It was with not without a bit of apprehension that I decided to take advantage of the long Mahashivratri weekend and book two nights at the Nature’s Nest Resort In Goa.
A month ago I spent a couple of days birding at the Backwoods Resort near the Bhagwan Mahaveer and Bondla Sanctuaries. Thanks to its proprietor and resident birding expert Leio D’Souza it was an amazing trip. And I wound up with a personal record number of first-time images and sightings.
That trip set the bar pretty high and since Nature’s Nest is located in roughly the same area as the Backwoods Resort I was keeping my fingers crossed that I wasn’t in for a comparative anticlimax.
This time around my wife, a confirmed non-birder, and a firm believer in the ‘once bitten twice shy’ dictum, decided to give this one a miss!
Freak weather on the west coast of India had sent the humidity soaring and being the beginning of March, the cool winter days had already given way to the sweltering heat of summer.
I spent a night in Calangute so that I could squeeze in a short morning session of birding at my farmhouse before taking the one and a half hour drive to the resort. this white cheeked barbet is one of the many images I got in that session…but that’s another story…!
Onward to Nature’s Nest. As usual, Google Maps was unerring. Unlike Backwoods Resort, Nature’s Nest has put up a couple of sign boards on the way, and finding the place was a piece of cake.
The resort is a 5-acre property. The car park is just inside the gate from where it is a 50 meters walk down roughly cut steps to the main reception and dining area. Another 30-odd metre walk gets you to your cottage. The cottages are simple and basic: a sit-out area, a single, spacious room and an attached bath. A dedicated tap connected to an instant water heater provides hot water.
I must say the meals were superb. Typical Konkan cuisine served in large quantities and with a variety of menu options.
The resident birder is a young man called Omkar. In his mid 20s his age belittles his expertise. This guy has the ears of a cat and the eyes of a hawk and his knowledge of birds is pretty exhaustive.
After a super lunch and a short nap we headed to a fruiting tree about 200 yards down the road from the resort gate.
Standing below the tree I got some nice shots of a Malabar grey hornbill. It was so busy gorging on the tiny fruit that it seemed totally oblivious of our presence!
To say tree was loaded with fruit is a gross understatement and the birds came in hordes to feast on them.
Other birds included orange minivets, coppersmith barbets, white-cheeked barbets, brown-headed barbets, flame-throated bulbuls, yellow-browed bulbuls and red-whiskered bulbuls and thick-billed flowerpeckers to name a few off the top of my head.
Omkar could hear a heart-spotted woodpecker in the forest but we could not get a sighting.
Just before sunset we headed off the main road and into the jungle where I got this image of a Sri Lanka frogmouth.
Walking through the jungle there were plenty of signs of wildlife. We got a fleeting glance of red spurfowl in the undergrowth and the hilly scrubland was littered with porcupine droppings. (Much as I would have liked to have seen one, it was not to be!)
Back at the resort a quick shower and time for the dinner buffet. Like the lunch, the food was great with a large selection of dishes on offer.
Outside the resort was a large open barren field. Scouting the area with torches after dinner for nightjars proved unproductive. The only living creatures on show were a fleeing grey hare and spider eyes glistening like diamonds wherever the torch beam hit the ground.
The next morning Omkar suggested we visit Bondla Sanctuary. Here the pattern of birding involved driving to certain points known to be good for birding and scouting the area before moving on to the next spot.
At our first stop while I was trying to get a good shot of a bunch of hyperactive grey-breasted prinias, Omkar moved towards the direction from where he had heard the ‘drumming’ of a woodpecker.
Moments later he sighted a lesser goldenback and, later, a rufous woodpecker.
Moving on, we drove to a site where crested treeswifts were known to sit on a cotton tree. We found a pair of them perched amidst it’s beautiful coral red flowers.
The male appeared to be sitting on it’s nest with his back facing us. We waited there of a good 20-30 minutes hoping for him to turn. No such luck; like a dutiful father he just did not budge!
Unfortunately we were quite a distance away and could not get any closer as there was an intervening fence. I was hoping to get a better shot of these birds later in the trip and, as it turned out, my prayers were eventually answered…and how!
A Blyth’s starling flew into the tree and, needless to say, I succumbed to the temptation to temporarily shift focus from the treeswifts.
It’s All About the Bees No Trouble…!
Driving onwards Omkar directed me to park off a slope from where we walked downhill along the road scanning the jungle on either side for birding activity.
About 100 yards later he could hear the call/ drumming of a heart-spotted woodpecker. I was eager to get off the road into the jungle towards the call but he was reluctant. “We’ll pick up ticks on the way,” he said.
