Sunday, 20 February 2011

Goa, 5th-19th Feb' 2011

A holiday to Goa in India with Sean Johnston
was just the cure for the winter blues. I stayed for fifteen nights
but Sean, due to lack of holidays, managing only an eight
night break.

We arrived at the airport around 7.30 on the morning of
the 5th and after the usual airport procedures, quickly
got a taxi to our resort of Calangute. After a long and
tiring flight we caught up on some much needed sleep
and explored the area around the hotel at mid-day.

Coppersmith Barbet, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Shikra,
Clamarous Reed Warbler and brown-Headed Gull
were all found within a short walk of the hotel. Lunchtime
and a lovely spag' bol' fortified us for the rest of the day.

We returned to the hotel and picked up the cameras
and scopes and caught a taxi to Baga Bridge. Before
heading on to the saltpans near the Marinha Dourada

Green Bee-eater

House Crow

White-Throated Kingfisher

Marsh Sandpiper

Pacific Golden Plover

Sean scans the saltpans

Saltpan worker

The whole area around Baga Bridge was excellent for birds.
With big numbers of kites in the air, i simply didn't know
where to look.

With the day drawing on we headed to the saltpans which were
excellent. Marsh Sand's, Lesser Sand Plovers, Temminck's
Stint and wood sandpiper were just some of the waders
which gave superb views into the evening.

Backwoods Camp 6th-8th Feb

The following morning, ten minutes late at 5.40am
we were picked up from our hotel and taken for a two
night stay at the well known Backwoods Camp in the
Western Ghats. We shared the minibus with a Danish
family who, bizzarely, had little interest in birds!

On arrival, Pramod, who was to be our guide during
our time there, greeted us and offered tea, coffee and biscuits.
Within a short time we had views of the Sri Lanka Frogmouth's
at the roost site right by the camp. Followed quickly by a
superbly plumaged Malabar Trogon, again very close
to the camp.

Malabar Trogon
Orange-Headed Thrush
Black Eagle
Black Eagle
Bar-Winged Flycatcher Shrike
Heart Spotted Woodpecker
Asian Koel (male)
Ashy Wood Swallow
Malabar Grey Hornbill
No help for his wife!
Greater Flameback (female)

The bird's came thick and fast! With lot's just by the main dining
area, including a very tame Orange-Headed Thrush. After my second
day in Goa i was on 34 lifers. With highlight's including Western-Crowned
 Warbler, Malabar Parakeet and Crimson- Backed Sunbird.
Greater-Racket Tailed Drongo

Backwoods 7th Feb

A great start to the day, saw Indian Pitta viewed in the headlights
of the minibus on the approach track of the camp. It appeared to
bounce along the track, as it hunted for bugs.
First stop was the Bolkornem entry gate of the Bhagwan Mahaveer
Wildlife Reserve. Where we met up with three other birder's
from the North West. Mike, Pete and June, who had missed the pick-up
yesterday (not their fault) for their stay at the camp.

The area was again, very good for birds with highlights being:
Loten Sunbird, Malabar-Pied Hornbill, Grey-Fronted Green Pigeon
and my first of many Indian Peafowl!

A return to camp for tea, coffee and biscuits followed by a raptor
watching session from 11am. No sooner had we arrived at the sight
when an Oriental Honey Buzzard took to the air quickly followed by another.

Raptor's began filling the air. After a two hour watch our tally was:
Oriental Honey Buzzard 4, Black Eagle 3-4, Crested Serpent Eagle 4,
Booted Eagle , Mountain Hawk Eagle , Shikra , Crested Goshawk
and the ever present Brahminy and Black Kites.

Oriental Honey Buzzard

Crested-Serpent Eagle with Red-Rumped Swallow

Booted Eagle

Oriental Honey Buzzard

Crested-Serpent Eagle

After lunch back at camp and a couple of hours rest we headed out for more birding
along the forest trails. Crested Treeswift, Brown-Breasted Flycatcher, Blue-Eared Kingfisher,
 Grey junglefowl running for cover and a superb Rufous-Bellied Hawk Eagle. These were
just a handful of the many bird's today.

