28 March - 11 April 1997
by David Porter
Between 1968 and 1972 my wife and I lived in Nassau whilst working for the Bahamian Government as teachers. This was our first return to the islands since 1972 and with a number of friends to see our visit was not primarily a birding holiday. (unfortunately)
During our first week we stayed with friends on Grand Bahama and the second week was spent on New Providence. The amount of birding I could do was limited although I put some time in every day. I managed a dawn start most mornings, this was helped by the clocks moving forward by 1 hour on the middle weekend of our holiday, and usually a session in late afternoon. On average I spent about 5 hours a day birding.
Both weeks I had transport and this allowed me to visit a good number of sites. Your own transport on Grand Bahama is almost a necessity if you want to visit places like West End / Jack Tar. During the first week my host lent me a car and for the second week on New Providence I hired a vehicle. This was not cheap and with extra insurance cost me about £300. Public transport on New Providence is available and with a regular service from Nassau all parts of the island are accessible. Hitching didn’t seem to be a problem.
If you haven’t already booked accommodation I can strongly recommend the Orange Hill Beach Inn which is situated well to the west of the island close to the airport. As a base for birding it was excellent particularly as the western end of the island offers the best opportunity of avoiding the crowds and built-up areas. Orange Hill must be unique in this part of the world as it is totally informal and small enough to be both friendly and hospitable. During the day the bar is self-service and any drinks you have you record on the bar sheet. In the evenings the bar is manned by a very helpful barman who put me in touch with a number of people who were able to help with my birding enquiries. The small bar is never crowded but there is a great atmosphere and always somebody there for a chat. Evening meals were equally informal and with a 3 course meal and coffee for less than £10 good value when compared to the bigger hotels in the popular resort areas. Rooms at Orange Hill are large and all air conditioned, TV is included and with a swimming pool and a lovely beach just 100yds away we found this a perfect setting.
Generally speaking prices for tourists in hotels, bars, restaurants etc. are expensive but supermarket prices are much the same as at home and as Orange Hill offers some self catering rooms so you can exist here quite cheaply. Although we didn’t go self catering we had a fridge in the room and stocked it with beers, cold drinks and a variety of sandwich making ingredients (for lunch) and we also borrowed a coffee percolator from reception. Essentials were very cheap, bottle of gin £4.50, Bacardi £4.00, and Whisky £6.00!
As this was my first birding visit to this part of the world (Unfortunately I wasn’t a birder when I lived there) I made an extensive study of as much information as possible before the trip. I had 4 reports from Steve Whitehouse 3 covering the winter period, October - February and one the summer, June. (See reference section at the end of this introduction). In addition I made reference to a number of publications and was well prepared for what I hoped would be a large number of new birds.
Throughout our stay the weather was superb and its obvious why these islands are called ‘The Isles of Perpetual June’. The days were hot and sunny and nights comfortable. We did have a couple of overcast days, one in each week but these were still comfortably warm. Both weeks were influenced by cold fronts moving slowly south through Florida and then through the islands. Although it was never confirmed I imagine that these fronts slowed down the migration of birds moving back into North America as most of our stay we experienced winds from the north. Although midday temperatures were in the 80’s the birds continued to remain active and it didn’t appear that the high temperatures sent them into cover. It was quite noticeable, as I began birding at first light every morning, that the birds became more active an hour after dawn once the sun had risen, rather than at first light. The Northern Mockingbird seemed to be the only bird interested in a dawn chorus and acted as a suitable alarm clock.
Listed below are the reports and books I used as reference and a list of contacts you may find useful in the Islands.
Reference was made to:
Please feel free to get in touch if there is any way I can be of assistance
GRAND BAHAMA - SITE DETAILS
Bahamia Estate : An area of housing and bush located about 1km west of the International Bazaar off West Sunrise Highway. My hosts lived here and it was convenient for an early morning walk and the only reason I birded in this area.
West End Village I only stopped briefly in this area on my journey to Jack Tar. The coast road provided plenty of birding opportunities and a walk along the coast looked very promising. This end of the island is sparsely populated and the bush and mangrove on the approaches to West End must hold birds. Time did not permit a more extensive search.
