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Nature’s Nest…photographing birds in Goa

“ I am planning to go photographing birds in Goa”

“ Goa ? “

“ Yes.”

“ For BIRD photography ? “

“Yes.”

“Heh Heh…What sort of birds ? “…( smirk, smirk )

******

I first heard of the birds of Goa a couple of years ago. Last year, I was with another group of wildlife photographers who were talking very positively about their experiences there and specifically mentioned a place Nature’s Nest as THE goto place for any photographer ( or birder ). I made a mental note that I should definitely try to plan a trip there.

And then, our class group from school decided on a reunion in Goa. Over the weekend just preceding Pongal.

It really was a no brainer.

My stay had to be extended and a visit to Nature’s Nest had to be planned.

******

The Sahayadri range runs the length of the eastern boundary and is possibly the most attractive region from a biological perspective. There are more than 450 species of birds, 13 of the 24 endemic to the Western Ghat species to be found here. It definitely won’t be top of the list for anyone who wants to see the large mammals ( though tigers and leopards are found here ) but for birds, butterflies, frogs and snakes…it’s a treasure trove !

There’s more to Goa than the beaches for sure.

******

It had been a rather breathless couple of hours.

There were birds all around us ! All sort of birds. The Malabar Grey Hornbills, the Nilgiri Flowerpeckers, Flame Throated Bulbuls, sun birds, Blyth’s starling, swallows…they were all around me.

We stood on a lonely bridge and clicked at the swallows preening on the wires, climbed over small fences to see if we can get good pics of the Mountain Imperial Pigeons, stopped on the road when we saw a Nilgiri Flowerpecker in the bushes below us.

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The morning sun throws off some brilliant colours off this wire tailed swallow..such a pity it was on a wire 😦


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A Nilgiri Flowerpecker sits rather dolefully and in a thoughtful mood


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An orange headed thrush wanders out and finds just the right perch to pose for me


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A puff throated babbler seems ready to fly off but then felt generous to give me a lot of time


A photographer’s dream.

******

“ Sir, come here….fast !!!”

We had finally stopped for a long overdue breakfast halt and were sitting at a small clearing, munching sandwiches and scouting the trees around us for any interesting birds.

Ramesh, from Nature’s Nest and my guide for the next two days, had sauntered down the road after some movement had caught his eye and clearly something had excited him.

I dropped my sandwiches, picked up my camera and tripod and ran.

“ A female Malabar Trogon !!”

Wow !! Now that would be something. Just as I was trying to figure out where he had seen that wonderful bird, came another whisper, with barely suppressed excitement.

“ Sir…a male Malabar Trogon has also come ! “

I could see this one clearly. The flash of the beautiful red and white body as it settled down on a branch in clear view. I hurried with my camera, Ramesh helped me in setting up the tripod.

Damn.

The Trogon had flown off.

We spent the better part of the next hour searching in vain for where it had gone. But.

Finally, we decided to give up our and returned to our half finished breakfast. Some hope. There were dozens of macaques in the trees around us and they had finished off what we had left behind.

Well.

******

“ Sir…you will get a better angle from here”

I moved across as quietly as I could while walking over dry leaves and twigs and as quickly as I could while carrying a heavy lens and a tripod.

There was a white rumped Shama that I was photographing but Ramesh had identified the perfect place to get a lovely shot. Beautiful morning light streamed through the trees, falling directly on the lovely bird’s face.

Gotcha.

And to make it even better, the male joined her. Bliss

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Looking rather lost in her thoughts and in a pensive mood, this Female White Rumped Shama gave me a lot of time and opportunity to take pics


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And then the male surfaced, showing off his brilliant colours !


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Was in quite a perky mood, this one


******

We knew it was there in the bushes.

We could hear it moving about. The rustling of the leaves. An occasional shadow in the dense undergrowth. But we just couldn’t get a glimpse let alone a clear view.

The Indian Pitta is a sub Himalayan bird that makes it way to the South during the winter. A solitary bird , of retiring nature, it prefers secluded and shady places under trees and shrubs. It is largely a terrestrial bird that hops along the ground at a slow, leisurely pace most of the time and right now, with the sun setting behind us, we were worried if it will make an appearance when the light was still half decent.

We hurried from one end of the thicket to the other trying to follow the rustling. In vain. After a long while, we could hear it moving in a regular, determined manner and we waited at what could be called a small clearing between two thickets.

A very small space. Possibly just about one and a half foot space between the bushes. Framed by leaves in the foreground.

And then it stepped out. A lovely rash of colours…bright yellow, green, black, yellow all thrown in to create a beautiful bird.

The light was poor, the window through which I could sight the bird was narrow, but I could manage a passable picture of the lovely lil thing.

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Just for a moment, the Indian Pitta sauntered into the smallest of clearings


******

It was an interesting terrain. Heavily wooded, lots of bushes and yes, anything but flat. There were long periods of walking on the  roads, peering into the woods on either side, trying to hear any interesting bird call in the cacophony of forest sounds. Often we would get off the tarred surface into the woods and the part I loved the most.

Stepping over red stone half walls, or under the low trees its as if we have moved into a different world.

Dry leaves crunch in protest as we walk over them.

Its quiet. And its noisy.

We did a lot of walking. And all this was while carrying a rather unwieldy tripod and a camera on my shoulder. Taking care that it didn’t hit any of the branches or vines around. Taking care that the lens stayed protected from any intruding twig. There was many a moment when I silently thanked my reasonably decent level of fitness.

