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FOCUS ON NATURE TOURS
in the Lesser Antilles
of the West Indies
in the Caribbean
(ANTIGUA, BARBUDA, BARBADOS,
st. lucia, & st.vincent)
An Antillean Crested Hummingbird
photographed during a FONT tour
following summaries are with the most-recent tours first.
For some tours, there may be links below for longer narratives. There are links to UPCOMING TOUR ITINERARIES, and lists (some with photos) of BIRDS, MAMMALS, and OTHER NATURE.
Some Previous Tours:
February 2011 December 2007 / January 2008 July 2004
February /March 2004 March 2003 March 2002
In all, the number of FONT tours on various islands of the Lesser Antilles have been:
15 on St. Lucia, 10 on St. Vincent, 7 on Dominica, 2 on Barbados, and 1 on Antigua, Barbuda, Grenada, & Guadeloupe.
List of Birds during FONT Tours in the Lesser Antilles
A Bird-List & Photo Gallery of Caribbean Birds, in 2 parts:
Mammals of the West Indies (with some photos)
Butterflies & Moths of the West Indies (with some photos)
Amphibians & Reptiles of the West Indies (with some photos)
Upcoming FONT Birding & Nature Tours in the West Indies
LESSER ANTILLES (Antigua, Barbuda, Dominica, Guadeloupe) - February 2011
The following account was written by Armas Hill, leader of the tour:
the FONT Caribbean tour in February
2011, there were two West Indian endemic birds that are not often
seen: the Barbuda Warbler and the Guadeloupe Woodpecker.
To see them, a special effort must be made. They occur on only those single islands of Barbuda and Guadeloupe, and one must go to where they are.
Barbuda is a very small island, with only 48 square miles. It is about 30 miles north of the island of Antigua in the Leeward Islands.
Until the beginning of this century (in 2000), the Barbuda Warbler was called the Adelaide's Warbler which was, up to that time, said to have 3 geographically distinct populations: one in the more arid part of Puerto Rico, one on the Lesser Antillean island of Saint Lucia, and one in between (but not near either of the others) on the little island of Barbuda. Now, each of the three populations are separate, and isolated, species.
Further south in the Caribbean, Guadeloupe is one of the Windward Islands, and one of the French Antilles. Thus, the Guadeloupe Woodpecker, endemic to that island, has a French name: "Tapeur".
Another bird seen during our Feb '11 tour on Guadeloupe, and also on Dominica, was the Plumbeous Warbler, a bird that only occurs on those two islands. Also seen on Dominica were the Imperial Amazon and the Red-necked Amazon (both of those parrots endemic to Dominica), the Blue-headed Hummingbird (which only occurs on Dominica and to the south on Martinique), and a bird with an odd habit, the Brown Trembler. That habit is, yes, that it trembles, shaking its wings.
The island of Guadeloupe, from high in the air, or on a map, has the shape of a butterfly. Among the butterflies that we saw on that picturesque island, in addition to the common Whites, Yellows, and Blues, there was a beauty called the Red Rim, Biblius hyperia, and some of the local population of Monarchs, Danaus plexippus.
In all, we encountered over 60 species of birds during our time in February 2011 in the Lesser Antilles, with over 30 species on both Guadeloupe and Barbuda, and nearly 30 species on Dominica. Most of these birds were either specialties or endemics of the Caribbean.
More about the FONT Lesser Antilles Tour in February 2011
Birds & Other Wildlife during our Lesser Antilles Tour - February 2011
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LESSER ANTILLES (St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Dominica) - December 2007 / January 2008
The following account was written by Armas Hill, leader of the tour:
This was the FONT Annual Holiday Tour for Dec/Jan 2007/2008, to the Caribbean islands of Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, and Dominica.
During the last days of 2007, we were in Saint Lucia & Saint Vincent.
The year 2008 began for FONT on the island of Dominica.
Each of the three Lesser Antillean islands just mentioned has, in relation to birds, something in common. And that is that Parrots, in particular Amazons, endemic to those islands, continue to live there.
At the time of Columbus's voyages in the Caribbean, there were, on various islands, 11 species of Amazon parrots, and even on some islands, macaws, larger than parrots. No macaws exist any longer on any Caribbean island. They were on various islands in both the Lesser and the Greater Antilles. The last of the Caribbean macaws disappeared in Cuba in the mid-1800s. Of the 11 species of Amazons that existed in Columbus's time, 2 are now extinct (one each on the two French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique), and 1 is severely endangered (on Puerto Rico).
