Goa is just a dot on the world map, but it is home to five per cent of the world's birds," says Savio Fonseca, a birding expert based in Panjim. "Worldwide, bird watching is one of the fastest-growing tourist activities. In the US, bird-watching has already overtaken golf as the biggest outdoor activity," he says. "And to think of it, Goa is home to more than 450 species", he added.
Fonseca, who runs the NGO, Bird Institute of Goa, is a consultant for the first Bird Festival of Goa, which is being jointly promoted by the Goa Forest and Tourism Departments. Savio has also co-authored Birds of Goa, with Bikram Grewal, which released last September. Last month, he began the process of recruiting and training bird guides. "We're slowly putting all the components in place. First, we did the book. Now, we've started training the guides. Next, comes the bird festival."
The Pied Kingfisher is a white kingfisher and quite a sight to behold when hunting for fish in rivers and lakes, hovering like a helicopter before diving and coming up with its snack
He says the promotion of Goa as a bird watching destination is a win-win situation for all. "We believe that conservation (of the environment) can be best done through tourism. The bird guides will be from the bird-rich areas of interior Goa, and giving them employment will not only benefit them financially, but motivate them to conserve the areas. Visitors will also get to see rare birds, some of which can only be seen in this part of India."
Although this is the first time that Goa government agencies are going to 'market' bird watching (through the Goa Tourism Development Corporation), a number of private agencies and individuals have been conducting tours in recent years as Goa's reputation as a bird-watching destination grew.
The Osprey is a magnificent migratory bird from the raptor (eagle) family and lives off fish. This one was spotted at the Cumbharjua Canal. It has a graceful flight and is a pleasure to watch. Pics/Savio Fonseca
Goa resident Pankaj Lad was an enthusiastic bird watcher and in 2008 converted his hobby into what he terms a "major" business. "The number of bird species is quite high for such a small place which is only 3,700 sq km. Goa, though very small, is a mix of habitats. It allows for a lot of bird diversity in a small area. You get to see sea birds, shore birds, river birds and forest birds, etc," he says.
"Goa has the best infrastructure to be a good birding destination, compared with other Indian destinations like Bharatpur," says Fonseca. "There is good connectivity to and in Goa. All the good birding spots are within one- to two-hour drive from the coastal areas which have a large number of resorts where tourists can stay." Also, 40 per cent of Goa's land falls under protected forests. Fonseca says the certified guides will be in place by the time the Bird Festival rolls out in November, and it is only a matter of time before it becomes a popular outdoor activity. "We're putting all the required components into place so that Goa is ahead of the curve," he says.
He dismisses any suggestion that the two-week duration of the bird guide's course is insufficient. "We're only taking people who are already interested in birds and are familiar with them. At the end of the course, they have to take an exam. Only if they pass it, will they be given their certificates. Guides are necessary to maintain control – visitors should not be disappointed," says Fonseca.
While there are birds which migrate over long distances, even local birds migrate within a small territory at different times of the year. Fonseca says the guides will also help in documenting this movement. "On every field trip, they will keep a log of the birds spotted. This will help in monitoring bird movement."
The bird festival will be held at a number of spots, with the main event being at the Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary — a popular spot for bird watching. Other events will be held at the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary near Panjim and the Carambolim Lake, which is visited by many migratory birds around November.
The festival will be the latest addition to the long list of festivals being promoted by Goa's Tourism Department in order to keep attracting tourists to Goa throughout the year. Besides religious and cultural festivals, there are now film, music, dance, literary, food, bike and yoga festivals. "The idea is to have a calendar of festivals to attract different types of tourists at various times of the year," says Tourism Minister Dilip Parulekar. So if you were one of those who only went to Goa in December for New Year's, it's time to see Goa in a new way. The birds are waiting.
Fest fast facts
For information about the festival, which will be held between November 11 and 13, log on to infotechgoa.com/birdfestival Registration fee: Rs 2,500
The main festival venue is the Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary. Participants will be taken on nature/bird watching trails in Bondla and Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Park on the first two days. The third day will involve visit to birding sites at Carambolim and Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, Chorao.
Once you have registered, you
can avail of accommodation at the eco-tourism complex at Bondla and Mollem.
Call (0832) 2229701 for more details
Some of the rare birds that can be spotted are the Malabar Pied Hornbill and the Great Hornbill. Then there is the Ruby Throated Black-Headed Bulbul, which is the official bird of Goa and only fou in these parts. Also the The Golden Oriole – a golden feathered bird about the size of a crow of which three species are found in Goa. The largest pigeon in the world, the Imperial Pigeon, can also be spotted in the Ghats, besides all kinds of Doves.
During winter, a large number of migratory birds also turn up. These include different types of Seagulls and Terns which come from the Caspian Sea region.
Where to spot them
The best places to spot the birds are the wildlife sanctuaries — Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary in the eastern part of Goa falls in the Western Ghats, Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary at the southern tip of Goa, Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary in the south-east part of Goa, the Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary in the centre of Goa (it also falls in the Western Ghats), the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, and the Cumbharjua Canal, where you can spot migratory water birds like the Osprey.
The Vigors Sunbird is a rare sunbird spotted in Panjim. It sucks up the nectar from flowers with its curved beaks
from travel http://www.mid-day.com/articles/goa-first-two-day-bird-festival-from-november11/17655162