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09 - 12 April 2008

by Gary and Marlene Babic


This was a short addition to a trip made to Jamaica (reported separately) with the specific aim of looking for six target species we had not previously seen on other islands: West Indian Woodpecker, Cuban Parrot (endemic subspecies), Cuban Bullfinch, Thick-billed Vireo, LaSagra’s Flycatcher, and the endemic Vitelline Warbler. All were seen along the Mastic Trail.

A significant non-birding issue is that the weakness of the US dollar makes Grand Cayman even more expensive than it traditionally has been. The Cayman Island (CI) dollar is now worth more than the US dollar, and the days of US$ 100/night rooms are long gone. Most prices in Grand Cayman are quoted in CI dollars, which means that the prices in US dollars were about 25% higher than the CI price as of our visit. Note: hotel rates drop to “off-season” as of April 15 so savings are possible by going just a bit later than we did.

Detailed Itinerary

April 9, 2008, 3 to 7 PM

Upon arrival from Kingston Jamaica aboard Cayman Airways, we picked up our Avis rental car without any problems. However, we did have problems in Kingston when trying to check into Cayman Airways. Despite us having a copy of our e-ticket, the staff at the desk had no record of us. And because it was before the office in Grand Cayman was open, they had no way to double-check. Finally, after talking to a supervisor, we managed to get on the plane. When we landed in Grand Cayman, we checked about our return flight to Kingston and, sure enough, they had no record of us for that flight either. We were able to sort this all out, but we recommend double-checking any tickets bought on-line as their e-ticket system appears to have some glitches.

All of the rental car pickup locations are to the left upon leaving the terminal, through an uncovered parking lot and sidewalk. Driving in Grand Cayman is on the left, which is not an issue except at the many roundabouts (rotaries) where even the locals appear to not know who has the right-of-way. Speed limits are given in miles per hour, yet many cars have speedometers in kilometers per hour. We have read that speed limits are tightly enforced especially in the residential areas.

Our first stop was at Eldemire’s Guest House, where we had reserved the least expensive room type, which was still USD 135 after the addition of the water surcharge and local taxes. Eldemire’s has been recommended in other reports as an inexpensive and cozy location. However, when we arrived, the owner/manager Tootie told us that the room was not available due to a plumbing problem. She told us she had made arrangements for us to stay at the Harbour View Apartments at only a slightly higher rate. Bad luck.

So we drove up to the Harbour View, at the intersection of Eastern Avenue and the main road along the beach. Well, not having a room at Eldemire’s turned out to be the best thing that happened to us, even though the manager at Harbour View said that Tootie at Eldemire’s did not really have a plumbing problem, she had simply over-booked. At Harbour View we stayed in a full apartment with full kitchen, and a balcony overlooking the ocean. They also have a sandy beach and a coral reef snorkeling beach. It is also walking distance to several restaurants, although a bit too long to walk to the center of Georgetown. By contrast, Eldemire’s is a couple of blocks from the shore, is too far to walk to town, and has no beach within walking distance (although they advertise they have access to a beach farther up the coast). In any case, we recommend the Harbour Front Apartments as very nice accommodations at a good price.

After settling in and picking up lunch, we drove slowly over to the southern end of the Mastic Trail while sightseeing along the way. The southern end of the trail is well-marked on the rental car maps, and is found by taking a northerly turn onto Frank Sound Road and then going about a mile and making a left (west) just after the firehouse. The paved road turns into a dirt road but soon there is a parking area to the right with a sign indicating the start of the Mastic Trail. This is the southern end of the trail, which extends a few miles northward to the other trailhead on Further Road. Not all maps show that it extends all the way north.

The start of the trail goes through brush and a marshy area before getting into light forest after a few hundred yards. The trail becomes difficult near the forest as the dirt trail turns into a continuous mass of karst, which is jagged lava-like rock that requires careful stepping (hard to do when looking up for birds!). A fall on this would be painful and dangerous. Even before we entered the Trail, we heard the loud squawking of parrots, and soon located a pair of Cuban (aka Rose-throated) Parrots feeding. They did not appear to be particularly wary. The Cayman Island race is one of three distinctive subspecies of this parrot. The bird guide we had showed that the area directly above the bill is white on this bird, but on all parrots we saw this area was distinctively yellowish. The first hundred or so yards held many Bananaquits, Northern Mockingbirds, Western Spindalis and Greater Antillean Grackles. Unfortunately, there was heavy construction going on nearby, and the sound of jackhammers and heavy machinery overwhelmed any bird calls. It also does not bode well for the ongoing preservation of the trail. Almost as soon as we entered the forested area, we saw the first of many of the endemic Vitelline Warblers, which were active and calling. A male Cuban Bullfinch then flew in, showing his sharply-contrasting black-and-white coloration. Several more Cuban Parrots were perching around us. As dusk approached we flushed a bird from the ground that appeared to be a woodpecker. Sure enough, after examining several trees near where it flew, Marlene noticed a West Indian Woodpecker on the trunk of a tree, where it gave us a prolonged show. Unfortunately, by now it was getting a bit dark. The last bit of action was that we caught a glimpse of a large, dark flycatcher which may have been a LaSagra’s Flycatcher, but ID was not possible. Back to Georgetown to freshen up and have a nice (but expensive) dinner. April 10, 2008, 9 to 11 AM

We started the morning a bit late and went to the northern end of the Mastic Trail. The maps show that the trailhead is at the end of Further Road, which turns off the main road near a town center named Hutland. However, Further Road now makes a sharp right turn beyond this point and several homes are being built along this stretch. The north entrance to the trail is difficult to find, and construction vehicles occupied what appeared to be the parking area. There is an official sign, similar to what is on the southern end, but the actual entry is indicated by a hand-drawn sign and requires stepping over a barbed wire fence and into a field where you can more or less discern where the trail begins. In fact, when we were leaving this area later on, we had to show this entrance to a family who wanted to walk the trail because they could not find it. Apparently the previous owner had granted access, but the current owner is planning to develop the area and is intentionally discouraging anyone from entering. So future visitors may find this approach is not possible.

