All posts by sunnynair

Birdwatching in Pangot

Pangot is a small village located in Kosiyakutoli tehsil of Nainital district in Uttarakhand on the way to Kilbury wildlife sanctuary. It is rarely visited by general tourist but is very popular with wildlife and birding enthusiasts. The village itself is popular scenic destination for breathtaking views and for the variety of birds found around this region. Situated at a height of 6510 feet, the temperature remains cool all year around and even cooler during the winter months.

We visited Pangot in November 2020 for a short duration of 2 days, it was an ideal time to visit, weather-vise. It was cold but not freezing.

We stayed at Jungle Lore Birding Lodge. When we arrived, we could hear peaceful sounds of birds and the views were spectacular as we could see the beautiful valley and surrounding mountain range. My first impression was never to leave this place.

Entrance to Jungle Lore Birding Lodge

As we approached the entrance to the place, we saw many Streaked Laughing Thrush, Grey backed Shrike and Eurasian Tree Sparrows.

Streaked Laughing Thrush
Eurasian Tree Sparrows

The Jungle lore birding lodge, nestled in the laps of nature, is extremely warm and welcoming. Our host/caretaker, Bhuvan and the chef were very welcoming. We were introduced to our bird guide Mahesh Rajpoot for the trip. We quickly checked in to our rooms and took a tour around the property. It was a bit after lunch time when we arrived and we were all hungry from the 3 hour journey from Jim Corbett. The chef had prepared a simple yet delicious spread of mouth watering dishes and I’m not exaggerating!

A group photo of us with the staff at Jungle Lore Birding Lodge.

Soon after lunch, Mahesh took us to their in-house bird hide where we waited for a while patiently. We saw more than fifty White Throated Laughing Thrushes not more than 20 feet away from us. It was an amazing moment as this was the first time I had been to a hide.

White Throated Laughing Thrushes
At the hide patiently waiting to see what nature has to offer.

After spending a decent amount of time there, we decided to check out some other parts of the lodge. Another hide, a bit above where we were was more in the open, and gave us a chance to see Oriental White Eyes and Black Chinned Babblers playing in the small pond of water. We tried to get as many photos of these birds as quickly as possible as the sun was setting fast. This moment was simply beautiful.

Oriental White Eyes playing in the small water pond of their own.
Black Chinned Babblers

The sun had set and it was time for dinner. As we feasted on delicious food, our guide Mahesh decided on keeping a look out for nocturnal birds like the Nightjars and Owls. Later, after dinner – we followed him on the torch lit road on the outskirts of the village. We hopped to spot an Oriental Scops Owl, but the darkness and silence was overwhelming and slowly hope was being replaced by fear of the unknown. We thought it was near to impossible to spot anything here.

Enjoying the beautiful sunset in the background as we sit at the hide looking at the birds.

We reached the end of the road and stood silently as Mahesh tried to listen to the sounds of the Owl calling from far away. After a few minutes he heard the sound too, but very faint and distant. The only way we could see this bird was by calling it closer to us, so we did. As the owl came closer, we could hear it clearly responding to the calls.

With his keen sense of hearing, Mahesh spotted it right above us on a branch. He asked us to get ready with our cameras as he would point the torch at the direction of the bird just for a moment so we could get a shot, yet not to blind it. He flashed the torch light and there it was. We saw it!

Oriental Scops Owl

Capturing this tiny little owl on camera had its own challenges. Firstly we had to point our cameras vertically up, which was a strain on our neck and back as we didn’t carry a tripod (duh!). Secondly, focusing on this tiny bird alongside leaves of a similar size needs patience. Thirdly, we got a very small amount of time to get our camera settings right, focusing on the subject and capturing it (lucky for us, it did not move) within the time the torch light was on. But in spite of all the challenges, the experience and the joy that came with it was totally worth it.

Next morning, we were up early as we were filled with hope for many interesting bird sightings like the Hill Partridge, the Koklass Pheasant, and the Cheer Pheasant.

Although roads are fine in the sanctuary, its recommended to take a local taxi to drive you in. Jungle lore had arranged a taxi beforehand for us and all of us left in the wee hours for our birding adventure!

