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.

 

Hiking The Vermont Trail, St Vincent

The highlight of a birding trip to St Vincent is undoubtably the lush tropical Vermont Trail.  Most people of good fitness seem to make it up to the Parrot Lookout in an hour of steady hiking.  Being of poor fitness, it took me about 2.5 hours!

GETTING THERE

From the Beachcomber’s Hotel, I took a minibus to the market.  It was a Saturday morning so they weren’t as frequent and despite my early start, it was 7:30 by the time I arrived at the market.  I was alone, my husband needed a rest day by the pool.  I waited another half hour for the minibus to the start of the Vermont Trail.  I would have had to walk up another hill from the main road so I paid the driver to take me all the way to the entrance.

It costs $5 to enter but there weren’t any staff on hand so I just walked in.  I did pay on the way out.  They seem used to birders doing this.

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HIKING THE TRAIL

It starts out as a pretty well-marked trail with a gradual ascent.dscn4156 dscn4157 The trail gets more challenging as you keep going up.  They do have signs to point the way. dscn4160 dscn4161

There were some parts where I could barely tell which way to go.  dscn4162 dscn4163

Rest area about halfway up.dscn4165 dscn4166 dscn4167a

PARROT LOOKOUT

Finally you reach the parrot lookout.  This is the best place to stop and just listen and wait.  They fly back and forth the valley.  You will hear them first, then try to find them!dscn4172 dscn4173 dscn4174 dscn4175 dscn4178

Along the trail, I saw both Purple & Green-throated Carib Hummingbirds.  Unfortunately I couldn’t get them in decent light.img_7974 img_7974a img_7977a

I was at the Parrot Lookout by around 10am.  They kept me waiting almost 2 hours and I was getting worried I hiked all the way up there for nothing.  Thankfully they appeared and started swooping the valley before noon.  It is really hard to get a good shot unless you are lucky enough to have them perch near you (which I wasn’t).  When they flew against the sky all I got were silhouettes, when they flew against the trees I couldn’t get them in focus – green bird against green tree background and I don’t have that good aim!img_7987 img_7988a img_7993 img_7996a img_8002a img_8003a img_8007a img_8009 img_8009a img_8010a img_8011a img_8019a img_8022a img_8026a img_8027a img_8029a img_8030 img_8040 img_8041a

They stopped swooping after around half an hour so I walked back down to the office, paid the $5 fee and looked around their displays.dscn4181

I wish they would have had smaller ones like this for sale!dscn4183a dscn4184 dscn4186 dscn4185

Of course there were no taxis or buses to take me back down.  Many people will pre-book one but I had no idea what time I would finish as I wasn’t going to leave until I saw the parrots even if it took all day!  Finally a car came and dropped off a staff member and I got a ride back to the main road.  From there I got a minibus back to town.

Hotel Review: Beachcomber’s St Vincent

The Beachcomber’s Hotel in St Vincent ticks all the boxes for the traveling birder in the Caibbean who also wants a bit of R&R on the side.  It’s conveniently located near the airport and you can get minibuses just outside the property into town.

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We arrived at night, walked across the street to the bus stop and got a minibus which let us out at the gate.dscn4148

Night time view of Beachcomber’s.dscn4149

Daylight reveals an attractive garden full of flowers.dscn4249

Our room was on the end with a small table & chairs for our use on the patio.dscn4248 dscn4150

A comfortable king bed with attractive artwork in our comfortable room.dscn4151 dscn4152 dscn4153

This is the entrance to the restaurant with the pool area just beyond.dscn4250

The pool area overlooks the beach.dscn4253 dscn4269 dscn4267a dscn4270 dscn4251 dscn4252

Always time for a bit of birdwatching while sunbathing!  dscn4256

Random lizarddscn4259 dscn4260

Our stay was over a Saturday so we got to enjoy their weekly BBQ.  They had some traditional Caribbean music………….dscn4265

…………..a salad bar (sorry for blurry pic)……………dscn4264

……..and a choice of meats from the menu.  I had the ribs and my husband had the fish.dscn4261 dscn4262 dscn4263

We had a great albeit short stay here and found that the Beachcomber’s was a nice all-rounder at a very reasonable price.  They average 4 stars on Trip Advisor although I gave them 5 as we were very happy with our stay.  You can book direct on their website or use online booking portals such as Rocketmiles, Pointshound or similar to maximise your benefits.

