5–20 January 2018
This tour provides an excellent introduction to the Indian subcontinent with little travel involved, good facilities and a fine range of birds. We will split our time between the coastal area and inland at Backwoods Camp, situated in the forests at the foot of the Western Ghats. Target species for this tour include Indian Pitta, the endemic Vigors’s Sunbird, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Malabar Trogon, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Collared Kingfisher and Malabar Grey Hornbill.
Day 1 We take a late afternoon overnight direct flight from London Gatwick to Goa.
Day 2 Once in Goa we transfer to our hotel in the coastal resort of Baga, arriving about lunchtime. We will spend the first nine nights of the tour here, birding locally and gradually moving further afield as we explore the birdlife of Goa's coastal belt. In the afternoon we will explore Baga fields, seeing our first Indian birds of the tour. We may expect to see Black (Black-eared) and Brahminy Kites, Red-wattled Lapwing, White-throated Kingfisher, Asian Koel, Black Drongo, Green Bee-eater, Malabar and Syke's Short-toed Larks, Pied Bushchat, Long-tailed Shrike, Blyth's, Paddyfield and Richard's Pipits, Scaly-breasted Munia, White-rumped Munia and Baya Weaver. In the late afternoon, we will look for Cinnamon Bittern, White-breasted Waterhen, Pin-tailed Snipe and Greater Painted-snipe from a nearby hotel swimming pool patio and, at dusk, we may see Spotted Owlet.
Day 3 Today we will explore a little further afield, spending the morning at Arpora Woods and Baga Hill, two productive areas of scrub and woodland just a short drive from our hotel. Some of our target species this morning include Indian Pitta, Rufous Woodpecker and Blue-faced Malkoha, while we should also see White-bellied Sea-eagle overhead. Other species include Indian Roller, Common Iora, Purple and Purple-rumped Sunbirds, Red-whiskered and Red-vented Bulbuls, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Coppersmith Barbet, Indian Tit, Rose-ringed and Plum-headed Parakeets, Rufous Treepie and Spotted Dove. In the afternoon we will visit the Fort Aguada area for another chance of Indian Pitta, which regularly winter here, and to look for Indian Peafowl, which roost in trees at dusk.
Day 4 This morning we will visit Carambolim Lake, an excellent marshy wetland where we should see Indian Pond-heron, Cotton Pygmy-goose, Lesser Whistling-duck, Comb Duck, Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas, Grey-headed Swamphen, Oriental Darter, Little Cormorant, Indian Cormorant, Black-headed Ibis, Asian Openbill, Woolly-necked Stork, Purple Heron and Small Pratincole, with Great Spotted, Indian Spotted and Steppe Eagles, Osprey and Ashy Woodswallow overhead. In a small area of woodland surrounding the village, Brown Boobook can be found roosting, and in the open fields Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Streak-throated Swallow, Siberian Stonechat and Rufous-tailed Lark may be found. After lunch, during the heat of the day, we will visit the picturesque Old Portuguese town of Old Goa where, as well as visiting the cathedral, you can find the endemic Vigors's Sunbird in the grounds. Later, we will return to the Baga area to spend the afternoon and evening working the Baga fields and marshes.
Day 5 We will have an early start this morning, leaving our hotel at 06.00 to catch the 06.30 ferry to Chorao Island. Although only a few kilometres from the state capital Panjim, Chorao is accessed from here only by ferry and as a result is comparatively quiet, providing excellent habitat for a variety of birds. Waders can be seen on the sandbanks, and these may include Terek and Broad-billed Sandpipers and Temminck's Stint, while Western Reef-heron and Black-capped Kingfisher fish here. Leaving the island via the bridge on the far side, we will also visit Mayem Lake, where the surrounding forested slopes are excellent for birds. From the track circling the lake we will see a fine selection of forest birds that may include roosting Brown Fish-owl, Grey Nightjar, Orange-breasted Pigeon, Indian Scimitar-babbler, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Bronzed and Greater Racket-tailed Drongos, Grey-bellied Cuckoo, Puff-throated Babbler, Indian Blackbird, Long-billed Sunbird and Little Spiderhunter. Overhead, Crested Serpent-eagle and Changeable Hawk-eagle patrol the skies. After lunch, we will return to Chorao to explore the area, looking for Ashy and Grey-breasted Prinias, Paddyfield Warblers and Blyth's and Clamorous Reed-warblers.
Day 6 We will drive to Morjim Beach on the north shore of the Chapora Estuary, where large numbers of gulls and terns congregate at high tide. Here we may see Caspian, Lesser Black-backed (Heuglin's), Pallas's and Brown-headed Gulls and Great Crested, Lesser Crested, Caspian and Gull-billed Terns. Waders are also present in large numbers: most will be familiar to European birders but there will also be Greater and Lesser Sand-plovers. There is also a roost site for Black-crowned Night-heron here, while other target species may include Bay-backed Shrike and Brahminy Starling. After lunch we will visit Pilerne Lake, much smaller in size than Carambolim it lacks the larger waterbirds but is an excellent site for Stork-billed and Common Kingfishers, Intermediate Egret and Common Moorhen, while in the surrounding fields Yellow-wattled Lapwing can be found alongside commoner Red-wattled Lapwings.
Day 7 In the morning we will visit the mature mixed woodland surrounding the spring in the village of Saligao. The variety of birds here is excellent and species we will look for include White-bellied Drongo, Indian Paradise-flycatcher, Tawny-bellied Babbler, Jungle and Plain Prinias, Greenish Warbler, White-throated Fantail, White-cheeked Barbet and Greater Coucal. The star bird here, however, is Brown Wood-owl, which can be found at its roost site. When the forest starts to go quiet, we will return to the Baga area for a rest/swim before visiting the Dona Paula plateau area, close to Panjim, the capital of Goa. Yellow-wattled Lapwing is easy to see here and Indian Robin seems more confiding here than elsewhere. Other birds we may see include Tawny Pipit, Oriental Skylark, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-lark, Rosy Starling and Jungle Myna. Later we will visit Santa Cruz on the outskirts of Panjim, where the estuarine creek and flooded fields are excellent for a variety of waders, before spending the evening scanning the Baga fields.
