Birding Trip to Goa in 1997



by Tom and Marie Tarrant

During November 1997 we returned to Australia from the UK via Goa in India for a two-week stop-over, this is an account of the avifauna recorded there during that period, hope you find this report as enjoyable as our holiday was, Homepage or see our report of our outbound trip to Malaysia in September.


We flew Tuesday 18 November 1997 on Qantas from London arriving at Mumbai(Bombay) around half-past midnight, Unfortunately the bad-luck started when we were told that our 6am connection to Goa was actually scheduled for 1225pm, As Mumbai Domestic Terminal has virtually no facilities apart from a coffee-shop we spent a very boring 12 hours waiting, only to find that there was also an Air Traffic Controller's strike and after boarding the plane had to disembark, stay in hotel overnight and repeat the exercise on the following morning. We finally arrived at Vasco De Gama Airport in Goa around 0830 on the 20 Nov 1998 and were met by our friends Mike and Linda Lewis, who had already been to Delhi, Bharatpur and the Taj Mahal, but had encountered no hold-ups in their airline schedule.
Birding in forest
Scenery near Palolem Beach


Southern Area- around Canacona, Kindlebag, Palolem and Cotigao
Armed with the a copy of "Goa: the independent birders guide" by Harris the four of us decided to take a taxi to the Canacona area (Rp750-Aus$30) and booked in at the Hotel Molymar at Rp200/twin room per night (Aus$8!)
This was (in hindsight) the best area that we visited and although the area is quite poor and denuded of any primary forest, the birding was excellent and the beaches deserted. Most of the locals were cricket-mad and were very enthusiastic about Australia and incredibly friendly.The only sad point was that we learned that work was to commence about month after our visit on a Hilton Hotel next to Galgibaga Beach.
The habitat was mixed, with secondary growth, rice-fields, mangroves and coconut groves. The scrub around the Hotel was interesting and Black-hooded Oriole, Black-headed Cuckoo-Shrike, Ashy Drongo and Small Sunbird all common. In the rice-paddies near the new Konkan Railway we found Pied, White-throated, and Common Kingfisher, Indian Cliff and Red-rumped Swallows, Black Drongos and Rufous-backed Shrike were everywhere as were Black and Brahminy Kite. Malabar Lark and several Pipits (Paddyfield?) were seen and Little Green Bee-eater probably the most abundant species.


Little Green Bee-eater
Black Drongo

A pair of White-bellied Sea-Eagle appeared to be nesting on the forested hill opposite Galgibaga Beach, Brown-headed Gulls and Caspian Tern seen out to sea.
Mike managed to hire 2 scooters for Rp150/day (Aus$6)and we used them to visit Cotigao Nature Reserve, we didn't even make the reserve one day as we encountered a 'bird-wave' along the way seeing some real gems such as Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Asian Fairy-Bluebird, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and several species of Drongo. Large Wood-shrike were in good numbers here as were Scarlet Minivets.

Chestnut-tailed Starling
Crested Serpent-Eagle

On another day we managed to get up early and arrived at the Cotigao Nature Reserve HQ at dawn, narrowly missing an ID on a flying Nightjar. We drove on further into the forest and Mike managed to find a White-bellied Woodpecker drumming which I managed to film. As the sun rose we kept the camera on a dead tree and got recordings of Crimson-throated Barbet, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Scarlet Minivet and Yellow-throated Rock Sparrow. Pompadour Green-Pigeon were flushed from fruiting trees and a single female filmed. One species which was seen on several occasions here was Rosy Minivet although there appears to be few recordings in the past from other observers. Forest Wagtail were present along the tracks but were very difficult to film. At the HQ we saw one of the few raptors, a Crested Serpent-Eagle.

