For our second trip, Arup wanted to show me a different type of habitat to the many wetland areas we had previously visited so we headed inland to the Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary. The goal was to try and see a few woodland species of birds, and maybe even some other wildlife if we were lucky. I have to say the drive to the Sanctuary was very much an eye opener. I was seeing the real Goa, and I dont mean the glossy holiday brochure images the holiday companies like to portray, I'm talking poverty, dirty, litter strewn areas where people had nothing and life was hard. The kind of images that tended to be hidden out the way of the unsuspecting tourist. It was truly a world away from the luscious, exclusive, all-inclusive hotels that people dont stray too far from. The real India! Anyway, Bondla is a protected forest in the foothills of the Western Ghats. Its 8 square kms in size, not huge but big enough to spend a good couple of hours exploring. This mainly involved driving slowly along the road and stopping every once in a while in a ''good looking spot''! There were hardly any nature trails, which I found very strange, but Arup told me there were a number of large predators in the area and walking around wasnt encouraged. I was very disappointed by this but there wasnt really anything I could do about it, so I just accepted the situation and got on with it. We still managed to see a good number of new birds which I was delighted with, these included White Bellied Drongo, Jungle Babbler, Emerald Dove, Grey Junglefowl, Plain Flowerpecker, Scarlet Minivet (a stunning looking bird!), Black Hooded Oriole, Racket Tailed Drongo, Jungle Crow, Pale Billed Flowerpecker, Rufous Treepie, White Eyed Buzzard, and two gorgeous species, the Chestnut Headed BeeEater and the Asian Paradise Flycatcher. That latter bird was particularly beautiful. It wasnt only birds that were catching our eye as we saw a number of other wildlife, most of which were mammals. The most common was the Spotted Deer, we came across a number of herds while driving around. We also saw a few Gaur, or Indian Bison, but whether these were truly wild animals is open to debate. What ARE genuinely wild are the monkeys, and we saw two different types, the Hanuman Langur and the Bonnet Macaque. The cutest by far were the two species of squirrels we saw, the Indian Palm Squirrel and the Indian Giant Squirrel. I was genuinely amazed at how big the Giant Squirrels were, at first I actually mistook them for monkeys, but they were incredibly attractive animals. But the best sighting by far was neither a mammal OR a bird. It happened on the drive to the visitor centre. We were driving quite slowly looking for birds in the forest when I happened to notice a watering hole in a clearing on our left hand side. My natural instincts took over and I began to scan for waterbirds. There was only one bird there, a Little Egret just to the left of a large log. At least I thought it was a log, until I looked a little harder. I suddenly yelled stop, and jumped out of the car. That 'log' had miraculously turned itself into a huge Mugger Crocodile!!! We watched it for a good twenty minutes, until Arup decided to try and get close enough for a few photos. Unfortunately we didnt get very far before it effortlessly glided into the water and disappeared. It was an incredibly lucky find and easily one of the highlights of the whole holiday. Arup had been to this place many, many times and had never seen a single Croc, yet I find one on my first ever visit. Maybe it was my ninja training, who knows?
INDIAN GIANT SQUIRREL
ASIAN PARADISE FLYCATCHER
BLACK HOODED ORIOLE
CHESTNUT HEADED BEE-EATER
The only photo Arup managed to get of the MUGGER CROCODILE before it slipped away.
All the photos are by Arup Banerjee and used by kind permission