Lesser Antilles____________________________________________________

 

 

Lesser Antilles 2014

...with Mark Finn

January 7th-20th

This was the second tour to the Lesser Antilles operated by Birdwatching Breaks with the addition of St Vincent and an optional few days in Trinidad. The group managed to see all the available endemics on the islands including rare species: Imperial Parrot and Whistling Warbler. There is no doubt we were greatly assisted by some exceptional local guides on the islands including Jarmaine on Montserrat, Birdy on Dominica, Adams on St Lucia, Peewee on St Vincent and Kenny on Trinidad. In total we managed to record just under 250 species including many regional endemics to the Caribbean area.

Our next Lesser Antilles tour is planned for late 2015.

January 7th: Gatwick, Antigua, Dickenson Bay

Weather: Warm and sunny with light onshore breezes

He group assembled at Gatwick North terminal for the British Airways flight to Antigua in the northern Antilles. The flight arrived almost half an hour ahead of schedule. Passport and immigration was passed quickly and then onto Dickenson Bay our base for the next three nights. Carib Grackles were around the airport buildings with Great Egret and Grey Kingbird seen along the route. Checked in and arranged to meet up at 1700 hours for a short exploration of the gardens. The more mature trees held White-crowned Pigeon and the widespread Zenaida Dove. Any trees which was flowering attracted Bananaquit, Lesser Antillean Bullfinch and a single Scaly-breasted Thrasher. As the sun went down a look at the ocean provided us with view of Brown Pelican and unidentified boobies.

January 8th: Montserrat including Forgarthy Hill, Blackwood Allen, Pipers Pond, The Lookout

Weather: Hot and sunny with scattered rain showers 31 C

An earlier start today as our taxi driver George picked us up at 0530 for the airport transfer. The short flight to Montserrat was around twenty minutes and on arrival we noted Barn Swallows feeding over the short-cut grasses by the runway. Passed through the usual formalities and were met by Jarmaine our guide for the day. Our first destination was Forgarthy Hill an area of mature forest at high elevation (most of Montserrat’s forest is high in altitude and moist in nature). Our walk started by the water tanks and within a few metres we had very good views of the endemic Montserrat Oriole feeding ‘nuthatch style’ on a rotten tree (8 birds were seen in total). Continuing on the trail brief views of the shy and reclusive Forest Thrush, Brown Trembler and a fantastic Mangrove Cuckoo located by Ainslie. An American Kestrel gave good views on our return perched on a fence post. On the way to Blackwood Allen a stop at a flowering tree allowed us to study Antillean Crested Hummingbird and the beautiful Green-throated Carib feeding with abundant Bananaquits. The walk along Blackwood Allen added Pearly-eyed Thrasher and species which were observed earlier in the morning. It was time for lunch and on this day we decided on Chicken Jerky a dish originating from Jamaica – great flavour and appreciated by all. Pipers Pond is nearby and a short walk added Great and Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Heron, Green-backed Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Spotted Sandpiper, Common Gallinule (recently split from Common Moorhen) and a party of Black-faced Grassquits. A visit to the new harbour complex added Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelican. We ended the day by visiting The Lookout and the road towards the Old Airport. Red-billed Tropicbirds were observed offshore and a party of Smooth-billed Ani’s in roadside scrub. Time was running out as we returned to the airport and the short flight to Antigua.

January 9th: Barbuda including Two Foot Bay

Weather: Sunny and hot with northeast winds 31 C

This morning we made the short journey to St John’s Harbour the departure point for Barbuda. The common birds of
Antigua were noted along the way. In the harbour we added Royal Tern and in harbour side streets House Sparrow a
recent colonist to Antigua. The ferry crossing to Barbuda a rather flat island covered in impenetrable scrub went smoothly despite choppy seas midway. On docking Kingsley was available to guide us around this fascinating place of 1600 people with the population still in decline. Our first stop was before the main settlement of Codrington. A short walk into the scrub and grassland resulted in us finding the attractive endemic Barbuda Warbler plus Yellow Warbler, Caribbean Elaneia, American Kestrel, Common Gallinule and a Spotted Sandpiper. I made the decision to visit Two Foot Bay which resulted in sightings of a Bridled Quail-dove walking along the road edge, Common Ground Dove and a prospecting Red-billed Tropicbird. At the end of the road we visited a pond where we found the attractive White-cheeked Pintail and wintering Blue-winged Teal. Returned to Codrington and visited a restaurant near the beach for an enjoyable late lunch of lobster. At 1530 we were at the dock where we watched fishing Brown Pelican, Royal Tern and Osprey of the local race. The journey back to Antigua was largely uneventful apart from Red-footed Booby and Lesser Black-backed Gulls near the harbour entrance.

