Participants: Simon Hartill, Southampton, UK and Alan Baxter, Worthing, UK.
Booked through First Choice Holidays in July for 2 weeks B&B at the Beira Mar Hotel, Baga. Cost was £436 including the direct Air2000 Flight from Gatwick to Goa. 9 hours flying out and 10 hours 20 minutes flying home due to the jet stream being against us.
I had been to Goa for 2 weeks in 1996 also staying at the Beira Mar.
We requested when we booked the package at the travel agent, a room overlooking the marsh. Last time I stayed here we had a huge apartment with 2 balconies but they overlooked the courtyard. This time though, we were in luck, as they gave us a room with a 2nd floor balcony overlooking the excellent marsh/paddies. We saw quite a few birds from our room balcony that we never saw elsewhere, especially the Rails and Crakes! Superb bird watching from the comfort of your room. The Beira Mar Hotel had been improved since the last time I was here.
We used the restaurant at the Beira Mar quite a lot. The food was pretty good and the service had definitely improved since 96. The service was faster than some of the other restaurants we tried nearby. Can recommend the Spanish Omelette and chips for a lunch time snack, don't bother with the sandwiches, Indian bread is not too good.
We used one taxi driver the whole time, his name was Santosh, and we can thoroughly recommend him. Santosh was a good, safe driver, reliable and knew a fair bit about the birds. He located Grey Nightjar, Brown Wood Owl and Brown Hawk Owl for us at their daytime roosts and knew all the birding sites. He has been a regular birdwatcher driver for 6 years. A half day trip was generally about R650
We pre-booked Backwoods Camp for 2 nights by e-mail from the UK, cost £55 for 2 nights, guiding, minibus from the hotel to the camp near Molem. The accommodation at Backwoods was very basic, but the excellent food and birding more than made up for it. Take an extra blanket with you though from the hotel, as the nights are fairly cold up here in the Western Ghats.
Departed Gatwick at 5pm arriving in Goa at 7.30 a.m. on the 7th Indian time, five and a half hours ahead of UK time so it was 2am. for our body clock. Unlike the last time I flew to Goa in 1996, the flight was direct with no stopover in Bahrain. We had pre-booked and paid an additional £45 for the emergency exit, extra legroom seats on our Air 2000 flight. We were very disappointed as the seats we were allocated was right up against the bulkhead and had much less legroom than an ordinary seat as you could not stretch your legs out at all. Sent a letter of complaint to Air 2000 on our return requesting the money back!
We were transferred to our hotel, the Beira Mar by coach, with only 2 stops to drop other guests off at their hotels, on the way. Transfer time from the airport to the Beira Mar was 1 hour 20 minutes.
Birded from our excellent room balcony and the swimming pool, had a few hours sleep in the afternoon. Stork billed, Black capped and White breasted Kingfisher, Golden Oriole, LT Shrikes, Little Green Bee-eaters, WR, Scaly-breasted and Black headed Munias, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Bluethroat, Lesser spotted Eagle, Rufous Treepie, Marsh Harriers, Greater.Coucal, Magpie Robin, Chest tailed Starlings, Spotted Owlet, BR.Flameback, Purple Heron, Baya Weaver, Painted Snipe and Palm Swifts all from our balcony! Birding has never been so easy.
8th December - Baga Hill/River a.m.
Walked to the Hill and took the less distinct footpath about 40 metres left of the bridge by a Water Tower, past some huts. Nilgiri Blackbird, Purple-rumped, Crimson-backed and Loten's Sunbird, Alpine Swifts, TB Flowerpecker, Brown H Barbet, Paradise Flycatcher.
Baga Fields p.m: White-cheeked and Coppersmith Barbets in hotel garden, White bellied Sea Eagle, Hoopoe, 60+ Short toed Larks, Paddyfield Pipit, Pied Bush Chat.
9th December - Carambolin Lake
Stopped at Calangute Fields en-route, as Santosh had staked out 6 Yellow-wattled Lapwings, very nice. Santosh also located for us 2 Brown Hawk Owls and 2 Spotted Owlets in a wood near Carambolin. We also saw Banded Bay Cuckoo, 100 L.Pratincoles, Peregrine, Greenish Warbler, Yellow-throated Sparrows, White browed Bulbul, Blue cheeked Bee-eater (fairly rare) and Shikra. The Lake was excellent with a single Comb Duck, 200+ L.Whistling Ducks, 10+ Cotton Pygmy Geese, Darter, Purple Swamphens, Marsh Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, 10 Little Stints, Roller, and Marsh Harriers.
Went back to the Hotel for lunch watching a very obliging Lesser Spotted Eagle over the marsh and garden.
Morgim Beach p.m. lowish tide: 4 Pallas' Gulls, only 10 Lesser Sand Plovers, Crested Terns, 300+ L.Pratincoles. Dipped the recently seen Caspian Plover. Most of the birds were a long way off on sandbars in the middle of the estuary so we gave up and stopped at Arpora Woods on the way back. About 40 metres from the nightclub entrance we saw a superb Indian Pitta, a bird I had dipped in 1996. The Pitta showed well for 10-15 minutes responding to our tape initially. Brown cheeked Fulvettas and Tawny bellied Babblers skulked in the bushes showing well occasionally. The White-bellied Eagles showed well on their conspicuous nest.
