Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Trip Report To India, Feb 05.

How much can you pack into two weeks? My Spanish wife Felicia and I decided we would do our damnedest during our forthcoming trip to India. And so it was that before we even touched Dabolim airport we had an itinerary chalked out, choc-a-bloc with events…three days at Dudhsagar, four days in the Thar desert behind the hump of a camel, six days at Nerul, and even a wildgoa birding trip.

With a little help from our Apple in Bridgnorth, I was able to chart our entire travel programme to Goa, Delhi, and Rajasthan. Accordingly, I informed MGM in Goa, who promptly booked our train and plane tickets. We were also able to contact a tour operator for camel safaris in Bikaner, and warn him we were about to descend upon the Marusthali.

The wildgoa birding trip was scheduled the day after we arrived, which seemed like a good way to kick start our holidays. Wildgoa trips have been in hibernation for quite a while, so it was more than just the birds that had my attention. I was keen on meeting up with Clinton, Rajiv, Hubert and the rest of the enthusiasts, --and also wanted to introduce Felicia to the group.
We visited Porvorim and the Pilerne lake; in the past they have been very, very productive, and remain my favourite sites. We saw about 45 species, including coppersmith barbet, whitebrowed bulbul, ashy drongo, bronzed drongo, common flameback, barwinged flycatcher shrike, small minivet, goldfronted leafbird, common iora, blackhooded oriole, blackheaded cuckoo shrike, plumheaded parakeet, purple sunbird, and chestnut shouldered petronia. On one occasion we staked out a little silk cotton tree for at least twenty minutes, watching starlings, drongos, orioles and bulbuls clamour for our attention!

Opposite Home in the Woods, a construction is on in full swing, which seems to have disturbed the haunt of crested tree swifts, who sadly were nowhere about. In the past, this spot has yielded bluebearded bee-eater (also confirmed by Neil Alvares), mahrattta woodpecker, common woodshrike, quaker babbler, racket tailed drongo, pied harrier, alexandrine parakeet and the extremely rare yelloweyed babbler.
The lake in Pilerne had a storkbilled kingfisher, wood sandpiper and some greenshank, but there were no raptors or even the painted snipe. The crocodile must have long since left, I think it was trapped in the Arpora salt pans, according to a Goanet email..
It was a great morning, but I missed some of the wildgoans, almost as much as I missed the crested tree swifts..

Early next morning, my wife and I set off to Dudhsagar, relying on my Yezdi to cart us all the way to Collem.
This was not a birding trip, I simply wanted to guide my wife to the best camping spot in Goa-- and I daresay, she was impressed.
We did manage to sight some birds, though… scimitar babblers, black bulbuls, yellowbrowed bulbuls, heartspotted woodpecker, greater flameback, blue-eared kingfisher, paradise flycatcher, emerald dove, blue rock thrush, and even a pair of great pied hornbills.

At Qureshi, we spent some time watching a blue jay. In Spain they have the Eurasian jay, but I took great pleasure in proving that the Indian species is by far the more colourful.

Coming back from Dudhsagar was a little stressful, we had to catch a plane to Delhi the same afternoon, and late morning we were still at Collem. We made it in the nick of time to Dabolim airport, but I had to leave my motorbike at a friend’s house in Ponda as there wasn’t enough time to go home.

Bikaner was a big, pleasant surprise. It isn’t bustling and harrowing like Jaisalmer, so we were told by a British couple who had just come from there to accompany us on the camel safari. Besides, the train and plane timings to Jaisalmer were very inconvenient. In the end, I think we took the right decision opting to do the camel safari in Bikaner.

The camel safari was fantastic, but this is not a trip for the tender hearted. On the first evening we were very sore, it was only on the next day that we began to get the hang of riding a camel, and even took to trotting it once in a while.…
We saw loads of raptors. On the very first evening we saw a peregrine falcon sitting on a fence, nonchalantly devouring its prey. It flew off only at the very last moment. Thrice we saw a tawny eagle, on two occasions it perched calmly on a small tree some twenty metres away.
We saw numerous vultures circling above, sometimes they came very close…The Egyptian vulture was very distinct with its wedge shaped tail, but we also sighted what were probably cinereous vultures and eurasian griffon. Our guide claimed said that red-headed vulture could be found here, but the rolling gait of the camel made it very hard to identify these raptors.
Common babbler were common, so were large grey shrike, chestnutbellied sandgrouse, and white–eared bulbul. Ashy crowned sparrow larks scavenged in the fields, twice we saw hoopoe and large grey babblers, once we spied a raven. Peafowl roamed freely in the clean Rajasthani villages, a reminder of the close bond that the Bishnoi tribals share with nature. In the desert it was a little unnerving to see foxes, chinkara, blackbuck and neel ghai stroll so close to the camels, displaying no fear whatsoever of man. On one occasion, however, one of our staff took off in hot pursuit of a hare. I think it was the only time we saw a Bishnoi abandon his non–violent habits. He needn’t have bothered though, the hare set off so fast, the tribal lad would have done well to uphold the image we had of the Bishnoi.