Jack Tar : From West End village follow the road westerly until you eventually arrive at a large gate across the road. This marks the start of the area I have called Jack Tar although it may be referred to as the West End Marina and Hotel. Jack Tar was the name of the golf course which was part of the amenities. Essentially the area beyond the gate is a derelict holiday complex, the result of declining tourist numbers in the 80’s. I understand that there are plans to redevelop this area in the near future. The gate is manned by a security guard although we had no problems getting past him when we explained that we were interested in birding on the site. He referred us to the marina where the caretaker of the site has a house boat. As a member of the Bahamas N.T. she was quite happy to allow us permission to walk from the marina along the path to the site of the Jack Tar Golf Course.
The walk from the marina to the coast follows a path which initially passes a marsh and then is covered by casurina trees. To the right of the path are regular waterways which are branches from the main canal which runs parallel to the path. After about 1km the path forks at the canal turning area. Take the left fork and follow the path through an open area of small trees and bushes (the old fairway I think) this will eventually bring you out on the coast. At this point you can turn either left or right and follow a coastal path. A left turn will take you into the old golf course and if you have the time the area must be worth exploring. We turned to the right and walked along the beach. After a couple of hundred yards the beach becomes a rocky headland. From here the path heads back towards the canal and an area of tall pine trees. After passing the pines there is an obvious track which eventually rejoins the path back to the marina.
This is an excellent site with a variety of habitats. I would gladly have spent a full day here and if you have the chance plan this as a full day trip.
Bahamas Princess; Emerald Course This is one of two courses attached to the Bahamas Princess holiday complex and lies to the south of the West Sunrise Highway, in walking distance from the International Bazaar. I was lucky as my host’s garden had a gate which opened onto the area behind the 5th green and allowed easy access. I birded this area extensively recording 37 different species. I never obtained permission to walk the course but never had any problems and in the early morning sessions the greenkeepers just nodded and exchanged greetings. Access to the course is quite easy and to get to the area I birded you should approach from Santa Maria Avenue. I found the most productive area in the bushes and trees between the 4th and 7th fairways. A path runs through the middle of this barrier and can be walked without interfering with golfers.
Ben’s Cave / Gold Rock Beach The Lucayan National Park on the Grand Bahama Highway and about 20kms from the International Bazaar. Ben’s Cave is in an area of mixed scrub and pine and is, I found out too late, a good site for Bahamas Yellowthroat. From Ben’s Cave walk across the road and a marked trail and boardwalk takes you through a mangrove to Gold Rock Beach. The area of mixed scrub and pine between the beach and the mangrove was good for birds. Take your swimming gear and towel as this is a lovely quiet beach and worth a stop to cool off.
Rand Nature Centre Well worth a visit as the staff here are most helpful and can answer any queries you may have about birding on the island. Plenty of on-site information.
Garden of the Groves I was apprehensive about this site for birding but was pleasantly surprised. There were plenty of birds and possibly the artificial streams, waterfalls and lakes look quite natural to them. This was the only site on Grand Bahama were I saw Northern Waterthrush and Bahama Woodstar. Definitely worth a visit but get there early before the tourist buses arrive. The site opened at 08.00 (I think). At 9.40 we were the first visitors but by 10.00 the first bus had arrived. Plenty of on site information and a map is given when you pay the $5 entry fee.
NEW PROVIDENCE - SITE DETAILS
Paradise Island All the information I had studied suggested thet the golf course is the best birding venue and this was supported by the advice I had received from Lynne Gape at the Bahamas N.T. Access can be arranged for birding but it is necessary to ring the course and ask permission. Obviously they prefer you to visit early so as not to interfere with the golfers. At the time of wriring this report (May 1997) the contact is; Mr. Gary Slatter. I had just one visit to Paradise Island and found the area of Lakeside Drive quite productive. The two large ponds hold a good number of birds and the area of pine and bush surrounding them is well worth exploring.
