Apr 12, 2015

Andamans birding

Day 1 - Scuba diving at Chidiyatapu
Day 2 - Jirkatang road birding
Day 3 - wash out due to Lehar cyclone
Day 4 - Chidiyatapu birding trails and local harbour
Day 5 - Chidiyatapur trails and Sippy ghat
Day 6 - Havelock Island
Day 7 - Jirkatang road birding
Day 8 - Corbyn's Cove and departure

In short, this was the summary of our week long birding and wildlife trip to the Andaman islands of which two full days were lost due to the Lehar cyclone that hampered the weather, our plans and made us miss quite a few species that were otherwise had to be seen.

Tsunami had a devastating effect on these islands and the proofs of that are still evident today with numerous localities lost and some tracts of land lost forever to the might of the sea/ocean. Lehar cyclone came in unexpected and hit with greater impact than expected (was expected to be a passing one with the impact being a gloomy half day with some showers) and Mount Harriet and Havelock islands bore most of the severity of the cyclone.

We thought of cancelling and pulling out mid way but when the cyclone hits the islands, all services are disrupted and importantly the air services are cancelled for the days till the impact reduces. So, in short we were stuck on the island and had to bear the gloomy days. Being positive thinkers and having planned and spent, we decided to complete our trip to the T and then return as per our schedule. Photography wise, it was not very fulfilling but sighting the species through your eyes and binoculars were rewarding enough.

Overall, birding in Andamans is no easy job, there are no definite trails as such and most of the forest birding happens from the road. Jirkatang trail is a traffic magnet as this road passes through the Jarawa reserve that has restricted timeline and the vehicles are always in a hurry to cover that stretch. Early mornings and early evenings are the order of the day which means early morning birding is the best bet and evening sessions would be short and a bit tricky. Darkness sets in very fast and you need to spend long evenings everyday.

Added to all the above, the vegetation in Andaman and Nicobar islands are tropical rain forests and the trees compete with each other in growing tall and at many places, the sun barely gets a chance to reach the ground that means light is quite tricky for birding. Species wise, almost all that you see in this region are either new for you (if you are visiting for the first time) or are subspecies of the mainland species. So, it's like you need to make a note of everything you see including the most common ones too as you never know for tomorrow they may be classified as a new species in itself.

For us, Chidiyatapu and Jirkatang was the best trails in terms of species seen as we got to see the Anadaman Woodpecker, Andaman Drongo, Andaman Bulbul, Andaman Serpent Eagle, Andaman Scops Owl, Andaman Cuckoo Dove, Violet Cuckoo, Andaman Nightjar, Andaman Shama, Andaman Hawk Owl, Andaman Treepie, Andaman Teal, Olive-backed Sunbird, White-headed Starling and many more species.

I'll add below a few species that I could document for you guys out there to see and enjoy from the Andaman islands. Please note they are nowhere close to good but yet want to showcase what we got to see.

(pair of Changeable Hawk Eagle)

(Andaman Coucal)

(Andaman Woodpecker, most commonly seen)

(Andaman Treepie, always prefers to be inside...)

(Red-breasted Parakeet and the moon)

(Crested Serpent Eagle, Andaman subspecies)

(Andaman / Sunda Teal, their numbers have gone down after the Tsunami)

(Collared Kingfisher, Andaman subspecies, the most common Kingfisher seen here)

(Hume's Hawk Owl, Andaman speciality)

(Andaman Hawk Owl, another Andaman speciality)

(Violet Cuckoo, one of the most colorful birds)

(Andaman Cuckoo Dove, another Andaman specialty)

(Blue-eared Kingfisher)
(this was being chased about by the bully Stork-billed Kingfisher)

I'll try and fit in shots of landscape, butterflies and few more birds in the next post.

Till then... Adios!

Apr 6, 2015

Andamans Scuba dive

Well, this was something I was hoping from a long time to happen and finally it had to be in Andamans, where else!

