Birding in the Forests of Goa, Part 3 – The morning of the Malabar Trogon

This post is the continuation of a series documenting my short birding trip to the forests of Goa. On our first full day of birding we had seen a lot of species and had the luck to get some good photos of species that I had never seen before, like the blue face Malkhoa (Birding in the forests of Goa, Part 1 – The morning of the Blue faced Malkhoa) & get a long standing monkey off my back by finally sighting and taking good photos of 2 species of nightjars. (Birding in the forests of Goa, Part 2 – The evening of the Nightjars)

We woke up early as usual on the second day and the Nature’s nest staff was ready with buckets of hot water to substitute for the non functional water heater of our cottages. We freshened up and went to the restaurant area where our guide, the ever enthusiastic Ramesh was waiting for us. That morning we were going to stay in the campus of the hotel for a short while to spot and photograph the only parrot species in this part of the country – the vernal hanging parrot. Mind you, these are parrots and not parakeets! There are at least a handful of species of Parakeets in the region but no other Parrots!

It was still not quite bright enough for perfect photos. The trees however were full of chirping sunbirds. The Natures Nest has an abundance of flowering plants in its campus and they attract a lot of these nectar drinking pretty birds. Usually you work hard to see 3 species of sunbirds, but here just one blossoming tree had multiple pairs of Purple, Purple dumped & Crimson Backed sunbirds flitting from one flower to the other, sucking up the nectar with their curved beaks. It was a great pleasure to just sit and watch these birds dunk their head down into a blossom and slurp away to glory.

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A Purple sunbird enjoying the plentiful nectar

I and my friend decided that there was going to be no afternoon siesta that day. We would return from our birding activity and then spend the entire afternoon taking at least half decent photos of these pretty sunbirds when the light was good.

There would be no such opportunity with the Vernal Hanging Parrots. These birds are usually active early in the day when they finish most of their feeding and retreat to the depths of their forest homes. We had to do with whatever light that was present. We waited for some time and soon the flocks of sunbirds was mixed with a flock of small green hanging parrots. Even in my time in Thattekad I had only seen these birds around dawn, that too at a distance & never to see them ever again once the sun came up. At least there was no distance here!

The parrots as per their name hung upside down from branches and fed on the flowering plants. These birds are so fidgety that it is very difficult to get good photos even in good light. So we clicked away to glory and hoped that at least some of them would reflect the beauty and the striking colour of these birds. The parrots ran through one tree after the other and finally after an hour of jumping from bloom to bloom and tree to tree, flew off in one big flock. As in Thattekad I never saw them again!

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Vernal Hanging Parrots at the Natures Nest, Mollem.

After that great start to the day we had a quick breakfast of sandwiches, poha, fruits and eggs. A hot cup of black coffee later we were ready to leave the hotel and try our luck with our feathered friends today.

It was a Monday & Bondla National Park would be closed. So we would have to do our birding on the outskirts of the parks. As I have found out over the years, the park boundaries are for us. The birds don’t know that they exist and the forests outside the park can sometimes be more rewarding for birders than the inside of a national park.

We first tried our luck on a bridge over the Zuari river right before the turn off towards the Bondla Park. First we spotted a group of Indian Grey Hornbills in a tree on the river banks. Both me and my friend have a long standing association with these birds. We used to enjoy watching a big family of Hornbills fly from tree to tree just outside our hostel during residency in Lucknow. They have also been my initial subjects in my early days of SLR photography. So seeing them here, sitting in perfect light was a both pleasant surprise and a healthy dose of nostalgia.

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Our old friends – The Grey Indian Hornbill

We then turned our attention to a wire running at eye level across the river. Sitting on the wire was a solitary Wire-tailed swallow and a pair of Dusky Crag Martin. These high energy birds usually sit on wires that are much above eye level and hence the photos are always from an downward perspective. Here they were at eye level and made for much more pleasing photos. I paid more attention to the Martins as I had never seen them sitting so peacefully before, while my friend gave his attention to the swallow. We got a the photos we were looking for before both got tired of the unwanted attention and flew off.

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A wire tailed swallow sits in the sun
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A pair of Dusky Crag Martins groom themselves

We then crossed the bridge on foot as there seemed to be a lot of activity on the trees on the other side. Sitting on a huge tree on the opposite side were three types of Drongos – The common ashy drongo , the beautiful racquet tailed drongo and a speckled drongo. We could just appreciate the rarer speckled one before it flew away. The Ashy drongo was however sitting in the perfect light and for a change I ignored the prettier cousin and took photos of the shiny Ashy Drongo.

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The Ashy Drongo shines in the sunlight

We were still photographing the drongoes when we saw Ramesh gesticulating wildly from a small bush closer to the bridge. We went there and he showed us what he was so excited about – A small little Nilgiri Flowerpecker sitting on the bush as if waiting for his turn to be photographed. It was my first sighting of this species and I gladly obliged the patiently waiting bird and took a few photos.

