This trip to the Andaman Islands was tailored to see the 20 or so endemic species. We were completely successful and saw all the endemics plus an additional lifer. As with all our previous birding in India the logistics were ably organised by Mohit, Iqbal and the team at Asian Adventures (www.asianadventures.in). They fortunately secured the services of Shaktivel (www.tribesmen.in) as a guide. His knowledge of the birds and his good company made the trip a great success. Much of South Andaman is now open to foreigners, which makes finding the birds relatively straightforward. All the endemics can be found at several sites in South Andaman, all accessible from Port Blair. All flights to Port Blair are from the Indian mainland, although a new international airport terminal is under construction and it is likely that flights may begin from the east in a few years time. We flew via Chennai.
We saw a total of 136 species, all 21 endemics and an additional lifer. A really great trip!
We had allowed seven days to get the endemics, but had seen them all by the end of the fourth day. We had envisaged seeing most species easily, but thought the harder species such as the Andaman Wood Pigeon might take extra time. In the event we only saw one of this pigeon – without this sighting much more effort would have been needed at Chidiya Tapu.
In terms of the natural environment, impressive stands of forest remain on the island, but the extensive wetlands, many created by the tsunami of 2005, are now being filled in. We enjoyed time with Shaktivel, a trained scientist with a great knowledge of the local birdlife. We also found the driver Basudev excellent, always on time – to catch the first ferry!
6 Jan - Arrive Port Blair from Chennai on Spicejet flight SG610 at 1235hrs. After immigration and customs (Foreigners are checked, but there was no paperwork) we were picked up and driven to TSG Emerald View Hotel. Afternoon and evening birding Sippighat area.
7 Jan – am birding Shoal Bay forest area, pm birding Ograbraj area, evening owling at Bathu Basti secondary school.
8 Jan – am birding Mt Harriet National Park, pm birding Shoal Bay mangroves, evening owling in Shoal Bay forest.
9 Jan – am birding Ograbraj then Kurmadera beach, pm Garacharma mudflats and Sippighat.
10 Jan - am drove to Chidiya Tapu – checked into Wild Grass Resort. Pm birding Badubalu beach area and adjacent wetlands, fields and forest. Evening owling around Chidiya Tapu.
11 Jan – am birding Chidiya Tapu Forest Reserve and Biological Forest Park. Pm birding Badubalu beach area and adjacent wetlands, fields and forest.
12 Jan – am birding marshes around Chidiya Tapu and then forest past the Biological Park leading to the beach.
13 Jan – am birding Badubalu beach area and adjacent wetlands, fields and forest. Return to Port Blair and the TSG Emerald View Hotel. Pm birding Ograbraj area.
14 Jan – Depart Port Blair on Spicejet SG609 at 7.25 am for Chennai.
In Port Blair we stayed at the TSG Emerald View and in Chidiya Tapu at the Wild Grass Resort. Both were comfortable, with good food. Wifi was available at the Emerald but it was intermittent and very slow. There was no access at Chidiya Tapu. Our mobile phone worked everywhere. In Chennai we stayed at the Quality Inn adjacent to the airport.
Trip reports that were useful at the planning phase included those of Ian Merrill (2017), Anjana & Rishi (2017) and Mark Lopez (2018).
(Mainly only new species mentioned here, full list at the end)
6th January – After lunch at the Emerald View we were driven out to Sippighat wetlands where we met up with Shaktivel who was to be our guide for the next week. We joined him and a client who was leaving the next day. Among the many waterbirds we saw large numbers of our first endemic - Andaman Teal. Also had good views of two Ruddy-breasted Crake and a White-browed Crake. The latter is a vagrant and has apparently been at this site for several months. We stayed into the evening and drove along a bund wall to scattered patches of forest to await the Andaman Nightjar. It did not disappoint, several were calling, and we had a good view of one sitting on a rocky bank.
