Birds and Sunshine – Birdwatching in Goa

Best time: November to February


Much has been said about the irresistible charms of Goa. With its white beautiful beaches, friendly people, charming Portuguese influences in architecture, food and culture, great birdwatching. Goa is one of the most famous tourist destinations in India. Lesser known and much less talked about are the birds of Goa. From a recorded 425 species, Birds like the Blue-eared and Black-backed Dwarf Kingfishers, the Malabar Trogon and the Ceylon Frogmouth are on every bird-watchers bucket list.

Spend the days birdwatching in Goa and enjoying the beaches and Goan culture in the evenings.

Outline Itinerary:

Day 01 – arrive Goa, transfer to coastal north Goa
Day 02 – coastal north Goa
Day 03 – coastal north Goa
Day 04 – coastal north Goa
Day 05 – coastal north Goa
Day 06 – transfer inland into the Western Ghats & Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary
Day 07 – Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary
Day 08 – Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary
Day 09 – Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary
Day 10 – Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary
Day 11 – Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary & transfer to coastal south GoaDays 12-13 – Cotigao & Netravali Wildlife Sanctuaries
Day 14 – depart Goa

The Birding Holiday

Goa is the only state in India which has protected the entire Western Ghats that fall within the state. Goa’s four wildlife sanctuaries are located on the eastern part of the state and cover an area of 750 km2. The Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary and Mollem National Park all fall within the Mhadei River Basin.

The Mhadei River, also called the Mandovi River, is the lifeline of the state of Goa. This region of the Western Ghats is called a Global Biodiversity Hotspot and has a high incidence of endemism. Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary is an International Bird Area. Important species here include the Nilgiri wood-pigeon, Malabar parakeet, Malabar grey hornbill, grey-headed bulbul, rufous babbler, white-bellied blue-flycatcher and crimson-backed sunbird.  A total of 255 bird species have been recorded in the Sanctuary.

Bhagawan Mahaveer Sactuary and Mollem National Park lie along the border of Karnatake with Goa. The area is home to nomadic buffalo herders called the Dhangar. & endemic bird species are found here. Species of interest include the three-toed kingfisher, Sri Lanka Forgmouth, Ruby-throated yellow bulbul, and Malabar Pied Hornbill.

Bondla is the smallest wildlife sanctuary in Goa. It is located 52 kms from Panaji and is said to host over 100 species of birds. The Sanctuary has a zoo, a deer park, botanical gardens and nature trails.

Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary is on the border of Karnataka and is known for its dense forest of tall trees. The sanctuary is one of the best places for forest birds in Goa. The sanctuary is home to flying squirrels, Indian pangolins, four-horned antelopes, panthers, tigers and gazelles, sloth bears, indian bisons, hyenas, slender loris, mouse deer, wild boars and deers, malabar pit vipers. Birds like White-bellied woodpecker, Velvet-fronted nuthatch, Heart-spotted woodpecker, White-eyed eagle, Rufous woodpecker and Malabar crested eagle can also be spotted.

The final destination on the trip is the Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary which is located in south-eastern Goa. The sanctuary is located around the River Neturli which is one of the important tributaries of River Zuari. It is located adjacent to the Dandeli-Anshi Tiger Reserve in Karnataka. Sightings of Black Panthers, the Slender Loris, Kign Cobras, Giant Squirrels and Great Pied Hornbill make Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary an important site.

Detailed Itinerary   

Days 1-5: arrive in Goa, coastal north Goa

Arrive Goa on day 1, driving north to the coastal resort of Arpora (1.5hrs) to spend five days birding in the varied habitats to be found in this region.  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 both birds and butterflies that belies its small area.  Key species include Blyth’s, Paddyfield, Tawny, Olive-backed and Richard’s Pipits, Malabar and Rufous-tailed Larks, Bluethroat, Indian Black Robin, Scaly-breasted and White-rumped Munias, Black-lored Tit, Purple, Purple-rumped, Vigor’s and Loten’s Sunbirds, Red-rumped and raptors.

Quieter beaches north of the Chapora estuary act as high tide roosts for gulls, terns and shorebirds, including Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, Kentish Plover and Small Pratincole.

Exploring the mangrove-lined Zuari River and Cumbarjua Canal by boat provides a good chance to find the scarce and sporadically distributed Collared Kingfisher, alongside Stork-billed, Black-capped, Lesser Pied, White-throated and Common Kingfishers, Osprey and Lesser Adjutant, with Slaty-breated Rail often seen in the mangroves.  Other more easily accessible areas of marsh, mangrove and flooded fields can be explored for waders. During the dry season (November to May) waterbirds congregate in Goa’s few sizeable lakes. Spend five nights in a comfortable hotel in Arpora.

