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03 - 10 December 2000

by Allison and Jeff Wells

From 3 December thru 10 December 2000, we were on a birding trip to St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and the Grenadines. The trip was also marketed as a sailing adventure through The Moorings; our flotilla consisted of 11 yachts. Fifty-four people came along, representing primarily beginning birders with varying degrees of birding interest (for some, sailing was the primary draw). Because of the sailing component, birding time on the islands was somewhat limited. Nonetheless, we saw a total of 58 species including some rare endemics. The sailing component afforded excellent views of some seabird species. Our skipper (a native of St. Lucia) kept us close to the shore, because the wind is better there according to the crew leader (a lifelong Bequian who comes from a long line of sailers). This made our trip very scenic.

We went down a few days early. During this time we stayed on the boat that would be our home for the next 10 days, Rainbow Lady (for you sailing buffs, a 50- foot Beneteau yacht, 505 model – you can view it at The Moorings’ web site, if you’re curious.)

1 December 2000: Marigot Bay, (Moorings Base) St. Lucia

Antillean Crested Hummingbird (1)
Gray Kingbird (1)
Bananaquit (2)
Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (2+)
Carib Grackle (10+/-)

Comments: Our first bullfinch of the trip (and a lifer for both of us) was in The Moorings provisioning center, where it was enjoying crumbs in the bread bins. It was a beautiful male that had become quite comfortable around humans.

1 December 2000: Union Nature Trail, St. Lucia (4pm – 5pm)

Zenaida Dove (1)
Mangrove Cuckoo (1-2)
Purple-throated Carib (4)
Caribbean Eleania (1)
St. Lucia Pewee (4)
Gray Kingbird (1)
Black-whiskered Vireo (1)
Bare-eyed Robin (10 +/-)
Tropical Mockingbird (1)
Scaly-breasted Thrasher (2)
Trembler sp. (1-2)
Adelaide’s Warbler (6-8)
Bananaquit (4)
Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (8)
Carib Grackle (20+/-)

Comments: We met with the forestry people before our trail walk. They gave us advice for birding Edmond Forest and other information (such as where to find White-breasted Thrasher, on the east side of the island, which we did not have time to pursue. We talked at length about conservation and education issues. Thanks to the efforts of Paul Butler of the RARE center, the islanders are very aware of their parrots and work hard to protect them. Their numbers have increased because of these outreach efforts.)

It was late afternoon by the time we got out to the trails. The birds were very active. We did not get far along the trails, as there was much to see and the lighting was not good. We were surprised that the pewees were very drawn in by our pishing; we had wonderful views of several at eye level only a few meters away. The hummingbirds were also aroused by pishing, and Adelaide’s Warblers, very active singers, came to within a foot or two of us – a sweet little bird. It doesn’t occur below St. Lucia.

As night approached, we heard the wonderful “pink”ing sound of what we have since learned is the Whistling Frog, Eleutherodactylus johnstonei.

2 December 2000 Marigot Bay, St. Lucia

Little Blue Heron (1)
(Probable) Yellow-crowned Nigh-heron (1) heard
Belted Kingfisher (1)
Scaly-naped Pigeon (1)

2 December 2000: road to Edmund Forest Preserve between Canaries and Soufriere, St. Lucia

St. Lucia Parrot (2)
St. Lucia Oriole (2)

Comments: The road from Castries (where Marigot Bay is located) to Soufriere is only about 25 miles, yet it took us an hour and half to travel it. It is very, very winding, with frequent hairpin turns. The roads are in good shape, but at one point between Canaries and Soufriere, an avalanche had made the road impassable – a large tree was laying across it, and sizable rocks were still falling onto the road from above as we approached. We turned around, disappointed, but stopped to do some roadside birding at a turn out nearby. Bon chance! A pair of St. Lucia Parrots swept down from behind us, presumably from nearby Edmund Forest. And a pair of St. Lucia Orioles appeared along the forest edge across the road from us. One of them sat at the edge of a limb in plain view for quite some time. Just as the bird flew off, we heard a truck full of able-bodied men pull up from the other side of the avalanche. They cheered as they passed us, yelling to us that they had moved the tree and it was now safe for us to pass. (The people on these islands are very friendly.)

2 December 2000, Soufriere, St. Lucia

(Probable) Great Egret (1) in large aquaculture ponds on way to Edmund Forest.

