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Lesser Antilles Birding
3-13 November 1999
by Frank Frazier
Thought it might be of interest to give a brief report of the highlights of a trip I took with my N.J. friend Bill Weiss, to some principal islands of the Lesser Antilles in hopes of seeing their endemics and specialties - we visited Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent, ending up with one night and morning in Puerto Rico. I had been to Guadeloupe in 1994 but the rest were new.
The trip was planned using many good pointers and advice as to contacts, given me by Allan Keith, for which we are most grateful; and Roland Wauer's book "A Birder's West Indies" -- and my hard-working travel agent who arranged the mechanics of flights and car rentals, which actually worked!
We were two nights on each island, except for one only on Martinique, providing a day or day-and-a-half birding on each. We used LIAT for inter-island flights and the multi-stop flight back to San Juan PR from St. Vincent - if I had it to do again I would try American Eagle for this last flight as they go direct. I had trepidations about LIAT [which is said to stand for "Last in air travel"], but they turned out to be quite professional, and apart from a couple of mildly late departures their service was fine.
Guadeloupe: Arrived in late afternoon and stayed at L'Auberge de la Distillerie, [Route de Versailles, Tabanon, 97170 Petit-Bourg, telephone 94-25-91 or 94-01-56] on road D23 (cross-island, Basse-Terre portion) in Vernou, a small, older but pleasant and adequate hotel barely half an hour's drive from the airport but well away from the big city and close to good birding. Nearly all the "good birds" can be seen from a spot called Cascade aux Ecrevisses - down D23 a few miles west of the hotel - a path into the forest to a small waterfall. Across the road is a picnic area surrounded by forest. By arriving shortly past dawn, we had BRIDLED QUAIL-DOVE on the path near the waterfall, and presently either here or from the picnic area, GUADELOUPE WOODPECKER (a pair), PLUMBEOUS WARBLER, BROWN TREMBLER, SCALY-BREASTED and PEARLY-EYED THRASHERS-- and good looks at a FOREST THRUSH which everywhere else (according to Allan Keith) is an excessively shy forest bird but here on Guadeloupe, relatively easy to see.
We also drove south to the road into Chutes du Carbet, a famous waterfall. Quite high along this road is a big pond in the forest called Grand Etang - this is well worth a visit. We had Pied-billed Grebe, Green Heron and a Ringed Kingfisher here. Just a km or less south of this road on the main highway (seaward side) is a restaurant whose name I do not remember but it's a great place for lunch - fine food, good ocean view, and they know a little English.
Dominica: The only place we didn't rent a car: thanks to internet contact we connected with a local agency Nature Island Destinations who arranged a hotel and a guide with transportation. The latter is an excellent ornithologist as well as good company - Bertrand Jn.-Baptiste, and anyone so inclined would do well to engage his services. His e-mail (with his permission) is: dr_birdy2[at]yahoo.com.
We had an afternoon (visiting southern Dominica) and a full day with Bertrand, the latter spent primarily on the Syndicate Estates nature trail and parrot lookouts. Highlights were RED-NECKED PARROT, IMPERIAL PARROT (seen on our second, afternoon try!), BLUE-HEADED HUMMINGBIRD, and in the southern, lower parts, LESSER ANTILLEAN FLYCATCHER and L.A. SALTATOR.
Martinique: Arrived early afternoon, stayed one night and had until the following afternoon to bird. No guide except Wauer's book and Allan Keith's advice to get to Caravelle Peninsula VERY EARLY for the White-breasted Thrasher. So we stayed at the Baie du Galion Hotel well out on the peninsula (which is less than an hour's drive from the airport) - unnecessarily elegant; there are other hotels in that region. We had a fleeting glimpse of the WHITE-BREASTED THRASHER in the afternoon on a trail beyond the end of the road marked "Petit et Grand Sentiers de Decouverte", down the first set of steps. The following morning we went beyond this point to ruins of a fort called Chateau Dubuc and below these beyond an area of mown grass there is a set of wooden seats in the dry forest like a very small amphitheatre. At the nearby edge of woods and in here, we saw both the Thrasher (flying through and stopping briefly, in response to pishing) and the MARTINIQUE ORIOLE which fed unconcernedly low in bushes, oblivious to pishing.
