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
  6. Andaman Green Pigeon

  7. * Andaman cuckoo-dove: Chidiyatapu
  8. * Andaman flowerpecker: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet
  9. * Andaman green pigeon: Mt. Harriet
  10. * Andaman shama: Chidiyatapu
  11. * Andaman treepie: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet
  12. Asian brown flycatcher: Mt. Harriet
  13. Asian fairy bluebird: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet
  14. Barn swallow: Mt. Harriet, Sippighat, Ograbranj
  15. Black bittern: Ograbranj
  16. Black drongo: Ograbranj
  17. Blue Tailed Bee Eater

  18. Black-naped oriole: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet
  19. Blue-tailed bee-eater: Mt. Harriet, Sippighat, Ograbranj
  20. Brahminy kite: Chidiyatapu
  21. Broad-billed sandpiper: Sippighat
  22. Brown hawk owl: Chidiyatapu
  23. Brown shrike: Chidiyatapu, Sippighat, Ograbranj
  24. Brown shrike (Philippine): Mt. Harriet
  25. Brown-backed needletail: Mt. Harriet
  26. Chinese Pond Heron

  27. Cattle egret: Sippighat
  28. Chestnut headed bittern: Ograbranj
  29. Chinese pond heron: Sippighat, Ograbranj
  30. Common coot: Sippighat
  31. Common crow: Sippighat
  32. Common kingfisher: Chidiyatapu, Sippighat, Ograbranj
  33. Common moorhen: Sippighat, Ograbranj
  34. Common myna: Sippighat
  35. Common redshank: Sippighat
  36. Common sandpiper: Chidiyatapu, Sippighat
  37. Common sparrow: Port Blair
  38. Cotton teal: Sippighat
  39. Curlew sandpiper: Sippighat
  40. Daurian starling: Sippighat
  41. Eastern jungle crow: Mt. Harriet, Sippighat
  42. Eurasian Whimbrel

  43. * Edible-nest swiftlet: Ograbranj
  44. Eurasian curlew: Sippighat
  45. Eurasian Whimbrel: Sippighat
  46. * Glossy swiftlet: Mt. Harriet, Sippighat
  47. Gray heron: Ograbranj
  48. Green imperial-pigeon: Chidiyatapu
  49. Indian cuckoo: Chidiyatapu
  50. Indian pond heron: Ograbranj
  51. Intermediate egret: Sippighat, Ograbranj
  52. Large egret: Sippighat, Ograbranj
  53. Lesser sand plover: Sippighat
  54. Lesser whistling teal: Sippighat, Ograbranj
  55. Little green heron: Sippighat
  56. Little-ringed plover: Sippighat
  57. Long-toed stint: Sippighat
  58. Oriental magpie-robin: Chidiyatapu, Sippighat
  59. Pacific Golden Plover

  60. Pacific golden plover: Mt. Harriet, Sippighat
  61. Pacific reef-egret: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet, Neil Island
  62. Pacific swallow: Chidiyatapu, Sippighat
  63. Pintailed snipe: Sippighat
  64. Purple swamp hen: Sippighat, Ograbranj
  65. Racquet-tailed drongo: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet, Neil Island
  66. Red-breasted parakeet: Chidiyatapu, Ograbranj
  67. Red-cheeked parakeet: Chidiyatapu
  68. Red-collared dove: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet, Sippighat, Ograbranj
  69. Red-necked stint: Sippighat
  70. Red-throated pippit: Sippighat
  71. Red-whiskered bulbul: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet, Sippighat
  72. Scarlet minivet: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet
  73. Small egret: Sippighat, Ograbranj
  74. Small minivet: Chidiyatapu
  75. Stork-billed Kingfisher

  76. * Spot-breasted woodpecker: Chidiyatapu
  77. * Stork-billed kingfisher: Ograbranj
  78. * Striated heron (Andaman): Mt. Harriet
  79. * Sunda teal: Ograbranj
  80. Vernal hanging parrot: Chidiyatapu
  81. Violet cuckoo: Ograbranj
  82. White-bellied sea-eagle: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet, Ograbranj, Neil Island
  83. White-breasted waterhen: Ograbranj
  84. White-headed starling: Chidiyatapu
  85. White-rumped munia: Chidiyatapu, Ograbranj
  86. White-throated kingfisher: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet, Sippighat, Ograbranj
  87. Wood sandpiper: Sippighat
  88. Yellow bittern: Sippighat, Ograbranj
  89. Yellow wagtail: Chidiyatapu, Sippighat

White-rumped MuniaWe 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.