Sunday, 24 March 2013

Intro and Day 1

I've tried a few times to add this as a word or pdf doc but with the IT skills of a Neaderthal, I failed miserably. So here it is.
Martin Bevan , Phil Hill and Mike Hogan, and I took a short birding trip to Goa.  There should have been five of us but as the result of a family bereavement Rob Gaze had to pull out at the 11th hour. Although not ideal, we could only go for 1 week, when 10 days to 2 weeks would allow for a slightly more relaxed and thorough trip. That said, 245 species recorded in the 7 days shows what can be done in such a short time. With a bit more luck, I think 250 species is possible as we missed a number of species that we thought we had a reasonable chance of catching up.
We booked through Thomas Cook, staying at the Osborn Hotel in Calangute. This was reasonably close to the Beira Mar/Baga Field area and also close to Saligao. We also booked a 3day/2 night trip to Backwoods. 
When not at Backwoods we hired Santosh, a taxi driver from outside the Beira Mar to act as driver / guide and he proved very reliable, competent and good value, and we would recommend him to anyone. Just ask for him at the taxi rank outside the gate to the Beira Mar.
As expected Pipit’s proved to be amongst the hard group to get to grips with. 2 Tree Pipits were found at Bondla, at least 1 Tawny Pipit was found at Baga Fields and several Richards and Paddyfield’s were found at a number of localities, but most remained unsatisfying identified, but were probably Paddyfield, though no doubt one or two could have been Blyth’s.
Day 1
This was close to a disaster as our flight from Gatwick was 4 hrs late in departing meaning we arrived at our hotel at 5am, and the Backwoods minibus was due to pick us up some 30 minutes later. However, we made it in time and thanks to the check in staff at the hotel they processed our passports in time for them to be returned to us before the rather full minibus arrived to take us to Backwoods.
Although we’d all be up for at least 36hrs, as soon as it became light enough we were fully awake trying to id the first birds we saw as we sped along to the Camp.
Just after we turned off the main road onto the road to Backwoods we halted by the local school at Bolcarnem for our introduction to Goan birding. First we met up with Loven, one of the guides from the Backwoods. Unfortunately his colleague Pramod had had an accident a couple of days earlier and was unavailable for guiding for a few days. This meant that rather than split the party into 2 groups, Loven had to take all 11 of us staying at the camp in a single group. While this may have cost us a couple of species, we gelled together quite well and there was no real problem.
Back to the birding. After meeting Loven, the birds (and ticks, as always in a new country), came thick and fast – starting with commoner species such as Common Tailorbird and Purple Sunbird through Malabar Pied and Grey Hornbills, Coppersmith Barbet and Flame-throated Bulbul , Orange Minivet, and Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher as well as a Brown Fish Owl and scarcities as White-naped Flameback and Black-winged Cuckooshrike. An hour later and some 50 species were in the bag.  
On then to the camp, seeing our first “proper” tickable Peafowl crossing the road in front of us. On arrival, we were shown to our chalets before reassembling for a walk down the approach road. While dropping off our bags I found Blue-naped Monarch’s and Western Crowned Leaf-warblers in the wood around the chalet while Phil found a Heart-spotted Woodpecker. Unfortunately this proved to be the only one we recorded throughout our stay. The walk along the entry road pulled in another batch of new birds as well as some familiar species such as Barn Swallow, House Martin and Brown Shrike, culminating in 3 Sri Lanka Frogmouths in the camp.
After lunch and rather than take a siesta Phil, Martin and myself explored the area around the camp., the only new species being found was Yellow-browed Bulbul. Butterflies and Dragonflies were also making a claim on our attention, with Plain Tigers, Common Crows, Bluebottle’s, Clear-winged Forest Glory’s, Crimson Dropwing’s and Slender Skimmers all on show.

The late afternoon session saw us travel up to the Tambdi Surla Temple for a spot of raptor watching.  Almost straight away we picked up a Rufous-bellied Eagle over the opposite ridge. This was followed by Black Eagle, Booted Eagle and a Crested Hawk-eagle. Brown-backed Needletails could be seen hawking over the far ridge but were too far to get any decent views of this large swift. Closer to hand were Malabar Parakeets, Grey-breasted Pigeon and Mountain Imperial Pigeon. An Indian Scimitar-babbler called nearby but didn’t show. As the light started to go down we had a quick look around the road by the temple and picked up our first Orange-headed Thrush.
With the dark came the fatigue, we’d all been awake for the best part of 60hrs, so after the excellent evening meal we crashed tired but content with some 87 species in the bag, all but 8 being lifers for Mike, Phil and Martin who were on their first trip to the sub-continent.

