Goa Trip - II

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A Pictorial Report by David Williams               
     November - December 2010                               


Goa   Checklist   Trip Reports

© David Williams

This is an edited version of a report originally posted in the North Wales Birding Forum. The post contains more images and can be viewed here

Page 1   Page 2

July 15th 2010. I remember it well. It  was Claire's birthday and it was raining, just as it had been for what seemed like weeks. My resolve not to go on holiday this side of Christmas was broken when I happened across a special offer on Qatar Airways for flights to Goa. Perfect birthday present, a couple of mouse clicks and it was done. We were committed.

I had sworn we would not return to Goa or anywhere else in India this year, it's becoming an habit. Six trips in five years, it's time to see somewhere else but the draw proved too great once again. When you find somewhere that ticks all the boxes, it's hard to risk going elsewhere and finding it's not as good. Goa offers good winter weather, decent hotel accommodation with swimming pools, a superb choice of restaurants covering multi national cuisines, the easy availability of a cold drink, particularly a beer (not so easy elsewhere in India!), shopping opportunities (yes shopping !!!) and all at prices that, compared to Europe, are extremely good value.

Oh and of course, there are the birds. Lots of birds. Lots of different birds. Deciding to return isn't that hard.

Our flight tickets with Qatar were a lot more expensive this year. Flying from Manchester the cheapest price I could find was around £600 each. We paid £359 last year when the route was launched but now it's established, and thanks to Mr Brown's green taxes on air tickets the prices have shot up. I grabbed two tickets from Gatwick when I saw them being sold at £491 each. It's still a lot of money, but a somewhat perverse logic says that to make it worth while you need to stay longer. Flying scheduled not only offers improved comfort levels but gives you the flexibility not offered on package tours. Based on room prices, we opted to stay in North Goa for the duration but to add some interest we booked to split the time in two different hotels.

Getting to Gatwick isn't easy from North Wales but I was amazed to find that, by booking single tickets each way in advance, the price came to £60 for us both. Add to that a night in a Premier Inn at £29 and it's a total of £89, not much more than the cost of the diesel and parking at Manchester airport but with out the risk of bad road conditions at this time of year. The Premier Inn was amazing value, their in house entertainment out of this world, Liverpool 2 Chelsea 0, what more could I ask for! We had been tipped off not to take the airport transfer. It takes 45 minutes plus waiting time as it picks up at other hotels. We saved £5 each and walked in exactly 5 minutes! Before we knew it we were having a traditional British airport breakfast, 2 pints of lager at 6.30 am. I know, you wouldn't do it anywhere else would you?!!!
© David Williams

The rather long and drawn out journey behind us, we arrived at our old favourite, the Marinha Dourada hotel in Arpora at the crack of dawn and spent the day recovering from our journey before starting the serious business of birding. For those who don't know me, my personal interest is photography as much as listing. Claire isn't that interested in either! Fair do's, each to our own.
The Marinha Dourada has built up a reputation amongst birders over the past couple of years as a good base to stay. I was already aware that changes have begun in the area, and with 12 months passed since my last visit I expected the worst, and to a certain extent that's what I found. The once bird rich shrimp ponds no longer exist, the banks having been breached deliberately in an apparent in family feud have now become tidal lagoons.

The large variety of waders reduced to 2 or 3 Redshanks, a Greenshank and a couple of Red-wattled Lapwings.
Red-wattled Lapwing © David Williams

No worries, I would work with what I had. My objective was to try and get some interesting photos. My bird list secondary. Kerala in March had produced 155 different species, I wasn't looking to break that record.

The hotel grounds had one or two birds, the ubiquitous Red-whiskered Bulbul
Red-whiskered Bulbul © David Williams

A nesting Ashy Prinia hunting for food in the grass made a good subject

and despite the fact they are common, the White Cheeked Barbet are very elusive and well camouflaged!
White-cheeked Barbet © David Williams

Out in the grassland area between the lagoons across the road I got some excellent views of Paddyfield Pipit
Paddyfield Pipit © David Williams

and Malabar Crested Lark
Malabar Crested Lark © David Williams

We spent 12 nights at the Marinha Dourada, most of my days were spent wandering locally or lazing by the pool. I wandered down to the Beira Mar hotel in Baga on four evenings. The Beira Mar is a famous birding venue and preferred location for many organised trips. I think it's a bit of a dump, a budget hotel that is in need of much improvement. If I was paying the prices that organised trips demand I would expect a lot more. On the other hand there is no way I would go on an organised trip as you can DIY for a fraction of the price, have the flexibility to do your own thing and hire your own guide. The Beira Mar has the advantage that it is still the place to meet up in the evenings, find out what others have seen, and get recommendations for guides and places. Hence it has it's uses. Early November 2010 it was still raining a bit, the fields behind the Beira Mar flooded, the birding pretty poor. Just about the only decent shots I took were a series of photos that showed an Indian Pond Heron catch and dispatch a rather large frog!
Indian Pond Heron © David Williams

After 4 visits I didn't return. I already knew where to go, who with and when!

