29th June, 2019. Calangute, Goa.
A dull, continuous roar from the direction of the horizon catches my attention.
Initially, I mistake it for the relentless pounding of pre-monsoon waves on Calangute’s long stretch of beach.
From the farmhouse, thanks to the high vantage, I am able to look over an expanse of palm trees and see a generous slice of ocean before it eventually merges with the horizon. The beach is at least 2-3 km away. A bit too far, one would think, for the sound of even the most furious of waves to carry.
Add to that the curiously steady rise in both the pitch and intensity of the sound and it’s clear that something didn’t quite add up…
Then… realisation dawns. And with it, a moment of de ja vu.
For a brief terrorising instant I’m back at school and Mr. Stanley Gomes, my Physics teacher is towering over me. Arms akimbo and bow legs conveniently parenthesizing this deviation in time, he’s drilling the principle of the Doppler effect into my unreceptive skull with inimitable exophthalmic aggression.
Back to reality.
In the distance, blurring the horizon, a visible front of rain roars as it dumps gallons of water on the palm trees below, the Doppler effect providing a dramatic crescendo as it gradually moves towards me.
Accompanying banks of thunder clouds progressively dim a tepid sun and wildly swaying trees in near-cyclonic winds complete the illusion of watching a time lapse sequence at dusk instead of daybreak.
The monsoons have arrived.
This particular trip to Goa was different. For one, I was with the entire family. Also, instead of the usual Friday-to-Sunday weekend run, we decided to spend quality time together for an entire week.
Goa is beautiful in the rains. Everything is green and fresh and sparkling, and, especially after a swelteringly hot summer, the drop in temperature is a welcome relief.
On the flip side, if you are averse to ‘creepy-crawlies’ then this might not be quite the right time to visit. The only dry area is inside the house and seeking refuge in the living room are a wide assortment of uninvited guests including some really unusual ones like the stick insect below.
Apart from a few brief and heavily overcast dry spells, the rain simply did not let up for the entire 7 days. Conditions that were far from ideal for my personal preferred pastime of bird watching.
Despite that, there were a few of the faithful that did put in an appearance. These included leafbirds (both Jerdon’s and gold-fronted), purple-rumped sunbirds, Magpie robins, Indian robins, peafowl, blue-faced malkoha, baya weaver birds, puff-throated babblers, spotted dove, rufous treepie, small minivets, red-whiskered bulbuls, white-browed bulbuls, Asian koels, Coppersmith barbets, white-cheeked barbets, brahmini kites, black-hooded orioles, and pale-billed flowerpeckers.
With the abundance of water everywhere, not surprisingly, very few birds visited the bird baths.
Most were here only to feed, either on the last of the wild figs left on a tree that began fruiting a couple of months ago or pick off insects and worms from the surrounding trees and the grass respectively.
This is the breeding season for many birds. The male baya weaver bird that cannot be differentiated from his dull brown female counterparts for most of the year suddenly attains his breeding plumage and becomes strikingly different!
Birds that I do occasionally see at this time of the year but were conspicuous by their absence were the grey-headed bulbul, Jacobin’s cuckoo, Vigor’s sunbird and the Indian pitta.
I did hear the latter call several times and, on one occasion, from very close by, but thanks to the dense monsoon foliage was unable to get a sighting. The other unusual birds that did call and were far more accommodating that the pitta, were a couple of brown hawk owls. One of them obligingly responded to a recording on my phone and in doing so, posed for the image below. I must add that I was severely chastised by the rest of the family for stressing the bird! (And though I hate to admit it… I will grudgingly accept that they did have a point!)
The (relative) lack in birds was made up by butterflies. With the onset of the rains, butterfly numbers were significantly higher as compared to my previous visit in May, (although it will be between September and December that the numbers will really begin peak).
The sighting of a ‘painted lady’ butterfly was a lifer for me and I was thrilled to see several of them frequenting the garden flowers and giving me ample opportunities to get some really nice images.
Our prized cinnamon tree is a favourite target for caterpillars. They are voracious feeders and over the years we’ve been faced on several occasions with the dilemma of which to preserve – the caterpillar or the tree. Last year it was a humongous atlas moth larva. This year there were at least three species of butterfly caterpillars chomping away at the leaves. The largest – and by far the prettiest – was the one below.