10th December - Arpora Forest early a.m. Morgim Beach again
WB Drongos, Grey headed Bulbul, Barwing Flycatcher Shrike, Common Woodshrike, Ioras, Orioles, SeaEagles and Puff throated Babbler
Got to Morgim for 9.30 and scored the nonbreeding adult Caspain Plover immediately on arrival. It was on the beach at high tide with about 100 Lesser and 3 Greater Sand Plovers. Apparently the third record for Goa and a lifer for me. The Plover flock were very obliging allowing us to watch from 15 metres away. Unfortunately I had forgotten to bring my camcorder! We saw 40 Lesser Crested Terns, 5 Sandwich, 3 Pallas Gulls and about 500 Brown-headed Gulls and just 2 BHGs. 4 Streak-throated Swallows showed well.
Watched from the balcony in the early p.m. Booted Eagle, Red headed Bunting, BC Kingfisher.
Divar Island 4.30-6 p.m. Harrier Roost: about 3 km from the Ferry was a lone tree along the tarmac road where we parked our taxi. We saw 4 female and 3 male Pallids, 2 male and 2 female Montagu's and 20+ Marsh Harriers, superb! The Harriers flew past very close on occasions. Also Blyth's Pipit, 400 ST Larks, Tawny Pipit and hundreds of Blue-tailed Bee-eaters.
11th December - Salig Zor, Pielerm Lake/Fields
The Brown Wood Owls showed well at their roost near the Spring. Also Orange headed Thrush, GF Leafbirds, Malabar W.Thrush and Small Minivets.
Similar birds at the lake as Carambolin + Booted Eagles and another ghostly male Pallid Harrier.
Watched from the hotel in the afternoon finally seeing Watercock and all the usual suspects like Painted Snipes etc. The Cinammon Bittern was, however proving elusive. I saw it 4-5 times in 1996 but my mate Alan still needed it for a lifer.
12th December - Maem Lake
A brief view of a Blue-eared Kingfisher was a bit frustrating as were the calling Indian Scimitar Babblers which did not come any closer despite tape luring. Saw 18 Pompadour Green Pigeons, 20 Alpine Swifts, Green Warbler, Puff-t-Babblers, BH Orioles, Rufous Woodpecker and the nesting Changeable Hawk Eagles. Santosh come up trumps finding a Grey Nightjar perched up, allowing close scope views but he couldn't locate the Fish Owls.
Tikana: Pallid Harrier, Pintail Snipe, Clamourous Reed Warblers, Wooly necked Storks, Paddyfield Warbler, Rufous tailed Larks, Besra and a dull Brown breasted Flycatcher. It was too hot to find the recently seen Pallas Gropper.
Chorao Island: Pacific Golden Plover, 100 Redshanks, 40 Whimbrel, 1000+ Pintail on the River.
Birded from our balcony 4-6p.m. A Ballion's Crake showed well as did a Slaty-breasted Rail. The height advantage we had on the 2nd floor really helped spotting the crakes in the middle of the scrubby marsh below. A large snake was hunting below us about 2 metres long, occasionally raising up its head and neck like a Cobra. A Spotted Owlet perched up on the wires at dusk.
13th December - Backwoods
Departed the hotel at 5.30 a.m. We were picked up by Leio in a minibus for the 2.5 hour drive to Backwoods. Stopped near the camp by a River Bridge and saw Little Spider Hunter, Loten's Sunbird, BC Bulbul, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Crimson fronted Barbet, Brown Shrike, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, YB Bulbul.
Arrived at the Camp and allocated a very basic cabin with resident Tree Frog. Leo took us for a walk in the forest from the camp. BC Fulvetta, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, WC Warbler, WB Blue Flycatcher, brief views of an elusive Indian Blue Robin, which most of the group of 11 birders dipped. 12 people in the forest is not an ideal group size, those at the back always miss some birds. A pair of Malabar Trogons showed well as did Heart s- Pecker, Crested Tree Swift, BB Fly, Dark fronted Babbler and a Grey JungleFowl (wild relative of the chicken)
Birded some fields in the late afternoon when it was cooler. Distant views of fly over Nilgiri Wood Pigeons. Chestnut-h-Bee-eater, White-rumped Needletail and Hoopoes.
Went back to the Tamdi Surla Temple at dusk for a nightbird vigil by spotlight. A Brown Fish Owl showed briefly. Jerdon's Nightjar showed well in flight perched in a bush and on the ground as did a Grey Nightjar. Also had excellent views of an Indian Nightjar on the ground and in flight on the approach road back to the camp. After the evening meal Leio tape-lured out a Sri Lanka Frogmouth near our cabin, spotlighting the bird in a tree. Unfortunately, the daytime roost had been disturbed by children and Leio couldn't relocate the birds in the daytime. Not a bad day!!!