The bird kept calling and we stepped a couple of metres off the road into the jungle to try and get a fix on its location.
That’s when I heard an incessant angry buzzing. Initially thinking they were fruit flies I tried to wave them away, still focussed on trying to spot the woodpecker.
A stinging sensation on the side of my head send alarm bells ringing in my head. These were no fruit flies. They were bees. And we had somehow managed to disturb their hive!
We ran onto the road, but to no avail they chased us with single-minded determination! I could feel the sharp stinging on my scalp and arm and frantically tried to dislodge the bees with my free hand as they continued to chase us all the way upto the car!
Exactly two years ago this month I suffered a slip disc and I was advised by my spine surgeon that under no circumstances was I to run. A fast walk was permitted. But no running! I never had a chance to ask him for how long was this particular restriction to be imposed but I followed his advice to the letter. Till now!
It was probably the fastest 100metres I have ever run in the past three to four decades!
The sight of an overweight, bald, fifty nine year old galloping at full tilt in heavy trekking boots and lugging a humongous camera, the fear of God writ all over his face could not have been a very pleasant sight.
One that that was sure to mentally traumatize anyone who had the misfortune to witness the incident!!
In a way though, I am thankful to the bees. At the time of writing this blog I am fine and know now that, slip disc or no slip disc, I am capable of running if and when the need arises!
But it was one hell of an experience!!
A short distance ahead was an inviting pond that in days gone by I would have been tempted to take a dip in to neutralize to sweltering heat.
The small innocuous sign: ‘Beware of Crocodiles’ would definitely be a deterrent; especially after the bee incident.
So, still smarting from our previous incident and with high levels of adrenaline still coursing in our blood, we glanced nervously around expecting at any moment to see a crocodile come charging out of the undergrowth as we made our way towards the edge of the pond.
A couple of white-browed wagtails were a welcome sight and the crocs were quickly forgotton as I squatted to try and get an eye level shot of the moving bird.
That’s when Omkar pointed to a few ripples around a ‘rock’ about twenty meters from the water’s edge.
A slight movement of the rock itself and the ‘beware of crocodiles’ sign was instantly summoned back to my brains RAM.
I watched in awe as the ‘rock’ slowly lifted itself and walked a few paces before settling down and keeping just it’s head out of the water.
That was one session of birding that I was unlikely to forget for a long, long time!
Later in the afternoon we decided to visit the jungle area behind the Tamdi Surla Temple. When we got there the Mahashivratri Yatra was in full swing with the road leading up to the temple full of stalls from sweets to ring-a-prize games. And people. Many, many people!
With such an overpowering human presence the birds had discreetly disappeared and we cut our losses and went back to the fruiting tree we had visited the previous evening. Standing below the tree I remember telling Omkar that I wanted a nice shot of a brown-headed barbet, and, right on cue, one obliged and posed nicely for the shot below.
It was here that I got a shot of a coppersmith barbet that, in one single frame, answered the question: How do these trees propagate?!
The birds eat the fruit and their droppings contain the seeds from which new trees grow!
For the evening’s outing Omkar suggested we take the torch just after sunset to try once more to look for nightjars. But this time we would go much futher up the road and deeper in the jungle. By now I was pooped. Also, shaken by the morning’s adventures I seriously toyed with the idea of giving it a skip and turning in early.
So it was with more than a bit of reluctance that I eventually agreed to go. And as it turned out I was glad that I did!
We set off at about 7.30pm and the area we were heading for was a 10 minute walk from the resort.
We walked down the road in pitch darkness using torches to scan the jungle on either side. Suddenly, Omkar, all excited, took a few quick steps ahead before freezing his to torch beam on some foliage about twenty feet off the road. There in the torchlight was the head of a wild boar poking out of the bushes.
The shot above was taken with an a 7DII and a 500mm f4 lens at an ISO of 12800 at 1/25 of a second, handheld! Whoever it was that said photography is all about the photographer and not about the equipment needs to do a rethink!!
We then moved off the main road and on to a jungle road that eventually led to a vast open area. In the distance his torch picked up the eyes of a jungle nightjar.
We managed to get within about 10-15 metres of the bird to get this shot. (ISO setting was 6400).
All in all I’m glad I did the night session as it helped to some extent to make up for the Tambdi Surla dud run!
The next morning was my last day. Check out was at 11am. Just enough time for one last session. A few rounds on the grounds of the resort threw up some decent sightings including this little spiderhunter and a forest wagtail.