Day 2 and 3

Day 2.
Refreshed after a good night’s sleep we assembled for an early cup of tea at 6:30 before we headed out. As we boarded the bus, Grey Junglefowl could be heard around the camp, but couldn’t be located. The day started with a short ride down the approach road picking up Malabar White-headed Starlings, Malabar lark and Indian Roller, before heading back up toward the Temple. Highlights of our morning visit were crippling scope views of a very agitated white-bellied Woodpecker. The reason for its behaviour was soon found as a change of angle brought a Shikra sitting just a meter away into view.  

It was then back to the camp approach road, where a male Malabar Trogon was located, before lunch. After the afternoon siesta, we explored the woodlands behind the camp, scoring with Jungle Owlet, Rufous Wood pecker, Greater Flameback and some of the group managed to see the eye-catching white phase Asian Paradise Flycatcher. 


It was then time to try for Owls, Nightjars and Pitta. We gathered along the road towards the temple with our eyes and ears straining for any sign of a Pitta foraging in the undergrowth. Loven soon signalled that he had a Pitta and we all made our way to where he was and we all sat down, spread along the road staring into the fast darkening forest edge. Suddenly, there it was, an Indian Pitta. There was just enough light left to make out the colours of this beauty. After what was no more than a few heart beats it bound out of sight. Elation for those of us who saw it, but disappointment for those that didn’t. However, not all was lost. We could now hear 3 Pitta’s calling and in the last vestiges of daylight one hopped right out onto the road where almost everyone got crippling, if monochrome, views of this beauty. Mike was the only looser as others crowded in from of him when the Pitta appeared.
Pitta in the bag, we then turned out attention to the Owls and Nightjars. Several Brown Hawk Owls were calling close by and Loven soon picked one up in his spotlight.  A Jerdon’s Nightjar was calling distantly but could not be enticed in.  Back to camp for the evening meal, but birding wasn’t over yet as Loven called in an Oriental Scops Owl which was seen all.  
Day 3
Our last day at Backwoods and the morning session was focusing on Kingfishers.  Just after everyone had boarded the minibus, a male Junglefowl crossed the road allowing most of the bus to see it – the exceptions, Martin and myself!  Alas. 
Back up to Tambdi Surla Temple for a walk up the river valley. Some 5 minutes into the walk, Loven heard an Indian Blue Robin calling. We all focused on staring into the undergrowth trying to find this known skulker. Phil, then Martin, picked it up, close to the path, beneath a thick shrub, but no else could get onto it. We moved forward a few meters and Loven tried to lure it into showing. A movement in the undergrowth saw me focus my bins on a gap hen the Robin bounded into view, a couple of small hops, then gone. Unfortunately it was a female rather than the splendid looking male, but it was a tick in the bag.  It was also unfortunate that only 4 of the 12 of us managed to get onto the bird, from our group, Mike again missing out.
We carried on following the path upstream, scanning any likely looking pools. We were soon rewarded with a Blue-eared Kingfisher which allowed excellent scope views.  Later we stopped at a small clearing next to the riverbed. A Brown-breasted flycatcher was hawking for insects close by and a couple of White-rumped Spinetails flew over. Loven left us to rest and explore the immediate vicinity while he scouted downstream for Dwarf Kingfisher. While waiting for Loven, we picked up our only Crimson Sunbird – a male only partially in breeding plumage, Brown Flycatcher, another white phase Asian Paradise Flycatcher.  Soon Loven called us and we moved downstream and set up our scopes onto a tangle of braches overhanging a pool, where a Dwarf Kingfisher was sitting. We’d only just started to get onto it, when it flew off. After an anxious few minutes Loven had refound it, not far from where it was. Loven set my scope up onto it, but it was still almost impossible to see as it was sitting on the far side on the branches. How Loven found it I’ll never know.  Fortunately it moved again, back to its earlier perch which allows us all to enjoy prolonged, excellent, scope views of this diminutive Kingfisher. 
The return walk didn’t produce any new birds but did provide excellent views of a couple of impressively spectacular Blue Mormon butterflies.
After lunch we returned to the coast and to our hotel room for the first time.  It was a case of drop the bags, and, unfortunately, my bins (and Phil was nowhere near!) then into a taxi to the Beira Mar.
Quickly through to the pool side, with 4 Kingfishers ordered, we started scanning the fields. Plum-headed Parakeets, Common and Jungle Myna’s and Rose-coloured Starlings were perched on the wires, while Back and Brahminy Kites patrolled overhead.  Other common species which were new for us were White-rumped and Scaly-breasted Munia’s, Baya Weavers and Black Drongo’s.  Of the specialities, a brief silhouette view of the Ruddy-breasted Crake was all that we could manage. 
On leaving the Beira Mar, we asked for Santosh and he as he was free we booked him for the next few days as taxi driver and guide.

