Birding With Dr Birdy – Syndicate Forest, Dominica

Actually his real name is Bertrand Jno Baptiste but Dr Birdy has the prescription for finding Dominica’s two endemic parrots and many other birds such as the Antillean Hummingbird.  I contacted him by email and arranged a morning of birding using his car with a pick up at the Tamarind Tree Hotel.  The hotel staff know him quite well as the proximity of the property to the (pink route) Syndicate (Morne Diablotin National Park) attracts many birders.

Dominica map

Since we arrived after dark, I was excited to see how beautiful the island is!

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As we drove to the Syndicate, we saw some seabirds flying by and a few fishermen.img_8058 img_8061 img_8063 img_8065 dscn4390 dscn4389

I can’t quite make this one out.img_8070 img_8073

Antillean Crested Hummingbirdimg_8076 img_8083 img_8088 img_8090

Blue-headed Hummingbird

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We keep driving uphill.dscn4323 dscn4324 dscn4325

A smaller trail leads to the parrot lookout.dscn4326

Don’t worry, you don’t have to hike to the summit.  This is a relatively easy walk through the forest.dscn4328 dscn4329

Dr Birdy leads the way.  Notice that scope?  This was essential to see the Sisserou especially.dscn4330 dscn4331 dscn4336

We were the only ones there.  We set up the scope and got the cameras ready, then it was a waiting game.  dscn4338

Dominica’s most wanted!dscn4339 dscn4340

Rufous-throated Solitaire dscn4348 dscn4357 img_8112

Mostly Red-necked Parrots flying back and forth through the gorge.  Trying to get a photo at a distance was quite a challenge!  If you look very closely, you can see the tiny specks in these photos.  I did my best to enlarge them below.img_8122 img_8125 img_8133 img_8147 img_8173 img_8186 img_8190 img_8199 img_8202 img_8216 img_8239 img_8250 img_8307 img_8329 img_8303

Red-necked Parrot (Jaco)img_8303a img_8306 img_8306a img_8309a img_8311a img_8314a img_8315a img_8317a

This is an Imperial Parrot (Sisserou) flying through but I messed up the only “flight shot” I had.img_8334a

No better luck when trying to digiscope the Sisserou.  I was able to see him perched but couldn’t manipulate my iPhone to find him.

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I barely got the back of his head behind leaves, I had to aim wide angle at the general area so zooming in didn’t produce much.

img_8340a It was getting close to noon and we had a 5pm flight and uncertain bus transport ahead so we had to be satisfied that at least we saw the birds!  We head back towards Portsmouth and Dr Birdy dropped us at a bus stop where we finally did get a bus passing the airport.   dscn4392

It was a great morning and we saw the birds we wanted (even if I couldn’t get a decent shot) and we never would have found the perched parrots without Dr Birdy.  He’s a cool guy and one of the top birding guides in the Caribbean so definitely book him if you want the best chances to see the SIsserou!  He can be reached by email.

Hotel Review – Tamarind Tree, Dominica

We only had one day and since I had a mission – see the 2 endemic parrots of Dominica, I went looking for a hotel as close as possible to the Syndicate Reserve, where they can be seen.  The Tamarind Tree fit the bill for location and it turned out to be a really nice place with amazing views!

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Unfortunately with a late flight we didn’t have time to use the inviting pooldscn4306 dscn4307

The room was large, clean and very comfortable.dscn4293 dscn4294 dscn4295 dscn4296

The rooms open onto a large verandah with tables and chairs to relax and enjoy the view.

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I loved the artwork in the room!dscn4297

We had dinner in the restaurant which was good.  The wifi works here so I was able to get caught up.

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They do have some parrots items for sale.  I was tempted by this huge wooden plaque but it would have been a hassle to carry around.  Now that I am home, I wish I would have bought it!  I was hopeful to find something smaller the next day in the market.  I was not to know there wouldn’t be enough time to shop!dscn4302

This is what I did buy.  It’s actually laminated in plastic and came in a set of 4 so people could use them as placemats but I prefer them as decorative art!dscn4303

A few birds in the garden.dscn4310 dscn4312

Tamarind Tree is on the opposite side of the island from the airport and it takes longer to get there than you might imagine as the roads are all twisty-turny mountain roads.   Don’t let Google fool you, it was closer to 2 hours but we were driving at night so that may have slowed us down.  The ride we got from the airport used the blue route.  The pink route leads to the Syndicate Reserve.  The grey route is where we returned to the airport.  Dr Birdy dropped us at the junction of Portsmouth and the island road and we got a bus.

Dominica map

Tamarind Tree is a great small hotel that would suit birders, but the location may put some people off unless they rented a car as there is nothing nearby.  The views and grounds are gorgeous and it is a great place to relax and enjoy the quiet island lifestyle.  You can book on their website or use a portal like Rocketmiles or Pointshound to score some more airline miles.

2016 Airline Timeliness Awards

I have mentioned how frustrating it can be when airlines are late like LIAT.  SO which airlines are most reliable for timeliness?  Flightstats tracks airline departures and arrivals and they have just released their annual report for 2016.  KLM takes out first place overall but they also have categories for regions and low cost carriers.  Here’s a sneak peek, then check out Flightstats full report.

airline awards

For some reason, Etihad isn’t mentioned, I hope that doesn’t mean they are always late!

