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Dholes, Feni and birds - McCann and Jones do Goa.

Posted by on January 20, 2013 7:14 PM | 

Spotted Owlet - Goa - 031212 - 01d.jpg

Thanks to Ralph Jones for this excellent trip report and pix relating his expedition to Goa with Eugene McCann.
I have to say, any trip report which contains such thorough gen on beer and local hooch should be embraced as the way forward by all sensible birders.
Over to the boys...

GOA, INDIA, 26/11/12 to 9/12/12

Straight forward flight from Manchester to Dabolim, Goa with Eugene McCann arriving at the Hotel Palmahindra, Calangute around 2am. First bird was a House Sparrow hmmm! Several large Scotches and a kip and we had breakfast at 10.30. After a shower it was time to catch up with some of the Goan birds. Feeling the heat and humidity we walked a nearby side road and started sorting out some of the more common birds, House Crow, Brahminy Kite, Indian Pond Heron, Asian Openbill till we hit a bar for our first Kingfisher of the trip, bottles of Kingfisher beer at around 70 pence a pint.

Brahminy Kite - Goa - 031212 - 01a.jpg

Brahminy Kite

Eugene and the Kingfishersx.jpg

McCann genning up on Kingfishers

The walk back produced a mix of familiar Western Pal and Indian birds and we ended our first day with 34 species.

Took a taxi to Morjim Beach (also known as Turtle Beach). First bird on arrival was Clamorous Reed Warbler, verily a warbler on steroids! White-bellied Sea Eagle, Palm Swift and Brahminy Starling soon followed.

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White Bellied Sea Eagle

Looking at the waders, we saw a mixed group of Greater and Lesser Sand Plover and Kentish Plover. Arrived at Chapora River mouth to find the the gulls and terns roosting on a distant sandbank.
Not used to haggling, we paid a boatman his asking price to take us over to the sandbank (about £5) and saw Brown-headed Gulls, Greater and Lesser Crested Terns plus Heuglin's and Caspian Gulls.
We called into the Hotel Beira Mar at Baga on our way back seeing our first Greater Coucal among others birds.
Met up with Rayman, who was to be our guide on our return from Backwoods Camp and made arrangements to meet him at 6am on the 2nd Dec. Species list now 66.

We were collected from our hotel at 5.15am for our stay at Backwoods Camp in the Bhagwan Mahaveer National Park.
Just before we entered the Park we stopped at a school house at first light and our guide was pointing out birds all around us at an astonishing rate!
Eugene soon picked up a Heart-spotted Woodpecker and Rufous Woodpecker.
Arrived at the camp and dropped off our bags and we were back out for our first walk in the forest, picking up Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Drongos, Orioles, White-bellied Woodpecker, Black-rumped Flameback and loads else.

Sri Lanka Frogmouth - Goa - 301112 - 01ax.jpg

Sri Lankan Frogmouth

Accommodation at the camp was a chalet and we met some of the residents who were sharing our room such as Tree Frogs hopping all over the place and Giant Forest Spiders.
We settled into a routine of 3 walks a day with superb tasty food and the inevitable bottles of Kingfisher.

Day 2 at Backwoods and our first attempt to find Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher.
Saw Blue-eared Kingfisher, Malabar Trogan, Greater Flameback and Rufous-bellied Eagle.
A superb Indian Blue Robin which was very elusive at first, eventually came out for us to get a great view, fantastic bird!
Raptor watching in the afternoon and we were delighted with Booted Eagle, Oriental Honey-buzzard, White-eyed Buzzard, Black Eagle.
Brown-backed Needle-tail was a great find which, at first, we saw flying overhead but soon one came right down and buzzed passed us with a loud rush of wings.
On the walk back to through the forest, we came upon 10 to 15 Gaur (Indian Bison). Upon the advice of Loven, our guide, we gave these guys a wide berth, they can be very aggressive and weigh a ton apiece!
Ended the day with a stake-out for Jerdon's Nightjar which we got good views of by torchlight.

Day 3 at Backwoods and we got one of our main targets which was Grey Junglefowl. What a magnificent creature!

Grey Junglefowl - Goa - 301112 - 01ax.jpg

Grey Junglefowl

Also saw Red Spurfowl and the lovely named Little Spiderhunter.
Late in the day and deep in the forest, we became aware of an alarm going through the forest, animal and bird alarm calls and general uneasiness.
Suddenly a Sambar (large deer) broke through the bush nearby pursued by 2 Dhole (wild dogs).
We continued until we reached a river bank and about 50 yards downstream we saw the Dhole again. Now they were 4 and had brought down and killed the Sambar and were busy tearing into its underbelly.