Introduction To Liat Airlines

If you’ve been researching the Caribbean, you’ll have heard it before.

Leave

Island

Any

Time

or

Luggage

In

Another

Terminal

 

But if you want to visit some of the smaller islands like St Vincent, St Lucia & Dominca and travel between one or more island you won’t be able to avoid Liat.  Believe me, I tried!  These are the routes we ended up taking:

St Lucia – St Vincent

St Vincent – Dominica

Dominica – San Juan, Puerto Rico

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Liat does not have a loyalty program nor does it partner with any other airline so your only option is to pay cash.  This is fairly easy to do on their website.  Try to book a few months in advance so you can get the “web promo” deal which is good value, otherwise flights can be expensive for the short hops.  Also check out their Facebook page for the occasional promo code.

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A FEW THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT LIAT

  1.  Online check-in is limited to a few islands and for carry-on bags only.  You can’t choose your seats, they are assigned automatically.  If you check bags, you have to check in at the airport and get your seats.    dscn4135
  2.   Carry-on bags are extremely limited (7 kgs)– and they will actually weigh every bag even if it looks small.  We were caught out here as our backpacks are fairly small but with camera gear weighed about 10 kgs each.  We ended up carrying on what we could but we still had to check one bag with the least valuable items. Thankfully the bag didn’t get lost on any of the flights
  3. dscn4137dscn4272   Boarding is generally via stairs on the tarmac through both front & rear doors.  Therefore you don’t want a seat in the middle of the plane.  Passport control lines are long and move slowly at most islands.dscn4143
  4.   The planes are small with a 2 x 2 configuration.  I liked this as it meant we didn’t have to squish in with a stranger.   dscn4145
  5.   This is a rare occasion.  Our flight from St Lucia to St Vincent was on time!  All the rest of our flights were 2-3 hours late.  In Dominica, we missed the last bus to Portsmouth and would have had to get an expensive taxi but we ended up paying a local a lesser amount to take us along as he was headed that way.  In San Juan, we arrived well after midnight but at least we had a rental car and they are open 24/7.     Try to build in a buffer of an extra day if you have to be somewhere at a certain time (like a cruise or group tour).  dscn4136
  6.   Flights are often cancelled due to storms and hurricanes.  I would avoid visiting the Caribbean during the hurricane season.  Or you could leave it to a couple weeks ahead if you must travel during July-November as hurricanes are usually predicted a couple weeks in advance.
  7.   Check in lines can be very long and move slowly.  Get there as early as possible.  But bring your own entertainment as the waiting rooms/gates usually leave a lot to be desired!dscn4271

 

 

BOTTOM LINE

If you are traveling directly from the USA, UK or Europe to your chosen island and returning directly, you probably won’t have to fly Liat.  But if you want to island hop around, especially the smaller islands (where all the cool birds are) then you can’t avoid Liat.  Hopefully these tips will help you make the best of it.

Travel/Miles/Points Wishlist – 2017

I’ve seen a lot of other travel/miles/points bloggers making predictions or wishlists for 2017 so why not?  Mine is from the point of view of a birder/eco-traveler so mine are pretty different.

  1.  LATAM – I wish that you would introduce one-way awards at half the price of a round trip.  Your other South American competitors have them so get with the program!
  2.  COPA – I wish that you would join Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi TYP to make it easier to get your miles.
  3.  AVIANCA – Same as COPA, who will be the first?  C’mon guys, COMPETE!
  4.  AUSSIE AMEX – How about adding more transfer partners, preferably in South America but I’ll take the AA or UA.
  5.  VENEZUELA – Get your economic act together,  You have too good a birdlist so take a page from Colombia, restore law and order so we can start visiting again.
  6.  ALL AIRLINES APPLICABLE – DItch the fuel surcharges, especially on award tickets!
  7.  AA & UA – Offer awards in Premium Economy for your partners that have this cabin.
  8.  QANTAS – Seriously, NO awards in J on SYD-SCL for the whole year?  Unacceptable!
  9.  GARUDA – Why don’t you have an Aussie credit card partner yet?  And while you are at it, offer easy online redemptions.
  10.  COLES & WOOLWORTHS (AUSTRALIA) – Keep the bonus promos coming!