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The Nilgiri Flowerpecker

After both of us (and the flowerpecker apparently!) were satisfied with the photos we moved back to the huge tree where the Ashy Drongo was now joined by a Malabar Grey Hornbill, a distinct species from our friends across the river. I have seen and photographed these birds a lot in Thattekad, but a hornbill sitting in perfect light is never to be ignored. So I took a few photos before I kept the camera down and enjoyed the Hornbill going about his feeding.

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A Malabar Grey Hornbill in perfect light

When the hornbill flew off we walked back across the river and drove on towards the gates of the Bondla WLS. On the way Ramesh was desperately searching for any sign or calls of the elusive Malabar Trogon with no luck. We soon reached the gates of the park where the attendant gesticulated at Ramesh to be quiet and come forward silently. Just outside the gates rummaging through the foliage were a pair of beautiful Red Spurfowl. The closed park meant that there was no traffic and these otherwise very shy birds found enough courage to venture close to the road itself.

We all sought our respective vantage points without disturbing the birds and keeping a safe distance. When everyone was satisfied with his view, we took a lot of photos of these beautiful wild cousins of the domestic fowl.

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A beautiful Male Red Spurfowl
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A pair of Red Spurfowl rummage through the foliage for worms

Sighting these birds at such close proximity and for so much time would have been the highlight of the morning if it was not for what happened next. We were all marvelling at our respective photos of the Spurfowl when Ramesh heard the call of the Malabar Trogon.

Now he was like a predator who had smelled blood. We could not venture inside the gates due to the park being closed but that didn’t deter Ramesh. He was confident that the bird was moving in our direction outside the park. We walked on down the road away from the park gate when we all heard the distinctive call of the Trogon inside the trees.

Within no time all three of us were off the road and going through the forest in the direction of the call. We were so engrossed with the trogon that we almost missed a beautiful Blue Capped Rock Thrush sitting in a tree right in front of us. Luckily we managed to gather our wits and get off a few photos before the colourful Himalayan migrant flew off.

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A Blue capped Rock Thrush

With the thrush gone we again concentrated on the Trogon. We could hear it and we slowly moved towards the sound making as less noise as three full grown humans wearing trekking shoes can. Finally we spotted the beauty!

It’s not without reason that the Malabar Trogon sighting is so highly sought after. The bird is simply spectacular – A riot of colour and patterns that makes it very pleasing to the eye. We had spotted a pair and I first went after the more colourful male. This is a very dense forest and getting a clear view of the bird for a clean shot is very challenging. But that is what attracts me to bird photography, when you do get a good photo the satisfaction is immense!

The next half an hour was a blur as we tracked the pair through a patch of forests taking photos wherever we got a relatively clear view. I have seen a trogon before in Thattekad, but like most other people would like to see more big cats when they have already seen one before. It’s the same with me and pretty birds – more is always good!

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The magnificent Malabar Trogon
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The Trogon looks back to see if we have gone away
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Another angle of the pride of the Southern forests – The Malabar Trogon
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The challenge of getting a clear shot at the Trogon

At the end of that seemingly shortest half an hour ever we had our satisfactory photos and sighting of the Malabar Trogon. We were happy but Ramesh was beaming from ear to ear, finally he had managed to show us a pair of Malabar Trogons!

We were walking back to our car when we spotted another beautiful Flame Throated Bulbul with a juicy worm in its beak. We enjoyed watching and taking photos of the Bulbul pummel the worm to death before consuming it in one fast motion.

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A Flame Throated Bulbul with its lunch

Just before we reached our car we spotted another pretty bulbul perched on top of a tree in the distance. This time it was the White browed Bulbul. Even though the 300mm would have liked the bird a bit closer, there was no way to get closer this time. So we took photos the best we could and returned to our car.

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A White Browed Bulbul in the distance

We returned back to the Natures Nest happy at the mornings activities. There was still some time for lunch and the ever active sunbirds were still going strong. So we waited at the tree with the most activity and enjoyed our time with the sunbirds.

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A crimson backed sunbird in Natures Nest
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A female Purple Rumped Sunbird poses for me
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The beautiful colours of a male Crimson Backed Sunbird

Ramesh informed us that in addition to sunbirds the bird baths near the restaurant were visited in the afternoons usually by the elusive Little Spiderhunter. We had already decided that the afternoon would not be wasted taking a nap and this information further strengthened our resolve to resist the famous Goan afternoon Siesta.

Whether we would spot the spiderhunter and whether our last evening in these forests would fetch us a few new species is a topic for another post some other time, some other day.

Till then,

Bye.

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