2 December 2000: Edmund Forest Preserve, St. Lucia

Broad-winged Hawk (2-4)
Lesser Antillean Swift (15+/-)
Purple-throated Carib (10+/-)
Caribbean Eleania (1)
Gray Kingbird (4+)
Rufous-throated Solitaire (8) heard only
(Possible) Forest Thrush (1)
Scaly-breasted Thrasher (1)
Adelaide’s Warbler (10+/-)
Bananaquit (20+/-)
Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (10+/-)
St. Lucia Oriole (2)

Comments: Because of complications (the avalanche was only one), we did not reach the forest until mid-morning. It was very windy up there at this time of day – not optimal for birding. There is kind of a sweeping hillside about 100 meters into the hike that was especially productive, though. We hiked into the parrot look out, although we knew this was not the best time to see parrots (best time is early in the morning when they leave the forest to go feed or late afternoon as they come back to roost.)

There is a $15 per person fee to hike the park – a worthwhile expense as this encourages them to preserve the forest. The fee includes a local guide. They can take you to the best parrot look-out, but they are not experts in their other birds. Unlike the parrot look-out on St. Vincent’s Vermont Nature Trail, the best parrot look-out in Edmund Forest is not marked. It is the ridge just before you get to a dramatic waterfall where the rocks have been worn smooth by the water, about a mile in.

The first 100 yards or so into the Edmond Forest was good in late morning was good for us (the guests had not arrived yet). Beyond that, activity dropped off considerably, and the wind was relentless.

When you get to the village of Soufriere, follow the simple signs pointing, “Road to Rain Forest,” or ask any local. They are very nice and eager to help. The road will lead you through other tiny villages. If you’re in a rental car, expert to be swarmed by people of all ages (including kids who are barely old enough to talk) offering to be your guide. You may smell some marijuana here and there – not enough to make you high! We never felt threatened by any of the people, but the road to the forest was another story. It is terrible. At one point we turned around, prepared to tell the project leader that there was no way we were going to get 50 people up there in taxis, and we had a four-wheel drive jeep. But we persisted. And the day of the group trip, the taxis did too.

Speaking of taxis, if you take one to the forest, it’s $30 from Soufriere. This is because they have to wait for you as you hike. Don’t pay them until afterwards or you will likely find yourself walking.

2 December 2000, Ladera Resort, overlooking Petit Piton, St. Lucia

American Kestrel (1)
Broad-winged Hawk (1-2)
Carib Grackle (10+/-)
Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (2+)

Comments: We had lunch at Ladera Resort. Breathtaking view of the Pitons. Bullfinches and grackles made themselves comfortable at nearby tables.

3 December 2000, cruising (sans sail) from Marigot Bay to Jalousie, near Soufriere, St. Lucia (between the Pitons)

(Prob) White-tailed Tropicbird (1)
Brown Booby (1)
Magnificent Frigatebird (2)
Little Blue Heron (1)

3 December 2000 Edmund Forest Preserve, St. Lucia

St. Lucia Parrot (15+/-)
Broad-winged Hawk (1-2)
Lesser Antillean Swift (1)
Purple-throated Carib (1)
Antillean Crested Hummingbird (3)
Lesser Antillean Flycatcher (1) h
Rufous-throated Solitaire (3-4) h
Gray Trembler (1) h
Adelaide’s Warbler (4)
Bananaquit (8-10)
Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (2)

Comments: See comments for 2 December

4 December 2000, sailing from St. Lucia (between Pitons) to Cumberland Bay, St. Vincent

Audubon’s Shearwater (1)
White-tailed Tropicbird (2)
Possible Masked Booby (1)
Brown Booby (20 +/-) saw 8 birds on nesting cliffs on northeast side of St. Vincent
Red-footed Booby (8) white-rumped brown phase, (3) white phase
Magnificent Frigatebird (1)
Great Blue Heron (1) at St. Vincent
Hummingbird sp. (2) seen flying towards St. Lucia over open ocean. One appeared quite large, perhaps a carib

4 December 2000, Cumberland Bay, St. Vincent

Spotted  Sandpiper (1)
Broad-winged Hawk (2)
Peregrine Falcon (1) hunting bats – successfully
Cattle Egret (75+/-)
Black-whiskered Vireo (1-2)
Black-faced Grassquit (2+)

Comments: If you’re sailing, expect the water taxis to descend upon you. Many will be selling t-shirts, carvings, cigarettes, etc. They will move on with just a polite decline to buy. They also love to talk, if you’d like to engage them. We enjoyed finding out how many of them knew anything about birds!

