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PostPosted: Mon Dec 08, 2008 7:40 am 
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Location: LLandudno
Just got back from our trip to India having made a last ditch bid to catch up Alan and Ruth. Sadly I am now broke having birded Gambia, Costa Rica, Goa and of course here in Britain this year. I am still a few birds short so if anyone would like to fund my return I am willing to carry on for the next few weeks. The weather here at home is a bit brutal compared to the average temperatures I have enjoyed of late so a sympathetic response would be welcome.
A report of my experiences will follow in due course as it will take some time to sort my photo's but don't let that put you off sending the cash.
cheers everyone
Dave


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 10, 2008 6:45 pm 
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Ah well, looks like I'm staying put as the sponsorship seems to have been a non starter !
And so to the report..... I feel another epic coming on, hopefully it will be of interest to you.
Goa. I have been extremely fortunate this year to have had the opportunity to take three foreign holidays,two to new destinations, the third back to Goa where we first visited 20 months ago. A lot has happened in 20 months. My addiction to birds and photography in particularly. On my last visit I went as a total novice birder armed with my Panasonic FZ20. I came home having managed to photograph 35 species and it was as a result the decision to invest in my first DSLR camera and lens. I was looking forward to the return visit armed with better equipment, and after our appalling summer the chance for some good photographic light.
Goa is an ideal destination to combine a sun holiday with some birding. Ticks all the boxes on my list. I can go walkabout whilst Claire takes a well earned rest by the pool ! Although it's possibly more expensive to get to India it's certainly exceptionally good value when you get there. Although the £ had fallen to R70-72 instead of the R84-5 we had been getting on our last visit your hard earned goes a long way. A 650ml Kingfisher lager costs about £1, an Indian meal with a few beers can be had for less the £5 per head. Our favourite, a very special Italian restaurant where the whole food/service/atmosphere is very special costs less than £35 for three courses and a bottle of wine for 2 persons.
Shopping, you can buy a shirt for £2, I got a new leather belt for £3 and had my sandals repaired and polished for £1. As for birding, a trip out with my guide was between £12- £15 for about 5 hours. Compare that to Gambia where an half day trip was £30 and Costa Rica where a full day trip was too expensive for me at £115.
Trips to India require a VISA which can take a couple of weeks to come through but if you have a valid one you can take advantage of some last minute offers. The 3* Lagoa Azul was £800 for 2 weeks for 2 people a week before last. It dropped to £696 the day before departure. ( Mind you some places were due to cancellations because of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai). We aim to get the best value budget hotels included in a package with First Choice as their aeroplanes have extra pitch seating and fly direct. Some people go DIY, often because they want to stay longer than the 14 or 21 days on offer from the tour operators. Personally, 21 days is long enough for me and flights on Monarch airways are by all account a trial of endurance.
The most famous birding hotel in Goa is the Beira Mar in Baga. All the specialist birding tour companies seem to use it and it has a world wide reputation. Personally I think it's a pit but this was the first place I headed to on our first evening in Goa. I had already made contact with Alan from the Wirral and arranged to meet up. It's a good venue for a beer and a bit of bird watching. The bird guides, both knowledgeable and otherwise tout for business there. Alan connected me with a decent one.
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The attraction of this place is the view over the marshland from the rear of the hotel.
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The views looking down from the rooms , especially those with balconies are supposedly very good. Residents even compile balcony lists. Chris and Paul who I met were staying there and they had ticked 80+ in the first two days !
Down at ground level the views are not as good. Most birds are observed distantly.
Sat on the wires
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A few are closer like this Indian Pond Heron
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and Cattle Egret
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and I did get a shot of this Clamorous Warbler
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The stars though are the fliers.
Black Eared Black Kite ( yes, I think that's its correct name)
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Standard black Kite
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but by far the best are the amazing views of Marsh Harriers..... when they come close, the views are as good as you will get anywhere in the world !
Literally within feet !

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The Marsh Harriers were enough to draw me back on about 5 or 6 evenings, it's a good place for some birding craic but I feel this venue has sat on it's laurels for too long.The property next door have somehow manged to claim some land and built directly behind the Beira Mer's
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I would certainly think twice, actually I wouldn't even contemplate staying there at all.
Mosquitos are a nuisance as the sun sets and the disruption caused by next doors building project meant that the Spotted Owlets didn't hang around for long. Neither did I !
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To Be Continued........................


