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India: Goa NEW! Coast & Western Ghats

A 13-day, small group birdwatching tour to Goa, in coastal western India

Comfortable, all new three-centre tour exploring the former Portuguese enclave of Goa, on the shores of the Arabian Sea, visiting at the best time for birding in Western India - when daytime temperatures are at their coolest and the region’s many exciting resident species are joined by a host of wintering birds from further north. And with Malabar Whistling Thrush, Flame-throated Bulbul, Vigors’s Sunbird and White-bellied Blue Flycatcher among a fine range of species endemic or near-endemic to the Western Ghats.

Tour Dates

2020

Spaces
9

Leaders
David Walsh

Max Group Size: 10
Duration: 13 Days

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Cost: £3295

includes return flights London Heathrow-Goa (via Mumbai)

Deposit: £500

Single Supp: £350
Land Only: £2695

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MALABAR PIED HORNBILL 1 Goa India Kevin ELSBY wildlifeontheweb.co.uk 2007

The impressive Malabar Pied Hornbill is one of a range of species that are found only in the Western Ghats and mountains of Sri Lanka © Kevin Elsby, wildlifeontheweb.co.uk

Situated on India’s west coast, some 250 miles south of the bustling metropolis of Mumbai, the historic former Portuguese enclave of Goa measures less than 80 miles by 50 miles, and is India’s smallest state. Once there, distances to travel are thus short and this exciting 13-day birdwatching tour offers a relaxed, comfortable and bird-filled introduction to India - making it ideal for first-time visitors, and a refreshingly ‘easy’ and yet remarkably diverse birding destination for more experienced travellers to the subcontinent. Accommodation is good and on previous tours some clients have rated the tasty Goan cuisine as the ‘best ever on a bird tour’!

Our trip runs at the best time of year for birding in Goa, when daytime temperatures are at their coolest and the region’s many resident and endemic species are joined by a wealth of wonderful wintering birds from further north. The state has a bird list of over 450 species, including more than half of those species that are endemic or near-endemic to the Western Ghats.

Broadly speaking, Goa can be divided into three main ecological regions: the low-lying coastal plain dissected by numerous mangrove-lined waterways and freshwater wetlands; the central dry, rocky plateau of scrub and savannah grassland; and the undulating tropical forests of the interior. From its 110km long Arabian Sea coastline, Goa’s terrain rises into the Sahyadri Range of the Western Ghats, which run the length of its eastern boundary less than 70km away. The proximity of the ghats to the sea results in a rapid variation of habitat across Goa's breadth that is reflected in the significant diversity of species found within its borders - a diversity which somewhat belies its small size.

This comfortable Limosa tour provides comprehensive coverage of Goa’s varied habitats, and an excellent introduction to the birds of southern India. In coastal areas we will encounter a fine selection of waterbirds and waders, complemented by widespread Indian and Asian species in scrub, woodland and grassland - plus a host of overwintering migrants from northern India and the Palaearctic. Exploring the dense protected forests of wildlife sanctuaries at the foot of the Western Ghats, we will augment our list with a host of new species, including regional endemics of the Western Ghats and the southern Indian peninsula, enigmatic forest specialities and a good selection of night birds.

Our trip to Goa differs from those of most other companies in that we use three centres rather than the traditional two. We start by spending three nights in south Goa, an area that is surprisingly underwatched given the superb woodland habitat at Cotigao and Netravali, in the foothills of the Western Ghats. From there, we move northeast to spend the next three nights at a birding lodge close to an impressive forest, Bhagwan Mahaveer. Heading west, we conclude our tour with four nights near the coast at the resort of Arpora, where we explore a fine array of wetland, coastal, grassland and woodland sites.

The pace will be leisurely: on most days we will be in the field early and late, taking a siesta in between. The birds are likely to include many new species for everyone, including those who have previously visited northern India or Sri Lanka. Species endemic or near-endemic to the Western Ghats include Malabar Whistling Thrush, Flame-throated and Grey-headed Bulbuls, Vigors’s and Crimson-backed Sunbirds, and White-bellied Blue Flycatcher.

A host of mouth-watering south Indian specialities such as Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Malabar Pied Hornbill and Malabar Trogon will also excite us, as will forest and coastal birds including Indian Pitta, White-bellied and Heart-spotted Woodpeckers, Indian Scops Owl, Jerdon’s Nightjar, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Lesser Adjutant and Pallas’s Gull. Plus we can reasonably hope to see as many as eight species of kingfisher, including Oriental Dwarf, Blue-eared and Collared.

