Armed with birding reports from the net, I’d meant to cover some birding hotspots of Goa over our 7-day stay in March 2008. The actual birding experience turned out to be lukewarm because we weren’t lucky with our bird guides in two places and it became clear that bountiful birding required multiple visits to the sites which we couldn’t manage on this fast-paced visit.
All the same, we did see some lifers and saw parts of Goa that we wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for our interest in bird-watching.
Much as we’d heard adverse reports about the Baga beach being crowded, expensive and excessively tourist-oriented, I planned 3 days for it because of Baga hills, Baga fields and Arpora forests in its close proximity. The afternoon we reached, Baga fields yielded surprisingly close views of Black Kites and a White-cheeked Barbet from Cavala’s balcony. All other birds seen in the fields were common to us and the species count stayed under 20. The fields were difficult to walk through and devoid of any birders or farmers so it was hard to tell if they were indeed the famous Baga fields we’d heard so much about.
My biggest disappointment about this area was that we missed Baga Hills altogether. I’d fixed up with a guide named Raymond to accompany us to them but he ditched us for the first afternoon costing us this loss.
Raymond did turn up the next morning to drive us to two sites. I’d heard about good possibilities of sighting Indian Pitta in this area and one birder on birdlist.co.uk had even mentioned Raymond’s name as someone knowing exactly where this amazing bird could be seen.
We clocked 16 species around the Pitta site and then 8 more near the Lighthouse but the main star eluded us. Out of our 40 min or so near the Pitta site, Raymond spent good 20 min crouched under a canopy of branches, attempting to flush out the bird but it stayed loyal to its label as a shy bird! This is when Raymond even played a bird call cd, interestingly while holding a small speaker separately, to lure it out of its hiding!
Our short walks around showed us multiple Orange-headed Thrushes, one White-browed fantail, Black-hooded Orioles, Golden Orioles, our two lifers in the form of White-browed Bulbul and Tawny-bellied Babbler and some other common birds. It was clear that this site should be explored on multiple visits for a better species count.
Later, on a walk towards the lighthouse, Raymond pointed out the beautiful Blue-faced Malkoha, a Stork-billed Kingfisher and a few other common birds. Kishore spotted the magnificent White-bellied Sea Eagle quite some distance away and with that we were pleased to have seen a new raptor on this visit.
We chose to visit this site with Raymond over Maem Lake as it was closer and its forest was reported to be full of birds. True to the reports on the region, we had comfortable sightings of a juvenile male Asian-Paradise Flycatcher. Brown-cheeked Fulvetta and Black-naped Monarch were our two lifers here and Malabar Whistling Thrushes could be heard closely. The site didn’t yield much beyond that and Raymond explained that an unusual shower the previous day had kept the birds in hiding.
That finished our first guided-birding morning in Goa and while I’d hoped to sight much more, I’m glad in retrospect that we did manage to see some amazing flying creatures.
Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and Tambdi Surla Temple
The drive to Molem took under two hours from Baga with the Mandovi stretch offering a lovely view of egrets, herons and stints on the river.
Dhudsagar Resort at Molem was still going through some construction activity but the complex was full of trees and some common birds, notably White-throated Kingfisher were all over. Dhudsagar Falls required a highly bumpy ride by a jeep that had to be paid for near the checkpost, followed by a hopping walk through rocks and rivulets. The falls were beautiful and the walk enjoyable but the surrounding area offered no shelter against a drizzle so it didn’t make much sense to stay there. The area was full of trees but no birds of interest were spotted.
We paid up at the Forest office that afternoon for an early morning entry into the Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary the following day. Interestingly, the Sanctuary gates are kept locked, and keys can be taken from the Forest office guard in the morning on showing a paid entry ticket. It becomes that individual’s responsibility then on to open and lock the Sanctuary gate! We insisted on the office arranging a guide to help us cover the Sanctuary and spot birds. After much thought by the lone clerk, we were provided the number of an individual named Bolimax who was labeled as a knowledgeable guide. After a few calls to Bolimax, we fixed up with him to meet us the next morning on our drive cum walk into the Sanctuary.
