I am based in Mumbai but love Goa!
The necessity for my having to go there on a regular basis together with a long-standing interest in photography and a recently developed interest in birds has inevitably resulted is a flurry of birding trips in the recent past.
I started out in the 1990s as an occasional birder with a Canon EOS 50 (Canon Elan II) film camera and a Canon EF 75-300mm USM III. Later, in 2007, I switched to a digital SLR with an EOS 400D body. A little over a year ago, as I got more seriously into birding, (after much deliberation!), I decided on the Sigma 150-500mm OS lens. Shortly thereafter I got myself the Canon EOS 7D.
Many serious birders disapprove of the lens I’m using. They feel I should have opted for at least a 400mm f5.6 or a 300mm F4 IS with TC or the 100-400mm. It took a long time and a number of factors (image quality, zoom range, price, optical stabilization etc) before arriving at a decision. Rightly or wrongly, for now, I am quite happy with my Sigma, thank you!
It’s quite possible that my satisfaction with the Siggy is simply because I’m comparing my present images to the ones I got with the 75-300. And, let me tell you, those initial images left a lot to be desired!
Till recently all my birding experiences have been without any professional guides. I’d simply carry my camera to a potentially bird infested spot and click away! Back home I’d then sit with the downloaded images and open Salim Ali’s book on Indian Birds and try and identify the various species.
I must say that being a member of Indian Nature Watch has helped enormously not only in identification but also in remaining motivated!
When I visited Goa at the end of May 2013, I decided to involve professional help and take one of the birding tours for a change instead of aimlessly roaming on my own!
My first Guided Birding Tour
There is a lot of material on guided birding tours in Goa on the Internet. A good number of birders (God bless them!) have uploaded in depth reports on their birding experiences and offered useful suggestions and recommendations. One of the Birding tour Internet sites that impressed me was that of Rahul Alvares. I got in touch with him and arranged to do a morning session of birding covering the Socorro plateau and later visit Pilerne Lake, a water body for water birds.
The plateau is a couple of kilometers drive from Porvorim in North Goa. It was in the month of May and let me tell you the heat was killing!
On the plateau we did see a large number of birds including Red Whiskered and Red Vented Bulbuls, Common Ioras, Minivets, Black Hooded Orioles, Coppersmith and White Cheeked Barbets, Bee-eaters, Flowerpeckers, Drongos, Speckled Doves, Peacocks, Munias, Brahminy kites, Chestnut-tailed Starlings and Purple sunbirds.
The water body also had a fair share of bird species.
There were the normal fillers of Pond Herons and Cattle Egrets.
Besides these we also spotted a Glossy Ibis, a Grey Heron, large flocks of Lesser Whistling Teal, Cormorants and Cotton Pygmy Geese.
The highlight of the trip was, without a doubt, the sighting of an Indian Pitta bird on the Socorro plateau. This particular specimen was extremely obliging and posed for long periods of time by sitting motionless on the branches of a leafless tree.
Additional adrenalin rushes were also to be had in the form fleeting glimpses of a Racquet Tailed Drongo and an Emerald Dove.
With regular sightings of a wide array of birds interspersed with animated discussions on birding and wild life photography it was an enjoyable and satisfying morning.
A couple of photography ‘firsts’
For me, from a photography point of view, this trip had a couple of ‘firsts’.
I had read a lot about using back-button auto focus on the 7D instead of half pressing the shutter button for focusing. On this trip I decided to experiment with this technique. It takes a little time to get used to but after a while it does, in my opinion, significantly contribute to the number of ‘keepers’.
My other ‘first’ was the use of a flash for birding. I have a Canon Speedlite 430EX II external flash. Using it as a fill-in flash certainly improves image quality for birds within flash range. Of course it has the potential of distressing the subjects and one has to constantly factor that in.
Well, that’s it for my first guided birding tour and, for that matter, my very first report on birding! I must admit I am a very amateur birder and could well have made mistakes in identification or nomenclature. I’d be grateful if you would let me know if you do find any such errors!
I look forward to doing more such guided tours on my forthcoming trips to Goa and welcome suggestions and recommendations!