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5 - 7 DECEMBER 2003

by David Klauber

I managed to sneak in a weekend trip to Grand Cayman on a business trip in December to see Vitelline Warbler. I arrived via a somewhat convoluted route through Tulsa, Fort Worth, and Miami, but I could expense the plane ticket, making the trip more affordable. The Cayman Islands are one of the more expensive groups of islands in the Caribbean, so be forewarned. The best prices I found through hotel chains started at $130. Friends had referred me to Eldemire’s Guest House. At $82 US a night, they seemed to be the best deal I could find. The endemics can be seen on the less populated eastern part of the island in forested areas. If time is limited go to Royal Botanical Gardens, where you can see most of the birds. The Mastic Road trail is also in the same area and very productive – and free! For those looking for a big trip list, apparently a few more shorebirds and laughing Gulls can sometimes be seen in the West End area, which I did not visit. Development is growing rapidly, and according to Trevor Baxter, a local birder who has lived there for 30 years, many good birding areas have disappeared, especially over the last 5 – 10 years. Nonetheless the endemics can still be seen fairly easily in the forested eastern section.

Money - $1 US = .80 Cayman – US cash accepted everywhere, no need to change currency at a bank. Most places accepted credit cards

AccommodationEldemire’s Guest House - $82 US per night – about 1 mile south of Georgetown,  phone: 345 – 949 5387

Reference Material

Doug Macneil’s trip report from

Birds of the Cayman Islands – Patricia Bradley – 1985 – there is a newer edition; has good photos, site maps, subspecies and distribution information

A photographic guide to Birds of the West Indies – G. Michael Flieg & Allan Sander

Helpful tips from Allan Sander and Nancy Norman - thanks


December 5 – Friday

I arrived around 12:15 from Miami. Customs went reasonably smoothly. The car rental companies are across the street to the left – better hope it’s not raining. I used Dollar, booked in USA. The total was $87 for a compact automatic for 2 days. I drove towards Eldemire’s Guest House, but took a wrong turn, seeing the only Gray Kingbirds of the trip – 2 on a telephone wire. They are supposed to migrate away in the winter. I got to Eldemire’s a little after 1 and nobody was there, only one guest in the back. After waiting about 15 minutes I saw another guest that found the owner, Tooti, who lives in the house across the street from the main entrance and parking lot. The room was nice and roomy with 2 double beds, AC, fan, and TV costing $165 for both nights, situated in a residential area near the beach. They let me keep the room Sunday until I had to leave for the airport. They have kitchen facilities and a refrigerator downstairs as well as a water cooler.

I left a little after 2 PM for the Royal Botanical Gardens, arriving at 3 PM. It took about 35 – 40 minutes as there was a bit of traffic. It costs $8 US to get in. I believe they open around 8:30 and close at 5:30. There are woodland trails and some ponds at one end. I heard a Vitelline Warbler almost immediately a couple of hundred feet from the headquarters. I got a quick look, and a Worm-eating Warbler also popped up, in very bright peach-buff colors. The Vitelline’s call is reminiscent of a Prairie Warbler, but it has 5 notes, with the 5th being distinctly louder and down-slurred. One of its alternate calls sounds very similar to a Prairie. Near the ponds I had a female Cuban Bullfinch and the only Yellow-throated Warbler of the trip. The usual Moorhens and Coots were on the pond. Caribbean Elaenia and La Sagra’s Flycatcher were also nearby. Back into the woodlands I saw the only Zenaida Dove of the trip on the path. Other birds seen were Thick-billed Vireo and a couple other Vitelline Warblers at close range.

About 4:15 I left, after watching a few warblers in the large tree in the parking lot. Driving out the exit road after the toll booth is an open overgrown area on the right that looks like a right of way. 2 Cuban Parrots were in the treetops at fairly close range. Reaching the main road I went right or north and drove the 5 miles or so to the pig farm. To get to the pig farm, veer left when you reach the coast, then go left again when you reach a store – Chisholm’s – and a sign for Hutland to the left. Hutland apparently is a district rather than a town. At about 1.2 miles on the left is a very unassuming unsigned dirt road. This goes about 100 yards or less and ends at the pig farm. They feed the ducks, and there were over 100 West Indian Whistling Ducks here and many Blue-winged Teal. There is a lagoon behind the farm where there were some shorebirds and egrets in the distance. A West Indian Woodpecker flew away from me; unfortunately this glimpse was all I would see during my stay.

I left the farm around 5:15, and briefly scanned the coast, seeing only 3 Royal Terns. I arrived back at Eldemire’s around 6 as it was getting dark. I walked to the nearby Sunset House for a decent dinner and a couple of drinks on the beach. The house opposite had an amazing display of Christmas lights, an odd sight in the tropics, especially the decorated palm trees. It poured rain for about 30 minutes, which was the beginning of a cold front that was moving in.