7th January – we were collected by Shaktivel and driver (Basudev) at 4.40 am. This was necessary in order to catch the first ferry at Chatham docks across to Bamboo Flats in order to reach the Shoal Bay area. This was accomplished without any hitches and we were birding in the Shoal Bay forest by 5.30 am. Most of the birding was along a track just before the cemetery on the opposite side of the road. The endemics came thick and fast! By 9 am we had seen Andaman Treepie, Andaman Cuckoo-Shrike, Andaman Drongo, Andaman Bulbul, Andaman Woodpecker (at a nest hole), Andaman Cuckoo-Dove, Andaman Shama, Andaman (White-headed) Starling and Andaman Flowerpecker. Despite much searching we could not find Andaman Crake, although at least one was heard calling. By 9 am it was hot and bird activity low, so we returned to the hotel via the ferry crossing.
At 3pm we drove to the Ograbraj wetland area, past Sippighat. No new birds seen although a Pied Harrier was seen quartering the marshes and several Red-throated Pipits were found in a field. On the way back to town, Shaktivel took us to the Bathu Basti secondary school, a stake out for the Andaman Masked Owl. We waited until just after dark watching for the owl to emerge from a damaged ceiling area under a verandah. At 5.40 the owl appeared briefly, perched to allow photographs and then disappeared into the night.
8th January – Another early start to catch the 5 am ferry to Bamboo Flats. This time we turned right after the ferry, heading for Mt Harriet National Park. The road climbs steeply and we reached the park gates by about 6 15 am. They do not open until 7 am, but the guard allowed us in to walk towards the summit. We left our passports with the driver who would do the paperwork, pay the entry fee and follow us after 7 am. Walking up we had good views of Andaman Green Pigeon and two Andaman Serpent Eagles. After the car picked us up we drove towards the summit, finally getting good views of Andaman (Brown) Coucal - a common bird but difficult to see well. Just before the summit we were lucky enough to have a close encounter with three Andaman Crakes! From the car park we walked past the resthouse and historic sites to the beginning of the Kalapather Trail. Here there is a good view west over the forest canopy. A bird was seen at the top of a distant tree and the ‘scope brought into play. It was an Andaman Wood Pigeon! This is the generally regarded as the most difficult of the endemics and is thought to be declining in numbers. This good ‘scope view was the only one we had of this species. Late morning we returned to Port Blair.
At 3 pm we returned to the ferry and headed for the Shoal Bay area for owling after dark. On the way we stopped at the Wrightmyo mangroves and then walked into the mangroves behind the cemetery. The extensive area of mangroves was fairly quiet but we eventually had good views of a Mangrove Whistler. As dusk descended we moved to the forest track on the other side of the road. Between 6 pm and 7.30 pm Shaktivel got us good views of Andaman Scops Owl, Andaman Hawk Owl and Walden’s Scops Owl. The last-named is a subspecies of Oriental Scops Owl, but may be split in future.
9th January – The morning was spent firstly at Ograbraj wetlands. Nothing new, but among the many waterbirds and waders found an Openbill Stork, which is a vagrant to the Andamans. Continuing on we stopped for tea at a café in Tusnabaad – made memorable by a large fruiting fig tree, which hosted at least 40 Hill Mynas, several Vernal Hanging Parrots and large numbers of Andaman (White-headed) Starlings, as well as Indian Golden Orioles, Green Imperial Pigeons and Asian Glossy Starlings. After Tusnabaad we drove to Kurmadera Beach, which was very scenic and with historic WWII bunkers, but few birds.
In the afternoon we birded the Garacharma mudflats – many waders – including more than six Broad-billed Sandpipers; then went on to Sippighat which produced an Oriental Reed Warbler for the list.
10th January – a late start today at 8 am after a hotel breakfast. We drove south to Chidiya Tapu where we were booked into the Wild Grass Resort. The road goes through primary forest which contains most of the endemic species. From our verandah we had views of Changeable Hawk Eagle circling over the forest.
After lunch we drove down a track to Badabalu Beach, passing over a culvert beneath which there were hundreds of roosting Plume-toed Swiftlets. The beach is very scenic, but marred by incredible quantities of litter from people who picnic there at weekends. We birded the area behind the beach consisting of scattered forest remnants, fields and marshes. Species new to the list included Ashy Drongo (the sanguiensis ssp.), dollarbird, up to seven Siberian Stonechats and a Crested Serpent Eagle of the small Andamans ssp. Over the fields there were large feeding flocks of Edible-nest Swiftlets, Plume-toed Swiftlets and Brown-backed Needletails. In among them we discovered a fork-tailed swift that was identified as Blyth’s Swift – a lifer! Also present were several Red-rumped Swallows.