January 10th: Antigua including Mackinnon’s Pool and Valley Church

Weather: Mixed with occasional heavy rain showers 28 C

Last birding day on Antigua before boarding the flight to Dominica. Our main interest today was Mackinnon’s Pool which has recently received protected status. The pool is in effect a shallow lagoon with islands and mangrove stands. The group starting by scanning the open water recording Pied-billed Grebes, White-cheeked Pintail (over 100 birds), Blue-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck and larger than normal numbers of American Coots. On the islands and mangroves careful searching revealed the presence of Great Blue and Tricoloured Herons, Brown Pelican, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Black-necked Stilt, Lesser Yellowlegs and a fly-by Belted Kingfisher. At the far end of the lagoon near the docks the mud attracted Grey Plover, Ruddy Turnstone and an Osprey perched in a dead tree. We passed through St John’s and onto Valley Church another lagoon bordered by mangroves. Similar birds to our last stop plus White-crowned Pigeons and Royal Terns fishing offshore. It was soon time to travel towards the airport for the flight to Dominica. The airport was busy and our flight left on time. On arrival in Dominica transferred to Portsmouth our base for three nights.

January 11th: Dominica including Solitude

Weather: Overcast with rain showers 22 C

I had arranged to meet up with my old friend Birdy for a day’s birding on Dominica. After breakfast we were heading
up to the Solitude Nature Reserve a habitat of dense forest, ravines and primitive agriculture which is mainly oranges
and vegetables. The first stop in the orange orchards provided us with several endemic Red-necked Parrots, Purple-throated Carib, Blue-headed and Lesser Antillean Hummingbirds, Dominica House Wren and Caribbean Elaenia. Further up the road a Rufous-throated Solitaire showed well along with Plumbeous Warblers and low-flying Lesser Antillean Swifts. The dead tree tops attracted a wintering Merlin and several Broad-winged Hawks. A walk to the viewing point produced Brown Trembler, calling Forest Thrush and brief views of Ruddy Quail Dove. Back to the hotel at Portsmouth for lunch and then a return visit to Solitude. At lower elevations we stopped for the attractive Antillean Euphonia and the shy Lesser Antillean Saltator. Near the viewing areas we watched a Lesser Antillean Flycatchers. Time was spent scanning the valley and we were eventually rewarded with great views of Imperial Parrot feeding in a leafy tree.

January 12th: Dominica including Layou Valley and Estuary and Solitude

Weather: Hot and sunny with showers at high levels 32 C

Today we had a drive around the north coast and then down the Layou Valley an important area for birds. On the bridge over the Layou River we located a pair of Ringed Kingfishers and two wintering Belted Kingfishers. Lunch was taken at the Tamarind Tree Hotel where the gardens attracted Scaly-breasted and Pearly-eyed Thrashers, Tropical Mockingbird and the commoner birds. At the Layou Estuary birdlife was surprisingly quiet as we found the regular herons and egrets, Blue-winged Teal, Royal Tern and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull. In the afternoon a return visit to Solitude was made. A short walk along the trail towards the viewpoint added a wintering Ovenbird, Forest Thrush and Plumbeous Warbler. Back to base after another great day’s birding on Dominica.

January 13th: Dominica, Antigua, St Lucia.

Today was a travel day south with a short stop in Antigua. At St Lucia we transferred to the hotel for two nights with an afternoon of leisure.