Overall, however, (aside from the Puerto Rican Amazon), the species that have been in the most peril have been those in the Lesser Antilles.
The rare Imperial Parrot, Amazona imperialis, of Dominica (known there as "the Sisserou") has a plumage that resembled the Amazon now extinct on the nearby island of Guadeloupe. It's the largest of all the Amazon parrots. In the Western Hemisphere, there are 31 species of Amazons in the Caribbean and in Central & South America. The Imperial Parrot was one of the last Amazons described to science, and one of the last birds to be described in the Nineteenth Century, in 1899.
Dominica's Imperial Parrot is rare. Not ever common, it was declining until the 1990s. At the beginning of that decade, the total population was said to be 50 birds. Through the 1990s, there was an increase, until today, when it's said that are about 250 individuals.
The other Amazon that's endemic to Dominica is the Red-necked Parrot, Amazona arausiaca. That attractive parrot is also called the "Bouquet's Amazon". In Dominica, it's known, by the local people, as either the "Jaco" or the "Perroquet". It was described to science as early as 1776. Today, the population of Red-necked Parrots is said to be between 500 and 1,000 birds.
During our Dec 07/Jan 08 tour in the Lesser Antilles we saw both the Imperial and the Red-necked Parrots when we were in Dominica (in January), and both the Saint Lucia and the Saint Vincent Parrots when we were on those islands (in December).
The Saint Lucia Parrot, Amazona versicolor, is known to the people on that island as the "Jacquot". It is the national bird of that island country. The children are taught about it in school, and nearly all of the people with whom we spoke on the island knew of the bird. The educational program in the schools was initially carried out by a friend of ours that we used to meet during our St. Lucia tours in the 1990s, when he lived in that country. He no longer does, but we have good memories of Paul Butler, who, for years, was affiliated with the conservation organization known as RARE.
Even though we weren't able to see Paul, during this our 15th FONT tour on Saint Lucia, we saw, once again, as we always have, the Saint Lucia Parrot flying about late in the day in the forested hills.
The total population of the Saint Lucia Parrot is now said to be between 350 and 500 birds. It can safely be said that conservation efforts, as those just alluded to, have saved this species from extinction.
Maybe the Amazon that we enjoyed the most during our 07/08 Holiday Tour was the Saint Vincent Parrot, Amazona guildingii. Another name for it has been the "Guilding's Amazon".
Whatever it's called, it's a brilliantly colorful bird with some white, yellow, blue, and bright orange-yellow in its plumage. Its habitat is moist forest in the hills.
During most of the 20th Century, the population of the bird declined. In the 1980's, it was as low as about 400 birds. Since then, with conservation efforts, the population has increased to now maybe about 800 individuals.
The colorful Saint Vincent Amazon,
photographed during the FONT tour in December 2007.
Above: a captive bird in the botanical garden.
Below: in the wild, in the forest.
(photos by tour participant, Marie Z. Gardner)
While in Saint
Vincent, we visited a places called Vermont
and Montreal. No, Vermont wasn't a place
with maple syrup and ski slopes. And no, Montreal was not a large city.
Vermont (or "Green Mountain") was where we saw the parrots, and some other birds too, in what was a moist forest when we were there. But, yes, we did enjoy seeing those parrots flying about in the wild, and even perched closely in a nearby tree, after the rain stopped and as the late-afternoon sun brilliantly shone on the birds.
Montreal was not really too far from Vermont. It was actually on the "other side" of the hills from the parrot. I say "Montreal", but it was actually Montreal Gardens, a nice place with some nice birds including the Lesser Antillean Tanager (a species restricted to only the two Lesser Antillean islands of Saint Vincent & Grenada), and rare Whistling Warbler (endemic to Saint Vincent), and the Brown Trembler (an aberrant thrasher with yellow eyes and a long bill that appears to "tremble" as it continually shakes its wings).
Some other places where we were on St. Vincent are worth a mention. Our overnights were in the largest town on the island (but not really large) - Kingstown. The neat old cobblestone building near the port was, years ago, a sugar warehouse. In the 1970s it was made into a nice hotel. We were there on New Year's Eve, and even though we were in town, it was about as quiet a place for New Year's Eve as there could be.
Nearby, earlier on New Year's Eve, we had an evening bite to eat at an outside courtyard of another hotel, the Heron Hotel. As we ate, a Green Heron walked by, next to us, in what was not much more than a little drainage ditch. Across the street, a Little Blue Heron flew into a tree. Evidently, that hotel, in the middle of Kingstown, was aptly named.
