My wife and I recently returned from a relaxing ten-day cruise in the Caribbean (November 6-16, 2017). We visited seven islands, most of which had been spared from the wrath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Most of the land excursions were centered on general sight-seeing or visiting historical sites. We had to do our birding on a catch-as-catch-can basis while enjoying other aspects of the islands.
Caribbean birding is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the species diversity of the islands is generally much lower than the diversity of continents. On the other, many of the birds are endemic to the Caribbean. Some of these birds are island endemics, restricted to a single island.
During the winter, island bird diversity increases due to the arrival of wintering North American migratory birds.
We boarded our ship in San Juan, Puerto Rico. This island is still suffering mightily from Hurricane Maria. A planned trip to the El Yunque Rainforest was out of the question.
A walking tour through the historic part of San Juan did yield some birds. Greater Antillean Grackles, playing a similar role to our Common Grackles, were abundant. We saw several Gray Kingbirds, the first of many sightings of this common Caribbean species. Introduced Monk Parakeets were conspicuous, loudly announcing their presence. A couple of Pearl-eyed Thrashers posed obligingly. Several Spotted Sandpipers flew in their stiff-winged style along the shore.
We set sail for St. Kitts, arriving around noon. We were able to do some open ocean birding en route. Brown Boobies and Magnificent Frigatebirds were abundant.
We picked out a Masked Booby and a couple of
Red-footed Boobies from the many birds following the ship.
A ride on an open-air train gave us a good feel for the island but few birds. Highlights were Zenaida Doves, Scaly-naped Pigeon, Carib Grackles and the ubiquitous Gray Kingbirds.
The following day, a visit to the gardens at Romney Manor turned up an old friend, an American Redstart. Bananaquits were common. Caribbean endemics were a Brown Trembler (a thrasher), Green-throated Carib (a hummer), Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Lesser Antillean Flycatcher and Lesser Antillean Bullfinch.
An excursion that afternoon to Fairview Great House yielded a White-winged Dove (unusual for St. Kitts) and a pair of American Kestrels.
On to St. Lucia. The highlight there was a two-mile tram ride through the rain forest canopy. Birds were few and far between other than Purple-throated Caribs, Antillean Crested Hummingbirds
and a soaring Broad-winged Hawk. At the end of the tram, we went on a short hike and turned up a pair of delightful St. Lucia Warblers, an island endemic. A thrilling sighting! We also found Black-faced Grassquits and Lesser Antillean Bullfinches.
Our next stop was Barbados. Our target there was another island endemic, the Barbados Bullfinch. Several were feeding on the property of the historic St. James Parish Church, a stop on our driving tour.
Other birds seen on our route were Cattle Egrets, Snowy Egrets and tons of Carib
The following day took us to Guadeloupe. Most of our land
excursion involved visiting open-air markets in crowded villages so birding was limited. We did visit a peninsula with several offshore pinnacles. I was able to pick out three White-tailed Tropicbirds just offshore. Royal Terns, Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigatebirds were part of the show as well.
Antigua was next on the itinerary. From the dock, dozens of Great Egrets could be seen at a roost in the mangroves. Walking in the town of St. John’s yielded Common Ground-Doves and tons of Carib Grackles. Common Moorhens
and a Green Heron were at the Nevis Street Wetland.
We briefly visited Frederikstet, St. Croix for our last island stop. St. Croix was hard-hit by hurricanes so our land excursion was only a walk through the town. We did find two Ospreys, an immature Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and a “calico” Little Blue Heron.