wagtail

South Goa - Birding November 2011

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South Goa - Birding November 2011

This report is certainly not of a safari typically found on this wonderful website but is an account of my wildlife sightings made during a package holiday to South Goa in November 2011. The report is primarily aimed at birders that venture to Goa but invariably restrict their trips to North Goa where lots of birding information is readily available and numerous bird guides and taxi drivers that are willing to take you to the well-known birding sites.

 

This two week holiday was based in Cavelossim in South Goa staying at the Dona Sylvia Resort and was booked through Thomas Cook holidays (6th-20th November 2011). Prior to the holiday I searched for birding information for South Goa but unfortunately it was very hard to find compared with North Goa, I did however find the following reports that I found very useful:

I hope that this report will complement the reports mentioned above and provide some information for birders that might want a blend of beach holiday and birding.

 

First of all I must stress that this was primarily NOT a birding trip but was a holiday taken with my wife and our good friends Malcolm and Marjorie James. Both Malcolm and I are fairly keen birders with a general interest in all kinds of wildlife, and fortunately we both have ‘fairly understanding’ wives. We had been on package holidays to North Goa in 2004 and 2007 and they had included lots of birding and so this time we were not out to bag a massive bird list but to enjoy a relaxing holiday, the wildlife in general and hopefully grab some decent pictures and so we didn’t waste time on birds that didn’t want to show or the LBJs.

 

Birding around Cavelossim was mainly restricted to early morning from first light (c6.15 a.m.) until around 9 a.m. and a couple of late afternoon sessions near the hotel. We also visited the relatively well known sites of Chandranath Hill, Velim Lake and Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary.

 

Overall Impressions

South Goa was fantastic, with beautiful scenery, wonderful people, much quieter than the North but you will have to find your own birds.

 

Heaven!!!!!

 

Getting around was considerably more expensive than I remembered from 2007 in North Goa, I remember hiring a taxi for a full day in 2007 for 12-1500 rupees. In Cavelossim this was around 3,800 rupees albeit in a much more comfortable 7 seater a/c vehicle. It seems fuel prices have hit the Indians as well as us Brits! (At the time of our visit the exchange rate was about 80 rupees = £1)

I don’t believe that any of the taxi drivers in Cavelossim have carried many birders before however we regularly used a driver from outside the Dona Sylvia hotel called Babu who proved to be an excellent choice. He was a very pleasant, careful driver with a good sense of humour and he quickly tuned in to the tourist/birders needs and would stop whenever requested. He quickly began to realise which birds we would be interested in and stopped when he saw something unusual even before we had seen it. I would have no hesitation in using him again and he would be a good start for anybody new to South Goa since he now knows some of the sites. We even set him a personal challenge of learning a new bird every day!

 

The birding proved to be surprisingly good with personal favourites being a Cinnamon Bittern; several Woolly-necked Storks, Lesser Adjutants, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Grey Junglefowl and Blue-faced Malkohas. The area was much wetter than I had expected with a good selection of water birds. For those that don’t know the area have a look on Google Earth and you will find that there is a 15 mile long beach stretching from Velsao in the north to Mobor in the south where it finishes at the mouth of the river Sal. Cavelossim is about two miles north of the river mouth. The river sweeps round the back of Mobor and Cavelossim before turning inland leaving Cavelossim sandwiched between the ocean and the river. To the seaward side of the village is a half-mile wide area of sandy dune scattered with shrubs and taller trees; to the river side of Cavelossim the land is farmed with rice being the dominant crop. The River Sal has a large fishing industry with just about everybody in the area that is not farming involved in fishing in one way or another; either fishing at sea, on the river, collecting shellfish, or working on the many shrimp ponds.

 

Despite the abundance of fish being unloaded on the quayside, sold on every street corner or laid out to dry there were virtually NO GULLS or TERNS! We found this really surprising; during the two weeks we were there we saw only two Gull Billed Terns at the mouth of the river and on another occasion very, very distant views of perhaps 20 gulls and c10 terns following just one of the many fishing boats that could always be seen out at sea. There were however many Black and Brahminy Kites and a few White-bellied Sea Eagles taking advantage of the discarded fish.

 

Apart from the huge numbers of kites and sea eagles raptors were generally quite scarce although we never really tried to be in suitable habitat at the best times of the day. Nevertheless we did come across Osprey, Pallid Harrier, Marsh Harrier, Black Eagle, Booted Eagle, Amur Falcon, Kestrel and Shikra.

