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Goa seems to be recognised as one of the more affluent parts of India, whch is 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.
Food and drink
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.
Airport to Arpora (Day 1)
As usual necks were craned for views outside the aeroplane porthole to find the first birds of the trip, but the absence of a window, and the fact that we were delayed for an hour on the runway as we landed didn't help a great deal. Things improved enormously on the walk from the plane to the terminal building - when we had ignored the already monotonous House Crows, a White-bellied Sea Eagle drifted across, making it a much more fitting first bird for the trip. Once through the mayhem that was the terminal building, with inordinately long queues to get through passport control, and bags littering the woefully inadequate conveyor belt area, we saw our cases hefted on to the top of an ancient bus, and set up station about 20 metres away before the journey began. Raptors were showing quite well, with the soon to be numerous Black & Brahminy Kites joined by an Oriental Honey Buzzard. The hour long bus ride to Arpora, passing masses of humanity and litter, as well as the Goan capital, Panjim, also had plenty of woodland and wetland, with raptors the main birds seen (most of which couldn't be reliably identified on the move). As we neared Baga and Arpora, we then had mouth watering views of Indian Roller and Stork-billed Kingfishers close by.
Arpora and Baga
After extensive unpacking and settling in to the hotel room, we hit the dust tracks of Arpora within five minutes, with the first find a Purple-rumped Sunbird nest near the reception. As often happens, birds were found at regular intervals, which meant that the plan to go further than the village and explore the wet paddies opposite the Marinha Dourada hotel were cut short. This was only after the introduction to Magpie-robin and White-rumped Munias, with White-breasted Kingfisher already proving to be both numerous and happy with both dry and wet habitat.
We decided to catch the hotel's free bus service into Baga, and while waiting for this to leave, poked our noses over to the nearby Baga River to see Striated Heron, Night Heron, Jungle Mynahs, and the only Terek Sandpiper of the trip. The bus dropped us at the hive of activity that is the beach, but we escaped within minutes to the nearby fields, for a cracking walk which would eventually lead to the Beira Mar. Despite a game of football nearby, various Pipits and Larks were seen immediately, with a couple of White-browed Wagtails on a small patch of open mud, and Tailorbird in the overhanging bush. The open fields had us stopping every few minutes for Black Drongos, Indian Roller, Hoopoes, and yet more Jungle Mynahs. We were aiming for the road again, when a small copse overlooking a vegetation covered pond caught our attention, as did the Brahminy Starlings, singing Coppersmith Barbet, and mixed hirundines.
We actually made it to the Beira Mar an hour before dusk, and found ourselves on the swimming pool balcony with a number of other birders, and tan happy tourists trying to swim and sunbathe. An hour and a quarter was spent there, scanning from the balcony over the marsh. A couple of snakes being grappled and tugged by Purple and Indian Pond Herons provided the floor show. The best birds seemed to be in a particularly wet and litter strewn copse with small bushes directly below us - 2 male Cinnamon Bitterns, 3 White-breasted Waterhens, Ruddy-breasted Crake, Purple Gallinule, and a few Blue-tailed Bee-eaters overhead.
Backwoods Camp (Day 2)
Backwoods is a tented camp situated in forest within the Western Ghats, and is run by Loven Pereira, Leio de Souza, and Pramod Madkaikar. They run an excellent and different birding experience, since you are living and sleeping amongst the birds for a couple of days. There are currently 6 tents, each containing 2 single beds on a concrete floor. We were asked to bring an extra blanket for warmth during the night, but those provided were more than adequate. At the rear of the tent is an outside toilet and (cold) shower - interesting to see what ticks you can get from there (my best was Black-hooded Oriole!). Usual outline of a day is birding from first light (7 o'clock) until 10 am breakfast, birding from 10:30 to lunch and afternoon siesta (13:00 till 16:00 - lie down optional), and then birding until dusk (19:00). Most of the birding is on forested tracks by foot, but the camp bus is also used for some other nearby sites. The whole 2 night experience costs only 3200 rupees each (£50), and includes transport to and from the hotel, and all meals. It has to be said that, although the food should be considered basic, it is excellent - drinks from the fridge cost extra. The Backwoods team can be contacted on fax 91-832-224904 (E-mail Loven@goa1.dot.net.in), and it is worth booking well in advance, since they are becoming very popular.