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Dhole dining

The Dhole were aware of us but continued pulling out intestines and offal.
After a while 2 of the dogs left their kill and approached us on the river bank growling to warn us away.
Upon the advice of our guide, Loven, we collected a quantity of pebbles to throw if the dogs attacked but seeing there were 4 of us they went back to their kill.
I wonder what would have happened to a lone person!

Left Backwoods and headed for Bondla, one of the main forest sanctuaries, arriving at first light.
A superb mornings bird watching pushed our species total to 172 with such birds as Blue-capped Rock Thrush, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Streak-throated Swallow, Lorten's Sunbird, Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker.

Blue-capped Rock Thrush - Goa - 011212 - 01a.jpg

Blue Capped Rock Thrush

Still looking for Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher and no luck after several attempts.
Dropped off back at our hotel in Calangute.
I have to say we had a fantastic time at Backwoods with superb food, lovely staff, skilled guides and would highly recommend a visit, it was great value.

Collected at 6am by Rayman for a visit to Carambolim Lake.
First bird was Brown Hawk Owl and we continued seeing a mixture of familiar birds and Indian specialities throughout.
Eugene picked out four, Spot-billed Duck, which was a great find and we saw Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas.
Non birdie highlights were a large crocodile (Marsh Mugger) and thousands of fruit bats. Species total 208

First stop with Rayman was Fort Aguada were we got stonking views of Spotted Owlet (see pic at top of entry).
Continued to several sites picking up Nilgiri Wood Pigeon and Great Spotted Eagle.
A search for Brown Fish Owl drew a blank but we were amply compensated when Rayman put us onto an Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher.

Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher - Goa - 031212 - 01a.jpg

Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher

What a fantastic bird and maybe the main target for the trip.
Rayman worked hard to find us birds and once he had found a bird then worked harder to find us the best spot to see and photograph the birds.
His skills in picking out birds left us in awe!
Species total now 216

Boat trip up the Zuari river and we quickly saw Collared, Belted and Black-capped Kingfishers to complete the full set of 8 Goan Kingfishers.
Best bird of the morning was Slaty-breasted Rail, along with Lesser Adjutant, crocs, fruit bats made for a great morning finishing up with Dusky Crag Martin perched on the Konkan Bridge as we disembarked from the boat.

Slaty-breasted Rail - Goa - 041212 - 01ax.jpg

Slaty Breasted Rail

After siesta we were out again for a visit to Divar Island.
Pied, Pallid and Montague's Harriers put on a great show and we picked up the elusive Bay-backed Shrike.

Bay-backed Shrike - Goa - 071212 - 03ax.jpg

Bay Backed Shrike

First stop this morning was the Dona Paula Plateau and we were soon looking at a superbly camouflaged Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark, one becoming four as they flew.

Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark - Goa - 051212 - 01ax.jpg

Ashy Crowned Sparrow Lark

Blyth's, Long-bellied, Paddyfield and Richard's Pipit were also seen.
On to Santa Cruz, with a mixture of wetland habits.
Watercock was a good find by Rayman. We had a very brief view of Painted-snipe taking cover at the edge of a rice paddy.

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Painted Snipe

A small boy was sent to walk along the bank and we soon had good views as it emerged and decided to spend five minutes preening.
The small boy was rewarded with 150 rupees by two delighted birders!
Cinnamon Bittern and Painted Stork completed another fantastic morning's bird watching.
The late afternoon session was to Siloam and saw Yellow-wattled Lapwing.

Mayen Lake was the object of this mornings birding with nice views of Changeable Hawk Eagle. Grey Nightjar and Brown Wood Owl with other lovely birds.

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Grey Nightjar

After siesta it was on to Saligo.
We were lucky to get Indian (Lesser) Spotted Eagle and Greater Spotted Eagle in the air together and Rayman gave me and Eugene an i.d. master class.
We caught up with Brown Fish Owl which we had missed earlier in the trip.
Found a small stream trickling through the thick forest and watched many birds coming in for an evening tipple among which we saw our first Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, Nilgiri Blackbird (split from Eurasian Blackbird) and Tawny-bellied Babbler.

Quick visit to Apora Forest produced Pale-bellied Flowerpecker.
We decided to return to Morjim Beach as we had not seen one of our main trip targets: Pallas's Gull.
Onto a boat and we were dropped off onto a sandbank were the gulls were roosting.
We were soon onto two Pallas's Gulls and in keeping with seeing the exotic along with the familiar, a Sandwich Tern!

Pallas's Gull - Goa - 071212 - 01ax.jpg

Pallas's Gull (Great Black Headed sounded better - JD)

Ralph and Raynman digiscoping Pallas's Gullx.jpg

Ralph and Rayman catching up with Pallas's Gull

Returned to Bondla as we felt there were further birds to be got.
Rayman collected us at 4.45am and we were there before first light.
Straight away we had Oriental Scops Owl oh wow!

