29 December 2011

Holes to Heaven

Some pictures and anecdotes from my trip to the Andaman Islands.

We were first based in Port Blair, around which we did some exploring.

Sunset at Chidiya Tapu (Bird Island - it did give me some sightings of an Andaman Cuckoo Dove and Red-breastd Parakeet)
Boat weaving through mangroves to get to the limestone caves at Baratang

From Port Blair, we took a sea plane (amazing experience) to Havelock island. There, we ended up spending most of our time at Radhanagar Beach. It's renowned to be one of the best beaches in South-east Asia but I was skeptical. When we got there I decided it was the best beach I've been to in my life (and I've been to some great beaches). The sand was white and soft, the water absolutely crystal clear. You could be in deep enough water that you weren't standing but still be able to see your toes. When you're in the water, you look around and are surrounded by dense forest and ocean. And out of the water, I explored the forest and discovered it was magical and full of birds. It was also walking distance to Barefoot Resort which had the best restaurant after a day swimming in the sun.

View from the sea plane we took from Port Blair to Havelock Island

Radhanagar Beach

One morning at Havelock, I went on a walk into the jungle with a guide at the resort, who also happened to be a self-taught local snake catcher! I had tunnel vision for doing some proper birding in the forests, and so I did. One of the highlights was being constantly teased by the sound of a woodpecker doing as woodpeckers do... After struggling to pinpoint the noise on several different occasions, we finally saw a small flash of red in the trees, followed by a sighting of an Andaman Woodpecker. Sadly I couldn't photograph it.

All around the islands you get these little lizards. I have no idea what species they are but I went a little mad taking pictures of them and trying to get the perfect shot, though they're extremely skittish. When they run, they remind me so much of those Basilisk Lizards, also known as Jesus Christ lizards for the way they run across water. There also seems to be so much colour variation in them, I'm not even sure if they're all the same species. I found the first two in leaf litter during my forest walk, and the others around the resort. Whatever the reason for the different colours, they've got amazing camouflage! I had so many pictures of them, I couldn't decide which ones to put up here so I've put a view to show the different colours (note the eye colour too).

note the different eye colour to the one below

little baby one next to the beach shower 
these last two are a couple of my favourite shots :)
Bird List (lifers with *)
Indian Myna
House Sparrow
Rock Pigeon
House Crow
Cattle Egret
Red-whiskered Bulbul*
White-bellied Sea Eagle*
Red-breasted Parakeet*
Andaman Cuckoo Dove*
Glossy Swiftlet*
Common Snipe*
Andaman Serpent Eagle*
Great Egret
Red-collared Dove
White-throated Kingfisher
Black-headed (Andaman) Bulbul*
Oriental Magpie Robin*
White-rumped Shama*
Black-naped Oriole*
Black Baza*
Andaman Woodpecker*
Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker*
Brown (Andaman) Coucal*
Crested Serpent Eagle
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo*
Edible Nest Swiftlet*
Emerald Dove*
Long-tailed Parakeet*
Forest Wagtail*
Collared Kingfisher
Orange-headed Thrush*
Brown Shrike*
Sunda Teal*

I definitely could have done better, and I'm sure there's some I missed/couldn't identify, but I'm chuffed with what I've got. In the past I've been more of a pseudo/wannabe birder, but for the first time, on this trip I was pretty happy with myself. Normally I'll see a bird and panic because I have no idea what it is and end up not being able to ID it, this time because I did my homework, I felt like I was instantly able to look for, spot and identify many species, even quite a few endemics. I'm improving! Also I made a point to grab my mum's good camera with the big lens and wander off on my own into the forest on many occasions. With the ability to zoom in that much, I was able to identify many of the birds that I otherwise wouldn't :)

Black-naped Oriole
Binu spotted this one at sunrise
Black Baza
Horrible photo, but I was so chuffed about the bird, I didn't care
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
These were my favourites, they're so bird of paradise-like! You'd think those tails are easy to see and photograph, but they get completely lost in all the foliage. The first few times I saw them, I couldn't even see the end of the tail and thought they were Black/Andaman Drongos.
Crested Serpent Eagle
I had this guy right above my head, a Racket-tailed  Drongo on one side, and then out of nowhere, a couple of noisy Andaman Coucals came out of the undergrowth. I wish I'd been able to photograph them, but they disappeared again. They're clumsy little things!
Emerald Dove
I went off stalking this one while my family was still busy having dessert at Barefoot Resort on Beach No. 7 
Long-tailed Parakeet
Also at Barefoot Resort 
Right above us on Beach No. 7 
White-throated Kingfisher
Very common birds, but nice to photograph one for a change
One thing that really excited me was the fact that Jack Johnson's got a song about his own visit to the islands. Of course, he doesn't talk about it in the most positive light, but having now been there myself, I've gotta say he got it quite right:

"The air was more than humid and the heat was more than hungry,
And the cars were square and spitting diesel fumes.
The bulls were running wild because they're big and mean and sacred,
And the children were playing cricket with no shoes.
The next morning we woke up man with a 7 hour drive,
There we were stuck in Port Blair where boats break and children stare.
There were so many fewer questions when stars were still just the holes to heaven"

The islands are beautiful beyond words, but I was left with a bittersweet feeling afterwards, something that tends to happen with travels in India. But that's for another post....

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