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 10, 2008 10:12 pm 
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Great pics Dave.

Brought back some great memories as well as some other not so nice memories. We stayed at the Biera Mar back in 2002. Does not seem to have changed much since then really. The room we had was not great at all although to see golden orioles at eye level from our balcony and spotted owlets outside the windows helped. Don't miss the noisy fans, ants and power cuts though. However to be by the pool at dawn and dusk watching painted snipe, bitterns, rails, kingfishers, bee eaters and raptors galore with a bottle of kingfisher/sandpiper beer makes up for it.
Shame to see that they have built behind the hotel. I have also heard that they have built on Baga Hill since our visit.
My parents stayed up the road at a hotel closer to Baga Hill, near the lake and this seems a much better option. They said it was very nice!
I think Goa is great and as you say very cheap as well. A great introduction to India. You can bird during the day and eat a £2 curry on the beach as the sun goes down with a cold beer. It doesn't get much better than that.

Looking forward to more of your photos. Most authorities now split cattle egret now. Indian ones are Eastern cattle egret and so were an armchair tick for me.

Did you get upto Backwoods?

Kev.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 10, 2008 10:28 pm 
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Lovely (huge!) pics Dave.
I wonder if your egret could be an Intermediate Egret?
Thanks. Henerz.


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 11, 2008 8:49 am 
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You could be right about the Intermediate Egret, there was always one in the vicinity of the Cattle Egrets but from the angle of the photo I'm not 100% sure. Good start eh, and typical of me !!!!
Sorry the photo's are a bit big, the next lot will be scaled down !
You asked about Backwoods Camp Kevin, the answer is no, I didn't go. I met lots of people who had and the pure birders love it, the photographers were saying there weren't too many photo opportunities which I can understand and demonstrate later in my report.
Chris and Paul ( staying at the Beira Mar) had intended going for 4 nights, Chris loved it so much he didn't come back to the Beira Mar as he hated Baga so much. I heard stories of rats and frogs in your room at Backwoods, a real back to nature experience from all accounts. It was always a No No for me as it would be unfair to either expect Claire to go or abandon her whilst I went on my own. I elected to do some guided trips locally instead.


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 11, 2008 9:52 am 
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Whilst many birders still use the Beira Mar hotel, quite a few are now heading to the Marinha Dourada in Arpora instead. According to the First Choice brochures I think that the MD is a 2* hotel. 2* in India would probably not get any here, however the MD is , IMO, an excellent value for money hotel and highly recommended for it's location both for local birding and the fact it's away from Baga and Calangute.
The view from our balcony overlooked one of two lakes that were home to an huge variety of fish. Beyond the lakes you can see the ridge of Baga Hill and woods.
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Across the road at the front of the hotel (which was the longest walk to reception I have ever had, must be 300m at least) were shrimp ponds along side Baga River.
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A maze of dykes and muddy banks attracted lots of different waders.
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Redshank
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Greenshank
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Little Ringed Plover
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Golden Plover
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Common Sandpiper
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Egrets
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Also fishing were
White Throated Kingfisher
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Pied Kingfisher
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Common Kingfisher
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Grey heron
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Purple Heron
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Flying around searching for insects were Green Bee eaters
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Ashy Wood Swallows
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Barn Swallows
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and hunting from the bushes
Pied Bushchat
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and Long Tailed Shrike
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There was a veritable feast of birding and photographic opportunity right on the doorstep. I haven't featured half of them !
Although the hotel grounds didn't hold too many species we did get visits from the Kingfishers, one which seemed to take an early morning dip in the swimming pool. I can only imagine the chemicals must have beneficial effects on the condition of the skin and feathers !
A pair of White Browed Wagtails were always present
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and on one occasion a Little Heron posed within feet
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I was delighted to discover the ponds were a regular roost for a resident Osprey.
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He never fished the hotel lakes, probably because when he came near he was mobbed by the resident Crows.
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No the Marinha Dourada is an excellent spot, both for the quality of birding and the standard of accommodation.
I determined that I would get my best ever Osprey shots at some stage during the next few weeks !
To be continued


