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Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, US Virgin Islands, St. Maarten
22 - 29 March 2009
by Russ Namitz
wife and I were invited to a Caribbean cruise to celebrate my step
mother-in-law’s 60 birthday. I was able to bird for a few hours
at each port. Not optimal, but with some research and planning, I
was able to see 17 life birds.
Lauderdale, Florida --
March 22: embarkation @ 5PM
Family obligations prevented me from padding my Florida list with any
Cays (Eleuthera Island), Bahamas -- March 23, 9AM to 4PM
Birdlist = 35 species
Princess Cruises owns a small barrier island (really a large beach) at
the extreme SW corner of Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas.
Sometimes called a “bridge” in previous trip reports, the island is
connected to the mainland by a diked gravel road. From Google Maps one can see a zigzag
of roads leading north and south. I chose the roads to the south
and eventually made it to the southern tip of the island where
gorgeous, isolated beaches were overlooked by a lighthouse (Lighthouse
Right along the diked road, I saw my first lifer, a BLACK-FACED
GRASSQUIT. Soon after, the singing of a BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD lead
me to a teed-up bird and then I flushed a ZENAIDA DOVE from the side of
the road. Heading south, I heard and saw numerous THICK-BILLED
VIREOS. A little more secretive, but still relatively common were
GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCHES. While pishing for Neotropical
migrants, I saw a male BAHAMA WOODSTAR. Further south, I saw 2
I soon came to a pond that had WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAILS. Around
this pond (west of the road) there were 2 different pairs of LA SAGRA’S
FLYCATCHERS. I heard a WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON calling in the
distance. At the southern tip of the island at Lighthouse Beach I
saw a few species of shorebirds, including 1 PIPING PLOVER. No
Bahama Swallows, only 2 Barn Swallows. There were also some
shorebirds & ducks in the southern most ponds. I found 2
STILT SANDPIPERS amongst the plentiful Lesser Yellowlegs. It was
probably about a 4 mile round-trip walk. Although I tried using
playback, I didn’t hear any type of cuckoo or yellowthroat.
At Sea -- March 24
Birding was pretty sparse and I only searched for about 2 hours in the
morning. I set up my spotting scope on the promenade deck (lowest
possible) and found a spot out of the wind with the sun behind
me. I had distant looks at a WHITE-TAILED
TROPICBIRD, a few BRIDLED TERNS, 1 BROWN NODDY, 1 BLACK-CAPPED PETREL
and many AUDUBON’S SHEARWATERS. A dark morph PARASITIC JAEGER
chased a Bridled Tern to get its fish.
Sint Maarten/St. Martin,
Netherlands Antilles -- March 25: 10AM –
Birdlist = 42 species
I rented a car from a local agency at the dock. Beware of
non-functioning door locks and improperly fastened car batteries.
From a recommendation by Adam Brown who runs the Environmental
Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC), I birded Pic Paradis (Paradise
Peak) on the French side of the island, and then the ponds on the Dutch
side. At the base of Paradise Peak is Loterie Farm which one can
pay to walk on or sample the multiple zip lines. I opted to
quickly bird the grounds and then drive up to the peak.
The parking area at the end of the road is a place of car break-ins, so
I mostly birded within sight of my rental. Near the top of the
ridge, there are a few private residents that have flowering
landscapes. It was here that I watched feeding GRAY FLYCATCHERS,
ANTILLEAN CRESTED HUMMINGBIRDS and LESSER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCHES.
BANANAQUITS were also numerous. I saw more Black-faced Grassquits
and a Black-whiskered Vireo.
I dropped my wife off at Orient Beach to meet her family and then
birded the residential area back to the highway, adding more Zenaida
Doves, a nesting GREEN-THROATED CARIB & CARIBBEAN ELAENIA. At
a pond near Grand Case, I saw an adult BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON which
is supposed to be rare on the island. Another “rare” bird there
was a fly-by WHITE-WINGED DOVE. There were CARIB GRACKLES flying
around north Marigot.
On the Dutch side, I birded Fresh Pond and the Great Salt Pond.
Here I added many wading birds and shorebirds. CARIBBEAN COOTS
were seen in small numbers on Fresh Pond and a pair of BLUE-WINGED TEAL
were on Great Salt Pond. MASKED & BROWN BOOBIES followed the
ship as we left port.
St. Thomas/St. John, U.S. Virgin
Islands -- March 26: 7AM – 4PM
Birdlist = 28 species
This was a day of logistics, but I had high hopes for the birding
possibilities. We docked at St. Thomas and I immediately got a
taxi to the ferry dock at Red Hook and ferried over to St. John.
The island of St. John is mostly a national park and has intact rain
forest. In the park across from the ferry dock there were feeding
PEARLY-EYED THRASHERS & SCALY-NAPED PIGEONS, as well as
White-winged & Zenaida Doves.
I took a taxi to Cinnamon Bay, a known area to see Bridled Quail-Dove
along the hiking paths. Alas, I spent 3 hours searching in
vain. I walked the short loop trail around the
ruins as well as the longer path that connects Route 10 to Route
20. I ran into a few Neotropical migrants and 2 mongooses.
I took a taxi to Mary’s Pond, but was disappointed to only see
Black-necked Stilts, a Yellow Warbler and donkeys. I walked/ran
back to Cinnamon Bay in order to get a taxi back to the ferry dock in
time. I arrived ½ hr early, so walked down to Frank’s Pond
(south of ferry terminal), but saw nothing new.
Grand Turk -- March
27: 1PM – 7PM
Birdlist = 23 species
I searched for pelagic species in the morning while cruising
north. I saw more of the same pelagic species already
mentioned. Of note, were 400+ Bridled Terns flying north in
small, loose flocks. A POMARINE JAEGER fly by as well as a flock
of 11 ROSEATE TERNS. At port, most of the time was spent
snorkeling. I was able to walk from the SW ship dock north to the
airport and east into the scrub to see a few common species. I
added Northern Mockingbird, Killdeer & Mourning Dove to my West
At Sea -- March
This morning I saw another Pomarine Jaeger and the usual pelagic
species. I had close looks at single sightings of Black-capped
Petrel & White-tailed Tropicbird. The rarest sighting was
probably 2 RED PHALAROPES. I have a bit of experience leading
pelagic trips on the west of coast of Oregon and feel confident in this
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
-- March 29: disembarkation @ 7AM
I ended up seeing 83 species on a 7 day cruise. Even with the
hordes of people, I was able to find solitude and good birding off the
beaten path on each the island. The average temperature was in
the high 70s/low 80s. It rained briefly the first day on
Eleuthera. Rough seas took its toll on sleeping the first 2
nights with gale force winds and smashing waves that vibrated the room.