White-bellied Woodpecker
Malabar Grey Hornbill
Molem area
From the Hotel Molymar we managed to hire a cab to take us to the Molem area in the eastern area of Goa, this cost us approximately Rp800 and we stayed at the Tourist Complex for Rp200/night for a double-room. The accomodation was a bit spartan and mosquitos formidable, though the food in the restaurant reasonable. Early the following morning we took a birdwalk around  the Tourist Complex and saw a good variety of birds, Common Woodshrike, Golden and Black-hooded Oriole, Rufous Treepie, Scarlet and Small Minivet, a single Ashy Woodswallow, Jungle Babbler and plenty of Greenish Warblers.
In the afternoon we took a walk through some mature woodland nearby and hit a real purple patch, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Orange-headed Ground and Blue-headed Rock-Thrush, Malabar Trogon, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater and Marie found a Jungle Owlet perched above the track which we all had overlooked.
We decided to spot-light the same area in the evening but all we saw was a mammal resembling a Glider or Possum, as we returned to the accomodation I noticed an owl near the restaurant and we managed to add Brown Hawk-Owl to the lists of several British birders who were eating there.


Blue-headed Rock-Thrush
Orange-headed Ground-Thrush

The following day we had arranged to purchase permits for the reserve at 0530-0600am (they normally open 0830am) but were surprised when the office was still locked. Later the Ranger told us that we were not allowed to enter the park without a permit and tried to fine us!
By lunch-time we had seen virtually nothing, strange in comparison with the previous day and decided to set-off for Panjim and Baga on a luxury-coach recommended by some students. In Molem we enquired about these coaches and met a variety of responses most saying that luxury-coaches didn't stop at Molem! Eventually a policeman recommended that the four of us wait with our luggage by the police-post for a normal bus, and when one arrived the driver took one look at us and the luggage and immediately bolted for his next destination! After about half an hour Marie and I noticed a minibus driver expressing an interest in us near the fuel-station and caught his attention. He told us he was actually on his way to Panjim and would take us for Rp300 (the luxury-coach was supposed to be Rp25!)
Fortunately after visiting a bank in Panjim he took us on to Baga, where Marie had a list of hotels and guest-houses that she had researched in Australia on the internet and in the Lonely Planet Guide. We were quite surprised when the manager of the Villa Fatima asked us where we had found out about his hotel as the driver was asking for commission for recommending the place!

Pied Kingfisher
Rufous-backed Shrike

Tourist strip-Baga-Calangute-Fort Aguada-Morjim area

This area is part of the main tourist development of Goa although our accomodation was still fairly cheap at Rp200/night double room there are plenty of alternate places between Rp200-600/night and birding trips to nearby areas are quite easy to arrange with local minicab drivers from outside of the Hotel Beira Mar where we found most package-tour birders were staying.
A visit to this hotel is a must in late-afternoon as one can set-up ones 'scope, have a beer, tell other birders what they have missed and see Painted Snipe and Cinnamon Bittern at dusk along with a wealth of other species. From here I saw Black-capped, Stork-billed, White-throated, Pied and Common Kingfisher, Marsh, Wood and Green Sandpiper, Temminck's Stint, Crested Honey-Buzzard, Shikra, Large Pied Wagtail and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters amongst many others.
The birders that we met at Molem had informed us of Yellow-wattled Lapwing near the Riverside Hotel at Baga, and a walk through the rice-paddies (mostly dry during our stay) found six of these, Pied Cuckoo, Small Pratincole, several species of Bunting (including Red-headed) and Pied Bush Chat. Pipits were a particular nightmare and the only species of about 5 possibles that I managed to put a name to were Paddyfield. Indian Roller and Little Green Bee-eater were fairly common and really add colour to the area. Above the Reception at the Villa Fatima is a shrub with red flowers which seems to be the only spot for Yellow-backed Sunbird that we were aware of.
One day the four of us decided to visit the famous Indian Pitta-site and took a one-way minicab to Fort Aguada where we were informed we wouldn't find anyone to bring us back. Fortunately there was a major bus-stop there but an unseasonal storm made birding difficult initially.

