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Barbados and Lesser Antilles Cruise (1 Viewer)

dandsblair

David and Sarah

Not really a birding trip but prompted by a couple of PM's I've decide to do a report as there is some birding.


Around 30 years ago we looked at our travel and bird watching list to date and speculated that by the end of 2021 we could have seen 100 countries and got over 5000 birds and seen most target mammals.

We reached 5000 birds a few years ago (mine was Stressman’s Bushcrow and Sarah’s was Northern Bald Ibis) but with the pandemic and a load of cancelled travel we were still a couple of countries short of our target, so we booked a cruise with mostly countries we hadn’t been to, to get us safely over the 100 countries by end of 2021; the initial itinerary also gave us a good shot at up to 28 lifers ( this reduced slightly due to schedule changes).

We booked with Marella Cruises flying from Gatwick with TUI, we got a good deal including Premium flights but annoyingly a couple of months ago they introduced Manchester flights (but changing would have been expensive as we would have had to pay full price) so we stayed with original deal and a drive to and from Gatwick.

Itinerary was fly to Barbados, and go straight to the ship, sail to St Vincent, then St Maarten (Dutch side), then Antigua, St Lucia, Dominica and finally Grenada before spending a week on Barbados (South Coast).

We timed our PCR test for the flight and entry to Barbados, had a Rapid Antigen test at Gatwick for boarding the ship, had a test to get off at Grenada and for Barbados. As far as I could tell only one person on board tested positive but we never did hear what happened to them.

On arrival from Gatwick at Barbados, Premier passengers were disembarked on to a coach and we were taken direct to the cruise ship terminal through a side gate of the airport, we were on the ship; Marella Discovery within 30 minutes of landing on Barbados with just a quick check of our test result, passports and ship boarding pass at the port. Really efficient and our luggage was on board soon after. We decide to explore the ship rather than go ashore today as the only target bird for Barbados was said to be very easy and could await our return.

St Vincent (Kingstown)

We had been told in advance that only people on organised tours would be allowed to go beyond the port area. As we were first on the boat we picked the tour that looked to give us the best birding opportunities. Atlantic Coast and scenic drive (4 hours).

When we looked out on the harbour at first light we could see Magnificent Frigatebird and Brown Booby and hear some birds in the nearby trees (Bullfinches we suspected).

The tour was actually pretty ropey with the guide really reluctant to stop and let us off the bus, finally we did get off for a leg stretch just after the Colonaire Valley where we were looking at the lava flows being turned into road surface, but then what popped out into the open low in a bush was the endemic Whistling Warbler (we really didn’t expect this). After some heated discussion with guide an ddriver we agreed with the guide we could have 40 minutes at Black Point Tunnel park, most of the people had booked for chance to go through the tunnel and onto the beach, we used the time to bird some very good habitat near the toilet block. I know we wouldn’t get all our target here but were very pleased with Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Carib Grackle, Black-faced Grassquit, Broad-winged Hawk, Lesser Antillean Tanager and a Carib we didn’t identify (probably green but no colour on front) but we were not too worried as we had other chances for these. Other birds around here and the drive included Green Heron, Little Blue Heron, Cattle Egret, Grey Kingbird and Zenaida Dove before on the way back as we had to divert around an accident in the mountains and when stopped Sarah spotted two Lesser Antillean Swift (the only ones we saw on the trip).

We also spotted some bats that we were told were Antillean Fruit Eating near the cave. So we were not too disappointed with the day.

However, we everyone on the trip got our money back on the excursion as the tour company had broken Covid rules, not done the planned trip itinerary and not provide the snack at the planned stop.

St Maarten (Phillipsburg)

Martinique and Guadeloupe were removed from the trip due to local restrictions so we had a few replacement stops. The Dutch half of St Martin was one, with no restrictions it was a welcome late addition. No real targets here so we just had a walk and did some snorkelling. Only birds seen were Brown Pelican, Zenaida Dove and Bananaquit and from the ship plenty of Brown Booby, Magnificent Frigate Bird and unexpectedly 4 Leach’s Storm Petrel.
 

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dandsblair

David and Sarah
Antigua (St John’s)

Famous for its 365 beaches we decided to just do sight-seeing around St John’s including the Cathedral, then have lunch at the botanical gardens with a little birding and then hit the beach. We were hopeful we would get most target birds tomorrow on St Lucia.

