PART I: Port Blair
25 Nov 2017: The journey to the Nicobar Islands
We took to the sea on MV Coral Queen as the workhorse MV Campbell Bay was out for repairs and were excited with the idea of relaxing for a day or two, but once we hit the open waters, we could feel even a small wave unsettle the ship. And then, we were rocked by a storm that lasted all through the journey making the ship toss around wildly like a cork on the waves.
Our interaction with the engine crew was not very encouraging and many of them were impatiently waiting for their contract to be over with the shipping company. One of them told us that this Ro-Ro type ship is inherently unstable and was used in Tahiti as an island hopper for over 20 years before being pressed into service on these waters just three months back.
Anjana already had enough and decided to sleep through the notorious ten degree channel while Rishi stayed awake witnessing the ferocious waves.
26 Nov 2017: The halt at Kamorta
The ship had struggled through the night and while we hoped to reach Kamorta by 9 AM, we ended up getting there only by noon. Due to the delay, the Captain was in no mood to hang around for long, but finally allowed us to disembark with a stern warning to be back within one hour.
With all odds stacked against us, we still braved the tropical downpour and went out scouting for the endemic birds. Unfortunately, the time was too short and we only managed to spot an Indian Cuckoo, an Olive-backed Sunbird and a few Purple-backed Starlings apart from the introduced Red-whiskered Bulbuls.
We returned to the ship not in any better spirits than when we left it and continued our journey to Campbell Bay eventually reaching by 9 PM, a good 36 hours after we left Port Blair and went straight to the PWD Guest House that the travel agent had already booked for us.
27 Nov 2017: Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve and around
We went to the Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve early in the morning, but the rain made birding a bit tough and the only bird to be spotted was a Great Nicobar Serpent Eagle.
While on our way back to the town for breakfast, we encountered several birds feeding on the government school playground like the Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Pacific Golden Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Common Snipe, and an Oriental Pratincole.
A bit of birding along the North-South road produced a Collared Kingfisher (T.c. occipitalis), Great Egret, Asian Glossy Starlings (A.p. albiris), Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Crimson Sunbird (A.s. nicobarica), Oriental Honey-buzzard and an Olive-backed Sunbird along with several inquisitive Long-tailed Macaques.
Post lunch, we went back to the Biosphere reserve and while exploring the “Nature Trail”, stumbled upon a Nicobar Pigeon that was seen perched on a low hanging branch. The pigeon was quick and in the blink of an eye vanished into the thick vegetation. Anyway, we were pretty excited and satisfied with the sighting.
While returning to the guest house, we spotted a Stork-billed Kingfisher, Common Hill Myna, a sleeping Hooded Pitta and a moth (Agathia sp.)
28 Nov 2017: Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve
An early morning drive along the east-west road produced several more birds including Nicobar Parakeets, Long-tailed Parakeets, Olive-backed Sunbird and an Indian Cuckoo while a fruiting tree in the Biosphere reserve produced Asian Glossy Starlings, Pied Imperial Pigeons and Nicobar Imperial Pigeons.
On our way back to the town, a Chinese Sparrowhawk was spotted circling overhead while a Japanese Sparrowhawk was observed soaring above the guest house.
We also got to see several more butterfly species like the Great Nicobar Cinnamon Crow, Nicobar Grey Glassy Tiger, Peacock Pansy and a Nicobar Pointed Albatross.
In the evening, we kept a watch along the power lines for the Hawk Owls, but struggled finding one as the streetlights were out due to an electricity cut. We still kept driving around and after a while, decided to take a break and the moment we got out of the vehicle, we heard a familiar call and by sheer luck, a Nicobar Scops Owl was spotted just a few meters away from us.
It had been raining since our arrival at Campbell Bay and we kept delaying our visit to Galathia, nevertheless, realizing that the rain might just continue, we decided to explore Galathia the next day.
29 Nov 2017: Galathia and Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve
The coastal road to Galathia had been washed away during the 2004 tsunami and while a new road is under construction, it has only been able to reach till the 38 km marker and that is where our taxi dropped us in the morning. We walked from there and after braving knee deep slush and balancing ourselves over slippery logs, our two hour long effort abruptly came to an end when we saw a landslide blocking our way. Rocks were still rolling down the hillside and even when the forest was just around the corner, it did not make any sense to take the risk of crossing over. We were surely disappointed, but accepting the situation we were in, we retraced our way back and reached the guest house by noon.
An abandoned construction truck on the way to Galathia
The only birds to be seen during the course of the morning were a few Nicobar Imperial Pigeons, Purple Heron and a Stork-billed Kingfisher (H.c. intermedia).
We went back to the Biosphere reserve in the evening and while we managed to startle a Nicobar Pigeon yet again, we had a wonderful sighting of a Nicobar Jungle Flycatcher; once at the “Nature Trail” and the second time at the “Bird Point”. On our way back to the guest house, the streetlights were lit today and it did not take long for us to locate a Brown Hawk Owl (Great Nicobar Hawk Owl)
30 Nov 2017: Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve
We were back at the biosphere reserve in the morning and apart from the already seen birds like Black-naped Oriole, Nicobar Imperial Pigeon and Nicobar Parakeet, a Drongo Cuckoo was spotted along the access road to the reserve while we finally got an opportunity to take a picture of a Nicobar Tree Shrew.
After finishing birding at the reserve, we explored the small wetlands next to the jetty and spotted birds like the Stork-billed Kingfisher, Yellow Bittern, Striated Heron, Pacific Golden Plover and a Common Snipe.
Since we were more or less done with birding at Campbell Bay, we went to the District Magistrate office to figure out a way out of the island and learned that a military Dornier was scheduled to leave for Port Blair the next day. We took this opportunity and filled all the requisite forms and were informed that we should be able to fly out tomorrow provided there is no last minute official movement or any medical emergency.
01 Dec 2017: Port Blair
We made a quick early morning round of the Biosphere reserve and the surrounding villages before heading to INS Bazz to catch our flight back to Port Blair. The military plane was very comfortable and as it flew pretty low during the flight, it allowed us some amazing views of the several uninhabited islands.
We reached Port Blair in the afternoon and did a bit of birding at Chidiya Tapu, but spotted all the already seen birds including the Pacific Reef Egret, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Asian Glossy Starling and a flock of White-rumped Munias.
02 Dec 2017: Shoal Bay and Ograbrang
Even after spending so many days in Port Blair, we still had a few endemics left to be seen, so we went back to Shoal Bay where a brief stop at a small wetland produced a wintering Oriental Reed Warbler. We then continued to the forest patch that we had already birded several times earlier. But this time, the village path straightaway produced two more of the endemics, the Andaman Cuckooshrike and the Spot-breasted Woodpecker feeding on the same tree.
Some of the other birds seen during the course of the morning were the Eastern Jungle Crow, Andaman Woodpecker, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Scarlet Minivet, several Black Bazas and a couple of White-breasted Woodswallows.
An evening visit to Ograbrang produced the last of the Andaman endemic, the Andaman Teal.