Birding n GOA, INDIA
Brilliant birds and wonderful wildlife abound in this western Indian state…
The former Portuguese enclave of Goa, midway down India’s south-west coast, has been a holiday destination since colonial times, when British troops and officials used to travel here from across the country for a spot of ‘R&R’. Back then, the three Bs – bars, brothels and booze – were the big attractions. Now it’s the golden, palm-fringed beaches spread along the State’s 65-mile coastline that pull in the tourists – around two million of them each winter. Cheap air travel has made it a major package tour destination for Europeans and there has been a dramatic rise in the number of newly affluent domestic visitors in recent years. Luckily, despite the increasing chaos of Goa’s main resorts, it’s still possible to find the odd quiet corner if you’re prepared to explore and can avoid the busy festive season. If you know where to go, Goa can still be a wonderful place. Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary is in the Sanguem taluka on the eastern border of Goa, along the Western Ghats. It was earlier called the Mollem Game Sanctuary but was renamed in 1976 after the great saint Bhagwan Mahavir. Within its 36,700 acres, Bhagwan Mahavir has excellent wet evergreen, semi-evergreen and moist deciduous forests. The core area, consisting of 41 square miles, was declared as Mollem National Park. Many small rivulets flow through the sanctuary in the monsoon but dry up in summer. Besides flora and fauna, there are many important geological and historical features in the sanctuary. Dudhsagar Falls, about an hour’s journey from Collem Railway Station by train, is a popular tourist spot and the Devil Canyon is a splendid piece of geological rock formation. The famous Tambdi Surla Temple is about eight miles from Mollem. Due to luxuriant tree growth, the canopy is almost closed, and the availability of grass is very limited; evergreen vegetation is mainly seen on higher altitudes and along the riverbanks. Nearly 200 species of birds have been reported from the sanctuary, including Western Ghats endemics such as Nilgiri Blue Robin. Malabar Pied Hornbill is found all over the sanctuary, while White-bellied Woodpecker can be seen in most parts. The latter has been recorded nesting in the Dudhsagar area – a popular tourist and birdwatching destination. Nilgiri Woodpigeon, Blue-winged Parakeet, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Grey-headed Bulbul and Crimson-backed Sunbird are all present, while White-bellied Treepie is reported from Dudhsagar.
Lesser Adjutant Stork has also been seen. Leopard forms the apex trophic level in the sanctuary, while herbivores include Gaur, Sambar, Indian Muntjac and Indian Spotted Chevrotain. Other important mammals include Indian Pangolin, Malabar Grey Slender Loris, Indian Crested Porcupine, Small Indian Civet and Indian Giant Flying Squirrel. Carambolim Lake lies in Ilhas taluka, about seven miles from Panjim, the capital of Goa. It’s spread over an area of 173 acres, of which 99 acres is underwater for most of the year. The western embankment of the lake serves as the base for the recently laid Konkan railway track, while the eastern side has been partially cleared of its scrub forests, mango and cashew groves, to pave the way for the construction of residential buildings. Coconut and mango trees fringe the remaining sides of the lake. The main vegetation consists of Nymphea nouchali,a rooted plant with floating leaves, Oryza rufipogon, an emergent wild paddy, and submerged Hydrilla verticillata. Carambolim attracts thousands of birds, especially waterfowl, such as Pintail, Lesser Whistling Duck and Coot. More than 4,000 Garganey regularly winter, too. Close to Carambolim, at Corlim, is located the Hindustan Ciba-geigy factory which produces highly toxic pesticides for agricultural use. The large factory compound contains two shallow ponds that give undisturbed shelter to Goa’s only known heronry and a haven to several migrant and vagrant storks, ibises and spoonbills. Little and Indian Cormorants, Oriental Darter, Purple Heron and Great Egret breed regularly in the heronry, while regular visitors include Grey Heron, Night Heron, Asian Openbill, Woolly-necked and Painted Storks, Lesser Adjutant and Lesser Whistling Duck. Among the occasional and rare visitors are Black and White Storks, Black-headed Ibis and Spoonbill. The dry fields near Carambolim are well known for raptors, such as Indian Vulture and Greater Spotted Eagle, plus a very small chat, which was discovered in 1996. It’s still not known for sure if it was a White-browed Bush Chat or a species new to science. Blue-winged Parakeet and Blue-faced Malkoha also feature. Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary in the Canacona taluka, six miles south-east of Chaudi, lies partly in the Western Ghats. It
CARAMBOLIM ATTRACTS THOUSANDS OF BIRDS, ESPECIALLY WATERFOWL...
