Birding in South Andaman

Birding map around Port Blair

We did birding in four spots around Port Blair, marked by the green patches in the map here. Chidiyatapu was a mix of forest and shoreline. Since the Andaman Trunk Road passes through the forest, and disturbs the birds, our best viewing here was early in the morning. Sippighat and Ograbranj are wetlands, and yielded very good sightings. Mt. Harriet in Bambooflats is another place where a day can yield good sightings. We visited Sippighat in the afternoon of December 22, Chidiyatapu the same night and again in the morning of December 23. We did birding in Ograbranj in the afternoon of December 23, and went up to Mt. Harriet on December 25.

Red collared dove

The Andaman group of Islands is full of endemics (marked with a star in the list below), and also has winter visitors. Even though I had done my reading, I was startled by the variety of visitors. I’d never expected to see Daurian’s starlings here. Andaman is so far from our normal birding grounds that our bird list is full of lifers (marked in bold):

  1. Alexandrine parakeet: Chidiyatapu
  2. * Andaman drongo: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet
  3. * Andaman bulbul: Chidiyatapu
  4. * Andaman collared kingfisher: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet, Sippighat, Ograbranj, Neil Island
  5. * Andaman (brown) coucal: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet
Andaman Green Pigeon
  1. * Andaman cuckoo-dove: Chidiyatapu
  2. * Andaman flowerpecker: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet
  3. * Andaman green pigeon: Mt. Harriet
  4. * Andaman shama: Chidiyatapu
  5. * Andaman treepie: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet
  6. Asian brown flycatcher: Mt. Harriet
  7. Asian fairy bluebird: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet
  8. Barn swallow: Mt. Harriet, Sippighat, Ograbranj
  9. Black bittern: Ograbranj
  10. Black drongo: Ograbranj
Blue Tailed Bee Eater
  1. Black-naped oriole: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet
  2. Blue-tailed bee-eater: Mt. Harriet, Sippighat, Ograbranj
  3. Brahminy kite: Chidiyatapu
  4. Broad-billed sandpiper: Sippighat
  5. Brown hawk owl: Chidiyatapu
  6. Brown shrike: Chidiyatapu, Sippighat, Ograbranj
  7. Brown shrike (Philippine): Mt. Harriet
  8. Brown-backed needletail: Mt. Harriet
Chinese Pond Heron
  1. Cattle egret: Sippighat
  2. Chestnut headed bittern: Ograbranj
  3. Chinese pond heron: Sippighat, Ograbranj
  4. Common coot: Sippighat
  5. Common crow: Sippighat
  6. Common kingfisher: Chidiyatapu, Sippighat, Ograbranj
  7. Common moorhen: Sippighat, Ograbranj
  8. Common myna: Sippighat
  9. Common redshank: Sippighat
  10. Common sandpiper: Chidiyatapu, Sippighat
  11. Common sparrow: Port Blair
  12. Cotton teal: Sippighat
  13. Curlew sandpiper: Sippighat
  14. Daurian starling: Sippighat
  15. Eastern jungle crow: Mt. Harriet, Sippighat
Eurasian Whimbrel
  1. * Edible-nest swiftlet: Ograbranj
  2. Eurasian curlew: Sippighat
  3. Eurasian Whimbrel: Sippighat
  4. * Glossy swiftlet: Mt. Harriet, Sippighat
  5. Gray heron: Ograbranj
  6. Green imperial-pigeon: Chidiyatapu
  7. Indian cuckoo: Chidiyatapu
  8. Indian pond heron: Ograbranj
  9. Intermediate egret: Sippighat, Ograbranj
  10. Large egret: Sippighat, Ograbranj
  11. Lesser sand plover: Sippighat
  12. Lesser whistling teal: Sippighat, Ograbranj
  13. Little green heron: Sippighat
  14. Little-ringed plover: Sippighat
  15. Long-toed stint: Sippighat
  16. Oriental magpie-robin: Chidiyatapu, Sippighat
Pacific Golden Plover
  1. Pacific golden plover: Mt. Harriet, Sippighat
  2. Pacific reef-egret: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet, Neil Island
  3. Pacific swallow: Chidiyatapu, Sippighat
  4. Pintailed snipe: Sippighat
  5. Purple swamp hen: Sippighat, Ograbranj
  6. Racquet-tailed drongo: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet, Neil Island
  7. Red-breasted parakeet: Chidiyatapu, Ograbranj
  8. Red-cheeked parakeet: Chidiyatapu
  9. Red-collared dove: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet, Sippighat, Ograbranj
  10. Red-necked stint: Sippighat
  11. Red-throated pippit: Sippighat
  12. Red-whiskered bulbul: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet, Sippighat
  13. Scarlet minivet: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet
  14. Small egret: Sippighat, Ograbranj
  15. Small minivet: Chidiyatapu
Stork-billed Kingfisher
  1. * Spot-breasted woodpecker: Chidiyatapu
  2. * Stork-billed kingfisher: Ograbranj
  3. * Striated heron (Andaman): Mt. Harriet
  4. * Sunda teal: Ograbranj
  5. Vernal hanging parrot: Chidiyatapu
  6. Violet cuckoo: Ograbranj
  7. White-bellied sea-eagle: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet, Ograbranj, Neil Island
  8. White-breasted waterhen: Ograbranj
  9. White-headed starling: Chidiyatapu
  10. White-rumped munia: Chidiyatapu, Ograbranj
  11. White-throated kingfisher: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet, Sippighat, Ograbranj
  12. Wood sandpiper: Sippighat
  13. Yellow bittern: Sippighat, Ograbranj
  14. Yellow wagtail: Chidiyatapu, Sippighat
White-rumped Munia

