22 Dec 2013

22 Dec 13 - Andaman Forest Birding At Last

Brian arrived on time from his flight from the UK & there was time for some lunch before heading out birding. The first site was some native forest at Chiriya Tapu, about an hours drive from Port Blair. First stop was a roadside beach to catch up on a few of the local waders.
Eastern Reef Heron: This dark morph Egret is on the Western most end of its range which gets as far as Australia & the Pacific
Pacific Golden Plover
Lesser Sandplover: With another Pacific Golden Plover for size comparison
Common Sandpiper: A more familiar species to UK birders
Collared Kingfisher: This Kingfisher is as happy with beaches & mangroves as the freshwater in Gandhi Park
Carrying along the road we entered several miles of good forest. Here we quickly found a mixed flock of Alexandine & Long-tailed Parakeets, Green Imperial and Andaman Green Pigeons, Asian Fairy-bluebirds & White-headed Starlings. Clearly, there were some good fruiting trees in the vicinity.
Andaman Green Pigeon: This has been recently split from the Pompadour Green Pigeon & is endemic to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands
Green Imperial Pigeon: This is a widespread Asian Pigeon

Alexandine Parakeet: The endemic Andaman subspecies magnirostris
Long-tailed Parakeet: The endemic Andaman subspecies tytleri
Asian Fairy-bluebird: This is a male, the female is a dull steely-blue
White-headed Starling: This is an endemic forest Starling with a lot of character
The Andamans are on the same time zone as the rest of India, but being so far east it's starting to get dark around 17:00. Therefore, it was onto the coast part of Chiriya Tapu, where there are some open fields around the forest edge, to look for some of the local Owls. As we reached the forest edge we saw our only Andaman Serpent Eagle. There are 2 Serpent Eagles on the Andamans: the dark Andaman Serpent Eagle and an endemic race of Crested Serpent Eagle. In the failing light, I only had time for this record shot of the Andaman Serpent Eagle, after better & identifiable scope views.
Andaman Serpent Eagle: Totally overexposed or arty - I will leave you to decide
There are 5 species of Owl on the Andaman Islands: Andaman Barn Owl, Andaman Boobook, Hume's Boobook, Andaman Scops Owl & the Walden's Scops Owl (a distinctive subspecies of Oriental Scops Owl which some authorities split off). Of these the latter 4 are fairly easily found in the forest areas, but the Barn Owl is tricky and it was the only species we failed to see as it has moved into more urban areas around Port Blair. First stop was to look for Andamans Nightjar which we saw on the forest edge, but I failed to get any photos of it. The Boobook Owls were more cooperative & we had good views of both species. At 9 inches long they are intermediate in size between a Scops Owl and Tawny Owl.
Andaman Boobook
Hume's Boobook: Although appearing similar to the Andaman Boobook in this poor photo, the calls the 2 Owls were giving as they were being photographed were very different
Even with the hour drive back to Port Blair we were back at the hotel by 20:00, having seen 2 new Owls and a Nightjar. If only night birding was that easy elsewhere in the world.