The Andaman and Nicobar islands hold a total of 17 endemics. Five occur only on the Nicobars which remain off-limits to foreigners. The Narcondam Hornbill occurs only on remote Narcondam Island which is difficult to access. That leaves 11 endemics on the Andamans which are all achievable plus several other distinctive races which may probe to be separate species including Oriental Scops Owl, Sunda Teal and a pale form of Crested Serpent Eagle.
There are daily flights to Port Blair from Chennai and Kolkata. Flight times can vary – my departure flight from Port Blair to Chennai was changed from 9am to 11.45am with very poor notice provided. International flights seem to take place weekly in the winter (December-May) from Bangkok and a Singapore service is also starting.
I used Kazmierczak’s birding guide and Anand Prasad’s detailed notes which were excellent. Dave Sargeant also provided some helpful advice and I referred to Gary and Marlene Babic’s notes from earlier this year as well.
12th Chennai flight 6am, arrived hotel 10am, Mount Harriet 11.30am – 5.30pm
13th Sippighat 5.45am-8am, Mount Harriet 10am-6pm
14th Sippighat 6am-8am, Chidiya Tapu 10am-1pm, Phoenix Bay, Mount Harriet 4pm-5.30pm
15th Corbyn’s Cove 6-7am, Sippighat 7-8am
I spent a lot of time walking along the ridge trail between Mount Harriet and Mount Carpenter. In retrospect with the endemic woodpecker, cuckoo-dove, serpent-eagle and woodpigeon it would probably have been better to focus more on the road down from Mount Harriet. In the end I did not walk the aqueduct path at all. I took auto-rickshaws up to Mount Harriet (150Rs one-way) or 50Rs just to the park entrance).
This site is not much covered in the literature. I spent a lot of time there in preference to Corbyn’s Cove and this seemed to be well justified. The area around the taro and snipe pools were particularly good.
The crake has been seen in the environmental park development area – which I failed to go to. I walked slowly back from Chidiya Tapu through 4km of regenerating forest, but it was already past 10am in the morning and fairly busy with traffic.
The marsh area is very small – better to spend time at Sippighat.
I spent 45 minutes birding there around the corner of the bluff on which the Megapode Nest hotel is situated. This was only worth visiting at low tide.
On Mount Harriet I cam across several mixed species flocks. Typically the constituent species were White-headed Starling, Andaman Drongo, Greater-racket-tailed Drongo, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Black-naped Monarch, Scarlet Minivet and Bar-bellied Cuckoo-shrike. Occasionally one or two phylloscopus warblers joined the flocks. I also had a mixed species flock consisting of the drongos plus Andaman Treepie. The starling and the drongo were probably the easiest of the endemics to locate with the treepie distinctly more difficult. The call of the latter is similar to most treepies however making it easier to locate.
This species has been recorded at various locations including Wandoor and Havelock Island – neither of which I made time to visit.
Indian/Chinese Pond Heron
All the birds were in non-breeding plumage and I made no attempt to try and assign these to one species.
On my last morning at Sippighat I watched a small harrier for some minutes. On the previous days an adult Marsh Harrier had been present (spilonoutus). The new bird was distinctly smaller, underparts all uniform bright chestnut with some black/white spotting on the chin. The upperparts were a uniform dark brown, again almost unmarked expect for some indistinct streaking on the head. In flight the contrast between the black outer primaries and the pale patch on the inner primaries was very noticeable. There appear to be no records of Pied Harrier from the Andamans though it is not unlikely to occur.
Over the course of the trip I heard 3-4 birds calling but on each occasion was deep in the forest and unable to see the bird. The calls sounded like typical Crested Serpent Eagle – but I did not have information on the call of Andaman Serpent Eagle to be confident of splitting them.
This bird appears to be very shy and frequent forests and forest edges. I spent a lot of time looking for it in Sippighat and elsewhere and failed to locate it. I did not check the Chidiya Tapu environment park (which is still being constructed) – this is where Dave Sargeant saw it this year.
I located two juveniles in vegetation at Sippighat. They had rufous crowns and a black line running down the side of the neck. I thought these were probably Slaty-breasted Crake. I also had two small brown variegated crakes flying into cover at Sippighat – which could have been Baillon’s. Finally I flushed another small blackish crake which seemed to be mostly likely to be Slaty-breasted (too small for Watercock and no red bill)
One at Phoenix Bay at low tide was resting rather than feeding and was regularly being disturbed by curious (and hungry) Redshanks which surrounded it and forced it to move. The chestnut underwing was very prominent in flight.