 

However we did see many more non-avian types of wildlife than either of us remembered from North Goa. Monkeys were common with frequent sightings in the forests and roadside trees; we saw mongooses (mongeese?) on several occasions, Malabar Giant Squirrels in and around Cotigao; many Three-striped Squirrels, brief views of a Chital near Cotigao and most surprising of all, a party of four Indian Jackals just north of Cavelossim.

 

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Indian Jackal

 

We also saw many more snakes than we saw in North Goa, mainly water snakes that were found in almost every body of water, a couple of unidentified snakes in the undergrowth in Cotigao, and a fabulous green Vine Snake near Cotigao. The most frustrating sighting of all was not seen by us but by Babu. One morning he had dropped us off at the mouth of the River Sal so we could stroll back to the hotel along the beach, on his return back along the road to Cavelossim he had to stop until a basking King Cobra decided to move from the centre of the road – damn we must have missed it by no more than a few minutes, it could have been the photo opportunity of the trip!! Considering how fearful the Goans are of the snakes, we admired the fact that neither he, or the bus driver that also had to wait had not attempted to run over the snake until he explained that this was not necessarily out of consideration for the snake but past experience had taught him that the snake could easily have been wrapped around the wheels and then he would have to remove it….and they are not always dead!

 

Butterflies and dragonflies were everywhere and Cotigao had an abundance of interesting creepy crawlies. The highlights were a 9” long Tiger Centipede Scolopendra hardwickei and several Giant Millipedes. A few lizards were seen and frogs were also abundant.

 

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Tiger Centipede

 

So, where did we go?

Cavelossim Scrubland

We visited a number of sites around Cavelossim. The first was an area of dune scrub immediately north of the Dona Sylvia hotel and can easily be found on Google Earth. We visited this area four times, three early morning visits and one late afternoon. Leave the hotel at the seaward side and walk north along the beach for approximately 200 yards before taking a track at the back of the Lonely Place shack. Follow the path in a generally NE direction exploring the many bushes, trees and open areas. The area is scattered with small pools that were just about dried up when we visited but the ones that still held water were popular with birds coming to drink and bathe. You will eventually reach a narrow tarmac road that leads back to Cavelossim and provides an alternative way back to the hotels. The whole of this area was very productive and surely deserved more coverage than we gave it. Highlights were a Pallid Harrier, doubtless just passing through since we only saw it on one occasion, there were up to eight Yellow-wattled Lapwings always present in the dry grassy areas near the tarmac road; Blue-faced Malkoha, Orange-headed Thrush, Grey-headed Bulbul, Green and Blue-tailed Bee-eater, White-browed Bulbul, White-cheeked Barbet, Asian Koel, Rufous Treepie, Plum-headed Parakeet and Greater Coucal were regular in and around the dead trees near the tarmac road. We also saw a mongoose here on two occasions.

 

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Grey-headed Bulbul

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White-browed Bulbul

 

As stated before we didn’t waste much time on the LBG’s or birds that didn’t want to be photographed.

 

Cavelossim Rice Fields

Just to the north of Cavelossim (c100m past the large white church) there are two pools; a large one to the west of the road and a smaller one to the east. Mark Graham had given us directions to these and when he had been here in April he had good numbers of waders and most surprising of all a Black Bittern. Unfortunately the pools in November were full and held very little, just one Common Sandpiper, two Red-wattled Lapwings and Lesser Whistling Duck amongst a few egrets and one or two cormorants. However Mark had also said it might we worth exploring the tarmac road to the north side of the large pond (to the west of the main road). We followed this road for about half a mile and it proved an excellent decision. The road leads to a large electricity sub-station before turning left towards a small village. The road borders an area on its left hand side surrounded by a 5’ high glass-topped wall which an ex-pat told us was once a military shooting range and now appears to be an undisturbed wildlife wilderness and it was peering over this wall that we saw the family of Indian Jackals. I would have loved to climb the wall and explore the area more but thought better of it.