4 December, 2000 road to Trinity Falls, St. Vincent

Broad-winged Hawk (2-4)
St. Vincent Parrot (1) heard only
Antillean Crested Humminbird (4)
Yellow-bellied Elaenia (1)
Gray Kingbird (5+)
Bananaquit (10+) – all we visually confirmed were the all-black form
Lesser Antillean Tanager (6)
Black-faced Grassquit (4)
Lesser  Antillean Bullfinch (2)

Comments: Again, this was a late-afternoon hike. We never made it to Trinity Falls, after hiking about an hour and a half, we came to a sign that said “The falls are 40 minutes from here”. Our local guide told us the falls were probably inaccessible then because of avalanches; unfortunately, he didn’t tell us until we were a good way into the hike (although most of us would have gone anyway, for the birding). You may want to inquire before you head out about the probability of the falls being accessible.

5 December, 2000 sail from Cumberland Bay, St Vincent to Admiralty Bay, Bequia

White-tailed  Tropicbird (1-2)
(poss.) Masked Booby (1)
Brown Booby (15+/-) along shoreline of St. Vincent including 4-5 birds on cliffs,
     and 5+ along shoreline of Bequia including 2-3 sitting on cliffs
Red-footed Booby (36) offshore, most brown phase adults with white rumps and tails,
     perhaps 6-10 white-phase adults
Magnificent Frigatebird (10+/-) near shore, mostly, but several farther offshore
Royal Tern (10+/-) we began seeing these as we got closer to Bequia
Swallow sp. (10+/-) far at sea, apparently migrating south

5 December, 2000 Bequia (Grenadines) – road from Admiralty Bay/Port Elizabeth to turtle sanctuary

Little Blue Heron (1)
Cattle Egret (25+/-) at dumpsite
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (1) male in full breeding plumage, a vagrant
Scaly-naped Pigeon (1) h in town
Zenaida Dove (1)
Eared Dove (1)
Common Ground-dove (6+)
Carib sp. (1)
Antillean Crested Hummingbird (2+)
Yellow-bellied Elaenia (2)
Grenada Flycatcher (1) h
Gray Kingbird (10+/-)
Tropical Mockingbird (6)
Bananaquit (10+/-)
Black-faced Grassquit (8+)
Carib Grackle (15+/-) mostly in town

Comments: We hired taxis to drive us to the turtle sanctuary (for the endangered Hawksbill Turtle), with plans to hike the road back for an hour, the taxi was to pick us up after an hour. The guests paid the taxi beforehand, so he didn’t come back for us. It turned out well because we saw some birds we otherwise would have missed here (Grenada Flycatcher), and we only suffered minor blisters (no one was expecting a two and a half hour hike!) You should avoid Pikie’s Taxi.

Great shopping along the shore of Admiralty Bay, with open-air fruit market and lots of shops selling local crafts. We bought a really cool Reggae CD of holiday music at the tiny music shop.

6 December, 2000 sale from Bequia to Tobago Cays, Grenadines

Audubon’s Shearwater (5)
Red-billed Tropicbird (2)
Brown Booby (22) most along shoreline of Bequia, saw birds alight on rocky cliffs of
Red-footed Booby (21), all but 3-4 were brown phase with white rump and tail, others
     were white morph. Most were offshore but closer to Bequia. None as we got closer to
     Mayreau and Tobago Cays.
Brown Pelican (20+/-) first seen along shores of Canouan, then saw 5-10 in and around
     the Tobago Cays. None near Bequia.
Peregrine Falcon (1) adult along shore of Canouan
Royal Tern (10+/-) started seeing these as we neared Tobago Cays
Carib Grackle (2), birds were flying out from small uninhabited islands to boats, hoping
     for a hand out. Interesting that they have learned to do this.

7 December, 2000 Baradal, Tobago Cays, Grenadines

Brown Booby (1) passing offshore
Osprey (1)
Semipalmated Plover (2)
 Scaly-naped Pigeon (1)
Zenaida Dove (1)
Common Ground-dove (6)
Antillean Crested Hummingbird (4)
Grenada Flycatcher (1)
Tropical Mockingbird (2-4)
Bananaquit (15+/-)
Black-faced Grassquit (2)
Carib Grackle (15+/-)

7 December, 2000 Petit Bateau, Tobago Cays, Grenadines

Common Ground-dove (2)
Antillean Crested Hummingbird (2)
Gray Kingbird (1)
Tropical Mockingbird (2)
Scaly-breasted Thrasher (1)
Bananaquit (10+/-)
Carib Grackle (5+)

