Sunday, 31 March 2013


Yesterday (Easter saturday) the National Trust were due to have their first Seashore Safari of the year, but due to unforeseen circumstances they were struggling to get enough staff to take it, so on very short notice a couple of members of the CCG stepped in to take their place. Despite the bitterly cold weather it was a really good turn out and everybody had a whole load of fun looking for wildlife in the various rockpools along the beach. The recent cold snap and brisk easterly winds meant there wasnt a great deal of things to find, but we still managed to get things like Butterfish, Edible Crabs, Starfish and Anemones. It was a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours and something we wouldnt mind doing again.


The day before we came home, myself and Maria had an excursion booked via the tourist rep under the rather extravagant name of ''Island Cruise''. It wasnt quite as grandiose as it sounds, but it was definitely a fun way to end our holiday. We were picked up in an old-style fishing boat and headed toward the open sea for the first part of the trip, Dolphin spotting! It took us quite a while but we did eventually come across a group of around ten Dolphins lazily braking the surface and headed off to get closer looks. They were very slow swimmers and we caught up with them easily enough but they would frequently go under for long periods and re-appear miles from where we were! I wasnt sure what species they were so I asked the skipper and he said they were (Indo-Pacific) Humpback Dolphins, a brand new species for me. Once everyone had had their fill of the Dolphins we then headed off to do a spot of fishing. This was proper old-school type of fishing, no rods just a hook on a line! It was incredibly fun, and I caught a couple of lovely little tiddlers, but it soon got even more special. We had anchored just off a lovely little island, and as everyone was enjoying the fish I decided to scan the island for birds. (Its just what I do!!!). I noticed a fairly large looking bird perched a liitle way in the distance, and as I focused my binoculars on it it dawned on me what it was, it was the Sea Eagle! I couldnt believe how lucky I was!!! After missing it on the earlier River Trip I genuinely thought I'd missed my chance, but here was one right in front of me looking splendid in all its glory. I turned to Maria to tell her of my delight when another Eagle flew right over the boat giving incredibly close views. I was ecstatic!!! It truly was a superbly fitting end to a magnificent holiday and something I will cherish for a long long time.


(picture at top BRAHMINY KITE)

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Goa Trip 3 - RIVER TRIP

For our final trip, Arup booked us on a birding cruise up the river Zuari in the hope of seeing a host of Kingfishers and probably my most sought after bird, the White Bellied Sea Eagle! Another early start saw us on the road for 6.30am, and we had an enjoyably relaxed drive inland stopping on a number of occasions to look at the various water birds en route. One such bird was a fabulous Woolly Necked Stork. I had seen them before in Gambia but those birds were quite distant, so it was nice to get a much better view. We arrived at the jetty nice and early and Arup enjoyed a nice cup of tea while I watched a flock of Red Rumped Swallows showing off their aerial acrobatics. We were joined on the boat by a couple of other birders, but I made sure I had a seat at the front as past experience taught me that you get the best views from up front! As we set off, the first place the boatsman took us was a lovely big railway bridge that towered above the river. His target was a Peregrine Falcon, a bird I'd seen many many times so as the other 'birders' ooh'd and aah'd at the common raptor I focused on a group of Dusky Crag Martins who had made their home under the bridge. First new birds of the day! And the next were mere moments away, as we past a small group of Great Crested Terns perched on wooden posts coming out of the water. These posts were scattered all over the river, and 99.9% seemed to be occupied by Ospreys!!! I've never seen so many, they were absolutely everywhere and they all allowed incredibly close views. We continued on, seeing a number of already seen species, until the boatsman spotted something flying overhead and land in the trees to our left. We searched for what seemed like ages until finally Arup picked up the bird in the foliage, a stunning Orange Breasted Green Pigeon. Our patience was rewarded when the bird came out and perched ontop of a bush in clear view. What an incredibly beautiful bird it was, its colours almost glowing in the bright morning sunshine. It was while we were watching the Pigeon that we saw our first new Kingfisher of the day as a gorgeous Collared Kingfisher flew past and landed up ahead. This was the first of many Collared Kingfishers as they were extremely abundant on this stretch of river. We then turned off the main river and headed up a stretch that was much thinner and more dense along the riverbanks. This was when the real goodies started to show! First up was a pair of possibly one of the ugliest species of bird I've seen, the Lesser Adjutant. Big and extremely unattractive, yet very scarce here so it was still good to see. Next up was a real skulker, a Slaty Breasted Rail. It was really hard to get onto this bird as it hugged the muddy reedbed but it did come out into the open on a couple of occasions. Then came a tremendous double-whammy! We were slowly crawling along when something flew across us from one side to the other. After a little search we came across the bird, a fabulous Stork Billed Kingfisher. This was a huge bird, easily the biggest Kingfisher I've seen. The bird was very flighty and kept flying off whenever we got near it, and it was as we were following it that we saw the best bird of the day. We were creeping up to the Stork Bill when we unexpectedly flushed an amazing Black Capped Kingfisher. This is probably the scarcest of all the Kingfishers in this region, and we were extremely lucky to stumble across this one. Incredibly it was the sixth species of Kingfisher I'd seen on my trip! This rounded off an incredible morning. The only downside was missing the Sea Eagle, but to be honest all the other species more than made up for it. I'd had a magnificent three days with Arup, saw a lot of fantastic wildlife and thoroughly enjoyed his company. He helped to make it a very special holiday and for that he has my highest gratitude.