Being an adventure freak, I'm game for adventure sports and was more than eager to go scuba diving very well knowing the fact that I do not know swimming and I'm not very comfortable being under water...!

So, when my friend Kesava (http://www.birdwing.in/about-us/) started planning for the birding trip to Andamans, I pestered him to spare a day for scuba and it was booked with Infinity Scuba, Andamans (http://infinityscubandamans.com/) for a session of scuba diving at Chidiya tapu near Port Blair and not Havelock Islands, where most of the crowd tend to do it.
(en route Chidiyatapu... a pit stop for some birdwatching)

Landing at Port Blair on a fine sunny morning, we rushed to our hotel to drop off our belongings and headed straight towards Chidiyatapu for our diving session. I was a little nervous but confident enough that I would be doing it. This session (day) was solely for diving but we had to take breaks in between as the bird life kept on teasing us and Chidiyatapu is one of the hotspots for birding.

(the inviting blue green waters with the hills in the distant background)

The blue green waters, lush green hills in the very distant background, a clear blue sky were very mesmerizing, in short a perfect day for scuba diving and looked like a perfect start for our trip. After a brief introduction of what and how with the instructors, we were off in a boat, a little deeper into the sea away from the shore for our maiden dive.

(under water briefing session... stay together and be alert)

The initial fall into the water and it took a few seconds to calm my nerves and get back to reality that indeed I would be diving in just about few minutes...whoa! Our instructor was a young chap, been diving here for some years now and having loads of experience guiding and diving with people and he would be 'escorting' us down under. Yes, which meant he would be navigating us holding on to us inside and show us the life down under.

Basic set of hand signs were instructed to communicate under water to go down, go back up, ok, not ok kind of scenarios and a few basic exercises were taught for us to feel comfortable deep inside water (you need to let out air through your ears).

(looking around...)

With that, down we went hand in hand, very excited and thrilled just to be going down. Soon, a new colorful world opened up before us with a whole lot of reefs, fishes here there and everywhere... in short, a stunning spectacle  and the feeling of weightlessness makes it a truly memorable experience.

(a break in between... here with Kesava and the dive instructor)

(Scorpion fish or Lion fish)

(the guiding force... dive instructor)

Following a school of fish or seeing those multiple dazzling different species of them or the smaller organisms that inhabit the under world and those reefs in various sizes, shapes and color make it a grand spectacle altogether.

Having a want to go deeper, but had to cut short due to a blocked ear ended my maiden dive truly thrilled and excited, with a surge of emotion that just can't be described. I came out of the water with a smile, a smile that remained with me for the rest of the day... a smile of gratitude, a smile of thankfulness, a smile of good life.

(what more to say...the sign says it all!)

and yes indeed, I will be back for more :)

* I did not indulge in any underwater photography, all these were taken by a diver with a camera who was along with us.
* Respect underwater life and do not touch/harm any of them.
* Respect the laws of nature and follow what your instructor says.
* Shred the fear... go dive!

Apr 3, 2015

Random frames from down South!

Hola people :)

Kicking back to the virtual world with some random frames taken during a pilgrimage to various places down South starting from namma Bengaluru and traversing till the southern tip of India and back home, and before you question me when... yes, back in 2013 :)

(view near Sathyamangalam)

(after Sathyamangalam ghats)

(afternoon siesta at Varkala beach)

(evening siesta at Kanyakumari)

(rail crossing on Pambam bridge en-route Rameswaram)

(on the way to Dhanushkodi, farthest point of India)

(far beyond the horizon lies Srilanka)

(Pambam bridge railway track connecting mainland India and Rameswaram)

(the railway bridge that opens up when want to ships sail through...@Pambam)

and for information it was a long road trip across Karnataka, Tamilnadu and Kerala roughly something like this starting from...
Bengaluru - BR hills - Sathyamangalam - Coimbatore - Guruvayoor - Varkala - Trivandrum - Nagercoil - Kanyakumari - Nanguneri(Totadri) - Rameswaram - Madurai - Salem - Bengaluru spanning about 10 days.