Day 4 and 5

Day 4.
We left the hotel just before 6am to find Santosh already waiting for us, and we were quickly on our way to Carambolin. First stop was Carambolin Woods, a small copse surrounded by marshland. Our first bird of the day was a Brown Hawk Owl, which almost took Martin’s hat off. As the light grew we moved to the edge of the woods. Mist was hanging over the marshes, but soon birds could be seen. A few Egrets and a Purple Heron showed, before a Lesser Adjutant flew in and landed in the Marsh in front of us. Santosh then located two White-bellied Fish Eagles on a distant pylon, which almost as soon as we got the scopes onto them they took to the air – a much better way to see them.  As the sun rose higher, there was a constant stream of Herons, Egrets, Openbill Storks, Cormorants, and Ibis’s flying out to feed in the marshes. Closer in were a couple of Paddyfield Pipits, Ashy Prinia, Keol and Rufous Tree-Pie.  
We then followed the road through the copse, picking up numerous Orioles’ and Bulbul’s. The day roost of a pair of Brown Hawk Owls was found, though with their backs to us, the views weren’t that great.
At the far end of the copse we were overlooking a series of Bunds giving us our first chance to compare Little and Indian Cormorants. A Clamorous Reed Warbler was found working through the close reeds, while Spot-billed Duck’s and Garganey were found further out. 
On the opposite side of the Road was some open ground which held Siberian Stonechat, Pied Bushchat and Indian Robin. Up to 7 Hoopoes and a large Pipit were found. This Pipit was initially called as a Richard’s, but on closer inspection it was seen to have dark lores. Unfortunately no call was heard as it wandered into the long grass. Richards is probably the best bet, based on size. 
At the next pool a few waders were found along with a Gull-billed Tern. Mike and Martin had a Black-lored Tit fly into the nearby trees, but it could not be relocated. The pair also glimpsed a rail disappearing into scrub at the pool edge, but didn’t get enough to even hazard a guess at its identity.
We then made the short drive up to Carambolin Lake.  The lake was filled with birds. Hundreds of Lesser Whistling Duck and Garganey thronged the edges with smaller numbers of Pygmy Geese, Purple Swamphen, Bronze-winged Jacana, Glossy Ibis as well as scores of herons and egrets. Several Pheasant-tailed Jacanas’ were found, and a single Wigeon was found amongst the ducks. A couple of Marsh Harrier’s quartered the marsh, while both a Gull-billed and Whiskered Tern hawked over the more open water. As with all wetlands, Kingfishers were everywhere. The only waders found were Wood Sandpipers and a couple of Ringed Plovers. 
We had a short break to refresh before resuming birding the area, this time from the road on the west end of the lake. An Osprey flew in, circled a couple of times and dived in and came out with a sizable fish in its talons. This attracted the attention of a White-bellied Sea Eagle and the two engaged in an aerial battle over the prize, rising higher and higher.
The rice paddies across the road then took our attention. A quick scan gave showed little bird life save from the obvious herons and egrets. However, a closer look brought numerous waders to view. While mainly Wood Sandpipers we also found Stilt’s, Ruff and Temminck’s Stints. More distantly was a group of Small Pratincoles along with a few River Terns and Ruddy Shelduck. A Yellow Wagtail was found and closer scrutiny showed it to be of the race thunbergi.    
Santosh then dropped us off close to ”elephant corner”, near the Marinha Dourada hotel, were we would bird the pans before having lunch in a local restaurant. The pans held a small group of Asian Golden Plovers, Lesser Sand Plovers, Marsh Sandpipers, Spotted Redshanks and Temminck’s Stints. A male Purple-rumped Sunbird was seen a couple of times, though, as ever with Sunbirds, there were no prolonged views.  Good views were obtained of both Richards and Paddyfield Pipits. Mike claimed a Little (st)Ringed Plover, but none of the rest of us could find this bird. Suspicious shade’s of the Wind up (Winding) Cisticola from out last trip to the Gambia but this time Mike produced the photo’s to prove the birds existence.
After an excellent lunch – probably the best meal of the trip – Santosh picked us up and we were off to Siolim. A quick stop on route produced 3 Yellow Wattled Plovers and a probable Oriental Sky Lark was heard but could not be located. 
Arriving at Siolim, storks, heron and egrets were everywhere. It didn’t take us long to find the Painted Stork’s. We saw some 60+ of what are normally scarce birds in Goa, part of some 150+ which arrived a few weeks earlier. A Greater Spotted Eagle flew over and landed in a Palm Tree not too far off, but quickly was lost to view. A few minutes later a second flew over.  Several River Terns hunted over the marshland, while a group of Black-headed Ibis flew in to give the best views yet of this species.
Two female type Bluethroats were found and our second “workable” Yellow Wagtail, which again was of the thunbergi form, while 60+ flew over.  Just as we were thinking of leaving, I picked up a distant Black-capped Kingfisher. 
Day 5
Another early start for the Zuari river trip, arriving at the jetty about 7:40 for an 8am depart. We started by heading down stream picking up Dusky Crag Martins and a Peregrine roosting on the main road bridge. As we motored downstream a small group of gulls were picked up, looking a lot like Black-headed, but at the same time clearly different. Winter plumage Brown-headed Gull’s which when they took to the air showed their distinctive wing pattern.  Further downstream three Greater Crested Terns sat on some poles allowing the boat to get close and Phil to tick his 1000th species. Manoeuvring close to the rubbish strewn banks we picked up several Kentish Plovers before we located a Terek Sandpiper.  
These target species picked up we turned round and headed upriver to look for Kingfishers, not, however, before we pulled over to pick up another passenger. A stop which allowed us to pick up our first House Sparrows of the trip as they nested in holes in the bridge supports. The passenger was soon dropped off on a Police boat moored out midstream and we set off in earnest. 
Gull-billed terns were constant companions as we traveled upstream, with the occasional Osprey. Scanning the mangroves it was only Common, White-throated and Stork-billed Kingfishers that showed. A Clamorous Reed Warbler was found along with our first White-spotted Fantail.  Suddenly our first Collared Kingfisher was next to us in the mangroves, allowing reasonably close views before it decided to move further back. This was quickly followed by a Black-capped Kingfisher showing really well. 
In total we had 5 Collared Kingfishers, including a pair interacting, and 4 Black-collared Kingfishers during the trip. At least 3 Mugger Crocodiles provided added interest.  

