Just north of Panaji, Goa’s “small but spritely” capital, where the Mapusa and Mandovi Rivers meet, is what appears to be an island – Chorao Island – which has 11,000 inhabitants, and whose western end is a 1.8 square kilometer mangrove forest known as the Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary.
Looking at the map, it doesn’t really look like an island to me. But it is definitely a bird sanctuary.
Apparently we really lucked out when we scored a time with local bird guide Uday, whose number I found all over TripAdvisor. Goa’s Department of Tourism hasn’t yet figured out how to make the island accessible to tourists, but Uday has been taking tourists on boat rides around the island for decades. He’s booked out every day, but we just happened to call him after a last-minute cancellation.
We had the cab drop us at the Ribandar ferry at 6:15 (it runs at 6 and 6:30) and caught the (free) ride to the other side, where Uday met us on his scooter and zipped us over to his house – his house! – about ten minutes away.
After a cup of green tea and some delicious biscuits, he led us down a muddy slope to his boat, we climbed in, and we started down the river.
Thanks to the full moon the night prior, we had arrived at an “especially low” tide, which, Uday said, would lead to increased bird sightings. We saw the purple heron below (I didn’t even know there was such a thing) on the way to the boat.
Most of the more obvious birds we saw were water birds – cormorants, egrets, pond herons…
…but there were also birds of prey, such as this Brahminy Kite
But most amazingly, we saw so many kingfishers! Like, how often do you see two different types of kingfishers and a cormorant, just sitting on a bunch of twigs? Ignore the trash please.
This is a closeup of the white throated kingfisher, who stayed on the bush until we got about three meters away.
The white throated kingfishers have bright blue backs. Here’s one from another angle, and as it takes off in flight.
Of the other kingfishers we managed to photograph (some flew away when we got close), we also saw this black capped kingfisher and many so-called “common kingfishers” (if they’re so common, why is it so cool to spot one?):
And finally, Uday nearly flipped out when we came upon two white collared kingfishers. This is a guy who takes tourists out to see birds pretty much every day – and he was taking pictures with his own cell phone, and insisting we send him prints. He said other birdwatchers would come for weeks to try and spot this bird. One flew away when we approached – but the other stayed, and we came within a couple of meters.
You should give Uday a call if you’re ever in North Goa. His number is +91-9822583127 or +91-9545062069. He’ll charge a fair price, depending on how many of you there are in the boat. Bring a 300mm lens. And a sweatshirt or something for the early morning scooter ride.