St. Lucia: This is a most picturesque island but I don't advise following our procedure of evening arrival, renting a car and driving south (through the busy little capital of Castries) on the incredibly windy, hilly but decently wide highway to Soufrière, where we stayed at the Hummingbird Beach Resort. A 26-mile trip which took an hour and a half! It did produce one ST. LUCIA NIGHTJAR flying across close in our headlights. We were met the next morning by a most helpful Forestry Dept. official and our guide, Augustine (arranged through Allan Keith's contacts in the Forestry Dept., interested persons should contact me for details). They drove us up an awful road (narrow, once-paved) into the Edmond Forest Reserve, where we set off on quite a long hike. Augustine's sharp eyes and ears produced ST. LUCIA PARROT, ST. LUCIA PEWEE, and ST. LUCIA BLACK FINCH. We saw one GRAY TREMBLER while stopped on the road on the way out; oddly, we didn't see any while walking. The only miss was the St. Lucia Oriole, which we did hear once in the forest as pointed out by Augustine.
St. Vincent: Evening arrival again, rented a car and had an easy drive into the city of Kingstown for our hotel - reservations at Cobblestone Inn but they were full due to a stay-longer guest; and they arranged a room at the nearby Heron Hotel for us. The restaurant below the Cobblestone Inn (downstairs) is excellent. Again we were met the next morning by a guide, Amos Glasgow who turned out to be another fine birder and good companion. He is a member of AvianEyes, the local birding club, whom I had contacted because of a trip report posted a while back by P. William Smith, to whom go many thanks also. Apparently the address given then is no longer valid, as the person is presently abroad; anyone interested should contact me and I'll try to help make a contact.
With Amos we drove another long windy road, a little better than the St. Lucia one, to the trailhead at Vermont Forest - perhaps half an hour from town. Another long uphill hike followed, in a beautiful rain forest and on one of the best-constructed trails I've ever seen, with steps of small logs at every steep climb. At first we followed rushing streams, and soon Amos pointed out a singing WHISTLING WARBLER which we presently saw and watched at some length. The literature made this seem like a rare and difficult bird, and we felt very fortunate. We saw several more along the way. Ultimately we reached "The Platform" - an observation platform built at the high point of the trail, overlooking a valley and forested ridges beyond.
We had heard parrots from time to time along the way, but here we saw a number of ST. VINCENT PARROTS, flying in pairs and threes from time to time, providing pretty good looks although we never managed to see a close perched one. Here also, after some waiting, we got a good and then excellent looks at the LESSER ANTILLEAN (or Hooded) TANAGER.
I'll close here - our final evening in Puerto Rico was rained out but we had a pleasant if short and drizzly morning's birding in Luquillo Forest before catching the plane home. In general the trip was a great success as we saw most of the endemics, thanks to excellent help on three of the islands. If anyone would like to see a complete trip list or get more info. with a view to planning a trip, feel free to contact me.
[JWW note: A Guadeloupe/Martinique trip report with maps to various places where I failed to find Martinique Oriole in March, 1990 may still be circulating in the UK. On the flight back to San Juan, I sat next to a non-birder who furnished a good description of a Martinique Oriole, seen flying about the garden of his resort hotel in Anse de l'Arse. I saw three White-breasted Thrashers at the following site: From Lamentin, follow signs to Robert. Continue past the Robert turnoff. Turn right at the Tartane signpost. Take the road to the Caravelle Peninsula. Drive through town, and 0.8 km past Studio La Caravelle, turn left at a sign to M. Pavillin. Drive 0.7 km and park. Walk downslope, to the left of a goat pen, and look for the largest surviving dry forest trees.
On Guadeloupe, I went first to a spot described in Craig Faanes' trip report: Heading west from L'Auberge de la Distillerie, turn right at a sign to Prise d'Eau. Turn left at a sign to IND (135 degree angle). Continue straight, passing a school on the left. Once past the developed area, park and walk the dirt road. Birds there included Guadeloupe Woodpecker (3), Brown Trembler (4), and Plumbeous Warbler (5). I saw another Melanerpes on the trails behind La Maison de la Forêt (a nature center) on D23. Finally, I had Forest Thrush, Scaly-breasted Thrasher, Mangrove Cuckoo, and more Brown Tremblers at what must be the same place where Frank did so well, the picnic area just west of the R. Corrosol.
For a report about the deadly eruption of M. Pelée on Martinique in 1902, see How an election killed the entire electorate.]