 

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Peafowl

 

We could see that the area had a steam running through it and several ponds, one of which gave close views of a Cinnamon Bittern just before dusk. Whilst trying to photograph the bittern two Woolly-necked Storks flew in to roost in the tall palm trees just inside the walled area. On the opposite side of the road is flat open farmland where the scope provided views of several bird species including Ashy Woodswallow, Indian Roller, Pied Bushchat, Indian Cuckoo, Long-tailed Shrike, larks, pipits, mynas a large flock of weavers and lots of Brahminy Starlings. On our second visit here we once again saw the two Woolly-necked Storks coming in to roost and at least nine Asian Openbills feeding in the fields (no Cinnamon Bittern this time though). We also watched five male Peafowl that took exception to a female Marsh Harrier. Every time the harrier landed in the grass the peacocks would raise their tail feathers and ‘charge’ at the harrier This went on for at least 20 minutes and we never did work out quite what was going on although it did appear that the peacocks were trying to drive away the harrier and the harrier seemed to be taunting the peacocks. We did see a peahen with chicks a couple of days later nearby so perhaps the peacocks were protecting a nest or young….curious.

 

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Peafowl Marsh Harrier

 

South Goa has scores of dogs and whilst watching the edges of these fields we noticed that the dogs were frequently disturbing a number of snipe from the wetter margins and the plain underwing of at least one suggesting Pintail Snipe.

 

Cavelossim Ferry Road

We travelled along this road on several occasions by taxi on the way to and from the ferry and I walked here some mornings as an alternative to the Lonely Place track described above. In the centre of Cavelossim take the road towards the ferry. The road soon passes through an area of rice fields which held a family of Bronze-winged Jacanas, White-breasted Waterhen, a family of Peafowl, Long-tailed Shrike, Shikra, Purple Heron, flocks of Scaly-breasted Munia and the usual herons and egrets. At the T-junction turn right towards the ferry and you soon reach a vast open area of farmland. Here I found hundreds of hirundines including Barn, Red-rumped, Wire-tailed and a few Streak-throated Swallows, several Indian Rollers on roadside wires, Black Drongos, Malabar Larks, Richard’s Pipit, Marsh Harriers and many herons and egrets leaving their riverside roosts.

 

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Red-rumped Swallow

 

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Red-rumped Swallow

 

 

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Malabar Lark

 

Mobor Beach and River Sal

The mouth of the River Sal is very reminiscent of Morjim Beach in North Goa but without the birds! That is perhaps a little unfair however when we were there gulls and terns were most definitely in short supply despite the abundance of fishing boats and feeding opportunities. There were however good numbers of Black and Brahminy Kites at the river mouth along with a couple of hundred Cattle Egrets, a couple of Western Reef herons and a couple of ever present White-bellied Sea Eagles. We visited the river mouth on three occasions by getting a taxi from the hotel to the end of the road. We walked the last ¼ mile to the river mouth, birded and dolphin watched for a while before strolling the two miles back along the beach to our hotel with the mandatory stop at a beach shack for a cooling Kingfisher beer along the way. A lovely way to spend the holiday, but not too productive for birds.

 

A few waders were seen however including a couple of Grey Plovers, Common Sandpipers, and small flocks of Kentish Plovers and Lesser Sandplovers. I am sure that timing was the key to this site since the make-up of the wader flocks were different on each of the three visits and so I expect that when not present here they were probably feeding on the river at low tide.

 

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Kentish Plover

 

Chandranath Hill

We had heard great things about Chandranath Hill and so we made an early visit one morning and it was only about 30-40 minutes from the hotel. We arrived at first light but we were probably there too early. It was very disappointing for the first hour with very few birds either seen or heard although the sunrise was very impressive. Eventually the birding improved but not as good as we had hoped, perhaps because we were not familiar enough with the bird calls. Most birds remained in deep cover however some that showed did give good views including Black-naped and Eurasian Golden Oriole, Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Chestnut-tailed Starling (Malabar White-headed Starling?), Crimson-backed Sunbird, Common Woodshrike, White-bellied Drongo, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta and Golden-fronted Leafbird.

 

We found it to be most productive around the smaller lower car park, the steps to the temple and walking back down the approach road.