We were taken to different spots and had to really wait patiently and quietly to hear these birds. The taxi driver would drop us at ccertain points and we would do birding on foot for a while, just to be picked again by him some distance away.

Pangot Mountain Range

Luck was running low most of the morning when it came to seeing some new birds or pheasants. But we saw a lot of small birds like the Black Lored Tit, Black Throated Tit, Green Backed Tit and Oriental White Eyes.

Black Lored Tit
Black Throated Tit
Green Backed Tit

Along the trail, we also spotted many kinds of woodpeckers like the Himalayan, Brown Fronted and the Rufous Bellied too.

Brown Fronted Woodpecker
Himalayan Woodpecker
Rufous Bellied Woodpecker

We had reached the top of the hill and from here we could see such amazing views of the mountain range and the valley below. It was a perfect time for a tea break and some snacking.

Tea break with a breath taking view!

Returning back to Jungle Lore, we did stop at a few points to try our luck spotting the Cheer Pheasant, as we couldn’t see it early in the morning. No luck this time as well. But we did see some new birds we had not seen before like the beautiful Mistle Thrush.

Mistle Thrush

This region is also home to many birds of prey like the Himalayan Vulture, Steppe Eagles, Himalayan Buzzards, Brown Wood Owls and many others.

Himalayan Vulture
Himalayan Buzzards

Morning seemed slow and after lunch Mahesh suggested we go downhill to the village for some bush birds.

Bob in the taxi

On our way, we stopped at a point where we saw a huge Brown Wood Owl roosting up in a thicket of creepers and tree leaves a bit off the road. Mahesh informed us that this was it’s usual roosting spot. It was certainly a good one, as it was practically impossible to get my eye (and lens) focused enough to spot it’s beautiful feather design while it slept peacefully behind the dense leaves.

Brown Wood Owl perfectly hidden behind the branches and leaves.

On reaching the lower grounds near the village we saw some other usual lower Himalayan birds like the Red Billed Blue Magpie, Himalayan Bulbul, Black Headed Jays, White Throated Laughing Thrush , White Capped Redstart and many more.

Red Billed Blue Magpie
Himalayan Bulbul
Black Headed Jay
White Capped Redstart

We also saw a new bird especially found only here, the Golden Bush Robin (female).

Golden Bush Robin (female)

The sun had set and we decided to come back to the Brown Wood Owl spot, hoping to get a better view. And yes we did. The owl moved from its original branch and landed on an open branch. It was almost dark so Mahesh had to point his torch towards the owl position so we could photograph it. It was one of the highlight moment of this trip!

Brown Wood Owl at night

With this we had completed our day’s birding at Pangot. It was time for us to get back to our stay at Jungle Lore, enjoy a lovely meal and relax.

Next day was bright and clear and we were as usual full of hope to spot the celebrities of the sanctuary – Koklass and Cheer Pheasants. We were not so successful the day before and had our fingers (and toes!) crossed for this day.

Hill Partridge, a lucky spotting!

This time we left half an hour earlier to reach their usual spots sooner. We waited patiently as our guide mimicked the call of the Koklass Pheasant. Pressure was high and even a simple rustle of the moving leaves added to the anxiety of the climax.

The Wait!

This time around we all were extremely silent. Even a slight footstep sound or a rub against a dry leaf would alarm these ground birds. We could hear it approaching closer, climbing up towards the road. We knew it would run across the road any minute. We were ready with our cameras. It came out in the sunlight just for a brief moment and disappeared on the other side. We did manage to get a few shots in action.

Koklass Pheasant

We were thankful to Mahesh, for showing us so many birds around the place.

I am not sure if I was comfortable birdwatching from a vehicle at Pangot, as the birds here are very shy (I guess due to hunting). The view from the vehicle is restrictive, the sound from it is a negative factor and getting off and on the vehicle created a big distraction in my opinion. That was the only set back of this trip. On the hind-side, the sanctuary and noted birding spots are a bit far and the terrain needs a four wheel drive.

In any case, I love nature, and being here on the hills of Pangot and walking along the different trails alongside rivers and small villages was exactly the kind of vacation Varnica and I love the most. This will surely be one of the most memorable trips we have ever taken.

Coming from a metro city like Mumbai, I never thought I would ‘like’ to be stuck in a traffic jam!

I hope Pangot has now made it to your list of places to go ‘When (you are) on a Break!’
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Also please check our the list of birds we spotted on this trip on my eBird page

Birdwatching In Goa

Date of the trip: 28th Sept 2019 to 05th 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.

Me and Varnica on our hired scooter ready to take on birding advantures (…and Goan traffic and October heat)

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.

Mr Uday, The popular birdman of Chorao

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.

Uday Mandrekar’s boat on Mandovi.

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. 

These beauties were perched on most of the trees along the river. They breed twice a year and recycle old nests. Observe the elongated beak defect in the second picture.

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.

Post monsoon overgrowth was a bummer!

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.

Ferry between Raibander and Chorao terminals on Mandovi river.

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.

The rising sun on the way to Bondla wildlife sanctuary.

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.

A family of Greater golden back woodpeckers starting on early breakfast.

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.

Always keeping an ear out for subtle tweets of Crimson backed sunbird.

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.

Female Malabar Trogon sitting perched on a bare branch.

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.

The gem of the trip, a male Malabar Trogon. All eyes on his lady, trying to woo her.

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’.

Delicious local breakfast of Bhaji Pav. Apologies for the wonky pic as we were too hungry to focus!

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.

The golden crown of Golden fronted leafbird was glowing in the morning sun.

The Asian Fairy Blue Bird came out in the open just for a few seconds.

Loten’s Sunbird Male singing in the sunlight.

Oh these cheerful Flame throated bulbuls! A bunch of them were busy hunting and gave the funniest of poses to the one over excited photographer. Best spotting of the day!

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.

Male Malabar Hornbill with a lizard catch.
Malabar Hornbill
Dark Fronted Babbler
Blue Tailed Bee Eater
Blyth’s Reed Warbler
Indian Paradise Flycatcher
Crocodile in a pond at Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary

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 intricate rock carvings on this ancient temple is a great place to take a break from birdwatching to appreciate it’s beauty. It can get crowded as the day progresses with touring groups – it’s one of the most sought after tourist spots in the area.

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.

I don’t think there is any colour left in nature’s pallet once a Malabar barbet is produced. So colourful, yet camouflaged perfectly in the foliage.

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.

Some other wildlife spotting in the area : Malabar Giant Squirrel and the Draco Lizard.

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.

Great Hornbill feeding on berries

Blue Capped Rock Thrush

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.

Lord of camouflage : Srilankan Frogmouth day snoozing.

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.

To capture this view of Heart spotted woodpecker is very rare. It was one of the many highlights of this day.

Busy pecking at a dead branch, this tiny Pygmy woodpecker relentlessly searched for lunch.

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.

Us with Loven and his Swaroski spotting scope.

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.

The boarding point for Crocodile Station Kingfisher Tours

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 bird guide brought us under the massive Zuari bridge where he spotted a Peregrine Falcon feeding on a fresh catch. I got some amazing shots as the boat got closer and sun was hitting straight at it.

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.

Busy fixing breakfast: Common Sandpiper

In from Georgia: Terek Sandpiper

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.

Goan resident and glittery as it gets : Collard kingfisher

Screeching brain fever!!

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.

Fish eating lazy marsh crocodile.

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.

About a 50 or so Brahmini kites were gliding and swinging by swiftly with the fish into the sky. Oh, we had never seen such a sight before, it was a crazy free food frenzy!

A lonely Adjutant stork carefully staying away from flying kites!

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.

De-boarding the blue boat owned by Dr Kamat who conducts the birding and wildlife tours from crocodile station, pier under the Zuari bridge.

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.

<Morjim Beach>

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.

Kentish Plover

Small Pratincole dozing off in the harm morning sun.

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.

Heuglin’s Gulls

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.

Busy Crab in action

Some of the common birds found here are always fun to watch like the Bee Eaters, Common Hoopoe and Rosy Starlings.

A Common Hoopoe hiding in the flowering foliage on the beach from a troubling Black Kite.

Green Bee Eater on its morning hunt.

Rosy Starlings and Bee eaters on hanging wires near the food stalls

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.

These precious sightings of Mr & Mrs peafowl were great relaxers after driving our scooter the whole day.

