Wildlife on the Waves
IT’S 6 A.M. ON A BALMY NOVEMBER MORNING and I’m standing on the teak sun deck of the Star Flyer, watching a deep red sun rise over the Andaman Sea. The ship left Phuket harbour last night and, this morning, the air is warm with enough breeze to eliminate humidity, yet still fill the sails. Early morning is always the best time of day for birdwatching and today’s no exception. Looking from port to starboard, hundreds of bridled terns are perched on the many floating branches, occasionally taking to the air on short fishing forays. Overhead, the pirates are waiting; bat-like frigatebirds hang aloft, waiting for their chance to harry a passing tern and steal this morning’s catch. Lesser frigatebirds are the most numerous in these waters, but careful observation picks out a few, much rarer, Christmas frigatebirds; the white belly of the males being diagnostic.
In the afternoon, we make a beach stop at Ko Adang in the Butang Archipelago and many of the passengers set off to make the most of the watersports facilities set up on the white coral-sand beach. While holidaymakers sunbathe, several birds of prey are slowly migrating southwards, using these islands as landmarks. Grey-faced buzzards mix with the larger, crested honey buzzards as they use thermals from the islands to rise high and glide over the next section of open sea. There’s a small lagoon behind the beach and here I find a pair of Indian rollers flashing their iridescent-blue flight feathers, as well as a small flock of blue-tailed bee eaters, hawking for dragonflies over the brackish water. Sailing to Penang brings Brahminy kites, their rufous wings contrasting with their white head and breast. Once common on the mainland, they’re now more likely to be spotted over the coastline and islands of the Thai-Malay Peninsula.
As Star Flyer glides gracefully through the glassy water, I see a huge whitebellied sea eagle swoop down, grasp a sea snake in its talons and fly off for the nearest island. We set sail for the myriad limestone outcrops of Phang Nga Bay, spotting dollarbirds, Pacific reef egrets, and more Brahminy kites and sea eagles. Dolphins ride Star Flyer’s bow waves and, when we stop to so some snorkelling near the idyllic beach on Ko Hong, they join us, their curiosity and playfulness apparently as great as ours. Our last call is the Similan Islands, where azure waters give way to the whitest of beaches, fringed by evergreen forest. Along an inland nature trail, spectacular butterflies float by and I spot common koel, cinnamon bittern and my ‘bird of the week’, the metallic-blue, and rare, Nicobar pigeon.
Taking a jaunt aboard Star Flyer you’re guaranteed to see some stunning scenery, but, unnoticed by many, there’s also a whole host of wonderful wildlife all around.
Choose from our selection of Star Clippers journeys across Asia here
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