After only half sleeping through the night following the long flight to Goa, we were shepherded into the Backwoods minibus by 5:30. The journey, which took 1½ hours, was made mainly in the dark - always a benefit because you don't miss anything. As soon as we arrived, it was down with the bags and into the woods with Pramod, who turned out to be an excellent birder with very keen hearing. The whole of the morning session was spent in the woods, with the only breakfast some rather filling potato curry. We skirted the edge of the forest, which occasionally led to more open clearings, with the typical neck-breaking patience that is needed for this type of birding. However, the Backwoods list kicked off with 4 species of Woodpecker (Heart-spotted, Rufous, Brown-capped Pygmy, and Common Flameback), almost all the potential Sunbirds, Flycatchers in the form of Tickell's Blue & Black-naped Monarch, Parrots (Plum-headed Parakeet & Vernal Hanging), and just before breakfast, we picked up a single Blue-bearded Bee-eater, which seems to be a difficult species to catch up with. The latter was seen over more open land adjacent to the forest, containing farmland and a few scattered buildings, and was home to Red-vented Bulbuls, Ashy Wood-swallow, and Rufous-tailed Starlings.
After breakfast, we headed deeper into the forest, which took us to a couple of dry river beds, which showed the ravages of the previous monsoon in the deeply cut banks and discarded debris. Next to one of these was the staked out site for Sri Lanka Frogmouths, which had just been found this winter, following the destruction of the previous roost site during the monsoon. Two of the most unusual looking birds were sat side by side in an innocuous tangle of bamboo. It would seem almost impossible to find them in the first instance - we had difficulty seeing them when we knew they were there! There were plenty of scattered bird parties throughout.
After a siesta in the afternoon (not!), we trudged the 1½ hours to Tamdi Surla temple. The idea of walking was to bird on the way, but the track was generally quiet. Tamdi Surla itself is a surprisingly small and poorly maintained temple (although it is still religiously used by the locals) surrounded by forest with 2 or 3 fairly large clearings. Next to the temple are a few steps which lead to a mainly dry stream bed, and patience was rewarded here with a Malabar Whistling Thrush and Brown-breasted Flycatcher. Following a watch of the main clearing just before dusk (Mountain Imperial Pigeons and Malabar Grey Hornbills), Loven joined us with an impressively powerful searchlight to look for Nightjars - a quick sweep round usually catches the red reflection in their eyes. Just before dark, we caught up with a flying Grey Nightjar, which eventually landed on one of 3 favoured perches. In addition, in what appears to be a regular 5 to 10 minute window, up to 3 Jerdon's Nightjars were calling, but couldn't be seen properly.
Backwoods Camp (Day 3)
After a poor nights sleep with a painful headache, it had thankfully gone for the next early morning walk into the forest. First objective was a Spot-bellied Eagle Owl nest, where the parents were again absent, but the fluffy white chick popped its head above the hole for some time. Birding was hard in the forest as usual, with bird parties few and far between, until we came to another partly dried river bed with pools, where we sat for half an hour, and were rewarded by overflying Malabar Pied Hornbill, White-breasted Kingfisher, and our first white (or light smoky grey to be exact, with white tail) Asian Paradise Flycatcher. Carrying on along this river bed, we eventually came to some more open woods with much lower trees, which was a great deal easier to bird. We had the closest views of Heart-spotted Woodpecker of the trip, and it probably turned out to be one of the most enigmatic birds we were to see. These woods ended at a road, which was actually only a hundred metres or so from the entrance to the Backwoods track. The opposite side of this road was open land with scattered trees and copses, with wooded hillsides behind. Birding was very good here, with quite a variety of species between our wooded exit and the minibus. A couple of Vernal Hanging Parrots landed to feed over our heads, a small group of Jungle Babblers were at the roadside, and female Black-headed Cuckoo-shrike above. The last of the Drongos to fall (White-bellied) was a little further into the trees.