Days 6-7: transfer inland into the Western Ghats, Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary

Drive inland in the morning of day 6 to the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, ascending into the foothills of the Western Ghats to spend two days in the Sahyadri Hills, 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, with the entire stretch falling within Goa’s boundaries protected in a series of sanctuaries.  To enable us to thoroughly explore the habitats represented here, and their associated species, we will spend two nights in the higher hills at Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, before descending to the base of the hills on day 8.

The Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary is the northernmost of Goa’s hinterland reserves, encompassing 209 sq km of semi-evergreen and moist deciduous forest.  The terrain here is undulating, with steep escarpments dotted with waterfalls characteristic of the northern Western Ghats, reaching an elevation of 1166m at Sonsogor, Goa’s highest peak.  Key species here include a number of Western Ghat endemics, notably Nilgiri Woodpigeon, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Malabar Parakeet, Grey-headed Bulbul, uncommon Rufous Babbler, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher and Small Sunbird, alongside Indian Scimitar-babbler, Great Pied Horbill, Blue-bearded Bee-eater and Indian Pitta.  Nights in a comfortable eco-resort at Mhadei.

Days 8-10: descend to the foot of the ghats, Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary & Mollem National Park

Adjoining Mhadei, 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.  In contrast to Mhadei, the hills of the sanctuary are more characteristic of the southern Western Ghats, their peaks gently rounded and gently undulating, 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 found here including the Malabar Trogon, White-bellied and White-naped Woodpeckers, Malabar Grey and Malabar Pied Hornbills, Malabar Whistling-thrush, Indian Blackbird, Orange-headed Thrush, Indian Blue Robin, Malabar Barbet, Malabar Woodshrike, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Grey Junglefowl, Red Spurfowl, 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-fronte 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 Ceylon Frogmouth, secretive Forest Eagle-owl, Oriental and Collared Scops-owls, Brown Hawk-owl, Jungle Owlet and four species of nightjar – Savanna, Indian Little, Indian Jungle and Jerdon’s.  Mammal densities are modest throughout Goa, however there is the prospect here of the endemic Malabar Giant Squirrel as well as Hanuman Langur and Bonnet Macaque.  Over 150 species of butterfly have been recorded in our Camp and surrounding areas, including the largest – Southern Birdwing, and smallest – Tiny Grass Blue and Grass Jewel, to occur in the Indian region plus a number of species endemic to the Western Ghats, including Tamil Yeoman, Malabar Raven, Malabar Tree Nymph. Nights at Backwoods Camp, a comfortable birding lodge within the sanctuary.

Day 11:  Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary, transfer to coastal South Goa

Spend the morning at Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary, 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 a some species, such as Blue-faced Malkoha, White-rumped Shama, Forest Wagtail, Rufous &

White-naped Woodpeckers, Spangled Drongo, White-browed and Grey-headed Bulbuls, Blue-capped Rock-thrush and Emerald Dove can be more confiding here.  The surrounding hills are good for raptors rising in the thermals, which may include Crested and Legge’s Hawk-eagles, Rufous-bellied and Black Eagles, Oriental Honey-buzzard and Besra. Drive on after lunch heading into the coastal region of southern Goa to Palolem, night in a comfortable hotel.

Day 12-13:  Cotigao & Netravali Wildlife Sanctuaries

Spend two days within Cotigao and Netravali Wildlife Sanctuaries.  The mixed deciduous forest of Cotigao 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 Watail, Malabar Woodshrike, Emerald Dove, Yellow-footed Green-pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon and White-bellied Woodpecker, can be more confiding here.

At Netravali, the quiet sanctuary road climbs to the peak of the rounded hills and two small villages beyond, allowing access to some untouched forest thick in places with cane and lianas.  This is the most reliable site in Goa for Indian Rufous Babbler, an endemic of the Western Ghats more commonly found further south.  The forests support a diversity of species, including vocal groups of Indian Scimitar-babbler, Malabar Trogon, Speckled Piculet, Indian Blue Robin and Ceylon Frogmouth.  The pastoral setting around the village supports a host of bulbuls, sunbirds and minivets, and provides a good place to watch the open skies for hirundines and raptors. Nights in a comfortable hotel.

Day 14: Depart Goa

Depart Goa on your onward journey.