Drive to the Sahyadris
After a fascinating drive across the desert and the semi-arid regions of N-W India, we finally made it to the ancient forests of the Sahyadris. We could feel the difference in the air, parched land had transformed into lush green forests, weather-beaten faces gave way to chilled-out faces and the wildlife got a lot more colorful.
We settled in at the Nature’s Nest resort at Surla, on the edge of Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and made it a base camp for exploring the nearby forests.
18 Jan 2017: Day 18 (Tambdi Surla and around)
After a leisurely breakfast, we did some roadside birding eventually taking a trail that led us into the forest. Within the first few hundred meters, we spotted several birds like Golden-fronted Leafbird, Flame-throated, Yellow-browed and Red-whiskered Bulbul, Black Drongo, Western Crowned Warbler, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta and Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher.
As we ventured deeper into the forest, the canopy became thicker and soon we reached a shallow stream where a mixed flock of Dark-fronted Babbler and White-bellied Blue Flycatchers were spotted in the undergrowth. Scanning the canopy also produced an Indian Giant Squirrel curiously watching us from above. We went deeper into the forest and after crossing another stream reached an old temple. It was already noon and there was hardly any bird activity so we decided to return to our base camp. While returning, a Forest wagtail gave us company and kept walking on the trail ahead of us.
In the evening we drove to Tambdi Surla, a densely wooded area made famous by the ancient Mahadev Temple. A quick round of the temple yielded many bird species like Malabar Pied Hornbills, Shikra, Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Bulbuls and an Orange-headed Thrush while a flock of Grey-fronted Green Pigeons lured us into the dense forest on the back side of the temple. However, we soon realized that it was almost impenetrable and retraced our steps back to the temple.
We then explored the Tambdi Surla waterfall trail and spotted several birds like Puff-throated and Dark-fronted Babblers, Bulbuls and several Flycatchers. Around the halfway mark we thought of going back as it was getting dark, but then decided to hike till the next corner.
Anjana almost froze the moment she approached the corner as a striking Malabar Trogon perched on an aerial root in the middle of the trail looked our way. In the fast fading light and standing motionless, Anjana managed to take a few pictures before the bird took cover in a nearby branch. Rishi scouted around and soon spotted the male. But, we decided to return not intending to stay in the dense forest after dark. While returning Frogmouth calls were echoing in the background, but that did not sway our plan and we continued our hike back to the temple.
19 Jan 2017: Day 19 (Bondla and Tambdi Surla)
With a packed breakfast, we reached the Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary at 0700 Hrs only to be turned back by the forest guards informing us that the Sanctuary opens up at 9 AM. On probing, the forest guard confessed that due to a few election officials staying at the FRH, they need to enforce the official timings. We did not let this demotivate us and explored the forested slopes near the forest check post. Some of the birds sighted in the course of the next two hours were Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Grey-fronted Green Pigeon, Sunbirds, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Bulbuls, Leafbirds, Hornbills and White-rumped Shama.
In the evening, we went back to Tambdi Surla and were amused to find a group of international birders all hurdled up on the temple bridge equipped with scopes and massive lenses waiting for something to happen. The birding guide accompanying them informed us about the Blue-eared Kingfisher that hunts in the stream below. To our delight, the Kingfisher did show up at around 1800 Hrs and we managed to take a few pictures before it got dark. Other birds sighted close to the bridge were Malabar Barbet, Heart-spotted Woodpecker and a Malabar Whistling Thrush.
20 Jan 2017: Day 20 (Bondla and Tambdi Surla)
We returned to Bondla and this time around the forest guard gladly let us in. We parked the car at the check post and hiked all the way to the FRH. Some of the birds sighted during the next three hours were Puff-throated Babblers, Black-naped Monarch, Drongo, Bulbuls, Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Blue-capped Rock Thrush, Grey-fronted Green Pigeon, White-rumped Munia, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Asian Paradise-flycatcher, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and Velvet-fronted Nuthatch.
