Lesser Antilles____________________________________________________

 

 

Lesser Antilles 2011

...with Mark Finn

November 13th-25th

This was the first Birdwatching Breaks tour to the Lesser Antilles after our initial inspection trip in 2009. The group cleaned up on all the accessible island and regional endemic bird species with the exception of the very rare and elusive Imperial Parrot on Dominica. The islands all have birds unique to the Caribbean, some of which are under pressure from development for tourism and housing due to a fast growing human population on the islands. The final island totals with endemic birds in brackets were as follows: Montserrat 34 (1), Antigua and Barbuda 45 (1), Dominica 60 (1), St Lucia 58 (6), Tobago 80 (1). We also recorded many species whose ranges are shared between just two islands or are small and restricted. My thanks also to the local birding guides especially Scriber on Montserrat, Birdy on Dominica and Adams on St Lucia without whose knowledge of where to find difficult species the tour would not have been such a great success. Our next Lesser Antilles tour is scheduled for November 2013 with the addition of St Vincent.

November 13th: Gatwick, Antigua

After meeting up at Gatwick we joined the flight across the Atlantic Ocean to St John’s in Antigua. On arrival we passed through immigration and passport control and onto our base in Dickenson Bay.

November 14th: Montserrat including Fogharty Hill, Old Bay Road, Little Bay and the Outlook

Weather: Warm and humid 30c

An early departure was required from the hotel to the main airport in St John’s for the 7am flight to Montserrat. Left on time, and landed eighteen minutes later at the new airport in Montserrat. After a little confusion regarding transport we headed off with Thomas to meet up with Scriber our guide on the island. The first stop was at Fogharty Hill a section of mid-storey forest. A walk through the forest quickly found the endemic Montserrat Oriole searching the trunks ‘nuthatch style’ for grubs and insects. We also located the shy Scaly-naped Pigeon, Bridled Quail-dove, Brown Trembler, Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Forest Thrush, Mangrove Cuckoo and the charming Bananaquit. Next on the agenda was a garden next door to Scriber’s house where an Agouti was grazing the lawn and the hummingbird feeders attracted Purple-throated and Green-throated Caribs and the smaller Antillean Crested Hummingbird. Back in the garden a Green Heron showed well in a tree, and on the grass Lesser Antillean Bullfinch and Black-faced Grassquit. Our next stop was the shore at Old Bay Road, one of the few areas on the island attracting wetland species. On arrival the mangrove stands attracted an immature Little Blue Heron, Great and Snowy Egrets. Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans were fairly common offshore with fishing Royal Terns, with a juvenile American Herring Gull also noted. On the beach wintering Sanderling and Spotted Sandpiper whilst a marshy area had Wilson’s Snipe and a female Blue-winged Teal. Lunch taken followed by a visit to Little Bay with its Red-billed Tropicbirds close inshore. We ended the day at The Outlook an impressive vista overlooking the ocean. A bonus here was a wintering Merlin and Eurasian Collared Dove a scarce colonist to the Lesser Antilles.

November 15th: Barbuda including Frigatebird Colony, Two Foot Bay, Codrington, Dr’s House

Weather: Sunny in the morning followed by heavy showers in the afternoon 27c

A return journey to Antigua airport for the flight to Barbuda, much the poorer of the two islands. On arrival we met up with a local guide and transferred to a jetty. From here we quickly went across the lagoon to an area of mangrove stands. On the way we stopped for Royal Terns roosting on mangrove tops. Magnificent Frigatebirds were present building nests and displaying to us within a few feet a truly remarkable experience. Also present were Brown Booby and Brown Pelican. Back to Codrington village where the gardens and flooded grass attracted Lesser Yellowlegs, White-crowned Pigeon, Common Ground Dove and Zenaida and Eurasian Collared Doves. Next was Two Foot Bay an attractive part of the island with Helmeted Guineafowl en route. On arrival we walked up through the cave to look over the wild interior of Barbuda. The only bird of note here was a Yellow Warbler. Back to the village for lunch and afterwards a walk near the doctors house. This was a very productive area with the scarce Barbuda Warbler being located flitting in small trees for insects. A pile of brushwood was very good for birds with a Prairie Warbler, Black-faced Grassquit, Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, Antillean Crested Hummingbird and Green-throated Carib being well represented. The weather had started to close in with torrential rain and wind making birding near on impossible. Near the ferry several Sandwich and Royal Terns were noted and an American Golden Plover on the flooded cricket field. A marsh in Codrington added a pair of West Indian Whistling Ducks and Black-necked Stilts. Back to the airport to check-in and then received the news that the flight was being cancelled at short notice. This meant an overnight on the island in a guesthouse. We all made the most of the situation and prayed for better weather in the morning.