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Blue Bearded Bee-eater

Then Blue-bearded Bee-eater (wow again!) completed the Goan bee-eater set.
A second Rufous-bellied Eagle gave lovely views and Rayman found us a Blue-faced Malkoha which confirmed what we already knew: that this man was at the very top of the game when it came to Goan bird watching!

We were missing one very major target for Goa and that was Indian Pitta.
So, as this was our last day, we asked Rayman to find us one.
Soon we were back at Apora Woods where we had dipped the Pitta the day before yesterday.
This time as we reached the woods there was a Pitta picked up clearly in the headlights of the car.
We were able to get out of the car and get a reasonable view before it disappeared back into the forest, big cheesy grins all round.
Rayman, not one to rest on his laurels, immediately heard Jungle Owlet, so it was back in the car and a very short drive had us seeing the Owlet up in a tree.
Rayman decided it would stay put until we had enough light for some photos and so it proved!

Jungle Owlet - Goa - 091212 - 01aax.jpg

Jungle Owlet

Things could not get better on our last day, nor could it?
Back to Siolim and there in front of us was a River Tern! Wow in spades!
This was one longed for bird that we thought was not possible.
Would this be our last lifer? Not quite.
Just ready to pack up when Rayman called Pied Cuckoo.
This was to be our only cuckoo of the trip.
Said our goodbyes to Rayman at the hotel.
Had a long wait at the hotel for our transfer to the airport so we went to the Beira Mar hotel for a meal and beers.
Just as night was falling we had our last lifer Alexandrine Parakeet.
Then saw a second Cinnamon Bittern and finally a Barn Owl. Home to cold and ice!

Notes on Goa
We used "Birds Of The Indian Subcontinent" and the abridged version "Birds of Southern India", Grimmett and Inskipp published by Helm. Also very useful was "Finding Birds in North Goa" by Dave Gooney. We visited Nov/Dec which is Indian winter (but very hot and humid by our standards). We booked a three star hotel with flights and transfers Manchester to Dabolim for about £750p.p. through Thomas Cook Airtours. We bought bottles of Kingfisher beer at around 80p a pint in bars or 40p a can in off-licences. Feni, distilled from Cashew Nuts, is the local, very potent, very cheap, spirit. Eugene said it tasted like whiskey but I think that is just a reflection on the whiskey he drinks!
Exchange rate was around 86 rupees to a pound UK.
If taking a taxi, agree a price beforehand. Haggling for a discount for a service is considered normal. If you give money to beggars you will be remembered and hassled. We made friends with curious local people by letting them use our binos or putting the scope on birds and letting them have a look.
We arranged to be at our first site of the day before dawn at 6am and birded until about 11am and then took a break for the hottest and quietest part of the day, starting again at 3pm until dark at 6pm.
We both had a tremendous time and would have no hesitation in recommending Goa as a birding destination or indeed just somewhere to escape our British winter. Some Brits go over for six months at a time and I have to say, if I was retired, I would be over there like a shot!