A planned stop for Brown Hawk Owl was a success, when after five minutes, two bird's
began hunting from tree's at the forest edge. I even managed some record shot images
in the fading light.

Bonnet Macaque

Langar Monkey

"Munia"our bugalow at the camp

Sean, using Pramod's scope

Blue-Capped Rock Thrush

inside the Bungalow

Western-Crowned Warbler

Brown Hawk Owl

8th Feb, final day at camp

The day started again with views of the Pitta on the approach road to camp. It was great to
watch, as it bounced along the track. We had views down to 10 metres but in poor light.

The morning was spent looking for the target bird, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher.
After a reasonable slog in the jungle, eventually, we located a bird that showed well enough
for a few record shots to be taken. Other good birds were, Indian Blue Robin
(singing male), Malabar Whistling Thrush and White-Bellied Blue Flycatcher.

Brown-Breasted Flycatcher
Little Spiderhunter
Dining area
Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher
Sri Lanka Frogmouth
me at the camp gate
the staff
Pramod (guide)

Back to camp for lunch before the 2.5 hour journey back to our hotel at the coast.
The stay at the camp was excellent. It was how i imagined it to be with superb
jungle birding on your doorstep. We saw Asian Paradise Flyctcher, Greenish,
Blyth's Reed and Western- Crowned Warbler's on the "doorstep."  I was
on 54 new bird's already and only four days into the holiday!

After being dropped off at the hotel we decided to rest for a brief while before
the lure of more birding got us heading for the Beira Mar Hotel. We looked out from
the pool terrace over the marsh/fields to the rear of the Hotel. The evening light
was perfect as several Marsh Harriers, Brahminy, Black and Black-Eared
Kites wheeled round the sky. It was very productive for birds and unsurprisingly
a popular choice of accomodation for any visting birder.


Black Kite

Marsh harrier

Oriental Magpie Robin

Asian Palm Swift 

9th Feb

Now back at the coast, Sean and i had booked Loven Pereira, one of the part-owner's
of Backwoods to be our guide for the next three days. Today we did Carambolin
Lake in the morning and Divar island, late afternoon till dusk.

This was probably the best days birding of the trip for me. Carambolin was excellent
as predicted with Bronze-Winged and Pheasant-Tailed jacanas, Cotton Pygmy
Geese, Small pratincoles, Bee-eaters, Egrets and Raptors all demanding our attention.

After lunch we took position under the shade of a large tree on Divar Island.
Our intention was Pallid Harrier and within thirty minutes we had seen two!
A female and an immature. At around 17.20 we caught sight of a ghostly pale Harrier
a superb, sub-adult Pallid! It quartered the open ground in typical Harrier fashion
before finally dropping down to roost, pure magic!

During the afternoon we saw many raptor's.
Indian Spotted Eagle, Black-Winged Kite 4, Montagu's Harrier 3, Black-Eared Kite,
Osprey, Marsh harrier, Pallid's and Kites..Kites...kites...

Asian Open-Bill

Cotton Pygmy Goose

White-Browed Wagtail

Bronze-Winged Jacana

Montagu's Harrier

Pallid Harrier

Black-Eared Kite
Brahminy Kite's

10th Feb' Mayem Lake

Dawn at Mayem Lake saw us add a few more birds to the growing trip list.
Orange-Breasted Pigeon, Grey Nightjar (i even found my own roosting!)
Changeable Hawk Eagle, Black-Naped Monarch, Black-Lored Tit and
Rufous Woodpecker were all new.

Highly anticipated was the visit to Morjim Beach for the big Gulls. Unfortunately,
due to the tide the Gulls were distant and loafing on a sandbar. However, the Bay-
Backed Shrike was much more obliging as were the Sand Plover's on the beach.

Grey Nightjar

Black-Hooded Oriole

The woods around Mayem Lake

Changeable Hawk (left) and Crested-Serpent Eagle's

My self-found Grey Nightjar

Where's me trunks?