Liat Late To Dominica, Surprise Airport Charges On Exit

Leaving St Vincent, I was annoyed (but not surprised when both Liat flights (connecting in Barbados) were late.  Especially because it meant that we would miss the last bus and have to get a very expensive taxi to the other side of the island.

It’s possible to get a good deal on this flight and the taxes are supposedly included.  This direct flight wasn’t available when we booked.  Dominica had been hit badly by a hurricane and some flights were curtailed for awhile.  It may look like taxes are included but there is an extra departure tax to be paid at the airport.  They want cash which I didn’t have since I had made a point of spending all our ECD save a few bucks for snacks and I knew there would be ATMs at SJU to get USD easily.  They finally took me upstairs to some kind of office and processed the fee on my credit card.

Liat DOM

Waiting in the departure gate area.  St Vincent Airport does have a small gift shop before security, nothing in the departure area.

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We had a longer layover than expected in Barbados but at least they had a good variety of fast food places that take credit cards.dscn4275 dscn4276 dscn4277 dscn4278 dscn4279 dscn4280

Some of the gates are in a different building down this long-ish hall.  The shops and restaurants are in the main terminal.dscn4281 dscn4282

Is this flight EVER going to leave?dscn4283

Boarding at rear only.dscn4284 dscn4285

You better put that backpack on the plane!dscn4286

By this time I had caught on and we were sitting in the rear.dscn4287

Goodbye Barbados!dscn4288

Hello Dominica!dscn4290

Another small airline.dscn4291

Yay, the backpack is on the truck!dscn4292

Outside the terminal, we met a man who had come to pick up his son and was headed our way so we paid him about half the taxi would have cost to take us to our hotel (which was on his way).dscn4392

After birding in Dominica (post to follow) Dr Birdy dropped us at the bus stop outside Portsmouth.  We waited about 15 minutes until a minibus arrived.  They dropped us on the road outside and we walked into the airport.dscn4394

Last minute birding outside the airport.dscn4395 dscn4398

Goodbye Dominica!dscn4400

Even after the airport tax hassle our troubles weren’t over.  The flight to Antigua was only about an hour late.  Much to my surprise, the flight from Antigua to San Juan left on time.  It was a puddle jumper that stopped at St Kitts and Tortola enroute.  It was in one of these islands that the schedule went all to hell.  We were stuck on the tarmac for 2 hours waiting for another late Liat plane which had passengers connecting to our plane. At first they left us sweltering with no AC or water until everyone on the plane was in near mutiny, then they turned the AC on and brought us water.  We finally arrived in San Juan just after midnight.  Already exhausted, I had to navigate a rental car to our hotel, finally arriving around 2am.

 

Prince Harry Meets Some St Vincent Parrots

Prince Harry is well known for his dedication to conservation and has visited many countries to learn about the wildlife.  When he visited St Vincent last year, he went to the botanical gardens and met some St Vincent Parrots which caught his attention.  He also did a “short walk” along the Vermont Trail but it doesn’t say if he saw the parrots at the look out or not.  My dream would be to get Prince Harry on board more bird conservation issues along with all his followers!

#PrinceHarry

#conservation

#StVincentParrot

How To Maximize Australian Supermarket Loyalty Programs

In Australia we have two main supermarket loyalty programs – Flybuys (Coles & partners) and Woolworths Rewards.  Both of these can earn you valuable points that can either be redeemed for shopping vouchers in $10 increments or transferred to airline programs.

WHAT THEY HAVE IN COMMON

  1.  Both earn a base value of 1 point per $ spent in the supermarket.
  2. Both allow you to redeem 2000 points for one $10 shopping voucher which is stored on the card for use when you shop.
  3. Both have airline partners where you can redeem 2000 points for 870 airline miles.  Woolworths has Qantas and Coles has Virgin Australia plus Etihad where you redeem 10,000 Flybuys for 4000 Etihad.

On the surface, it would appear that it takes forever to get enough points to transfer to the airline to get an actual flight.  $2000 spent in the store gets 870 miles.  If a round trip to Fiji costs 36,000 miles, then you would have to spend $84,000 in the store to get 42 lots of 870 miles which could be exchanged for 36.540 miles.  Pretty daunting, huh?

PLAY THE PROMOS STRATEGICALLY

All is not lost!  Both supermarkets have gotten very competitive with shopping promos lately.  You can find these promos on shopping dockets, in your junk mail and sent to you by email or sometimes by snail mail.  Here is what they look like.

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Be sure to activate the email promos and bring the docket ones to be scanned!  If a Woolworths offer is for $10, this comes in the form of 2000 points which you can choose to transfer to Qantas.  Spending $100 on groceries is pretty easy and much better than spending $2000!  You can always stock up on non-perishable items like cleaning supplies, packaged goods and soft drinks, especially when they do the half price deals.

Do they work?  Well have a look at my earnings just for the last few months!

