Lesser Sand Plover; in fact both species of sand plover were present. The remaining three, Herring Gull, Yellow-legged Gull and Black-headed Gull were present in good numbers. We also had two Western Reef Herons and a few Kentish Plovers.
We left Morji just before 5pm to give us time for an hour's birding and a beer at the Beira Mar before dusk. Most of the regular birders were present including Steve from Scarborough and Tony, a British birder who lives in Germany. As it was Tony's last day tomorrow he was planning a return afternoon visit to Maem Lake to try to see the Brown Fish Owl. It was a site we hadn't visited so we agreed to accompany him. Amongst the birds seen from the terrace were Watercock, Ashy Prinia and four Black-crowned Night Herons.
We returned to our rooms to freshen up and found the generator going full blast once again - the noise was intolerable so the four of us decided to ask to be moved. There was no problem as a number of guests, including Tony, were moving out on Sunday so we would be moved to rooms overlooking the paddyfields.
Our determination to eat elsewhere wavered as once again we found ourselves in the hotel restaurant where it was "sizzler" night. We were all presented with flaming kebabs on wooden platters accompanied by the usual Kingfishers. Chris recruited two extra birders, a couple from Barnsley, for the boat trip on Sunday.
Trip total 198 including 131 lifers.
1 December - up just after 5am for an early start for the trip to Dona Paula and Santa Cruz. Santosh and Naresh were waiting by their vans at 6:30am as the four of us made our way to the front of the hotel. Our route took us through Panjim once again but this time we headed south along the coast to Dona Paula. It was an hour's drive.
The volcanic Dona Paula plateau is a dry open area - not at all attractive - in fact it is a downright dump. The scrubby bushes were frequented by the local men doing their early morning ablutions! A very unsavoury place! However it is known as the best site in Goa to see Yellow-wattled Lapwing and Ashy-crowned Finchlark so a visit is considered essential.
As we searched for our target birds we found half a dozen Indian Robins, three or four Long-tailed Shrikes, three Malabar Larks, Paddyfield Pipit, Pied Bushchat and a couple of Blyth's Reed Warblers. We were there for about an hour in all in which time we saw six Yellow-wattled Lapwings and three Ashy-crowned Finchlarks.
A few minutes drive took us to an area of wetlands and paddyfields near Santa Cruz. As we approached the paddyfields we found a flock of thirty-two Pacific Golden Plovers, our only ones of the trip. We left Santosh and Naresh playing cards in the vans as we took a track between two paddies. Despite the presence of people working on the fields there were huge numbers of birds - it was somewhat bewildering!
A rough estimate gave us dozens of Indian Pond Herons, over fifty Wood Sandpipers, thirty Temminck's Stints, lesser numbers of Little Stints, fifty Little Ringed Plovers, two Green Sandpipers and a single Ruff, the latter being our first of the trip. The highlight, however, was the flock of around thirty Small Pratincoles, our third lifer of the day. Santa Cruz is the most reliable spot for this species. Other birders had also seen Terek Sandpipers there the previous day.
While Jean and John were busy taking photographs Chris and I spent some time examining the snipe but couldn't quite clinch the id. of Pintail Snipe. Shortly afterwards John and Chris had walked on ahead when Jean spotted a small crake on the edge of the paddyfield. It then flew over the track in front of us. It had dark upper parts, chestnut underparts and red legs - it was a Ruddy-breasted Crake. Overhead amongst the Black and Brahminy Kites there was a single Booted Eagle.
Yellow Wagtails were numerous as were Red-rumped Swallows. We also saw both red-spotted and white-spotted Bluethroats, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Greater Coucal, Indian Roller, Coppersmith Barbet and two Pied Kingfishers.
At Panjim saltpans, a site highly recommended, there was very little. The site is tidal and it was high tide so the birds were roosting. However, Dunlin was added to the trip list and we saw another Pied Kingfisher.
We returned to the Beira Mar for lunch where Jean had chicken in a basket and I had burger & chips. There's nothing like sampling the local cuisine when holidaying in exotic locations! With the help of Steve and one or two others we concluded that an eagle soaring over the hotel was in fact a Tawny Eagle, our fifth lifer of the day.
At 2:30pm the four of us met Tony and found the two taxis waiting outside reception. It was about an hour's drive to Maem Lake - we agreed afterwards that two longish trips in one day was too much travelling. Our route again took us through the traffic chaos of Panjim and Old Goa.