Day 8 Today we will start early to spend the morning at Divar Island. Smaller and quieter than neighbouring Chorao, Divar has a more pastoral atmosphere and offers a good selection of species. The dry fields and woodland surrounding villages host much the same species as those found on Chorao, but some interesting birds do turn up here and we are likely to see a number of larks and pipits, various waders and raptors including Western Marsh-harriers and Montagu's and Pallid Harriers. In the afternoon we will return to Baga, to scan the saltpans and fields of nearby Arpora.
Day 9 This morning we will take a leisurely half-day boat cruise up the Zuari River and into the smaller mangrove-lined Cumbarjua Canal. Our main target here is the scarce and localised Collared Kingfisher, alongside other kingfisher species, herons, waders, gulls and terns, and, if we are lucky, Lesser Adjutant and Slaty-breasted Rail. We will make a brief stop at Batim Lake before returning to our hotel for lunch followed by an afternoon visit to either Arpora Hill or the Baga fields.
Day 10 Today, our last day at the coast, will be left flexible to allow sites to be revisited, in case we have missed any particular species. The day will be split into two so we can return to the hotel lunchtime to prepare our packing for tomorrows transfer to Backwoods Camp.
Day 11 We have a very early start this morning for the drive inland to Backwoods Camp, where we will spend the final five nights of the tour. Backwoods Camp lies within the forests of the Bhagwan Mahaveer wildlife sanctuary at the foot of the Western Ghats, and we will spend our time here searching for forest specialities and species endemic to the Western Ghats along the forest trails surrounding the camp and in nearby villages. We will arrive at the camp in time for breakfast followed by a full day of birding. In the camp itself we will find an array of exciting species, most of which will be new to us, and these may include Orange-headed Thrush, Malabar Whistling-thrush, Tickell's Blue-flycatcher, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch, Asian Fairy-bluebird, Black-rumped, Common and Greater Flamebacks, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Dark-fronted Babbler, Forest Wagtail and Crimson-backed Sunbird.
Days 12–15 These four full days will be spent birding from the camp and at nearby sites within the Baghwan Mahaveer wildlife sanctuary. The forests host Grey Junglefowl, Red Spurfowl, Spot-bellied Eagle-owl, Jungle Owlet, White-bellied and Heart-spotted Woodpeckers, Speckled Piculet, Malabar Trogon, Black-hooded and Black-naped Orioles, Yellow-browed, the red-throated form of Black-crested and Grey-headed Bulbuls, Malabar Pied and Great Hornbills and Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, while forest streams here are home to Black-backed and Blue-eared Kingfishers, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, White-bellied Blue-flycatcher, and Indian Blue Robin. Evening is a good time to visit the nearby 13th-century Tambdi Surla Temple, sited in a forest clearing where White-rumped Needletail and Mountain Imperial-pigeons can be seen overhead. We are likely to see many raptors throughout our stay and will also dedicate some time to watching as they rise in the thermals from a viewpoint overlooking the hills. Crested Goshawk, Besra, Black and Rufous-bellied Eagles, Legge's Hawk-eagle, Oriental Honey-buzzard and Peregrine (Shaheen) Falcon are all possible. During our stay we will also make a half-day visit to nearby Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary. Although small, Bondla holds some excellent mixed forest at the foot of the Ghats that supports species such as White-naped Woodpecker, Blue-faced Malkoha, Common Hawk-cuckoo, Forest Wagtail, Jungle Babbler, White-browed Bulbul, White-rumped Shama, Blue-capped Rock-thrush, Indian Swiftlet, Crested Treeswift, Brown-capped Woodpecker, Chestnut-tailed Starling, and six species of drongo. Other species possible around the camp and at Bondla include Verditer Flycatcher, Square-tailed Bulbul, Brown-headed and Malabar Barbets, Malabar Parakeet, Vernal Hanging-parrot, Chestnut-headed and Blue-bearded Bee-eaters, Malabar Woodshrike, Large and Black-headed Cuckooshrikes, Scarlet and Small Minivets, Jerdon’s and Golden-fronted Leafbirds, Western Crowned Leaf Warbler, Nilgiri and Thick-billed Flowerpeckers, Nilgiri Wood-pigeon, and Emerald Dove. Each day, in the heat of the day, we will take a break for lunch and to freshen up at the camp (you can even bathe in the river, there are no crocodiles!) before resuming birding in the afternoon. In the evenings we will search for nightbirds including Brown Boobook, Collared and Oriental Scops-owls, Grey and Jerdon’s Nightjar and the amazing Sri Lanka Frogmouth.
Day 16 Sadly, we have to leave Backwoods Camp early morning for the 90-minute drive to the airport and our flight back to London Gatwick, where the tour concludes.
General Information Goa is quite hot at this time of year but rain is unlikely. The pace is easy but the heat can be tiring at times. On most days we will split the birding into two sessions, with a break in the middle of the day so we can take time off to relax. There are a number of health requirements and you must consult your GP in this respect. Insects are not a major problem but you must take precautions to avoid other health risks. Visas are required. Accommodation is in medium-standard hotels at the coast and in tents inland, all with private facilities (even the tents, which have flushing WC, hand basin and refreshing cold water shower!).
Group size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 8; maximum group size: 10 with 1 leader; 16 with 2 leaders.