Wilson’s Pond This is a large shallow pond at the junction of Fire Trail Road and Milo Butler Highway and is a good site for herons, egrets etc. Access to the shore is dificult and the vegetation around the pond makes viewing very difficult. However, local birders have cleared a path through the reeds and placed a platform of pallets on the edge of the mud. This allows good views of most of the pond although there are a number of islands an no doubt good numbers of birds behind them. The opposite side of the pond is part of a farmyard and it is possible to gain access by asking at the farm. On my visits I couldn’t find anybody to ask so made do with the platform.
There are large numbers of egrets and herons (evening roosts have topped 500 birds) and I would imagine during the winter months good numbers of waders. In addition to these there is a large roost of Laughing Gulls and in the farm yard hundreds of collared doves. This was also the best site for Red-winged Blackbird.
Access to the site is through a very impressive set of gates in a pink wall and although it makes the site look as though it is private there is no problem and you can park on the right against the reeds. Watch out for nesting Killdeer I almost ran over their nest of four eggs which was just a rough scrape in the crushed limestone surface of the parking area.
Harold’s Pond I only visited this site once and didn’t do it justice. Similar to the last site access to the shore is not easy and I found out too late how to get better views. There is a walkway across the middle of the pond which on my visit I wasn’t aware of. I’ve made a copy of the map I had which clearly shows the path and indicates the area where the path can be foud. You can park at Wilson’s Pond and walk the few hundred yards back to this site. FBRIS reports suggest that this, like the other lakes on the Island, is a much more productive site in the winter.
Coral Harbour Road The road which runs from Coral Harbour to the airport is an area of mangrove and pines and with the bush being reasonably low access is quite easy. About 300yds north of the Coral Harbour roundabout there is an area of shallow water and mangrove which can be seen through the pines to the west and again the site looked worth exploring. To do it justice you need either a pair of wellingtons or shoes that your not bothered about getting wet and muddy as the fringes of the lake are very sloppy. Once again I was short of time but could have gladly spent a few hours at this site. I visited the site at first light and as I approached the shore 7 Bahamas Swallows came off the island and passed low over my head. (I’d have waded waist deep for these!).
Closer to the airport the pines give way to mangrove and tracks to the east give access to the shores of Lake Killarney. Once again a pair of wellingtons would have been useful as it was difficult to get good views.
Botanical Gardens Situated very close to Nassau, just off West Bay Street, near the cricket ground at Fort Charlotte. A visit to the Botanical Gardens at $1 must be the best value tourist attraction on the Island and for the birder with a good selection of birds even better value. You can easily spend half a day here and even if the birds don’t oblige the selection of tropical plants is worth seeing. I had 3 species here that I didn’t see elsewhere, a cracking male Painted Bunting, a pair of Cuban Grassquits and two Whiskered Vireos. If you visit this site ask to see Eric Carey as he will be able to give you details of recent sightings and let you know of any field meetings arranged by the Conservation Unit. When I was here there was a weekly field meeting for visitors and locals on a Saturday morning. Unfortunately I missed this as it would have been a good opportunity to meet local birders.
Bahamas N.T., The Retreat This is a small site and the headquarters of the Bahamas Nationa Trust. It is situated on the east side of Village Road in Nassau. The gardens of The Retreat contain one of the largest collections of palms in the world and the gardens attract a large number and good variety of birds. Information about birds of the Islands and details of sites can be obtained by contacting Lynn Gape who has her office in the grounds. Worth a visit if only to see the plants and palms. This was the only site where I saw Yellow Warbler
South Westridge Development South Westridge Development is a large site on either side of John F Kennady Drive about 1 mile east of the airport. The site on the south side of the road is on the shores of Lake Killarney and until such time that building starts is not to be missed. There is a variety of habitat including open water, large areas of shallows, mangrove, pines and thick bush. The bulldozers have already cut roads into the thick bush and the result is that they have isolated large blocks of trees and undergrowth. From a birding point of view this is ideal as it allows access into the otherwise impeneterable bush. The area is very large and you could spend a full day here and not cover it all. Entry into the site is not a problem and you should look for the large pink entrance gate. From here a tarmac road runs through the middle of the site allowing access to the lake or the bush. There was no evidence of any development taking place although I imagine the site will not remain empty for long.
BAHAMAS VISIT - SIGHTINGS LIST
16 Marlborough Avenue,
Hessle HU13 OPN.
Tel: 01482 645597