The lake itself is quite attractive with wooded hillsides of both deciduous and evergreen vegetation. We marched along a narrow lakeside path followed by Santosh - Naresh stayed with the vans. Tony knew the general area to find the Brown Fish Owl but there was no sign of it. Santosh disappeared from view as he went up the hillside to look for the owl. A few minutes later he accidentally flushed the bird and it perched out in the open giving excellent 'scope views.
There had been reports of a roosting Indian Nightjar at Maem Lake. Indian Nightjar is apparently rare in Goa so we moved on to look for it. Again Santosh knew where to look and found the bird very quickly without binoculars! While 'scoping the bird we realised there were in fact two of them roosting in the same tree. Other species seen at the lake included Common Iora, Oriental Magpie Robin, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher and Red-whiskered Bulbul.
As we were planning to check out a site for Lesser Adjutant on the return journey we made our way back to the vans. It was probably a mistake - we learned later that had we continued along the path we would have arrived at a small shallow pond with a good variety of birds including Blue-bearded Bee-eater which we never did catch up with! We also dipped the Lesser Adjutant.
The journey back via another car ferry was slow and tedious through the rush hour traffic. A Glossy Ibis over the ferry and a Spoonbill over the Baga paddies were the only sightings of note. It was 6:15pm and almost dark when we reached the hotel.
After we finalised our packing for the following day's change of room we went down to the restaurant where Tony joined the four of us for dinner. We took the opportunity to order complimentary sandwiches for our trip tomorrow
Trip total 211 including 138 lifers.
2 December - we could have had a lie in today. However we chose to bird from the terrace whilst having coffee and toast for breakfast. We were being picked up by Pramod at 7:30am for the boat trip up the River Zuari. We followed the same route as yesterday through Panjim to Dona Paula where we parked outside the reception of the very plush Cicade de Goa Hotel which overlooks the estuary of the river.
We walked through the hotel where the residents were breakfasting by the pool and then down on to the beach to the waiting boat. Pramod asked us to remove our socks and shoes then wade through the shallow water and walk up a plank to get on board. It was a small fibreglass boat with a woven palm frond roof and wooden benches to sit on.
The boat trip lasted about four hours. We had four lifers in all - Great Crested Tern, of which we saw over a hundred, Black-headed Ibis, Crested Goshawk and our target bird, Collared Kingfisher. We actually saw three Collared Kingfishers. We also had twelve Gull-billed Terns, more than twenty-five Lesser Crested Terns, just one Stork-billed Kingfisher, fifty Brown-headed Gulls, mixed flocks of Pintail and Garganey, two Ospreys, both Greater and Lesser-spotted Eagles, a female Pallid Harrier, Shikra, three White-bellied Sea-eagles, two Woolly-necked Storks, Western Reef Heron and our first Little Tern and Striated Heron of the trip..
As we left the boat via the plank again we provided a bit of entertainment for the hotel residents but luckily there were no mishaps! On the return journey we stopped at the Dona Paula plateau - a few of the party wanted to look for Yellow-wattled Lapwing and Ashy-crowned Finchlark but despite a dozen of us searching we had no luck. It was probably the wrong time of day - lunch time and very hot! A low flying Booted Eagle provided some compensation.
We were back at the Beira Mar by 1pm. All agreed that the trip had been excellent value for money at less than 750 rupees or £11 each. In our absence our luggage had been moved into slightly better rooms which had superb views over the paddyfields.
Lunch was overdue so we spent an hour on the hotel terrace. Our lunch was interrupted when Colin drew our attention to an Ashy Woodswallow perched on overhead wires. The 'scope views were much better than the distant flight views we'd had at Backwoods. The usual array of water birds and raptors were also on view over the paddies. That's the beauty of the Beira Mar - although it gets a little quieter around the middle of the day there are always birds to watch.
Whilst enjoying the view from our new rooms we had a pair of Common Tailorbirds below us in the hotel garden. It was our fifth lifer of the day. It had taken us more than a week to catch up with this bird which is resident in the hotel garden!
We'd booked Santosh for a 4:15pm trip to Aguada to the infamous "pitta" site! The four of us piled into his van for the short fifteen minute trip. Once there Santosh came with us to find the bird. The site is known affectionately amongst birders as the "pitta in the shitta"! It was just a short track with a dry ditch either side overgrown with bushes. The ditch is used by the locals as a toilet - hence it stinks - a very unpleasant place. The Indian Pitta is found in the ditch so Santosh ventured in to find the bird - we refused!
Despite spending an hour there we dipped! We had one trip tick, a Nilgiri Blackbird, a sub species of the Eurasian Blackbird. We also had Orange-headed Ground Thrush, White-browed Fantail, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher and heard Coppersmith Barbet.