A day or so earlier, there was still an air of Christmas, as we went about. Again in Kingstown, outside an old church, in the churchyard, as we observed a few species of birds, the congregation, inside the church, beautifully sang a Christmas hymn. It was a nice touch during our annual "Holiday Tour".
At the already-mentioned Montreal Gardens, and growing wild elsewhere as well, there were bright red Poinsettia plants, adding even more to the season, even though we were far away from winter, on a tropical island.
On the other tropical island where we stayed, St. Lucia, there were some notable settings and sights. Of course, the two tall Pitons (or peaks) were overwhelmingly scenic. And the Saint Lucia Oriole (an endemic) was also a nice sight.
For some, maybe the best setting of the tour, was atop a particular high cliff by a lighthouse. In hefty winds at that place, there were as many as 50 Red-billed Tropicbirds in fast flight, both above us and below us by the cliff. Noisy they were, calling as they flew. Being with those extraordinary birds, that are often far out at sea, was certainly one of tour's highlights.
At another point during our tour, as we were in the van on St. Vincent, the subject somehow came up of the movies "The Pirates of the Caribbean". Apparently, there were 3 such movies, and they were filmed on St. Vincent and Dominica (two of the islands included in the itinerary of our tour). Anyway, our driver then told us that we were in the same van, and the same seats, used by the cast of the movie. One of us was where Johnny Depp sat. Another was in the sea where Keira Knightley was, and another in the one used by Orlando Bloom.
Of course, a name for our tour was close to that of the movie. We came to see "The Parrots of the Caribbean", and that we did.
And it was wonderful doing so, as it was seeing others of the avian cast - the hummingbirds, the thrashers & tremblers, the solitaire (with its beautiful song), the Warblers (Whistling, Plumbeous, & St. Lucia) the frigatebirds & boobies (that were flying about by the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie set that we visited ), and the bananaquits and bullfinches that would fly into our rooms when we'd leave the doors open.
In all, we had a enjoyable tour, during which we saw some birds that are rare, and others with a restricted range that's just a small dot on the global map.
Birds & Other Wildlife during our Lesser Antillean Tour Dec '07 - Jan '08
Birds during FONT tours in the Lesser Antilles
LESSER ANTILLES (St. Vincent & Barbados) - July 2004
This tour was done in response to a request, for some who were not able to go to the Caribbean in the spring. On St. Vincent, we once again saw the bird endemics and specialties.
Barbados, although a small island without varied habitat, is still interesting in that because it is the easternmost of the Antilles, shorebirds migrating from north to south stop there during their journey. Such shorebird migration occurs mostly in July and August. Most of the shorebirds that visit the island come, of course, from North America. But, on a regular basis, there are strays from the other side of the Atlantic, from Europe. During our tour, we saw 2 such species: a Wood Sandpiper among Yellowlegs, and a Reeve (a female Ruff).
Barbados is also interesting in that another European bird has arrived there and become established, the Little Egret. At a heronry we visited, Little & Snowy Egrets were nesting next to each other, with about as many Littles as there were Snowys.
Birds & Other Wildlife during our Lesser Antillean Tours in 2004
Birds during FONT tours in the Lesser Antilles
Upcoming Caribbean Birding Tours
The Lesser Antilles (St. Lucia, St. Vincent, & Dominica)
& Puerto Rico - February/March 2004
"Parrots of the Caribbean" (and other birds too)
The following account written by Armas Hill, leader of the
Yes, it was parrots, not "pirates of the Caribbean" that were seen and enjoyed during our recentFebruary-March 2004 FONT West Indian birding tours in Puerto Rico and the Lesser Antilles.
But, regarding the parrots during the tours, we saw all of them we sought. Including, the rarest of all in the wild, the Puerto Rican Parrot. During the Lesser Antilles tour, we saw four parrots known as amazons one on Saint Lucia, one on Saint Vincent, and two on Dominica. One of them on the last of these islands is the largest and the rarest of the Lesser Antillean parrots. It's the Imperial Parrot, called by the Dominicans, the "Sisserou", in Creole.
Antillean island of St. Lucia.
About 500 years ago, when the explorers from Spain entered the Caribbean, there were, in the West Indian islands, over 25 species of macaws, parrots, and parakeets. Since then, more than half have become extinct. The macaws, large and noisy, colorful but mostly red, were in Cuba, Hispaniola, and other islands including Guadeloupe and Dominica in the Lesser Antilles. Since the voyages of Columbus, all of the 7 or so species of Caribbean macaws have disappeared, as have 5 of the 8 native species of parakeets, and 3 of the dozen species of parrots. The last specimen of the Cuban Red Macaw was taken in 1864, but the species may have lingered remotely until the late 1800s (There are now 15 specimens in existence in museums).