Last edited by Dave Williams on Mon Dec 15, 2008 9:22 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 11, 2008 12:53 pm 
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When I set off to Goa my birding objectives were two fold... and obviously to escape the UK weather which has been so miserable this year. Sunlight is good for the soul and good for photography, especially shots needing high shutters speeds....Kingfishers for example !
There was also a matter of a few ticks. I guess it's inevitable that at some stage the idea of a measure of kind crosses your mind. I only started counting in the UK last year and made 138 by the year end. At the beginning of this year I had no idea I would visit so many foreign places. By the end of May this year my UK list was 149, by November it was still only 172. However, netted down I had seen , by coincidence, 107 different birds in both Gambia and Costa Rica ( plenty more that had gone unphotographed and unidentified ). This made a total list of 386. The target was obvious. I needed 114 new species. My last Goan trip had produced a mere 35 , I would need some help but I decided my birding skills and knowledge had improved somewhat. It was still a challenge though as the total was higher than both my other foreign trips, both to birding "meccas". On the bus from the airport I was off to a flier and had counted 6 or 7 on the way. Alan at the Beira Mar was a great help in pointing out several species there too. My list soon got up to the 40's, my previous visit beaten with comfort. Walking around the local pools was great for photography but most of the Egrets, herons, and waders had been seen either at home or in the Gambia. I needed to think about moving further afield.
Alan introduced me to Raymond, one of only a few proper bird guides. His knowledge is excellent and all self taught . We set off for Carambolin lake at 6.15am during our first week.
After showing me a Brown Hawk Owl roost ( you need a guide to find them !) and a Greater Painted Eagle one too
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We set off down to the lake. In all I must have added another 10+ species not yet seen elsewhere including
Bronze Winged Jacana
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Red Wattled Lapwing
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Lesser Whistling Duck
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Blue Tailed Bee eater
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Purple Gallinule
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and Wood Sandpiper
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Some of these birds were seen elsewhere later, some were too far away to get a decent picture. The trip was well worth going on though and cost only about £12 for 5 hours worth.
Once again an Osprey was in evidence and although too far away to get decent fishing images, we did get a victory fly past !
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On the way back we had a great Indian Roller view too !
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Things were progressing nicely but I had a major problem.

To be continued ..............!!!!


Last edited by Dave Williams on Mon Dec 15, 2008 9:21 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 12, 2008 2:37 pm 
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One of the things I had really been looking forward to was the opportunity of taking some flight shots. Amongst others,Goa's skies are full of raptors .
On my second day I discovered I had a major malfunction with my lens, quite simply it wouldn't focus automatically and relied on manual using AF to fine tune it in the end. This meant I couldn't hand hold my camera and relied on using a tripod thus cutting down my flexibility.
The NWBF came to the rescue with some handy suggestions from Steve Fletcher via a PM or two. It looks likely that the lens connectors are in need of attention but at least my attempts to clean them improved matters a little. Anyway, all was not totally lost as I had a tripod.
In the first week I was determined to get closer to the resident Osprey. My first couple of attempts resulted in the bird moving away. There was a constant passage of people walking past the shrimp ponds, both birders and locals going about the course of their daily business. It wasn't as if I was causing the bird any extra stress. It moved on a regular basis anyway.
By about the fourth day, the bird must have realised I wanted a picture and to my amazement I walked to the edge of the water, some 30 feet away from the bird and spent the next twenty minutes taking about 200 shots determined to get one that looked good. I took converters off, put them on, changing various settings, you name it the bird was the perfect model.
It was only when I got home I realised that I had inadvertently changed the EV button to +4.0. I shan't explain because I don't understand either. I know I should not have done it though.
Left side please
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and your better side from a slightly different angle a few feet away. Better background.
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Eventually the bird decided to go, strangely because someone else was walking towards us some distance away.
I like this shot because it demonstrates the power of the wings and explains the ability to carry heavy weights.
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If only the EV hadn't been as it was I might have got some of those white feathers with a bit more detail, ah well, my best Osprey yet !
Towards the end of the first week we had arranged a second outing with Raymond, the guide. This time Claire agreed to come too, much to my delight. The trip was a river boat on the Zuari river, the largest in Goa and used to transport huge amounts of iron ore to waiting ships out in the ocean. To make up the numbers Raymond had enrolled Chris and Paul ( it also made up his pay packet too as we were both charged full rate for his taxi service !).
An earlyish start saw us ready to set off in the boat at about 8.30. The conditions were perfect with the first sighting being out towards the sea where the Great Crested Terns were roosting.
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The boat guide asked us if we would like to go a bit further out as there was a White Bellied Sea Eagle sat on a post. I ask you, is the Pope a Catholic or what ?!
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OK, I think we got a little too close on this occasion, but it was time to go fishing anyway.
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Just look at those feet !
Anyway, we headed up stream and took some backwater canals in search of the prize.... the White Collard Kingfisher.
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Along the way we also got the best views of my trip of the huge Stork Billed Kingfisher
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This was the only place I photographed Black Headed Ibis
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and Great Knot too
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With 2 guides plus the very knowledgeable Chris and Paul on board distant Terek Sandpiper, Lesser Adjutant,Lesser and Greater Painted Eagles where pointed out. There were a couple of others that sadly I missed, mainly because they were barely visible with the naked eye and I couldn't be sure which was which !
Of course the ubiquitous Osprey was present too
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A very enjoyable and pleasant cruise well worth the total cost of about £40 for 2. We enjoyed the knowledgeable company too which is just as well because there was no way we would want to get off and walk home
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With only a few more ticks added the time had come to start moving further away from our hotel in search of some woodland birds.