January 14th: St Lucia including Praslin, Des Cartiers, Vieux Fort

Weather: Rather mixed with rain showers and sunny periods 28 C

We left the hotel at 0530 and made the journey to Praslin the first birding stop. An area of scrub on the east coast was our main centre of interest. The common birds of St Lucia and the Lesser Antilles were quickly found plus the endangered St Lucia Oriole and the decidedly scarce St Lucia Black Finch. A walk up an old road surrounded by scrub added Caribbean Elaenia, Lesser Antillean Saltator and eventually close views of the shy and uncommon White-breasted Thrasher. On our return, St Lucia Warbler, Green-throated and Purple-throated Caribs were observed. The weather started to close in as we approached Des Cartier an area of rain forest. Breakfast was taken followed by a walk through the forest to an observation point. The rain made birding difficult although we had close encounters with the endemic St Lucia Parrot, Scaly-breasted and Pearly-eyed Thrashers and a Grey Trembler sheltering from the rain. We spent time at the observation point studying the island endemics. Next on the agenda was the town and adjacent area known at Vieux Fort where we stopped for lunch in a local restaurant. The town centre had Eared Doves and Shiny Cowbirds and the nearby cliffs prospecting Red-billed Tropicbirds. A patch of scrub had at least sixty Grassland Yellow Finches. Near the airport a muddy ditch held Wilsons Snipe and on the beach a flock of Grey Plovers. The last stop of the day was a shallow lagoon attracting Osprey, Common Gallinule, Caribbean Coot, Pied-billed Grebe, various herons and egrets and a wintering Belted Kingfisher sitting on a rock. Back towards Castries our base on the island.

January 15th: St Lucia including Union Station, Marquis Estate, Grande Anse, Barbados, St Vincent

Weather: Warm and sunny with northeast winds 27 C

First stop today was Union Station an agricultural unit of St Vincent. Black-crowned Night Herons were easily seen here perched on various posts and poles. We travelled north to the Marquis Estate, a large estate which is now divided into smallholdings. By the roadside we found the range-restricted St Lucia House Wren, St Lucia Peewee, Caribbean Elaenia and a Mangrove Cuckoo. A walk through the mature trees added several St Lucia Warblers, Lesser Antillean Flycatcher, Black Whiskered Vireo and the shy and retiring Bare-eyed Thrush. All three thrashers were also seen and Scaly-necked Pigeons flying over the canopy. We ended the morning by driving down to Grand Anse which is a proposed national park. The mix of habitats was good for birds including St Lucia Oriole, St Lucia Black Finch, Tropical Mockingbird and a wintering Louisiana Waterthrush. It was time to head towards the airport for the flight to St Vincent via Barbados. At the airport in Barbados we recorded the recently split Barbados Bullfinch.

January 16th: St Vincent including Vermont, Kingstown, Montreal

Weather: Overcast in the morning then sunny periods 29 C

Vermont a short distance from Kingstown the capital of St Vincent was the starting point today. The habitat of mature trees and primitive agriculture is attractive to birds. From the car park we walked along the trail to an overlook. This was productive for the endemic St Vincent Parrot, Short-tailed Swift and at least two Common Black Hawks circling for prey. Next was the museum near the botanical gardens where a fruiting tree attracted dozens of Bare-eyed Thrushes, Scaly-breasted Thrasher, Black-whiskered Vireo and the commoner birds. Along the fence line we added a Grenada Flycatcher an uncommon regional endemic. In the afternoon we visited another area of the forest at Montreal. The long walk along an upward trail was tough work at times. Eventually we heard the beautiful song of the endemic Whistling Warbler despite a lot of searching we could not find this beautiful endemic species.

January 17th: St Vincent, Trinidad, Tobago including the Grafton Estate and Adventure Farm at Arnos Vale

Weather: Rain in Trinidad warm and sunny in Tobago 29 C

We left St Vincent for the flight to Trinidad and onto the sister island of Tobago. In Trinidad we were transferred to an earlier flight. On arrival in Tobago I picked up our 4x4 and checked in at the hotel close to the airport. Our first birding stop on the island was to be the grounds and entrance track of the Grafton Estate which has seen better days and not the reserve it used to be a few years ago. On arrival we quickly found several Rufous-vented Chacalacas walking around the parking lot. I decided to walk down the track which proved to be good for birds. Careful searching of the bushes and trees added Tobago House Wren, Scrub Greenlet, White-fringed Antwren, Yellow-breasted and Brown Crested Flycatchers, Yellow-bellied Elaenia and a pair of Blue-grey Tanagers. Time was advancing as we arrived at the Adventure Farm near Arnos Vale. Despite the name it has lots of hummingbird feeders and feeding stations which allow a close approach and study of Tobago’s bird life. Within an hour we had excellent sightings of; Copper-rumped and Ruby-topaz Hummingbirds, White-necked Jacobin, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Black-throated Mango, White-lined and Palm Tanagers, Barred Antshrike, Bare-eyed Thrush, White-tipped Dove, Ruddy Ground Dove, Pale-vented Pigeon and at least two endemic Trinidad Motmots.