We did see a few birds at the gardens including a couple of targets, Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, along with Grey Kingbird the most common birds of the day, before adding Caribbean Elaenia, Carib Grackle, Black-whiskered Vireo, and a Yellow Warbler.
Later on we added Belted Kingfisher, Brown Pelican, Brown Booby and a House Sparrow.



St Lucia (Castries)


With very limited COVID restrictions we had been able to book a whole day tour to hopefully see all the key birds. The standard Cruise Ship birding tour was available $70 pp for a minimum of 4 people but we booked for just the two of us with StLuciaWildlife.com (the other details are all in the photo of the van). We would meet our guide Willow at the cruise terminal at 9.00 and he would get us back by 17.00 (we needed to get on-board by 17.30) everything worked out pretty much perfectly with Willow and a trainee guide Nesta waiting for us also showing us a bit of the island and letting us try some St Lucia street food.

For anyone thinking of birding from the cruise port you should reckon on at least 3 hours to get to and from Castries to the best birding spot on the Island the “Des Cartiers Trail” (Rainforest in the South of the Island) and an hour to walk to and from the viewpoint and however long you need to see the Parrots and the Oriole, etc. If you are also trying for the dry forest birds then I would reckon on at least 6 or 7 hours without any other stops.

Sods law we actually bumped into a fellow birder from the ship when we were on Dominica, he and his wife would have come with us but fortunately for him he was on the ship for another week and was going back to St Lucia, (the ship was repeating stops as a lot of ports were restricting access further) and he was hoping to arrange the same tour we did a week later.

It didn’t take long as we walked up the trail to start seeing birds, the first birds we saw were a male and female Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, useful to see these birds well now so we could appreciate the differences with the next birds St Lucia Black Finch, we were then quickly distracted by a lovely little St Lucia Warbler and then the weird tail twitching Gray Trembler behaving a little like a woodpecker. We were hearing Parrots all the time but Willow said let’s not waste time trying to find them through the leaves. We did search for the Rufous-throated Solitaire and seemed to get close a few times but this bird still remains a heard only species for us but we did have better luck with a Pearly-eyed Thrasher that we saw well. We also saw and continued to see all day the confiding St Lucia Pewee.

We eventually got to the view point and quickly added many of the very colourful St Lucia Parrots mostly in flight but a couple showed briefly in the trees, we also got very good views of both Green-throated Carib and Purple-throated Carib. We also had Antillean Crested Hummingbird at the start of the trail so all three hummers found here.
The bird that took the most time to find but that we eventually we got great views of 2 birds was St Lucia Oriole with one bird perching right above us at the view point. Then willow was very excited by the appearance of an Antillean Euphonia that he said was pretty hard to see well.

On the way back down to the car park we saw mostly the same species but added the Scaly-breasted Thrasher which was joined in a nearby tree by possibly the same Pearly-eyed Thrasher we saw earlier so we could compare size and bill colour, having seen both they were pretty easy to tell apart.

We then after some sight-seeing stops headed to the dry forest near Petite Anse for a key target, despite hearing the bird many times and seeing fleeting glimpses it took us ages to get acceptable views of the very range restricted White-breasted Thrasher, the birding wasn’t over and we added Caribbean Elaenia, Lesser Antillean Flycatcher, Black-faced Grassquit and finally a Brown Trembler.

Willow was surprised we didn’t see any swifts at the view point and we didn’t have any hint of the Saltator but all in all a great days birding, a nice way to see the Island, sample some food and and birding was well up to expectations; (we had stopped twice in St Lucia for flight changes but hadn’t left the airport so it was great to finally do it justice).

Other wildlife included Asian Mongoose, Black Witch Moth and Julian Butterfly.
 

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dandsblair

David and Sarah
Dominica (Roseau)

After yesterday’s great day birding, today was always going to be a bit of an anti-climax particularly as we could not do a private tour to try for the two parrots. Instead we took the organised tour that took us to Mourne Bruce Garrison, The Botanic Gardens and Jacko falls.

