At 3 a.m. on the 23rd of January 2018 my alarm went off to remind me of my flight to Goa. The plan was to fly to Goa and from there travel by road to a birding resort in Karnataka.
My back had been playing up for the past week. On that particular morning it was giving me hell and I seriously contemplated cancelling the trip.
That being so, the resort I was heading for, Old Magazine House, or OMH as it is popularly called, is the ideal birding destination for people with a bad back. All you have to do here is sit in one place and the birds come to you. If ever there was an armchair version of birding this was it!
The fact that a minimum of 30-50 species, including several lifers, were virtually guaranteed, was the clincher and incentive enough to drag my aching carcass out of bed.
And so, with my trusty ol’ lumbar support firmly around me, and not without a bit of apprehension, I decided not to cancel.
The resort is situated in a middle of a lush reserve forest in Ganeshgudi, about 130 Km (a three-hour drive) from Goa’s Dabolim Airport.
In the old days it served as a storehouse for explosives used for rock blasting hence the name – Old Magazine House. Years ago someone put out a few birdbaths and the huge number of birds that they attract is what gets birders queuing up to come here.
Run by Jungle Lodges & Resorts, a Karnataka State Government run group of nature resorts, it offers individual rooms and a large dormitory. I opted for a room for two nights.
I arrived at about 11am. As we drove through the gates my driver spotted a male Malabar trogon sitting on the bare branch of a nearby tree. Sadly, bt the time I assembled my camera it was gone and the only other view I got of this species was a distant sighting on the next evening, a heavily cropped ‘record shot’ of which is seen below.
My room was reasonably spacious and spotlessly clean. Despite being situated in the middle of the jungle with snakes, scorpions and the like outside, much to my surprise there was not a single ‘creepy-crawly’ insect or lizard sharing the room with me.
The food, that is included in the package was typically home-cooked Indian fare and well prepared.
The birds are viewed from a hide constructed from strips of green mesh cloth. Strategically set up with bird photographers in mind the baths and perches face north ensuring that the sun is always behind the camera irrespective of the time of day.
A birding guide is always around to help with spotting and identification. Having said that, the very first bird I got to see at the hide was one that really needed no help in identification – A male emerald dove. Followed very shortly by a female.
I’ve seen this bird in other places as well including the Andamans and, believe it or not, at Thala Beach Reserve in Port Douglas, Australia. At both places they were extremely shy and I never got a good shot.
Here, they almost appear to pose for you! If images of Emerald doves is on your bucket list, without a doubt, this is the place to be!
Each species of bird seemed to have their own preference for the several perches and water baths that were lined up in front of the hide.
Asian Paradise flycatcher (APFC) preferred the further-most perch towards the right. On both days they would arrive in the evening around 4 pm and make a few quick dives into the pool of water below before flying off. The males with their long tail feathers freaking out behind them!
Monarchs preferrd the perch just to the left of the one favoured by the APFC. Their visits were lightning fast. They’d fly out of the forest, perch for a few seconds before swooping down to have a drink and before you knew it they were off.
The good thing was that once they made the first visit they tended to make several others sorties in quick succession and armed with that knowledge I was able to prepare myself and get some pretty decent images of these hyper active birds.
This place spoils you!
If sitting in one place and having the birds come to you was not enough, the fact that they are here in numbers and so close means that you tend to get a bit more, nah, make that – a lot more – ‘picky’ and ‘choosy’!
Take these shots of black-lored tits for instance. There was a time when I would have happy with just a simple sighting. Even if it was for just a moment, deep in the bushes and heavily backlit.
Here I get to pick and choose my images, preferring to take the shot when the bird just arrived like the handsome, well groomed dude below…
…rather than wait for him to jump into the water that instantly turned him into a bedraggled apology of a specimen looking very much like something the cat just brought in!
Also, birds on a perch or rock tend to give a more natural, ‘habitat’ look to the image like the male Indian blue robin below…
…as compared to ones sitting at the obviously artificial water bowl as in the female Indian blue robin below, her comparatively drab coloration certainly not helping to improve the overall appearance!
Other examples include these flycatchers below. Incidentally, both were lifers for me so, honestly, I couldn’t care less if even if they were perched on a garbage dump!
