Friday, 24 February 2023

South India and the Andamans: South Andaman (15-19 January 2023)

South India and the Andamans: part 2 South Andaman 

This is the second of five blog posts covering a trip to South India and the Andamans with Nick Preston and Paul Noakes. We'd flown in to Mumbai and visited Tansa and had been dropped off at Mumbai Airport 11 hours before our flight to Chennai and Port Blair. With check-in from 03:00 there seemed little point in checking into an airport hotel ...

Sunday 15 January. I won’t pretend that I had a good night’s sleep but it was definitely better than on the plane coming out to India. We checked in at 02:45 for our 06:15 flight. We left about on time, were given minimal refreshment and stopped for half an hour or so at Chennai where most passengers disembarked and I saw 2 Cattle Egrets on the runway. . The plane filled up and we arrived at Port Blair at about 11:00 to the announcement that it had been another SpiceAir flight that had arrived on time. It took a while for our bags to appear (first on, last off it seemed) and we met Jijo Mathew, our guide for the rest of the trip, in a packed arrivals forecourt. We drove into Port Blair and to the Seascape Hotel, a pleasant quiet place although our room was a bit small being a double with an extra mattress. Apparently most rooms in Indian hotels are doubles rather than twins. Just as well that I had a sheet sleeping bag with me. After lunch and a bit of a sort out/rest we were picked up by Jijo and driven to Chiriya Tapu. As the road passed through a forested valley dropping down to the coast Paul spotted an Andaman Serpent Eagle sat in a tree opposite, our first endemic.  We arrived at Chiriya Tapu, a forested park by the coast with some animal enclosures making it fairly popular with locals on a Sunday afternoon. Here we saw Andaman Drongos (my guess for first endemic wasn’t far out), the impressive Andaman Coucal, 2 Andaman Wood Pigeons (one of the harder endemics although they could have been closer) and Andaman Shama although my views of the latter were uncountable. Also many Green Imperial Pigeons, Common Koel and Red-breasted and Long-tailed Parakeets. As the light went we drove a short distance along the coast to a section of road where, within 45 minutes and along a 400m stretch of road we saw Andaman and Hume’s Hawk Owls and Waldon’s Scop Owl! A brilliant end to a very tiring day.

Andaman Serpent Eagle near Chiriya Tapu

Andaman Coucal at Chiriya Tapu

Green Imperial Pigeon at Chiriya Tapu
Andaman Wood Pigeon at Chiriya Tapu

Red-breasted Parakeet at Chiriya Tapu

Hume's Hawk Owl near Chiriya Tapu

Walden's Scops Owl near Chiriya Tapu

Monday 16 January. We were up at 04:30, left SeaScape soon after 05:00 and caught the 05:30 ferry from Chatham Flat across the bay to Bamboo Jetty. We entered Manipur Parvat National Park soon after 06:00 and walked up the road for about 4km to the summit of Mount Harriet. We made further inroads on the island’s endemics seeing Andaman Treepie, Andaman Starling, Andaman Bulbul and Andaman Flowerpecker and I caught up with good views of Andaman Shama. We also saw Speckle-breasted Woodpecker and more Andaman Serpent Eagles, another Andaman Coucal and worse views than previously of Andaman Wood Pigeon. We left Mt Harriet at 11:40 and returned to SeaScape soon after 13:00. We set off again at 15:45 to drive to Sippighat marshes where we saw a nice flock of 28 Andaman Teal, and some waders and herons (including a Cinnamon Bittern for me). We finished at school on the way back to Port Blair where after a short wait an Andaman Masked Owl appeared under the eaves of what looked like an accommodation block. After taking some distant photos we walked around to get closer but halfway there our driver called to say it had flown into the tree above where we were parked. We had excellent views before it flew off. It was one of the endemics I was most keen to see and a perfect end to another successful day.

disembarking at Bamboo Jetty
Collared Kingfisher at Mount Harriet
 Andaman Treepie at Mount Harriet

female Black-naped Oriole at Mount Harriet
Andaman Shama at Mount Harriet

young Andaman Shama at Mount Harriet
Andaman Bulbul on Mount Harriet

Scarlet Minivet at Mount Harriet
Andaman Serpent Eagle over Mount Harriet
another Andaman Serpent Eagle at Mount Harriet

