Summary: We spent two weeks covering all the important bird areas of both the Andaman and Nicobar islands and while the weather was generally against us, we still managed to spot almost all the island endemic birds including some interesting winter migrants and several butterfly species.
Travel Dates: 20 Nov 2017 – 5 Dec 2017
We tried avoiding the October-November cyclone season but eventually ended up visiting the islands towards the end of November and unfortunately, our visit coincided with a depression over the Andaman sea that led to a lot of rain and strong winds that continued till mid December.
As for the duration of the trip, Andamans can be covered within 5-6 days, however, we kept a few extra days with us since we planned to visit the Nicobar Islands as well. This cushion proved worthwhile as our flight to Nicobar was canceled for two consecutive days and we were forced to go by sea that took an additional 36 hours.
Andamans: The Andaman island can be broadly divided into three parts: North, Middle and South Andamans. The good thing is that all the Andaman endemics can be found in South Andamans and that too around Port Blair with the following being the most important bird areas:
Chidiya Tapu: 24 km south of Port Blair, Chidiya Tapu is an easily accessible birding site and has a good forest cover. We did most of our birding along the roadside and a map with all the main birding points can be found here.
Shoal Bay: Shoal Bay lies north of Port Blair and is less than 20 km if you use the ferry from Chatham jetty. The ferry service starts at 5 AM and that is the ferry you want to be on to make the most of the morning bird activity. While birds were everywhere, it was easier to see the birds around the cemetery area and along the access road to a village next to the bus stop. A map showing this site can be found here.
Mount Harriet National Park: Similar to Shoal Bay, this site is reachable via the ferry from Chatham jetty. Birding is along the main road leading to the peak.
Ograbrang/Sippighat: These are mostly tsunami created wetlands north-west of Port Blair and a reliable place to spot the Andaman Teals. The agricultural fields in this area are good for warblers too. A map showing this site can be found here.
Great Nicobars: At 100 nautical miles, the Great Nicobar chain of islands is geographically much closer to Sumatra and forms the western most extremity of Sundaland. As of now, this island is only open to Indian tourists.
We spent four days at the Campbell bay village and mainly concentrated our birding efforts around the Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve. Access is easy with a paved road leading to the park and birding was mostly along the roadside. We also birded along the island’s East-West and North-South road, but mostly found similar birds as in the biosphere reserve. We also tried our luck spotting the Megapode in Galathia, but found it much closer at the Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve.
Sites not visited: There are chances to see the Nicobar Pigeon at Little Andamans. The island is six hours by sea and is open to international tourists.
Accommodation and Flights: Port Blair has a multitude of accommodation options ranging from basic to luxury resorts and can be reliably booked via several of the Indian travel portals like cleartrip.com, makemytrip.com and yatra.com. Flights to Port Blair can also be booked via these travel portals.
Local Transportation: Buses and rickshaws are easily available, but may be an issue for early morning birding and as such, we hired a full time taxi.
Birds we missed:
Nicobar Megapode: We heard it twice, once at Galathia and the second time at the Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve where it kept calling from close quarters for over 10 minutes, but all we saw was some movement in the dense undergrowth.
Central Nicobar Serpent Eagle: No clue where to find one
Nicobar Sparrowhawk and Nicobar Bulbul: During our journey to Campbell bay, the ship docked at Kamorta and we managed to squeeze in an hour of birding, but did not get a whiff of the target birds.
Narcondam Hornbill: As of now, the only option is to hire a private boat to circle the Narcondam island and hope to see the bird with a scope.
20 Nov 2017: Chidiya Tapu
We reached Port Blair by Jet Airways early morning flight and went straight to the hotel. However, by the time we checked-in and settled down, it was already 9 AM so we decided to start birding only after lunch and went to Chidiya Tapu in the evening where an Andaman Serpent Eagle was the first endemic to be spotted.