At Bourne Bruce an old garrison with views down to the sea, we only saw LA Bullfinch, Antillean Crested Hummingbird and Carib Grackle, whilst in the Botanic Gardens our slim hopes of seeing the Red-necked Parrot (a contact had told me they sometimes visit the botanic garden when food is short elsewhere and can even be seen as pests in the area, when that happens they hang around the breeding enclosure at the Parrot Research centre) unfortunately the lady doing the tour said they hadn’t been seen for some months, so only captive bred parrots to see today.

In fact here the only new birds for the day were Black-faced Grassquit and Bananaquit.

The habitat around the falls at Jacko was pretty good however with nearly all the tours coming here it was pretty busy and all we added was Green Carib and Lesser Antillean Pewee.

Other wildlife included the attractive Frangipan Catepillar and it was with mixed feelings we left Dominica as we could have seen a few more target birds but until a week ago we weren’t even coming to the island so one lifer that we would probably have got on Guadeloupe or Martinique had they not been cancelled was just about OK.

Grenada (St George’s)

A bit of confusion today, ship said only organised excursion could go ashore and we needed current Rapid Antigen test (we all had stickers showing we had been tested) plus Vaccine Passport. The Grenada web site didn’t mention any restrictions but said you required a passenger declaration and PCR test within 72 hours but when we went ashore for our excursion and then didn’t go directly back to the ship, the Port Security staff said that we could stay ashore and go anywhere with just our Vaccine Passport. In fact they wanted people to shop and eat in the town. When I spoke to one of the officers on the ship on our return to see if people who hadn’t been ashore could go into the town, he was adamant that the Port Authority were not allowing any individual ashore and those on tours needed the test, despite what we had seen and been told.

Anyway we went through the town, up to the new parliament, the old fort and then the appropriately named Quarantine Park. Only trip birds were Bare-eyed Robin and Royal Tern with other birds being Brown Pelican, Brown Booby, Magnificent Frigatebird, Laughing Gull, Black-faced Grassquit, LA Bullfinch, Little Blue Heron, Cattle Egret and Carib Grackle.

We drove past a reserve for Grenada Dove but there didn’t seem to be any info or sign of a guide so in the end decide not to go back and try for the Dove.


Summary of cruise

Even with unlimited time I suspect we might not have seen all the target birds although with a guide / directions I’m sure we would have got the three missed parrots and probably with more time in the field the Saltator but the Solitaire was heard only in both Jamaica and Hispaniola, so nothing new on that front and the Martinique Oriole was now off the table and Semper’s Warbler hasn’t been seen in years, so I guess wasn’t really a target despite being listed as a St Lucian endemic and we didn’t try for the Dove.

However if someone had offered me 21 lifers before we left home I would have bitten their hands off. Also in looking at a couple of upcoming birding tours to St Lucia (Jan and Feb) we actually saw more birds overall for quite a bit less money and had the cruise and week in Barbados thrown in. So in these weird times not a bad birdwatching trip.
 

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Andy Adcock

Well-known member
Cyprus
Dominica (Roseau)

After yesterday’s great day birding, today was always going to be a bit of an anti-climax particularly as we could not do a private tour to try for the two parrots. Instead we took the organised tour that took us to Mourne Bruce Garrison, The Botanic Gardens and Jacko falls.

At Bourne Bruce an old garrison with views down to the sea, we only saw LA Bullfinch, Antillean Crested Hummingbird and Carib Grackle, whilst in the Botanic Gardens our slim hopes of seeing the Red-necked Parrot (a contact had told me they sometimes visit the botanic garden when food is short elsewhere and can even be seen as pests in the area, when that happens they hang around the breeding enclosure at the Parrot Research centre) unfortunately the lady doing the tour said they hadn’t been seen for some months, so only captive bred parrots to see today.

In fact here the only new birds for the day were Black-faced Grassquit and Bananaquit.

The habitat around the falls at Jacko was pretty good however with nearly all the tours coming here it was pretty busy and all we added was Green Carib and Lesser Antillean Pewee.

Other wildlife included the attractive Frangipan Catepillar and it was with mixed feelings we left Dominica as we could have seen a few more target birds but until a week ago we weren’t even coming to the island so one lifer that we would probably have got on Guadeloupe or Martinique had they not been cancelled was just about OK.