On the journey back we narrowly avoided being engulfed in a Bee swarm which passed just over our heads. If the swarm had been any lower we would have had a hard choice between staying in the boat or going over the side, into the crocodile infested waters! Just after the swarm flew over a group of Curlew and Whimbrel flew past.
On landing we drove up to Batim Lake but the only new birds were Eurasian Teal and Northern Shoveller.
Santosh had another booking this afternoon but he dropped us of at the Alexandrine Parakeet plantation.   We quickly found two at nest holes, giving exceptional views. We then made out way to the Baga Fields to search for pipits and larks. We quickly got onto our first pipit, a Paddyfield, quickly followed by a Richards. Several more followed, some more identifiable than others, but a Tawny was seen well. As we walked through slightly wetter scrub we flushed our first snipe, but which species. Pintail is the commonest, but Common also occurs, so it couldn’t be assumed that it was a Pintail, though the habitat and flight pattern certainly indicated that species. A couple more snipe were flushed and were better seen showing heavily barred under wings and crucially, no white edge to the secondaries, to confirm identity as Pintail.
The only larks found were Malabar Larks, and then only in small numbers. 
From the fields, we walked up to the Beira Mar and set up overlooking the small pool below. One of the local feral dogs put up two snipe. I got onto 1, a Common Snipe, while Martin got onto the other – another Pintail.  A Brahminy Kite swopped down to take a Jungle Myna right in front of us. A Crested Goshawk drifted over, but surprisingly, I was the only one to get onto it. Constant scanning through the vegetation around the pool paid dividends when the Ruddy-breasted Crake wandered into view, showing really well as it washed and preened. Unfortunately the Bittern failed to show yet again.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Day's 6 and 7

