Birding The Lesser Antilles

Before I move on to the final chapter of the Caribbean birding adventure, let’s have a look at the Lesser Antilles from the perspective of an organized birding tour that went to 9 islands.  Rigdon Currie has a wonderful channel on Youtube for birders and I always enjoy seeing how other people experience the same birding locations.  You get a better perspective of the parrot outlooks and how difficult it is to spot the parrots as they zoom past.

Last but not least, Puerto Rico coming up next!

Rufous-throated Solitaire (Myadestes genibarbis)

The Rufous-throated Solitaire (Myadestes genibarbis) is a species of bird placed in the family Turdidae.  The bird is nicknamed the siffleur montagne (or mountain whistler) in Dominica.  This little guy came pretty close to me at the Syndicate.

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They are found on several Caribbean Islands such as Dominica, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Martinique, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent.

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LEARN MORE ABOUT RUFOUS-THROATED SOLITAIRES

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Birdlife

Neotropical Birds

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I love this cute “red beard” effect of their colouring!

Imperial Amazon Parrot (Amazona imperialis)

The Imperial Amazon Parrot (Amazona imperialis), is locally known as the Sisserou,and found only on the Caribbean island of Dominica.  I only caught a glimpse of one and was unable to get a photo so here’s what Wikipedia has – a captive bird and a drawing.

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The Sisserou is proudly featured on the flag of Dominica.

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They have a very small range in the Morne Diablotins (Syndicate) and the Morne Trois Pitons National Parks.  I got my best view through Dr Birdy’s scope at Syndicate.

Sisseroumap

LEARN MORE ABOUT IMPERIAL AMAZON PARROTS

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World Parrot Trust

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We will have to be content with captive birds as no one seems to have filmed them in the wild and posted on Youtube.

 

Antillean Crested Hummingbird (Orthorhyncus cristatus)

The Antillean Crested Hummingbird (Orthorhyncus cristatus) is a species of hummingbird in the Trochilidae family.  I saw this one as we were driving up to the Syndicate Forest.  I think it’s a female as the crest isn’t that bright blue colour.

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They are found in found in the Caribbean Islands of Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Montserrat, north-east Puerto Rico, Saba, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Martin, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Eustatius, the British Virgin Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Lesser Antilles.  The only island where I saw one was Dominica.

LEARN MORE ABOUT ANTILLEAN CRESTED HUMMINGBIRDS

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Neotropical Birds

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These clips really show the beauty of the male bird’s crest!

 

 

And this one is trying to have a drink and a bath at the same time!

Red-necked Amazon Parrot (Amazona arausiaca)

The Red-necked Amazon (Amazona arausiaca), also known as the Red-necked Parrot, Dominican Blue-faced Amazon, lesser Dominican Amazon, and Jaco Parrot, is an amazon parrot endemic to Dominica.  I was really lucky to get these shots at the Syndicate.

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They are easiest to see in the Morne Diablotins (Syndicate) and the island overall.  They are much easier to find than the Imperial Amazon.

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LEARN MORE ABOUT RED-NECKED PARROTS

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World Parrot Trust

Birdlife

VIDEOS

This is how they look from the parrot lookout.

And sometimes they come a bit closer as these lucky people found.  You can see how well they camoflage against the leaves – which is good as it protects them from predators.

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.

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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