Changeable Hawk Eagle at Mount Harriot, going ...
... going ...
... gone
Brown Shrike on Mount Harriet
view from Mount Harriet
Bamboo Jetty
Paul and Nick on the ferry to Chatham Flats

Grey-headed Swamphen at Sippighat
Cinnamon bittern at Sippighat
Pheasant-tailed Jacana and Wood Sandpiper at Sippighat
White-throated Kingfisher at Sippighat
Andaman Teal at Sippighat

Brown Shrike at Sippighat
Andaman Masked Owl leaving roost on the edge of Port Blair
fortunately it came our way

Tuesday 17 January. Again we were up at 4:30, left SeaScape soon after 05:00 and caught the 05:30 ferry from Chatham Flat across the bay to Bamboo Jetty. It was a misty start and we headed west on a rough road towards Kalatang. We stopped by a cemetery about 2km short of the town in an area of open forest. Here we saw Andaman Crake in scrubby forest behind an unhelpful green chain link fence although it took me several attempts. The first time I missed the bird completely but half an hour later returning past the same area I saw a dark crake shape with some white barring below while the others had reasonable views. Going back an hour later I had better views, I initially walking away but then it turned its head showing off its large almost iridescent lime green bill. Also in the area were an Emerald Dove, 2 Andaman Cuckoo Doves, 2 Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, a male Andaman Woodpecker, 3 Andaman Cuckoo-Shrikes and an Eye-browed Thrush. We left at 10:15 expecting to go on somewhere else and were disappointed to head back to the ferry and SeaScape where we arrived at 11:50. We left at 15:45 and drove east to lagoons and palm plantations near the Lowharbarrak Saltwater Crocodile Sanctuary. Here Paul and I misidentified a Redshank that Nick proved was a Common by walking out and flushing it. Probably an unfamiliar eastern race although a miserable excuse we thought. After dark we entered a plantation and tried of Andaman Scops Owl. Playback elicited a distant, half-hearted response, and we headed that way. It met us half way and called from low down but as soon as it was spot lit it flew, before I could raise my binoculars. We slowly followed it up hoping it would respond again but it didn’t. Paul scanned with his thermal imager and as he was about to give up detected a heat source low to our left. We gathered around Jijo, Paul indicated where the bird was and Jijo lit it up. It stayed and we had excellent views (and nice photos too). The last owl and we were left with just two endemics to see (and two days to so do). A final stop to look for one of them, Andaman Nightjar was unsuccessful but did produce a Hume’s Hawk-Owl. We were back at SeaScape at 19:30. Another very successful day.

Chatham Flats to Bamboo Jetty
White-breasted Kingfisher at Kalatang
Andaman Cuckoo-Doves at Kalatang

Chestnut-headed Bee-eater at Kalatang

Andaman Woodpecker just about to disappear at Kalatang
typically scruffy Andaman Coucal at Kalatang
Andaman Cuckoo-Shrike at Kalatang
waders at Lowharbarrak

Lesser Sand Plover, Curlew Sandpiper and Red-necked Stint
Redshank and Pacific Golden Plover at Lowharbarrak. Paul and I thought it was a Spotted Redshank and at that range would have been happy with it but Nick thought otherwise, flushed it and was proved correct
Stirated Heron at dusk at Lowharbarrak
Andaman Scops Owl at Lowharbarrak

Wednesday 18 January. We left SeaScape at 05:30, picked up Jijo after a slight delay due to roadworks by the airport and drove to a marshy area just past Sippighat. Here we saw a Stork-billed Kingfisher and a selection of wetland species with some Red-throated Pipits and an Eastern Yellow Wagtail on nearby rough ground that was in the process of being developed. We continued Ferragunj and a further 2km where the road entered decent looking forest. We walked along the road and Paul spotted 2 Andaman Green Pigeons in the top of a nearby tree, hopefully our penultimate endemic. Other birds along the road included male Freckle-breasted Woodpecker, 2 Andaman Cuckoo-ShrikesAndaman Bulbul and 2 Andaman Starlings but attempts to tape in any Andaman Crakes that might be in audible range were unsuccessful. We returned to the marsh near Sippighat where we’d previously seen 28 Andaman Teal to find many more present (I counted 354) and were back at SeaScape at 12.20. After lunch and some downtime to catchup on stuff we headed back to Chiriya Tapu arriving at 16;30. We birded along the road and a couple of tracks seeing our final endemic, Andaman Nightjar, at dusk. We heard Hume’s Hawk Owl and Walden’s Scops Owl but neither showed and Andaman Scops didn’t respond at all.