Back for breakfast, which was a delightful green scrambled egg, we sat and picked off Blyth's Reed Warbler, Koel, and then rambled the camp before leaving with a rather shabby Rufous-bellied Eagle circling overhead. The late morning session was provisionally aimed at raptor watching, and a perched White-eyed Buzzard shortly after getting into the minibus seemed to kick off well. The raptor watch point turned out to be from the section of road where we had seen the Vernal Hanging Parrots earlier. We spent about ¾ hour watching the hillside, but visibility was hazy, and all we had was a displaying Oriental Honey Buzzard. So we decided to return to Tamdi Surla, which turned out to be an excellent move. The temple was thronging with people (presumably because it was Sunday), but we quickly left them when we walked up the dry stream bed for about 100m, and sat on the rocks looking upstream. Blue-eared Kingfisher was visible most of the time, as well as occasional Stork-billed & White-breasted Kingfisher. This proved a prime spot for passerines - the bush(es) next to the Kingfisher perch contained Verditer, Grey-headed Bulbul, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, and the hirundine flock overhead included Asian Swiftlets. Back at the bus, Mike had thoughtfully left his bag at the stream, the retrieval of which allowed us to find our first Plain Flowerpeckers. Walking back to the camp with lunch in mind, we chanced upon a Forest Wagtail, which by all accounts is a difficult bird to see. This led (in the camp) to bathing Magpie Robin, preening Asian Paradise Flycatcher, flighty male Fairy Bluebird, and finally male Red-breasted Flycatcher.
After a half an hour break, we went back into the forest again, with Malabar Trogon the main quarry. Birding was quite difficult until after about half an hour, when Pramod heard a Trogon calling in the distance (nobody else did!). He called back regularly, and within minutes, and with well scratched legs, we had magnificent views of a richly coloured Malabar Trogon, with deep salmon-pink breast, and rich rufous chestnut back. It was well worth the trek and patience. More sparse birding followed. We finally staked out the Spot-bellied Eagle Owl nest for some time, before making yet another good call in returning to Tamdi Surla to look for Nightjars again. The Grey Nightjar was perched in the same tree as the previous night, but Loven also picked up a calling Jerdon's Nightjar in his torch.
Backwoods Camp (Day 4)
First order of the day was to walk a short distance from the camp to look for Woodpeckers, with White-bellied top of the list. The absence of this species didn't really matter too much, since we finally obtained good views of the Flamebacks, which included the first definite Greater. We then walked from the Woodpecker site to the bus, where the Spangled Drongos were showing well, perched out on bare trees. A short ride of about 10 minutes led to an area which had some of the best concentrated birding so far. The bus parked at the start of a large crescent shaped track next to a bridge over a flowing river, and the former was lined by bushes and trees. From the bridge, Striated Heron, White-breasted Kingfisher and Little Cormorant were sat almost together, and a Broad-billed Flowerpecker landed on the wires directly in front of us. The track was a lot easier to bird than the denser forest, and immediately had Grey-breasted Prinia and Tawny-bellied Babbler, Most of the birds appeared in the canopy, which wasn't too high to be uncomfortable. Best was probably Little Spiderhunter, which was very fleeting, as well as some Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters and singing Red-whiskered Bulbuls.
Arpora and Baga Hill
After 1½ hours drive during which we dodged cattle, people, motor bikes, and lorries, at what was probably the maximum speed that maintains life, we arrived back at the hotel at around 16:00. As is required, we were in the field within 5 minutes, and headed straight to the paddies in front of the Marinha Dourada hotel, where we expected and saw a variety of waders in small numbers, and Kingfishers. Eventual target was Baga Hill, and we found the almost hidden track opposite some concrete seats reasonably easily. Overall, the hill was fairly quiet, with all of the birds in the trees on the ascent and descent. The top of the hill is exposed and windy with virtually no birds, but the view from the north side of the farmland and countryside is wonderful. Amongst the Bulbuls, Orioles, and Parakeets, we had singles of White-throated Fantail and White-cheeked Barbet lower down. Before the treat of our first beach shack meal, it was off to the Marina Douradha area again, where we had Stork-billed & White-breasted Kingfishers, Common Mynah mingling with Jungle Mynahs, and a couple of Little Swifts overhead.