It was barbecue night at the hotel restaurant so we ate there again. With the exception of Lila's for lunch we still hadn't tried any of the other restaurants in Baga! We all chose fillet steak, which was chewy but tasty, with a tiny baked potato - we ended up ordering a plate of chips!
Naresh turned up so we ordered him a beer. He guaranteed to show us the pitta if we went back with him. We agreed dawn on Wednesday on the basis of "no pitta no pay"!
Trip total 220 including 143 lifers.
3 December - At first light Jean found a raptor in the garden below our balcony. We attracted John and Chris's attention and between us concluded that it was a Besra.
We were out for 6:45am for the short drive to Baga Hill. Santosh had a prior booking so his boss, Victor, was waiting for us. We asked him to drop us at the most westerly track and then pick us up at Lila's at around 11:30am.
The track was narrow, rocky and quite steep and the vegetation much more dense on this side of the hill. Many birds were calling but sightings were limited to Black Drongo, Purple-rumped Sunbird, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Greenish Warbler and Common Iora. As we reached the top a White-bellied Sea-eagle soared overhead. There were also both Brahminy and Black Kites on view.
In the time we spent on top of the hill we added three more species to the trip list, Eurasian Cuckoo, Changeable Hawk Eagle and Plum-headed Parakeet, the last two being lifers. The Changeable Hawk Eagle was perched in the valley below and took some sorting out. The Plum-headed Parakeets were also distant but easily identifiable through the 'scope. Finally the Eurasian Cuckoo really had us guessing as it's not a common bird in Goa. Interestingly other birders staying at the Beira Mar had also seen the bird and arrived at the same conclusion.
Asian Paradise Flycatcher, White-rumped Munia, White-throated Fantail, Coppersmith Barbet, White-browed Bulbul and a small flock of Jungle Babblers were also seen. As we made our way off the hill by the easier eastern track Chris flushed a Barred Buttonquail but Jean and I missed it. We also found six Puff-throated Babblers, Ashy Drongo and a single Black-hooded Oriole.
We'd been out for more than three hours without much to eat so we walked along the road to Lila's for brunch. It was extremely hot by late morning so we all had ice cold pineapple juices as appetisers. We followed these with the usual fry-up. Victor turned up on time at 11:30am and drove us back to the Beira Mar. He charged 100rupees for the return trip.
We relaxed for a couple of hours by birding from the balcony of our room. We also caught up on our diaries and a little sleep. We were rudely awakened, however, when John saw a small falcon land on the distant wires. Scope views confirmed it as a female Amur Falcon, another new bird.
At just after 3pm we braved the hassle and went souvenir shopping. The stall-holders were very persistent but the haggling was good fun. We had a coke at a roadside café and watched Asian Palm Swifts overhead.
We walked out towards the football pitch and had Pied Bushchat, Long-tailed Shrike and another trip tick, Tawny Pipit. We also booked a table at the Cavala restaurant for the following evening.
We timed our arrival back at the hotel for the pre-dusk birding session on the terrace. We ordered four Kingfisher beers and chatted to Steve who'd just returned from Backwoods. He said he was too shattered to come to Bondla with us tomorrow but would join us for dinner later. A Cinnamon Bittern flew out on to the paddies just below us to give us our fifth lifer of the day. We'd been sweating on this species - it had been seen regularly around 6pm until we arrived but proved very difficult thereafter.
Another power cut meant we dined by candlelight once again. Jean had chicken makanwalla for the third time, John, Chris and Steve had Thai chicken with cashew nuts and I had chicken tikka masala. As usual the food was very good. We ordered sandwiches for tomorrow's trip to Bondla before turning in soon after 9:30pm.
Trip total 227 including 148 lifers.
4 December - yet another early start for a trip to Bondla. Santosh and Naresh were waiting for us outside the hotel at 5am. Colin was there on time so we were away promptly. It was a drive of about an hour and a half mainly in the dark! Our route once again took us through Panjim, Old Goa and Ponda. Colin, Jean and I travelled with Naresh who drove at breakneck speed. It was all Santosh could do to keep up with us. In fact we eventually left him behind - his van had suffered a puncture!
Bondla Sanctuary is located in the foothills of the Western Ghats and not too far from Backwoods Camp. Apparently it's 'the smallest of Goa's three forest sanctuaries and the vegetation is mixed deciduous and evergreen forest'.
We parked by the entrance to the sanctuary at daybreak and waited for Santosh to arrive with John and Chris. It was cool and very pleasant. Naresh picked up the call of Grey Hornbill and we soon located a small flock of five birds giving splendid views. Luckily John and Chris arrived in time to enjoy the spectacle. We left Naresh and Santosh in their vans with instructions to follow and collect us in about three hours time. We then walked back down the road which was forested either side.
