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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2009 3:29 pm 
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Location: LLandudno
2009 was a very good year for the independent traveller. When I saw that Qatar Airways were launching their new route to Goa and at the same time adding Manchester as a departure point, I just had to investigate. The price seemed so competitive I jumped and booked two returns at a cost of £718. Investigating accommodation I discovered that Monarch holidays were ditching their block booked hotel rooms at bargain basement prices as they were cutting back on the number of package tours and flights they were offering this winter season. I could have booked the same holiday dates , the same length of time, the same hotel as last year for £1222 compared to the £1660 I paid last year to travel with Thompson Holidays. Of course, it's not quite identical in that you have to change planes at Doha, Qatar instead of flying direct but on the other hand it gives you an opportunity to stretch your legs after a 7 hour flight, enjoy a superior flight with excellent entertainment, good food and complimentary drinks. ( If you haven't been on a Thompsonfly flight you won't believe what they charge for a small can of beer and a miniature pack of Pringles).
The biggest advantage of DIY though is the flexibility to do your own thing, stay at different places and not pay for a package room when you go off on a trip to somewhere like Backwoods Camp, a famous Goan birding spot.
A DIY trip for Claire and me is meeting each others expectations for our holiday. Claire doesn't share my enthusiasm for photography, especially when it involves hanging around for ages waiting for something to happen ! I on the other hand find lying on a sunbed at Gas Mark 8 pretty boring too, especially when the brilliance of the sun glares back from the page of my reading material.
We were both agreed though that we wanted to see some new places this time around although we wanted to return to our final destination in the North for a third visit in as many years.
Our first choice was a hotel in a beach location, namely the Royal Orchid Galaxy at Utorda Beach. The southern half of Goa is known as being far less developed than the North in terms of tourism. We wanted to sample the relative quiet of the south compared to the bedlam I perceive the beaches of the tourist resorts in the North to be.
The Galaxy was chosen purely on price. At under £40 per night it was the cheapest on offer and looked OK so I booked 10 nights there. We were pleasantly surprised to find the hotel had a very high standard of furnishing, our room had a walk-in wet room shower and large wall mounted flat screen TV. The pool area had top of the range furniture and the well tended gardens led straight on to the beach.
I had done some birding research before I left and to be honest, there isn't that much information available about the south. Nearly all bird tours are based in the north are as the bird guides so I wasn't expecting too much. Google earth gave me an indication that there were no rivers within easy walking distance and so I had decided that I'd be happy if I got the opportunity to photograph the odd garden bird and if I was lucky the odd passing gull on the beach. Might even be the odd Sand Plover. How wrong can you be !
The day we arrived the weather changed. Dabolim airport isn't known for it's customer care and we que'd in the rain from the apron to get into the terminal building and go through the usual immigration triple checks, paper stamping etc. This year they have introduced another form filling que to get your swine flu declaration stamped and collected. Ah well, it was us Brits that left the bureaucratic legacy which they revel in today. Unusually, the monsoon season had continued for an extra month and a cyclone was due to hit the Indian coast line any minute.
Our first day was spent not doing too much, catching up on sleep etc and a short walk on the beach had us return to the hotel as the wind was whipping the sand up and our glasses were covered in salt spray in minutes.
I set up camera and tripod on our room balcony and was delighted with some of the visitors on the green plastic fence ! I didn't mind the rain, it was warm at least and only very light drizzle.
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In all at least a dozen different species were presenting themselves, they would keep me amused I was sure.
The following day we walked back on to the beach this time continuing for an hour or so. I was pleased to find not too many people and a small flock of Sand Plovers that continually flew up and down that stretch depending on passing foot traffic, even more birds to keep me amused then !
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The following day we chose to walk northwards, as it turned out about 3.5km's, and as far as it's possible to go before the sandy beach turns into rocky headland. To my amazement and delight there were birds, lots of birds, lots of different birds all using that stretch of beach as a roost. We also discovered that there was hardly a person to be seen. Other than one hotel a short distance from ours the only other folk were either the lifeguards and the locals from the fishing village tending their boats and nets.
A top sighting was a small flock of Pratincol, using the higher reaches of sand and grass for protection from the wind. I hadn't got my camera with me. Damn !!!!
That night the cyclone struck the coast. Fortunately for us it largely passed us by. The rain was torrential but by the following morning had cleared and the sun returned in between cloud cover. The sea was a cauldron. The previous night 67 Goan fishermen were lost at sea, caught out by the ferocity of the storm.About 30 were rescued over the next 24 hours, the rest not so lucky and it made you realise the real cost of your fish supper as you sat in the comfort of a beach restaurant.
From a selfish point of view the weather conditions suggested to me that there would be even more birds using the beach to shelter but this turned out to a wrong assumption. The Pratincols had vanished, their previous roost area washed out to a now flat formless piece of beach. In the distance though I could see large movements of what turned out to be Brown Headed Gulls which were constantly on the move as the odd lifeguard, or in this case tourist, passed them by.
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Right at the far end of the beach the wooded headland is dominated by a large fertiliser factory. This has the benefit of limiting tourist development down this end. The beach stretched about 100 miles to the south I'm told so no need to come anywhere near here.
By sheer luck I had discovered a previously undocumented birding haven. The 3.5 km stretch was to be well trodden over the next week or so. I became something of an oddity to the fishermen and local lifeguards stationed every kilometre or so. They had no one else to look at, tourists could be counted on one hand. There were certainly no other birders and definitely no one daft enough to walk 7-8 kilometres everyday with a tripod and 500mm lens over his shoulder ! The best discovery of the lot was the one and only beach bar which was near the far end. I was usually his only customer and chatting I discovered that there were usually far more birds around. The weather had limited numbers. Things could only get better then. On that first day however I had got lucky and decided the weather was probably the reason I saw this Brown Noddy, normally a maritime bird.
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TBC