November 16th: Barbuda, Antigua including McKinnon’s Pool and Potsworks Dam, Dominica

Weather: Warm and sunny with occasional rain showers 31c

At 7am we walked back to Barbuda airport after our unexpected nights stay on the island. After a little persuasion we were allowed onto the early flight back to Antigua. The birds around the village on Barbuda were the same as yesterday with an addition of another Barbuda Warbler. Once in Antigua it was back to Dickenson Bay to pack for the next stage of our journey. I decided to visit McKinnon’s Pool which is close to the hotel. This proved to be a good for migratory birds from North America. The lagoon edges and small islands attracted Great Blue and Little Blue Herons, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Belted Kingfisher, Greater Yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstone, Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers. A check on the other more vegetated side revealed a White-cheeked Pintail sheltering from the heat. Our final birding spot on Antigua was Potsworks dam in the centre of the island which held high numbers of Pied-billed Grebes, egrets and circling Magnificent Frigatebirds. On the way back to St John’s a stop for a perched Broad-winged Hawk. Checked in at the airport for the flight down to Dominica. This went smoothly and we arrived on time. The journey to Roseau was tricky travelling along poor roads which resulted in a puncture. Thankfully one of the local people helped us out with changing the tyre. Arrived at the rather grand Fort Young Hotel our base for the next three nights.

November 17th: Dominica including Emerald Pool, Roseau Botanical Gardens and Scott’s Head

Weather: Warm and sunny 28c

A later start this morning with breakfast on the balcony overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Offshore we could see Magnificent Frigatebirds, Brown Pelican and a single Brown Booby. A migrant Cliff Swallow fluttered along the seafront. On advice from Birdy we headed up into the hills to visit Emerald Pool a tranquil forest covering peaks and deep canyons. On arrival several Lesser Antillean Bullfinches showed well some sitting on the reserve signs. The walk through the forest was very quiet to start with although we found Plumbeous Warbler and Blue-headed Hummingbird two range-restricted Lesser Antillean endemic species. Back to the coast road recording a family of Smooth-billed Ani’s. The roadworks around Roseau were horrendous and caused considerable delays as we travelled to the botanical gardens. This proved to be a good place for birds in the quieter areas (the main road is used as a rat-run by locals including the police). Any flowering tree or bush attracted Green-throated and Purple-throated Caribs, Antillean Crested Hummingbird and Bananaquit. Above the forest a Broad-winged Hawk displayed showing all the key identification points. A large tree at the back of the gardens attracted Scaly-breasted Thrasher, Black-whiskered Vireo and a Yellow Warbler. The latter part of the day was spent at Scott’s Head with views towards Martinique to the south. Little of note here apart from a Spotted Sandpiper.

November 18th: Dominica including Morne Diablotin, Portsmouth, Layou River

Weather: Warm and sunny although cooler at higher altitudes 24c/29c

At 0530 we met up with ‘Birdy’, our guide on the island. We travelled north towards Morne Diablotin a protected area of forest intermingled with old orange groves and vegetable growing areas. En route a brief stop allowed views of Belted and Ringed Kingfishers. The steep road up to Morne Diablotin added a Red-legged Thrush. Parked by the orange orchards an excellent place for birds including; Lesser Antillean Flycatcher, Dominica House Wren, Brown Trembler, Caribbean Elaenia, Plumbeous Warbler and the three common hummingbirds. A walk through the forest to the overlook produced several endemic Red-necked Parrots. Over the valley we recorded Broad-winged Hawks and Lesser Antillean Swifts. We then visited the centre (closed) to consume our packed breakfast with Lesser Antillean Bullfinches for company. In the forest a singing Forest Thrush, Scaly-breasted Thrasher and the odd site of a Tricoloured Heron flying overhead. On another trail we located Lesser Antillean Peewee and a single Ruddy Quail Dove. It was time to search the lower levels of the road branching off into areas of small fruit and vegetable plots. A papyri tree with ripe fruits attracted the uncommon Lesser Antillean Saltator whilst the adjacent forest had Scaly-naped Pigeons. Lunch was taken in the shade of some trees where a Black-whiskered Vireo was resting from the heat. A visit to a nearby village to pick up some water and back up the hill where Birdy located a superb Antillean Euphonia an often tricky bird to locate. Next on the agenda were wetlands to the north of Portsmouth. A walk into a rather muddy place added American Redstart and Yellow Warbler to the day list. Our final birding spot was at the Layou River which is constantly being dredged as it silts up quickly and causes flooding. On arrival we located a Yellow-billed Cuckoo which looked strangely out of place by the sea. In a dead tree above the beach a single Osprey. A short walk brought us to the beach and river area where scanning revealed Grey and Semipalmated Plovers, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Royal Tern, Magnificent Frigatebird and two immature Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Our final bird for the day was a group of Scaly-breasted Munias taking seeds in the grass this species is a recent colonist from Guadeloupe. Returned along the coast road to Roseau and the added problem of road works along the way.