Greater and Lesser Sand Plover

Lesser Sand Plover

Paddyfield Pipit

Bay-Backed Shrike

Bay-Backed Shrike

11th Feb'

A return visit to Morjim at dawn was a slight dissapointment, with the larger gulls
again, very distant. There was a steady fly-over of gulls coming in off the sea and i managed
a few flight shots.

Pallas's Gull

Brown-Headed Gull

Lesser-Crested Tern

Steppe Gull

Brown-Headed and Slender-Billed Gull's

Intermediate Egret

When youv'e gotta go....

Dawn at Morjim
(photo S. Johnston)

A mid-day visit to Apora Woods was not productive. Although a dark phase
Booted Eagle showed well. We returned to the hotel. Sean to pack and buy a few
gifts and a short nap for me. We birded the Baga area before finishing at the salt pans/
shrimp farm near the Marinha Dourada Hotel.

dark phase Booted Eagle

snake charmer

"twenty rupees please"

Rosy Starlings and Common Mynas

The shrimp farm

12th Feb'

With Sean's holiday now over, i was on my own for the second week and decided
today to bird locally by visiting the woods at Baga. Indian Golden Orioles were very common
and i managed to photograph a Rufous Woodpecker that landed in a tree i was stood under. 
I added Pacific Swift to the trip list, as a few were feeding on the updraughts over the wood.

After mid-morning, i photographed kites near the sea that were taking advantage
of the dead fish being thrown into the water by the fisherman repairing their nets.
A Sea Eagle tried to join the scavenging group but was mobbed before moving on.

Rufous Woodpecker

Pacific Swift

Brahminy Kite

Pied Bushchat

Richard's Pipit

Western Reef Egret

White- Bellied Sea Eagle

Asian Elephant

Red-Wattled Lapwing

Fisherman repair their nets

13th Feb' Dona Paula

A 6.30am pick up from the hotel by my taxi driver Naresh, we headed for the Yellow-Wattled
Lapwing site of Dona Paula. On arrival i had to wait a short while as it was still too dark
for any birding. As the sun came up we walked out over the dry scrubby area and began
searching. Indian Robins were common along with Paddyfield pipits and Oriental Skylark.
After twenty minutes i located a pair of YW Lapwings "frozen" on the ground.

I left the lapwings as it still wasn't light enough for a decent photo and after ten minutes
a male Ashy-Crowned Sparrow Lark landed on the ground in front of me.
As i struggled to aim it up in the viewfinder of my camera, it quickly flew away.
As i returned to the Lapwings i could only find one again "frozen" to the ground.
i approached as close as i dared without flushing it and snapped a few images.

Indian Robin (male)

Yellow-Wattled Lapwing

Jungle Myna

Plum-Headed Parakeet

Oriental Skylark

Dawn at Dona Paula

feral dog pack

Little Swift

After Dona Paula i decided to visit Divar Island again to look for Harriers.
Before arriving at the ferry terminal i asked Naresh to stop at a sand bar
that wasn't covered by the incoming tide as there was waders all over it.
I counted 9 Terek and 12 Curlew Sandpipers, along with Wood and Common
Sand's, 50 Little Stint, 100 Lesser Sand Plovers, Wimbrel and i even found a Dunlin!

Plain Prinia

The return ferry off Divar (Naresh in denim shorts)

Terek Sandpiper

Male Montagu's harrier disturbs a Lark flock

Wash day

 Pallid Harrier

The telegraph wires than run alongside the road at Divar Island are excellent for close
views of birds. The above Long-Tailed Shrike and Black Drongo below both posed
for photographs.

14th Feb Apora Woods

A dawn visit to Apora Woods was very productive. Naresh dropped me off and returned
to pick me up at 11.30. Apart from the Brown Fish Owl not in it's regular roosting tree the
morning was choc-o-bloc with birds. White-Bellied Drongo, Rufous Treepie, Golden-Fronted
and Blue-Winged Leafbird, Blue-Tailed Bee-eater, Common Woodshrike and much more.

