Bird­ing n GOA, IN­DIA

Bril­liant birds and won­der­ful wildlife abound in this western In­dian state…

Bird Watching (UK) - - Bird The World - WORDS: ED HUTCH­INGS

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


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: goa­ex­pe­ri­

Scenic na­ture path­way to Tambdi Surla Water­falls though the ev­er­green and moist de­cid­u­ous forests of Bhag­wan Ma­havir Sanc­tu­ary

Lesser Whistling Ducks in Caram­bolim Lake

Dudhsagar Water­falls

Ori­en­tal Darter

Crim­son-backed Sun­bird

Flame-throated Bul­bul

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