An African migrant, this Jacobian cukkoo was in a pair and gave us great shots!

Always in flight these tiny Red rumped swallows hardly ever rest. Managed to capture this when one decided to rest and enjoy the sunset.

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!!

Green pigeons hung from these berries and sometimes relaxed in flocks on electric wires.

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.

Got these Stork bills diving into the water and feeding on some decent sized crabs by hitting them aggressively on the over hanging branches.

While going out on a stroll to the beach, one evening we found Grey Headed Swamphen parents in the wetlands not too far from the road with their new born chicks .

One day while returning from Bondla WS, we saw a mixed flock of Open billed Storks, Black Headed Ibis, Egrets on the open green fields on the side of the road. It was an amazing sight! We spend some time there observing them fly across these grasslands.

We had regular/frequent sighting of Brahminy Kites resting on a tree top.

There was this Lesser Whistling Duck two evenings in row, standing on the top of an empty coconut tree on our way to Serbatinum beach. Looked suicidal, don’t you think?!

On the beach we could see a variety of waders like the Lesser Sand Plovers searching for tiny crabs in the sand. We watched them run in sync with the waves, inwards and outwards as the tide gradually rose.

One evening as the sun was setting, we also got to see the huge White Bellied Sea Eagle in flight. It swooped to the ground right in front of us, it was so elegant in flight that we got hypnotized and only realised to click a photograph when it was back in the sky a bit further from us.

Every evening on our way back from the beach to Coastal Suites, we picked up snacks from the market for the next day.

Everyday after our long drives we parked the scooter at Coastal suites and walked to the empty Benaulim or Serbatinum beach to watch the magical colorful sunset.

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 more photos, check my instagram account

For comprehensive bird list of this trip, check out the e-bird list

10 steps: How to be a birdwatcher (hobbyist)

Before I tell you ‘How’, let me ask you ‘Why’. Why do you want to be a bird watcher? What is it that interests you about this hobby? Where did you hear about it?

You got inspired looking at wildlife/bird photographs on social media?

Your last hiking group had some birdwatchers, and their hobby fascinated you?

A family member or a friend who tells tales of birding adventures has got your attention?

Well for me, my first official bird watching trip was with my then girlfriend, now wife Varnica to the docks of Sewri, Mumbai. Every year hundreds of Mumbaikars gather to watch flocks of the migrating Greater Flamingos – feeding far away into the marshes, looking like pink blobs to the naked eye. We used one of the scopes set up by BNHS and that’s when I could actually see these beautiful birds in more detail. Their pink wings, big weird shaped beak and long legs amazed me. It was a different experience for me to see so many people come to this muddy, swamp area just to see these beautiful birds.

Since then with every trip, from mountains of Chail to thick forests of Kerala and Goa to marshes of Sundarbans, this hobby of watching birds has grown over me.

Greater Flamingos

Every birder has a different story of how they became birdwatchers. I am not at all talking about professional birdwatchers and wildlife photographers who study in depth the biology of the birds and their environments. I am just a hobbyist, who loves to be out in the wild, watching birds for enjoyment and love to learn about them through observation.

Looking back, I realize that my journey can be broken into the following phases.

A startup guide for New Bird Watchers :

Step 01 : Observe Different Type of Birds:

For birding too, education begins at home. I used to look outside my window and observe the birds visiting my balcony or sitting on the trees closest to my home and within my locality. While going out for walks, I learnt even more and got better in identifying birds. I started observing the differences between the birds based on their size, the sound they made and the colors on their body and much more.

House Sparrow enjoying its mid day snack at our window.

Step 02 : Tag along with other Bird Watchers

To up your game and try out your skills (and patience), its best to go on the field. Tag along with the best birder you know or join a group of hobbyists online. For me, I was lucky, my wife was my best guide and helped me grow better at this hobby. I learnt so many things while going on our early morning trips along lakes and sanctuaries. (Yeah!! Getting up early is the part and parcel of this hobby. There is no other way!)

Bird watching and Hiking at Singalila National Park

Step 03 : Invest in a Good set of Binoculars

Observing birds can be a lot of fun. They are such tiny creatures and it can get really difficult to spot them up in the dense trees. That’s where a good set of binoculars can come in handy.