In addition to the wonderful avifauna, there are many beautiful butterflies (with over 250 species recorded in the state) and colourful dragonflies, as well as some exciting Indian mammals.

Limosa has operated a wide-ranging programme of bird tours across India since 1990. Our 2020 tour will be guide David Walsh's eighth visit to the Indian subcontinent, and his second tour to Goa with local wildlife expert Leio De Souza.

Malabar Trogon Goa India Kevin ELSBY wildlifeontheweb.co.uk 2007

Endemic to peninsular India and Sri Lanka, a male Malabar Trogon lights up the shade beneath the forest canopy © Kevin Elsby, wildlifeontheweb.co.uk

Days 1-2                                           
FLY LONDON-MUMBAI-GOA, TRANSFER TO PATNEM

Our birdwatching tour to Goa in western India commences with an evening flight from London Heathrow bound for Mumbai and short onward connection from there (about 75 minutes) to Goa, where we arrive on the afternoon of day 2.

We'll be met by our local guide Leio and drive south for around an hour and a half to Patnem, where we spend three nights in a comfortable hotel just a short walk from the beach. Indian Pond Heron, Black and Brahminy Kites, Red-wattled Lapwing, Indian Roller, White-throated Kingfisher, Green Bee-eater, Red-whiskered Bulbul and Oriental Magpie-robin are likely to be among our first birds. Night Patnem

Days 3-4                                    
SOUTH GOA: COTIGAO AND NETRAVALI WILDLIFE SANCTUARIES

We have a full day to explore Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary, one of Goa’s less well-known forest reserves. Lying at the state’s southern border, a network of trails here provides easy access to the mixed deciduous forest. The vegetation is noticeably drier than elsewhere in Goa and we will look for birds associated with this habitat type, including our first regional endemics.

Key species to watch for at Cotigao include Crested Serpent Eagle, Green and Mountain Imperial Pigeons, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Emerald Dove, Malabar Barbet, White-bellied Woodpecker, Malabar Pied and Malabar Grey Hornbills, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and Forest Wagtail. As the morning starts to hot up, the birds generally become less active and butterflies - many with fancy names - start to appear: Commander, Monkey Puzzle, Peacock Pansy, Common Bluebottle and Common Silverline... to list but a few we could see.

Two species of deer - Chital and Sambar - occur in the park and, if we are very lucky, we might also encounter a group of Indian Bison or perhaps even a Leopard. Bird activity starts to pick up again from mid-afternoon and, ending the day beside a river, we may find a gathering of Blyth’s Starlings in the bamboo, a Malabar Whistling Thrush on the water’s edge and a variety of swifts and hirundines overhead.

Our second full day at Patnem is spent at Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary. Described as perhaps the most scenic drive in Goa, the quiet road climbs to the peak of the rounded hills, allowing access to some untouched forest, thick in places with cane and lianas. This is the most reliable site in Goa to see Rufous Babbler, an endemic of the Western Ghats more commonly found further south. The forest supports an exceptional diversity of birds, including vocal groups of Indian Scimitar Babbler and three of the most sought-after species of the entire tour: Malabar Trogon, Indian Blue Robin and the bizarre Sri Lanka Frogmouth. Speckled Piculet, Rufous Treepie, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Loten’s Sunbird, Little Spiderhunter and Greater Racquet-tailed Drongo are also present, whilst more open areas around the isolated villages provide a good opportunity to scan for raptors. Black Eagle, Crested Goshawk and Legge’s Hawk Eagle are among the possibilities.

Netravali is one of the best sites to see butterflies in Goa, among them the delightful Malabar Tree Nymph, which is often found gliding through the forest. Two further nights Patnem

Day 5            
PATNEM TO TAMBDI SURLA

Leaving south Goa this morning we visit Curtorim Lake and its surrounding paddyfields and marshes. This is one of Goa’s largest wetlands and we should find a splendid selection of birds - from the diminutive Cotton Pygmy Goose and Indian Spot-billed Duck to Asian Openbill, Oriental Darter, Little Cormorant and River Tern. With luck, we might also find Comb Duck or a Grey-headed Lapwing.