Last edited by Dave Williams on Sat Jan 02, 2010 10:58 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2009 5:15 pm 
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Location: LLandudno
Over the next week or so, and in no chronological order, these were some of the various seabirds and waders I had close encounters with.
Sandwich Tern
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Lesser crested Tern
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Pallas Gull
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Slender Billed Gull
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Yellow Legged Gull , I think
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Gull billed tern
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Brown Headed Gull
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and this tiny Tern which I am assuming was a Little Tern ( Since ID'd as Common Tern)
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What pleased me most was being able to spot one or two different species amongst the predominant Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers.
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Not only did I find them once, but on several occasions I set out to find a particular bird and was really pleased with myself for achieving it. My favourite wasthe Terek Sandpiper and of all the '000's of birds on the beach I am certain there was only this single one !
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The identities on some where obvious to me
Greenshank are often seen at home,
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Birds like the Pacific Golden Plover are immediately obvious too
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and this curved bill shouted Curlew Sandpiper even though I have only seen one twice and at distance.
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The same could be said of Sanderling but I was pretty convinced I had that nailed
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and likewise the size of the Kentish Plover seemed to tie in nicely
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A bird that I had only seen at distance and overhead was definitely a firm favourite, and they turned up in greater numbers as the week passed on.
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Even got some close up flight shots
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and the time to try and get a bit "arty"
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One or two I knew I didn't recognise, this Wheatear I was later told is Isabelline but even after looking in the book I find it hard to see why !
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I also made wrong assumptions too and ignored some birds I thought to be Dunlin and they ( I only realised when I got home) were Broad Billed Sandpipers

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I would have given them more attention had I realised.
These I'm still not so sure of ? (Since ID'd as Dunlin and Little Stint)
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Other airborne certainties were the huge White Bellied Sea Eagle
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and Whimbrel
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The juvenile Brahminy Kite looks quite different to the adult to the extent that I thought I'd found something different at first. The adult being so obvious.
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The extremely common Black Kite stopped getting any attention very quickly, but the opportunity to catch a common bird doing something unusual is better than an unusual bird doing something common IMO.
Gathering nesting material
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Aerial combat
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My first 10 days had been a revelation. Not only finding my own birds but a new birding location too.
When I got to the north I told a couple of the guides but despite my assurances I felt they met my claims with a certain scepticism !!!!!
The beauty of beach birding is that you are not ruled by time of day but by the tide of the day. I didn't have to get up early to see this lot, many were available all day but the greatest numbers were at low tide. The beach bar owner was right too, as the end of my stay approached the birds grew in numbers and this final shot should convince anyone of the merits of checking this beach out !!!!
The flocks of various species must have covered at least 1km of beach.
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if this was to be the least likely birding spot what would my other two destinations be like ?
TBC


Last edited by Dave Williams on Sat Jan 02, 2010 11:00 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2009 6:35 pm 
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Fantastic photos. Goa one place i would definately go back to again.
The yellow legged gull in the pic is almost certainly a steppe gull. Split from yellow leg these days i think. Could be wrong though. They also get heuglins there, but they are generally darker, more like a lesser back back.
The other 2 waders below the broad billed look like dunlin and little stint to me. You certainly got more waders than on my visit there.

The wheatear does look like an isabelline with its long legged appearance, but i am not too sure which wheatears occur there.

Keep up the good work

Kev.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2009 6:56 pm 
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Thanks for the ID's Kevin. I had assumed both were possibly Dunlins but you start to doubt your own diagnosis when you know you have made mistakes already. (as in the case of the Little Stint too )
Here's a Dunlin from Rhos this weekend
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Somehow doesn't look the same but probably because it's posture is different as it withstands the freezing cold sea spray !

I did see Heuglin's Gull, very much like Black Backed
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but the latter are not seen in Goa.
I read that Heuglins are split into 2 races, Yellow Legged into 3. For the time being I'll stick at identifying them as one of each !!!

Another bird I had assumed to be the single Greater Crested Tern I had spotted on the beach turned out to be a Caspian Tern, again only discovered when I got home. Without the photographs I tend to be lost !!
Image
cheers
Dave


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2009 7:26 pm 
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I have been contacted via another forum that my Greater Sand Plover might indeed be something else !!!
Here's a comparison

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the second one I also thought to be G.S.P.


