Sunday 8 April 2018

South Goa, India

Male Indian Peafowl - seen either early in the morning or early in the evening and extremely wary.

Just back from a week's family holiday in Goa, in southwest India, and feeling jet-lagged. This wasn't a birding holiday but there was plenty to see in and around the hotel grounds, and as usual I was up and about at dawn every morning, before Lu and the kids were awake.
We spent a lot of time around our hotel at the Baywatch resort, near Benaulim, and adjacent beach, but we also made day trips to the nearby city of Margao (an eye-opening experience), to Bondla Zoo in north Goa and to Cavelossim, from where we had a five hour boat trip out to sea, to see dolphins, and up the river Sal. Fortunately taxis were very reasonable and readily available, as there's no way I'd want to drive out there. I never did work out the rules!
The resort was lovely and so were the people. The weather was fine but very hot (it's the end of the season there and we noticed it getting progressively more hot and humid as the week progressed) and the Goan cuisine was superb, though you've got to like curry (which fortunately we all do).
The habitat surrounding the hotel was cultivated land, sand dune scrub, open woodland and a nice area of open water and marsh. Bondla Zoo is set in beautiful hilly jungle habitat and the river Sal added some wetland and estuarine habitat.
We chose south Goa as it's supposed to be quieter than the busier and more developed north. We blew all our savings for a new kitchen but figured it was worth it, as the kids won't want to come on holiday with us for too many more years. We also felt it wouldn't do them any harm to see a different culture, where there is still a lot of poverty, despite the fact that the country is rapidly developing. We were under no illusion about what India was going to be like but despite the rougher, poorer parts we found it to be very beautiful, vibrant, colourful and interesting. I would love to go back.
I didn't take the scope and didn't miss it once. The following species were seen during the week: Indian Peafowl, Lesser Whistling Duck, Asian Openbill, Woolly-necked Stork, Lesser Adjutant, Black-headed Ibis, Cinnamon Bittern, Striated Heron, Indian Pond Heron, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Eastern Cattle Egret, Great White Egret, Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Western Reef Heron, Indian Darter, Little Cormorant, Peregrine, Black Kite, Brahminy Kite, Marsh Harrier, Shikra, White-bellied Sea EagleWhite-breasted Waterhen, Grey-headed Swamphen, Bronze-winged Jacana, Black-winged Stilt, Red-wattled Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Curlew, Redshank, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper, Sanderling, Brown-headed Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Sandwich Tern, Feral Pigeon, Spotted Dove, Asian Koel, Greater Coucal, Indian Scops Owl, Asian Palm Swift, Little Swift, Hoopoe, Stork-billed Kingfisher, White-throated Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Green Bee-eater, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, White-cheeked Barbet, Black-rumped Flameback, Ashy Woodswallow, Common Iora, Brown Shrike, Long-tailed Shrike, Black Drongo, Indian Golden Oriole, Rufous Treepie, Indian Jungle Crow, House Crow, Wire-tailed Swallow, Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Red-vented Bulbul, White-browed Bulbul, Ashy Prinia, Plain Prinia, Fan-tailed Warbler, Common Tailorbird, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Jungle Babbler, Jungle Myna, Common Myna, Brahminy Starling, Rose-coloured Starling, Orange-headed Thrush, Oriental Magpie Robin, Pied Bushchat, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Pale-billed Flowerpecker, Purple-rumped Sunbird, Purple Sunbird, House Sparrow, White-rumped Munia, Grey-headed Wagtail, Forest Wagtail, White-browed Wagtail and Paddyfield Pipit.

An area of open water near the hotel where many species were seen, including Indian Darter, Cinnamon Bittern and White-bellied Sea Eagle.

The River Sal - a boat trip provided Stork-billed, White-throated, Common and Pied Kingfishers, Lesser Adjutant, Terek Sandpiper and many more species. The boat took us out to sea to see dolphins and to catch lunch - a huge Red Snapper!

A feature of birding in Goa is the constant presence of packs of feral dogs. Unnerving at first but you get used to it.

Peacock Pansy

Lesser Whistling Ducks

Asian Openbill

Woolly-necked Storks

Lesser Adjutant

Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin.......I think.

Black-headed Ibis

Immature Cinnamon Bittern - one of my birds of the trip but very skulking and, as you can see, difficult to photograph.

Striated Heron

Indian Pond Heron - masses of these seen - wherever there was water.

 Green Marsh Hawk

Purple Heron

Eastern Cattle Egret - the IOC have split this from Western Cattle Egret - most were still in winter plumage but, on this near breeding-plumaged bird, note how the buff-orange extends from the crown on to the cheeks and sides of neck.

Intermediate Egret - lots of these seen - note how the gape line ends below the eye whereas on GWE it extends well behind the eye - see below:

Great White Egret

Western Reef Heron - several of these seen around the mouth of the river Sal.

Indian Darter and Little Cormorant

I think this is Southern Plains Grey Langur.

Malabar Giant Squirrel

Little Cormorant

 Black Kite - present in numbers everywhere.

Brahminy Kite - not quite as common as Black Kite but high numbers seen.

 Common Pierrot


White-bellied Sea Eagle

White-breasted Waterhen

Grey-headed Swamphen - an IOC split from Western Swamphen.

Bronze-winged Jacana

Black-winged Stilts

Red-wattled Lapwing - many seen in wetter bits but seen in drier areas too.