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Black Shouldered Kite

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Blue Tailed Bee-eater

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Brown Wood Owl

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Brown Breasted Flycatcher

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Oriental Magpie Robin

Species List
Red Spurfowl, Grey Junglefowl, Indian Peafowl, Lesser Whistling-duck, Ruddy Shelduck, Cotton Pygmy-goose, Eurasian Wigeon, Spot-bellied Duck, Common Teal, Garganey, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveller, Speckled Piculet, Rufous Woodpecker, White-bellied Woodpecker, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Common Flameback, Black-rumped Flameback, Greater Flameback, Brown-headed Barbet, White-cheeked Barbet, Crimson-fronted Barbet, Coppersmith Barbet, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Common Hoopoe, Malabar Trogon, Indian Roller, Common Kingfisher, Blue-eared Kingfisher, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Stork-billed Kingfisher, White-throated Kingfisher, Black-capped Kingfisher, Collared Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Green Bee-eater, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater. Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Pied Cuckoo, Asian Koel, Blue-faced Malkoha, Greater Coucal, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Alexandrine Parakeet, Plum-headed Parakeet, Malabar Parakeet, Brown-backed Needletail, Asian Palm Swift, House Swift, Crested Treeswift, Barn Owl, Oriental Scops Owl, Brown Fish Owl, Brown Wood Owl, Jungle Owlet, Spotted Owlet, Brown Hawk Owl, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Grey Nightjar, Jerdon's Nightjar, Rock Pigeon, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Oriental Turtle Dove, Spotted Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Pompadour Green Pigeon, Slay-breasted Rail, White-breasted Waterhen, Watercock, Purple Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Common Coot, Pintail Snipe, Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Common Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Little Stint, Temminck's Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Greater Painted-snipe, Black-winged Stilt, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Bronze-winged Jacana, Small Pratincole, Pacific Golden Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Red-wattled Lapwing, Caspian Gull, Heuglin's Gull, Pallas's Gull, Brown-headed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Caspian Tern, River Tern, Lesser Crested Tern, Great Crested Tern, Sandwich Tern, Whiskered Tern, Osprey, Black-shouldered Kite, Black Kite, Brahminy Kite, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Black Eagle, Eurasian Marsh Harrier, Pied Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Shikra, Oriental Honey-buzzard, White-eyed Buzzard, Common Buzzard, Indian Spotted Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle, Booted Eagle, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Common Kestrel, Eurasian Hobby, Peregrine Falcon, Little Grebe, Darter, Little Cormorant, Indian Cormorant, Little Egret, Western Reef Egret, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Cattle Egret, Indian Pond Heron, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Striated (Little) Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Cinnamon Bittern, Glossy Ibis, Black-headed Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Painted Stork, Asian Openbill, Woolly-necked Stork, Lesser Adjutant, Indian Pitta, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Blue-winged Leafbird, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Jerdon's Leafbird, Brown Shrike, Bay-backed Shrike, Long-tailed Shrike, Rufous Treepie, House Crow, Large-billed Crow, Ashy Woodswallow, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Black-naped Oriole, Black-hooded Oriole, Large Cuckooshrike, Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Small Minivet, Scarlet Minivet, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, White-throated Fantail, White-browed Fantail, Black Drongo, Ashy Drongo, White-bellied Drongo, Bronzed Drongo, Spangled Drongo, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Black-naped Monarch, Asian Paradise-flycatcher, Common Iora, Large Woodshrike, Common Woodshrike, Blue-capped Rock Thrush, Blue Rock Thrush, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Orange-headed Thrush, Nilgiri Blackbird, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Verditer Flycatcher, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, Bluethroat, Indian Blue Robin, Oriental Magpie Robin, White-rumped Shama, Indian Robin, Siberian Stonechat, Pied Bushchat, Grey-headed Starling, Malabar White-headed Starling, Brahminy Starling, Rosy Starling, Common Myna, Jungle Myna, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Black-lored Tit, Dusky Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, Wire-tailed Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Streak-throated Swallow, Northern House Martin, Grey-headed Bulbul, Flame-throated Bulbul, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Red-vented Bulbul, Yellow-throated Bulbul, White-browed Bulbul, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Square-tailed Black Bulbul, Plain Prinia, Ashy Prinia, Zitting Cisticola, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Booted Warbler, Common Tailorbird, Common Chiffchaff, Greenish Warbler, Western Crowned Warbler, Puff-throated Babbler, Tawny-bellied Babbler, Dark-fronted Babbler, Common Babbler, Jungle Babbler, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark, Greater Short-toed Lark, Malabar Lark, Oriental Skylark, Thick-billed Flowerpecker, Pale-billed Flowerpecker, Plain Flowerpecker, Purple-rumped Sunbird, Crimson-backed Sunbird, Purple Sunbird, Loten's Sunbird, Little Spiderhunter, House Sparrow, Chestnut-shouldered Petronia, Forest Wagtail, White Wagtail, White-browed Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Richard's Pipit, Paddyfield Pipit, Blyth's Pipit, Long-billed Pipit, Tree Pipit, Baya Weaver, White-rumped Munia, Black-throated Munia, Scaly-breasted Munia, Black-headed Munia, Black-headed Bunting, Red-headed Bunting

281 Species

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Striped Tiger

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Blue Mormon

Black-faced Langur, Pale-faced Langur, Malabar Giant Squirrel, Five Striped Palm Squirrel, Dhole, Gaur, Brown Rat, Ruddy Mongoose, Grey Mongoose, Spotted Deer, Sambar, Fruit Bat.
Only one snake, which we believe was Red Snake.

Sounds pretty good to me.
Eyes to the skies everyone, eyes to the skies...


Wow, amazing birding guys, and to think I was excited by a garden first today – a nice male imm Brambling on the table in my Marshside garden.

Great report from Ralph (and Eugene). Those mere mortals like myself who don't normally venture further than the garden gate have to make do with closer locales. This being the case Mrs G and myself spent the last two days at Martin Mere. On Monday we virtually had the place to ourselves in the snow; even the cafe staff didn't make it in!
The birds still had a living to make though so we had the pleasure of close views of Ruff from the Swan Link Hide and also Raines Observatory where a Lapwing joined them and was mooching about by the window. The Janet Kear Hide produced a couple of Treecreepers, and a single Brambling was also about. Redwings were rooting about for worms on the other side of the fence on the way down to Raines Observatory .
Tuesday produced a nice Goldcrest and more Redwings. At about 11.30 a Common Crane landed on the path to the Harrier Hide and wandered off into one of the ditches, much to the consternation of many! A Fieldfare is providing everyone with good views in the disabled car park, guarding an apple tree with what looks like a single apple on it!

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