India - GOA, from the Konkan coast to the Western Ghats

A relaxed and enjoyable birding tour in three centres.

  • 15 Nov - 30 Nov 2019
  • 13 Nov - 28 Nov 2020
Max Group Size12
Duration15 Days
£3795 PP, £425 single supplement.
Deposit £800. 2020 prices TBC.

Goa is extremely rich for birding, with many key habitats concentrated in a fairly small and workable area. This itinerary follows a relaxed pace, allowing us a leisurely but detailed investigation of all the best sites while also taking sensible midday breaks in the heat, and with stays at just three centres relatively little travel is involved. The ideal choice for the first-time wildlife visitor to India, Goa offers a wonderful showcase for the birds, butterflies, mammals, and culture of southwest India. The state’s infrastructure is well developed, making it easy to get around, and our stay here should be comfortable and enjoyable, in a region which is friendly to British tourists, and where English is widely spoken. Weather conditions are usually warm, dry and sunny at this time of year, and our itinerary will be as flexible as possible, so we can visit the most productive sites based on our local guide’s advice, to catch up with an exceptional variety of birds in a wide range of habitats.

Birding promises to be outstanding, and we will begin to see our first species as we drive from the airport to our first hotel. Goa boasts a huge variety of birds given its small size, and among the many we seek are endemic Malabar Whistling Thrush, Malabar Barbet, and White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, plus Malabar Trogon, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Blue-capped Rock Thrush, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Crimson-fronted Barbet, Black-rumped Flameback, Verditer Flycatcher, Scarlet Minivet, Asian Fairy Bluebird and Golden-fronted Leafbird.

Other key birds include Citrine Wagtail, Paddyfield Warbler, Bluethroat (red-spotted race) and Pacific Golden Plover. Other birds of note include several Bee-eater species, including Blue-tailed, Chestnut-headed and Little Green, which hawk over the paddyfields. There are up to eight species of kingfisher, including Stork-billed, Pied and Black-capped. Waders and herons abound, and we look for Terek and Marsh Sandpiper, and Lesser and Greater Sandplover. We will also pay attention to locating beautiful Painted Snipe. Mangroves hold Collared Kingfisher, herons and passerines including Blyth’s Reed and Greenish Warbler, plus Woolly-necked Stork and Asian Openbill, and River Tern. At coastal areas there are gull concentrations including Heuglin’s, Brown-headed and Pallas’s, and impressive White-bellied Sea-eagle can be seen hunting.

Even the hotel gardens can be excellent for birding, with sunbirds, bulbuls, Indian Yellow Tit, and flocks of Chestnut-tailed Starling. This holiday will be a riot of birdwatching from start to finish, and you can expect around 200 species on a relaxed and enjoyable holiday.

As usual, we will not be overlooking the general wildlife of the area, and will surely see Southern Plains Grey Langur, Bonnet Macaque and Malabar Giant Squirrel, as well as Mugger Crocodile. This post-monsoon season is also the peak time for butterflies, in which Goa is particularly rich, and we will encounter a spectacular selection throughout the tour.

We stay at two centres along the coast, and a third an hour and a half’s drive inland. Our itinerary includes four nights at the excellent Backwoods Camp, plus time at the coast and in the interior. We enjoy birding visits to Cotigao and Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuaries, Carambolim, Curtorim and Maina Lakes, and a leisurely boat trip along the Zuari River, as well as extensive birding around the state. We visit mountain jungle on the edge of the Western Ghats, paddyfields and wetlands often interspersed with dry grassland, mangrove swamp, and coastal areas including estuaries, beaches and wet swamps.    

Goa is a melting pot of identities, with a traditionally easygoing lifestyle, and our relaxed pace allows us to enjoy some memorable cultural experiences without losing birding time. We will enjoy a walk around Goa’s former capital city, Old Goa, a UNESCO World Heritage site housing some of the most historically significant buildings and churches in the region, including the magnificent Sé Cathedral and Basilica of Bom Jesus. Another day we visit an organic spice plantation, where we have an optional guided tour of the spice plants and excellent butterfly garden, as well as enjoy traditional Goan cooking and sample the local Caju Feni, a potent alcoholic drink distilled from the cashew fruit. Another day we take lunch in Fontainhas, inside the old quarter of the capital Panjim, and sample Goan-Portuguese dishes in a charming restaurant before taking a walk through the narrow lanes of the fascinating Latin quarter, rich in Portuguese-era architecture. At Palolem we have at least one dinner under the stars at a beach shack restaurant, where locally-caught seafood is especially good. During our stay at Backwoods Camp we visit the oldest Hindu temple in Goa, the 12th century Mahadev Temple at Tambdi Surla. All these relaxing cultural aspects can be enjoyed without losing birding time, as we are always located in places with birdlife.

Your Leader, popular Heatherlea Guide Toby Green, has birded Goa extensively, and this is one of his favourite birding destinations in the world. He is very much looking forward to showing you the birdlife!

