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.