Once, as we veered off the roads and entered the woods into an especially dense part, a thought struck me.

” Are there snakes here, Ramesh ?”

” Oh yes, if we are lucky, we can see a saw scaled viper here.”

Gulp.

That wasn’t the reason behind my question.

******

It was the second evening that we were searching for the blue eared Kingfisher. Another elusive little fellow. We spent close to an hour the first day, waiting for it to appear but eventually gave up.

We had spent the earlier part of the evening looking in vain for the Trogons.  We went in the opposite direction on the second day. Apparently there was a stream where one guy has been seen and since kingfishers are largely territorial, if we are lucky, we might see one.

We stopped the vehicle on the side of a deserted road and walked down a gentle slope, crossed a thin line of bushes and walked over loose pebbles and stones to the far corner.

There, across more bushes and slightly larger stones, was a stream. There were branches hanging low over the waters and the entire scene looked quite quiet, dark and foreboding.

“ There it is”, Gajanand, my guide for the evening whispered.

And there it was. Perched on a dry branch with a lot of similar dry branches to give it a rather inelegant background, was the tiny little Blue Eared Kingfisher.

It kept diving into the waters and once I could see it with an eel as a catch. But, poor light coupled with the fact that it was on its sorties deep in the undergrowth, resulted in no pic being as sharp as one would have liked.

But, just sitting there, on the stones, by a dark stream in the late evening watching it go through the routine of focus, attack, eat and ruminate through my lens was a soulful experience.

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The Blue eared Kingfisher, rather similar to the Common Kingfisher, but far brighter in colour


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It was an unforgettable time, watching it dive in and out of the stream


******

The two days passed just too fast. I clicked a lot of birds. Saw even more of them. Most of the birds were first time sights for me – lifers.

Vernal hanging parrots living upto their name on a tree in the resort. Sunbirds doing their usual routine…but more types of sunbirds than I have ever seen. Malabar grey  hornbills and the larger and more famous Malabar Pied Horbills, thrushes, starlings, flycatchers, bulbuls, woodpeckers….phew.

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A brown breasted flycatcher peers cautiously


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“Yes?” enquired the Blue capped Rock Thrush


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The Flame Throated Bulbul comes down for a drink


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This juvenile Vigor’s sunbird doesnt seem overly impressed by my presence


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The Malabar Pied Hornbill…handheld shot. Just as the tripod was all ready, it flew off 😦


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A Vernal Hanging Parrot decides to go off on a limb


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This female subird looks around for danger before settling in on a feast


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Let me hang upside down now… the vernal hanging parrot again..


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“Hmmm…that looks tasty!”


******

I had fallen in love with the place. It reminded me a lot of Kerala. The Kerala that I remember from my childhood vacations. Or possibly, more of the Kerala that might have existed much earlier, say the 1950s or the 60s.

Rustic. Quiet. Unhurried. Uncrowded.

On the first evening, we sat on the edge of the road waiting for the sun to go down and see if we can catch any night jar. I can’t remember when I would have last done something as ordinary as this. In my school days ? Just sitting on the road with our back to the road cos there is hardly any vehicular traffic to be worried about and gazing into the horizon ( actually just the tree tops a little distance away 🙂 ). Small things. Simple things.

Where was I ? Ah, the place. Large swathes of land densely covered with trees and shrubs. Gently rolling landscapes around us. Most of the houses seemed to have a fair bit of land around it. The roads were of excellent quality but as I said, we would only occasionally pass another vehicle. I don’t remember seeing a single bus.

Happy and cheerful people. Wherever we went, our driver and Ramesh seemed to know everyone. A quick wave and a  few lines get thrown in. Once, while trying to get a clear shot of a Malabar Pied Hornbill an elderly lady carrying a pile of wood crossed us. She exchanged a few words with Ramesh and waved gaily at me, chuckled at my foolishness of carrying my gear and walking around just for birds,  and trotted into her home.

Did I say, friendly people ?

Once we met a crowd of gaily decked up women walking. From the manner in which they had dressed up, evidently they were going for some social event. Laughing, chattering, the ladies of different ages walked, spread across the road in the confidence that not too many vehicles will disturb them. An hour later, while returning from a birding point we saw them again. They were still walking to their destination, still happily chatting, bossing the roads.

It just seemed a throwback to an earlier age.

We were driving back after the Kingfisher sighting, in quiet satisfaction of a successful sighting. Upset at being blanked out by the trees, the setting sun was furiously registering its protest  whenever it could through the gaps. The crickets were waking up and making its usual racket. The air was turning a little nippy.

I looked around me, at the rolling hills, the trees, at the quiet and I just couldn’t help wondering for how long could this hold out in this manner ? How long before the arm of development reaches out with its usual empty basket of promises and changes this beautiful landscape ?

******

Nature’s Nest. ( https://www.naturesnestgoa.com )

If you are interested in nature. Highly recommended. Ramesh, the birder and one of the partners with whom I spent most of the two days is an excellent birder. Highly knowledgeable and full of enthu.

Its not the luxury resort that adorn the beachside. It has its rooms spread across its area. Large, spacious but basic rooms. Clean. With good bathrooms with hot water. Good homely food mainly of the local cuisine. Happy pleasant staff.

Reaching there…simple. Take a flight to Goa. Then take a cab to Nature’s Nest. They organise pick ups too. Budget for about 90 mins of a drive.

Go for it.

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