Grey-headed Swamphen at Sippighat
Stork-billed Kingfisher at Sippighat
the Andaman race has a greyer head

Wood Sandpiper at Sippighat
Oriental Reed Warbler at Sippighat

Paddyfield Pipit at Sippighat

Red-throated Pipit at Sippighat

Eastern Yellow Wagtail at Sippighat

Andaman Green Pigeon at Ferragunj
previously included, with others, in Pompadour Green Pigeon 

Andaman Cuckoo-Shrike at Ferragunj
female Freckle-breasted Woodpecker at Ferragunj

male Freckle-breasted Woodpecker in the same tree
we stopped again at Sippighat for more views of Andaman Teal and found many more were present

I was surprised how much I enjoyed Andaman Teal, loads of character
Purple Heron at Sippighat
Collared Kingfisher on the coast near Chiriya Tapu
Common Sandpiper nearby
Andaman Nightjar near Chiriya Tapu
a large tree rat, possibly Andaman Rat, near Chiriya Tapu

Thursday 19 January. We left SeaScape at 05:25 and drove to Chiriya Tapu, arriving at 06:00. We birded along the ‘owl track’ outside the park seeing a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler (well but briefly - no photos) and a small selection of commoner endemics (improving on my photos of a few). Disappointingly my only view of Andaman Crake was very poor - a dull orange shape running through the forest. I paddled while the others had a lengthy tea-stop in the village cafĂ© and we entered the park at 10:30 (it having opened at 09:00). We tried a couple of times for Andaman Crake and I saw 2 in a very unsatisfactory fashion. We set up a speaker and were playing a recording when one quickly followed by a second blasted through, a short time later a shape went back and soon after that blasted back again. Finally a shape moved more sedately, but still quite quickly back about 2m behind dense vegetation. None of my views were through binoculars and the best were of a large rufous-orange crake with a flash of a bright lime bill. Very frustrating and just as well I'd had better views a couple of days earlier. As we were intending being outside the park at dusk hoping for a l;onger view of Andaman Hawk Owl (and photos for Paul and me) I’d decided I’d stay in the park rather than return to the SeaScape for lunch and downtime. Jijo was happy for me to so do and I’d saved my breakfast in anticipation. As we wandered back to the entrance gate to leave at about 13:30 Paul and Nick decided to stay on too. The three of us arranged to be at the gate at 16:30 and continued wandering around. At one stage while sitting on benches in the park, Nick to my left and Paul to my right, Paul saw an Orange-headed Ground Thrush flying our way. Nick saw it dive into cover but I was looking down unsuccessfully trying to get a squashed chocolate roll out of its wrapper without making too much mess and looked up too late. It was the species I’d hoped I might see while wandering around. I didn’t, no justice. The day ended with better looks and some photos of Andaman Hawk Owl which put me in a slightly better frame of mind!

Yellow Bittern at Chiriya Tapu
Chiriya Tapu
Paul and Nick at Chiriya Tapu
White-headed Starlings at Chiriya Tapu

female Freckle-breasted Woodpecker at Chiriya Tapu
male Freckle-breasted Woodpecker at Chiriya Tapu
Andaman Treepie at Chiriya Tapu

Black-naped Oriole at Chiriya Tapu
Andaman Green Pigeon at Chiriya Tapu

Eyebrowed Thrush at Chiriya Tapu
White-throated Kingfisher at Chiriya Tapu

female Fairy Bluebird at Chiriya Tapu

male Fairy Bluebird at Chiriya Tapu

lizard at Chiriya Tapu
Nicobar Pigeon in the aviary at Chiriya Tapu - I wish I'd seen a wild one as well as this. It deserved to be in much better surroundings
Andaman Shama at Chiriya Tapu

Andaman Hawk Owl at Chiriya Tapu