We are amateur birders, and I hardly have a spotter’s eye. The Family spends more time on it. We did our birding in Andaman with Shaktivel, Gokul and Senthil. Shakti guides tours in the Andamans, and his next project is to take a group to Great Nicobar. Gokul is a zoologist, collecting data for a checklist of birds in the Andamans. This will be the core of his Doctoral thesis. During our three days of birding, we met up with Mark Smiles, who is an excellent birder, and guides bird tours in Dubai.

A dark and stormy day

It was a dark and stormy day. Well, not stormy as much as rainy. But the wind was strong enough to ruffle the feathers of a common sandpiper by the sea-shore (featured photo).

In any case it was a dark and wet day when we met up with a lone birder standing by a bend in the Great Andaman Trunk Road near its end in Chidiyatapu. We had a scope, binoculars and cameras. He had a scope and binoculars. The first words he said were "Andaman shama". When you hear a call like that it confirms that you have met a birder.

We spent about half an hour in that one spot by the road. It was not very early, but since the day was pretty dark, the birds were feeding late. In a short while we saw not only the Andaman shama, but also the bright scarlet minivet with its yellow companion (The Family’s favourite), a small minivet, a couple of black-naped orioles, a spot-breasted kingfisher, an Indian fairy bluebird, an Andaman treepie, an Andaman drongo and a white-headed starling. Mark Smiles, the birder we met on the road, was a fantastic spotter.

Boat at Chidiyatapu

We were off to Chidiyatapu for breakfast. Since Mark also wanted to go there, we gave him a lift. At Chidiyatapu we saw two different kinds of kingfishers, three kinds of parakeets, and the Andaman flower-pecker before Mark left. The sea was calm (see photo above) as we settled down for breakfast. It had been a most unusual trip to Andaman till now.

Birding at night

Shaktivel had a plan. Gokul, Senthil and Shakti wanted to do night birding in Chidiyatapu. We’d had a long day: waking at 3:30 in the morning to catch our flight, only to cool our heels in Chennai for a delayed flight to Port Blair. We’d not had a great lunch either. So after sunset in Sippighat, Infinity Cafe in Chidiyatapu, South Andamanwhen Shakti told us about the evening’s plans, The Family and I voted to eat something first. Senthil started on the drive to Chidiytapu. On the deserted road through a bit of deserted forest we spotted a lone birder with a scope. Our meeting with him the next day was interesting enough for a separate post. When we reached the waterfront it was just a little after six, but it was completely dark. We were thrilled to see a line of small eateries. We stopped at Infinity Cafe and ordered a bunch of assorted bhajiyas.

We set out fortified. Shakti handed a torch to Gokul and a head lamp to me. The Family did not want a light. Senthil took a turn on to a side road and almost immediately Gokul’s torch found an owl sitting on a dead tree. It was half turned from us, so we could see both the brown back and the streaks across the chest. It was a brown hawk owl. It sat there for a long time, and eventually tired of the bright lights and flew off.

We walked along the road. Most of the time our lights found common birds roosting: brown shrikes, as in the photo here, or red-cheeked bulbuls. We passed a bridge under which swifts nested. We refused Gokul’s offer to clamber down in the dark, but saw them the next morning.Brown Shrike roosting at night We heard a musical hooting in the distance. Our companions knew that this was the call of a Hume’s Hawk Owl. Out came their bluetooth speakers, as they started playing their recorded calls of this bird. It clearly wasn’t attractive enough, since the owl made no move to come nearer. We heard it sitting in a fixed spot. Eventually a further Hume’s Hawk Owl also started calling. Gokul walked into the woods to look for them, but came back without having seen anything more. A different, softer chirruping call started up; probably an Oriental Scops Owl. But our luck had run out. The Family and I were dead on our feet, and begged off. Shakti, Gokul and Senthil reluctantly called off their hunt.

We finally reached the hotel at nine. It had been a long day. We decided to skip dinner, fell in bed and were instantly asleep. We’d had a fantastic first day in the Andamans, and we had another long day planned.