Looking at them through these optical devices, you will be amazed to see the colors and details of the bird. You can observe and enjoy their behavior when they are nesting or feeding their young. It’s fun to watch smallest birds like the Weaver birds making their beautifully designed nest to impress their female mate or a woodpecker ‘head banging’ early morning in search of insects in between the cracks of the tree barks.

There is so much you can learn from these tiny beautiful creatures. I love to keep watching them, they can be quite entertaining. My current Binoculars are great for beginners.

Step 04 : Get a Bird Book

Once you have made frequent trips to many different locations, I’m sure you would have developed better understanding of the birds living in those areas. That’s a good time for you to invest in a bird book of the State or Country you are in.

Bird books have lot of important information about bird species which help you gain so much knowledge about them. Nowadays there are so many e-books available on birds online. They make it easier to birdwatch anywhere and everywhere. For me, to read about the bird’s details, of its habits and migration is part of the fun of the hobby.

I started with the book “Collins Handguide to the Birds of the Indian Sub-Continent“. Borrowed from my wife (her first childhood  birding book), it was great for me as a beginner. Simple write ups, big pictures and has the most popular birds in my country – India.

The illustrations in this book are amazing. It easily helps us distinguish between the similar looking birds out there.

Later, on my father in laws suggestion, the whole family started using the Ebook version of ‘Birds of the Indian Subcontinent‘ by Carol Inskipp. This book has a humongous collection of all Indian birds, with variants and deep details. My father inlaw, being a seasoned birdwatcher, has a lot of bird books in his collection but this Ebook was a great tool for our spontaneous bird spotting moments. 

Somewhere in between we invested in “A Pictorial Field Guide to Birds of India“. It’s not a field guide but can be used as an IDing guide. Unlike “Birds of the Indian Sub-Continent” this has more realistic photos and is helpful in differentiating one tiny brown bird from another. It’s well researched and is a very attractive book with lots of very interesting information about birds and that’s why it’s bulky and not easy to carry around.

A couple of years back I shifted focus from only watching the bird to photographing the bird. The “The Cornell Lab Merlin” app has now become more important than ever for me as it uses its vast database and helps identifying the birds easily by scanning my photos.

My own reliable Bird Guides

By seeing more birds and using these/books and apps, I have learnt a lot of bird names and behavioral properties of each species. Now I don’t have to use them so frequently, as I am able to identify many species with their characteristic features.

Step 05 : Maintain a Bird Journal

It’s fun to have a record of the birds you see on a trip on a given date. There will be times where you would not see more than a couple of birds (or zero!) but there would also be other days you will see so many birds that memorizing them will be impossible. That’s when a Bird Journal will come in handy. Make sure to carry one always with you to quickly jot down birds you see.

This practice is extremely helpful if I plan to revisit the place. If I am going in the same season, next year, I know what I should expect to see and what else I need to look for. If I am going in a different season, I know which birds have migrated in for the season and which are repeats from last season – those maybe residents. It helps me learn nesting and migration patterns of any location.

This can be done in a small notebook or online, like on The Cornell Lab, Ebird app.

My Bird Journal

Step 06 : Develop your Skills

Every day is a learning experience when you are on field, birdwatching. Observation is the key. Even though you have seen the bird a couple of times, studying its behavior will help you improve your skills. I like to study different habitats and locations. How do they find food? What are their habits and how do they make nests and feed young. I observe the size of the bird, study their wing patterns, how long or short its tail is. Sometimes, listening to the sounds of the birds help me identify them even without looking at them.

The fastest bird on earth, the Peregrine Falcon eating its prey under the Zuari Bridge in Goa.

Step 07 : Invest in a good Camera and Lens

After you have started understanding the different species of birds and you are serious enough to take this hobby to the next level (the fun part begins!), it’s time for you to treat yourself with a good camera and a decent lens.

You will find a wide range of options available in the market. Choose wisely as this will stick around with you for a long time. Of Course, as you get better at it, you can add many more lenses and cameras in your collection.  It would give you the advantage of capturing the birds you have seen digitally (and also show off your photography skills with friends and family!). I keep my gear simple and love my current Camera, Lens and Tripod

Never hesitate to get down and dirty to capture the shot you want! This is me trying to get a photograph of a White Wagtail at the entrance of Kaziranga National Park, Assam.
And this is the photograph I got!!