View from Hotel Beira Mar
Yellow-wattled Lapwing

The Pitta 'stake-out' is nothing short of an open-sewer and sadly after 3 attempts we failed to see the bird, despite others seeing it on the same day! We did manage to see Orange-headed Ground-Thrush and Tickell's Blue-Flycatcher here though.
From here we walked up to the old Fort Aguada and as the rain let up the birding became very exciting. The vegetation here was just scrub but birdlife prolific, species seen included Spotted Owlet, Indian Robin, White-cheeked Barbet, Olivaceous, Greenish and Booted Warbler, Brown and Rufous-backed Shrike and White-browed Bulbul. Golden and Black-hooded Orioles were common and Black-headed Cuckoo-shrike were seen with Blue-winged Leafbird.
A single Blue Rock Thrush was seen by Mike, Linda and Marie on a wall near the fort but this managed to evade me. A raptor was filmed drying it's wings  which I had identified as a juvenile Imperial Eagle (a species I have some experience of in Saudi Arabia a few years back) but there was some dispute of this and I believe they are fairly uncommon in Goa.

 Possible Stoliczka's Bush Chat
Spotted Owlet 

Another site that we visited from Baga was Morjim, supposedly good for gulls and waders, we took a minicab at Rp500 return with a local driver who new the sites but were a little disappointed when we found only Greater, Mongolian and Kentish Plover roosting and Brown-headed and Greater Black-headed Gulls with Sandwich and Crested Terns offshore. Harris recommends researching tide times in his guide, something we didn't, too our cost.
Probably the most exciting day out from Baga was a trip I made with 3 other birders to Carambolin Lake. Just east of the town of 'Old Goa' Carambolin Lake is lily-covered and has an enormous amount of waterfowl, many egrets and heron in the centre, Purple Gallinule, Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacana and thousands of Garganey, Wigeon, Pintail, Common Teal, Shoveler and exotics such as Comb Duck and Cotton Pygmy-goose. Raptors such as Marsh Harrier and White-bellied Sea-Eagle flush these frequently so things are never too static. In the surrounding area we came across Greater Coucal, Jungle Babbler, Indian Robin and about 2-3kms away through Carambolim village we caught up with the unusual 'saxicola' species that is regularly sought and currently thought to be Stoliczka's Bush Chat (a Red-Data listed species) Another uncommon species which we saw here in large numbers (c.500+)was Small Pratincole, although the flock was difficult to get access too.
Close to Carambolim is the Ciba-Geigy Chemical-Works, the company has created a pleasant nature reserve in response to environmental concerns and is the top site in Goa for Lesser Adjutant (12) and Open-billed Stork (16) also present was a single White-necked Stork, Purple and Grey Heron, Indian and Little Cormorant and Marsh Harrier were also observed here.

Wire-tailed Swallow
Black-hooded Oriole

On a more sober note whilst there we had first-hand reports of a female birder being mugged on the trail up 'Baga Hill'.   Whilst this was probably the first-ever such occurence the indifference shown to her by the local police is rather alarming, although some of the local hotel-owners seemed to be concerned as their occupancy rates are already declining. The general opinion seemed to be that the thieves were probably drug-habit motivated, so caution should be taken in this area and near the covered bridge by the Riverside Hotel.
On the whole though, Goa is an incredibly friendly place and the locals very helpful.
So ended an excellent two weeks birding, mention should be made of meal prices in Goa, we ate wonderful food (I was the only 'digestive casualty' having only had a brief half-day with the 'trots') and a meal for four with beer or wine usually came to around Rp600 (around Aus$24!)
In November 1997 a two-week package to Goa with full board could be had from the UK for 250-350 Sterling Pounds.
We would just like to send thanks to all those who helped and 'birded' with us in Goa and sent info via the internet. We hope to catch up with Michael Knolle, Nick and Corazon, John Wilson and his wife and the 'lads from Yorkshire on our 'patch' in Queensland in the near future. A special thankyou to the people of Goa who made our holiday great!

Tom and Marie Tarrant, Lot 10, Watson Rd, Samsonvale, Qld 4520, Australia


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