Saturday, January 12, 2013

Goa - Birdwatching paradise

First up, yes I've been through all the jokes on Goa and birdwatching. And no, the wildlife on this blog still does not cover humans, so for all of you looking for birding action of the non-feathered kind, this ain't your scene! With that disclaimer out of the way, here goes the real thing.

Goa doesn't spontaneously present itself as a wildlife destination, but in truth, the state has some fabulous sanctuaries and water-bodies which provide some awesome sightings, of birds and mammals. The Zuari river is one such awesome birding destination, with 5 different species of Kingfishers as well as several different raptors.

Great Crested Tern - in flight
We were in Goa over Christmas, joined by our good friends Nikhil and Aparna with their kids. And early one morning, Aparna and I set off to Curtolim pier where the local birding expert Mr. B M Kamath ran an early morning 'safari' over the Zuari river. There were finally 8 people in total on his boat, including an old friend and avid wildlifer from Mumbai, Siddhesh Maldikar. 

Osprey in Flight




Even as we waited for the boat to arrive, the birds had already started to present themselves. A pair of Brahminy Kites hovered above, a Black Kite dived into the river a couple of times and a Pond Heron floated by on a bamboo platform of some kind. And when the boat did arrive, Mr. Kamath set course towards the sea, which was just that bit surprising. After all, wasn't this supposed to be birding on the river?

We got to know why within a couple of minutes as we made for a set of bamboo poles which housed several Great Crested Cranes. These beautiful birds preened for us, gave us some 'in-flight' pictures and generally played perfect hosts. And as we sailed back into the river, Mr. Kamath said two magical words - Peregrine Falcon. And sure enough, sheltered under the Zuari bridge, sat a beautiful falcon. He sat in the shadow and the early morning light wasn't good enough to make up for it, so the pictures weren't great, but it was my first sighting of this beautiful raptor. Less than 15 minutes into the trip and already 2 species I'd never seen before.

We cruised through the river and saw plenty of Herons, Egrets and some Cranes but the real attractions lay ahead. First up, a fair distance away, we saw an Osprey perched on a stump close to the water. We glided towards this beautiful raptor and got some decent pictures of him perched as well as when he took off. We followed this up with another Osprey further down and a pair of White Bellied Sea Eagles in flight, followed by a pair of Brahminy Kites. And when we saw 2 Kingfishers as well (White Throated and Common) it was almost like someone was running a 'show' for us.

We left the main river and floated down some side gullies, where we saw more bird life in the mangroves. We saw 3 more Kingfisher species (Black capped, Collared and Stork Billed - no pictures though), more Brahminy Kites, Striated Herons, Stilts and Sand Pipers to name a few species. And avian activity dulled as the sun's influence grew and it was time to head back to shore. One funny incident though - as the boat glided through the mangroves, we spotted a Black Capped Kingfisher perched on a branch and I whispered "Stop" and was amazed and a little peeved that despite my repeated requests, the boat glided on. Only until our guide turned back and with a sweet smile said "the boat doesn't have brakes". I could have drowned in a palmful of water at that point.

Anyways, on our way back we saw the now mandatory Osprey and Egrets. But the highlight was a pair of cranes (Painted and Lesser Adjutant) perched on the same tree. The Adjutant flew off as we approached, but the Painted Stork stayed and posed for us! And that was the end of a lovely birding excursion, a surprising and fun activity in otherwise 'beach-bummed' Goa. Till next time then!

Zuari River Birding Guide

The boat leaves from Curtolim pier, when you're driving from Panjim towards Vasco, drive across the Zuari bridge and take a left U-turn further down and drive till you hit the pier.

Mr. BM Kamath is the resident expert and he runs the tour. You can reach him on +91 9822127936. Call him a few days in advance and he should be able to accommodate you on a tour. He's absolutely brilliant at spotting birds and knows the area like the back of his hand. Most important, he's very keen that you spot every conceivable species and will try really hard to ensure you have a great time.

He charges Rs. 1000 per person with a minimum of Rs. 3000 to cover his costs. It's actually a real bargain given how much he puts in. 



 Common Kingfisher

Brahminy Kite

Egret

Great Crested Tern








Kingfisher diving
Peregrine Falcon

Sand Piper

White Throated Kingfisher

White Bellied Sea Eagle

Painted Stork