27 Dec 2013

27 Dec 13 - Down To The Wire

Back to Chiriya Tapu for the final morning to try to see the Andaman Crake that call occasionally late on the previous evening. Despite a couple of hours searching we had no joy & no response to the tapes. Its seemed very dry everywhere & it wouldn't be the first tropical country where birds seem to stop calling in response to dry weather. I was trying to only focus on the search for the Andaman Crake, but couldn't resist one final distraction by these great Andaman Woodpeckers.
Andaman Woodpecker: Now you see me
Andaman Woodpecker: Now you don't (trying the Ostrich ploy)
Eventually we split up for the final 2 hours before having to head to the hotel to collect our bags and leave for the airport. Fortunately after a short while, a shout from Brian had me leaving my patch of forest, as Brian & Vikram had found a pair of Andaman Crakes. I had always thought they were going to look good & I wasn't disappointed: one of the birds of the Andaman section of the trip. The pair fed, quite happily in the forest for 30 minutes or more, but never close & always behind some vegetation (thus, not making the photography easy). These poor photos give some idea of how tricky the birds were to get onto as they moved slowly, but deliberately, through the forest and never close to the road. Any attempts for us to have tried entering the forest would have quickly flushed them.
Andaman Crake
Andaman Crake
Andaman Crake
Some final thoughts about the Andamans. Basically, birders will focus on the Andaman endemics. About 4 or 5 days will be needed to see the majority of these species, but several are tricky especially: Andaman Barn Owl (very tricky), Andaman Scops Owl (seemed the least common of the 4 small Owls), Andaman Nightjar (we tried for it at dusk twice, but only saw it once) & Andaman Crake (clearly not easy while we were there). I'm glad we had 5 days of birding, as we were clearly struggling with the Andaman Crake. There are also a number of other endemic subspecies on the Andamans which are potential splits in the future. Perhaps the most likely (for me) is Walden's (Oriental) Scops Owl which Clements has yet to split. There are also a few other species, that will be of interest to Indian listers, but these weren't priorities to Brian or myself as we had seen them in other SE Asian countries.

Apparently, there are good diving sites & nice island retreats elsewhere in the Andamans, but we didn't have time for either. Port Blair isn't the greatest of towns, but was cleaner & more laid back than other indian towns of a similar size & is a good base for the forest birding sites. I enjoyed the extra birding around Gandhi Park, not to mention finding a flock of at least 125 vagrant Daurian Starlings. There must be potential for other vagrants to India on the islands given the relative closeness to Burma. What was surprising when comparing the Andaman forests with SE Asian forests, was the general lack of small understorey species. I'm sure the nearest Burmese forests, would have had a good selection of Babblers & Warblers filling these niches.

If anybody wants more information about birding on the Andamans, then leave me a post on the blog with your email address & I'll get in touch. However, I would recommend that you wouldn't go far wrong to contact Vikram Shil (natureland@rediffmail.com +91 (0) 9434262681 or  +91 (0) 9474214272) & plan your trip based upon your birding priorities & his availability. He is a good bird guide, knows the sites well & works hard to find birds. Finally, he is a very likeable guy. 
Vikram

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