Goa seems to be recognised as one of the more affluent parts of India, mainly due to the area being one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. It also means that for birding, it is an easily accessible and relatively cheap spot to visit, with a range of package tours available. The capital is Panjim, but the main resorts of Baga, Calangute, and Candolim are further North, and it is Baga that is best placed, since it is surrounded by marshes, rice paddy fields, and forest. The Western Ghat mountain range is only about 1½ hours drive from Baga. The mountains are better described as low hills, and well worth visiting for a different mix of species that cannot be found near the coast.
First views of Baga from a birding perspective can be a little disappointing, since a lot of the hotels are situated slap in the centre of the hustle and bustle of Indian life. However, even the most central are only a short walk from good birding. We were at the Lagoa Azul in Arpora, which is about 1 mile north of Baga. The accommodation was very good, with air conditioning, a fridge, and even the comfort of hot water. The Baga river passes alongside the hotel, and in itself can have some good birds (White-breasted & Stork-billed Kingfisher, Pied Bushchat, and Striated Heron on the last morning), with even the woods around the village holding typical Indian species (Magpie Robin, White-cheeked Barbet, Purple-rumped Sunbird, and Koel on the first evening walkabout). A lot of birders book into the Beira Mar at Baga. This has the great benefit of overlooking a very productive marsh to the rear, and some of the balconies there must have a wonderful room list! On the down side, we heard that the accommodation leaves a lot to be desired (how much of a disadvantage that is remains to be debated, since we saw very little of our hotel with dawn to dusk birding a priority).
The actual birding seems to be divided into three different types. As with most good spots, a day or two walking the area is very enjoyable, gets an eye for the birds, and can tot up the beginnings of a very good list. The varying habitats surrounding Baga and Arpora help here enormously. Once the local specialities have been seen, there are a number of good sites within a taxi ride of up to 1½ hours. Again, the variety of habitat offered with these sites is interesting, from forest, inland freshwater lagoons, and open farmland, to coastal watching. The final choice is as much of an experience as a birding stop, and that is the comparatively new venture of Backwoods. This is a novel enterprise set up three years ago, where you can stay in tents within the forests of the Wester Ghats, and walk the surrounding area during a one to two night stay. It is well recommended.
Visiting the different sites away from the tourist resorts obviously requires some sort of transport, and the most popular choice here is to employ one of the abundant tourist taxis. The taxi drivers in the area have quickly cottoned on to the fact that the increasing numbers of birders can bring with them a rich source of income. The better ones have taken the trouble to learn where the best sites are, and this can include species specific pinpointing such as owl roosting trees. The drivers outside the Beira Mar are the best bet - not sure about the birding knowledge of those from elsewhere, but the former congregate where the birders are, and are reputed to be the preferred choice. We asked for and got Naresh, who was very good. He is now also developing an interest in the birds themselves. He is regularly used by the birding tour companies, as are his friends, Josh and Adu. The taxis are almost all of one type, and really only comfortably seat three passengers, but with plenty of room in the back for bags and optics. A typical 12 hour day around the sites will cost 900 rupees, which rounded off to around £14 when we were there. The driving experience is one not to be forgotten in Goa, and you quickly realise the benefits of a taxi and not car hire. Describing Indian driving as lunatic is near the mark - they delight in overtaking on bends ands the crests of hills, and usually where the road barely squeezes in two cars (that's what the pavements are for apparently), although it would seem that blowing the horn constantly absolves them of any misdemeanours.
The food available is almost as much of a treat as the birds. A favourite haunt should be any of the copious beach shacks, which are quite literally palm covered, open eateries lining the beach. The taste of the food is different yet again from that of Indian restaurants at home, and also considerably cheaper - each of the dishes usually costs no more than 100 rupees (£1.50). For something a little more up market, and with a greater variety, the Ronil Beach hotel must be very hard to beat, although the price of the food here was little more than the beach shacks. During the day, we found that the packed breakfast provided by the hotel would see us through, however rudimentary. We got into the habit of asking for it to be delivered to the room the previous evening, and the wondrous delicacy that consists of two hard boiled eggs, dry jam sandwiches, and orange juice would appear without delay. There are many roadside sellers everywhere, and a good bet is to stop off and buy a few fresh bananas to fill in any hunger gaps. Drink is obviously essential, and the same sellers usually have stocks of cold bottled water, although the mango juice (bottled as Slice or Maaza) is worth trying.