What is nice about the north entry is that the forest begins within a hundred yards of the road and the trail there is dirt, not karst. There are markers along the trail, and the one at this end was number 22. At this marker we saw lots of Smooth-billed Anis and a got a nice look at a silent LaSagra’s Flycatcher perched high in a tree. A bit further along we had a pair of singing Thick-billed Vireos along the trail. There were also a few Vitelline Warblers here as well. So at this point we had “ticked” our target birds and shifted gears to enjoying other aspects of Grand Cayman.

One afternoon we did drive out to Barker’s National Park, and took a few of the dirt roads criss-crossing the area. We also stopped at a few of the ponds along the road that goes along most of the coastline, and made a stop at the small bird park east of Georgetown. None held anything special other than typical shorebirds. The Burger King in Georgetown was notable for its flock of bold Ruddy Turnstones that apparently like the french fires.

We did not make a trip to Willie’s Pig Farm to look for the West Indian Whistling-ducks that have traditionally been seen there, so we cannot comment on whether they or even the farm is still there. The rate of development on Grand Cayman is rapid and the island is not large, so the open / forested areas are becoming smaller and fragmented. We also did not make a visit to look for the Barn Owl reported near the radar facility at the airport. And we also did not go to the Botanical Gardens, because the Mastic Trail is just across the street from it and apparently holds similar birds. Another bird we did not see which is often a target in Grand Cayman is Caribbean Dove, but perhaps we would have done so with an early AM start.

Among non-birding activities we enjoyed were:

Taking the night trip on the Atlantis Submarine;

Taking a trip to Sandbar to see the rays and also do some off-shore reef snorkeling – this was among the most enjoyable of the “touristy” activities I have ever done.

Snorkeling near a diving spot about 250 meters south of the Turtle Farm – this was the best of the snorkeling locations and has a deep reef wall well-marked with buoys. Other places were overcrowded with visitors from the 5 or so cruise ships that docked daily, or the reefs were well off-shore and the currents were strong. The shallow reefs right in downtown Georgetown, with access between the Lobster Pot and the Burger King, was also very good for a quick snorkel – this reef is locally called the “Cheeseburger Reef” because it is next to the Burger King.


The specialty birds of Grand Cayman still appear to be easy to find along the Mastic Trail. However, damage from several hurricanes has taken down many trees and development is a major threat. Without protection, the birding habitat on Grand Cayman will continue to shrink at a rapid rate. Although we did not visit the Botanical Gardens, it may become a critical refuge for the birds if the Mastic Trail continues to be developed.

Bird List

Note: we concentrated on a few target birds so we certainly missed a few others. Also, we did not look for West Indian Whistling-Duck or Barn Owl.

Bird seen                                           Occurrence

   Magnificent Frigatebird                     Common

   Brown Pelican                                  common

   Blue-winged Teal                             a few on inland lakes

   Little Blue Heron                              common

   Great Blue Heron                             common

   Green Heron                                     common

   Great Egret                                       common

   Cattle Egret                                       common

   Common Moorhen                           common

   American Coot                                 common

   Spotted Sandpiper                           common

   Stilt Sandpiper                                  common

   Black-necked Stilt                            common

   Ruddy Turnstone                              common

   Laughing Gull                                   common

   Ring-billed Gull                                 a few

   Rock Pigeon                                     common

   White-winged Dove                         common

   Common Ground-Dove                    common

   Cuban Parrot                                    at southern end of Mastic Trail

   Smooth-billed Ani                            common

   West Indian Woodpecker                at southern end of Mastic Trail

   Caribbean Elaenia                            along Mastic Trail

   La Sagra's Flycatcher                       at northern end of Mastic Trail

   Loggerhead Kingbird                       common

   Thick-billed Vireo                             at northern end of Mastic Trail

   Yucatan Vireo                                  at northern end of Mastic Trail

   Gray Catbird                                    common

   Northern Mockingbird                      common

   Vitelline Warbler                               along Mastic Trail

   Black-and-white Warbler                 along Mastic Trail

   American Redstart                            along Mastic Trail

   Bananaquit                                       along Mastic Trail

   Cuban Bullfinch                                along Mastic Trail

   Western Spindalis                            at southern end of Mastic Trail

   Greater Antillean Grackle                 common



Harbour View Apartments,

e-mail: Tel: 345-949-5681

2008 rates for apartment: USD 125 (April 15-Dec 14); USD 165 (Dec 15 – April 14)

Eldemire’s Guest House,

e-mail: Tel: 345-916-8369

Birding Guide:

Patricia Bradleye-mail


Birds of the West Indies, Herbert Raffaele et al, Princeton Field Guides.

Related Trip Reports:

December 2006 (Grand Cayman as part of a combination trip to Jamaica):

December 2003:

April 1999:

Gary Babic  --  e-mail

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