There were some little jobs too; these I noted as well as I could in my diary, for identification later…and so it was that I now have my first sightings of the ubiquitous variable wheatear and desert wheatear.
At night our staff sang and danced to rousing local folk tunes under the stars. Star gazing reached new heights in the desert; I pointed out Orion to Felicia, while our guide fished out some more constellations from the night sky. The nights in the desert were cold, best dealt with steaming Assam tea....

Our camel safari ended with a memorable journey back to Bikaner railway station by bus. It was so overcrowded that we had to clamber on top of the bus, hanging on for dear life. The ride was exhilarating, it was with great reluctance that we relinquished our “luxury” seats when it suddenly started raining. The Rajasthani men sitting on top of the bus scrambled to get off, leaving Felicia and Karen last in line. Wryly, I tried explaining to the British girl as we waited for our turn to climb down..”I am sorry, in India women don’t get priority..”

Back in Goa, I paid a visit to the Saligao springs, I knew my friend the brown wood owl would be waiting. We looked and looked, but there was no sign of the ol’ pellets, no droppings….nothing. I guess over the years his patience must have worn thin. Countless were the occasions when I stood silently under this tree, craning my neck to exchange a few knowing looks with the ol’ geezer. Each visit was a privilege, each time the wise old owl whispered new words of wisdom. Damn, I told Felicia. It is not there. He might be in the forest patch to the right, but this was his favourite spot.
As we walked back slowly to my motorbike, my mood grew pensive. All those taxi drivers herding tourists here, treating him like a street exhibit must have been the final straw for the brown wood owl.

On the way back I almost ran off the road, in a bid to show my wife a blackshouldered kite. This species also occurs in Spain, but Felicia has never seen it. Yet another of my favourites.
At home, I was relieved to note a pair of shikras nesting in a mango tree outside my garden. Last year, their incessant shrieking had me incensed; this time I was glad to wake up to their banter. Another pal from yesteryear waited patiently to be rescued in the tank in my backyard. Very carefully I fished out the monitor lizard and let it scurry off. Since the last few years, this scamp kept turning up all over our house, --in the bathroom, in our water tank, in the kennel. Now it had grown quite a bit, but alas, it seemed none the wiser.

All in all, our trip remains a memorable experience, the beauty of it all being that birding was never the priority, not even on the wildgoa trip. I wished I could have done more, but for two weeks, I think we didn’t do so badly..


At 9:15 pm, Blogger Miss Frangipani said...

Hi H&F
What a lovely post! Your description takes us back to India in an instant. I am constantly amazed by how much you know about birds and I dare say Mr R has been bitten by the same bug as well.

Looking forward to reading more from you and get the vet to post something as well :)

The MW from Buckinghamshire

At 9:04 pm, Blogger Cora Chen said...

Dear Havey,
Your blog looks great with green color and interesting pictures.


At 9:37 pm, Blogger Gladys Baya said...

Very nice looking blog, Harvey! It'll be interesting to see it grow as you post about your trips to different destinations... :-)
I also loved the pictures!

I'm just wondering: does "kreegah" mean anything? If so, what language is it?

Go ahead!


At 2:51 pm, Blogger CAROLYNS DAUGHTER said...

Hey Harvey, & Felicia
It is a real treat to read about your many adventurous travels. It does meake me a bit jealous for your lifestyle. Enjoy - and think of all of us who are stuck to our homes and families...
Keep writing Harvey - you have a real talent there.

At 8:10 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Harvey and Felicia,

Lovely to know you guys are so happy somewhere out there...

Do say hello when you get the chance.

I still remember that butterfly dance we once did here in Bangalore, with 13 other seeds around.

God Bless,

At 12:22 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hiya Harvey

This is your oldtime buddy Violet -
(Xavier's) glad to find you on Facebook! Its been an age since I saw you.

Enjoyed reading your blog - you write so well with such intricate details and its easy to imagine the place, the sights and you craning your neck to look out for the birds.

Nice to know you are married and Felicia from what you describe of her on the blogs seems your ideal mate...God bless you both!!

Look forward to hear loads more and do keep in touch!!

Violet Mendonca e Botelho


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