Day 1: Friday 15 November
Relax in the complimentary airport lounge, then depart London on an overnight flight.
Days 2 - 4: Saturday 16 November – Monday 18 November – Arrival and Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary
On arrival in Goa we drive south (1.5 hrs) to Palolem, a coastal region in the south for prime birding in the Cotigao and Netravali Wildlife Sanctuaries. If time permits in the afternoon, we will start to explore the mixed deciduous forest of Cotigao, a drier habitat than other forested areas in the state. Offering a great start, it is home to some of the more sought-after forest specialities, including Forest Wagtail, Emerald Dove, Yellow-footed Green-pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon and White-bellied Woodpecker. Cotigao also hosts a small butterfly park stocked with native host plants supporting Lime, Clipper and Spot Swordtail and the endemic Tamil Lacewing. A good selection of mammals, including Chital, Sambar and Gaur (Indian Bison) may be seen here and this is one of the better locations for Leopard, though this predator is notoriously secretive.
We plan to spend at least one morning at Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary, an area of pristine deciduous forest in the hills. These forests support a diversity of species including Malabar Trogon, Indian Blue Robin, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Indian Scimitar-babbler and we have the chance of finding Indian Rufous Babbler - 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. After each day in the field, we retire to our comfortable hotel at Tubki Resort close to Cotigoa.
Days 5 - 8: Tuesday 19 November – Friday 22 November -Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary
Depart Cotigao, after which a morning spent birding at Curtorim, Maina Lakes and the surrounding flooded fields will give us a good selection of birds. During this dry season, key species frequenting Goa’s limited wetlands may include Grey-headed Swamphen, Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacana, White-breasted Waterhen, Garganey, Northern Pintail, Lesser Whistling-Duck, Cotton Teal, Indian Spot-billed Duck, Comb Duck, Little Cormorant and Oriental Darter. Continuing inland (driving for 2hrs) we will spend four days birding in the forests at the foot of the Western Ghats, a range of low mountains widely considered to be one of the most ecologically rich regions in the world. The 240 sq km Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary, encompassing the Mollem National Park, is the largest of Goa's protected areas and is home to over half of the Western Ghat endemics. Targets include Malabar Trogon, Indian Pitta, White-bellied Woodpecker, Malabar Grey, Malabar Pied and Great Pied Hornbill, Malabar Whistling-thrush, Indian Blackbird, Orange-headed Thrush, Malabar Barbet, Malabar Wood-shrike, Brown-breasted and White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, Small Sunbird, Malabar Parakeet, Nilgiri Woodpigeon, Indian White-rumped Spinetail and Brown-throated Needletail and Black-backed Dwarf and Blue-eared Kingfisher. A mouth-watering list!
We often walk in gently undulating terrain in a variety of forested habitats, but at lower levels on the edge of the treeline, cultivated fields offer a different dimension and new species. Mixed feeding flocks of birds might contain such delights as Orange Minivet, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Asian Paradise and Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, 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. Locally grown bamboo and rice crops attract feeding Yellow-throated Sparrow, Red-headed, Black-headed and Grey-necked Bunting, Black-throated and White-rumped Munia and Common Rosefinch. Birding in the Bhagwan region is just superb and the area hosts key nocturnal species too. We will plan evening walks to try and see Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Oriental and Collared Scops-owl, Brown Hawk-owl, Jungle Owlet and four species of nightjar - Savanna, Indian Little, Indian Jungle and Jerdon's.
Over 150 species of butterfly have also been recorded in the area including Southern Birdwing (the largest) and Grass Jewel (the smallest). We may also see Tamil Yeoman, Malabar Raven and Malabar Tree Nymph – all endemic to the Western Ghats. Mammal densities are modest throughout Goa, but there is the prospect here of endemic Malabar Giant Squirrel plus Southern Plains Grey Langur and Bonnet Macaque. We stay for four nights at Backwoods Camp, a comfortable lodge within the sanctuary.
Day 9: Saturday 23 November - Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary
We visit a new area today, driving (30 mins) to Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary, Goa's smallest reserve at the foot of the Ghats. A good area for raptors, species rising on mid-morning thermals may include Crested and Legge's Hawk-eagle, Rufous-bellied and Black Eagle, Oriental Honey-buzzard and Besra. In mixed areas of scrub and forested plantations bird densities are high and some time will also be spent searching for Grey Junglefowl, Red Spurfowl, White-rumped Shama, Forest Wagtail, Indian Blue Robin, White-naped and Rufous Woodpecker, Spangled Drongo, Grey-headed and White-browed Bulbul, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Blue-capped Rock-thrush and Emerald Dove.
After a morning filled with birds we leave Bondla, pausing for lunch at an organic spice plantation. Here we enjoy some traditional Goan village fare, sampling refreshing lemongrass tea, local cashew nuts and perhaps Caju Feni - a potent alcoholic drink distilled from the cashew fruit. There may be the opportunity to take a guided tour of the spice plant and butterfly garden, with chances to buy spices, cashew nuts, essential oils and local crafts. Later we drive (1.5 hrs) to Arpora in north Goa, checking into the Marinha Dourada Hotel, our base for seven nights.
Days 10 - 15: Sunday 24 November – 29 November - North Goan Coast
From our base, we take daily excursions enjoying great birding over a broad range of habitats in North Goa’s coastal belt. There are many productive sites within easy reach of our hotel, and we will often divide the day into two parts, birdwatching leisurely in the early mornings and late afternoons, returning to our hotel for the heat of the day for a leisurely lunch break, and perhaps a siesta. Habitat variation, 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.
On the coast, high tide hotspots for gulls, terns and shorebirds may contain several species new to us. Roosting Pallas’s, Brown-headed, Heuglin's and Slender-billed Gull are possible, while Great and Lesser Crested, Gull-billed and Caspian Tern, Greater and Lesser Sandplover, Kentish Plover and elegant Small Pratincole may be seen too. On one morning we will explore the mangrove-lined Zuari River and Cumbarjua Canal by boat. An exciting part of our week, we aim for close views of kingfishers, including Stork-billed, Black-capped, Lesser Pied, White-throated and Common, with the key target being rare Collared Kingfisher. We might also expect to see Osprey and Lesser Adjutant, with Slaty-breasted Rail and Mugger Crocodile often seen in the mangroves. More accessible areas of marsh, mangrove and flooded fields can be explored from dry land for waders including Wood, Green and Terek Sandpiper, Little and Temminck's Stint, Ruddy-breasted and Baillon’s Crake, Painted and Woolly-necked Stork, Asian Openbill, Purple Heron, Intermediate Egret and Glossy Ibis.
Other key species we seek in patches of dry and cultivated fields, scrub and woodland, include Blyth's, Paddyfield, Tawny, Olive-backed and Richard's Pipit, Citrine, Yellow and White-browed Wagtail, Malabar and Rufous-tailed Lark, Indian Black Robin, Scaly-breasted and White-rumped Munia, Long-tailed, Bay-backed and Brown Shrike, Little Green and Blue-tailed Bee-eater, 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 Swallow. Possible raptors including Indian Spotted and Booted Eagle, Crested Serpent-eagle, Black and Brahminy Kite, Pallid Harrier, Crested Goshawk, Shikra, and White-bellied Sea-eagle. A flexible itinerary will be key to our success on this holiday, and on our last few days we will have the chance to try and fill any gaps in our lists, perhaps returning to places visited earlier in the week such as Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary.
Day 16: Departure
We enjoy our final breakfast, before returning to Dabolim Airport for our return 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.