December 6, Saturday

Through a friend I had contacted Trevor Baxter, a local birder, and he met me at 7:30 AM on a windy morning. I followed him to Poindexter Road, which goes north or left near Savannah off the main highway towards the east end. This was a favored birding road that recently is experiencing some development, and is not quite as good as it has been, according to them. We saw a Gnatcatcher, Indigo Buntings, and a few warblers. We also met John, another local birder, and Dave, a Brit who was visiting his daughter. I had a glimpse of what I think was a Chimney Swift in the distance, but couldn’t get on it before it disappeared. After an hour or so here Trevor took us to Governor Gore’s pond a couple of miles away. It was on Pennsylvania Avenue, which is a right turn off a road whose name I didn’t catch that turns north off the main road – it may be in North Sound Estates. This pond is a protected area that has a boardwalk covered in 1 spot that overlooks a small pond. A flyby Least Bittern and Belted Kingfisher were the only birds of note.

We next went to an Agricultural farm / station that is clearly indicated on the main highway, turning to the right. This is gated and fenced, but you can squeeze in on the left around a shed. Trevor says the owners allow birders to visit. We didn’t see much and only spent about 30 minutes, seeing a Merlin and Loggerhead Kingbird. Trevor had a previous commitment so we returned to Poindexter Road and Trevor left about 10:15. I drove further south and took the High Rock Road loop, which passes through second growth and woodland. I didn’t see much, but it was after 11AM and fairly hot. I returned west and had a nice lunch at the Lighthouse restaurant on the water.

Trevor had arranged to pick me up at 2 PM at Eldemire’s, and he took me in the South Sound area to an unmarked trail called White’s Gardens that went into swampy woodland. We heard woodpeckers and saw a few warblers, but not the Swainson’s that can sometimes be found there. Trevor then took me to several ponds that I think were between Savannah and Bodden Town. There are many ponds and marshy areas to the north of the main highway in this area. One road was on Moonbeam Drive. We saw another Least Bittern along with the usual herons and Moorhens, Black-necked Stilts, and a flock of Glossy Ibis. Dave had told us about Barn Owls that frequent a tower at the airport. Near dusk we arrived at the tower at the airport, quite visible as it’s tall and stands out. It’s a huge round dome with metal scaffolding and stairs underneath, and is gated off. A bit after dark a cooperative Barn Owl flew in about 6:10 and perched on a fence inside the enclosure. Lights go on at night, so we could see the bird well. It stayed on the fence giving a raspy call. The primaries were very white, contrasting noticeably with the darker wing coverts and upperparts. Night Herons flew over the road and airport area.

December 7, Sunday – last day

Trevor picked me up at 7:15, we picked up Dave at Poindexter Road, and drove to Mastic Road. This is on the road that cuts north towards the Botanical Gardens. Mastic Road is signed and turns off to the left, a bit before the gardens (I think). A short way down the road it ends at a gate. You can enter here, but be sure to close and rope the gate, as the owner is a bit sensitive to people entering. A couple of minutes down a dirt road there is a parking area and a marked trail on the right. This passes through similar and better habitat than the Botanical Gardens, and is a cheaper alternative. It is not visited often and is good, quiet birding spot open to the public. It goes through overgrown fields for a bit then enters good woodland. According to Trevor many of these birds are only on the southern / eastern part of the island. This is an excellent birding spot, with most of the endemics.

Birds seen were Vitelline Warbler, Cuban Bullfinch, Caribbean Dove, Flicker, West Indian Woodpecker (not by me!), Hooded Warbler, and others. Trevor has had Swainson’s Warbler there by markers 10 & 11, and saw one 2 weeks earlier, but we couldn’t find one. We were there from about 8 to 11:30. There are numbered markers along the trail; we only got to about 13 or 14, but the trail goes about 2-3 miles. Also seen were frogs sleeping on the trail markers and 2 snakes. After leaving the trail we returned to Poindexter Road and dropped off Dave. We checked out a few ponds in the area and I saw Short-billed Dowitcher and both Yellowlegs, adding 2 more birds for the trip. We finished with a leisurely lunch of Turtle burgers at a restaurant on the water about 2 miles south of Eldemire’s on South Sound Road.