Most of the birds i managed good views of and the previous visit at mid-day was very
poor in comparisan to this well timed, early morning visit. At around 10.30 the temperature
began to increase and activity dropped off so i concentrated on trying to obtain
some images. A Shikra began "sky-dancing" in a forest clearing and it was similar in
performance to European Sparrowhawk.

White-Browed Bulbul

Golden-Fronted Leafbird

White-Bellied Sea Eagle eyrie

Common Woodshrike

Small Minivet

Displaying Shikra


Red-Whiskered Bulbul

Grey-Headed Bulbul

I spent the evening looking out from the terrace at the Beira Mar and saw the
elusive Cinnamon Bittern. This bird doesn't reveal itself until almost dark. Spotted
owlet and Night Heron were also seen.

15th Feb' Carambolin Lake

Another visit to Carambolin this time with Pete was again very productive. Naresh took
us to the other side of the lake which has two tower platforms giving a better view.
Up to a dozen snipe were feeding in one area and most of these were Pintail Snipe. Confirmed
by the darker underwings in flight. Great Spotted Eagle, Osprey, Oriental Darter,
Drongo Cuckoo, Blue-Tailed Bee eater, Gull-Billed Tern, Pied Kingfisher and others
made up the cast.

Greater Coucal

Yellow Wagtail (thunbergi i think)

Blue-Tailed Bee Eater

Brown Shrike

Looking across the lake

my new mate

Lesser-Whistling Duck

Collecting fire-wood

The evening was spent birding the Baga area, then to the Beira Mar for a couple of beers.

Indian Pond Heron

Puple Heron "spends a penny"

Little Cormorant

Looking towards the Marinha Dourada

at the Beira Mar

Brown Hawk Owl, Spotted Owlet and Cinnamon Bittern rounded off
the day from the Beiram Mar terrace.

16th Feb' Fort Aguada

Another pre-dawn start with Naresh as we headed to Fort Aguada. We arrived
long before any tourists and as a result lot's of Indian Peafowl were around the
car-park. At least twenty birds scratched the gravel for food and we had good
views from the car.

I began to walk the footpath around the headland and found a fruiting tree
that was alive with birds. Indian Golden Orioles, White-Cheeked Barbets,
Flowerpeckers, Sunbirds all showing really well. I stayed by the tree trying
as best i could to photograph the birds against the rising sun.

White-Cheeked Barbet

Purple Sunbird

Indian Golden Oriole

After tearing myself away from the fruiting tree i began to explore further.
The sky above held a few Pacific Swallows along with Barn and Red-Rumped.
But no sign of the White-Throated Needletails!
I caught sight of a White-Bellied Sea Eagle flying above the sea from the cliff
top. I quickly shot some images as it talon grappled with it's mate. To my horror
the focus hadn't locked on the subject but the sea below. I was left with a blurred
image of two Sea Eagles, one upside down with talons raised, arghh!

White-Bellied Sea Eagle (in focus)

Indian Pea Fowl

Jungle Babbler

Grey-Breasted Prinia

The Kites at Fort Aguada showed very closely from the cliff-top path.

Naresh picked me up at 11.45 and dropped me back the hotel for lunch and a snooze
(i'm getting old!) Before joining Mike, Pete and June for my third visit to Divar Island.
Once again the Pallid, Marsh and Montagu's Harriers were all seen well, especially an
immature Monties which flew within 25 yards of me. Another new bird for the trip list
came in the form of a Bluethroat by the roadside. With a suprise Spotted Owlet in the
large tree where we watch from.

 Montagu's Harrier


Short-Toed Larks

Black-Winged Kite

Black-Headed Ibis near the ferry terminal

Spotted Owlet

Siberian Stonechat

under the shade of the tree

Stripe-Throated Swallow

Oriental Skylark

Divar Island was beginning to feel like my new local patch!

17th Feb' Zuari River Trip

An organised boat trip on the Zuari river, again with Pete, June and Mike
guaranteed more birds. The cost was 1000 rupees for a 2.5hour trip along
the river with breakfast included. Mine was thrown overboard as it tasted like soap!

