View previous post here.
Now with the threat of Cyclone Phailin expected to hit the Odisha coast tomorrow, I was once again reminded about my Andaman trip because I had heard that Phailin had prevented a few flights from landing in Port Blair!
|Pic courtesy: http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/show.html|
Let me confess. One of the reasons I had agreed to go was the opportunity to do something a little different. When you think Andamans, the first thing that pops up in everyone's mind are pristine beaches. My mind was thinking 'green' instead of 'blue' but it also thought of so many other colours! Andaman has a rich bird population many of which are endemic.
First thing I did sometime in mid-august, before packing my stuff for Andaman's, was to type out a list of birds (and reptile) I hoped to see. I admit, four days with a rather cramped schedule was not exactly ideal for birding, but the optimist in me was not about to give up. My list include some 69 birds, including the Narcondam Hornbill though I wasn't going even remotely close to a boat to Narcondam!
If you are a serious birder, Andaman should be on your list of 'to do' birding spots. The only issue is that you have to set aside a good 10-12 days for it. Birding in Andamans will require you to travel by road and by boat so you have to be prepared for spending time for that.
The fundamental mistake I made, and I admit it, is that I was a little unprepared. Since the primary reason for the trip was a book release I carried photography gear for the occasion. Bird season was still a couple of months off and I did not expect to see much in that little time I had!
Mistake number 1: My longest and fastest lens didn't make the trip because I wasn't keen to lug some 5.5 kgs to a book launch.
Mistake number 2: I took a 75-300 mm tele-zoom hoping that the digital 2x in the camera would help. (Don't call me an idiot, I know I'm one!)
Mistake number 3: I left my binoculars behind, partly because I wanted to carry less weight on my rain forest trek and partly because I didn't want to be clapped in the Cellular jail for snooping around sensitive military installations!
Mistake number 4: I completely misjudged the weather and didn't carry my rain cover for the gear. It was in the camera bag with the Zuiko 300mm f2.8 that I so injudiciously left behind.
Mistake number 5: I left all my Manfrotto support gear including the tripod, monopod and the 393 heavy lens support behind. I carried only a small tripod. Reason; less luggage more comfort!
So there I was, standing in Andaman Teal House ruing the decisions regarding my gear. Now I have some pictures that I'm really ashamed of!
The rain didn't need a reason in Andamans. It just poured whenever I hoped it wouldn't. The end result was that these are the worst set of bird photos I ever got. Not that I'm a skilled photographer but some of these pics are worse than novice level!
The first birds were the rock pigeons that were fluttering about the roofs of our guest house.
|Emerald dove on the road to Munda Pahar|
|Andaman wood pigeon with an oriole and parakeets. Too far for my lens!|
|Red breasted parakeet|
|Long tailed parakeet|
|House sparrows on the ferry|
The only consolation was the white bellied sea eagle sitting on a barren tree and surveying the scene below. Looked like a juvenile and it wasn't looking to go anywhere.
|Is this a Pacific Golden plover?|
After a rather late breakfast in Nala's at the Havelock jetty we reached our resort a little after half past eleven. The first bird I met was this handsome fellow right near the reception.
|Red breasted parakeet|
|Spot the white headed starling in this picture!|
A black-naped oriole was too well camouflaged and the dense foliage wasn't making things easy.
My niece wanted to eat a wood fired pizza that was apparently a specialty in one particular eaterie called German bakery. Though we had no clue where this place was, we decided to drive around. The evening was free because my proposed trek to the Elephant beach never materialized, courtesy the weather!
|The 'Lee Meridian restaurant' & German Bakery!|
The German bakery has shifted its location to a place across the road from where it originally was. It is on the road to Kalapathar village, along the beach No.5. They now have thatched cottages too. At the end of the path along the cottages, just beyond the fence is a tree with no foliage, and on that tree was this bird trying to attract my attention!
|Juvenile crested serpent eagle|
|Red breasted parakeets|
Red whiskerd bulbuls were very in larger groups than I was used seeing at home.
There were so many other birds, busy flitting about their morning chores....
|Another black-naped oriole|
|A group of large cuckooshrikes|
There was no point in risking my gear and limbs (there is a lot of large drift wood on Radhanagar now and my aunt was felled by one that hit her shins!) and breakfast winds up at 9.30 in Barefoot.
I would have time for a bath before taking care of my rumbling tummy. I had been out on the beach for 3 hours.
Breakfast over, we packed up for the return ferry. The ferry was at 4 PM but since check out was at 11 we thought we'd hang around till lunch before catching our cab to the jetty.
There were more birds seeking relief from the rain like me. This emerald dove was too cold to even move a feather despite my standing right under it!
|Asian fairy bluebird|
|Greater racket-tailed drongo|
|Scarlet minivet females|
- Choose your season well. Many websites do mention that the monsoon is over by September but the last few years have seen rains spilling over for a couple of months further. Either way, be prepared for fickle weather.
- The light is also very unpredictable. It gets cloudy very quickly and if you are in thick rain forest it is a real disadvantage. Day starts early, as early as 5 AM, and the sunset is also consequently, much earlier than then on the mainland.
- As I said in my last post the trees are very, very tall so you need to carry your longest reaching and fastest lenses. If you have a prime telephoto things are easy but try to keep your aperture setting at f8 and manipulate your shutter using ISO settings.
- You will need a sturdy tripod or monopod. The small ones are not of any help. I was trying to take pictures of the waves with long exposures and the tripod gets shaken by the waves.
- Carry a rain cover for your gear. It can rain at the most unexpected moments.
- Don't leave your binoculars behind like me. Besides the tall trees you also have obstacles like the mangrove forests and the tides, which come in the way of good close sighting.
- Have your Pocket Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent by Grimmett & Inskipps handy. You are going to meet a lot of unusual birds that are not seen on the mainland!
- Be ready for my friends, the little leeches. Don't worry, they only drink a fraction of the blood that their mainland cousins feast on! On the beaches you have the sand flies instead of leeches.