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May 1999

by Mark Gawn

Grenada, the southern most island in the Lesser Antilles, makes for a good introduction to birding in the southern Caribbean. It is home to one critically endangered island endemic, Grenada Dove, and two birds shared only with St. Vincent: Grenada Flycatcher and Lesser Antillean Tanager. For the Caribbean lister it has the added attraction of several South American species not otherwise found in the region. In May, 1998, I  had a slow-paced weekend of birding with my family in Grenada during which I was able to see most of the key birds. Most of the interesting birds can be seen by visiting two sites, Mount Hartman and Grand Etang.

Mount Hartman. The most sought after of Grenada bird's is the Grenada Dove. With a total population estimated at less than 70 individuals this is one of the rarest Caribbean birds. It is entirely restricted to dense thorn scrub in the south-eastern corner of the island, a habitat which is unfortunately under seige by tourism development. The best place to get the dove is the Mount Hartman Reserve near Grande Anse. Getting there is the easy part. From the International Airport take the only road out, at the second roundabout (beside an old sugar mill that has been converted into a chicken restaurant) take the road to your right. Follow this road for about 200 meters until you see a sign for "Beate's Meats" on your right. Take the dirt road by this sign. Soon you will smell, and then see, a pig farm on your left. Beside the pig farm is a large dilapidated sign with a picture of the dove. Beneath the sign I saw a dozen Eared Doves. In fact there were more doves of various sorts in this area than I have seen anywhere else in the Caribbean, swarms of Common Ground Doves, Eared Doves, Zenaida Doves, and dozens of Scaly-naped Pigeons rocketting overhead. Must have something to do with the pigs.

The Grenada Doves live in the thickly scrubbed hills behind the pig farm.You can asertain this from the fact that there are signs with pictures of the dove every so ofter along a low fence skirting the brush. After working my way very carefully through the thorns for about an hour, I heard, but did not see a Grenada Dove calling here. Fortnately it has a very distinctive voice, a low drawn out "oooh ahh". I returned to the  dirt road, which continues along the edge of the hills. About a half kilometer past the piggery it arcs left before forking; take the fork on the left. At this point the road goes through a valley, the slopes on each side of which are thickly scrubbed. Here I heard two doves, one on each side of the road. One was too far back to have a reasonable chance of being seen, however the one on the right side of the road was closer, so I fought my way about 100 meters up the slope through virtually impassable thorn scrub to where it seemed to be calling from. Just beyond the fence line I spotted one Grenada Dove quitely working its way through the leaf litter, a rather plump, Quail Dove-like bird with red legs, a red eye-ring and just a touch of irridescens on the nape. Not the most exciting bird to look at but a thrill after several hours of hard work. Meanwhile, the bird I was hearing continued to call from deeper in the scrub, perhaps the mate to the one that I  was seeing.

My visit (in May) was right at the end of the dry season, which no doubt made it somewhat easier to spot the bird. However, others who have visited during the rains have heard more birds calling than I did (Martin Frost, pers com.).  The downside in the rainy season is that the thick foilage makes them almost impossible to see. Ro Wauer in his book describes how he saw one by sitting quietly for an hour or so near where one was calling. I spent two mornings at the site, arriving both days just after dawn (6AM). On the first day I heard one only, it called several times at around 7:30AM, than fell silent. On the second day I heard the two birds also at about 7:30 AM, however, this time they were still calling when I left the sight at about 8:30 AM. I heard none on an evening visit on the first day.

Besides the doves there were plenty of birds in the scrub and adjacent fields, the most exciting of which were a pair of Blue-black Grassquit. Grenada is the only place in the Caribbean where you can see this widespread neotropical species. Other goodies inlcuded several Caribbean Elaenea, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Grenada Flycatcher, Bare-eyed Thrush, the local subspecies of House Wren, and several Broad-winged Hawk. The latter were carefully scrutinized particularly as there was an abundance of large tree snails in the area, unfortunately none could be turned into critically endangered endemic subspecies of Hook-billed Kites. The Grenada Flycatcher, a large, flamboyant bird, is rather common in edge habits throughout Grenada (eg: a pair woke me up each morning at my hotel). Another common bird well worth a second look is the Banaquit, an all black form of which is common on Grenada. There is a small brackish pond near where the dirt track forks; on my visit this pond held two Wilson's Plover, notably these were the rufous-capped South American subspecies ("cinnamominus") which regularly occurs in Grenada and St. Vincent but nowhere else in the AOU area.

A note on the Dove. The prognosis for the survival of the Grenada Dove is mixed. The Government of Grenada has declared it to be a protected species and much of the remaining habitat a protected area. A conservation program, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), has led to the demarcation of the reserve, and there is a high level of awareness among the local population of their special bird. However, plans are afoot to develop the valley bottom between the hills, currently under light cultivation, into a major golf resort, and the pressure to build on the nearby hilltops, with their stunning views off the Caribbean, will be immense. Time will tell.

