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Tyttenhanger Inquiry - Site restoration plans
Birding Beyond Hertfordshire - Goa
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Robin Morden has supplied the Herts Bird Club website with a map showing the plans for the gravel pits. They do look very promising. The map image is about 700k and can be viewed by clicking here. Thanks again to Robin for keeping us up to date.
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Birding Beyond Hertfordshire - Goa, Christmas 2000
Throughout the bad weather, the exhausting grind of work, and some pretty dire football results, we’ve been kept quite buoyant by the memories of a brilliant Christmas in Goa. A fairly constant 80º F, low humidity, cooling breezes, good infrastructure, excellent food, minimal mosquito problems, and a stunning variety of birds, most of them easy to see.
So much has been written in the birding press about Goa that we certainly won’t attempt any sort of factual reprise, but simply say what we did and how good it was, in the hope that people who’ve been before will find interest in our updated information, and those who haven’t may be tempted to make the trip.
We booked into the Biera Mar at Baga (via Wildwings), obtained recent reports from Steve Whitehouse, as well as the fascinating, but rather dated ‘standard Guide’ by Peter Harris. Our Field Guide was the new ‘plates only’ softback by Grimmet and the Inskipps. (Quick shudder here as I remember our first trip to India not so many years ago, and the struggle to get the only thing available, the Salim Ali book- a triumph of the ‘naïve’ style of bird illustration).
Having checked in, we managed to exchange our pool view for a third floor room at the back of the hotel, over-looking the burnt paddies, marsh, and distant pools and Palms. In fact, the room was the crowning glory of the holiday; unless we were away or had taxi trips arranged, the usual plan was to spend the heat of the day sitting on the balcony, watching the bird and animal dramas unfold below us - ‘Baga Paddies’- the soap opera.
Black-capped Kingfisher was the first of many good birds ticked off from the comfortable seat on our balcony. A Lesser Spotted Eagle spent most of the day in a nearby dead tree, a Bezra (Sparrowhawk) was zooming around as well as the more expected Shikras, and on the first evening down at the pool, we picked up the advertised stuff just below the wall - Painted Snipe, Cinnamon Bittern, Baillon’s and Ruddy-breasted Crakes, and on the first night only, a Slaty-breasted Rail. No Watercock however, and we didn’t meet anyone who’d seen one this year.
On the first morning we were up at dawn, and tentatively found our way to the grotesque Baga Bridge, and map in hand, managed to work our way up the heavily wooded Baga Hill, to the strange accompaniment of some rather heavy duty trance music, and the ubiquitous exploding firecrackers. Lots of birds, and a few ticks including Oriental Honey Buzzard, Chestnut-tailed Starling, and Crimson, Purple-rumped, and Loten’s Sunbirds. Another lazy afternoon on the balcony produced displaying Pintail Snipe, Pallid Harrier, and Jackal.
The next morning, Loven and the ‘Backwoods Team’ picked us up at the hotel and whisked us inland to the foothills of the Western Ghats for four nights, and some of the most blissful and productive birding we’ve ever done. All the hype about the place is true, but it does seem to be growing in popularity with both independent birders and the major bird companies. Backwoods also do ‘cultural trips’ from the coastal resorts (cooking, spices, temples etc), so make sure that you book well in advance. We cleared well over 100 species including most of the specialities. We’ll take a leaf out of a famous British birder’s approach and begin with what we didn’t get- Brown-headed Barbet, Niligri Woodpigeon, Grey Junglefowl, with Blue-winged Parrot and Sri Lankan Frogmouth only heard. What we did get was just about everything else, including a pair of gorgeous Malabar Trogons, 6 Malabar Pied Hornbills, all 7 species of woodpecker including the stunning Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Blue-eared Kingfisher, Blue-capped Rock Thrush, plus an almost endless supporting cast. Two hours at the raptor watchpoint took care of almost all the likely birds of prey; Crested Goshawk, White-eyed Buzzard, Black Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Rufous-bellied Eagle, and some good passerines including the only Grey-necked Buntings of the trip.
We were even spared the ‘to tick or not to tick’ dilemma when when our fourth nest visit revealed the head of the Spot-bellied Eagle Owl, rather than just the usual few centimetres of tail. We also picked up the unusual Tytler’s Leaf Warbler, and had brief but conclusive views of an Ultramarine Flycatcher, a bird usually found only in the far north of India, and a likely second record for Goa. Perhaps the most amazing bird we saw was a white morph Asian Paradise Flycatcher feeding deep in the forest, the bizarre white streamer whipping back and forth through the under storey.