It got dark by 5 PM and the road leading to the Wild Grass resort proved excellent for Owls with an Andaman Hawk Owl and a Hume’s Hawk Owl being spotted along the roadside. Driving a little further, an Oriental (Walden’s) Scops Owl call led us into a clearing where it was spotted easily along with an Andaman Nightjar. We then got back on to the main road and drove towards the Biological Park where an Andaman Scops Owl was nicely seen.
21 Nov 2017: Shoal Bay
We arrived at the Chatham Jetty by 0450 Hrs and took the first ferry to Bambooflat reaching Shoal Bay by 0600 Hrs. While the weather was pretty gloomy, we still managed to spot a few endemics like the Andaman Shama, Andaman Bulbul, Andaman Woodpecker and Andaman Drongo apart from other birds like the Blue-eared Kingfisher, Long-tailed Parakeet, Brown Shrike (L.c. lucionensis), Dusky Warbler, Black-naped Monarch, Himalayan Cuckoo and a Mangrove Whistler.
However, the highlight of the morning was when we stumbled upon an Andaman Crake that emerged out of the undergrowth and crossed a shallow stream just a few meters away from us.
Back in Port Blair, we picked up a few more birds along the shoreline like the Common Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Black-tailed Godwit and a Pacific Reef Egret.
We returned to Shoal Bay in the evening, but were caught in a tropical thunderstorm and took shelter under the bus stop next to the cemetery. However, while waiting for the rain to subside, an Andaman Scops Owl was heard nearby and located easily.
Apart from the birding activity, the day produced an Andaman Tailed Jay, Andaman Clipper and an Andaman Tree-Nymph.
22 Nov 2017: Chidiya Tapu
We drove to Chidiya Tapu on yet another rainy morning and were able to add an Andaman Wood Pigeon and a White-headed Starling to our endemic list apart from spotting the usual suspects like the Andaman Drongo, Andaman Treepie and Andaman Shama.
Other birds like the Black Baza, Black-naped Oriole, Serpent Eagle, Dollarbird, Red-whiskered Bulbul and Asian Fairy Bluebird were also seen during the course of the morning.
Evening at Chidiya Tapu yet again produced a Hume’s Hawk Owl, while a brief stop at the city government school produced an Andaman Barn Owl.
As for butterflies, we spotted an Andaman Clubtail, Andaman Cruiser, Andaman Crow and an Andaman Mormon during the course of the day.
23 Nov 2017: Mount Harriet National Park and Chidiya Tapu
We explored the Mount Harriet National Park in the morning and even before entering the park, a Japanese Sparrowhawk pair was spotted high up in the canopy.
A fruiting tree near the entrance was also attracting many birds and we managed to add an Andaman Flowerpecker and an Andaman Green Pigeon to our endemic list apart from the already seen birds like the Brown Coucal, White-headed Starling, Andaman Treepie and a Black-naped Oriole.
We then walked up till the peak, but without adding any new species to the list. However, we did see another Andaman Crake on the way along with an Andaman Serpent Eagle, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Green Imperial Pigeon and a Hammerhead.
We just had a few Andaman endemics that we had not seen till now, so we went back to Chidiya Tapu in the evening, but the gloomy weather ensured that we were deprived of any new sightings.
On our way back to Port Blair, our local travel agent called and informed us that our flight to Campbell Bay way canceled for the next day. This was not good news but we did not really panic as we had a few extra days on us.
24 Nov 2017: Shoal Bay and Chidiya Tapu
We were back at Shoal Bay in the morning and managed to get some good views of an Andaman Cuckoo Dove family along a lone Pale-footed Bush Warbler, Andaman Woodpecker and several Black Bazas.
During the course of the day, we also spotted several butterfly species like the Andaman Clipper, Andaman Common Cerulean, Andaman Common Snow Flat and the Andaman Cruiser.
In the evening, we again got a call from the travel agent informing us that the plane to Nicobar was yet again canceled owing to bad weather and the only option to leave for Nicobars tomorrow was by sea. With the prevailing cyclonic conditions and the uncertainty over flight schedule, we decided not to wait any longer and requested the agent to book us on the ship.