Grand Etang. After trying for the Dove your next stop should be the Grand Etang reserve in the centre of the island, about a forty-five minute drive from the airport. The reserve is marked on all the tourist maps, but be prepared to get lost several times while trying to find your way to it. Just ask, the people a very friendly. The reserve flanks both sides of the only road which cuts across the island, and has a number of walking trails through wonderful montane forest. My visit featured several torrential downpours, a normal occurance. Nonetheless, between showers I was able to find a group of three beautiful Lesser Antillean Tanagers. Otherwise the birding was a bit thin, although I did see Cocoa Thrush, more Broad-winged Hawks, and several whiz-by Rufus-breasted Hermits. I had better views of the hummer at Concorde falls (also marked on the tourist maps), which also featured several flyby Gray-rumped Swift.

La Sargesse Nature Centre . We spent a very restful afternoon on the beach at this delightful spot on the South Coast. You can find it using any tourist map (yet again, expect to get lost on your first attempt) The chief birding attraction is a large mangrove pond just west of the main beach, unfortunately it was dry on our visit. Nonetheless, it hosted one Wilson's Plover (another "cinnamominus") and there were a small number of migrant waders on the beach. Our most interesting sighting here was a mixed flock of Gray-rumped and Black Swift hawking insects low over a field adjacent to access road leading to the site; Black Swift is uncommon in passage and Gray-rumped usually higher up, so this was a pleasant surprise. On the drive in we also encountered a flock of Yellow-bellied Seedeater, another South American species making its only appearence in the Caribbean in Grenada.

Levera Pond. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to bird this tantalizing spot on the north east coast. On a brief visit to the nearby beach and visitor's centre I noted a poster featuring the local birds, prominent among which was a Scarlet Ibis. When asked, the guide indicated that it occurs "sometimes" which, given the proximity of Grenada to Trinidad and to Venezuela makes sense (despite limited coverage Grenada boasts several South American/Trinidadian vagrants). The surrounding dry forest looked very good for Hook-billed Kite and this area apparently is one of its strongholds. There were dozens of frigate birds offshore and large numbers of Scaly-naped Pigeons flying overhead.

Reefs and other goodies. Grenada features some great snorkelling, with a stunning reef right off the Rex Grenadian where we stayed, and there was reasonable sea-shelling at La Sargese. There are a number of operators offering snorkelling cruises, rainforest walks, etc. and a trip north into the Grenadines would be an added treat. A visit to one of the spice plantations is of interest, after all, Grenada is the "Spice Island".

Logistics. Grenada has a good international airport and is an easy island to get around in; there are plenty of car rentals and a good range of places to stay and to eat. The driving can be a bit tense, with plenty of narrow twisting roads to test your skills, but as long as you go slow you should be OK. We rented a compact sedan which was adequate, a 4x4 would be a good idea given the poor shape of many roads. Expect to get lost from time to time, so give yourself extra time to get from place to place. Taxies are an expensive option for those who don't want to drive, and you could get to most places using the local minibuses if time is not an issue. There are no significant insect or other pests. Bring plenty of sunscreen. Crime is not a big problem, but the normal precautions apply.

Annotated List
1 Magnificant Frigatebird Common, particularly along the north coast
2 Brown Booby A few offshore
3 Brown Pelican Small numbers
4 Little Blue Heron A few seen
5 Great Blue Heron One or two, not common
6 Cattle Egret Common
7 Yellow-crowned Night Heron A few
8 Osprey 1 or 2 seen, not common
9 Broad-winged Hawk Common in wooded habitats
10 Spotted Sandpiper Common
11 Ruddy Turnstone At La Sargesse
12 Semipalmated Plover Ditto
13 Wilson's Plover: 2, Mnt Hartman, 1, la Sargesse
14 Laughing Gull Common
15 Royal Tern Regularly seen
16 Roseate Tern Lots of smaller terns assumed this species, none seen well
17 Rock Dove Common
18 Scaly-naped Pigeon Abundant
19 Eared Dove Abundant. Note fast flight, chestnut tail corners
20 Zenaida Dove Abundant
21 Common Ground Dove Abundant
22 Grenada Dove 3 heard, 1 seen for a total of 4
23 Smooth-billed Ani Common
24 Black Swift One mixed flock with next species at La Sargesse
25 Gray-rumped Swift Also, several seen, Concord Falls
26 Rufous-breasted Hermit Several seen, Concord Falls, Grand Etang
27 Antillean Crested Hummingbird Common in lowlands, eg: Mnt Hartman
28 Yellow-bellied Elaenia Common in scrub in lowlands
29 Grenada Flycatcher Common in edge habitats
30 Gray Kingbird Abundant
31 Black-whiskered Vireo Common
32 Cocoa Thrush 1 or 2 seen, Grand Etang, others heard
33 Bare-eyed Thrush Common, edge habitats in lowlands
34 Tropical Mockingbird Common
35 House Wren Common in edge habitats
36 Caribbean Martin Common
37 Bananaquit Common, note Black form is common
38 Lesser Antillean Tanager 3, Grand Etang
39 Blue-black Grassquit 1 pair, Mnt Hartman
40 Yellow-bellied Seedeater 1 flock, La Sargesse
41 Black-faced Grassquit Common
42 Lesser Antillean Bullfinch Common
43 Carib Grackle Abundant
44 Shiny Cowbird Common

Misses: Euler's Flycatcher may still persist e.g. at Grand Etang.  Any information on sites for Hook-billed Kite would be appreciated.

Mark Gawn
Canadian High Commission
PO Box 404
Bridgetown, Barbados