 

 

2017 – The African Godmother, Aussie-style Glamping & Revised Miles & Points Goals

It’s pretty hard to top our 2016 travels………………but if anything can, it would be another African adventure.   Last year, I made plans and pretty much nailed it, but no time to rest on my laurels!   2017 will see what will probably be our last trip to Africa (unless we win Lotto) so we are going to make the most of it while we can!  Bring on the Godmother of All African Adventures!

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2017 TRAVEL PLANS

After most airline miles programs devalued last year, I was worried that if we put off our long haul travel, we may not be able to make them happen.  Turns out I was right, Velocity devalued their partner awards on Etihad both in terms of mileage required and a shocking new surcharge.  United did away with their traditional stopovers and made their new Excursionist Perk program more restrictive in terms of regions and routings.  If I hadn’t booked when I did, we would have had to cough up more money, more points and travel in economy on Etihad instead of business class.  The itinerary targets all (except Niam-Niam) parrots in Africa that we haven’t seen yet and a few old friends like the African Grey (hopefully closer up), the Red-bellied Parrot and more!  So Africa here we come……………..and not a moment too soon!

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Trip #1

Brisbane – Perth – Abu Dhabi, car to Dubai for a couple days.  Used AAdvantage on QF in Y and Velocity on Etihad J before devaluations happened.

Dubai – Nairobi – Entebbe.  Used Flying Blue on KQ in Y.

UGANDA:  Will be visiting birding hotspots like Entebbe Botanical Gardens, Mabamba Swamp, Mabira Forest & possibly Ngamba Chimpanzee Sanctuary where African Grey Parrots rescued from poachers were released into the wild.  (FYI:  This will be my 2nd trip to Uganda and I have already visited the mountain gorillas in Bwindi and chimps in Kibale).  My main goal is to get African Grey Parrots closer up and possibly Meyers Parrots and some other cool birds like Shoebills and Turacos.

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Entebbe – Addis Ababa – Lusaka – Windhoek.  Used United miles on Ethiopian & South African airlines in Y class.  This is a one region with a stop-over that technically wasn’t allowed before but sometimes slipped through.  It’s no longer possible with Excursionist Perks.

ETHIOPIA:  Will visit either or both of Wondo Genet & Lake Lugano.  Originally we were going to stay at Bishangari Lodge but it was burned down by protesters in Oct 2016.  The new plan is to fly to Awassa, then make day trips from there.  Once back in Addis Ababa, we will stay at the Ghion Hotel (their grounds are a birding hotspot) and a day trip to Menagesha Forest.  I’m targeting 2 endemic parrots – Yellow-fronted Parrot & Black-winged Lovebird plus other species.

ZAMBIA:  Will hightail it out of Lusaka to Livingstone for Victoria Falls/Mosi-o-tunya NP and the Machile IBA for Black-cheeked Lovebirds.  Then it’s on to Mfuwe and South Luangwa NP which is a hotspot for Lillian’s Lovebirds.

NAMIBIA:  We’ll pick up a rental car and drive around Namibia chasing Ruppell’s Parrots & Peach (Rosy)-faced Lovebirds near Etosha NP, Kunene River, Huab Lodge area and around Omaruru.

Windhoek – Doha – Adelaide – Brisbane  Used AAdvantage miles on Qatar Airways & Qantas in J.  This was one devaluation I couldn’t avoid but at least we are getting our miles worth!

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TRIP #2

Next year’s trip will be expensive both in miles & money so we will keep costs down on our road trip.  I’m thinking maybe a return visit to Bowra Station for “glamping” in the shearers’ quarters.

2017-goals

MILES AND POINTS GOALS

Much to my surprise, I am tracking pretty well.  2017 is booked.  I have enough miles for both a 2018 trip to South America & my solo trip to the World Parrot Conference at Loro Parque.  2019 is looking pretty good as both Qantas (Woolworths) and Virgin Velocity (Coles) are partnered with supermarkets and as long as they keep dishing out the bonus points, we are going to have enough for the South Pacific trip to Cook Islands, Samoa & Fiji from buying groceries & petrol.