was established in 1969 to protect a remote and vulnerable area of forest lining the Goa/karnataka border. The terrain is hilly and includes undulating uplands. Many small rivulets flow through the sanctuary in the monsoon but dry up in summer. The ancient Partgali Jeevottam Math, noted for Vedic studies, lies nearby. White-rumped Vulture, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Blue-winged Parakeet, Whitebellied Treepie, Grey-headed Bulbul and White-bellied Blue Flycatcher are all found in the sanctuary. Not much is known of the birdlife of Cotigao but Nilgiri Woodpigeon, a globally threatened species, has been reported and Sri Lanka Frogmouth is likely to occur in the thick tropical evergreen forest. Indian Swiftlet may be encountered anywhere in Goa, but most frequently in a three-mile-deep strip along the coast. It’s also likely to occur in Cotigao, although it hasn’t been reported from there. Hill Swallow, a bird of the southern Western Ghats, is reported as a vagrant in Goa.
Leopard is the apex predator in this small sanctuary, mainly predating Sambar, Indian Muntjac and Indian Spotted Chevrotain. Gaur is also found, but an adult is too large a prey for a leopard. Indian Giant Flying Squirrel is present, as are Malabar Grey Slender Loris and Indian Pangolin, but difficult to see due to their nocturnal habits. Small Indian Civet and Golden Jackal are the smaller predators. Cotigao has many species of interesting reptiles, too, including King Cobra. Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary was named after the Mandovi River, which is considered the lifeline of Goa. The entire sanctuary occupies 43% of the geographical area of the state. Mhadei, with an area of 51,397 acres, is part of Mandovi River basin and is considered ecologically rich and pristine. The Mandovi is an interstate river, with its catchment area spread over Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra. The forest types range from moist deciduous, semi evergreen and secondary scrub. An annual rainfall of 3,000mm, spread roughly over five months, and high relative humidity, make ideal conditions for plant growth and diversity. Thus, thick forests, humid climate and moist soil have contributed to the species richness in this region. Mhadei is of great cultural significance, as most of the sacred groves of Goa are found here. The sacred grove Nirankarachi is dominated by a unique plant species Myristica malabarica, which is endangered and endemic. The Mhadei Valley has many endemic and biome restricted species. More than 150 species of birds in total are known to occur here, including Nilgiri Woodpigeon, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Blue-winged Parakeet, Grey-headed Bulbul, Rufous Babbler, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher and Crimson-backed Sunbird. Flame-throated Bulbul is restricted to the Western Ghats complex and its geographical range starts from Goa southwards, i.e. from the forests of Mhadei. This bird has the distinction of being the State Bird of Goa. The conditions of Mhadei are especially suited for reptilian fauna and more than 45 species of snakes are known to occur in the region. Of the 14 pit vipers found in India, eight are reported to occur in this region including Indian Green and Hump-nosed Pit Vipers. Apart from snakes, the thick forests of Mhadei provide ideal habitat for agamids, skinks and geckos. The highly endemic Wroughton’s Free-tailed Bat is found in one of the Barapeda Caves near Talewadi of Khanapur on the Goa/karnataka borders. Krishnapur Caves are one of the three habitats worldwide of the rare Theobald’s Tomb Bat. Another species, Lesser False Vampire Bat, that inhabits the Talewadi Caves, is localised in the Indian subcontinent. There are confirmed reports of the presence and movement of Tiger in the area, which are contiguous to Mollem, Dandeli, Mhadei and Netravati wildlife sanctuaries. Similarly, among invertebrates, endemism is high, and hundreds of species are found. Butterflies range from the Malabar Tree Nymph and Southern Birdwing, India’s largest butterfly, to the Grass Jewel, India’s smallest. The Atlas Moth is also recorded here. Goa’s small area, combined with its well-developed infrastructure, make it possible to effortlessly, yet thoroughly, cover the most productive birding localities from the coast to the Ghats in a short timeframe. Given a couple of weeks, it’s possible to reach a bird list of 250 to 300, comprising more widespread Indian species, regional endemics and overwintering migrants. Goa is accessible, friendly and above all safe, making it easy to travel around independently without the necessity of joining a guided tour. Flights and accommodation are easy to arrange and facilities for visitors are well established. Everything considered, Goa is an excellent introduction to Indian, or even Asian, birding. MORE INFORMATION For more on visiting Goa head to: goaexperience.co.uk
Scenic nature pathway to Tambdi Surla Waterfalls though the evergreen and moist deciduous forests of Bhagwan Mahavir Sanctuary
Lesser Whistling Ducks in Carambolim Lake