7 December, 2000 Tobago Cays

Royal Tern (4)
Brown Pelican (2)
Magnificent Frigatebird (2)
Brown Booby (1)

7 December, 2000 sail from Tobago Cays to Bequia, Grenadines

Tropicbird sp. (1) along cliffs of Bequia
Brown Booby (11)
Red-footed Booby (4)
Magnificent Frigatebird (2)
Royal Tern (2)

8 December, 2000 sail from Bequia to Petit Bayahat, St. Vincent

Red-footed Booby (6)
Brown Booby (12)
Audubon’s Shearwater (1)
Tropicbird sp. (2-3)

8 December, 2000 sail from Petit Bayahat, St. Vincent, to Cumberland Bay, St. Vincent

Brown Booby (72) many roosting on cliff faces
Red-footed Booby (10)

8 December, 2000, Petit Bayahat, St. Vincent

Peregrine Falcon (1)
Osprey (1)
Cattle Egret (15 +/-) roosting on small island at north end of bay

8  December, 2000, Vermont Nature Trail, St. Vincent

Common Black Hawk (2)
Broad-winged Hawk (4)
Scaly-naped Pigeon (1)
St. Vincent Parrot (15+/-)
Swift sp. (3)
Purple-throated Carib (2)
Antillean Crested Hummingbird (6)
Gray Kingbird (1)
Cocoa Thrush (1)
Scaly-breasted Thrasher (1)
Bananaquit (20+/-)
Whistling Warbler (2)h
Lesser Antillean Tanager (4-6)
Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (6)

Comments: Be sure to take the “long” trail, it leads to an excellent parrot viewing platform. It’s here that we had our only Cocoa Thrush and heard two different Whistling Warblers (they responded to a tape). Keep going along the trail, you’re almost to the other side (don’t hike back the way you came, unless of course you want to do more birding), but make sure you’re taxi has moved over to this location. Again, they wait for you while you hike, and you pay for it. A good investment.

9 December, 2000 cruise from Cumberland Bay, St. Vincent to Jalousie, moorings between the Pitons, St. Lucia

Brown Booby (8)
Red-footed Booby (10), one white phase, nine brown
Tropicbird sp. (2)
Royal Tern (2)
Laughing Gull (1)

9 December, 2000, Jalousie, area between Pitons and walk up road toward little village where the Gros Piton Nature Trail begins

Broad-winged Hawk (2)
American Kestrel (1)
Black Swift (4)
Antillean Crested Hummingbird (6)
Caribbean Elaenia (2)
Gray Kingbird (1)
Black-whiskered Vireo (2)
Bare-eyed Robin (1)
Scaly-breasted Thrasher (2)
Adelaide’s Warbler (2)
Bananaquit (10+/-)
Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (15+/-)
Lesser Antillean Saltator (1)
St. Lucia Oriole (1)

Comments: Our chef on our boat joined us for this hike. She is a native of St. Lucia and she pointed out a lot of the trees – soursup, breadfruit, grapefruit, and an interesting herbal plant that is good for burns but that needs to be boiled first. She became very interested in birds and told us she would watch them for us after we left! We sent her Raffaele’s “Birds of the West Indies”- our recommendation, by the way, for the trip.

10 December, 2000 Canaries, St. Lucia

Royal Tern (10) sitting on rock island

10 December 2000, Anse Cochon, St. Lucia

Bananaquit (2)
Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (10+/-)
Carib Grackle (15+/-)

Comments: This is a great snorkeling spot, and watch for snakes along the shore. The poisonous fer-de-lance occurs in this part of the island. We saw a 6-foot boa slithering from a rock along the shore to a nearby tree, where it rested curled up for 10 minutes or so (good for photos!) before slithering off into the forest. It was ceaseless harassed by the birds.

Additional Notes: At various locations (particularly in the passages between the islands) we saw several pods of Bottlenose Dolphins, Spotted Dolphins (with calves), and Pilot Whales. One of the boats in our flotilla saw several Sperm Whales with calves. One had apparently just calved, there was still blood in the water from this. We confirmed the plausibility of this with our whale experts here at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bioacoustics Research Unit.

Also, the passages between islands are very rough. One in our group abandoned ship and flew home early. And that was BEFORE the trip back north, when things get even rougher. In the passage between St. Vincent and St. Lucia, we regularly had 15 – 20 foot swells with lots of chop. A few times, rogue waves broke into the deck. Just dress to get wet, hold on tight, and enjoy it!

We highly recommended this sort of adventure for everyone who loves sailing, birding, or both.

Allison Wells