Lots of people are, not unexpectedly, exceptionally wary when in foreign parts. A couple of non-birders we met were using the tour operators trips rather than organising their own. They fancied a trip to one of the quieter beaches. We offered to "guide" them and, sharing the cost of a taxi, where better than Morjim Beach?
Whilst the other three took to their sunbeds, I wandered off to a much quieter spot and got on with my photography !
There were no gulls or terns roosting at high tide but there were good numbers of waders. Mainly Kentish Plovers
Kentish Plover © David Williams

Greater Sand Plover
Greater Sand Plover © David Williams

and the sometimes camera shy Lesser Sand Plover
Sand Plover © David Williams

I was delighted to find 4 Small Pratincole, nothing compared to the flock of 600-700 I found elsewhere last year, but they were very cooperative!
Small Pratincole © David Williams

I was also delighted to find two Little Stints, a species that I hadn't got any decent shots of. They were proving rather elusive. I sat myself down at the edge of the water and hoped they might wander my way. My heart sank when I spotted an herd of cattle coming towards me. Yes, cattle are beach regulars in India. They graze the garbage deposited by the tide. They might push the stints towards me, but disappointingly they flew off instead. Hang on a minute, there were Cattle Egrets following the herd and I was in a good position to photograph them as they seemed unaware of my presence. Before I knew it I was sat in the middle of the passing herd and I got , what I believe, is my best shot of the trip. Whist still making the bird the centre piece of the shot, I have managed to get a significant part and an in focus shot of the beast as well! Pure luck of course, but you need a bit of that.
Cattle Egret © David Williams

When I first looked at the shot I was disappointed to see the plastic bottle but on further consideration, it is very much part of India. The cows are there for the rubbish. Plastic, sadly, is the blight of India. It's everywhere you go. The rivers are their garbage disposal units and it all flows out to sea. Very, very worrying for the long term future of our planet and oceans.
Oh well, at least I got my shot.

My other photographic ventures away from the Marinha Dourada took me to the causeway by Baga bridge, an excellent spot to photograph Long-tailed Shrike
Long-tailed Shrike © David Williams

and Pied Bushchat
Pied Bushchat © David Williams

and there is a nice little pond for Herons and Egrets and the odd Swallow, in this case Wire-tailed, having a drink
Wire-tailed Swallow © David Williams

Another advantage of the Marinha Dourada hotel is it's proximity to Arpora and Baga woods, and along the Baga hill you can get to the rock pools at Anjuna.

Baga Woods are being built in. The road infrastructure has been there for some time and last year proved an excellent viewing spot. This year the building has taken effect. The old palm tree that was a regular nesting spot for Alexandrine Parakeet chopped down, presumably for fire wood for the builders but worst of all, the tarmac road has become their toilet. The stench is disgusting and didn't encourage me to hang around. It's a constant problem when wandering in populated areas in India and for me, I just try and avoid them. More ardent birders are prepared to put up with the extreme likely hood of, if not stepping in some, at least planting your tripod foot in a deposit. Yuk.... yuk, yuk. For this reason, and the fact that woodland photography is difficult and frustrating at the best of times, I didn't bother visiting Arpora woods at all as I know there is building going on there too.

Instead I walked the open hill towards Anjuna. The hilltop, having been scoured by a bulldozer in preparation for a road has, having seemingly been abandoned for the time being, recovered and is now quite overgrown and finding the path, if you are new to the area, difficult. At the height of the day, the heat can be intense and birds few. However, being the only person around gave me the confidence to try "Pishing". I don't know what you are supposed to do. No one has ever done so in my presence, no doubt because it's embarrassing! Anyway, Blyth's Reed Warblers are omnipresent but elusive. What the hell, give it a go I thought and to my surprise and delight out popped the bird to investigate!
Not a good shot buy a landmark achievement!
Blyth's Reed Warbler © David Williams

On to the headland and I was greeted with the site of Black Kites, this time circling the rubbish dumped over the cliff. Sacrilege in such a beautiful spot but without it there would have been no Kites to shoot!
Black Kite © David Williams

Down in the rock pools there was no sign of the usual Reef Heron, in fact for the first time I didn't see the species anywhere on my trip. There was a single Common Sandpiper that offered excellent views though.
Common Sandpiper © David Williams

My favourite photo for the walk though was this, not a bird but a couple of Dragonfly which I presume are attempting their own version of the Mile High Club. Again, trying to focus on tiny fast moving subjects is very hard and an huge element of luck is involved, plus of course time, patience, and muscle power after a while too!
© David Williams

With our first 12 nights nearly over, I was pretty happy that I had a couple of decent shots in the bag. My trip list at that stage is unknown, probably about 75, maybe less. I wasn't too bothered. I had spent quality time with Claire and the birding was secondary. On some days I didn't even go out with the camera so, with one evening left I wandered the lagoons for a final time. I wished I'd done it more often when, at last I got some Kingfisher in flight shots. Kingfishers are common in the area but since the lagoons have flooded their perches have been washed away and getting them on camera is more difficult. The speed of flight and their size doesn't help either, once again Lady Luck was on my side!
Common Kingfisher © David Williams

The icing on the cake was an Osprey hunting! It circled the lagoons and dived several times. I was able to get lots of flight shots in different poses. Sadly, the bird didn't catch dinner that evening so the coveted shots of it emerging with it's prize wasn't to be. However, I thought I'd share this instead.
Osprey © David Williams

The Osprey needs huge wings to give it the lift, not only to carry it's prey but the increased weight of it's soaking body. Once airborne it needs to loose that excess water ASAP. Shaking like a dog, this magnificent bird looks somewhat different, especially when it sulks off empty handed!

Ah well, that was the first part of our holiday over.

Contd. Page 2

Edited by: Sumit K Sen on 25/04/2011
Original post appears at
North Wales Birding Forum

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