Later we continue to our destination, Nature’s Nest Resort, a comfortable birding lodge close to the exceptional Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and our base for the next three nights. Night at Nature’s Nest Resort, Tambdi Surla

Days 6-7
WESTERN GHATS: BHAGWAN MAHAVEER WILDLIFE SANCTUARY

The Sahyadri Hills, which delineate Goa’s eastern border, form part of the Western Ghats, a range of low mountains extending for 1500km parallel to the west coast of India and down into Sri Lanka. Widely renowned as one of the most ecologically rich regions in the world, the Ghats are home to a number of restricted range endemics.

The Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary is Goa’s largest protected area and covers around 240 square kilometres of monsoon forest, encompassing both deciduous and evergreen woodlands within its gently undulating terrain. With two full days to explore the dense forest, riparian jungle and cultivated fields of the surrounding villages, we will want to make the most of the early mornings and late afternoons here, taking time to relax in between.

Birdlife within the reserve is dominated by species of forest and scrub, including many Western Ghats endemics. We hope to find an exciting array of avifauna, the colourful Indian Pitta, ground-dwelling Grey Junglefowl and 'familiar' Indian Peafowl, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, Malabar Parakeet, Black-rumped and Greater Flamebacks, Brown-backed Needletail, White-rumped Spinetail, Crimson-backed Sunbird, Orange-headed Thrush, Blue-capped Rock Thrush, White-rumped Shama, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta and White-bellied Blue Flycatcher being among a long list of treats in store. The shade-loving Blue-eared Kingfisher frequents the forest streams. 

In the tropics, forest edges are frequented by itinerant 'bird waves' and it's always a thrill working through these feeding flocks as they move through the forest from understorey to canopy. At Bhagwan, the feverish procession might include Orange Minivet, Indian Paradise Flycatcher, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Black-naped Oriole, Flame-throated, Yellow-browed and Square-tailed Bulbuls, Western Crowned Warbler, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and both Puff-throated and Dark-fronted Babblers. We will also make a particular effort to find some of the nocturnal species found in these forests, including Brown Hawk Owl, Jungle Owlet and Jerdon’s Nightjar. And if we are lucky, during the day we may come across a roosting Brown Fish Owl.

The sanctuary merges into the cultivated rice fields of the surrounding villages and these are attractive to a number of seed-eating species, some of which can be difficult to find elsewhere. We shall be watching closely for Yellow-throated Sparrow, Red-headed, Black-headed and Grey-necked Buntings, Black-throated and White-rumped Munias, and Common Rosefinch.

Mammal densities are modest throughout Goa, but there is the prospect at Bhagwan of seeing the endemic Malabar subspecies of Indian Giant Squirrel, with views providing a constant source of entertainment, as well as troops of Southern Plains Grey Langur, Bonnet Macaque and the ubiquitous Three-striped Palm Squirrel.

We will no doubt also encounter a good selection of butterflies. Remarkably, more than 150 species have been recorded in the area around our lodge, including Southern Birdwing (the largest butterfly in the Indian region), plus several species unique to the Western Ghats, such as Blue Oakleaf and Tamil Lacewing. The names of the colourful dragonflies will both baffle and amuse us: Clear-winged Forest Glory and Crimson Marsh Glider are just two such possibilities. Two further nights at Nature’s Nest Resort, Tambdi Surla

Day 8
TO BONDLA RESERVE & ARPORA

Today we leave Nature’s Nest for the coast, stopping along the way to visit Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary. Despite being the smallest of Goa’s forest reserves, covering just 8 sq. kms, this little gem often produces some of the best birding!

The habitat is productive mixed forest, situated on undulating terrain at the foot of the Western Ghats. In open areas we may find Blue-faced Malkoha, Indian Robin, Rufous Woodpecker, Black-headed Cuckooshrike, White-browed and Grey-headed Bulbuls, Malabar Woodshrike and Jacobin Cuckoo, whilst venturing deeper into the forest adds chances of Red Spurfowl, Crested Treeswift, Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, White-naped Woodpecker, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Black-naped Monarch and - the real jewel in the crown at Bondla - Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher. Although the early hours of the morning here will be cool, by mid-morning temperatures rise and the surrounding hills can be excellent for birds of prey rising on thermals, with ‘Crested’ Hawk Eagle, Crested Honey Buzzard, Shikra and Besra all possible here.

