by Dean Sandee
A total solar eclipse is a rare event, occurring less often than once in a lifetime on any place on earth. There was one in March 1997 in Mongolia, which occasioned much protest from travelers subjected to long Aeroflot flights and subzero temperatures. So the next one was scheduled for a tropical island paradise. (The next one is in Europe in the middle of the tourist season. After that we're back to accessibility issues like Angola.) Aruba is a small and relatively dry and barren island, nowadays deriving most of its income from the tourists. There is no agriculture and no fishery, so everything is imported. Even the water comes out of a desalinization plant. The tourist activity is nothing like Miami or Acapulco. They could easily handle a multiple of what they do now but I'm glad they don't. They didn't seem to be bothered by the influx of eclipse watchers, although we were screwed by Budget which had overbooked its cars.
The weather is monotonously between 24 and 32 degrees (75 to 90, for the Peculiar Unit People) and there is a constant fifteen-knot trade wind from the east. The humid sea air brings clouds but rain is rare ; in summer the weather systems from South America have a better chance of bringing showers, but late February is near the end of the dry season.
The sewage treatment for a group of hotels has created some inland lakes at a place called Bubali, with an observation tower to look at the birds, with some species now regular that formerly occurred as vagrants only. This is the only really birdy location. Elsewhere, apart from flyby pigeons and the sounds of parakeet, mockingbird, and bananaquit, any bird is a major event worth experiencing.
The west and south, or leeward, coasts have sandy beaches and reef islands with fishing pelicans and terns. (The windward coast is rocky and inhospit- able.) A sea arm reaches into the southern coast at a place called Spanish Lagoon, with mangroves. Here and at places on the low west coast there are supposed to be mud flats, but at the end of the dry season everything was bone-dry and not a bird was to be seen.
A large section in the eastern part has been declared the Arikok National Park, but that doesn't mean much as nobody was using this for anything anyway, so all they did was put up signs. However, it is a bit hilly here and the vegetation is a bit more varied, shrubs as well as cactus. Even then, more than one bird at a time is rare.
All islands have a short bird list because of too much competition, but Aruba has even fewer birds because of the lack of habitat. Only 180 or so species have been recorded on the island, and many of those only as vagrants (more vagrants would be listed if there were more people looking.)
The requisite field guide is K.H.Voous, Birds of the Netherlands Antilles, printed in 1983 and long out of print. I am indebted to Terry Witt for providing me with a copy.
The list below is the result of four days of not very dedicated or effective birding. In four days you can cover everything.
Of this list, 16 (marked) are local specialties that can also be found elsewhere in the Caribbean or South America (there are no endemic species.) Of these 16, White-cheeked Pintail and Bananaquit are occasional vagrants in Florida.
The other 40 species are regular North American birds, although half a dozen, from Caracara to Groove-billed Ani, are very local in the U.S. About half of these 40, mostly waterbirds, are resident, while the other half, mostly shorebirds, are visitors. There are some tern species that turn up to breed in summer, and migration time should be much better both for shorebirds and for passerines. Otherwise this is an accurate view of bird species on Aruba.
ANNOTATED LIST OF BIRDS:
|Brown Pelican||common along S and W coast|
|Neotropic Cormorant||Bubali and along S and W coast|
|Magnificent Frigatebird||common along S and W coast|
|Great Blue Heron||Bubali and occasionally elsewhere|
|Little Blue Heron||one at Bubali|
|Reddish Egret||one on S coast|
|Green Heron||[note #1] one in mangroves at Spanish Lagoon|
|American Wigeon||one at Bubali|
|Osprey||fairly common along coasts|
|Crested Caracara||fairly common in open space|
|American Kestrel||fairly common|
|Peregrine Falcon||fairly common|
|*Crested Bobwhite||once crossing road in interior|
|Black-bellied Plover||twice along coasts|
|Semipalmated Plover||once on W coast|
|American Oystercatcher||one on S coast|
|Greater Yellowlegs||one at Bubali|
|Spotted Sandpiper||one on S coast|
|Whimbrel||once on W coast|
|Ruddy Turnstone||several times on S and W coast|
|Sanderling||twice on W and S coast|
|Least Sandpiper||once on S coast|
|Royal Tern||common on S and W coast|
|*Bare-eyed Pigeon||fairly common|
|White-tipped Dove||occasional under trees|
|*Brown-throated Parakeet||[note #2] common|
|Groove-billed Ani||once at Bubali|
|*Ruby-topaz Hummingbird||one female in interior|
|*Blue-tailed Emerald||[note #3] one female at Arikok|
|*Northern Scrub-Flycatcher||[note #4] one at Arikok|
|Gray Kingbird||one on mangrove island S coast|
|Yellow (Mangrove) Warbler||common, mangroves and elsewhere|
|Northern Waterthrush||one at Bubali|
|*Bananaquit||common, more often heard than seen|
|*Black-faced Grassquit||occasional in shrubs|
|*Rufous-collared Sparrow||twice at Arikok|
|*Carib Grackle||fairly common in trees near coast|
|*Yellow Oriole||one at Arikok|
 Whatever split or lump, the birds of Aruba belong to the northern, or virescens, group of subspecies. Birds on the mainland are "striatus."
 A.k.a. Caribbean Parakeet.
 A.k.a. Common Emerald (Chlorostilbon mellisugus.)
 According to Clements, Scrub Flycatcher, a.k.a. Smooth Flycatcher (Sublegatus modestus) has been split. This is Sublegatus arenarum.