Monday morning. My laptop clock reads 6.48 AM.
A praying mantis casts a baleful eye at me as I position my chair to avoid the small puddles of water on the front porch. The only residual evidence of last night’s torrential downpour.
A strong, gusty wind breathes life into the surrounding trees evoking a steady whisper in a language that reminds me of Portuguese; unintelligible yet easy on the ears.
From the deep within the bushes the mating call of an Indian Pitta bird gives me a strong sense of déjà vu. I’m reminded of my own attempts at a similar sounding whistle directed in the general direction of the local girl’s school almost half a century ago.
With one enviable difference and one notable similarity. The bird’s call is pitch perfect, which was more that can be said of my renditions. As to the latter, well… he has been at it for days without any apparent success.
The video above, taken at my car park on a previous trip in June ’18, is the only time that I have got an actual sighting of the bird calling. Unfortunately I wasn’t using a tripod. Needing both hands to hold the heavy camera steady, (obviously unsuccessfully), I had to instruct my wife to tap the screen to achieve focus. Explaining the complete lack of stability and the alien audio (my voice) that crept into the sound track!
Yes, it’s Monday and, wonder of wonders, I’m still in Goa! On the pretext of having to meet my lawyer I sneaked in an extra day and fly back tonight.
I arrived on the early morning flight on Saturday and was hoping to do a session of birding on Sunday morning.
Part 1 of my book, Chronicles of a Goan Birder, is complete. 12″x12″ and 238 pages that documents my birding activities in Goa. It includes images taken in and around this tiny Indian State of almost 200 species of birds as well as many other butterflies, insects and reptiles. It has turned out pretty well (even if I say so myself)!
Goa boasts of close to 450 bird species and I’ve been meaning to get started on Part II of the book to begin ticking off as many of the remaining 250 species as I can.
With that purpose in mind a neighbour in Goa had put me in touch with business man-turned-full-time-birding guide, Savio Fonseca. We had planned a field trip on my last visit a month ago, in mid July. Though I was up and ready by 5 AM that morning, the weather decided to play spoilt sport and the trip was a washout. Literally.
This time around Savio was free only on Saturday and so it turned out to be one hell of a hectic Saturday. Woke up in Mumbai at 2.30 AM to catch the 5 AM flight that arrives in Goa at 6 AM. Another hour’s drive to Calangute for a quick change and camera set up before hopping back into the car to make my 8 AM appointment with Savio in Porvorim. Whew! The lengths I will go to in order to see few birds!
We decided to visit Socorro Plateau near Porvorim in North Goa and fortunately the rain stayed away. The drive up to the plateau is via a dense hilly forest where we got sightings of drongos, leaf birds, Vigor’s and purple-rumped sunbirds and red-whiskered and white-browed bulbuls. Once on the plateau, the forest abruptly disappears giving way to a large expanse of predominantly flat, rocky grassland with only the occasional clump of trees and cultivated field.
High on my bucket list was a video shot of a male peacock with his tail feathers open in a mating display.
I must thank Savio for spotting this spectacular male the allowed me to get the video below. The bird was trying desperately to attract a bunch of 4-5 peahens. I do sympathize with the poor chap for, despite his extreme efforts, the women were not one bit interested.
It wasn’t a birdfest by any stretch of imagination but I did get some great shots of oriental skylark, Malabar crested larks and paddy field pipits.
A white-rumped munia posed on a bare twig begging me to take a shot.
It was fortunate that we stopped to oblige, for while we were taking the shot a barred buttonquail nonchalantly walked across the frame. A lifer sighting and image for me!
Like I said. It was not a birdfest but I did get some nice images to add to the species count for the new book. And the icing on the cake was the sighting and video of the peacock ritual!
Back home the garden was looking good.
The butterfly attracting plants I had planted last season, (stachytarpheta, buddleia, crotalaria, and milkweed) were all doing well and already attracting butterflies.
If the previous years are anything to go by, I expect the butterfly numbers to really begin to soar from September onwards.
And it wasn’t only butterflies the plants were attracting. Over the past few months several species of sunbirds showed interest in them as well. Last month they were Vigor’s sunbirds. On this trip purple-rumped sunbirds dominated.
A colleague has a Champaca Magnolia growing outside his window that attracts a large number of birds despite the fact that he was located bang in the middle of Mumbai. On one of my regular scans of online plant nurseries I found one that was offering grafts of the tree and, to cut a long story shot, the four grafts I ordered arrived shortly after I returned from Socorro.
While looking for a location to plant the saplings my gardener noticed an unusual movement in the shrubbery between the hibiscus bushes in the backyard.
This rat snake (ID credit: Dr. Neil Soares) seemed unperturbed by our presence and gave me ample time to grab the camera and take a few shots before it slowly crept away.
Once the excitement settled down the gardener began to prepare the beds to plant the grafts. And it was time for surprise No. 2.
While digging he came up with these four beauties. Snake eggs! Probably belonging to the one we saw previously. After taking a few images, I instructed him to put them back where he found them.
Sitting out here on the front porch with the monsoon wind creating havoc among the trees, the sense of peace is overwhelming.
Goa is famed for being a top choice among party-goers. Very few people will contest the fact that, for those looking for fun and good times, this is really a great place to be and second to but a very few locations not only in India but also around the globe.
At the absolute other end of the spectrum this tiny Indian state is bang in the middle of a region that is ranked among the top ten in the world when it comes to its biodiversity. So if it is natural beauty and peace and quiet that you are looking for then again it is right up there with the very best.
I for one prefer the latter, and this weekend was perfect in that respect. In fact if I can manage similar such days on a regular basis then it augurs well not only for the next phase of the book but for my life as well.