With only one endemic left to find we spent the early evening around Chidiya Tapu village where Shaktivel located at least six Hume’s Hawk Owls, so we got good views of our final endemic. In addition we had close views of two more Walden’s Scops Owls.
11th January – with all the targets seen we could relax and explore the surrounding forests. We spent the early morning birding the magnificent forest leading into Chidiya Tapu, following this up with a visit to the Biological Park where we had stunning close up views of an Andaman Serpent Eagle near the gate. Also noteworthy were a pair of Blue-eared Kingfishers. The late afternoon was spent back at Badabalu with little of note although we added Small Minivet to the list.
12th January – Birded the marshes at Chidiya Tapu and added Clamorous Reed Warbler to the list. Also today we visited the forest past the Biological Park leading to the beach.
13th January – In the morning a final visit to Badabalu, lots of birds but nothing new to the list. Drove back to Port Blair and checked into the TSG Emerald for our final night. The trip ended with another late afternoon visit to Sippighat and Ograbraj.
14th January – departed at 7.25 am for Chennai.
Lesser Whistling Duck: large numbers at Sippighat
Andaman Teal: large numbers at Sippighat, Ograbraj and Garacharma wetlands
Cotton Pygmy Goose: a few at Sippighat
Great White Egret: widespread
Little Egret: widespread
Reef Egret: seen on east, west and south coasts
Cattle Egret: widespread
Grey Heron: Sippighat, Ograbraj and Garacharma wetlands, Chatham beach
Purple Heron: singles at Ograbraj
Indian Pond Heron: widespread
Chinese Pond Heron: Sippighat, Ograbraj
Yellow Bittern: widespread all wetlands
Cinnamon Bittern: Sippighat, Ograbraj
Striated Heron: widespread
Openbill Stork: single at Ograbraj on 9 January
White-bellied Sea Eagle: widespread, even soaring over Port Blair
Black Baza: Shoal Bay forest
Chinese Sparrowhawk: single at Shoal Bay forest 7 January
Pied Harrier: Juvenile near Ograbraj
Brahminy Kite: widespread
Andaman Serpent Eagle: Mt Harriet and Biological Park Chidiya Tapu
Crested Serpent Eagle: Badabalu, Chidiya Tapu
Changeable Hawk Eagle: Chidiya Tapu
White-breasted Waterhen: widespread
Ruddy-breasted Crake: two at Sippighat
Slaty-breasted Rail: Ograbraj and Kurmadera beach
Common Coot: only a single seen at Sippighat
Common Moorhen: widespread
Watercock: Sippighat, Ograbraj
Grey-headed Swamphen: widespread
White-browed Crake: widespread
Andaman Crake: three seen at Mount Harriet
Pheasant-tailed Jacana: widespread
Grey-headed Lapwing: widespread
Little Ringed Plover: Sippighat, Ograbraj and Garacharma
Pacific Golden Plover: Sippighat, Ograbraj and Garacharma
Lesser Sandplover: Kurmadera beach
Common Redshank: widespread
Common Greenshank: widespread
Wood Sandpiper: Sippighat, Ograbraj and Garacharma
Common Sandpiper: widespread
Curlew Sandpiper: Sippighat, Ograbraj and Garacharma
Marsh Sandpiper: Sippighat, Ograbraj and Garacharma
Green Sandpiper: Ograbraj
Eurasian Curlew: Garacharma
Broad-billed Sandpiper: six birds at Garacharma
Long-toed stint: widespread
Red-necked Stint: Sippighat, Ograbraj and Garacharma
Black-tailed Godwit: Sippighat, Ograbraj and Garacharma
Common Snipe: Sippighat, Ograbraj and Garacharma
Pintail Snipe: Sippighat, Ograbraj and Garacharma
Whiskered Tern: Ograbraj
Red Collared Dove: widespread
Andaman Cuckoo-Dove: Shoal Bay forest