To be continued......


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 12, 2008 4:17 pm 
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Loving the pics and well done on seeing Collared Kingfisher; a rare bird in the indian subcontinent.
Not sure about about your Great Knot though. Possibly a Dunlin only.
Thanks. Henry.


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 12, 2008 4:45 pm 
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Henry...glad to see your still with me and on the ball ! I have to agree the birds in my picture are not Great Knot in my opinion either. I assumed that they were without checking too much.
In flight they are obviously much smaller than the Redshank. The Gt Knot were seen though !!!!
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meanwhile







The best time to go birding is undoubtedly first thing in the morning. On my previous trips I had done it on a regular basis. I did on our first day in Goa, which also happend to be one of the two dull days we had. I discovered that all the birds on the shrimp ponds that were there at dawn were still there mid morning when the light was much better for photography. With the exception of two trips my birding didn't start until I had had a leisurely breakfast with Claire. Far more civilised. Besides out in the woods the light could be bad even when the sun was fully out. I had to get a photo to aid identity otherwise I wouldn't know what I'd seen anyway.
Most of my attempts were not too good. You can often hear birds around you but can't see any...it's very frustrating.
Try these Blue Winged Leafbirds for example
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others offered better views when caught out in the open clearings
Black Drongo
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Brown Woodshrike
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Indian Robin
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Rufus Treepie
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Chesnut Tailed Starling
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Keol ( female|)
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You could spend hours hoping something would reveal itself just long enough to get a shot !
The Palm trees out in the fields often held passing traffic
Shikra for example
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They were particularly popular with the Parakeets, especially for nest holes. Too much light could be a problem too !
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Having wandered up to the top of Baga Hill, a very pleasant walk along the ridge dropped you down to the seashore at the far end. On the four or five occasions I walked it ( takes 30 minutes or so) I didn't see another soul. Blissfully quiet but not many birds to be seen other than in the sky where I was lucky to spot and identify Black Eagle, due to camera malfunction others escaped me !!
Parts of the top of the hill, which has a grassland surface have been dug up as someone was trying to build there. Thankfully it was stopped.
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At the far end of the ridge you have some delightful rock pools
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which held large numbers of Sand Plovers the odd Little Ringed Plover and my only Turnstone of the trip.
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Only the crashing waves and rising tide caused them to move
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and had the Western Reef Egret in retreat too
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To the north, Anjuna beach famous as an hippy retreat still has an assortment of refugees from the 60's . However, it's not all peace and love in today's culture and was the scene of the rape and muder of a fifteen year old Brit last year. Mind you in the tradition of free spirit her mother had abandoned her there whilst going on an extended tour of India with her other children. Yep, you can go far on benefit money in India.
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To the south of the headland you have Baga beach. Much, much busier than Anjuna and my idea of holiday hell. Wall to wall beach shacks, beach beds, a multitude of hawkers offering wares and services.
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Amazingly there is still a fishing fleet based in Baga, at the river mouth.
Seen off the rocks
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Back on the ridge however, despite the genaral lack of birding activity I did make a very interesting discovery.... and scored a massive tick that really delighted me !