Day 6
An early start for the short trip to Arpora to ensure we were on site before dawn to maximise Mikes chances of seeing the Pitta.  Jungle Nightjars called as we made our way past the nightclub into the forest, but couldn’t be seen. After waiting, for what seemed to be ages, Santosh heard the Pitta and, with Mike in close attendance, he stalked up on it as it foraged on the forest floor. Result, one happy Mike. Unfortunately Phil was not happy, as Delhi belly had attacked and he was fast deteriorating. Santosh took him back to the Hotel, while we birded the forest until Santosh returned. The only new bird picked up in this period was Blue-winged Leafbird.
On Santosh’s return we travelled down to Morjim Beach, a little late but hopefully the gulls and terns would still be workable – we’d previously been informed that the beach was now getting quite popular with joggers and dog walkers, so getting good views at any time of day was unlikely. On getting out of the taxi we found a very close Black-winged Kite perched on a tree stump. As we walked onto the beach, it was obvious the gulls wouldn’t be on the beach, as the beach was busy with joggers, dog walkers, yoga participants and others. We found the flock of sand plovers and quickly found several Greater Sand Plovers amongst the more numerous Lesser .
A cuckoo on a low shrub just behind the beach grabbed our attention. Initial thoughts was that it was a Banded Bay, but closer inspection allowed it to be identified as Grey-bellied Cuckoo. 
Heading toward the river mouth we picked up a number of gulls and terns fishing out at sea and moving up and down the river. Brown-headed Gulls were the first to be identified, followed by Heuglin’s Gull, Caspian Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Lesser Crested Tern, and Black-headed Gull. Then the real prize, an almost full summer plumaged Pallas’s Gull flew past not too far off shore. The gull and tern flock were roosting on a sand bar in the middle of the river. This made viewing difficult but a couple more Pallas’s Gulls’ could be picked out, but prevented a decent scrutiny of the birds.
We then walked through some woodland, picking up our first White-browed Bulbul and Bank Myna’s before located the Bay-backed Shrike, beyond the wooden shacks. Despite grilling the numerous Rose-coloured Starlings, no Brahminy Starlings could be found. 
A return visit to Arpora woods failed to find any new species.
For the afternoon session we made the short journey to Saligao, The afternoon started with excellent views of a Greater Spotted Eagle circling overhead before we found one, possibly two, Indian Spotted Eagles.  White-bellied Drongo was next to make it onto our trip list, to complete the drongo’s available to us. As the path narrowed a Martin found a Yellow-fronted Pied Woodpecker excavating its nest hole. The path took us to a small spring, more enclosed by forest than the more familiar Saligao Sor. Another group of “birders” were already at the spring so the birds were keeping their distance. Monarchs and Paradise Flycatchers could be seen flitting around but otherwise it was quiet bird wise.
By this time Mike was also suffering, virtually stripping off naked to try to cool down. Soaking a handkerchief in the spring provided sufficient relief, to the extend he redressed.
Santosh advised we stay put and wait as the birds would come down to drink and sure enough they did. At one point we had up to 5 Orange-headed Thrushes, a Malabar Whistling Thrush, a group of Brown-cheeked Fulvetta’s , several Puff-throated Babblers , a Rufous Woodpecker, and 4 Tickell’s Blue Flycatchers bathing and drinking from the stream. Suddenly a pigeon was picked up at the back and after a few, long, seconds, it showed itself, a beautiful Emerald Dove.  A few minutes later another pigeon was located in the trees behind us – a Nilgiri Woodpigeon. 
With the light fading fast, Santosh took us to one of his sites for Brown Wood Owl. Unfortunately there were a number of dogs in the area which, although unseen kept up a constant loud barking, no doubt ensuring that any owl in the vicinity kept it’s distance, or it’s head down. Scanning the trees with the torch only produced the eye shine from a Palm Civet. Back at the taxi, several Indian Flying Foxes were seen flying over.
Day 7
Things were going downhill fast, with both Phil and now Mike on the sick list, however both were adamant that both myself and Martin get out for the last day – thanks guys. So it was another early start. For the first time we noticed / heard the Flying Foxes chattering while they fed in one of the Hotel trees as we wandered out to meet our taxi. Unfortunately Santosh was booked up, but he arranged a driver for us who knew the way and some of the stopping points on the way to Bondla.
About halfway along the final approach road, we pulled and got out. We could hear at least 3 Gray Junglefowl cocks and several hens, but despite a hours search we couldn’t get close enough to see one.  We did, however, manage to find out first Grey-breasted Pirina. 
The next stop was by the reservoir where we got excellent views of at least 3 Greater Flamebacks and out best views of Velvet-fronted Nuthatch.  Scanning the ridges we found a pair of Crested Goshawks cruising over. 
We decided to try birding the Zoo itself and for a while we wondered just how good an idea it was, as few birds were to be found. However perseverance paid off when, by the ornamental gardens we first found a Vernal Hanging Parrot and 5 minutes later a stonking male Blue-headed Rock Thrush. Returning to the taxi was saw a doe and calf Spotted Deer just outside the car park.
As our pick up for the airport wasn’t until 9pm, on return to the hotel, we paid a last visit to the Beira Mar, but nothing new was picked up.
Post script
On the journey back to Cardiff from Gatwick we saw more Ring-necked Parakeets than we did in Goa itself.