Birds are very photogenic, they can give the best, and sometimes most  hilarious  poses you can imagine. You can see some of my collection here.

This is what happens when you wake a little Spotted Owlet at 07:00 am in the morning.

Step 08 : Get efficient! Choose your own digital guides and apps

These days, there is a huge competition in the online industry. Like shopping on one of your favorite places like Amazon or apps for ordering groceries. So why should we birders stay behind?

There are so many apps just for bird lovers where you can get tons of information about birds with their detailed photographs. They also have a map system where you could find your favorite bird. eBird, Merlin, Vannya are leading the market right now.

I personally use ebird to list down the birds I have spotted in any particular location along with their count and actions. I use Merlin regularly to ID birds from my photos especially when I click similar looking brown tiny birds which are actually different species or a juvenile bird which does not have a photo in the bird book. So keeping a few of these apps is definitely a good idea..

Step 09 : Book a Guided Tour

By this phase, I was able to spot and ID most birds in and around my city. But what about when you go to a new habitat for a vacation? You have limited time, and don’t know the birding spots or bird perching/feeding grounds etc.. In such a situation, it’s always best to book yourself a guided tour for the best experience. There are many guided tours available which you can choose from based on your location and time of the year. These guides will help you see many birds you would have never seen before and you can learn so much from them and get inspired.

It’s always best to let your guide know what level of bird watcher you are, if you are a beginner or advanced and are you a photographer or only a watcher or researcher? It would be ideal to carry a list of birds you have already learnt about which live in this particular location, it would give the tour a target. A good guide will add the missing birds in your list :). These guides are generally locals who have lived in the area all their lives, observing the flora and fauna of the area. It’s best to trust them and be respectful. No one can guarantee spotting birds in the wild, and that’s half of the fun of this hobby. Its the best kind of treasure hunt!!!!

With our Bird Guide Loven (center) at Backwoods Camp – Goa.

Step 10 : Most importantly – Don’t Stop!

Practice makes Perfect! Yes it does. After getting yourself to this level, it’s really important to stick with it. In other words, Don’t stop! And if you are passionate about this hobby, I guarantee, you wouldn’t.

There are many factors which might make you feel discouraged, like:

Walking around a hot dry forest for 4 hours and not spotting a single new bird and your list only has pigeon, crow, mynah, bulbul and shrike!

Even after clicking 20 photos of a bird, none of the photos are sharp! or don’t look like those million amazing pictures on the internet or magazines.

You spotted the rarest bird perched happily on a branch hanging over the river, you set up your tripod, camera and focus – all set!! and the bird flies away across the river to the next thickest of trees – thanks to the loud noisy college gang jumping into the water!!!!

At such times, it’s important to remember and count the amazing experiences that you had when you were out there, those are – priceless.

In conclusion, birdwatching as a hobby is easy but needs a lot of patience! It’s a slow paced activity so anyone can pick it up at any age.

It’s rewarding as well as relaxing at the same time. The quiet forest helps all individuals to reflect upon themselves and get away from their hectic everyday schedules.

Can be clubbed with other activities like Hiking, Camping, Nature walks and much more.

You don’t have to plan a bird watching trip (obviously that is better but not compulsory!), you can most probably enjoy it anywhere and everywhere. Each type of habitat attracts some kind of birds. In Himalayan towns, every dumpster hosts flocks of Leothrix and variety of thrushes where as here in Mumbai Crows, Pigeons and Kites are the dumpster kings! Birdwatching can be enjoyed from comfort of your home, like how I enjoyed capturing a few moments of the pigeons in my garden during ‘The Lockdown of 2020‘.

It’s a relatively cheaper hobby unless you start spending on expensive photography gear. Looking at those big lenses being used by professional bird and animal photographers on birdwatching trips make me drool too. but I know I still have a long way to go before I reach that level. 🙂

Blue Throated Barbet posing for us with a Palash flower (Flame of the Forest) in Gangtok, Sikkim.

Leave a comment here if you found this post helpful and if you have decided to pickup birdwatching as your hobby! 😀