No Indian Pittas at Backwoods this year, so we had to do the Fort Aguada trip for the Pitta in the sh- latrine experience. Taxi down before the stipulated time of 08.30, and we took up position a little early; deciding to split up and lurk in the bushes either side of the track. After a few minutes apprehension, we simultaneously whistled softly to each other, as we were both looking at a gorgeous Green Pitta just a few feet away. There were two (some people reckon three) birds wintering this year. Other good birds in the area included Niligri Blackbird, and White-throated Fantail, but we’ll never quite view the Orange-headed Groundthrush in the same light after watching its somewhat idiosyncratic feeding habits…..
A word about taxis at this point: We used about five different drivers, and all were very good. As the saying goes ‘they will find you’, and a stroll around Baga wearing a pair of binoculars will generate plenty of offers from drivers who really know where to go. They all claim to have driven for Sunbird, and even Lee Evans gets a regular mention. Paul Holt has now assumed the role of a major local deity, and there are rumours of temples being dedicated to his fame and expertise. We can recommend ‘Josh’, who has a new car (rather than the usual tourist van), also ‘the Green Man’ who is quite pricey and pushy, but who not only knows the general areas where the specialities are, he’ll search around for them, living up to his nickname of ‘Mr 100%’. Probably best of all is his brother ‘The Blue Man’, who is a keen birder in his own right. Guess what colour their tourist vans are?
We took a couple of leisurely, but productive half-day trips to find the regular birds - the Brown Wood Owls are still at Saligoa Zor, the Brown Fish Owls at Lake Maem (we had another close to Baga - definitely bird of the trip), and the Brown Hawk Owls still look down on the gossiping villagers at Carambolim. And yes, we did see a ‘funny’ chat among the various Pied Bushchats and Stonechats in the nearby fields. We don’t have any recent information as to where the ‘is-it-isn’t-it-a-Stoliczka’s debate has got to; we just saw a very close largish Whinchat-type bird with a longish tail.
Another trip took us north up to the windswept Morjim Beach, where high-powered optics and a lot of patience allows you to immerse yourself in the mysteries of gull taxonomy (just in case you thought that bird identification on this trip was too easy). Restricting ourselves to just looking at adults, i.d became almost clear at times, though I still feel happier when a bird can be dismissed as a ‘another Herring Gull’, rather than a putative Baraba, Taimyr, Heuglin’s, or Caspian species.
We decided to concentrate on lifers, rather than push for a long trip-list, and made very little effort to rack up waders and wildfowl. Most of those lifers were to be found on Baga Hill, and we got the lot as well as a few extra surprises. We had some excellent views of the hitherto illusive Red Spufowl, and we saw Peafowl on every visit. White-browed Bulbul took a few days to find, and then we saw stacks of them. A close (almost confiding) Blue-faced Malkoha eclipsed the brief views we’d had at Backwoods, and Grey-headed Bulbuls were a surprise, as was Oriental Turtle Dove, a species that we’d missed in Northern India. One of the few real skulkers of the trip was Tawny-bellied Babbler, and views were limited to about ten seconds. The local Flowerpeckers were a pretty unimpressive bunch, but were still needed, and with Plain and Thick-billed, there was only Pale-billed to go.
Every night we’d go down to the Biera Mar pool to meet other birders, and pick up the latest news. No surprises; still no-one had picked up Watercock, nor the much prized Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher at the traditional stake-outs. We did however, tick off the delightful Antero Topp and collect a free copy of ‘Alula’; the excellent Finnish bird magazine that he edits.
The last afternoon took us on a short walk around the back of the paddies, past the flock of Pacific Golden Plovers, and finally at the top of a straggly tree, Suzie picked out a Pale-billed Flowerpecker; and feeding actively beneath it, a distinctive Prinia with a strong white super’ and a bright lemon belly. No problem; Yellow-bellied Prinia. We’d seen lots of them in Northern India, but it was still a nice trip tick. It was only when we got back to the hotel that we realized that it was well out of its normal range, and according to Loven, probably represents only the second record for Goa.
Although we didn’t push ourselves for a long list, we still hit a respectable 220, with an amazing 70 lifers. It seems that just about anything can turn up. Do yourself a big favour next year and go there.
Mike and Suzie Thompson.
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Lea Valley Park/Herts Bird Club events
Forthcoming joint events:
25th August 2001 Autumn Waders, Cornmill Meadows.
3rd February 2002 Gulls, King George V Reservoir gull roost.
For further information and bookings, contact the Lea Valley Park Information Centre. Telephone 01992 702200
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