We continue on for a delicious Goan lunch at a spice plantation (where we can see how many of the tropical spice crops are cultivated), before completing our journey to north Goa.

During the afternoon we check-in at our comfortable hotel in the coastal resort of Arpora, which will be our home for the next four nights. There will be time to settle in before we begin our exploration of habitats very different from those we have seen so far. Night Arpora

Days 9-11
COASTAL NORTHERN GOA

We have three full days plus our final morning to birdwatch at a number of productive localities within north Goa’s coastal region. On most days we are likely to return to our hotel for lunch before heading out again from mid-afternoon as the temperature begins to cool.

There is a wide variety of habitats very close to our base. The Baga Hills contain remnants of dry forest where we hope to find Indian Yellow Tit, Grey-fronted Green Pigeon, Plum-headed Parakeet and Spot-breasted Fantail. The pockets of woodland are relatively small, but they can nevertheless harbour species such as Indian Golden Oriole, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Jerdon’s Leafbird, Coppersmith Barbet, Vigors’s Sunbird and Nilgiri Flowerpecker.

The local fields provide good habitat for Long-tailed and Brown Shrikes, Siberian Stonechat and Pied Bushchat as well as several species of pipit - including Blyth’s, Richard’s and Paddyfield to challenge our identification skills! Marshy areas might produce Greater Painted-snipe, Black-headed Ibis, Cinnamon Bittern, Striated Heron and Pin-tailed Snipe, with Spotted Owlet nearby. Not far away, we might also be lucky to see both Indian and Greater Spotted Eagles in the sky together, an awesome sight.

Three well-known sites are each little more than half an hour’s drive away from our base:

To the east, Carambolim Lake can be teeming with waterbirds during the dry season. Large numbers of wildfowl, egrets and herons will be present and we hope to find Indian Cormorant, Lesser Whistling Duck, Grey-headed Swamphen, Pied Kingfisher and both Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas, too.

North of Arpora, the sandy beach at Morjim is famous for waders. Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers will be side by side for comparison, with Pacific Golden Plover, Terek Sandpiper and Small Pratincole also likely. This area is also a roosting place for Caspian, Lesser and Great Crested Terns as well as Pallas’s, ‘Heuglin’s’, ‘Steppe’, Slender-billed and Brown-headed Gulls. And the grasslands behind the beach are the haunt of both Barred and Yellow-legged Buttonquails, if we can unearth them!

Travelling south, we will visit Fort Aguada. Built in 1612, it stands on the top of a headland. Offshore we look for the resident pods of Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins, whilst the open bushes around the fort are a good place to see species present throughout Goa, such as subtle Blyth’s Reed and Greenish Warblers, as well as more colourful birds such as Small Minivet.

One of many super highlights on this tour is a boat trip up the Zuari River. White-bellied Sea Eagles will be sailing overhead, whilst king-sized kingfishers include Stork-billed, Black-capped and the localised Collared. Imposing Lesser Adjutants and Woolly-necked Storks perch on the bushes, Streak-throated Swallows swoop for insects and Western Reef Egrets feed on the mud. We may be lucky enough to see a Slaty-breasted Rail scurrying through the twisted roots of the mangroves, which are also the home of the aptly named Marsh Mugger Crocodiles! Not far from the river, we'll search an interesting lava plateau hoping to find Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Oriental Skylark and Rosy Starling.

Butterfly communities in the mixed habitats of the coastal region can be equally diverse. Amongst a host of delightful species to be found in the grassland, woodland and scrubby areas here are Plain Tiger, Lemon Pansy, Danaid Eggfly, Common Sailer, Common Mormon and Crimson Rose. Three further nights Arpora

Day 12          
FINAL BIRDING AT ARPORA, FLY GOA-MUMBAI-LONDON

Having enjoyed some final birding at Arpora today, with the chance both to see new species and revise those with which we have become familiar, we bid farewell to Goa in the afternoon and fly to Mumbai. Onward evening connection to London.

Day 13
ARRIVE LONDON

Early morning arrival at London Heathrow, where our birding tour to Goa concludes.