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and the difference is obvious now !
Anyone got any views ?


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2009 8:07 pm 
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Great report Dave. Is the Plover an Oriental? Brown Shrike for the first, not sure about the Bulbul nor small tern? Dunlin are a nightmare when you're on your hols.

Never seen anywhere that packed with birds. Smart Pratincol and Tereks pix.

Rob


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2009 8:48 pm 
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Thanks Rob, that backs up the other opinion too !
The Bubul is Red Vented I think....
I had thought the Shrilke to be Bay Backed but might also be a juvenile Long Tailed Shrike.
The Tern was tiny
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but it some how didn't look like a Little Tern. Probably as I have only ever seen them with yellow on the bill.
cheers
Dave


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2009 11:37 pm 
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Hi Dave.

The plover is an oriental. A cracking bird to see in Goa. Really jealous of that one, having dipped them in a number of places!
I agree with Rob, to me the shrike looks like a brown. Shrikes in India can be a nightmare.
Pretty sure it is a little tern in a plumage we are not used. Also the race over there is different to ours.
The yellow legged gull complex is a nightmare. On my first visit to India, all the yellow leg gulls were thought to be caspians. However recent studies say that they are steppe gulls. As far as i know steppe, heuglins and caspian gulls are still lumped together but are definatley split from yellow legged gulls. Another tick!!
Dunlins can be little sods both here and abroad. They can look very different, again certain races have different length bills giving them very differnt appearances. Amazing how you can go to almost any beach in the world and see dunlin, turnstone and sanderling with all sorts of exotic waders along side them.

Great stuff and keep the photos coming, you put my holiday snaps to shame.

Kev.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2009 11:40 pm 
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Those are lovely Small Pratincole shots. I'm consumed with jealousy (as ever).


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 21, 2009 11:50 pm 
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Enjoying your report so far Dave and the photos. Must have been brilliant to stumble on an unknown paradise!
Interesting plover. I was going to suggest Caspo as a guess, without any literature to hand, as this is the only member of the duo I remember having been recorded in Goa. Has Oriental been recorded in Goa before then Kev? A startling record by the sounds of things!


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 12:43 pm 
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Superb Dave. Mega place.
The Plover certainly does look like Oriental Plover. I can't find any reference to this species being recorded in Goa - perhaps a first?


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 1:20 pm 
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Dave.
If this does turn out to be Oriental plover (which I think it is) it is a very rare bird for India. As far as I'm aware it has never been photographed in the country. Here is a request for photos of species for the new Birds of India gallery. Oriental plover is on the list of birds needed.

Birds of India maintains a gallery of birds found in India. As on 24th April 2009, the gallery does not have images of the species listed below. Birds of India seeks these missing bird images to enable us to present all the birds listed for India in one place. If you can contribute photos of any of these, please contact sumitsen@rediffmail.com


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 3:00 pm 
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That's interesting info, thanks Marc. Typical of me not to realise what I might have been looking at until my mate Alan on the Wirral sent me a message telling me to look again !!!
That day I had gone in search of the Terek Sandpiper and was dead chuffed that I'd managed to locate it amongst the many birds around. Better still as the tide retreated I had positioned myself on a bit of a sandbank so there was water in front of me and the sun behind. ( The gulls and terns don't like you being between them and the sea, the waders are not bothered) as the major photographic obstacle was the sun being out at sea from mid morning onwards.
The Terek duly wandered my way and was getting very close so I was delighted, as it wandered away again I was considering moving when this definitely bigger than the rest Sand Plover walked in front of me almost demanding attention. It's not always easy recognising the difference between Greater and Lesser but this one was obviously a Greater :oops: :oops: as it was markedly bigger.
I decided it was a good opportunity to bag a certainty and fortunately took a few shots!
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They are amongst my better effort s too so ID'ing them is easier for the competent ( excludes me then !)
I would be delighted to let Birds of India have a copy if they want one, I have already posted one or two photo firsts on the Birdguides World Photo's and it's nice to think you can help people with future ID's especially as the illustrated guide books can sometimes be misleading.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 4:36 pm 
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Fascinating report Dave, makes me regret never having visited that area. Gobsmacked at the number of birds on that beach photo and equally gobsmacked that you could have snapped a mega plover for the region! After reading up on it Oriental plover has brown underwing and far less white in the wingbar. Did you by chance get a flight photo? Cheers Julian

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 5:40 pm 
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Quote:
Did you by chance get a flight photo?


Flippin heck Julian, great expectations or what :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

Actually, I got the next best thing which is a wave !

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IMO it put's doubt on the ID if it's meant to be dark brown, on the other hand it could be a juvenile ? Whatever it is it isn't a standard Greater Sand Plover I don't think. The eye stripe is very distinct. I have searched the internet for photo's and there seems to be very few about despite the fact that elsewhere in the world it isn't the scarcest of birds .


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