To be continued......................


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 13, 2008 4:56 pm 
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Wandering around Baga Hill, pleasant and peaceful though it was, hadn't provided too many new species, largely the same common raptors as far as I could identify
Brahminy Kite
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Black Kite
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and the odd Honey Buzzard
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There was one exception seen on only one occasion. Revealed for the first time I hope you agree it's an Hobby, albeit an Oriental one. After suffering agonising insect bites last summer following my failed attempt to see my first ever at Whixall Moss I was thrilled to capture this image for the record.
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Do tell me if you don't agree on the ID though !
The other interesting find was another altogether different type of murder scene to the one previously described.
Basically an circle area of grass about 6 feet in diameter had been flattened in the process of the struggle. The loser had been dragged a couple of feet where the the victor enjoyed the spoils,
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A more colourful murder scene is hard to imagine with many beautiful feathers scattered across a wide area. Someone later told me that to overcome a Peafowl the animal needed to be pretty big. Certainly besides the feathers there was only evidence of one bone left and that had clearly been crunched by powerful jaws. I still wonder what was lurking in the undergrowth, hopefully now well fed and contented. A leopard had been captured the year before in the locality !
Two weeks had now passed and I was still someway short of making my target. I made contact with Raymond the guide and made arrangements for a couple of more trips in my last week to try and boost the figures

To be continued


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 13, 2008 5:27 pm 
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The first place I chose to visit was the bird sanctuary on Chorao Island in the Zuari River. to get there we had to cross by ferry. free for pedestrians and only about 15p return for a car !
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Before we went there , Raymond took me to a Brown Wood Owl roost
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Over on the island we were immediately rewarded with good views of Pallid Harrier, both male and female
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A distant Montagu's was seen through the 'scope but closer , for photography,
a Richards Pipit
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and an Oriental Skylark
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In the distance the sky had turned threatening. A phone call revealed a major storm was rumbling at the Backwoods camp. We could see the black rain clouds heading our way, and with them lightening flashes. We were right out in the open with my tripod a handy conductor.We decided to beat a retreat as the wind had come up and the harriers had gone down. One last species was added, it made me smile to think what a rush there would be to see a single Short Toed Lark at home, never mind this lot !
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All in all, although a pretty short trip, a successful one with another 6 ticks.
The cost was R950 and I got a R50 discount for having agreed to pose as a potential customer at a couple of up market souvenir shops on the way home ! In return Raymond earned 4 shopper points towards the 12 he needed for a new bike for his son !
I had made arrangements for my final outing the day before we left.
I calculated I needed 6 more species to make my 500 for the year.
Confident I would do it, I relaxed a little in anticipation !