 

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Indian Roller

 

Chandranath Hill

We had heard great things about Chandranath Hill and so we made an early visit one morning and it was only about 30-40 minutes from the hotel. We arrived at first light but we were probably there too early. It was very disappointing for the first hour with very few birds either seen or heard although the sunrise was very impressive. Eventually the birding improved but not as good as we had hoped, perhaps because we were not familiar enough with the bird calls. Most birds remained in deep cover however some that showed did give good views including Black-naped and Eurasian Golden Oriole, Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Chestnut-tailed Starling (Malabar White-headed Starling?), Crimson-backed Sunbird, Common Woodshrike, White-bellied Drongo, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta and Golden-fronted Leafbird.

 

We found it to be most productive around the smaller lower car park, the steps to the temple and walking back down the approach road.

 

River Sal River Trip

One of the most popular tourist trips in the area are the river trips that have many operators touting for business in the Cavelossim bars and hotels. Expect to pay about 450 rupees per person for a two – three hour early morning trip or 850 rupees for an all-day trip including meals and drinks. Whilst these are not specialist birding trips there are inevitably lots of birds to be seen. It was not as productive as a dedicated River Zuari trip but enjoyable all the same. I would recommend timing the trip with a low tide to ensure plenty of birds along the muddy fringes. We timed ours for high tide and probably missed lots!!! The usual trip goes first to the river mouth looking for dolphins and then sails up river for birds and the roosting fruit bats. Our birding highlights were a Black-capped Kingfisher on rocks near the river mouth, a perched White-bellied Sea Eagle just above the boat and passing under thousands of hirundines perched on electricity cables strung low over the river. There were inevitably hundreds of egrets, kingfishers (Common, White-throated, Stork-billed and Pied) kites, bee-eaters, cormorants and a single Osprey.

 

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Brahiminy Kite

 

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Brahiminy Kite

 

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White-bellied Eagle

 

Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary

Cotigao is Goa’s second largest wildlife sanctuary but I found it almost impossible to find any decent birding information. We first called in briefly as a diversion from the trip to nearby Palolem beach to recce the site to see if it was worth an early morning trip and to see if we could arrange a bird guide.

 

The sanctuary had lots of potential and we arranged to meet a guide there at 7a.m. a couple of days later. To be fair to the nature centre they did say that they didn’t have a specialist bird guide and unfortunately they were right!

 

We were picked up at the hotel by Babu at 6 a.m. in time to catch the first ferry at 6.15. Babu promised to get us to Cotigao at 7 and we arrived at exactly 7.am.after a speedy drive through some fabulous countryside that looked to have lots of birding potential.

 

We met our guide and quickly found that he could speak no English and that every movement in a tree was ‘a monkey’ even when we were enjoying excellent views of a Malabar Giant Squirrel!

We tried showing him pictures in our birdguide in the hope that he would take the hint and be able to guide us to roosting owls, raptors or anywhere that birds might be easily seen. No such luck. It became clear that he was probably more accustomed to guiding Indian tourists along the well-worn walking trails and was not able to provide us with the wildlife guiding skills we really needed. Typical of tropical forests the birds were very hard to find, when you did come across a feeding party they were usually very high in the canopy and difficult to see against the bright sky. Despite that we did manage excellent views of Racket-tailed Drongo, Scarlet Minivet, Yellow Browed Bulbul, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Pied Hornbill and Hoopoe.

 

Nevertheless Cotigao was enjoyable, there were snakes to be seen and an abundance of invertebrates including some impressive spiders and the spectacular Tiger Centipede mentioned earlier. Colourful butterflies were everywhere and I am sure somebody with more knowledge of what is to be found or with a knowledgeable guide would have a great time here.

 

Road to the River Sal Fish Quay

After our trip to Velim Lake, Babu drove us to a nearby church high on a hill that offered spectacular views over the River Sal and back towards Cavelossim. This viewpoint showed just how much wetland there was around. I noticed in the distance that one large pool held vast numbers of white egrets. I pointed out the pool to Babu and he said that he would take us close to the pool on our return to Cavelossim that afternoon…and he did! The pool could be accessed from the road leading to the fish quay (opposite side of the river from Cavelossim). We made a brief stop here that afternoon and made an early morning trip a couple of days later. There were many waterbirds to be seen including Darter and Black-headed Ibis. The pools also held a decent selection of waders including Little Stint, Wood & Green Sandpiper, Redshank, Greenshank, Black-winged Stilt, Snipe and Red-wattled Lapwing. This was an excellent area and certainly deserves much greater coverage.

 

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Pool near River Sal fish quay

 

Scenic Drive near Cotigao

Towards the end of our holiday we were looking to find a trip that would provide us all with a day away from the beach exploring South Goa and would take us of the beaten track, showing us a side of Goa we had not seen before and might provide us with some interesting wildlife. A search through the Rough Guide to Goa provided us with just what we needed; a trip that turned off the NH17 before reaching Cotigao at a Forest Checkpoint and headed up into the hills. The Rough Guide described it as ‘the most scenic road in Goa’ and promised beautiful scenery and an abundance of wildlife. We could also call in at the temple with the ‘bubble pool’. This pool is part of the temple complex and if you clap your hands bubbles rise to the surface of the pool. Very bizarre!

 

This was a superb excursion and well worth the effort. After stopping a couple of times as we passed through an area of agriculture where we watched a Black Eagle soaring along a ridge, the road climbed steeply into the hills offering spectacular views. We stopped at a waterfall that cascaded down the hillside to the left of the road. There were plenty of birds around including Brown-breasted Flycatcher. Most memorable here however were a huge variety of butterflies that were flitting around the shallow pools. We also saw a couple of water snakes, a large green lizard and lots of frogs.

Further up the road we stopped on a bend where we could hear another waterfall hidden behind the dense vegetation. Once again there were lots of frogs in the undergrowth and it was here whilst photographing a lizard that I sensed a movement to my left and found the green Vine snake just three feet away. It was about 4’ long but no thicker than my little finger.

 

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Vine Snake

 

We continued along this road for several hours stopping frequently. We saw no other tourists and just a handful of other vehicles. Be warned though that there is nowhere along here to buy food or drink and so come prepared.

 

Once again the dense forest made birding difficult however we did see Forest Wagtail, Grey Junglefowl, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher and as we dropped back down through agricultural land two Lesser Adjutants perched in a huge tree in the middle of a field.

 

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Crimson Rose Butterfly

 

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Cruiser Butterfly

 

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Grasshopper sp

 

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Monkey

 

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Fruit Bat

 

Other Sites

The sites I have mentioned above were the only ones that we specifically visited for birds however there were many similar sites throughout South Goa that offered just as much potential and I am sure would be just as productive.

 

One day we were on the main road from Margao to Ponda on the way to the spice plantations when six Lesser Adjutants and a number of Asian Openbills rose from a roadside field. Whilst doing the guided tourist walk around the spice plantation we had close views of a Little Spiderhunter feeding on a banana plant.

 

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Lesser Adjutant

 

Another day we travelled to Capa Rama an old Portugese fort on a headland to the south of the River Sal. On the way you pass over an area of very dry farmland where we watched a Grey-necked Bunting by the roadside and a large flock of weavers. Indian Rollers were very easily found on the overhead wires. Babu commutes on this road each day and said the area is also very good in the early morning for Peafowl.

 

Conclusion

 

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Boar

 

 

If you want excellent birding where you have to find the birds for yourself, without another birder in sight, often seeing no other tourists for hours on end, very friendly locals, spectacular scenery, quiet roads, then South Goa is definitely worth a try. If however you want well known sites and trusted stakeouts then you might be better sticking with North Goa. For us, two birders with understanding wives, Cavelossim gave us the perfect base for holiday birding.

Edited by wagtail
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Fantastic entrance to Safaritalk @@wagtail - welcome aboard!

 

Matt

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Oh this TR has come out on correct time. I might end up there in a couple of months. I think I will be reading this post a few times over. :-)

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@@xnegvx counting on you then to start a trip planning thread :)

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Excellent TR @@wagtail ! Loved the detailed info and pictures and will be referring to this again. I just booked 29th Dec to 1st Jan in Goa with friends and looking to finalise a trip to Carambolim lake and woods for 30th Dec. I think it's not as brilliant as pre 2008 and the drought there but has recovered a lot!

 

Thanks again!

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@@wagtail

Thank you for a really interesting report - good useful detail for planning a trip - and raises thoughts about how you can use a package trip

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~ @wagtail:

 

Finding this trip report is good fortune!

Your images are delightful, especially as you include other species alongside your fine Indian bird photos.

I appreciate your commentary and the variety of illustrations.

The scene with palm trees above is especially pleasing.

The green-hued tree snake — something I'd enjoy seeing someday.

If you have any other recent safari photos, by all means share them whenever it's convenient.

With Appreciation,

Tom K.

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