When we decided to go to NW India last winter, people said that we were brave to go that way as our first visit to India. Why not go to Goa which is much easier and will break you in gently they said. Well the NE was a great introduction to the madness on the sub-continent and it did prepare us for a return trip to India this Feb.
Well we have just got back from a 2-week trip to Goa and it was fantastic. The food was great, weather was great (if a little hot at times) and the birding was 1st class. Unlike the NE where you really need a guide to get the most out the trip and to see all the difficult skulking species, Goa is much easier. Cheap and reliable taxis outside the hotel will take you to all the well known sites which are all within 45 mins from your hotel and if you have a flick through the fieldguide before you go, then most of the species are easy enough to ID.
We based ourselves in the north of the state in the edge of Baga in the Marinha Dourada hotel. This was an ideal location as it was only a 20min walk to the local sites of Baga Hill, Arpora Woods and a series of local saltpans. These provide a good introduction to the area and its birds before heading inland to Backwoods.
The birding was excellent around the hotel grounds with white-browed wagtail, white-breasted kingfisher, clamorous reed warbler, purple sunbird, little green bee-eater and red-whiskered bulbul. Overhead there were loads of black eared and brahminy kites, black eagle, steppe eagle, white-bellied sea eagle and a dusk, night herons and fruit bats could be seen. The first walk onto Baga Hill was a nightmare….There were soooo many birds singing and I didn’t know what any of them were! The loudest was white-browed bulbul and I soon got the hang of that song. A lucky spot was a female Indian peafowl sat in a tree and the first of many sunbird species we saw. The top of the hill produced blue faced malkoha, indian blackbird, blue tailed bee-eater, Asian paradise flycatcher, white-cheeked barbet and Indian yellow tit to name a few.
The Beira Mar hotel that is famed to its close views of crakes and waders didn’t live up to expectations. The grassland had not been burnt and grazed this winter so it was very difficult to see anything although we were lucky enough to see a cinnamon bittern in almost darkness!
The highlight of the trip however was the trip into the edge of the Western Ghats to Backwoods. A very early (05:15) start was needed to make the 2hr journey from the coast. We arrived at about 7am where we were met by our guide Loven and settled into our lodge before tea and biscuits and into the field. There were so many birds around to name them all but highlights from the first trip out included orange breasted ground thrush, Maladar pied hornbill, Malabar grey hornbill, Malabar parakeet, little spiderhunter. Our lunchtime treat came on the form of 3 Sri Lanka frogmouths roosting on the edge of the camp. Such ugly birds but amazing to see so close!! A spot od raptor watching in the afternoon produced black, booted and rufous-bellied eagle, brown- backed and white-rumped needletails, orieltal honeey buzzard and a white-bellied woodpecker. The day was ended with a dusk Indian pitta.
Day 2 at Backwoods saw us heading to a local school and along the river in search of owls. This proved to be very successful with great views of a roosting brown fish owl on the far side of the river. More raptor spotting in the late morning produced 3 new species in the form of a displaying crested goshawk, Indian spotted and Legge’s hawk eagles. By now it was getting too hot, it was 360c in the shade at 11am!!! An evening trip for nightjars produced a perched Jerdons but we only heard grey and savannah.
Our final day at Backwoods was a kingfisher day. Two difficult species are found in the area and we were lucky enough to get them both. First to be ticked off was blue-eared which turned out to be a bit of a show off and even allowed a few record digiscope shots. The 2nd species was a bit trickier. Loven left us watching the blue-eared while he headed downstream. 20mins later he returned with the news we wanted. A hurried walk over lots of boulders was worth it for the scope views or oriental dwarf kingfisher. The walk back to camp still provided some goodies in the form of a white male Asian paradise flycatcher, blue-bearded bee-eater, crested serpent eagle and 2 crested treeswifts
As we were at Backwoods for 3 nights, a trip to Bondla is included on the way back to the coast. The habitat is slightly different here and so produced some new stuff. 2 Indian peafowl sat in the top of a tree looked very out of place, a dusky crag martin was flying around a temple and brown-headed barbet were added. The 2 main highlights were big and small… The small came in the form of a speckled piculet, a very small woodpecker about the size of a great tit that was covered in white spots. The big prize we were looking for was Malabar trogon. At our final stop on the way back down, Loven could hear one calling so headed into the trees to investigate. Once he found one he waved us in, a lovely female was sitting low down on a branch. He then spotted another female and then a male!! I then found another male and we ended up watching 2 males displaying to 3 females, a fitting end to our time in the hills before returning to the coast.
I have got loads of photos to edit still so I will post some once completed and finish the trip report another night