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.     

Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).

Accommodation: We stay at comfortable hotels (air-conditioned) in Palolem and Arpora, with four nights at a simple but comfortable (non air-conditioned) birding lodge in the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary. All meals are included (three per day). Vegetarians can be catered for easily in India, although it can be a bit more awkward if you cannot eat curries. There is usually plenty of fish on the menu.
Walking: Generally easy/moderate. There will be some walks along roads and tracks over generally flat terrain, and generally an average level of fitness is required. We take advantage of the cooler mornings and late afternoons to see birds at their most active, usually returning to our hotel for a midday break and in the early evening.
Weather: Goa is hot. Mid-day temperatures in November are usually around 30C, considerably cooler overnight when they drop to around 20C. Rain in this season is rare; any rain that does fall is usually as a brief convectional thunderstorm lasting only a few minutes, however forests can be humid. Arabian Sea temperatures are similar to those of the Mediterranean in summer.
Insects: There are biting insects including mosquitoes. Before travelling consult your doctor about suitable anti-malarial medication, and on arrival take adequate precautions against mosquito bites.
Visa: United Kingdom citizens will need a passport valid for at least six months from date of departure and a tourist visa to enter India. Most visitors are able to apply for an e-Tourist Visa online. You need to complete the visa form online, print out and either post to VFS Global, or go to one of their offices. You either pay online or at the office using a debit or credit card. Cheques are not accepted. For further details please visit their website at
Flights:  Flights from London airport.
Photos: Excellent photographic opportunities for birds and butterflies.

Your Leaders:

Toby Green is a very experienced and popular Heatherlea Guide having led many trips for us in Scotland. Toby has birded Goa extensively, and this is one of his favourite birding destinations in the world. He is very much looking forward to showing you the birdlife!

           Toby Green                

What's included in your holiday price:

* return scheduled flight from London Gatwick – Goa, airport taxes, baggage and hand luggage up to airline included limit.
* airport transfers, ground transportation, accommodation and meals as specified.
* the services of Heatherlea leaders.
* The Heatherlea Pre-Flight Service offers everything you need at the airport, including hotels, car parking, airport lounges, regional flights, and upgrades. Let Heatherlea take the strain! Pre-flight airport hotel and lounge included free of charge subject to terms and conditions. Read more...

FREE! ‘Birds of Southern India’ by Richard Grimmet and Tim Inskipp, Helm is included in your holiday price (One copy per room booked).

What's not included in your holiday price:

* travel to and from departure airport before and after holiday, baggage above airline included limit
* incidental tips, expenses of a personal nature including drinks and personal insurance.
*India Tourist Visa

Other birding and wildlife holidays in India

Why choose Heatherlea for your birding and wildlife holiday?

Our overseas holidays are planned with care to offer great birding and wildlife, led by capable Leaders who really look after you. Every holiday is run the 'Heatherlea Way', and we hope our Overseas Adventures remind you of the quality and care so many of you enjoy in Scotland. That means rewarding and exciting days in the field, and good quality accommodation and meals, with a real flavour of the country we are visiting. Heatherlea always seek to include the personal touches that make all the difference.

Heatherlea holidays are not ‘dawn to dusk’ expeditions. Our less-intensive approach is ideal for those who want to relax whilst experiencing the best wildlife watching, and wherever possible we organise early or late activity on an optional basis. We also take sensible breaks when in very hot places and regular comfort breaks on every holiday whenever possible. All itineraries are planned carefully around the best wildlife opportunities, and you won’t miss out on memorable wildlife, whilst enjoying relaxed, informal days that are great fun.

The really important part of any wildlife holiday is the experience for you, our valued customer. Heatherlea invest in many things to offer you the best possible service;

  • We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for over 25 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable office team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
  • Heatherlea overseas holidays have a maximum of 12 clients per trip, putting the emphasis on personal service, and helping you get the best possible experience.
  • Our holidays often include things which others might invite you to pay yourself, for instance Departure Taxes and tips to hotels.
  • All elements of our holidays are sold under our own licence, ATOL 6113. Under ‘Flight-Plus’ legislation it is a legal requirement of any tour operator to hold an ATOL licence for the supply of any overseas holiday where a flight is involved, if that holiday includes either overseas accommodation and/or car hire. It can be a criminal offence for an operator to book flights as part of a package without an ATOL licence. Heatherlea also hold full Tour Operator Insurance for your added protection.
  • Heatherlea is your complete wildlife holiday provider. Our ‘Back Office’ team can organise all your pre-flight and other travel needs. Our specialists will help you book the right services, at the best price. Book holiday extensions through us, and your ATOL protection is extended further. We don’t charge extra for this service.
  • Heatherlea is a limited company, registered in Scotland, and registered to pay VAT (applies to all holidays within the European Union).

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The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: 01479 821248