The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a group of 572 tropical islands located in the Bay of Bengal. Until very recently, this archipelago was shrouded in the mystery but now it’s pristine white sand beaches, primal forests and idyllic islands are dream destination for travelers all around the world.
My last trip to Andaman was largely planned by my wife and there was very little scope for me to fit-in my birding plan in between. But birding in Andaman was something which I could not afford to miss. So I planned carefully and made use of every single minute I found (of course without disturbing my wife’s plan). Before getting in to more details I would like to mention that more than 90% of Andaman Islands are covered in pristine tropical rainforest and centuries of isolation has resulted in the development of many endemic species and many sub-specific variants. Detail check list of birds found in Andaman Islands can be found here. I did my homework and prepared my own check list considering time lines, season and latest report.
Day #1 –
We flew in to Port Blair from Mumbai and landed at “Veer Savarkar International Airport” by 11:00AM. Our day was quite relaxing. In the evening we visited ‘Cellular Jail’ and the experience was quite different than I expected. I visited this place considering just a national monument but after spending some time there I was completely lost in the history. As one walks through the long, narrow corridors of Cellular Jail, familiar with history can easily feel the pain of those who fought tooth and nail for India’s freedom. The sight of the flogging stand, oil mill, and the other instruments of torture on display are chilling reminders of the cost at which freedom was won. Day ended with a beautiful light and sound show.
Day #2 –
Till now we have not deviated from our itinerary. Day 2 was reserved for ‘Neil Island’. Neil Island also known as ‘Neela Dweep’ inhabits green surroundings of paddy fields, banana plantations and tropical trees. Based on study I first wanted to see the famous natural rock formation at Laxmanpur beach no 2. Sun was about to set but I was ready to take chance because seeing rock formation in low tide is more important than seeing in full light. Once I got the first glimpse of the structure all tiredness and pain did not matter at all to me. Today definition of an artist was changed for me after seeing such beautiful creation by nature –
Day #3 –
We reached Havelock Island by mid-day and immediately after having lunch we went to Radhanagar Beach, one of the finest beach or one of the most famous beaches in the world. Beaches No. 5 and No. 7 are simply breathtaking. Small wonder, Time magazine in 2004 rated the island’s Radhanagar Beach (Beach No. 7) as the finest in Asia. With lush tropical forest on one side, the draw of this white sand beach has steadily grown in the legion of avid beach buffs.
Havelock is a serene tropical island. Its clear waters are rated among the best in the world for snorkeling and scuba diving. Close to 1000 different species of marine life inhabit the waters of the Andaman Islands. One of the prime attractions is the graceful manta ray. Scuba diving was one of the main reasons for us behind the Andaman trip so there was no second thought about it. Next morning 6:00AM we were below 20 meters in the water. I must say there are few things you should try yourself and scuba is one of those things.
Day #4 –
This was the day I had dedicated for birding in and around island. I started from hotel at around 4:30 AM and by 5:00AM I was across the bay at the other end. We started slowly from Bamboo Flat and headed towards Baratang. This area is mixed with dense tropical forests of all types ranging from tidal swamp forest to evergreen to littoral forests.
Our start was slow but steady; we encountered the following birds’ en-route to southern Andaman –
- Collared Kingfisher
- White-throated Kingfisher
- Spotted Redshank
- Stork-billed Kingfisher
- Scarlet Minivet.
- Small Minivet.
- Oriental White-eye.
- Olive-backed Sunbird
- Plain Flower-pecker
- Pin-tailed Snipe
- Andaman Flowerpecker
- Andaman Drongo
- Andaman Green Imperial Pigeon
- Andaman long-tailed Parakeet
- Andaman Bulbul
Among other endemic species, Pin-tailed Snipe is worth mentioning, because this is extremely shy bird and never allow any human to approach close. Getting its clean shot that too at a close distance means it’s your day and get ready for some big game plan.