November 19th: Roseau, Layou River, Morne Diablotin,

Weather: Warm and sunny 31c

Our last day on Dominica with a later start due to flight timings onto St Lucia. After checking out another visit to the Layou River produced similar birds to the previous evening with the addition of two Least Sandpipers. Next was the medium to high forested areas of Morne Diablotin in the hope of locating the very rare Imperial Parrot. Despite a lot of searching we were unsuccessful in our quest to see this endangered bird. The group finally caught up with Red-legged Thrush in the car park near the visitor centre. Good views obtained of this localised and rather shy species. Lunch was taken in Portsmouth before crossing over the island to the airport at Melville Hall. The fields near the coast held Great, Snowy and Cattle Egrets all three being uncommon on the island. Later in the afternoon we boarded the flight to St Lucia after passing over Martinique which appeared to be rather populated and full of bright lights.

November 20th: St Lucia including Gunter’s Bay, Barre-de-L’isle, Dennery, Aux Bicon, Moule a Chique, Quillesse

Weather: Warm and sunny 31c

Due to a communications problem we had to make a later departure today at 1030. In and around the gardens we noted Zenaida and Eared Doves, Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, Antillean Crested Hummingbird and Green-throated Carib. Offshore Magnificent Frigatebirds cruised overhead whilst other species included Brown Booby and Royal Tern. At 1030 we met up with Adams our guide on the island with the first stop being at Gunter’s Bay which has an active heronry. This was particularly good for nesting Snowy and Cattle Egrets, Green Heron and along the entrance road a Tropical Mockingbird was seen. It was time to crossover to the eastern side of the island with a stop at Barre-de-L’Isle one of the highest points of the road. A mixed feeding flock came into view which included Grey Trembler, St Lucia Warbler, Caribbean Elaenia, Scaly-breasted Thrasher, Black-whiskered Vireo and Purple-throated Carib. Our journey took us down towards the east coast an area under constant threat of development and other commercial ventures. Several stops along the road allowed us excellent views of White-breasted Thrasher and the very scarce St Lucia Black Finch. Other species present included Lesser Antillean Flycatcher and Lesser Antillean Saltator. Lunch was taken in a small restaurant next to a garage and then onto a wetland adjoining the coast. Wetlands are rare habitats on the island which resulted in sightings of Blue-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Osprey, Tricoloured and Little Blue Herons, Caribbean Coot and Belted Kingfisher. On the shoreline a nice selection of waders including Semipalmated and Spotted Sandpipers, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone and Grey Plover. Moule a Chique was next on the agenda a lighthouse perched on a cliff top looking towards the island of St Vincent. Red-billed Tropicbirds were patrolling the cliffs and a pair of Cliff Swallows flew by. Our last stop was the forest area of Quillesse situated in a very remote and almost inaccessible area of St Lucia. After waiting we witnessed up to forty St Lucia Parrots in flight and one perched in a bare tree a fitting end to the day.

November 21st: St Lucia including Bougis and Grand Anse

Weather: Warm and sunny with afternoon showers 30c

Adams met up with us at 0530 as we set off to another area of St Lucia. First stop was at Bougis an area used for agriculture and dotted with palm trees. Usual birds around including Broad-winged Hawks and a new species in the form of Bare-eyed Thrush. Back into another area of forest at Grand Anse which is only accessible by a high clearance 4x4. In no time at all a St Lucia House Wren appeared singing from a low branch, a very different species from the wrens elsewhere in the Caribbean. Several other birds appeared including St Lucia Warbler, St Lucia Black Finch, Grey Trembler, Black-whiskered Vireo and a Bridled Quail Dove walking along the track. At the bottom of the track another stop added the remaining endemic St Lucia birds; St Lucia Peewee and St Lucia Oriole the latter being in decline and quite rare. Luck was with us as a Mangrove Cuckoo showed in a tree and White-breasted Thrashers in the open. At 10am it was starting to get hot so a journey back to base was required. At a poultry farm we added Shiny Cowbirds the last new bird on St Lucia. The remainder of the day was spent at leisure after we said our goodbyes to Adams an excellent bird guide.