We used the early evening hours on the first day to drive up to Tambdi Surla that was about an hour’s drive from Molem. The drive was pleasant with a clean and narrow road lined with trees on both sides. The temple complex was pretty, and the trees around it showed a Malabar Grey Hornbill in flight, Common Iora and Small Minivet on very tall trees. We didn’t have much luck beyond that. The forest area around the temple looked promising but without a guide or any soul around, it appeared unsafe to walk into.
We’d heard about the site as an important spot on the itinerary of the Backwoods Camp’s nature walks, but the fading light and lack of help in covering the forest belt left us just one option – walk around as much as possible and return before it got too dark!
Next morning, the visit to the Mahaveer Sanctuary proved disappointing. We found our guide Bolimax at the Forest office gate, drove up to the Sanctuary gate where he opened and locked the big gate behind us and took us to the only spot he found promising to sight birds. We saw a lone Common Kingfisher there. We were earlier told that the forest was dense and without tracks for walking or driving so visitors were discouraged from venturing beyond the first 2 km or so. Soon, we turned around and spent 30 min or so at a clearing that showed us a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo in flight, Red-whiskered Bulbuls and possibly an Orange-breasted Green Pigeon. In addition, we managed clear sightings of the Giant Squirrel.
We’d high hopes from the Sanctuary to view varied bird life but beyond an hour, it felt pointless to stay inside. Our guide Bolimax appeared disinterested in birds and cited his main interest as wild animals – which he hadn’t cared to share during our chats on the phone – and he mentioned that the drivable part of the forest rarely showed anything other than the giant squirrel.
While planning this travel, I’d had positive reports from Delhibird members about bird-watching experience through Backwoods Camp but no one would share the costs involved. After some calls and messages, its leader, Leio informed of the per-person-per-day charge as Rs3500 which seemed high to us so we gave it a miss. Our unaided walks of Tambi Surla and Mahaveer Sanctuary however confirmed to us the importance of knowledgeable guides in seeing and appreciating the forests of East Goa, especially for visitors with limited time on hands.
Other than possibly one day with Backwoods Camps, on my next trip this side, I’d like to explore the option of covering the Wildernest Resort that has many admirers. Their own website doesn’t seem to be working right now, but they’re mentioned on many travel portals.
South Goa – Sernabatim
Our morning walks around Baywatch Resort showed us White-rumped Munias, Brahmny and Black Kites in good numbers, Golden Orioles, Grey Wagtails, Purple-rumped Sunbirds, one Spotted Owlet and other common birds.
This trip to Goa reconfirmed to me that bird guides can make or mar one’s sighting experience in an unfamiliar place…
I’ve returned unsure about Raymond’s reliability as a guide. Sadly, there wasn’t much choice from those we found outside Beira Mer. The drivers hanging around the hotel were just that, drivers to take you to birding or other spots and letting you bird unaccompanied. A guide highly recommended in reports and on websites is Lloyd J. Fernandes (phones: 0832-2276711, mobile 09822149002). On a chat from Gurgaon, he’d mentioned that he was booked on all the days of our stay in Goa and that he charged Rs800 per person per day – and a birding day is supposedly the first half of a day!
One helpful guide recommended by a delhibirder was Uday (mobile: 09822583127) who mainly focussed on the area surrounding Charao river. I wasn’t interested in water birds so didn’t use his services but he was helpful in many ways and should be used for covering the Dr. Salim Ali Sanctuary.
Bolimax as a guide confounded us beyond belief. He spoke well on a couple of calls, rattled off impressive species names the region was known for, turned up punctually to lead us to the Sanctuary and once in the action zone, he showed a complete lack of interest in anything concerning birds and said that he didn’t see any reason in chasing birds! He was an utter waste of our precious morning!
Some informative trip reports on Goa can be read at the first 3 links and the Delhibird site has a repository of checklists of various regions in India: