Date of the trip: Sept – Oct 2019
Although our holiday aspirations are always based on perfect birding seasons, our actual leaves are always based on when we get a break between projects, we don’t have too much control over what season we end up in at any destination. Most would say November to February is the best time to do birding in Goa. But for us, October it was. October heat was just about bearable as we paid lower prices at our accommodations, transport and tours. We got bird guides available easily and we were able to watch resident birds as well as early migrants peacefully without any noisy gang of tourists screaming around us. Once we started researching there were too many places which made it to our list but we had to drop most of them as we did not have enough time. I believe some plans must spillover as an incentive for a return trip.
Birdwatching at Mandovi River
Mandovi River is one of Goa’s primary rivers. It covers a large habitat of water birds and other birds of prey.
It was our first bird watching trip in Goa. Although we had done our research beforehand, we did not know what to expect as it was the end of heavy monsoons and winters were not set in yet. Before we reached Goa, we had contacted a bird guide, Mr `Uday Mandrekar. He is popularly known as ‘Birdman of Chorao’ and is famous for his knowledge of birds in this region as well as his dedicated efforts for keeping the mangroves clean from all the garbage. He owns and conducts boating trips along the Mandovi river.
We met him at the Chorao ferry terminal at around 7am as we got down from the ferry with our scooty. After buying the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary entry ticket and camera fees, he guided us to his village and into his boat. Our birding tour began with spotting and photographing many usual waders like Great and Little Egret and Common sandpipers feeding on mudskippers and marine worms. He informed us that migratory birds have still not arrived and a tour in December and January is more fruitful.
It was the first time where we had seen so many families of Brahminy Kites at one go. Hundreds of parents teaching their kids to fly and hunt, screeching instructions. It was truly amazing to see these birds up close.
Later, our bird guide Mr Uday made our trip a bit adventurous by making us climb a high wall on the other side of the river to show us the nesting of the White bellied Sea Eagle. As it was the end of the monsoons here in Goa, we had to fight our way through the tall overgrown grass. Varnica and I walked as fast as we could (it was as tall as her and my head was barely above it!) till we reached a clearing.
Unfortunately, we did not see any eagles (or anything else!) and we came out completely wet (thanks to the morning dew on the tall grass) on the other end, itching our limbs. It was uncomfortable at the time and hilarious as an after thought. :p . By the end, we were undoubtedly a bit disappointed with our first morning birding session as we did not really see anything new… but hey! isn’t that what the wild is all about? You never know what you will find next. Its full of surprises – better luck next time!!
As we boarded the ferry back to Raibandar ferry terminal, we were full of hope that this birding session does not discourage us and we find better birding opportunities on our next scheduled trips all through out Goa within this week.
Birdwatching at Bondla & Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary
After a so-so birding trip on Mandovi river, we were keen to see what the eastern thick forest lands hold for us. So, we headed to Bondla wildlife sanctuary. It is one of the best (and most popular) places for bird watching in Goa. From Benaulim (where we were staying), it was almost an hour away on our hired scooter. We had to leave really early to get to the place at 6:30am. Some of the patches along the way did not have streetlights. And since it was our first trip to Bondla, we were hoping that we reached there safely. We reached the sanctuary a few minutes before sunrise.
Right at the entrance we were welcomed by a flock of Greater Golden Backed Woodpeckers up on the trees. I quickly got my camera out and managed to get a few decent photographs.
As we walked a few meters ahead we saw a pair of Long Tailed Minivets. They were just starting to get chased by a pair of Blacked Hooded Orioles when our bird guide, Loven Pereira (quiet surprised that we reached before him) from Backwoods Camp had arrived. We explored the trails around the village and realised the abundance of different species of birds. Loven, an excellent spotter and well versed with the area showed us a lot of birds like, Crimson Backed Sunbird, White Rumped Munias, Spider hunter, Brown headed Barbet, and many more up close through his magnificent Swarovski spotting scope which allowed us to see the details of the birds very clearly.
Closer to the end of our morning birding time, Loven took us to a stream to see a rare bird, the ‘Malabar Trogon’. He said it would be pure luck to spot these birds as they are rare to find and perch on overhanging branches quietly. Unlike other birds, the Malabar Trogon stays perfectly still for long time spans, making it more difficult to spot.
We waited for quite some time next to a bend in the stream hoping to see it. And then suddenly, Varnica spotted a female Trogon sitting on a branch. She quickly showed us where it was. Soon we spotted another one sitting further in the distance.
I decide to slowly walk towards it to get a good shot. As I approached, I could see the male Malabar Trogon, which was earlier hidden behind many branches. I couldn’t ask for anything more. I called out to Varnica and Loven in the best silent way possible and got a lot of good shots of this beautiful male posing for us.
We spent around 3 hours around Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary, but it seemed less. It was quiet evident that the avian treasures of this forest were not to be missed, so we decided to come back the next day. Lucky for us Loven was available and happy to show us a different part of the forest known as Bhagvan Mahavir wildlife sanctuary. It was where his eco venture Backwood camp was located and was famous for Tambdi Surla temple. We parted ways after having a quick breakfast snack at a tiny canteen next to sanctuary gate serving only ‘Bhaji Pav’.
The location sent by Loven to meetup the next day was just a bit beyond Bondla WS in front of Darbandhora village panchayat. The drive was better, we were now familiar with the dark roads and alleyways.
By the time we reached, the first sunrays were just coming through the thick blanket of haze. Loven asked us to hop in his car and he took us straight to an abandoned patch of land which was earlier a coal mine, and there stood one banyan tree. On first look the dense tree looked empty but as the morning haze cleared and the sun rose higher, so did the bird activity. Soon there were multitudes of bird species feasting on this tree and all the trees around it. It was an avian circus and we did not know where to look. There were so many species of birds, and we did not want to miss any. Some of the best ones were Heart Spotted Woodpecker, Golden Fronted Leafbird, Asian Fairy Blue Bird, Flame Throated Bulbul, Loten’s Sunbird, Small Minivets and many more.. It was a perfect start to a wonderful day ahead.
Bondla Sanctuary full of surprises. The are multiple well marked trails within the sanctuary. On our separate trip to Bondla we also seen birds like the Malabar Hornbill, Shrika, Blue Tailed Bee Eater, Dark Fronted Babbler, Indian Paradise Flycatcher and many others.
Below are a few clicks from our second trip to Bondla.
From there we headed to Tambdi Surla temple, an ancient 12th century rock carved temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. It’s a must visit for archeological reasons as well as birding interests (obviously!).
The temple sits just besides the Ragada river which is a really great place to see the Blue Eared Kingfisher and many other small birds. We were not lucky enough to see them due to increasing disturbance from the tourists but just around this temple, we saw quite a few species like the Malabar Barbet and Crested Goshawk.
The dense jungle around the temple houses a lot of avian and wildlife species. A day can easily be spent exploring these surroundings. We could spare only an hour and anyway, the tour buses had arrived along with us so we were not expecting too much.
On our different trip to the temple, we were extremely lucky to see one of the biggest birds one can find, the Great Hornbill. It came out of nowhere gracefully gliding on top of the tall trees. It was a bit of strain to focus where it had landed. After a few minutes we spotted it sitting and feasting on the berry like fruits on the tree canopy. It had made our trip to this peaceful temple totally worth it. Birds like the Blue Capped Rock Thrush are also find in this part of the region.
After an amazing trip to the temple, Loven took us to his den, Backwoods Camp. Just before we reached the camp – on the side of the road, deep within the foliage, we saw one of the rarest of birds, the Srilankan Frogmouth. These birds are impossible to find, as they camouflage so well with the branches and trunks. Since Loven was from that area, he knew its hideout, he was able to show it to us.
Backwoods camp, an eco friendly wildlife camp is nestled comfortably at the edge of Bhagavan Mahaveer sanctuary. Equipped with all basic necessities, this camp has maintained the original forest in and around it. We could spot many forest birds by just strolling in it’s compound. Even in the middle of the day, trees were full of bird activity. There were constant calls and pecking sounds made by Heart Spotted Woodpecker, Brown Capped pygmy Woodpecker, Greater Goldenback Woodpecker etc.
Even though we wished to stay for much longer, we had spent almost 5 hours with Loven strolling and driving through the great forest land of eastern Goa. It was beginning to get hot and sadly we had to end our trip. With lots of awesome photos and great memories, we said good bye to Back wood camp, promising in our hearts to come again – and that time stay for at-least a couple of days. We had a wonderful time.
Psstt.. For next time, we plan to ask him to take us for Pelagic birding into the sea on a boat. Some varieties of boobies and gulls can be observed as they fish regularly along the coast.
Birdwatching at Zuari River
Zuari River is the largest river in Goa. It divides the state into two parts – North Goa and South Goa, which makes the Zuari bridge a very important link between the two. It’s a tidal river, which means it is also very important to the ecosystem which resides along it’s marshy banks. In retrospect, I can’t believe we almost cancelled this tour after the discouraging trip on Mandovi. Thanks to Dr Kamat’s non refundable policies and outstanding two days with Loven in the forests – we decided to go ahead with this birding tour on Zuari river.
Zuari mangroves are highly recommended for wetland birding. The best time to see birds is from early October to March. We had planned our trip in advance by booking a 2-3 hour birding tour known as ‘Crocodile Station Kingfisher Tours’ with Dr Kamat, who runs this wonderful boat trip which her late husband started. The boat ride starts at 07:00 am from Cortalim Jetty at Zuari. From Benaulim, we took close to 40 mins to reach the pier, at 6.30 am. A few moments later we met Dr Kamat who was monitoring the boat arrangements and soon we were on the boat. The boat had a good seating capacity of over 10-12 pax. The trip costs included some snacks and tea which were served as we started the trip.
We were lucky, our visit coincided with a birding group of professional (very serious!) birders and photographers (included Mr Savio Fonseca, co-author of Photographic Guide to the Birds of Goa). Dr Kamat has her own bird guides who are anyway employed on the boat. But this more experienced group had so much fun information to share about these birds that our experience became doubly enriching.
The marshes were full of birds as the sun and tide both were out. We soon observed a multitude of birds starting from waders and kingfishers to pretty and rare predators.
The boat took a big turn back to the other side of the river, closer to the mangroves we saw many waders like the Terek Sandpiper, Common Red Shanks, Sand pipers, Eurasian Cuckoo, Collared Kingfisher, Stork Billed Kingfishers and many more.
Due to remoteness of this area and aware human dwellers, thankfully the birds were not shy and let us click a lot of great photos.
We also spotted a lazy Crocodile perfectly still on the mangrove bed. They say that these crocodiles cause no harm to the local fisherman and they are used to them being around. Both species steer clear of each other’s way and there have been no cases of negative interaction.
On our way back to the jetty we witnessed a mixed flock of Brahminy Kites, Black Kites, Lesser Adjutant Stork and a few others feasting on small fish which had slipped through one of the fishermen’s nets in the river.
With the tide coming in and covering most of the mangroves, we completed our wonderful boat trip with great sightings of beautiful birds. We would highly recommend this trip if you get a chance to visit Goa.
Birdwatching at Morjim Beach
Morjim Beach is situated at the northern bank on Chapora river. The beach itself is one of the most cleanest beaches in Goa and has a balanced ecosystem. It looks unique because unlike other beaches where you see an infinity of the ocean view, here you see a beautiful view of Capora Fort on the opposite end of the coast line on one end and the ocean on the other.
As it lies at the juncture between the Arabian Sea and the inlet to Chopra river, it is a hub for a variety of migratory birds and also the nesting grounds for the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle.
We visited Morjim beach for a brief period almost towards the end of the birding season. We got there early morning and were happy to see only a couple of morning walkers on the beach. As per the online suggestions, we entered the beach from the river-sea junction opposite (Goan Kitchen). Just a few yards onto the beach, in a green patch on the sand, we were surprised to see a large number of Kentish Plovers and also another flock of Small Pratincole sitting calmly. We tried to get as close as possible, but not too close as to disturb them and I managed to get a few good photographs of these beautiful birds.
Far in the distance we also saw a flock of Heuglin’s Gulls (also known as Lesser Black Backed Gull) enjoying the sunlight as the tide had begin to come in. They were very far for a detailed photograph of the birds but it does qualify as a record photo to my collection.
As I was observing the behavior of the little birds on the beach, Varnica noticed a busy Crab digging a hole of the size of a thumb. I think both of us (crab and me) were fascinated and curious to see each other! It with my big lens focused on it and me with this little crab in action.
Some of the common birds found here are always fun to watch like the Bee Eaters, Common Hoopoe and Rosy Starlings.
Though it was a very short trip to Morjim Beach, we had a great time. And surely will be coming back soon to explore much more during winter months.
Birding on our own in South Goa
By popular beliefs, if you love the quiet and peaceful lifestyle away from the busy streets when on a break, then South Goa is the place to stay.
And staying in localities like Benaulim and Sernabetim will not disappoint if you are a nature lover and a bird watcher. Agreed, they maybe a bit far from wildlife sanctuaries like Bondla and Bhagvan Mahavir. But if you have a vehicle and don’t mind driving a bit longer (Mumbaikar’s can handle it without a problem!) the peace and quiet and cheaper facilities are great pluses. These are tiny localities and do not attract many tourists as most of the infrastructure is residential or home stay of sorts.
We decided to stay at a serviced apartment ‘Coastal suites‘ at Benaulim which was well located from the main market and the beach as well. Being away from the main busy roads, the place naturally attracted a lot of birds. Every evening we would walk to Sernabetim beach and along the way we would see a variety of birds like the Purple Rumped Sunbirds, Jacobin Cuckoos, Scaly Breasted Munias, Grey Fronted Green Pigeons also the common birds like the Green Bee eaters, Red Whiskered, Bulbuls, Indian Peafowl and many more.
We loved the mobility we had while riding around the neighborhood on our hired gearless scooter. We could easily stop on the side of the road and take photographs of the beautiful riverside village views or capture some rare birds. Varnica was constantly on a lookout and scanned rice fields/ nalas/ wetlands/ ponds and creeks for birds while I drove. We had some of our best sightings while on our way to (or back from) the sanctuaries. It was so much fun!!
One afternoon while we were returning back from lunch, we passed by a small water body at Majorda, also known as the Red Lotus Pond and we were very lucky to find a few Stork Billed Kingfishers sitting on the electric wires going over the pond. We quickly stopped at the side of the road, got my camera out as silently as possible and got some awesome shots of the bird.
Every evening on our way back from the beach to Coastal Suites, we picked up snacks from the market for the next day.
Spill overs for the next trip:
- Beaches and wetlands north of Chapora Fort.
- Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary.
- Dudhsagar visit and hike.
- Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary.
- Pelagic bird watching.
Essential info on Goa birding guides:
Uday Mandrekar – 9822583127 | 9545062069
Cost per boat tour ride + Salim Ali BS ticket – INR 2,500 + 170
Loven Periera – 9420072007
Cost per birding session – INR 2,000
Crocodile station Kamat kingfisher tour – 9822127936
Cost per boat tour ride – INR 3,000
** These rates are what we paid at the time of our visit. Please enquire directly with the guides for the latest rate card.
Goa was full of surprises for us. We never knew how long a trip would take because we were compelled to stop on the way multiple times because of a rare bird sighting or a spectacular landscape. We were amazed by the variety of birds we could observe free handedly in different landscapes as we travelled across this small state.
For comprehensive bird list of this trip, check out the e-bird list