The captain had a good knowledge of birds and knew exactly where to look.
 First on view was the small colony of Dusky Crag Martins on the bridge
 followed by the resident Peregrine. Next we had superb, close-up views of
Greater-Crested Tern. The birds were roosting on posts as the tide was in.

From then it was up the river to seek out the Collared and Black-Capped kingfishers.
Both of which were seen quite well. Good views of fishing Osprey were welcome.
One of the highlights for me was the large numbers of Fruit Bats in the mangroves,
some of which had young, firmly holding on to the bellies of the adult's.

Our Boat

local ferry

Smile please

Lesser Adjutant

Great-Crested Tern

Great-Crested Tern



Fruit Bat with young
Collared Kingfisher

Roosting Bats

All in all it was a great couple of hours on the river. For some reason the captain
thought that we were somehow displeased with the trip and he offered
 us a free trip the next day.
Strange... we didn't take up the offer, we were more than happy.

Back at the resort and the afternoon before i made arrangements with a taxi driver
called Raymond to show me Brown Fish Owl. This was a bird i was very keen to see
and had missed on two attempts at Apora Woods earlier in the holiday. I was met at my
hotel by Raymond who took me to his "secret" site for the Owl. Before getting there we
jumped out of the car as a "Buzzard" was flying over  a wooded hillside. It was a Steppe
Buzzard and sharing the same hillside was a Great-Spotted Eagle.
Good stuff, and the best was yet to come.

Arriving at the site, we walked for barely a minute and looked up at the roosting tree.
There it was, what a beast! It looked twice the size of a Long-Eared Owl. I quickly
shot a few images put the camera down and just admired it through the binoculars.
Suddenly, the Owl adopted a threat posture and fluffed itself up to scare a Great-
Spotted Eagle that landed in it's roosting tree. What a sight to end the day on.
He charged me the equivalent of £10 for the viewing and i think this was a
"nice little earner" for the enterprising Raymond.

Great-Spotted Eagle

Steppe Buzzard

Brown Fish Owl

18th Feb (last day)

After thinking on where to go for my last days birding in Goa i decided to try
Morjim Beach as the moon would be full and high tide was mid-morning.
First stop was a site called Parsem, which was an open area of farm fields and marshland
with a tidal creek. Stepping out from the car i noticed a Stork-Billed Kingfisher on
the telegraph wires. Although by this point of the trip i had seen several, none
showed like this bird.

Exploring the area, probably the best birds for me were Paddyfield Warbler and Great-
Spotted Eagle. A group of twenty-five Gull-Billed Terns was the best count of the trip.

Stork-Billed Kingfisher

Wire-Tailed Swallow

Moving on to Morjim and finally, a group of large Gulls had been forced by the tide
off the spit and on to the beach. Numbers were way down on earlier visits but much closer.

Pallas's, Steppe and Brown-Headed Gulls
with Gull-Billed and Lesser-Crested Terns.

Crab eats Crab!

Black-Winged Kite

 Kentish Plover

Pallas's and Steppe Gulls

Steppe Gulls

After photographing the gulls i walked among the dunes hoping for one last look
at the Bay-Backed shrike but found only Long-Tailed. Not that i was complaining.
Although during the second week of the holiday i revisited some sites from the first week,
this, limiting the total trip list somewhat, i still found each day to be an
adventure. I acheived my goal of ninety new birds (96) but fell just short of 250
that i had set for the total (246)

I met up with Pete, June and Mike at a site for Painted Snipe in Baga
but failed to spot them in the evening sunlight.

A fresh pineapple juice from Thomas Bar and a look at the Shrimp Pans nearby
saw my last evening in Goa come to a close.

Alexandrine Parakeets.

Shrimp farm

Mooove over

After my last meal we said our goodbyes and i caught a taxi back to my hotel.
On the flight home i realised i was not well and this was confirmed by my doctor over
a week later. Salmonella..... and i was told the food in Goa was excellent!!