Green Imperial Pigeon: widespread all forests
Emerald Dove: widespread
Andaman Wood Pigeon: single Mt Harriet
Andaman Green Pigeon: Mt Harriet, Chidiya Tapu
Red-breasted Parakeet: Chidiya Tapu
Alexandrine Parakeet: Shoal Bay forest and Chidiya Tapu
Long-tailed Parakeet: Shoal Bay forest and Chidiya Tapu
Vernal Hanging Parrot: Shoal Bay forest and Chidiya Tapu
Indian Cuckoo: seen at Shoal Bay forest, heard throughout
Asian Koel: widespread
Brown Coucal: widespread
Andaman Scops Owl: Shoal Bay Forest
Andaman Hawk Owl: Shoal Bay Forest
Walden’s (Oriental) Scops Owl: Shoal Bay Forest and Chidiya Tapu
Andaman Masked Owl: Bathu Basti Secondary School
Hume’s Hawk Owl: Chidiya Tapu
Andaman Nightjar: Sippighat
Edible nest Swiftlet: widespread
Brown-backed Needletail: widespread
Plume-toed Swiftlet: widespread
Blyth’s Swift: single over fields behind Badabalu, Chidiya Tapu
Dollarbird: forest behind Badabalu, Chidiya Tapu
Stork-billed Kingfisher: widespread
Common Kingfisher: widespread
Blue-eared Kingfisher: pair in Biological Park, Chidiya Tapu
Collared Kingfisher: widespread
White-throated Kingfisher: widespread
Blue-tailed Bee-eater: widespread
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater: all forest areas
Andaman Woodpecker: Shoal Bay forest, Chidiya Tapu
Freckle-breasted Woodpecker: widespread
Asian Fairy Bluebird: Shoal Bay forest
Black-naped Oriole: widespread
Indian Golden Oriole: all forest areas
Barn Swallow: widespread
Pacific Swallow: widespread
Red-rumped Swallow: several birds over fields behind Badabalu, Chidiya Tapu
Black Drongo: widespread outside forest areas
Andaman Drongo: all forest areas
Greater Racquet-tailed Drongo: all forest areas
Ashy Drongo: ssp salagensis – single edge of forest behind Badabalu, Chidiya Tapu
White-breasted Woodswallow: Badabalu, Chidiya Tapu
Brown Shrike: widespread
Common Myna: widespread
Hill Myna: common most forests, up to 40 in fig tree at Tusnabaad
Daurian Starling: Ograbraj and Tusnabaad – large flocks
Asian Glossy Starling: widespread forest areas
Andaman (White-headed) Starling: all forest areas
Andaman Treepie: all forest areas
House Crow: widespread
Large-billed Crow: widespread
Andaman Cuckooshrike: Shoal Bay forest
Large Cuckooshrike: Mt Harriet
Scarlet Minivet: widespread
Small Minivet: forest behind Badabalu, Chidiya Tapu
Ashy Minivet: Shoal Bay forest
Red-whiskered Bulbul: widespread
Andaman Bulbul: all forest areas
Mangrove Whistler: mangoves behind cemetary at Shoal Bay
Taiga Flycatcher: Shoal Bay forest and Badabalu, Chidiya Tapu
Asian Brown Flycatcher: Shoal Bay forest
Black-naped Monarch: all forest areas
Oriental Reed Warbler: Ograbraj
Clamorous Reed Warbler: Chidiya Tapu
Yellow-browed Leaf-Warbler: single at Shoal Bay forest
Dusky warbler; widespread
Pale-legged Leaf-Warbler: single at Mt Harriet
Magpie Robin: widespread
Andaman Shama: all forest areas
Siberian Stonechat: up to seven in swamp behind Badabalu, Chidiya Tapu
Orange-headed Thrush: Shoal Bay forest, Chidiya Tapu
Red-throated Pipit: fields near Ograbraj
Forest Wagtail: Shoal Bay forest and Chidiya Tapu
Grey Wagtail: widespread
Yellow Wagtail: widespread
Oriental White-eye: only seen at Chidiya Tapu
Olive-backed Sunbird: widespread
Andaman Flowerpecker: widespread
White-rumped Munia: large flocks in rice fields near Ograbraj
Scaly-breasted Munia: large flocks in rice fields near Ograbraj
House Sparrow: widespread