14th December - Backwoods
Vernal Hanging Parrots. Malabar Parakeet, good view of Nilgiri Woodpigeon in a tree, Malabar Grey Hornbills, a superb Rufous bellied Eagle! On the approach road to the camp Orange-h- Thrush, Raquet-tailed Drongo, Large Wood Shrike, more Heart s Peckers, BH Cuckoo Shrike, Black Eagle, Ashy Wood Swallows, Blue Monarch Flycatcher, PT Babblers, Verditer Flycatcher, GF Leafbirds. The Indian Pitta and a Orange-h- Thrush showed well in camp by the pig pen.
Leio mentioned that he scared off a Leopard that tried to attack the pigs earlier this year. A male Tiger, extremely rare in Goa, was also in the vicinity. Leio had heard it roaring at night, and 3 cattle had been reported missing by the local farmers. According to Leio it was the first Tiger in this part of Molem for more than 6 years.
In the afternoon we struggled to see the calling White-bellied Woodpecker until Leio eventually relented and let me use my CD player to call it in. We had tried 3 times chasing up a wooded hillside in search of this elusive bird but dipped on all 3 occasions. The noise from 12 people clambering up through the scrub was obviously too much for this woodpecker. When I played the call it came in and showed well to all the group for 5 minutes or so. Leio is not keen on using playback, and discourages its use at Backwoods.
The Oriental Scops Owl was calling that evening but never showed.
15th December - Backwoods
The Ceylon Frogmouth was calling outside our cabin at 5.30 this morning. Went back to Tamdi Surla Temple. Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Black Bulbul, C'Rosefinch, Vernal Parrot, Rufous-b-Eagle again, Shikra, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Black Eagle, Besra displaying, Ashy Wood Swallows, BH Buntings, Crested Tree Swifts.
Departed Backwoods at 1 p.m. for the drive back to the coast.
Balcony - Ruddy-b-Crake, BC Kingfisher, Spotted Owlet
16th December - Zuari River Trip with Pramod
Terek Sandpiper 7, Lesser Sand Plover 50, Lesser crested Tern 3, Crested Tern 100, Ospreys, Darters, Besra, Spoonbill 2, Greater Spotted Eagle. Pride of place went to the superb 4 Collared Kingfishers. We saw 6 species of kingfisher in one morning + 4 Crocodiles.
Baga Hill 4-6 pm: Rufous Woodpecker showed well, Loten's Sunbird, WC Barbets, PT Babblers, Blyth's Reed, BL Tits, Laggar Falcon, WB SeaEagle carrying a seasnake, Booted Eagles. Eventually Barred Button Quail about 3 seen in flight when flushed. Red Spurfowl at dusk as we descended the jeep track
Santa Cruz - 50 Wood Sandpiper , 6 Little Stints, 2 Curlew Sandpiper, 50 Gull billed Terns, L.Pratincole, Yellow Wagtail, Snipe, Fan tailed Warbler.
Beira Mar - Ruddy-breasted Crake, Slaty-breasted Crake, Ballions Crake, Spotted Crake, Bluethroat, BH Munia. Finally caught up with the Cinnamon Bittern showing well for 30 minutes by the pool
18th December - Velim Lake
Similar waterfowl to Carambolin. Lesser and Greater Spotted, Booted, Crested Serpent and Tawny Eagles. The main target birds at this site are the vultures which are now very scarce in Goa unlike my first visit in 1996. Two White-rumped and one Long-billed Vulture showed well after they took off at 11a.m.
Beira Mar - The Cinnamon Bittern showed well again as did 2 Ruddy-breasted and a Ballions Crake.
19th December - Bondla
Arrived at Bondla at 7.15 a.m. Grey Junglefowl, Greater Flameback, Small Minivets, Brown capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Sykes Warbler (eastern race of Booted) OH Thrush, BC Fulvettas, Raquet-tailed Drongos, Lage Wood Shrike, White-rumped Shama, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Monarch Flycatcher. Excellent scope views of a female Blue capped Rock Thrush and a pair of Malabar Trogons. Malabar Whistling Thrush, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Ashy Wood Swallows, Black and Crested Serpent Eagle, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Paddyfield Warbler, Crimson-backed Sunbird, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher.
We avoided eating at the restaurant. A group of Swedish birders last week got a bad dose of food poisoning there with a chicken curry. Back at the hotel the Ruddy breasted Crake and Painted Snipes showed.
20th December - Arpora Forest
Tawny bellied Babbler, GH Bulbul, White-bellied Sea Eagles, Rufous Woodpecker, Large Cuckoo Shrike. We flushed 2 enormous Brown Fish Owls from a tree next to the footpath.
We took the rest of the day off for shopping and relaxing.
Santosh, our taxi driver took us to the airport for our Air2000 direct flight back to Gatwick, 10 hours, 20 minutes. We overflew Dubai seeing the famous sail shaped hotel from the air.
An excellent trip, 268 species of bird in 2 weeks for only £750 in total.