The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a cluster of islands located between the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Together they form one of the seven union territories of India.
There are 572 islands in all of which less than 40 are inhabited. Many of the islands are occupied by tribals and are completely off limit to tourists, while most of the others require a special permit to visit.
A couple of friends and I spent a few days fishing in the Andamans in 2012. We based ourselves in the Andaman capital, Port Blair, and spent about 5 days doing day trips fishing the surrounding areas.
The fishing was so good that in March 2017 we decided to go again.
This time around we stayed onboard a boat for 4 nights, fishing all the way from Chidiyatapu to and from a reef off the Little Andaman, the southern most island of the Andamans. A round trip of about 200km.
The ‘White Horse’ was not, by any stretch of imagination, even close to the ‘world’s best’ but I’ll be the first to admit that it was one hell of an adventure.
That said, this blog is not about fishing.
A lesser known jewel in the Andaman crown its incredible avifauna. Being a group of isolated islands miles away from other landmasses, a significant number of its bird species are endemic to the area and not found anywhere else.
And so, after the fishing I decided to stay on for another 4 nights to try and see, and photograph, endemic birds of the Andaman Islands.
We arrived back from fishing to Chidiyatapu in the morning. By mid morning I had checked into my hotel room in Port Blair. Though I planned to do a half-day of birding, I was exhausted and spent the rest of the day indulging in my next favourite pastime besides fishing and birding… sleeping!
Day 1 (morning session)
Being so far east, sunrise is ‘early’, and by 5.30am IST it’s bright. The previous evening I had got in touch with Vikram, our highly recommended birding guide, who instructed me to be ready to be picked up by at 5.20am.
It was only later I realized that the very precise pick-up timinings revolved around ferry schedules. Our driver, Gopal, who incidentally is a very good birder himself, lives across Bamboo flats and needed to catch the 5am ferry to Chatham from where it is a 10 minute drive to the hotel. Hence 5.20am. QED!
The morning session was to be spent in the forested areas of Chidiyatapu, the southern most part of the mainland and an hour’s drive from Port Blair.
On the way Gopal displayed his birding prowess by spotting this near invisible forest wagtail foraging in the leaf litter by the side of the road.
We caught up with Vikram a short while later. He was already with another birding group. Getting out of the car I set up the camera and tripod and joined the group as we walked along the road flanked by dense jungle on either side.
It’s always nice to meet fellow birders. By and large they share the same love of nature and preference for peace and quiet. Also the inevitable discussions that take place between bird sightings are highly enjoyable and, more often than not, immensely informative.
The birding party included an elderly couple of hard-core birders who were on the second leg of a 15-day birding tour, the first half being spent in Nicobar. They were with Mr. SarwanDeep Singh, one of the co-authors, of Bikram Grehwal’s spectacular pictorial book: ‘Birds of India’.
It was here that I learnt about a shoulder pad for a tripod, a nifty little piece of equipment that is heaven for those that shoulder a heavy camera and tripod when moving around. Also SarwanDeep’s tips on camera exposure setting for night photography came in handy when we went in search of owls later that evening.
On the very first morning I got quite a few images of some of the endemic / resident Andaman birds. These include the Andaman green pigeon, spot-breasted woodpecker, Asian glossy starling, green imperial dove, red-breasted parakeet and Andaman drongo.
Later that morning Vikram took me to another stretch of jungle towards Munda Pahad (a beach famous for it’s sunset point), in Chidiyatapu where I got my first sighting of the Andaman Shama.
I also got some nice shots of a pair of red-collared doves.
That was it for the morning session. As we drove back we stopped to view a few waders perched on what looked like abandoned boat carcasses.
Then back to the hotel to download the images, a quick lunch and nap before the car was back to pick us up at 2.30 pm for the evening session.
Day 1 (evening session)
That evening we went back to Chidiyatapu.
There is a Biological Park in Chidiyatapu ( a euphemistic term for a zoo?) that houses a few very large animal open-air enclosures. Apart from that the park is densely forested with a variety of species of large and unusual trees each one conveniently labelled.
Two of the reasons for visiting this place were the presence a mother and juvenile Andaman serpent eagle and regular sightings of the rare and elusive Andaman crake.
We did get a shot of the juvenile Andaman serpent eagle but its mother and the Andaman crake failed to show up.
Once the sun set we went in search of owls. Set in one of the fields about 25-30 metres from the road were a couple of wooden posts about 20 metres apart. These were used as perches for a pair of hunting Hume’s hawk owls. Using a torch, and the exposure setting recommended earlier I got a bunch of images one of which is shown above.
And so ended day 1.
A day that more than met up with my expectations! We saw quite a few endemic species – all lifers – and could not wait for the next few days to unfold!
Use this link to go to Day 2: Andaman Endemic Bird Trip, Day 2