Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Goa - 4 Kingfishers down before 10 am


Black Capped Kingfisher
As a tourist, Goa's laid-back, charming hospitality often lulls you into a state of supine, semi-conscious satiation. All you feel like doing is parking yourself somewhere to while away the day in the company of some time-appropriate beverage - often Kingfisher. 

Early one morning, my friend Anurag and I set out to seek Kingfishers, this time of the feathered variety. And no, it was not driven by the fact that it was too early to imbibe the bottled namesake of said feathered friend. The truth is that Goa is home to seven different species of Kingfisher and Mr. Balchandra Kamat's birdwatching boat rides on the Cumbarjhua Channel give you as good an opportunity as any to find some of these beautiful little birds.

We were joined at Cortalim pier by friend and fellow wildlife enthusiast Amit Srivastava (he's actually a life enthusiast, such is his joie de vivre) and his brother-in-law. We set out first to see some great crested terns and also to seek White bellied sea eagles or the resident Peregrine Falcon under the Zuari bridge. Sadly neither were in residence and we pulled forth into the Channel proper.

Striated Heron
The waders first came into view (Common & Terek Sandpipers, Eurasian Curlews, Redshanks and Greater Sand Plovers) in the mudflats along with the snowy white egrets and the friendly striated heron, who kindly posed out in the open. Chugging along a bit further and we saw the first raptor of the morning, a beautiful Brahminy Kite posing on one of the bamboo poles. I feel that this handsome bird doesn't quite get the attention or plaudits he deserves, probably because he's just a 'kite' and not a glamorous 'eagle' - a character actor v/s star in the bird thespian directory? Or maybe being commonly visible takes away the impact for people? Either ways, this beautiful bird allowed us to float quite close to him before he decided to fly off and inspect the buffet for his next breakfast course.
Brahminy Kite
We followed that with a raptor who had dipped into the buffet, a magnificent osprey sat on another pole eating the remains of a fish, probably a carp. Now whenever Mr. Kamath spots a bird (and he does it at mind-numbing distances) he gets the driver to cut the engine so we gently float towards the bird with very little noise. Requires great spotting and no little boating skills, especially with the Cumbharjua being a tidal channel and all.

Osprey with breakfast
Coming back to the Osprey, he probably felt we were after his half-eaten fish, so he hastily legged (winged?) it to places safer. And we made for the smaller channels to try and spot Kingfishers within the mangroves. But not before we had a great stork of luck! A Wooly necked stork sharing a branch with his Painted cousin, both in companionable silence.  They both preened and posed and we gratefully clicked.

Different storks
Into the smaller channels and the first thing we see is a massive croc, sunning on one of the mudbanks. Then Mr. Kamat said the magic words - Black Capped Kingfisher and we see one specimen sitting (very kindly, I might add) in the open and in decent light. We got a couple of pictures before he flew away and we carried on. Then Mr. Kamat, muttered 'Mangrove Pitta' under his breath. And as I turned to look at him with amazement, he said he just saw it zip across the channel. No hope of finding it of course, but being on the same boat with someone who spotted it somehow felt like an achievement!

Barn Owl
Further down the channel and we heard a clamorous warbler and saw (me-barely... Kamat - clearly) a slaty breasted rail in the mangroves. Then I finally managed to see something - a barn owl high up in the hollow of a tree. This lovely bird gave us the once over and then sat motionless. Suddenly the owl made a dart up the hollow, evidently there was a nest there. 

Once I started seeing things, it sort of became a habit! We came across another black capped beauty, again in the light and not skulking in the shade. We came back out to the main channel looking for some more. We saw a stork billed Kingfisher, but a skittish fella and then a white throated Kingfisher in beautiful light. Have a picture where the nictating membrane is half across his eye as he 'blinked' which says a lot for timing!

White throated Kingfisher

Collared Kingfisher
Back into the side channel and we saw the Collared Kingfisher almost immediately, sitting in the open and allowing us a beautiful sighting and some pictures.That pretty much wrapped up our morning, though we tried one more shot at the Peregrine Falcon on our way out - we got all excited as a bird approached the bridge and Kamat even said Peregrine, but it turned out to be a crow! So now, all the crows around the Zuari bridge are termed Peregrine Crows. Add a new one to the Grimmett and Inskipp book, what?

That was that for the boat birding and another excellent trip with the fantastic Mr. Kamat and great company thanks to the guys. "4 Kingfishers down before 10 am" is an apt way to describe it, being in Goa and all?

Little Sand Plover
That wasn't the end of the Goa birding though. Found a couple of surprises even while doing the regular 'touristy' stuff. First up on Candolim beach, I saw a bunch of little birds bustling about and pecking at their afternoon snack in the sand. I inched closer and saw they were little sand plovers, beautiful little fellas. Grabbed Anurag's camera and got a couple of frames of these guys against the sand. 

White rumped munia
The last little surprise was right outside our home. A little black bird flitted in and out of a densely wooded tree right outside and I saw it was a white rumped munia, obviously building a nest inside. I carefully took up a position not too close, in case I spooked the little bird, and managed to get a few frames.

Next time, with a little more planning, trips to Bondla, Vagator beach and the water bodies around are definitely on the Agenda. Viva Goa!  

That was Goa then, lots of birds, but Kingfisher was indeed King!

Goa Birding Guide:

Lots of birding in Goa, from the forest  birds at Bondla, Bhagwan Mahaveer and Cotigao to the waders at various beaches. And then this buffet at the Cumbharjua channel.

For the boat trip (morning & afternoon) you can reach Mr. Kamat on +91 9822127936

You can also join the excellent Birdwatchers Goa Facebook group for a lot of guidance and help with sightings and planning