Morji Beach (Day 5)
The 6 o'clock departure from the hotel got us to the river ferry crossing in 20 minutes, which is an experience in itself. Totally different from that in The Gambia, it is a much smaller vessel, and doesn't seem to dock safely - people generally seemed to jump off before it had stopped. We arrived at Morji Beach just before 7am, with the light just beginning to be sufficient for visibility. The most productive part of the beach is on an elbow, which overlooks the meeting of the river and the sea. We were disappointed at first, since there were only 3 or 4 Gulls present. As we stood for a while, it was obvious that Gulls and Terns were coming in from the sea, with a good number passing by upriver, and we then also discovered small groups of Kentish Plover only feet away, with a large collection of Sandplover further back. Standing in the same place for over 1 hour was rewarding. During that time, many birds passed by into the river, with a proportion landing on the beach, including all the common Gulls we were likely to see, as well as the odd Little, Sandwich & Common Tern. A flypast (very close) of Little Pratincoles early on was extra icing on the cake.
After a short 10 minute drive further north, we arrived at Mandrum Beach, which had a sandbar 50 metres offshore, and many Great Black-headed Gulls, interspersed with groups of Gull-billed, Lesser Crested & Sandwich Terns. This is also reputed to be a possible Crab Plover location, but not today.
On the road back to the ferry, and after a couple of miles, we spotted some birds on open parched farmland, and this was a productive diversion. Initial Malabar Larks then turned up Pied Bushchats and Blue Rock Thrush, followed by a small field which seemed alive with Indian Robins. On the other side of the road, Brahminy Starlings were approachable.
The ferry ride back was as novel as the first crossing, only this time we stood outside and took in the sights of a half finished bridge that will take another 6 years to complete, masses of people on the boat, and a perched Blue-tailed Bee-eater. The terminal at the other side was much busier than first thing in the morning - horns blaring, scooters and lorries crammed everywhere.
We were dropped off at the entrance to the Club Cabana, adjacent to Baga Forest, which Naresh confidently told us was where the Fish Owls were. He led us around a small copse near the road, but it seemed obvious that they were only there occasionally, although we did see White-throated Fantail. However, after almost wandering off in the wrong direction, 2 older birders gave us directions to the Fish Owl nest. After about 400 metres, and totally overshooting the mark, we found the Owl on the nest, glaring back at us. It was bigger and much more impressive than the books suggest. Other notable birds here were Blue-winged Leafbird, Common Iora, and Red-whiskered Bulbul. One or two raptors put in appearances through the canopy.
A drink break was now essential, and turned out to be 2 soft drinks each, and a bottle of water on the spot. Added spice was an Oriental Honey Buzzard chased into a palm tree on the opposite side of the road by House Crows. Back into the forest again, we took a different track towards the centre of the valley, which was at first fairly open, but closed in as height was gained. This followed some excellent raptor watching from a small clearing. We laid on our backs and looked skyward, but only after we brought the bags closer in (no telling what the Black-faced Langurs might have made off with). Menu included Booted & Short-toed Eagles, Kites, Shikra, Oriental Honey Buzzard, and White-bellied Sea Eagle. The location was obviously good for rising thermals - ground temperature was very high and the clearing exposed. The walk up the centre of the valley was very good, with various passerines on the way to the top. This took us to mid-afternoon, and we were looking forward to another hour at the Beira Mar marsh watch, but first we needed to get a taxi. We headed for the cabs at the Marinha Dourada, but first felt compelled to have a quick look around the paddies. Another good call! No fewer than 5 species of Kingfisher were now in that small area, with other goodies such as Pied Bushchat, Paddyfield Pipit, and Common & Jungle Mynahs thrown in.
At the Beira Mar for the last hour of daylight, and back on the balcony overlooking the marsh. It was just as well we came earlier in the week - there was no sign of either the Cinnamon Bittern or Ruddy-breasted Crake! However, half a dozen Painted Snipe came out into the open as the light was failing (much better than the half hidden birds we had seen before). Just as we were about to leave, a Barn Owl ghosted past in the gloom.
