On the way up Mount Harriet, Senthil pulled up to the side of the narrow road and pointed out this view. You could be as hard pressed as us to make the connection: this is the picture on the back of the twenty rupee note. The light house is the Port Blair light house.
For our last birding trip this holiday we’d woken up at sunrise on Christmas day to take a ferry across the bay to a jetty at Bambooflats. From there it was an easy drive up to Mount Harriet. The ferry runs every half hour. Mount Harriet is a protected forest, which means that it is fenced off, and has a gate manned by forest guards who open it at 8 every morning, and close it again at 5.
The guards on duty were very pleasant, and gave us a brochure of the park with a check-list of birds. The Family took a quick glance at it and said “There’s a lot we haven’t seen yet”. Later when I looked at it and said, “We saw so many”, I got a withering look from her. We added Andaman green pigeons to our list, and had more sightings of birds we had already seen before.
Our attempts at bird watching soon came to an end as the road filled up with a series of loud jeeps, some honking. We were told that a judge of the supreme court was visiting. His security detail drove up and down the mountainside making sure that it was safe for him. Birds don’t like this kind of disturbance, and retreated into the forest. We also gave up and left. On our way out the forest guards said that our tickets are valid till closing time, so we could come back later. We thanked them for this consideration, but we had other plans for the evening. In any case, we had a new bird in our list, and a couple of good photos of butterflies.
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.
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):
Alexandrine parakeet: Chidiyatapu
* Andaman drongo: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet
* Andaman bulbul: Chidiyatapu
* Andaman collared kingfisher: Chidiyatapu, Mt. Harriet, Sippighat, Ograbranj, Neil Island
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.