In the three hours we chalked up just under forty species including three trip ticks, two of which were lifers, Emerald Dove and Blue-winged Leafbird. The trip tick was Booted Warbler. The list included Black-crested, Red-whiskered and Yellow-browed Bulbuls, four species of Drongo, Rufous Treepie, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Black-naped Monarch, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Thick-billed and Plain Flowerpeckers, Greater Flameback, Rufous Woodpecker, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Oriental Magpie Robin, Scarlet Minivet and Crimson-backed Sunbird.
We also enjoyed excellent views of a Giant Squirrel showing his long chestnut tail, two young Langurs and our first Bonnet Macaques. Our drivers turned up on time and took us back up to the sanctuary where we had to pay a small entrance fee; we also had to pay an extra fee to take the cameras in!
We walked down a few hundred yards towards a small café. Bird activity had slowed up considerably although we did enjoy stunning views of a White-rumped Shama. We also had Orange-headed Ground Thrush, Dark-fronted Babbler, Purple Sunbird, Dusky Crag Martin and Tickell's Blue Flycatcher. Our arrival at the café coincided with that of two bus loads of noisy schoolchildren so we headed for the restaurant instead. We weren't impressed with our surroundings so we just had cokes and decided to head back to Baga. Before leaving the sanctuary we stopped at a small lake where we had excellent close-up views of Crested Treeswifts and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters.
The return journey took an hour and three-quarters. Jean and I had a late lunch on the hotel terrace whereas John and Chris went to Lila's. We then set ourselves up on the balcony outside our room from where Jean photographed a Greater Coucal which was sunning itself in the garden below. All the usual species put in an appearance including Common Tailorbird, Ashy Prinia, Greater Painted-snipe and Asian Koel.
The four of us along with Steve went to the Cavala for dinner. We sat in the garden where a couple of musicians played Indian sitar music as we ate. The food was very good but slightly more expensive than the Beira Mar.
Trip total 230 including 150 lifers.
5 December - Naresh picked us up at 6am for the short drive to Aguada for another attempt to see the Indian Pitta. Dawn was just breaking when we arrived. The smell didn't seem quite as bad first thing in the morning!
We searched without much luck for a while. Naresh had promised "no pitta no pay" so I think he was sweating! Eventually Jean found a bird silhouetted in the understory which on closer examination proved to be our target bird, the Indian Pitta. Naresh looked up towards the heavens and exclaimed "Thank you God, now I get paid"!
Objective achieved we beat a hasty retreat from there and headed to Fort Aguada to look for Indian Peafowl. Once again it wasn't easy! The fort is located to the north of ( and overlooking ) the huge estuary of the river Mandovi. We found it disconcerting to see large numbers of stray dogs on the opposite hillside. I don't think they were harmful but we still gave them a wide berth! Apparently they prey on the peafowl!
We walked around the outside of the fort to the headland where we saw two White-bellied Sea-eagles, an Osprey and a Peregrine feeding young. Other species included Golden Oriole, Jungle Babbler, Oriental Magpie Robin and Greater Coucal. As we left the fort we were in luck when a family party of five Indian Peafowl appeared alongside the road.
With our two target species under our belts we asked Naresh to take us to Lake Pilerne, which is a few miles inland from Calangute. It's a site not documented anywhere but one that Colin told us about. It is a sort of mini version of Carambolim Lake with similar habitat and hence similar species. Highlights included our first Crested Serpent Eagle ( on the ground ), a dark phase Changeable Hawk Eagle, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Bronze-winged Jacana and Brown-headed Barbet. A huge Monitor Lizard was dozing on the opposite bank - Naresh thought it looked like a croc!
We were dropped off at Lila's for a late breakfast. Despite the heat we then walked back to the hotel. Our path took us through the pipe bridge and alongside the football pitch. We had Long-tailed Shrike, Pied Bushchat, Jungle Myna, Malabar Lark, Paddyfield Pipit and two Tawny Pipits. The last couple of hundred yards along the road were hassle-free as most of the traders had gone to the Anjuna flea-market.
Back at the Beira Mar the four of us headed for the shade of the terrace for a beer. We found Steve and Pramod doing the same thing so we joined them. It was a very civilised way to while away the afternoon. The only additional species we had was a Lesser Spotted Eagle.