But after that we will be miles-broke.  Who knows that the mileage programs will be doing by then or if they will devalue even worse so my goal for this year is to stockpile miles in flexible programs.  I have USA cards from Chase (Ultimate Rewards), Citibank (Thank You Points) and the Barclay’s AAviator card which gives an annual bonus of 10,000 miles plus 10% rebate on miles redeemed so virtually 20,000 effortless miles a year.  They often give spending challenges where you get bonus miles after achieving a goal to spend (for example) $1000 in 3 months.  I also have my Aussie Amex Platinum Edge to stockpile points that can be transfered to SPG (for now), VA, SQ, CX and a few others that I probably wouldn’t use.

SETTING MORE GOALS

In this I not only have to consider our finances & mileage accounts but also that we are not spring chickens and it is getting harder and harder to go on long walks and deal with the increasingly smaller seats in economy.  I’ve also had to do some re-shuffling of travel plans due to Venezuela’s ever-worsening situation and the Aussie dollar getting weaker making it harder to afford lodge packages in places like Tambopata which are sold in USD.  I haven’t really changed much from last year, just tweaked it a bit.

Prioritize trips to places that would otherwise be very expensive without miles such as South America.  These trips should be done as soon as the miles can be saved as they are vulnerable to devaluations.  Meanwhile, slot in a short haul trip during years we don’t have enough miles.

  1.  2018 South America  & Loro Parque – Have miles ready.  The actual destinations in South America will be chosen from Bolivia, Brazil, Guyana (which has some but not all of Venezuela’s key species), Bonaire & Mexico.  When grouping them, I need to consider the weather, easiness of finding birds, costs/exchange rates and miles to get there.  As a member of Qantas, I have searched over a whole year and business class is virtually impossible to get, especially for 2 people so we will have to cross the Pacific in economy.  I think they are now selling upgrades to elites and other paying pax.
  2.   TBD  South America – The Last Hurrah.  (Peru & Chile, Venezuela if they get their act together)  This trip requires a strong Aussie $ as birding packages in Peru are booked in USD.  We will be starting from scratch and it may take a few years to save enough miles.

Have a list of birding trips we can do using easy-to-get Velocity points or low-cost carriers.  These are completely flexible as to order and wouldn’t have to be booked 11 months in advance as the others would be. 

  1.  2019 – Pacific Islands (Rarotonga, Fiji, Samoa).  Using supermarket points with Velocity & Qantas with any spare AA for intra-Fiji flights.
  2.  2020 or 2021 Indonesia 1 (Sulawesi, Talaud & Halmahera) – using low cost carriers such as Air Asia,Garuda, Lion Air, etc.
  3.   Indonesia 2 (Seram, Buru, Tanimbar & Bali)
  4.   Philippines
  5.   Pacific Islands  (Solomons, Vanuatu & New Caledonia)
  6.   Papua New Guinea (might have to book an organized tour for safety).
  7.   New Zealand
  8.  Norfolk Island

Continue doing domestic Australian trips every year using “happy hour” deals, miles we don’t need for long hauls or road trips.

  1.  Uluru & Red Centre
  2.  Adelaide & Kangaroo Island
  3.  Gluepot, South Australia
  4.   Other NSW & Victoria TBD.
  5.   More Outback Queensland – most likely this year.

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CREDIT CARD & FINANCIAL GOALS

Not sure if there are any USA cards I can still get but I will be maximizing category bonuses with all cards.  I’ll also be on the lookout for any Aussie cards that I can qualify for although the best cards tend to be for high income earners only which lets me out.

There are a couple Aussie based survey sites that let you earn shopping vouchers with Coles, Woolies and other shops so I’ve been doing those.   Any money I can save on shopping goes into the travel budget!

Rewards Central

My Opinions

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BLOG GOALS

I’ve already made one improvement by installing Disqus for comments.  I got side-tracked with personal/family things so didn’t get my Feathered and Free stuff migrated over although the archive on the forum will be going offline when the contract expires in a few days.  I’ve had it going in one form or another for the last 10 years but just can’t keep paying for the hosting on top of this blog.

I’d like to promote myself as a guest speaker for bird clubs and travel conventions a bit more and maybe start a travel planning service for people wanting to use miles and points for eco-tourism.

Coming up, I’ll be finishing my series on the Caribbean with St Vincent, Dominica & Puerto Rico, then doing a series about Australia’s Northern Territory (Top End).  Then I still have some historical trips I can blog about with updated how-to-get-there info, maybe I’ll start with the Philippines!

Join me tomorrow as we visit St Vincent and the beautiful Vincie Parrot!