Lesser Sand Plover - hundreds of these present on the beach every day but this was the only one seen that is approaching summer plumage. I've yet to work out what race these birds are.

Greenshanks - good numbers present every day on the beach.

Spine-legged Redbolt
Pied Paddy Skimmer
Widow Skimmer

Terek Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plovers

Brown-headed Gull

Gull-billed Tern, Sandwich Tern, Sanderlings and Brown-headed Gulls.

Grey Pansy

Spotted Dove

Female Asian Koel. The sound of the male Asian Koel provided a constant backdrop to our time in Goa. Koels are members of the cuckoo family.

Asian Koel - singing male - they sound a bit like a peacock but the call rises in pitch.

Indian Scops Owl - a fortuitous discovery, following up a commotion in a shady tree on our way to the beach.

Asian Palm Swift

Stork-billed Kingfisher

White-throated Kingfisher - these were seen everywhere - noisy and colourful birds and one of four species of kingfisher seen during the week.
Pied Kingfisher - river Sal

Green Bee-eater - common everywhere we went but every one made me raise my bins in appreciation.

Blue-tailed Bee-eater - photographed from our hotel veranda - the only one seen perched. I'm pretty sure that most, if not all of the high-flying bee-eaters seen/heard were this species.

White-cheeked Barbet - one of only two or three seen and difficult to spot in the green foliage.

Black-rumped Flameback

Ashy Woodswallow

Common Iora

Brown Shrike

Long-tailed Shrike - commonly seen and far less shy than the shrikes we see over here. Wonderful birds.

Black Drongo

Indian Golden Oriole

Rufous Treepie - a close relative of the Magpie but way more shy and surprisingly tricky to see.

House Crow

Indian Jungle Crow

Wire-tailed Swallow - small numbers of these seen most days.

Red-rumped Swallow - breeding in the hotel complex.

Red-whiskered Bulbul

Red-vented Bulbul

White-browed Bulbul

Ashy Prinia

Plain Prinia

Common Tailorbird

Blyth's Reed Warbler - lots seen and many more heard. Often in dense undergrowth and calling a clear, hard 'tchak' or scalding 'trrrrrrrr'. Some were heard singing - a bit like a slowed down Reed Warbler. I was surprised to find several feeding high up and quite openly in trees too. The only other 'acro' seen was a Clamorous Reed Warbler.

Blyth's Reed warbler - showing the short primary projection.

Jungle Babbler - a gregarious species always seen in small noisy parties.

Jungle Myna

Brahminy Starling
Rose-coloured Starling

Orange-headed Thrush - this truly stunning male was singing in Jungle scrub at Bondola Zoo.The only other one I saw was in leaf litter beneath a fruit tree close to the hotel. That one showed only briefly, and vanished before I could get a photo.

Oriental Magpie Robin - a constant presence around the hotel.

Male Pied Bushchat - commonly seen in and around the hotel.

Female Pied Bushchat

Asian Brown Flycatcher - slightly darker underneath than I was expecting but, lack of streaking, bill size and pale base to lower mandible, I think help eliminate Dark-sided Flycatcher. I hope I'm not overlooking other species.

Golden-fronted Leafbird - Bondla

Pale-billed Flowerpecker

Purple-rumped Sunbird

Purple Sunbird

White-rumped Munia

Grey-headed Wagtail

Forest Wagtail - one of my favourite birds of the trip. This was the only one seen - initially spotted by Joel at Bondla Zoo - furtively creeping around leaf litter on the jungle floor.

White-browed Wagtail. Up to three birds regularly fed around the hotel swimming pool though this one was photographed behind the beach.

Paddyfield Pipit - Only two seen. Somewhat intermediate in appearance between Blyth's and Richard's Pipit but showing a dark loral stripe and wholly orangey underparts. It looked too long-billed for Blyth's and shorter-tailed than Richard's. Frustratingly it wouldn't call.


  1. I know how tricky it can be on family hols to balance your family time and getting in some birding, there's always the temptation to do too much birding - but you've done very well there Matt and some great experiences, birds and photos too!

    1. Thanks Mike - yep it can be tricky but it was most definitely a 'family first' holiday and Lu and the kids loved it. I get more pleasure seeing Lu and the kids experiencing a new place than anything else. I'm kind of proud to say I've never been away without the family and can't really understand birders who want to go away without them. Each to their own I suppose! Cheers. Matt

  2. Wow what a trip mate and nice photos , envy you the Flameback and the Orange Headed Thrush as I just love Peckers and Thrushes .

  3. Many thanks Dave - the thrush was particularly stunning. Would recommend a trip but you'd see a lot more species in the winter months and the temperature would be more agreeable. You'd love it because there are lots of photo opportunities. All the best. Matt

  4. All I can say is WOW! Awesome pictures mate. You sure look like you had a blast. I have been lucky enough to see a few of the species mentioned in Thailand but you have done a fabulously there.

    1. Many thanks Spencer. Would recommend it. All the best. Matt

  5. A great set of photos there Matt and particularly gripped by the OH Thrush and the Dolphins! Hope to see you about locally soon. Or for a beer, or both!

  6. Many thanks Chris. I'm off this week so if you're around let me know. It would be great to meet up and I must return your map! All the best. Matt