At 3:30pm we asked Santosh to drive us to Baga Hill - probably our final visit. It was still very hot and the lunch time beer didn't help! However we had a good selection of birds including another lifer, a Mountain Imperial Pigeon. The bird was partly concealed in the canopy so we never got a good look at it. Initially we thought it was a Nilgiri Wood Pigeon but after checking the literature Jean and I settled on Mountain Imperial Pigeon. Amongst others we also saw Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, White-bellied Drongo, Rufous Treepie, Black-lored Tit, White-cheeked Barbet, Shikra, Black-hooded Oriole and Golden-fronted Leafbird. There was also a Langur Monkey crashing about in the trees - Jean and Chris tried to "whoop" it out but it wasn't impressed!
We had an hour's rest before going down for dinner at 7pm. Steve joined us once again. Doris, Gerald and Colin were also in the restaurant so we enjoyed a very pleasant evening which was rounded off with a port wine on the house.
Trip total 234 including 154 lifers.
6 December - this the final day of the trip was also Chris's birthday! We were on the hotel terrace by 6:45am for an early breakfast of coffee and toast. We'd agreed to walk the paddy fields with Steve to look at the pipits! It was pleasantly "cool" when we set off.
As usual there were hundreds of Red-rumped Swallows on the overhead wires. There was also a flock of more than three hundred Short-toed Larks flying around. Rather surprisingly we managed to add another four species to the trip list including one lifer, Pintail Snipe - eventually!
The other three trip birds were Zitting Cisticola, Common Buzzard and Sand Martin, the latter initially picked out on size from amongst the Red-rumped Swallows. The Common Buzzard, a very dark bird soared overhead with a Booted Eagle and a Crested Goshawk. Our pipit search didn't produce anything out of the ordinary just Paddyfield and Richard's together with both Malabar and Oriental Skylarks. We had two sightings of Shikra, a single Indian Roller, three species of Kingfisher, Pied Bushchat, Coppersmith Barbet and Blue-tailed Bee-eater together with the usual array of water birds.
We were back at the Beira Mar by late morning and decided to go to Lila's for the last time for an early lunch. Chris and John had rostis, Jean had a paneer roll ( feta cheese & herbs ) with fried potatoes and I had a superb cheeseburger, also with fried potatoes. We all washed it down with Kingfisher beers. At 350rupees each it was excellent value for money.
We'd already arranged with John and Chris to pay a final visit to Arpora Forest at 3:30pm. In the meantime I set myself up on the balcony while Jean started packing for the flight home.
It was still very hot when we found Naresh and asked him to take us to Arpora. As we made our way up the track birds were few and far between with only Red-whiskered Bulbuls and Common Ioras on show. We then found Plain Flowerpecker, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Golden Oriole, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Jungle Babbler and White-browed Bulbul. Overhead the White-bellied Sea-eagles were performing and we saw a stunning dark phase Crested Serpent Eagle.
Jean and John both had a fleeting glimpse of a bird with a black head and blue-grey back. We were puzzled for a minute or two before we found the much duller looking barred female and then the male showed again. It was a Black-headed Cuckoo-shrike, our final lifer of the trip. As we made our way back to the van half a dozen local women filed past us - each of them grimacing under the weight of huge bundles of firewood balanced on their heads.
We were back on the hotel terrace by 5:30pm for the last time. Naresh also joined us for a farewell beer. We then showered and changed before dinner and met John, Chris and Steve in the restaurant just after 7pm.. The bottle of champagne that John had ordered to celebrate Chris' birthday went down very well! On our final night it was curries all round! What else? A fire-eating limbo dancer provided the mildly entertaining cabaret!
Trip total 241 including 156 lifers.
7 December - the alarm went off at 5:30am. The airport coach was picking us up shortly after 7am. The suitcases weighed a ton! Luckily the hotel boys came to meet us and carried them with ease to the coach - quite luxurious this time. Having made a couple more pick-ups the coach left Baga around 7:30am. The journey to the airport was for India relatively uneventful.
At the airport the scene was just as chaotic as it was on our arrival two weeks ago. We had to pay a departure tax of 245rupees each before we were allowed into the airport! Inside our suitcases were x-rayed before we moved on to the check-in desk. We were processed fairly quickly until we got to passport control where there were huge queues both before and after the control point. Exhaustive security checks were being carried out so the whole thing probably took about an hour and a half. The security people confiscated John's spare batteries - he was given a receipt but never saw them again!
It was around 10:30am when we eventually walked into the departure lounge. With a scheduled flight time of 11:30am it didn't seem too bad but we soon learned that there was a delay of at least half an hour on our flight. We actually took off at 12:40pm. The journey home was long and boring, the route taking us over Iran, Turkey, the Black Sea and Germany. We eventually touched down at Gatwick at 5:10pm after a ten hour flight.
It had been an excellent trip - 241 species including 156 lifers.