Grenada (St George’s)

A bit of confusion today, ship said only organised excursion could go ashore and we needed current Rapid Antigen test (we all had stickers showing we had been tested) plus Vaccine Passport. The Grenada web site didn’t mention any restrictions but said you required a passenger declaration and PCR test within 72 hours but when we went ashore for our excursion and then didn’t go directly back to the ship, the Port Security staff said that we could stay ashore and go anywhere with just our Vaccine Passport. In fact they wanted people to shop and eat in the town. When I spoke to one of the officers on the ship on our return to see if people who hadn’t been ashore could go into the town, he was adamant that the Port Authority were not allowing any individual ashore and those on tours needed the test, despite what we had seen and been told.

Anyway we went through the town, up to the new parliament, the old fort and then the appropriately named Quarantine Park. Only trip birds were Bare-eyed Robin and Royal Tern with other birds being Brown Pelican, Brown Booby, Magnificent Frigatebird, Laughing Gull, Black-faced Grassquit, LA Bullfinch, Little Blue Heron, Cattle Egret and Carib Grackle.

We drove past a reserve for Grenada Dove but there didn’t seem to be any info or sign of a guide so in the end decide not to go back and try for the Dove.


Summary of cruise

Even with unlimited time I suspect we might not have seen all the target birds although with a guide / directions I’m sure we would have got the three missed parrots and probably with more time in the field the Saltator but the Solitaire was heard only in both Jamaica and Hispaniola, so nothing new on that front and the Martinique Oriole was now off the table and Semper’s Warbler hasn’t been seen in years, so I guess wasn’t really a target despite being listed as a St Lucian endemic and we didn’t try for the Dove.

However if someone had offered me 21 lifers before we left home I would have bitten their hands off. Also in looking at a couple of upcoming birding tours to St Lucia (Jan and Feb) we actually saw more birds overall for quite a bit less money and had the cruise and week in Barbados thrown in. So in these weird times not a bad birdwatching trip.
I think you may hav just slid in under the wire, I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of cruises cancelled after the CDC announcement advising against them, even for the vaccinated.
 

dandsblair

David and Sarah
I think you may hav just slid in under the wire, I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of cruises cancelled after the CDC announcement advising against them, even for the vaccinated.
We each had two boosters as we were on the Vaccine Trial programme so we were pretty confident in our own position (the Doctor leading the trial said if we get it there is no hope for the rest off us).
A couple of ships after us including the Queen Mary which a friend is still on seemed to be having a major outbreak but unlike 2020 when this thing first kicked off seriously as all the passenger are double or treble jabbed and very few people seem to be getting seriously ill I think things will continue as it is only advice.
 

dandsblair

David and Sarah
Barbados

In birding terms Barbados didn’t have a lot to offer us; just the Barbados Bullfinch which we saw immediately we arrived at our hotel the Turtle Beach on the South Coast. In fact the Bullfinch which looks like a Lesser Antillean female is one of the commonest birds on the island and was seen almost everywhere. We chose the hotel due to its proximity to Graham Hall reserve, not realising that all access was now blocked including around the good bits of perimeter or at least we couldn’t find access and a local guide said that due to sewage and chemical problems people were being kept away and as we didn’t have a site for the Quail Dove we just stuck to the beaches and site-seeing places and enjoyed a great relaxing week on Barbados.

As you can tell from the lack of quality bird photos I didn’t lug my SLR around on this trip but wish I would have taken it for St Lucia.
 

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Andy Adcock

Well-known member
Cyprus
I think the lizard is an Anole sp.

Edit: assuming St Lucia, looks like St.Lucia Anole Anolis luciae
 
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Andy Adcock

Well-known member
Cyprus
Had an e-mail yesterday telling me that the cruise I was going on, had I not pulled out due to it's ever shrinking itinerary, has been cancelled.
 

dandsblair

David and Sarah
Had an e-mail yesterday telling me that the cruise I was going on, had I not pulled out due to it's ever shrinking itinerary, has been cancelled.
Sorry to hear that.
We managed a river cruise (5 countries in October) but with only 29 passengers to 55 crew as well as this Caribbean trip and didn't feel any less safe than going on flights but it does appear that some ports are still very jumpy about cruises docking more so than flights for some reason.
 

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