For those travelling overnight before joining the holiday, enjoy your complimentary pre-flight hotel before your holiday begins. Full details from our office!
Day 1: Relax in the complimentary airport lounge, then depart London on an overnight flight.
Days 2 - 4: arrive Goa, Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary
Arrive Goa on day 2, driving south to Palolem in the coastal region of southern Goa (1.5 hrs) to spend two days birding in Cotigao and Netravali Wildlife Sanctuaries. Time permitting we will begin our exploration of the mixed deciduous forest of Cotigao in the afternoon of arrival. This habitat is noticeably drier than the vegetation of other forested reserves in the state, and although home to a similar array of species some of the more sought after forest specialities, such as Forest Wagtail, Malabar Woodshrike, Emerald Dove, Yellow-footed Green-pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon and White-bellied Woodpecker, can be more confiding here. Cotigao hosts a small butterfly park stocked with native host plants frequented by species such as Lime, Clipper, Spot Swordtail and the endemic Tamil Lacewing. A good selection of mammals, including Chital, Sambar and Gaur (Indian Bison) may be seen here, while this is also one of the better places in Goa for a sighting of elusive Leopard, although notoriously secretive and far from guaranteed. During our stay in this area we will also spend at least one morning at Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary, around an hour’s drive from Palolem. The quiet sanctuary road winds its way to an isolated village at the summit of a series of rounded hills, allowing access to some pristine moist deciduous forest. These forests support a diversity of species including Malabar Trogon, Indian Blue Robin, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, vocal groups of Indian Scimitar-babbler, and we have the chance of finding Indian Rufous Babbler here, a Western Ghats endemic more usually found further south. The village of Verlem provides a glimpse of untouched rural Goa with a host of bulbuls, minivets and sunbirds in gardens and fields, and is a good vantage point for hirundines and raptors.
Nights at The Tubki Resort, a comfortable hotel at Palolem beach, a few minutes’ drive from Cotigao.
Days 5 - 8: Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary & Mollem National Park
Depart Cotigao, spending the morning birding at Curtorim and Maina Lakes and surrounding flooded fields, which host a good selection of waterbirds. During the dry season (November to May) waterbirds congregate in Goa's few sizeable lakes, with key species here including Grey-headed Swamphen, Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, White-breasted Waterhen, Garganey, Northern Pintail, Lesser Whistling-Duck, Cotton Teal, Indian Spot-billed Duck, Comb Duck, Little Cormorant and Oriental Darter.
We continue inland to the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary (2hrs) to spend four days birding in the forests at the foot of the Western Ghats, a region that contrasts starkly with the coastal plains in terms of topography, vegetation, and fauna. The Western Ghats, a range of low mountains running parallel to the west coast of peninsular India, are one of the most ecologically rich regions in the world, home to a number of restricted range endemics. From a biological perspective the Ghats, which form the state's eastern border, are Goa's most notable region, and the entire stretch within Goa is protected in a series of sanctuaries. The 240 sq km Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary, encompassing the area additionally designated as Mollem National Park, is the largest of Goa's protected areas, its gently undulating terrain cloaked in a combination of moist deciduous, semi-evergreen and tropical evergreen forests, intersected by bamboo brakes, cane thickets, and trickling streams that become raging torrents in the monsoon. 16 of the 28 birds endemic to the Western Ghats are habitually found here, among active feeding flocks and with a host of nocturnal species. Key birds include Malabar Trogon, Indian Pitta, White-bellied Woodpecker, Malabar Grey, Malabar Pied and Great Pied Hornbills, Malabar Whistling-thrush, Indian Blackbird, Orange-headed Thrush, Malabar Barbet, Malabar Woodshrike, Brown-breasted and White-bellied Blue Flycatchers, Small Sunbird, Malabar Parakeet, Nilgiri Woodpigeon, Indian White-rumped Spinetail and Brown-throated Needletail, with forest streams hosting Black-backed Dwarf and Blue-eared Kingfishers.
At the base of the ghats the dense forest of the sanctuary merges into cultivated fields and sleepy villages, creating a mosaic of habitats. Forest edges are frequented by sizeable mixed feeding flocks that contain such delights as Orange Minivet, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Asian Paradise and Tickell's Blue Flycatchers, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Gold-fronted Leafbird, Black-naped Oriole, Flame-throated, Yellow-browed and 'Square-tailed' Black Bulbuls, Western Crowned Warbler, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Little Spiderhunter and Dark-fronted Babbler, while flowering bamboo and rice fields attract Yellow-throated Sparrow, Red-headed, Black-headed and Grey-necked Buntings, Black-throated and White-rumped Munias and Common Rosefinch. The forests support a host of nocturnal species including Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Oriental and Collared Scops-owls, Brown Hawk-owl, Jungle Owlet and four species of nightjar - Savanna, Indian Little, Indian Jungle and Jerdon's, and we will include some evening walks (at dusk and/or after dinner) for nightjars, and spotlight around the lodge if any owls are heard calling during our stay.