January 18th: Tobago including Little Tobago Island and Tobago Plantations

Weather: Rather mixed with sunshine and showers 29 C

Today we travelled to the other end of the island to visit Little Tobago Island. Along the route the familiar birds of the island were present. The boat left at 1030 and arrived fifteen minutes later at the jetty. Our first bird was an Audubon’s Shearwater which was sitting it its burrow great to see at close range. The trees on the island held Scaly-naped Pigeon a recent colonist from Grenada, Pale-vented Pigeon, White-tipped and Eared Doves, Bare-eyed Thrush and the local race of Red-eyed Vireo. Up at the viewpoint we were treated to close views of Red-billed and White-tailed Tropicbirds, Red-footed and Brown Boobies, Grey-rumped Swifts and a single Crested Oropendola. Lunch was taken in Speyside followed by stops at various lookouts on the way south to Scarborough. New birds came along in the form of Orange-winged Parrot, Tropical Kingbird and a male Blue-black Grassquit. Our final birding stop was at Tobago Plantations a luxury resort with ponds and trees. On the ponds we watched Least Grebes, Anhinga, Common and American Purple Gallinules, Neotropical Cormorant and a wide variety of herons and egrets. Near the main building a large Peregrine Falcon put on a superb stoop for us to admire.

January 19th: Tobago including Gilpin Trace, Bon Accord, Grafton Estate

Weather: Warm and sunny with light northeast breezes 28 C

After breakfast we joined the coast road leading north and into the Main Peak an area of rainforest at high elevation on Tobago. The entrance to the Gilpin Trace is well marked and we started a leisurely walk down towards the bamboo and waterfall area. As with all forests birds can be quite at times but this morning proved to be exceptional. Within the first hundred metres a male White-tailed Sabrewing one of the world’s scarcest hummingbirds was perched in front of us and gave excellent views. A short distance away the shy White-necked Thrush showed in a leafy tree and across the stream a female Yellow-legged Thrush perched on a vine. Luck was with us when Hilary located a Collared Trogon sitting quietly on a horizontal branch. At the bamboo section a Rufous-tailed Jacamar was catching insects. It was time to turn around and head back when I noticed a White-throated Spadebill feeding quietly by the trail – great views of this skulking and elusive species. Ainslie then found two male Blue-backed Manakins calling and displaying on an exposed branch. The birding got even better when a male Yellow-legged Thrush showed briefly and a Cocoa Woodcreeper was observed going up a tree. On the return journey we found Orange-winged Parrots and a Venezuelan Flycatcher. In the afternoon a short visit to Bon Accord where a pair of Yellow-headed Caracara perched and called from a tall tree. We ended the day at the Graton Estate where similar birds to yesterday were present with the addition of Red-crowned Woodpecker. At Turtle Beach the boats offshore attracted Brown Pelican, Laughing Gull, Royal, Sandwich and Least Terns, Great Blue and Little Blue Herons, Grey-rumped Swifts and a fly-by Hudsonian Whimbrel.

January 20th: Tobago including Tobago Plantations, Trinidad including St Benedict’s and Caroni Swamp

Weather: Warm and sunny with light breezes 27 C

Before we travelled to Tobago Airport we made a short foray to Tobago Plantations. In a dead tree we located three Green-rumped Parrotlets and on a nearby pond the first Wattled Jacanas of the tour. Checked in for the short flight to Trinidad where we were met and transferred to the Pax Guesthouse situated high above the town of Tunapuna. The skies above the guesthouse had Turkey and American Black Vultures, Zone-tailed and Short-tailed Hawks, Grey-breasted Martins and Grey-rumped Swifts. Within the gardens various feeders and birdbaths attracted Palm, Blue Grey and White-lined Tanagers, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, Blue-chinned Sapphire, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Violaceous Euphonia, Ruddy Ground Dove and several Great Kiskadees. A short walk up the road added Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Greyish Saltator and a Yellow Oriole. At 1500 hours we set off to visit the Caroni Swamp an internationally important wetland site in Trinidad. The traffic in Trinidad is now heavy compared to a few years ago and it took us a good while to reach our destination. By the guardhouse we found several Red-capped Cardinals a rare species of mangrove habitats. The boat trip was an enjoyable experience and started with sightings of the mangrove-loving Green-throated Mango. Further into the mangroves sightings of Red-rumped Woodpecker, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Bicoloured Conebill and Northern Waterthrush all of which are associated with this habitat. A bonus came when a Common Potoo was found sitting motionless like a stick on a mangrove tree. We ended the day by watching various herons and ibis coming into roost including the extraordinary sight of over 1000 Scarlet Ibis.