BIRD LIST – 66 species

Pied-Billed Grebe – 1 or 2 seen on ponds all 3 days

Least Bittern – 2; 1 flyby at Governor Gore’s Pond, another at a different pond in the same general area

Great Egret - common on lagoons and ponds

Snowy Egret – seen on 2 days, fairly common

Little Blue Heron – seen Saturday & Sunday, a couple each day

Tricolored Heron – 1 to 2 seen each day on various ponds and lagoons

Cattle Egret – fairly common in fields around cattle

Green Heron – 1 to 2 seen each day in various habitats

Black-crowned Night-Heron – seen as flyby night silhouettes Saturday near airport

Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron  - possible flybys near airport, not counted

Glossy Ibis – small flock Saturday afternoon by pond

West Indian Whistling-Duck – Friday afternoon at pig farm, 100+

Blue-winged Teal – the most common duck in the Caribbean

Osprey - 1 flyover along main highway near Bodden Town

Merlin – 1 at Agricultural station

American Kestrel – 1 seen along roadside on High Rock Road loop

Common Moorhen – common throughout

American Coot – less common than Moorhen, seen all 3 days

Black-necked Stilt – the most common shorebird seen on various ponds

Greater Yellowlegs – seen 2 days in small groups on ponds and along roads

Lesser Yellowlegs – seen last day, 2 only with other shorebirds

Solitary Sandpiper – seen Saturday afternoon on roadside pool

Spotted Sandpiper – 1 seen Saturday on pond

Short-billed Dowitcher – 2 or 3 seen Sunday in pond with Yellowlegs

Royal Tern – 2 to 3 seen on north coast and from Lighthouse restaurant

Rock Dove – 1 seen by Eldemire’s, possibly domestic, not counted

White-crowned Pigeon – 1 flyby along highway near Bodden Town Sunday

White-winged Dove – common throughout

Zenaida Dove – 1 only at Royal Botanical Gardens

Common Ground-Dove – common throughout

Caribbean Dove – endemic subspecies - 2 separate birds (same bird?) seen on Mastic trail

Monk Parakeet – birds in nest somewhere near Savannah

Cuban / Rose-throated Parrot – endemic subspecies – Near Botanical Gardens, in Mastic Trail forest, also heard in various forested areas. A different subspecies is on Cayman Brac

Smooth-billed Ani – common in second growth

Barn Owl – Caribbean subspecies - 1 seen near airport; supposedly up to 3 are there.

Chimney Swift – Possibly saw one flying in distance at Poindexter Road; not counted

Belted Kingfisher – 2 birds; 1 at Governor Gore’s Pond

West Indian Woodpecker – endemic subspecies - only 1 flyby at pig farm; several heard in forest trails

Northern Flicker – subspecies shared with Cuba - 2 or 3 on Mastic Trail, several heard only in other forests

Caribbean Elaenia - a couple seen every day, including Botanical Gardens

La Sagra’s Flycatcher - endemic subspecies? -1 or 2 seen each day

Gray Kingbird - 2 birds on telephone wires near airport

Loggerhead Kingbird – endemic subspecies – seen at Agricultural farm and Mastic Trail

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Poindexter Road, 1 or 2

Northern Mockingbird – the most common bird

Gray Catbird – seen by John and Dave on Poindexter Road, not seen by me

Thick-billed Vireo – endemic subspecies -1 at Botanical Gardens, possibly one heard on Mastic Trail

Yucatan Vireo – endemic subspecies - common in forests

Northern Parula Warbler – 1 or 2 seen each day

Yellow Warbler – Governor Gore’s Pond, Mastic Trail, and various ponds

Magnolia Warbler – a couple seen each day

Cape May Warbler – 1 in trees near Eldemire’s

Black-throated Blue Warbler - 1 or 2 seen each day

Yellow-throated Warbler – 1 in pines by pond at Botanical Gardens

Prairie Warbler – seen Saturday and Sunday in forests; very similar to Vitelline in female and immature plumages, note strong black streaks on sides

VITELLINE WARBLER – ENDEMIC - fairly common at Botanical gardens and Mastic Trail; note song – 5 notes with stronger downslurred fifth note; streaking on side of breast but not sides; facial pattern very similar to Prairie Warbler

Palm Warbler – common everywhere

Black-and-White Warbler – seen in White’s Garden and Mastic Trail forest

American Redstart – as above

Worm-eating Warbler – 1 at Botanical Gardens, 1 at Poindexter Road

Ovenbird – 1 or 2 seen in forest trails Saturday & Sunday. Trevor said when he has seen Swainson’s Warbler it is usually with Ovenbirds, so check them out

Northern Waterthrush – White’s Gardens forest trails, heard at Mastic Trail

Common Yellowthroat – a couple seen each day

Hooded Warbler – one male & 1 female seen separately on Mastic Trail

Bananaquit – endemic subspecies -everywhere

Western Stripe-Headed Tanager / Spindalis – endemic subspecies – a few on Mastic Trail

Indigo Bunting – 2 along Poindexter Road

CUBAN BULLFINCH – endemic subspecies - 1 female at Botanical gardens, 3 or 4 on Mastic Trail

Yellow-faced Grassquit – several seen Saturday & Sunday, especially along roadsides

Greater Antillean Grackle – endemic subspecies - fairly common throughout


No mammals, other than feral cats; 2 snakes on Mastic Trail; turtles in ponds

"David Klauber"
<davehawkowl AT>

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