The distribution of the parrots known as amazons in the Caribbean is interesting. As noted, there were prior to Columbus 12 species. Those on the larger Caribbean islands, oddly, are the smaller of the group, while those parrots on the smaller islands are the larger. Those on the Greater Antilles, mostly green, appear to have come east from Central America. Those in the Lesser Antilles, more strikingly colored, appear to have come north from South America. Formerly, there were such parrots on Guadeloupe and Martinique. They became extinct in the mid-1700s.
However, large and colorful amazon parrots continue, today, as noted, in forested mountains on 3 Lesser Antillean islands. And these birds were among the highlights of our 2004 tour.
The St. Lucia, or Versicolored, Parrot today numbers an estimated 350 to 500 birds. About 25 years ago, the population was only about 150 birds. The name "Versicolored" relates to the violet-blue and red in the plumage along with the green.
The St. Vincent Parrot was probably never very common. At one time, it was thought to be extinct. Today, it is found in only several wooded valleys, with a population of about 500 or slightly more. Some St. Vincent Parrots are predominately golden-brown, others more green. All have yellow-orange wing-patches, an orange-yellow hindcrown, and violet and yellow on the tail.
On the most rugged of the islands,
Dominica, 2 species of parrots continue, the more-common Red-necked Parrot,
and the more-rare Imperial Parrot. Over 40 per cent of Dominica is still
forested, but the parrots occur only locally on the island in the north.
Hurricanes in 1979 & 1980 annihilated the southern populations, particularly
that of the Imperial Parrot. The Imperial, among the largest and rarest of the
amazons, has the more secretive habits of the two Dominican parrots, often
staying beneath the forest canopy.
Recent population estimates are 500-plus for the Red-necked Parrot (up from 150 in 1980), and 250-plus for the Imperial. About 10 years ago, in 1993, the Imperial Parrot population was only thought to be about 80 individuals.
The Red-necked Parrot (known locally as the "Jaco"), is mostly green, with, of course, a red neck (or rather a red throat), a red wing-patch, and a blue crown, face, and chin.
The large mostly green-and-purple Imperial Parrot also has maroon-purple, violet-blue, and reddish-brown in its plumage.
Earlier, during one of our days on Domincia, we had great looks at the Red-necked Parrot. In the mid-afternoon, we were at a lookout in the trees above a deep valley. Directly across from us, an Imperial Parrot landed, after calling as it flew over the valley. It sat in a bare treetop. When it landed there, the sun, that had been, for hours, mostly in the clouds, shone upon the colorful bird.
During an afternoon on Saint Vincent, from another lookout atop a hill in the forest, we had tremendous views of that island's colorful parrot, as pairs of them flew above and beneath us.
On St. Lucia, we enjoyed our "parrot experience" as well. During an afternoon and following morning, as they called and flew, we listened and watched.
But the rarest of all of the Carribean amazons was seen during our Puerto Rico tour, that followed our time in the Lesser Antilles. The Puerto Rican Parrot has been critically endangered for years. Formerly occurring in various areas of the island, the bird has been very localized now for years, hanging on in a small hilly area in northeastern Puerto Rico. In 1975, there were only 13 Puerto Rican Parrots in the wild. From that unlucky low, the number about 10 years later was 30. In the late 1990s, the global population was 44 in the wild and 87 in captivity.
During our March 2004 Puerto Rico tour, in the Luquillo Mountains, we saw one wild Puerto Rican Parrot. It was in the vicinity of the facility with the birds in the captive breeding program, the bird apparently drawn to the noise of the caged birds' calls in the afternoon. It appeared to be a bird preferring to forfeit its lonely wildness for companionship in captivity. (Parrots are social birds.) The Puerto Rican Parrot has been seen during 11 FONT tours since 1990. The most was 12 in March 1996. The most-recent sighting, prior to this year, was in March 2000.
The Puerto Rican Parrot has come close to
following the fate of the parrots that once were in Guadeloupe and Martinique,
and the macaws that were in Cuba and elsewhere in the Caribbean. And, also in
Puerto Rico, a parakeet that formerly occurred, and is now extinct. It was until
about a hundred years ago that the "Puerto Rican Conure" flew about on
the island. It was a common subspecies of the Hispaniolan Parakeet, now
threatened on that island. Since that bird's demise on Puerto Rico, by the way,
resident subspecies of the Limpkin and a crow have also gone extinct there.
