Monday, December 12, 2011

The Other Goa

Goa…golden sands, sapphire blue waters, lazy siestas, river cruises, adventure sports... When I say ‘Goa’, is this the vision that is conjured up in your mind’s eye? I don’t blame you! I had the same impression of Goa, before I signed up for Nature India’s ‘Romance with Birds & Butterflies’ trip to India’s smallest state in the first week of December. Birdwatching? What birds (or butterflies for that matter) could possibly find beaches alluring?

I was amazed when I was handed the list of birds found in Goa. More than 400 species and many of them endemic to the Western Ghats. And surprised that Goa has two major wildlife reserves – the Bhagwan Mahaveer and the Bondla sanctuaries.

We were put up at Nature’s Nest or The Canopy. The resort near the Bhagwan Mahaveer WLS, literally ‘nestles’ in rolling acres of green, with rustic cottages set amidst swaying coconut palms and betel nut trees with pepper vines winding around them. Lots of hibiscus bushes with flowers in every colour ranging from pale pink to deep red provide a touch of flaming colour. And shocking pink ‘powder puff’ flowers abounded, with crimson-backed and purple sunbirds creating a racket among them. It was marvellous to wake up to the ‘plink-plink’ of dew falling on the tin roof and the melodious warbling of the Malabar whistling thrush, instead of the honking of cars and the screeching of brakes. The experience of stepping out of the cottage into a world of swirling white mist is indescribable.

A welcome drink of sweet ‘n’ sour kokum sherbet and an introduction to Pankaj Lad, the young ‘n’ lively owner of the resort and then it was on to our home away from home for the next four days. An odd number of women in the group meant that like in Kutch, I had a cottage to myself (J). Nothing to beat not having to share…!

Adesh said that we would see six species of kingfishers in Goa and sure enough, during our late afternoon bird walk after a cup of piping hot ginger chai, we saw the blue-eared kingfisher! The striking crimson-fronted barbet was another bonus. Not to be confused with the crimson-breasted or coppersmith barbet, the cfb has a complete vermillion halo around its face and its call is not the loud, metallic ‘thunk, thunk, thunk’ of the csb but a softer, more continuous ‘thunk’.

The night walk proved to be amazing. After trudging through waist-high dried grass and stumbling over rocks, we entered a kind of open plateau, where NI said we would spot the Jerdon’s nightjar and the Indian grey nightjar. As we plonked down to wait, the sharp beam of the flashlight soon picked out the glinting eyes of a grey nightjar sitting motionless on a stump. Yessss!! What a fantastic view through the spotting scope – one could see the streaking clearly. The bird was completely frozen in place giving the shutterbugs (oh, why are there always so many of them??) a golden chance to get some close-ups.

Then back for a good night’s sleep in time to rise early for our visit to the Bondla Sanctuary. A lovely, lovely time was had, especially stopping in the woods for a hearty feast of omelette-pav/kande pohe, bananas and hot tea! Could one ask for more than breakfast with birds and butterflies? Wished I could do this everyday of my life J. Sighhhh! L

On the way to the reserve, NI (and Pankaj) kept searching for the Malabar trogon. They said they heard the call but of the bird there was no sign. We did see other birds including the white-cheeked barbet (another endemic of the WG), a bounty of bulbuls including the crimson-throated bulbul (the state bird of Goa), the white-browed bulbul and the yellow-browed bulbul (not forgetting those ‘common’ red-vented and the yellow-vented bulbuls!). The Indian grey hornbill and the Malabar pied hornbill, the hoopoe, shrikes…

Behind the forest restaurant where we had lunch, was a pipe spewing waste water – no, don’t wrinkle your nose – it was a happy hunting ground for gaggles of jungle babblers and believe it or not, the orange-headed ground thrush! There was a mongoose which had its lair nearby and a crimson-backed sunbird had built its tiny nest on a shrub just below the window of the restaurant. Then! What should we see but…the Malabar trogon!! First the female and then the ‘more beautiful’ male (quote Adesh!). Wow! We just couldn’t take our eyes off and I was transported back to Eaglenest where we saw Ward’s trogon. Then, too, we were all falling over each other for a glimpse!

We also saw the vernal hanging parrot having an upside-down meal of flowers and berries and the pied flycatcher shrike.

The trogon was the high point of the day. We were too tired to go on a night trail, but Adesh showed us three little tailorbirds sleeping on a twig overhung by a banana leaf! Snug as a bug in a rug! They had their eyes tight shut and looked like balls of fluff. He also showed us a sleeping brown shrike…it seems birds lock their talons around the branch to avoid falling off.