November 22nd: St Lucia, Tobago including Hilton Lagoons and Adventure Farm

Weather: Hot and sunny 35c

Checked out in St Lucia and made the short journey to the airport for our flight to Tobago via Barbados, Grenada and Trinidad. On arrival in Trinidad we made a short walk outside the airport recording American Black and Turkey Vultures, Ruddy Ground Dove, Tropical Mockingbird and White-winged Swallows nesting in the terminal building. The short hop over to Tobago went well and after lunch we visited the Bon Accord area which is very difficult to access. Several canals running through the area produced Blue-winged Teal, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper and the commoner herons. We decided to visit the Hilton Lagoons. The first pond produced Least Grebe, Anhinga, Black-bellied Whistling Duck and a fishing Osprey. Further on another sector of ponds added many Southern Lapwings, Common Moorhen and Brown-crested Flycatchers. Time was getting on a bit as we arrived at Adventure Farm an excellent location for birds with hummingbird feeders and others. Birds present included White-lined, Palm and Blue-grey Tanagers, Trinidad Motmot, Rufous-breasted and Tobago House Wrens, Pale-vented Pigeon, White-tipped Dove, Cocoa Woodcreeper, and on the feeders White-necked Jacobin, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Black-throated Mango and Copper-rumped Hummingbirds. Dusk was starting to fall as we headed to our base at Turtle Beach.

November 23rd: Grafton Estate, Bon Accord, Adventure Farm, Cuffie River

Weather: Hot with afternoon rains 24c/32c

Today we started birding outside the hotel by looking at the Caribbean Sea. Various fishing boats acted as roosting sites for Brown Pelicans whilst Brown Boobies and Royal Terns passed by. Before breakfast a Merlin was noted zipping through the grounds at high speed. Our first birding stop after breakfast was the Grafton Estate a large plantation which has seen better days. On arrival we checked the feeders which held high numbers of Rufous-vented Chacalaca’s, Palm and Blue-grey Tanagers and Pale-vented Pigeons. A walk down the entrance track added Yellow-breasted Flycatchers, White-fringed Antwren and several Spectacled Thrushes. I decided to return to Bon Accord Water Treatment Works which has been good in the past but is now simply a grassy area with no standing water. Overhead we witnessed Osprey, Barn, Cliff and Southern Rough-winged Swallows, Sand Martin and a single Grey-rumped Swift. In the grasses feeding Great Egret and Great Blue and Green Herons. A short diversion to a coastal swamp added Barred Antshrike and Red-eyed Vireo before we had to abandon birding due to high insect activity. It was time to revisit Adventure Farm where bird numbers were similar to yesterday afternoon with the addition of Ruby-topaz Hummingbirds and a Rufous-tailed Jacamar hunting insects from a fence line. Returned to the hotel for lunch followed by an excursion into the River Cuffie area. Poor weather hampered birding somewhat although the entrance road held flocks of Orange-winged Parrots. At the lodge we quickly located White-tailed Sabrewings a rather rare hummingbird which Tobago shares with a small area of Venezuela. The only other addition to the list was a Yellow-bellied Elaenia catching insects in a large tree. The weather had started to close in as we headed back to base.

November 24th: Tobago including Gilpin Trace and Little Tobago Island
Species total: 145
Weather: Cloudy with frequent showers 27c

We left at 6am this morning in order to be at Gilpin Trace by 0730 hours. Just outside Plymouth a Yellow-headed Caracara was disturbed from the road and a Crested Oropendola flew above us. The journey to the main ridge was taken in heavy rain making the road very slippery in places. Arrived ahead of time and waited for our local guide to appear. Overhead several pairs of Orange-winged Parrots were observed. Travelled down the road and stopped to look down into some forest patches. A pair of Red-crowned Woodpeckers showed well in a rotten tree riddled with holes. Returned to the Gilpin Trace and embarked on a walk through this pristine forest. Birding was quiet to start with although a White-necked Thrush showed well high in the canopy. We walked as far as the waterfall without too much luck. On the return we located a fine Yellow-legged Thrush, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, White-tailed Sabrewing and brief views of Stripe-breasted Spinetail. A short diversion to another area of forest added a male Blue-backed Manikin sitting motionless in a leafless shrub. It was time to head towards the coast and onto the departure point for Little Tobago Island. On the beach, feeding Ruddy Turnstone and Brown Pelicans. The boat trip over to the island was largely uneventful. On landing we walked slowly up the islands paths and stopped near the top to admire hundreds of Red-billed Tropicbirds, Red-footed and Brown Boobies and Magnificent Frigatebirds. Everything stopped as a large female Peregrine Falcon cruised along the cliff face. On the return parties of Short-tailed Swifts had disappeared from the ascent, single Spectacled Thrush added for the day. Back on the mainland we travelled towards Scarborough the capital adding Yellow-crowned Night Heron and Southern Lapwing.

November 25/26th: Tobago, Trinidad, Barbados, London

Weather: Unsettled with rain showers

Today was basically a travel day starting with the short flight to Trinidad and onwards to Barbados. The connections, immigration and flights went smoothly and arrived on time at Gatwick Ariport.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at enquiries@birdwatchingbreaks.com.


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