One in flight over Sippighat one morning – looking almost like an Indian Pond Heron but with much more streamlined wings and black primaries could only have been this species.
Quite a number of snipe flushed at Sippighat. The first bird I saw was very clearly Pintail – small, rounded wings, dark, dropped down fairly quickly and less loud/strident call. Thereafter I saw plenty of snipe. Most were much larger and brighter than the Pintail. Only a few had white trailing edges and the very contrasting buff tramlines on the back which is typical of Common Snipe. However, these birds did not have a classic Swinhoe’s jizz – barrel-chested, prominent grayish barring on the underparts. Some of the birds flew up and strongly away rising higher and higher while regularly calling. I am not familiar with Great Snipe and was uncomfortable to ascribe these birds to either Great or Swinhoe’s Snipe.
Three at Phoenix Bay appeared small and were probably Little Tern but were too far away to rule out Black-naped Tern for example.
Green Imperial Pigeon
At Mount Harriet pigeons were calling everywhere and I taped a lot. However, I saw very few and I did not see the Andaman Woodpigeon or the Andaman Cuckoo-dove. It would have been useful to have their calls on tape to be able to locate them that way. Dave Sargeant had both from the top of Mount Harriet but I was there over Diwali and there were always a fair number of tourists about from 4-5pm so I did not wiat at the lookout – which would probably have been a good strategy.
This was one of the easiest endemics to locate as it was so widespread. It was the first bird I saw on the islands – as there was one beside the road as I walked down to the jetty from my hotel on the first morning.
“Oriental Scops Owl”
Most common on the top of Mount Harriet. A single descending call, regularly at about 1 per second. “Prooow” with a discernable pulse. The call is somewhat similar to Collared Scops but at a faster pace.
Andaman Scops Owl
Barbet-like call 3-4 notes in a trill. This was found at lower altitudes near the main gate to Mount Harriet. I also had this species calling outside the Megapode Nest hotel in Port Blair one morning. The calls of this and the preceding species seemed to me to be counter-intuitive given that Andaman Scops sounds similar to Oriental Scops elsewhere in Asia and Oriental Scops on the Andamans is similar to Collared Scops elsewhere in Asia.
Brown Hawk Owl
The commonest owl found at mid to lower levels on Mount Harriet with a “coo-wup” call rising at the end. I saw no owls during my trip though I taped at least three species.
I also taped at least two other owl-like calls on Mount Harriet. A screeching call and a boop-oop call with the second note flat. However, I failed to record the “wo” call attributed to Andaman Hawk Owl.
I only had one group of these birds – on the top of Mount Harriet.
I had a single bird fly over shortly before dusk as I walked down the road from Mount Harriet. I also heard a couple of loud drummings over the 3 days which could only have been this species.
Several at Sippighat – easy to locate. The small bill and forked tail immediately set them off from Andaman Drongo. However, the tail-fork was not particularly deep and the overall plumage was very matt. It’s possible that these birds are a distinct race. Judging from the books and previous reports the occurrence of this species on the Andamans has not been confirmed before.
A great bird, easy to find in the mixed species flocks at Mount Harriet.
I saw only one group of these although heard others.
I had excellent views of one at close range in non-breeding plumage at Sippighat.
Black-browed Reed Warbler
Again, excellent views of one at Sippighat – just like one I had seen the previous week in Hong Kong.
Oriental Great Reed Warbler
One or two birds had streaking on the breast which appears to be diagnostic for Oriental Great Reed Warbler (as opposed to Clamorous). The deep nasal start-up calls were typical of this species as well. I did not spend much time trying to identify acrocephalus warblers at Sippighat although they were pretty common. Thick-billed has also been recorded in the Andamans.
I heard Yellow-browed Warblers calling several times on Mount Harriet but never succeeding in getting a confirmed view of one. The only phylloscopus I got on to was seen only from below and the size of the bird together with the contrasting yellowish horn bill colour suggested either Arctic Warbler or Eastern-crowned (I did not observe the undertail covert colour). Both of these species would appear not unlikely to occur.
White-rumped Munia Lonchura striata fumigata
Flocks of the distinctive race fumigate were present in the agricultural land north of Chidiya Tapu.