…and these of two species of bulbuls below whose spectacular beauty IMO more than compensated!
Some more birds on perches that I’m sure will demonstrate what I mean…
This black throated munia is yet another example. They tended to head straight for the water pond on the extreme left and I have several images of them there. Only occasionally would one sit on a perch (the image below). Incidentally this was another lifer for me.
From a birding perspective, this place is a veritable feast.
(If by now that is not becoming clear to you I strongly recommend that you get you glasses cleaned or, better still, have then corrected)!
And, like any feast there are some speciality dishes…
(Apart from many of the birds above, I would include the male and female white-belied blue flycatcher below in that category.)
…and then there are the fillers. Birds that keep the show going simply by their numbers and frequency.
Falling squarely into the ‘filler’ category were brown-cheeked fulvettas, oriental white eyes, Blyth’s reed warblers and puff-throated babblers.
For the record, their ‘filler’ status in no way compromised their delectability quotient! (I know all this sounds a bit over the top, but I’m sure you catch my drift!)
Not all the birds come to the perches and the bird baths. A pair of chestnut headed bee-eaters were parked on the branches of a bare tree just behind the perches intent on snaring insects as they flew by.
One has to constantly look around in the heavily forested area around the hide to pick up some real gems.
Like the male and female blue-capped rock thrush below.
The Verditer flycatcher was seen every evening but simply refused to come down preferring to hunt among the trees and I had to be satisfied with the image below that was taken at some distance and is heavily cropped.
The same went for the spectacular heart-spotted woodpecker below. The only other time I had seen the bird was a couple of years ago at Backwoods. Like the Verditer flycatcher above the shot was taken at a distance but I was thrilled to see that the ‘hearts’ on its back that give it its name were clearly visible.
I also managed to get a half decent images of a bronzed drongo. Definitely not the world’s best but still better than anything I had previously taken.
A rustling in the undergrowth beyond the baths revealed a couple of red spurfowl scratching for a meal.
By now, I wouldn’t blame you if you were under the impression that this was a birding carnival with adrenaline-pumping, blood rushing, heart pounding, non- stop feathered action!
In reality there were a significant number of totally flat phases. Where not a bird showed up. Neither at the perches or water baths. Nor in the trees around.
At these times, giant Malabar squirrels with their shrieking calls and unbelievable gymnastics helped provide some entertainment.
Surprisingly the quiet phases were more so in the mornings and though I would have liked to have those sessions better populated by birds, they still bring back fond memories as that was the time I got to interact with the other fellow birders.
The birding community IMO comprises of a special breed of individuals. They come from all walks of life and are of all ages. They range from the rank amateurs that will go into raptures even at the sight of a red whiskered bulbul to hard core birders who have species and sub-species and habitat details at the tips of their fingers.
All will be driven by one common force. Their love of for birds in particular and the Mother Nature in general.
And the quiet conversations that were had during the lull in birding contributed significantly to the overall experience of the trip.
There are several other options one can avail of and are included in the price of the package, like a coracle ride and a safari to a couple of fruiting trees in search of other species of birds.
On the recommendation of our local staff I opted for two of those safaris.
On the first we visited a tree to try and get aerial images of hornbills in flight. I did get a few very average images like the one below and will have to make a return trip to try and improve on them!
Other hornbill images include Malabar grey hornbill and the Malabar pied hornbill.
I was hoping to get an image of a great Indian hornbill but, apart from a very fleeting sighting of one flying over the trees it was not to be.
The other fruiting tree I was taken to was full of barbets and while some of the others in the group opted for a coracle ride I chose to wait at the tree. I was after the Malabar barbet. The tree was chocker-block with a humongous number of birds including coppersmith barbets, white-cheeked barbets and Malabar barbets. I did take a large number of images but I still feel I can do better. Or maybe I’m just being greedy!
And that, in a partially pictorial nutshell is the trip report of a thoroughly enjoyable stay at Old Magazine House, Ganeshgudi, Karnataka.
Incidentally, from Ganeshgudi I couldn’t resist spending a couple of days in Goa, (yes, by now I had completely forgotten about my bad back), and I can’t wait to show you those images some of which IMO equalled if not surpassed the ones on this page!!