(continued from Part 1)
Day 3 – 28th Jan ’09
It was Babu who gave us a wake up call in the morning, saying he was waiting at the front gate, half an hour before the appointed time! Madhavi and I got ready double quick, free of the responsibility of dragging our respective spouses out of bed kicking and screaming. (The menfolk had voted for continuing their siesta and letting us manic birders go about our birdy business). After a quick morning session of birding, we were to catch the ferry to Havelock on our return. Chidiya Tapu is the southernmost tip of Port Blair island, and its name itself conjured up visions of a tropical paradise bustling with winged beauties that would give the Kingfisher calendar a run for its money.
It was a short 15 km ride from our hotel; we left for our journey in semi darkness, and covered most of the distance swiftly. The first good catch was a brown coucal (an Andaman endemic) which seemed to be searching for something it had lost on the road. A stretch of forest before reaching our destination provided the first birding break. A raptor perched silently and watchfully on a tall tree was identified as the endemic Andaman serpent eagle, going by its small size and very dark colour. Screeching groups of Alexandrine parakeets flew about, and we IDed Asian glossy starlings and possibly an Andaman cuckoo dove at the same spot, while the call of Indian cuckoo (‘toh-toh tah-toh’ or ‘one more BOT-tle’ to those so inclined) echoed in the forest.
The forest ended as abruptly as it began, and we found ourselves at a rocky coastline. We had reached the Chidiya Tapu forest resthouse, located on a hill overlooking the sea. True to our expectations, the start to the birding was heralded by a loudly screeching stork-billed kingfisher, looking like a version of Pinochchio with its outsize red bill, and further on we were greeted by its cousin the smiley faced collared kingfisher. A juvenile white-bellied sea eagle perched among the trees next to the forest rest house, while nearby a huge flock of pompadour green pigeons basked in the sun. The road past the resthouse led over a forested hill and ended in a beach with huge trees right at the shoreline, which were a sight to behold. Many of these were now just stumps due to tsunami damage. Here are Madhavi’s pics which include some shots of the Chidiya Tapu landscape.
Some tall trees next to the beach gave us our first sighting of red-breasted parakeets and white-headed starling, albeit too high up to allow any good pictures. At one end of the beach, a stretch of mangroves where a crested serpent eagle (of the endemic Davisoni suspecies) perched “spread-eagled”. A curious flycatcher nearby came closer to investigate the clicking sound from my camera, but left me no wiser as to its own identity (Asian brown or 1st winter red-throated). On the way back from Chidiya Tapu, a common sandpiper and some red collared doves were snapped up. Back at the hotel, only to discover to our dismay that the late morning ferry that we were booked on was cancelled and we now had a few more hours to kill.
At Havelock we were going to stay in a scuba diving resort called Island Vinnie, run by Pritha and Vinnie. (I discovered by chance that Vinnie (Vandit Kalia) was an ace photographer and fellow INW member, but sadly he was away the entire time we were at Havelock.) Island Vinnie offered a pickup/drop-off service from Port Blair, and they had arranged for our tickets for the ferry ride. We spent most of the journey on the deck of the launch rather than its stuffy interior, and we passed by our lighthouse view of the day before.
The journey was just over 2 hours, and a vehicle waited at Havelock jetty to pick us up. Havelock turned out to be a delightful little island and the resort finally held a promise of that idyllic vacation I had enticed my spouse with. Lovely tented cottages set amidst tall coconut trees, a cozy restaurant called “the hungry puppy”, after the two resident dogs Sam and Frodo, and most importantly the brilliant blue sea 20 metres away. An evening walk around the beach revealed some potential birding spots nearby, including a roost of about a dozen red-breasted parakeets, which I resolved to explore early next morning.
Day 4 – 29th Jan ’09
Morning birding at the beach was relaxed and though it wasn’t too productive in terms of numbers of species, I got to observe collared and stork-billed kingfishers at close quarters, while a whimbrel gracefully walked the shoreline in search of crabs. One particular tree at the edge of the water seemed to be quite popular, and was visited by a mixed flock of small and scarlet minivets, and among them an especially dull coloured bird which at first glance seemed to be a female small minivet, but was later confirmed to be ashy minivet! The red-breasted parakeets were found feeding and cooing to each other very high up, making for a difficult shot.
After a leisurely breakfast and swim we set out for our chosen adventure for the day – a kayaking trip through the mangroves in a section of the island! Barefoot Scuba offers a choice of a number of different half and full day trips, from scuba diving to snorkelling and kayaking. We chose the kayaking trip between village #6 and the jetty, a journey of around 2-3 hours with two double kayaks. Unfortunately it had to be done at midday when the tide was out and the water would be calm, but we didn’t feel the heat at all as we learnt by trial-and-error the technique to manouver the kayaks in a straight line. After getting stuck in the mangrove roots, Ram and Madhavi squabbled over whose fault it was, while Ranjeet scowled at me taking pictures and avoiding my fair share of work. The French couple accompanying us watched bemused while enjoying a leisurely smoke and made kayaking seem like child’s play.
Other than an olive backed sunbird on the road and a lovely leopard lacewing at the mangroves, not much else was sighted by way of birds/butterflies, although I got momentarily excited when a black/white bird flew across the mangroves, but didn’t get a good enough look to confirm it as mangrove whistler. The mangrove stream soon grew into a river and to our horror we soon found ourselves in the open sea (I can’t swim!). Rowing suddenly became really hard work, and I found myself picking up the camera often as an excuse to rest my arms. This link has the pics I clicked at the mangroves. It was a fun trip, and we got back to the resort exhausted.
In the early evening we hung out at the beach, observing a white-bellied sea eagle flying low along the shore, the lone whimbrel in the distance and a pair of Pacific golden plovers close by, of which one appeared to be limping. The evening was spent exploring various restaurants at Havelock (they fill up fast and you must go early!), and speculating on the reasons why scuba divers seemed heavily inclined to smoking. One would think they need to preserve their lungs to indulge the hobby. Oh, and did I mention that the ban on smoking in public places does not seem to have reached Havelock yet.
(concluded in Part 3)
Pics from Chidiya Tapu:
Pics from Havelock beach: