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

birdingclipart

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!

My Top 66 Bird Sightings of 2016

Whoah, an unprecedented 66 Top Birds!  I knew this was going to blow out when I reached the Top 20 (chronologically) and was still in Ecuador with Colombia, the Caribbean and Australia’s Northern Territory still to come.  I haven’t even included 1/3 the birds who should be on this list otherwise I would be here all day.  This has been an epic year for travel and the birds have been spectacular!  Hummingbirds, Antpittas, Cock-of-the-rock, Finches, Bowerbirds, and of course Parrots everywhere!   This list will be heavily slanted towards Parrots as I chose the birding location based on target species, most of which were parrots.   I’ve tried to focus this list on birds that are highly endangered, unusual, beautiful and/or lifers for me – preferably that I got a decent photo of.  I had extremely bad luck with my Hail Mary photo shot attempts in Colombia so I have to take some license there.  Maybe my camera doesn’t like altitude or cloud forests? Anyway, without further ado, feast your eyes on these beauties!

  1. GREY-CHEEKED PARAKEET – seen at Cerro Blanco, Ecuador

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2.  PACIFIC PARROTLET – seen at Cerro Blanco, Ecuador

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3.  WHITE-BREASTED PARAKEET – seen at Podocarpus, Ecuador

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4. BLUE-NECKED TANAGER – seen at Podocarpus, Ecuador

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5.  EL ORO PARAKEET – seen at Buenaventura, Ecuador

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6.  UMBRELLABIRD – Seen at Buenaventura, Ecuador

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7.  RED-FOOTED BOOBIES – Galapagos, Ecuador

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8.  ANDEAN COCK-OF-THE-ROCK – Seen at Mindo, Ecuador

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9.  BOOTED RACKET-TAIL – Seen at Mindo & WildSumaco, Ecuador

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10.  OILBIRD – Seen at Mindo, Ecuador

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11.  BRONZE-WINGED PARROT – Seen at Mindo, Ecuador

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12.  CHOCO TOUCAN  – seen at Mindo, Ecuador

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13.  ROSE-FACED PARROT – Seen at Mindo, Ecuador

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14.  BLACK-HEADED PARROT – Seen at Napo, Ecuador

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15.  HOATZIN – Seen at Napo, Ecuador

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16.  DUSKY-HEADEAD PARAKEET – Seen at Napo, Ecuador

IMG_4255a17 PLUM-THROATED COTINGA – Seen at Napo, Ecuador

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18. WIRE-TAILED MANAKIN – Seen at Napo, Ecuador

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19.  MILITARY MACAW – Seen at WildSumaco, Ecuador  (sorry this was the best I could do)

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20.  WIRE-CRESTED THORNTAIL – Seen at WildSumaco, Ecuador

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21.  MAROON-TAILED PARAKEET – Seen at Wildsumaco, Ecuador

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22.  SAN ISIDRO OWL – Seen at Cabanas San Isidro, Ecuador

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23.  TOURMALINE SUNANGEL – Seen at Guango Lodge, Ecuador & Jardin, Colombia

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24.  SANTA MARTA PARAKEET – Seen at El Dorado, Colombia  (photo from ProAves, I was too far away to get one)

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25.  BLUE-NAPED CHLOROPHONIA – Seen at El Dorado, Colombia

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26.  SCARLET-FRONTED PARAKEET – Seen at El Dorado, Colombia

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27.  MASKED TROGON – Seen at El Dorado, Colombia

dscn287528.  YELLOW-EARED PARROT – Seen at reserve near Jardin, Colombia

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29.  SWORD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD – Seen at finca above Jardin

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30.  ANDEAN MOTMOT – Seen near Jardin, Rio Blanco Reserve and Termales San Vincente, Colombia

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31. GOLDEN PLUMED PARAKEET – Seen at Rio Blanco, Colombia

dscn337632.  CHESTNUT-CROWNED ANTIPITTA (in addition to all the Antpittas) – Seen at Rio Blanco, Colombia

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33. RUSTY-FACED PARROT   – Seen flying over Paramo near Manizales, Colombia, too  fast to get a photo

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34.  RAINBOW-BEARDED THORNBILL – Seen at Termales del Ruiz, Colombia

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35.  FUERTES PARROT – Seen very poorly at a distance near Termales San Vincente, didn’t get a photo.

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36.  BROWN-BREASTED PARAKEET – Seen near BioAndina, Bogota, Colombia

img_670737.  RUBY TOPAZ HUMMINGBIRD – Seen at Yerette, Trinidad

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38.  SCARLET IBIS – Seen at Caroni Bird Sanctuary, Trinidad

img_702039.  GREEN-RUMPED PARROTLET – Seen at Aripo Livestock Station, Trinidad

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40.  TUFTED COQUETTE – Seen at Asa Wright’s, Trinidad

img_7523a41.  BEARDED BELLBIRD – Seen at Asa Wright’s, Trinidad

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42.  ST LUCIA AMAZON PARROT – Seen at Des Cartiers Trail, St Lucia

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43.  PURPLE THROATED CARIB HUMMINGBIRD – Seen in St Lucia & St Vincent

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44.  ST VINCENT AMAZON PARROT – Seen on Vermont Trail, St Vincent

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45.  IMPERIAL AMAZON PARROT (SISSEROU) – Seen at Syndicate Trail, he’s in here somewhere!)

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46.  ANTILLEAN CRESTED HUMMINGBIRD – Seen at Syndicate Trail, Dominicaimg_8077

47.  RED-NECKED PARROT (JACO) – Seen at Syndicate Trail, Dominica

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48.  PUERTO RICAN PARROT – Seen at Rio Abajo, Puerto Rico

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49.  PUERTO RICAN TODY – Seen at El Yunque, Puerto Rico

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50.  RAINBOW PITTA – Howard Springs, Darwin, Australia

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51.  RED-TAILED BLACK COCKATOO (BANKSII) – Everywhere Northern Territory, Australia

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52.  ROSE-CROWNED FRUIT DOVE – Seen at Howard Springs, Darwin, Australia

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53.  RED-COLLARED LORIKEETS – Seen everywhere, Northern Territory, Australia

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54.    HOODED PARROT– Seen at Pine Creek, Australia

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55.  DOUBLE-BARRED FINCH – Seen at Edith Falls, Australia

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56.  PURPLE-CROWNED FAIRY WREN – Seen (at a distance) near Victoria River Crossing, Australia

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57.  BLUE-WINGED KOOKABURRA – Seen at Nitmiluk National Park, Australia

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58.  GREAT BOWERBIRD – Seen at Katherine (Museum grounds), Australia

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59.  NORTHERN ROSELLA – Seen in Katherine, Australia

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60.  VARIED LORIKEET – Seen at Donkey Camp Weir, Katherine, Australia

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61 GOULDIAN FINCHES (MOSTLY JUVENILES) – Seen at Edith Falls Road, NT, Australia

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62.  AZURE KINGFISHER – Seen at Kakadu NP, Australia

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63.  WHITE-BELLIED SEA EAGLE – Seen at Kakadu NP, Australia

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64.  LITTLE KINGFISHER – Seen at Kakadu NP, Australia

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65.  COMB-CRESTED JACANA – Seen at Kakadu NP, Australia

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66.  EMERALD DOVE – Seen in Darwin, Australia

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2016 Travel Year In Review – The Year Of Endemics, Endangered Species & An Earthquake

It’s time for my traditional look back at the year in review – both my personal travels and events that affected the miles and points community.  Last year we took it easy and good thing too as this year was epic!

JANUARY

Usually a quiet month after the holidays but I was finalizing accommodation & guides for the big trip to Ecuador, Colombia & the Caribbean.  We were renovating the bathroom and I took advantage of the opportunity to maximize my miles & points haul by using my Amex at Coles to get 3x on Bunnings (like a Home Depot in the USA) gift cards.  I learned the hard way not to scan my Flybuys card as my inflated average expenditure ruined my points promos for months.

FEBRUARY

Just more fine tuning of travel arrangements, nothing much happening.

MARCH

AAdvantage devaluation happens on 22 March with Australians copping the worst of it with huge increases in business class awards.  Jetstar has a major sale on and I grabbed some BNE-DRW-BNE tickets for a Top End trip in September.   We leave for Ecuador on 31 March amidst border protection staff on strike and a late LATAM flight but we still manage to make the connection to Guayaquil by the skin of our teeth!  On a brighter note, another passenger swaps his business class seat for my bulkhead economy so at least I get a good night’s sleep!

APRIL

The adventure begins!  We visit some amazing reserves and national parks in Ecuador (including the Galapagos), Colombia & some Caribbean Islands.  We saw some amazing endemic and endangered birds so you can look forward to a top 66 birds of the year tomorrow!   There was a huge earthquake in Ecuador about 400 km from where we were staying and we felt the earth move.  It was pretty scary!  Other earthquakes happened in 2016 but this one was the worst when you consider both magnitude and death toll.

MAY

We finish up the islands and spend some time in the USA to see family.  Chase added Flying Blue as a partner which I really appreciated as I use them for redemptions on Kenya Airways.  With a devaluation pending, I scramble to redeem Velocity points for Etihad PER – AUH in biz with a plan to add the KQ segments in Y DXB – NBO – ADD when they become available which gets us to Africa.

JUNE

Barely was the ink   pixels dry on my Etihad redemption dry than Velocity announced a horrific new tax on Etihad redemptions, so I dodged another bullet!  The rest of my travel dates open up for award bookings and I finish booking next year’s trip to Africa. I always want to lock in the rates before a program devalues even further.

JULY

Nothing earth-shaking in the miles & points world this month.  Etihad has a 25% bonus on hotel and credit card (not Flybuys) transfers and a mediocre IHG Pointbreaks list is released.

AUGUST

The one I was waiting for – 20% bonus on SPG transfers to AAdvantage.  I need AAdvantage for 2018 South America and this is the cheapest way to get them from Australia.  United further devalues Mileage Plus by restricting the stopovers to what they call “Excursionist Perks“.  If they had done this 2 months ago, it would have messed up my intra-Africa redemption.  On a more positive note, Woolies brings back Qantas points as an option.

SEPTEMBER

We have an amazing road trip through the Northern Territory’s Top End in a rented car visiting the top birding hotspots.  You can look forward to these reports in the New Year but there are some hints in the Top 66 Birds post tomorrow!  The Marriott-Starwood merger provides a new option for Aussies to get United miles at a decent rate…………..at least until end 2017.

OCTOBER

United’s Excursionist Perk program takes over and puts the kibosh on a couple of my planned future redemptions in northern South America.

NOVEMBER

Velocity partners up with Flybuys in addition to Etihad to compete with the Qantas-Woolies partnership.  The semi-annual 25% bonus gives Aussies a windfall of Velocity points which are good value on South Pacific flights.

Donald Trump wins the US presidential election and the world collectively goes  shock-hawk

Nervously we await his effect on travel, miles & points, credit card bonuses, worry that he won’t support global warming issues and hope he keeps his mitts off the nukes!

PS:  Isn’t that the best gif ever!!!!

DECEMBER

Flying Blue has a great promo to earn a 10,000 miles bonus when you book a 2 night hotel stay through their new partnership with Pointshound.  I use it to book our 2 nights in Entebbe for next year.  Garuda Indonesia announces the “Deal of the Year 90% off any redemption” which several bloggers in the USA attempt to book only to find out there are ridiculous hoops to jump through to get the tickets issued.  It was actually targeted to Indonesians and Asians as you need to physically visit a Garuda office to get the tickets issued.  We have a Garuda office in BNE so I might have gone for it if we didn’t already have our trips booked for next year.  The promo was cancelled 24 hours later.

And that wraps up this year’s review!  Programs continue to devalue and the miles & points game is getting much harder and I have to ask myself how much longer it will go on.  But in the meanwhile, it’s been a wild ride to some very wild places and I am not ready to get off yet!

 

 

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I wish I had one of these in the Caribbean!

GADGET ORGANIZER

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A Quick Visit To Castries Market

After the birding tour, we had some time to spare so we asked to be the last ones dropped off so we could get a look around Castries while other people were dropped at their hotels.

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We got off at the market which was near closing time but still a few stalls open.  I knew what I wanted – anything with a St Lucia Parrot on it.dscn4109 dscn4111 dscn4112 dscn4113 dscn4115 dscn4116 dscn4117 dscn4119 dscn4121

Maybe someone is tired of shopping?dscn4123

In the taxi on the way to the airport.dscn4124 dscn4126 dscn4128 dscn4129 dscn4131

I love this airline’s logo!dscn4134

The islanders are proud of their native parrot, the St Lucia Parrot!dscn4132