I had no idea as to which species of butterfly it belonged and I kicked myself for not bringing along with me a wonderful book I had recently bought – ‘A guide to the Butterflies of Western Ghats (India)’ by Milind Bhakare and Hemant Ogale.
The caterpillars were around for a couple of days and then they vanished. In the hope that they had morphed into the pupa stage (as opposed to being eaten by the birds), I carefully searched the entire tree, branch by branch, in an attempt to find the chrysalis but without success.
Back home, one of the first things I did was look up the book to identify the caterpillar. It was the larval form of the common mime butterfly (above). The pupa of this species is very unusual. It bears a striking resemblance to a branch of a tree and I must admit I would never have found it even if it was staring me in the face!
Large packs of mongrel dogs regularly visit the property for a drink of water. They are never a bother and tend to run off the minute they see us. Despite keeping a bowl of water on the ground for them they will still attempt to drink from the ones put on a pedestal for the birds frequently knocking them down – and occasionally breaking them – in the process.
To be fair, the image below is pretty conclusive evidence that there were other heavyweight suspects in contention when it came to identifying the perpetrators involved in the mystery of the case of the broken bird baths!
One of the mongrel dogs had littered in our garage a few days before we arrived.
There were 10 pups in all. For some inexplicable reason she left 3 pups behind in the garage (below) and carried the other 7 over the compound wall and deep into the shrubbery on the slope of the hill. She was an emaciated specimen and the fact that she struggled to feed her babies was plain to see.
The image below was taken almost 14 years ago at the very same spot as the one of the three puppies above…. It was of our dog Buffy who passed away a few of months ago. I wonder if she had anything to do with the three pups that were left behind…?
Be that as it may, on all future visits to the supermarket, dog food and extra milk was high on the grocery list. During the second half of our stay the mother’s appearances were getting alarming infrequent. So much so that on the last couple of days, she did not turn up at all and we took it upon ourselves to keep the garage babies fed.
The puppies in the shrubbery were, unfortunately in an area that was completely inaccessible and listening to their squeals was heart-rending. A bunch of juvenile bhramini kites showed a definitely interest making low circling runs over the pups in anticipation of a potential meal.
One of those birds had a ring around its right leg. I’ll share the image on the various birding sites of Goa to inform the person/organization involved in case it was intentionally tagged.
I’m happy to say that the three pups in the garage are doing well and we have stocked up on puppy feed and instructed the gardener to ensure that they are cared for after we leave.
Thanks to the incessant rain much of our time was spent indoors mostly playing Scrabble. Suffice to say, the screeches of indignant laughter each time someone tried to insert a fictitious word would have given the roar of the rain described at the beginning of this blog a real run for its money. To say the very least!
The few times that we did go out was – you guessed it – to eat!
The monsoon is considered ‘off season’ in Goa. There was a time not so very long ago when places to get decent meal during this period were few and far between. Since then things have changed…and how! We had some truly spectacular meals and if I had to name a few really memorable dishes they would include the Vietnamese coffee and croissant sandwiches at Baba Au Rhum, the panni puri like starters with prawn and avocardo sauce at Chef Cantando, rava fried mussels and serra durra (oo la la!) at Babazin’s, beef gazpacho and rava fried chonak (barramundi) at Bottle Jack Bistro and, surprisingly, the veg dishes like tamde baji and amanas at Soi. (I do hope I’ve got the all the spellings right).
Add to that some of best home made lethri (a traditional sweet made of grated coconut and egg yolks) and gram sweet I have ever tasted and it would be fair to say we had no complaints as far as the food was concerned!
Looking back I will be hard-pressed to pinpoint any one aspect of the seven day holiday to being the highlight of that week. It truly had a bit of everything. The entire family together…Super weather and the magical sound of the rain…The fresh smell of wet earth and lush green surroundings… A number of birds and butterflies… Three pups to mother not to mention some really great meals.
Put it all together however, and, without a doubt, it was an awesome trip! One that will definitely make it to the memory banks to be brought up from time to time and savoured in the years to come. For sure!