FLY TO GOA, TRANSFER TO PATNEM
Our birdwatching tour to Goa in western India commences with the Emirates early afternoon flight from London Heathrow to Dubai and onward connection to Mumbai, where we clear Indian immigration. From there, we take a short onward connection (about 75 minutes) to Goa, arriving there early on the afternoon of day 2.
We'll be met by our local guide Leio and drive south for around 90 minutes to Patnem, where we spend three nights in a comfortable hotel just a short walk from the beach. We'll break the journey with a stop along the way for lunch. Indian Pond Heron, Black and Brahminy Kites, Red-wattled Lapwing, White-throated Kingfisher, Green Bee-eater, Indian Roller, Red-whiskered Bulbul and Oriental Magpie-robin are likely to be among our first birds. Night Patnem
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 nights Patnem
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
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, with 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 to check through these feeding flocks as they move through the forest. 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, as well as mischievous troops of Southern Plains Grey Langur, Bonnet Macaque and the ubiquitous Three-striped Palm Squirrel.
Remarkably, more than 150 species of butterflies have been recorded in the area around our lodge, including Southern Birdwing (the largest butterfly in the Indian region), plus several species that are 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
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 here is productive mixed forest, situated on undulating terrain at the foot of the Western Ghats. In more 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 (which gives an insight into how many of the tropical spice crops are cultivated), before completing our journey to north Goa.
Afternoon arrival 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
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 Paddyfield, Blyth’s and Richard’s to seriously challenge our identification skills! Marshy areas might produce Black-headed Ibis, Cinnamon Bittern, Striated Heron, Greater Painted-snipe 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
DEPART GOA FOR LONDON
After a leisurely breakfast at our hotel in Arpora this morning, we bid a reluctant farewell to Goa today and catch the afternoon flight to Mumbai.
From there we take the Emirates early evening flight to Dubai and onward connection to London Heathrow, where we arrive next morning (Day 13) and our birding tour to Goa concludes.