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HOW TO SHOP LIKE A PRO AND GET REWARDS QUICKER

  1.  Swap your shopping each week according to which supermarket has the best promos.
  2.   Don’t exceed the target by more than a couple dollars otherwise your next target will go up substantially.  I mentally add up the prices as I put things in the trolley and usually come within $1 of the target.
  3.  If the targets start getting too high, then stop shopping at that supermarket for awhile and shop at the other one.  They will make you better offers to lure you back.
  4.  If you have a partner or spouse, have them join Flybuys & Woolworths Rewards.  When your targets are too high, then start using their card for a while.  You can always use the family pooling feature of Velocity & Qantas to get the points in your account or just redeem from their account.
  5.  Pay with an Amex Platinum Edge to get 3 Membership Rewards per $.  If you don’t have one, I would appreciate if you use my referral link which is on my review of the card.
  6.  Buy gift cards for other things you need at supermarkets (Bunnings, JB-Hifi, clothing stores, etc) but DON’T scan your rewards card or your next promo target will go up substantially!  I learned this the hard way when we renovated the bathroom last year and I bought heaps of Bunnings cards at Coles which made my monthly average go way up and my next goal was something ridiculous like “Spend $300 for 1000 bonus points.  Most people’s targets will be between $50 – $150 a week.  However you do want to buy the gift cards and pay with an Amex Platinum Edge, just don’t scan the Flybuys card!  You’ll still get 3x on your home renovations rather than the 1x per $ you normally get at Bunnings.

 

Purple-throated Carib (Eulampis jugularis)

The Purple-throated Carib (Eulampis jugularis) is a beautiful species of hummingbird in the family Trochilidae found in the Caribbean islands.

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They have a wide distribution in the Caribbean.  I personally saw them in St Lucia & St Vincent.  They are very striking when the sun highlights their purple throats!

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LEARN MORE ABOUT PURPLE-THROATED CARIB HUMMINGBIRDS

Wikipedia

Birdlife

Neotropical Birds

VIDEOS

Se what a beauty he is, they even put a slo-mo sequence at the end!

A little privacy please, can’t you see I am taking a shower?

 

 

Failed Shopping Trip To Kingston, St Vincent

After hiking the Vermont Trail and visiting the Parrot Breeding aviary in the botanical garden, I was hoping to find some kind of knickknack with a Vincie Parrot on it as a souvenir.  This was on a Saturday afternoon and I had trouble finding minibuses to get around, wasted a lot of time waiting.  The scenery was really nice as we drove from the Vermont Trail to town.  I was lucky and got a front seat.

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Upon arrival at the market, everyone had pretty much packed and gone home.  They close early on a Saturday afternoon.dscn4226 dscn4227 dscn4230 dscn4232 dscn4233 dscn4234 dscn4235

I grabbed a taxi to the wharf (where cruise ships dock) as someone told me they had souvenir shops there but unfortunately they were also closed.dscn4236 dscn4237 dscn4238 dscn4239 dscn4240 dscn4241 dscn4242 dscn4243

There was nothing to do but get a taxi back to the hotel as I couldn’t even find a minibus by then!  Lesson learned, find out what time the shops close in advance!dscn4246

Kingston Botanical Garden, St Vincent

After an exhausting hike up the Vermont Trail, I was still keen to see the St Vincent Parrot close up as they are really stunning birds.  I knew that the St Vincent Botanical Gardens has a Vincie Breeding Facility so headed there hoping to see them up close and personal.

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The gardens themselves are lush and beautiful.dscn4196 dscn4197 dscn4198 dscn4199

The aviaries for the breeding facility are in the rear of the garden.dscn4200a dscn4214 dscn4215

Here you can get fairly close to the parrots, especially if they like you and come to the cage wire.  Getting photos is a lot harder as there is a barrier preventing you from going right up to the wire (they don’t want people to touch the birds).  While I did SEE the birds very well, I had trouble getting past the wire to get a photo.dscn4212 dscn4211 dscn4210 dscn4207a dscn4205a

This was the best I could do and it doesn’t come close to doing this amazing bird justice.dscn4222 dscn4221 dscn4218

This shows the set up of the aviaries, see the barrier that keeps you away from the wire.dscn4216

Saint Vincent Amazon Parrot (Amazona guildingii)

The Saint Vincent Amazon (Amazona guildingii) also known as Saint Vincent Parrot, is a large, approximately 40 cm long, multi-colored amazon parrot with a yellowish white, blue and green head, greenish-bronze upperparts plumage, and violet blue-green wings.

This bird is from the St Vincent Botanical Gardens breeding centre.

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Artistic renditiondscn4183a

And if you are at the Parrot Lookout, this is what they look like!  Snap fast!img_8030

The Saint Vincent Amazon is endemic to the heavily forested mountains of the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent.  Most birders find them (with patience) at the Vermont Trail Parrot Lookout.

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LEARN MORE ABOUT ST VINCENT AMAZON PARROTS

Wikipedia

Word Parrot Trust

Birdlife

Neotropical Birds

VIDEOS

No one seems to have filmed them in the wild but there are a couple clips from the breeding centre.