In the evening, we went back to the bridge at Mahadev Temple hoping the kingfisher would show up a little earlier. It turned out to be a long wait with the only excitement being a Rat Snake that was sighted at close quarters. The kingfisher did show up a little later, but by then it was way too dark for a proper sighting.
21 Jan 2017: Day 21 (Castlerock)
We drove to Castle Rock today to try our luck finding the Wynaad Laughingthrush. The drive was spectacular via the Ghats and the Castlerock-Anmod road took us via dense forests. Just before reaching Castlerock, we had breakfast on a bridge, next to a small but beautiful waterfall. The canopy was very dense and sunlight was just able to trickle down. A bit of scouting produced several white-cheeked and Malabar Barbets, Vernal Hanging Parrots, Asian Paradise-flycatchers, bulbuls and an Indian Blackbird.
Driving further, we took a left just before the town and headed towards a small village. It was here that we spotted the Rufous Babblers and Orange-headed Thrush. Driving further ahead, we heard faint calls of the Wynaad Laughingthrush, but never saw them.
We were pretty hungry by noon time and drove towards the railway station hoping to get something to eat. While asking directions, a family invited us to their home and served us a delicious lunch.
While returning, we also sighted a Southern Coucal and a Grey Junglefowl on the roadside. A rough birding map of Castlerock can be found here.
22 Jan 2017: Day 22 (Bondla)
Our original plan was to stay at Cotigao for the next few days, but our booking at the FRH got canceled as election officials were occupying all the rooms. So much for the Indian elections!!!
Anyway, we decided to visit Bondla again and were lucky enough to add a Blue-faced Malkoha to our bird list.
After an exhaustive afternoon washing piles of clothes, we spent the evening searching for an accommodation at Cotigao and finally found the “Hidden Farm Cottage”. We also contacted Mrs. Kamat and booked our Zuari River boat ride for the next day.
Birding in Goa: Birding in Goa is fairly easy and one can spot several endemics in a short span of time, however we did observe that birds were mostly active early morning and by evening bird activity reduced considerably with the exception of nocturnal birds. Birds also appeared a little shy and mostly remained within the canopy making photography a little tricky. While we concentrated on the Bhagwan Mahavir and Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary, other important bird area that can be explored are: Divar Island, Netravali WLS, Curtorim Lake, Morjim beach and Carambolim Lake.
Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary: Bondla carries a good number of bird species concentrated in a small area making it a great birding location. Birding is mostly on the roadside and vehicles are allowed inside the sanctuary, however, we hiked from the forest check post all the way to the top. While the entire road stretch is good for birding, the area around a series of curves that are approximately 1 km from the check post is highly productive for birding. We spotted the Malkoha at the curves foraging in the top canopy. After crossing the curves we reached a waterbody where many raptors were sighted.
Tambdi Surla: The waterfall trail is a good place for Malabar Trogon sighting and the bridge that leads to the temple is where you can sight the Blue-eared Kingfisher. Early morning and evening is the best time for birding.
Bird Guide: We did not hire a bird guide as birding was fairly straight forward. However, if one is after the Frogmouth and the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, a guide may be necessary. The Frogmouth roosts behind the Backwood Camp and is a easy watch. The Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher is often seen at Bondla near the pump house before the series of curves. We were not able to locate the bird whereas other guests at Nature’s Nest saw the bird with a guide but from a distance.
Accommodation: We stayed at the Nature’s Nest Resort at Surla and found the property to be reasonable. While the powder-puff trees are a big attraction for the resident birds and photographers alike, the cottages can be improved with brighter lighting and better blocking material to avoid rats and insects from entering the cottages. Breakfast was consistently excellent and wholesome except the last day when the packed breakfast was nothing except slices of white bread.
Please feel free to ask us any question that you may have about our time at Goa. Also, stay tuned for details on the next leg of our road trip.