By now it was 8:00AM and we decided to take a quick break for breakfast. We were having our packed breakfast and my curious eyes noticed some activity on a faraway tree. I left breakfast box in the car, took camera and entered inside the bushes. By now I was able to identify it as Spot-breasted Woodpecker, one of the species from my wish list. I remain hidden in the bushes for some time, I knew it’s an opportunity and do not want to lose it by bumping directly into it. Patience was paid-off; SBW landed on a nearby branch and could not notice me due to thick natural camouflage. As it settled and got busy in its act I carefully focused and quickly made few shots, definitely a lifer for me.
Drive in Andaman is an experience in itself. It’s quite peaceful and pleasant, there is less traffic and allows you to walk on foot as well. Before starting our long day we had to make decision, cover Mt. Harriet or Bartang. Based on my recent studies and stats I preferred Bartang which turn out to be a favorable decision by end of the day.
We stopped vehicle after hearing Shama’s call. To confirm we played recording and immediately there was a response. I was sure, it’s nearby. So decided to leave vehicle and enter into dense forest, when I say dense it’s really dense. I have been to Western Ghats which is known for its thick vegetation but here in Andaman density is a different meaning all together. South Andaman forests have abundant growth of epiphytic vegetation, mostly ferns and orchids. We settled ourselves behind a Padauk tree and waited long, we got glimpse of Andaman Shama but no luck in clicking. But one thing was clear if we want to see endemic birds of Andaman Islands we will have to be on foot.
At around 10:00AM after trekking for almost 1 hr we encountered a hunting party of birds. A hunting party is mixed-species foraging flock of birds and typically has “nuclear” species that appear to be central to its formation and movement. It is observed through multiple studies that vocal mimicry by the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo have a key role in the initiation of hunting parties. This hunting party has given me opportunity to record some beautiful species.
At Bartang area I recorded –
- Scarlet Minivet (male and Female)
- Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
- Black headed Oriole
- Andaman Woodpecker
- Spot-breasted Woodpecker
- Brown Wood Shrike
- Chestnut-headed Bee Eater
Sunda Teal –
After finishing our successful birding session at Bartang our main target was ‘Sunda Teal’ or ‘Andaman Teal’. Like any birder who visited I was also waiting eagerly to see and record this beautiful endemic species of the islands. Andaman Teal (Anas albogularis) is a species of duck and is considered to be a subspecies of the Sunda Teal (Anas gibberifrons). If it earns full species status then it will fall under ‘globally threatened’ category. There are only few hundred left in the Islands.
At around 4:00 PM we were heading towards Sippighat area and as per our latest news there were good chances to find them in a water-body near a village. We reached there and started our search but to our surprise there was none and in frustration we returned back to main road where our vehicle was parked. There was a local tea stall and we thought its good time to rejuvenate ourselves by some black tea. Over the tea one villager realized our frustration for not finding the most desirable species we were running after and he pointed ‘have you gone far inside the area’… We said no we just checked near the water body and immediately we threw tea cups and ran towards the same area we came from. After crossing the water body far inside; we got the first glimpse of these beautiful ducks. I was almost running out of breath. Somehow I collected required oxygen and slowly crawled in the direction and position myself behind a rock. There were at least 100 of them –
Sippighat is good place to see waders, predominantly dabbling ducks. We reached Sippighat by 4:45PM. We knew that we had less time as plan was to capture sun-set at Chidiyatapu. But Sippighat is a place where you can see good number of species in comparatively less time. Some of the species we recorded includes –
- Purple Swamp Hen
- Common Moorhen
- White-bellied Sea Eagle
- Cotton Pigmy Goose
- Wood Sandpiper
- White-throated Kingfisher
- Lesser Whistling Ducks (a large flock)
- Black Bittern (truly another lifer for me, could only manage a record shot)
Chidiyatapu is a famous destination for its vivid bird life. I reached Chidiyatapu by 5:30PM, and light was already dim by now so now every passing moment was precious for me. The drive to Chidiyatapu is along the coastline, I found a large variety of
birds on this road itself. Birds I recorded at Chidiyatapu includes –
- Emerald Dove
- Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
- Andaman Treepie
- Andaman Coucal
- Glossy Starlings
- Andaman Hawk Owl
- Oriental Scops Owl
- Hume’s Hawk Owl
With the setting sun at Chidiyatapu a really long day is over but the memories I collected here throughout will always be with me to cherish. I’ll not say Good Bye, because I coming back soon!