Fort Aguada (Day 6)
We had been looking forward to sitting among the piles of human excrement that is reported to be at the Pitta site at Fort Aguada. However, it wasn't nearly as bad as expected, with only the odd dollop and wandering canine to be wary of. We were lucky - just after the light had become half reasonable, we found the Pitta twice on the left hand side of the path, under cover of bushes. Despite having made ourselves rather comfortable for a return and photo shoot, the Pitta did not appear in the next hour, although Orange-headed Thrush came to within a few feet, Blyth's Reed Warbler did a regular circuit, and Ashy Prinia appeared twice. Just before we were about to leave, we found the Pitta briefly again on the other side of the path. A very nice bird, and perhaps a lot bigger and more rotund than we had expected. There is a possibility that there are actually two birds here!
Before covering Carambolin lake, we tried the small wood nearby that is supposed to hold Brown Hawk-Owl. The wood is bounded on one side by an expanse of open water and muddy fields, and the other by dry farmland with reeded marsh and lagoons behind. The wood itself is owned by an old lady in the first house on the left, and she apparently is the landlady to the few households nearby. The copse is quite active for birdlife, and the open land around alive with Egrets, waders, and Larks. Many raptors, almost all Kites, are overhead. One of the pair of Hawk Owls died last week, probably an explanation for its partners absence in the last couple of days, although the old lady apparently either heard or saw it the previous evening. No disappointments here, though. A pair of Spotted Owlets were at the nest hole, and one of local boys found a Jungle Owlet roosting on a branch. The wood deserves a little more time than a short Owl watch, and we subsequently found Banded Bay Cuckoo, Black-rumped Flameback, Golden & Black-hooded Oriole, and Tailorbird. We spent a short time on the open fields - the south side held a rash of mainly Great White Egret and other waders, on the north side Malabar Larks, a few Stonechats, and Wooly-necked Stork riding the thermals with the Kites.
Carambolin Lake makes Minsmere look like Teesside on a bad day. It is very large (perhaps 400m across), with lush green paddyfields to the south, bounded by a recently constructed railway to the west, and trees to the east and north. The lagoon itself is much different from those in Britain, being covered in the main by floating vegetation. Even the open areas of water are criss-crossed by grasses and other water plants. The view of the lake from the south side is magnificent, particularly later in the afternoon, when the sun is behind you. Absolutely masses of birds can be seen, with most concentrated on the more open water. Most numerous are Lesser Whistling Duck and Purple Swamphen, which both number in the hundreds, or possibly over a thousand in the case of the ducks. Amongst these are many Egrets and both types of Jacana.
In the early afternoon, we moved from the south bank to the eastern shore and some shade, where the sun would be poorer as the day progressed, and a lot of the birds closer. We trolled through the masses, and picked out Cotton Pygmy-Goose and Comb Duck, While here, some Openbill Storks passed overhead.
After Naresh had finished his midday nap, we headed through the village to what we thought was a new location, and a possible for Rufous-tailed Lark. After travelling the full length of the very basic village, we eventually found ourselves back at the Owl wood. Onward and upward - we went past the wood and parked the taxi in a small clearing bounded on one side by a bank. On the other side of this was a reeded marsh, with a few houses on the shore. We plonked ourselves beside the first house, and enjoyed the best raptor watch yet. Through a couple of hours mid afternoon, we had a wide variety of species, such as Black-shouldered Kite, Great Spotted Eagle, Bonelli's Eagle, Marsh Harriers, Brahminy & Black Kites, which all added to the single Crested Serpent Eagle that we had seen over Carambolin earlier. Searching the skies also pulled out more Woolly-necked Storks, and even a couple of Lesser Adjutants. If this was not enough, the hirundines which we had at first passed off as Red-rumped Swallows were found to contain Streak-throated Swallows, and a Plain Prinia popped its head up over the waters edge. A group of Woolly-necked Storks was seen to be landing in a nearby clearing, but mud and water prevented us from getting any closer. On the return to the taxi, we were diverted by an Indian Roller on telegraph wires, which then led on to a dozen Hoopoes on the ground, 2 perched Black-shouldered Kites, and a very close calling Coppersmith Barbet.