The next day, it was off to another sanctuary, the Bhagwan Mahaveer WLS. On the way, we stopped off to see – the Sri Lanka frogmouth. Yesss…NI had discovered a pair in roosting in the thick grass of the scrubland we had visited earlier for the nightjars. We went one by one very quietly and there they were – the larger brown female and the slightly smaller grey male! They gazed back at us with unblinking, great yellow eyes. The wide mouth was edged with bristles. A rare sighting because at this time of the year, frogmouths are not very vocal. Thumbs up to NI, tick bites notwithstanding, for taking the trouble to discover the spot and show us the birds.

The Mahaveer WLS was a revelation because one doesn’t realise that a substantial part of the Western Ghats, which as NI frequently emphasised, is a biodiversity hotspot (one among 25 all over the world), lies in southern Goa, contiguous with Karnataka. Known earlier as the Mollem Game Reserve, it was declared a sanctuary in 1969. Spread over 240 sq km, the sanctuary is home to a number of bird and animal species. We saw the greater racket-tailed drongo, peacocks, the white-breasted swamphen, the Indian pitta, the pompadour green pigeon and the Asian paradise flycatcher, in all his white-tailed glory.

A glimpse of the jungle owlet (almost a Pandharpuri sighting!), the grey wagtail and the large pied wagtail, and the Blyth’s reed warbler.

There were so many large and small streams and patches of water all over that it was possible to sight warblers, thrushes, tits and kingfishers as well as waders like redshanks and sandpipers almost everywhere.

The third day, early in the morning, we saw the Siberian stonechat, the thick-billed flowerpecker, the rufous treepie (Adesh chided me for not recognising it despite ‘it being my 13th trip with Nature India’!), the hanging parrot once more, the Malabar starling, and ashy woodswallows a-plenty. Neha, on her first such trip, remarked that there were so many ‘Malabar this’ and ‘Malabar that’ she expected to land on ‘Malabar hill’ pretty soon J.

The last day drew near (as all good things must come to an end). We were to go on the Zuari river cruise and then later to Maina lake for a festival of waders. Because of the sudden spring tide, the boat could not carry all of us at one go. and we got split into two groups (below 50 in one and above 50 in the other!!). So the group I was in visited Maina lake first and the Zuari cruise came later. On the way to the lake with Adesh, we stopped to see black drongos, the Indian roller, the grey heron, scarlet minivet (spotted by our driver Brian), white eyed buzzard, streak throated munias and small green bee-eaters. At the lake awaited huge flocks of lesser whistling teals, marsh sandpipers, green and redshanks, cotton pygmy geese, ringed plovers, grey heron, purple heron and purple moorhens. The lake was covered with water lilies. What a serene setting near a church… Terns, lapwings and whimbrels…wherever one turned, there was a wader engaged in a busy quest for food, or just standing and staring!

The sojourn on the river Zuari was breathtaking to say the least. Miles and miles of clear, pellucid green water, with lush mangroves on the either shore…not only did we see six species of kingfisher as Nature India had promised, we saw some amazing night herons, the osprey, brahminy kites, and the white-bellied sea eagle. First, the not-so-common common kingfisher, then the very common white-breasted kingfisher, the stork-billed…then the black-capped kingfisher with its ink-blue feathers, and best of all, the collared kingfisher, which Mr.Kamath our guide said was elusive, but which we sighted out in the open! The only kingfisher we didn’t see was the oriental dwarf.

As we neared the shore, a flying fish leaped up to add to the list of the other ‘winged’ creatures we had seen so far – the ornate flying snake and the flying lizard!

So ended a cruise which I wished would go on forever…a fitting finale to a fantastic experience of a Goa I never knew existed…the other Goa of verdant green forests and beautiful birds and oh, I completely forgot… the butterflies! Cheers, anyway, for Nature India and for the wonderful group that I was part of – the Georges, the Sarvaiyas, Neha, Sucharita, Dr. Sumukh Deodhar and Dr.Rajeev Joshi, Subbu, Santosh of the absolutely amazing voice (he put up a mini-concert of old songs for us one night), Sandeep, Shobha, Nilima, Pankaj, Ramesh the snake-man, Brian and of course our inimitable duo of Adesh and Mandar with whom I have discovered so much of the wonder that is wild India in a short span of three years!

Best of all I am going to kick off 2012 with what I am sure will be another amazing NI trip – to the Great Rann of Kutch…


  1. Nice little memoirs of the wonderful trip to goa...the lovely sight of the malabar trogon, frogmouths and of course the sight of the osprey with a fish on the zuari river cruise....
    thanks for this lovely write up.


  2. Hi,

    Wonderful trip report... Thank you so much... I am adding it to

    Pankaj Lad