RUFOUS WOODPECKER Goa India Dr Kevin Elsby wildlifeontheweb.co.uk 2007 KE#1B7D6B

The monotypic Rufous Woodpecker looks like no other woodpecker in the region. It carves its nest in the papier-mache nest of stinging Crematogaster tree ants, which disturb neither the incubating adult or nestlings! © Kevin Elsby, wildlifeontheweb.co.uk

What To Expect

A 13-day birdwatching tour to Goa in coastal western India, featuring three complementary areas: south Goa (Cotigao and Netravali Wildlife Sanctuaries); inland Goa (Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary); and coastal north Goa (a fine variety of bird-rich habitats within a relatively small area).

January is the best month to visit Goa, when the climate should be reasonably comfortable.

Early starts are the norm for birding tours in tropical regions, where the daylight hours are relatively short (in Goa at this time, approx. 6.15am-6.30pm). Overall, the tour is not an especially strenuous one, but you should be prepared for early starts to enjoy the best of the morning’s birding before the heat and humidity builds and activity starts to wane. After a lull during the hot middle part of the day, the birding tends to pick up again from mid-afternoon, so we are likely to be out until near dusk on a more or less daily basis.

For both birding and butterfly watching, Goa also offers the distinct advantage of access to a range of habitats on foot - which can be difficult to enjoy elsewhere in India - and which also enhances opportunities for bird and wildlife photography.

Our guides will be able to advise you locally about the day's events - if you wish to opt out of a particular session or walk, please don’t be afraid to ask them.

Goa’s climate is typical of its tropical latitude, with warm to hot daytime temperatures (28-34C/82-93F) throughout the year, and cooler nights and early mornings. December until early February is the coolest time of the year (January averages the coolest month), and although midday temperatures remain hot year round, minimums at night can drop below 15C/59F, with the marked difference between day and night temperatures being especially pronounced away from the moderating influence of the sea.

The period from October to May is India’s 'dry season'. Goa receives almost all of its annual precipitation during the southwest monsoon (May to September), with a lesser amount falling during the northeast monsoon, which can extend into December. However, the climate here is typically dry from December to May. Humidity can be high (70-90%), particularly inside the dense forests of the Western Ghats, but this is somewhat alleviated in coastal areas by gentle sea breezes.

(Do keep in mind that it is impossible to accurately predict weather on any tour, especially in recent years, so that variations higher or lower than that specified may occur).

Given the warm temperatures and chance of high humidity, a reasonable level of fitness is required. Apart from this there are no specific health considerations providing you are in overall good health and able to walk reasonable distances at a normal walking pace.

As would be expected in the tropics, there are mosquitoes in this part of India, but the risk of malaria in Goa is low

Birds

250-270 species

Mammals

10-15 species

Butterflies

40-50 species

Accommodation

10 nights accommodation in India, spread between two hotels and one birding lodge in Goa. We begin in Patnem, with three nights at the comfortable Tubki Resort. Moving inland, we spend the next three nights at the Nature’s Nest Resort, a highly rated birding lodge near Tambdi Surla. Our final port of call is the coastal resort of Arpora, where we enjoy a four-night stay at the impressive Marinha Dourada hotel. All rooms have a private bathroom.

There are swimming pools at the hotels in Patnem and Arpora. The latter also has laundry facilities which, whilst not cheap, are very efficient, with the laundry being returned in immaculate condition!

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price (and with drinking water also provided), commencing with dinner on arrival at Patnem on Day 2 and concluding with lunch at our hotel in Arpora on Day 12.

Breakfast, lunches and dinners will mostly be taken at the hotels. We may occasionally take a packed breakfast or lunch with us into the field, and on our transfer days (and occasionally at other times) we may enjoy lunch in a well-chosen restaurant. Sit down meals are usually served as a hot buffet, usually incorporating a range of both local dishes and international cuisine. On previous tours, some clients have rated the tasty Goan cuisine as the ‘best ever on a bird tour’!

[Please advise in advance of any dietary requirements you may have, so we can do our best to accommodate them.]

Walking

Easy to moderate walks at a gentle pace. Although much birding is on foot, no long treks are involved. Comfortable, lightweight walking shoes or boots with stout soles and good grip are recommended.

Travel

We fly London Heathrow to Goa via Mumbai (change of planes), with Jet Airways.

Ground Transport  By air-conditioned small coach.

Boat Trips

We will take a relaxing boat trip along the Zuari river during our stay in Arpora. Life jackets are available on the boat.

Paddyfield Pipit 1, Baga Fields MG 1202 copy resized

Paddyfield Pipit at Baga Fields, Goa © Peter Kennerley, Limosa

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