Mammal densities are modest throughout Goa, however there is the prospect here of endemic Malabar Giant Squirrel as well as Southern Plains Grey Langur and Bonnet Macaque. Over 150 species of butterfly have been recorded in the area, including the largest - Southern Birdwing, and smallest - tiny Grass Blue and Grass Jewel, to occur in the region, plus a number of species endemic to the Western Ghats, including Tamil Yeoman, Malabar Raven and Malabar Tree Nymph. Four Nights at Backwoods Camp, a comfortable birding lodge within the sanctuary.
Day 9: Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary
We will leave the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary early this morning, to visit Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary, around half an hour’s drive away. Bondla is Goa's smallest reserve, a productive patch of mixed forest on undulating terrain at the foot of the ghats. Birdlife here is largely similar to that of the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary, however some species, such as Grey Junglefowl, Red Spurfowl, White-rumped Shama, Forest Wagtail, Indian Blue Robin, Rufous Woodpecker, Spangled Drongo, Grey-headed Bulbul, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Blue-capped Rock-thrush and Emerald Dove can be more confiding here. Bird densities are generally good in the mixed habitat around the edge of the reserve where areas of scrub, plantation and villages meet the forest, and here we will look for Blue-faced Malkoha, White-browed Bulbul and White-naped Woodpecker among others.
The surrounding hills are good for raptors rising in the thermals mid-morning, which may include Crested and Legge's Hawk-eagles, Rufous-bellied and Black Eagles, Oriental Honey-buzzard and Besra. We will leave Bondla just before midday, stopping for lunch at an organic spice plantation. Here we will enjoy some traditional Goan village fare and sample some refreshing lemongrass tea, local cashew nuts and Caju Feni, a potent alcoholic drink distilled from the cashew fruit. We can take a guided tour of the spice plants and a butterfly garden, and there will be the opportunity to buy spices, cashew nuts, essential oils and local handicrafts. The plantation overlooks a large area of flooded grass and we hope to see some kingfishers as we have lunch, possibly including Blue-eared.
After lunch we drive (1.5 hrs) to the coastal resort of Arpora in north Goa, where we spend the next seven nights in the Marinha Dourada, a comfortable hotel which will be our base for exploring the various habitats of north Goa’s coastal region.
Days 10 - 15: Coastal north Goa
We spend six days birding a broad range of habitats in north Goa’s coastal belt. There is a multitude of productive sites within easy reach of our hotel and on most days we will divide the day into two parts, starting early and returning to our hotel as the day heats up for a leisurely lunch break, with the chance of a siesta before setting out again late afternoon.
The variation in habitat and vegetation, from dry grass, scrub and rocky plateaus to patches of mature woodland, together with tropical sandy beaches, rivers, mangrove-lined estuaries, tidal creeks, marshes, paddyfields, saltpans and lakes, endows this region of Goa with a diversity of birds that belies its small area.
One morning we will explore the mangrove-lined Zuari River and Cumbarjua Canal by boat, with the chance to find a variety of kingfishers, our key target being the scarce and sporadically distributed Collared Kingfisher, plus Stork-billed, Black-capped, Lesser Pied, White-throated and Common. We can also expect Osprey and Lesser Adjutant, with Slaty-breasted Rail and Mugger Crocodile often seen in the mangroves. Other more easily accessible areas of marsh, mangrove and flooded fields, as well as lakes at Carambolim and Batim, can be explored from dry land for waders including Wood, Green and Terek Sandpipers, Little and Temminck's Stints, Ruddy-breasted and Baillon’s Crakes, Painted and Woolly-necked Storks, Asian Openbill, Purple Heron, Intermediate Egret and Glossy Ibis.
Quieter beaches north of the Chapora estuary act as high tide roosts for gulls, terns and shorebirds, including Pallas’s, Brown-headed, Heuglin's and Slender-billed Gulls, Great and Lesser Crested, Gull-billed and Caspian Terns, Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, Kentish Plover and Small Pratincole. Other key species we seek in various patches of dry and cultivated fields, scrub and woodland, include Blyth's, Paddyfield, Tawny, Olive-backed and Richard's Pipits, Citrine, Yellow and White-browed Wagtails, Malabar and Rufous-tailed Larks, Bluethroat, Indian Black Robin, Scaly-breasted and White-rumped Munias, Long-tailed, Bay-backed and Brown Shrikes, Little Green and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Grey-headed and Brahminy Starling, Common Tailorbird, Black-lored Tit, Purple, Purple-rumped, Vigor's and Loten's Sunbird, Red-rumped and Wire-tailed Swallows, various raptors including Indian Spotted and Booted Eagles, Crested Serpent-eagle, Black and Brahminy Kites, Pallid Harrier, Crested Goshawk, Shikra, Osprey, and White-bellied Sea-eagle.
Our last day or two will be spent filling in any gaps in our list, and we may return to some of the places visited earlier in the week. We may even make a return visit to Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary if we are missing any forest birds, and will be dictated by movements of winter migrants, keeping out itinerary flexible for the best possible birding.
The area opposite our hotel hosts a weekly flea market every Saturday night, and is an interesting place to walk around on our last evening to buy souvenirs to take home.
Day 16: depart Goa
We enjoy our final breakfast, before returning to Dabolim Airport for our flight to London.
Note: This is a flexible itinerary which may be adjusted to allow for changes in arrival and departure times, weather conditions and other related factors.