Southern India: Goa and the Ghats
Wetlands and forest birding at its best.
Goa hosts a series of laid-back coastal beach towns offering a great introduction to Asian birds and the fascinating culture of the Indian subcontinent. The town of Baga is an excellent base from which to see tons of birds in a relaxed atmosphere. It is littered with western-style resorts, restaurants with delicious prawn and fish curries, and hotels with crakes and rails running around behind the swimming pools. However, before we spend time at our base in Baga, we head into the cooler hills of the western Ghats, near the eastern limit of the province. Here we’ll lap up many South Indian endemics and the fragile beauty of these sub-montane forests, searching for delights such as Malabar Trogon, Ceylon Frogmouth, Malabar Parakeet, and many others. Our one week “whip-around” should get us over 200 species and secure us views of many characteristically Asian families such as leafbirds, ioras, fairy bluebirds, and much more.
Day 1: Dabolim to Backwoods. After arrival in the sleepy coastal town of Dabolim we will drive straight up to the world famous Backwoods camp.
Days 2-3: Backwoods. We will spend two full days walking the many exciting trails on offer in the Backwoods area, attempting to see the western Ghats endemics as well as many special forest birds occurring in the vicinity of the camp. We normally start before dawn, with the resident Malabar Whistling-Thrush serenading us with its variety of melancholy calls. As first light approaches we’ll be working the forest trails seeking out the roaming flocks. The clicks and buzzing calls of a drongo are likely to alert us to our first flock, and we should locate the flock leaders, Black, Ashy, White-bellied, Bronzed, and Greater Racket-tailed Drongos working through the forest.
Within moments of locating these “sentinels” we are likely to encounter a bunch of other species including electric Small and Scarlet Minivets, stunning Rufous and Heart-spotted Woodpeckers, Large and Common Woodshrikes, Black-naped Monarch, Flame-throated, White-browed, and Yellow-browed Bulbuls. The understory is normally occupied by skulkers like Dark-fronted Babbler, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, and occasionally Puff-throated Babbler. Some residents need more specific attention. During our stay we’ll try to track down the elusive Malabar Trogon and Blue-eared Kingfisher, as well as the vocal but shy White-rumped Shama and the striking Indian Blue Robin.
This is an ideal time of year for flowering trees. We are likely to encounter a bevy of nectar-loving species including Thick-billed, Pale-billed, and Plain Flowerpeckers, and Purple-rumped, Small, and Loten’s Sunbirds. Some trees will have already set fruit and we’ll try staking these out for frugivores. We’ll search for gems such as Asian Fairy Bluebird, Malabar Gray Hornbill, White-cheeked, and Crimson-fronted Barbets, and Golden-fronted and Jerdon’s Leafbirds. As is typical of India, we’ll probably have some luck with seeing owls during the day, particularly the cute resident Jungle Owlet. With luck we may also encounter the exceptionally rare Spot-bellied Eagle-Owl. However, we are more likely to see the regularly staked-out Ceylon Frogmouth.
Occasionally, raptors harry the flocks and we might encounter the staunch Crested Goshawk, Besra, or Eurasian Sparrowhawk. The earlier parts of the steamy afternoons are best spent raptor-watching, and some nearby clearings offer chances of Rufous-bellied, Asian Black, and Changeable Hawk-Eagles. The more open areas are also better for Green and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Vernal Hanging-Parrot, and Malabar Parakeet.
Day 4: Backwoods to Baga. After spending our final morning in Backwoods we’ll make our way back to the coast and our chilled-out resort in Baga. The afternoon will be spent birding some local wetlands and marshy areas in the vicinity of town.
Days 5-7: Baga. These days are reserved for exploring the phenomenal diversity of habitats around Baga. We will search the beaches at Morjim for gull and tern flocks. The forests at Arpora occasionally yield treats such as Red Spurfowl and one of Baga’s undoubted jewels, the amazing Indian Pitta. Carambolim Lake is an incredible and unmissable destination replete with waterbirds such as Cotton Pygmy-goose, Spot-billed Duck, Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas, and the dainty Small Pratincole. The nearby grasslands hold the endemic Malabar Lark, quartering Western Marsh Harriers, and the occasional large brown Aquila eagle while the nearby woods have a roosting Brown Hawk-Owl. Once we have explored most of the main sites we’ll be left with a few wildcard choices: we may explore Divar or Chorao Islands or we may spend a day in the drier country of the Dona Paula Plateau, rounding off a great introductory week of birding in Asia.
This trip can be designed to link to our Northern India, or Eaglenest and Assam tours, to create a grand Indian curcuit
CLIMATE: Ranges from hot and humid at the coast to cooler in the western Ghats; occasional downpours.
DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate.
ACCOMMODATION: Basic at Backwoods, very good at Baga, private facilities throughout.