After the excellent raptor watch had quietened down, we went for a last hour or so to Carambolin Lake. The sun was now fairly low in the sky - a similar array of birds was seen again, but the light was much softer and made the colours on the birds and plants so much richer. An unexpected addition to the critter list was a single Marsh Mugger crocodile, which had apparently been stranded here following the high waters of the monsoon.
Soligao Zor (day 7)
Soligao Zor was the first port of call, and its well known Brown Wood Owls, with the possibility of the odd bit of birding here and there before moving on. As often happens, the total birding in the vicinity of the village was a lot better than expected. Soligao Zor is a small village set in a clearing in the woods, with reasonably large church at its centre. A small pool at the base of a dry stream through the woods is used by the locals to bathe and wash clothes, and a Whistling Thrush could be heard from there first thing. First light found the tree which was supposed to support the Owls, and, although this was Owl-less, one of the pair flew in to another tree, and its mate, about 50m away. One of the pair then flew into the roosting tree straight above us. Alongside the village, the wood gives way to a mini valley which is set in a more open area, and at the start of the day this is alive with bird activity. After we had spent some time on the Owls, we headed to this spot, and the birds included White-browed Bulbuls, Jungle Babblers, Blue-winged Leafbird, White-bellied Drongo, and plenty of Golden Orioles flying around. A Flameback made 2 attempts to land right in front of us, but was very wary. Further to the south and west, the ground goes up to a couple of open fields for Larks and Pipits. Raptors started to rise later in the morning, with Booted Eagle and Oriental Honey Buzzard among the Kites. The upward walk held a Southern Grey Shrike, which seemed to have less white in the wings than expected, being confined to the tertial and median covert edges. The plateau at the top had approachable Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, perched White-eyed Buzzard, and, at long last, the much preyed for Baya Weaver, in stunning non-breeding plumage (just as boring as it looks in the books). Just before the egg and stale jam sandwich breakfast feast, we stopped by the bathing pool for final superb views of the better marked Wood-Owl.
The first hint of Maem Lake is a let down, with tat stalls lining the approach road. Once the dam is passed, and the parking at the resort completed, the people are also left behind. The lake itself is quiet and closed in, with very little exposed shoreline, with the walk around it passing through fairly dense woodland, with very few clearings. The first leg of the walk was uneventful, until we found a Grey Nightjar roosting on a tree at the apex of the path. There was a question over its identity at first, due to its apparently rufous appearance, but this was dispelled by a scramble up the hillside to eyeball it on a level. Further round, where the track leaves the side of the lake, a gaggle of Red-whiskered Bulbuls signalled the start of some good birding. A short distance in, at least 6 Coppersmith Barbets were in one tree, sharing the branches with Thick-billed Flowerpeckers. In the denser undergrowth was a one of the local race Blackbirds, which was mid to slate grey, with a darker cap, yellow eye ring and yellow bare area extending behind the eye.
The last site stop of the trip was at a place called Tikana, which doesn't seem to be generally well known. Naresh has known about it for 3 years. The birding focus consists of a causeway leading to a small village, which separates a tidal inlet from a lagoon on the eastern side. The latter is where most of the birds are found, since it is surrounded by wet pasture land and paddyfields. This was another good stop, with a different variety of birds yet again. Around the lagoon was a reasonable collection of Glossy Ibis, some Woolly-necked Storks, 3 species of Kingfisher, 3 Small Pratincoles on a mini causeway, and, as luck would have it, a perched Lesser Spotted Eagle, which then obligingly flew into the adjoining paddy before leaving. The more distant paddyfields contained 3 Lesser Adjutants, and a closer look revealed a mix of Pintail & Common Snipe. Over the rice paddies, hirundines gradually built up in number, and were found to have a mix of Streak- throated Swallows and Little Swifts in with the Red-rumped Swallows.