A big thank you to Arup for the fantastic photographs.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Goa Trip 2 - BONDLA

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?










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

Goa Trip 1 - WETLANDS

Before coming out I had made contact with a local guy whom I found on Facebook. He had a terrific page which was filled with lots of wonderful photos of various birds from Goa. His name was Arup Banerjee, and luck would have it he was based in Southern Goa, not too far from where I was staying. Even better, he had just set up his own business as a bird guide, so we agreed that he would take me out for three mornings during my stay in Goa. (Apparently the sun and heat would be too intense for a full day birding!). We emailed each other quite a lot in the weeks leading up to my visit, and each time Arup was extremely polite, jovial, and very friendly. Even so, you never truly know somebody via a computer so when he arrived to pick me up at 6.30am for our first trip there was a touch of apprehension. I genuinely needn't have worried about anything. Arup was without doubt one of the nicest people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. A great conversationalist, with a cracking sense of humour, he was a pleasure to spend time with and great company all round. And more importantly he knew all the best places in the area to go birding! On that first morning we were concentrating on water birds, and I was genuinely amazed at how much water there was in Goa. There were ponds, rivers and rice fields all over the place, and each one contained a load of birds. The very first one we arrived at was a perfect example of this, there were so many birds it was almost overwhelming and it was really difficult to know where to start! What WAS immediately noticeable was how many Garganeys there were, literally hundreds of them. I've never seen so many before. In county Durham we're lucky to see one or two each year on passage, but here they were everywhere. And then I slowly started to take in the other birds that were around. Comb Ducks and Lesser Whistling Ducks were abundant, as were Greenshanks, and in amongst these birds I started to pick out individuals of other species including Bronze Winged Jacana, Oriental Darter, Purple Heron, Little Cormorant and Purple Swamphen. There was a small flock of River Terns coming and going, and a single Whiskered Tern patrolled the pond looking for food. We also saw the first two species of Kingfishers here, Common Kingfisher and White Throated Kingfisher. It was a tremendous start to the day, and over the next couple of hours we consistently picked up more and more new species with every site we visited. First up was Spot Billed Duck, then there was Black Headed Ibis, and Pheasant Tailed Jacana, Intermediate Egret, Openbill Stork etc etc. It wasnt just water birds we were picking up, there was Black Drongos, Spotted Dove, Tailorbird, Pied Bushchat, Indian Roller, Long Tailed Shrike, Indian Robin, Jungle Mynah, Indian Silverbill, Oriental Skylark, Paddyfield Pipit and many more. We even got a third Kingfisher, the Pied Kingfisher, at the last pond we went to. It was a great morning, filled with birds galore new and familiar. But there was still time for one more beauty on our journey back. We pulled up at a field that had plenty of things like Little Egrets and Glossy Ibis etc, and then after a bit of a search Arup spotted the bird he was looking for, a Painted Stork. What a majestic bird, and a superb way to end our first morning.









All the photos above were taken by Arup Banerjee and used by very kind permission.