To be continued.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 14, 2008 8:50 am 
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During the last few days of our holiday I continued to seek out new species and despite trying I only managed a couple. It seemed little reward in proportion to the effort and time I was investing. Walking around the shrimp ponds for the umpteenth time had lost their attraction and birding the woods was frustrating. I started to doubt the merits of what I was trying to achieve too. Claire convinced me that having come so far I had to go for it now.
Raymond and I set off for the beautiful stretch of Morjim beach at the mouth of the Chopra river were the gulls gather on the sand banks and are driven inshore on the incoming tide. As we approached I could see we had timed it perfectly. There ahead lay my quarry !
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As we edged closer it was easy to make out we had Black and Brown headed , Slender Bill, Heuglin's and Pallas Gull. In amongst them Lesser Crested and Gull Billed Tern. I had my four
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All around my feet Kentish and both Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers were running about. I was able to work my way progressively closer to the gulls and got some good shots.
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I can't describe exactly the incredible sensation of freedom and relaxation that beautiful stretch of deserted golden sand gave me but it was a joy to behold. We have superb beaches in North Wales and plenty of gulls too but in the last few years we rarely have the opportunity to enjoy a refreshing sea breeze countering the heat of the sun. I could have stayed there all day. Why Claire decided not to go I still can't understand. We had already been on our previous trip. On the other hand hanging around whilst watching someone take 100's of photo's, maybe I can understand why !
Our next stop was the rice paddy fields at Siolim. Another gorgeous location. The huge expanse is split by a causeway through the middle with a road on top.
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There was plenty of activity out in the fields, not only human
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but a vast number of birds too.
A flock of Small Pratincoles stayed distant but did at least fly over
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A distant Open Billed Stork seen through the 'scope made up a second tick. I was now well past my mark.
I could have stayed here for hours too but the sun was going down. Most of the birds were distant and not really close enough to photograph with my size of lens. A tree about 30 metres away had a constant stream of different species visiting it. Fabulous.
It was the place for action shots too, provided you had a big lens.
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It's amazing what you find out by studying birds though. Until I saw these Bee eaters perform I hasn't realised they are capable of diving underwater, Kingfisher style, to catch prey.
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Sadly the time had come to leave.
Another holiday was coming to an end but I was looking forward to coming home. Despite the negatives of the British climate there are so many good things to benefit from here, not least friends and family.
On the coach to the airport I spotted my last tick, the unmistakable Peafowl, and this one most certainly alive and kicking.
I calculated that I must have about 505 for my year total. Amazing for my first full year but I decided that I wouldn't keep such a list ever again. I might not get the chance to bird four continents for a start and besides it drives you to irrational behaviour !


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 14, 2008 9:19 am 
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Postscript

It's a full week since we left India. For someone who has time on his hands, writing reports and going through my photographs gives me something to do when the weather is so miserable out side.
Whatever you do to fill your time can be construed by someone else as being a waste of time. It applies equally to twitching,playing golf, fishing or photography.
Keeping lists is daft too. I don't know why we do it. Having gone through my list and duly recorded it on a spreadsheet I have made a discovery. Some of my Goan year ticks had already been seen in the Gambia, My amended list has netted down to, would you believe 499 !!!!!!!!!
It has taken me a lot of effort to get to 499 and I have 17 days to find one more.
Believe it or not the Firecrest would do it. Sat in the bushes a few miles away.
If it stops raining I may well try, on the other hand...... 500, so what.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking anyone . If that's what you do, enjoy it. I think what Alan and Ruth have achieved isn't so much an ornithological tick list but an amazing feat of physical and mental endurance. After three weeks in the heat of Goa I was birded out. I hope they can still enjoy their birding in years to come !
Where I get my kick is from capturing the moment. There were two birds I have particularly wanted to see.
The first is a Barn Owl. I haven't seen one for years here at home so I couldn't believe my luck when this one came and sat on a palm tree 30 feet in front of our balcony. The focus isn't perfect because it was dark and I was enjoying my third G & T.
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The second one was a Hoopoe.
I have been all over France as well as Gambia and still not seen one. I did actually twitch the one in Llanrwst but left having had only distant views and , knowing the politics of twitches I didn't want to get involved.
Imagine my delight to not only find a Hoopoe but to spend 10 minutes taking umpteen photo's.
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The Hoopoe is in fact very approachable, the only thing that flushed him was a passing dog. Much to my delight !
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The danger passed it flew back towards me landing 30 feet away.
However, the one thing that gave me most pleasure was trying to capture birds in flight. Despite my technical difficulties I managed this one, which to me was worth the trip alone.
I'm quite proud of it !
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There you go. whatever makes you happy. Go for it !
Hope you have enjoyed my ramblings and have been inspired to visit beautiful India.
Happy Christmas
Dave


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 14, 2008 9:39 am 
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Well done seeing Chestnut-headed Bee-eater Rioja. They are meant to be fairly tricky to see in Goa. And you caught it washing/fishing!
Loved flicking through your photos so thanks for putting in the effort to write your trip report and sharing it with us.
Henry.


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