Moving out of the resort gate we began to scout the forest area just outside the resort.
It was here that Omkar pointed to a tiny bird he identified as a male chestnut-shouldered petronia.
(I had to take a time off to jot down the name on my phone as I would never have remembered it later!)
Out of the Woods…
After a patch of forest there was a gently sloping rocky hill that was essentially barren dotted with only the occasional shrub or tree. About a hundred yards up the slope the forest appeared to start again. We made our way upto the treeline where Omkar had spotted a pair of heart-spotted woodpeckers.
About thirty yards short of the treeline Omkar seemed distracted by a male crested treeswift circling above. I was impatient move on and get a crack at the woodpeckers, but Omkar suggested we stay still for a moment to see if the treeswift would settle on one of the few trees scattered around us.
Right enough it settled on a bare branch of a tree upslope from us. ‘That’s its nest’ exclaimed Omkar, ‘I can see a chick by its side!’
From where we were the chick was all but hidden.
We circled the tree, and having to move up the slope to do so it brought us almost at eye level with the bird and it’s chick. As a photographer, with the early morning rising sun behind us, I don’t think I could ask for anything more.
Except perhaps for a little more light!
Above is one of the many shots I got. And it’s fair to say that they were the highlights of this trip!!
On the way back to the resort we did spot a number of birds including this chestnut-headed bee-eater below.
Back to the resort just in time to pack and make the 11am check out and drive back to Calangute.
In the space of a month I had visited two resorts, essentially dedicated to birding and covering the same sanctuaries in Goa.
Comparisons were inevitable.
The living accommodation is basic in both but I would rate Nature’s Nest as better. The food at Nature’s nest was amazing and way ahead of the very simple, limited fare offered at Backwood’s resort. For a non-birder there is not much else to do at Backwoods resort, so non-birders be warned! At Nature’s nest however they do offer other adventure activities, though I’m not sure about the details. From a costing point of view Nature’s nest was more expensive.
As far as the birding is concerned, much as I admired Omkar’s amazing spotting skill and exceptional birding knowledge, Leio D’Souza is (in my opinion at least) streets ahead of the competition.
Bottom line? I’ll be back… definitely…in cooler times!!
I decided to spend an extra day in Goa at my farmhouse in Calangute. My air tickets for my return to Mumbai were booked for the next afternoon. Which gave me just about time for a morning of birding at home.
My first visitor was this white juvenile male Asian paradise flycatcher. The light was not too good and it was a distance away, but I was thrilled to see it!
A bunch of small minivets darted around the branches of a cashew tree chasing tiny insects in its leaves.
A chestnut coloured streamer drifting in the undergrowth caught my attention. An adult male (rufous morph) Asian paradise flycatcher! These are not a commonly seen species in my backyard and to see males of both morphs in one session…how cool was that?!
The cotton tree was in full bloom.
The nectar in it’s coral red flowers forming a heady cocktail with the early morning dew. Proving to be a virtual magnet for birds and bees alike. (And those of you with naughty minds don’t try to find hidden meanings. There are none!)
Ashy drongos seem to rule the roost.
Agressively driving away any other bird that came for a sip, like this black hooded oriole that had to duck for shelter in one of the neighboring bushes.
There appeared to be a couple of ways of dealing with the aggressive drongos.
Safety in numbers was one. Eurasian blackbirds and jungle babblers seemed to have perfected this art. The jungle babblers additional weapon being their constant cackle.
Stealth seemed to be able to work too. Coppersmith barbets, white-cheeked barbets and sunbirds, thanks to their small size managed to go unnoticed long enough to partake of the feast undisturbed.
Unusual movement of a ‘leaf’ in an adjoining tree proved to be a male Jerdon’s leafbird foraging for insects.
And a feeding blue-faced malkoha in a cashew tree caused flashes of dark blue-green in its foliage.
Thanks to Omkar’s training I picked up the drumming sound of a Rufous Woodpecker in the distance. And I’m tickled pink that I spotted the bird from its sound!
A normally shy spotted dove swooped down for a drink of water watched by a brahminy kite perched on the now bare branches of the once leafy gunpowder tree…
…and a white-belied sea eagle circling the skies above.
And so it was…a couple of hours of pure magic.
Then, in the distance, a preacher began his sermon. Gradually building into an amplifiled crescendo, vociferously encouraging his congregation to raise their voices even higher that they may experience the Lord.
And I couldn’t help but feel that simply sitting here quietly, and keeping my senses open, was all that I needed to feel His presence.