January 21st: Trinidad including Aripo, Manzanilla and Wallerfield

Weather: Hot and sunny 35 C

Before breakfast we had a look around the trees and gardens at the front of the guesthouse. The commoner birds were present including a pair of Greyish Saltator. At 0800 hours we set off to Aripo an area which is used for research into cattle and related agricultural activities. On arrival we passed the security gate and stopped in an area of grasses dotted with trees, bushes and fence posts. Careful scanning revealed several Savannah Hawks, Peregrine Falcon, Grey-breasted Martin, White-winged Swallow and Grassland Yellow Finches. Near the first set of cow sheds a muddy area attracted several Solitary Sandpipers, Pied Water Tyrant, White-headed Marsh Tyrant, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Red-breasted Blackbird and in the long grasses the head of a Pinnated Bittern a scarce breeding bird of Aripo. Further along the road an area of woodland was reached where we observed Piratic and Bran-coloured Flycatchers and Silver-beaked Tanagers. It was getting hot as we travelled towards the east coast and the town of Manzanilla. Picked up supplies for lunch and headed towards the beach area where the habitat is mainly tall palms. After consuming lunch we slowly drove along the coast road searching for birds of prey. This proved to be productive with sightings of Yellow-headed Caracara, Common Black Hawk, Grey Hawk and an American Kestrel. A stop at one of the bridges proved to be the best area as we found American Pygmy and Green Kingfishers, Black-crested Antshrike, Northern Scrub Flycatcher, Blue Dacnis and Turquoise Tanagers. After the bridge a Cocai Heron was noted a scarce but regular visitor to Trinidad. Time was getting on as we headed back towards the centre of Trinidad to visit the old airfield of Wallerfield. Despite the ravages of time and development it is still a great place for birding. The aptly named Moriche Way was our destination and with it some mixed habitats. We quickly located Yellow-breasted and Sulphury Flycatchers, Red-legged and Purple Honeycreepers, Streaked Xenops, Epaulet Oriole, Fork-tailed Palm Swift and flyover Red-bellied Macaws. We also heard Yellow-crowned Parrots and the haunting calls of Little Tinamou.

January 22nd: Trinidad including the Asa Wright Centre and Blanchisseuse Road

Weather: Warm and sunny 29 C

Kenny our guide picked us up at 0700 hours. The main birding area today was within the Northern Range including the world-famous Asa Wright Centre. The journey was slow due to traffic conditions and the winding road up into the Northern Range. At the centre we went towards the veranda area and then onto the trails leading into the forest. The group quickly located Tufted Coquette feeding on purple flowers and further down the trail the lekking grounds of White-bearded and Golden-headed Manakins both species being seen well. Along the trail we could hear the distinctive calls of Bearded Bellbirds and observed Common Potoo, White-necked Thrush and Rufous-browed Peppershrike. Next on the agenda was a visit to a cave where we had good views of the peculiar Oilbird the only nocturnal fruit-eating bird. Back to the veranda with views of the many feeders attracting the commoner hummingbirds, honeycreepers and tanagers with the addition of; Little Hermit, White-chested Emerald, Bay-headed Tanager and Blue-chinned Sapphires. In a dead tree a Lineated Woodpecker, Cocoa Thrush, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher and Forest Elaenia. Lunch was taken followed by a slow drive up the Blanchisseuse Road. This proved to be productive for Slaty-capped, Olive-sided and Olive-striped Flycatchers, Red-rumped Woodpecker, Speckled Tanager and Rufous-breasted Wren. In an open area a flock of Blue-headed Parrots, Channel-billed Toucans and best of all a pair of Green-backed Trogons perched in a roadside tree.

January 23rd: Arena Forest, Trinidad, St Lucia, London

Weather: Overcast with rain showers 28 C

Final species total: 247

Our last day in Trinidad started with a visit to Arena Forest and adjacent marshes and secondary forest. The first stop in a village was for Yellow-rumped Cacique nesting in a garden and calling Channel-billed Toucans in nearby trees. The weather was not good which kept the birds quiet until we visited a marshy area bordered with trees. This proved to be good for Golden Olive Woodpecker, Scaled Pigeon, Masked Yellowthroat, Striped Cuckoo and Golden-fronted Greenlets. On the edge of Arena Forest a stop for the uncommon Sooty Grassquit. After this we walked along the main track recording Grey-headed Kite, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Euler’s, Streaked and Boat-billed Flycatchers. At midday we returned to the guesthouse to repack and travel to the main airport for the journey home.

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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