During our recent Puerto Rican tour, parakeets seen included some not-native, the Monk and the White-winged (formerly Canary-winged), both indigenous to South America.
Among the over-hundred species that were seen during our Puerto Rican tour, however, it's nice to note that among the birds endemic or nearly so to the island, there was a warbler not known to exist over 30 years ago (the Elfin Woods Warbler), a nightjar thought for many years (until about 1960) to be extinct (the Puerto Rican Nightjar), and a very-rare and localized bird, the Yellow-shouldered Blackbird. It was seen well, coming to a feeder along with a bird, recently arrived in Puerto Rico, that can cause it trouble, the Shiny Cowbird. Not exactly a Puerto Rican pirate (like the frigatebird), but a nesting parasite, the cowbird uses the nest of the blackbird. (The rare blackbird should not go the way of the birds that have been extirpated in Puerto Rico).
A complete listing of the birds that have been found during the 26 FONT birding tours that have been conducted in Puerto Rico can be found elsewhere in this web-site.
An interesting observation during our Puerto Rico tour this year related to a North American migrant. At a field, in southwestern Puerto Rico, in an area where we've always found something, we saw a sight we've never seen before. Out in a field, there were some leafless bushes with what appeared to be a large number of blue light-bulbs with a smaller number that were brown. In a scope, it was clear that they were Indigo Buntings, some in near-complete breeding plumage, some less so, but with a lighter (more lazuli-like) blue than dark indigo. A nice sighting for Bob from Minnesota who found them (and for the rest of us). The Indigo Bunting, by the way, is classified as uncommon in Puerto Rico in the winter, "in small numbers". We saw many (dozens) along with grassquits and other birds. During our previous 25 Puerto Rico tours, we've only seen 2 individual Indigo Buntings (both brown birds).
During our Lesser Antilles tour, on Dominica, a blue-brown bird appeared in tall grass along a roadside, an Indigo Bunting (found by Tom from New Jersey). It was our first-ever during a Lesser Antilles tour. The species is not even "in the book" for that island!
Also during that tour, as we were walking around some fish ponds, where we see the local Caribbean race of the Ringed Kingfisher, we turned to notice some egrets had landed on a nearby dike. All lined up, they were Cattle Egrets, except one. It was a Little Egret (our first for Dominica). It joined with the Cattle Egrets as they went to their evening roost.
We've seen Little Egrets in the past
during that tour on St Lucia (we saw 3 there in 2003 with Snowy
Little Egrets now breed in fair numbers on some lower Caribbean islands, such as
As did the Cattle Egret during the last century, Little Egrets appeared (apparently from Africa) on lower Caribbean islands some years ago, and are now appearing to spread. Bear in mind what has happened with the Cattle Egret throughout the Western Hemisphere. It has spread north and south, and even as far south as one sighting in Antarctica!
Our last "new" bird during the 2004 Lesser Antilles tour was, as an odd twist, nearly our first bird on the '04 Puerto Rico tour, the White-tailed Tropicbird. We were, in Dominica, early in the morning, beneath a sea-side cliff where 10 or so were flying in, out, and about just above us. What a sight! In Puerto Rico, they were seen from the old fort, El Morro, at the entrance to San Juan Harbor.
Offshore from Dominica, during a Caribbean boat-trip as taken in the past, there were, as in the past, some nice sights. Among them, as many as 8 Sperm Whales (including a cow and a calf, and a bull), and some Pomarine Jaegers (they're there every March) and an apparent Great Skua (we seen that species one time in March in the past).
Along the Dominican coast, we only saw 3
individual gulls. The most-common was Lesser Black-backed Gull (twice as
common as the previous year). It was our 3rd consecutive year for Lesser Black-backed
Gull along that coast, with an adult each year at the very same place! (It's
only been there, we've been told, in the winter). But, this year, there were 2
Lesser Black-backed Gulls there, the adult and an immature with it.
The third gull, by the way, was a lone Laughing Gull.
On land during the Lesser Antilles tour, there are some particularly interesting birds, notably "thrashers that thrash" and "tremblers that tremble".
Particularly interesting it is that as many as 6 species of thrashers occur in a limited area of the Lesser Antilles the Tropical Mockingbird, the Scaly-breasted Thrasher, the Pearly-eyed Thrasher, the White-breasted Thrasher, and 2 Tremblers, the Brown and the Gray.
Of these, the "thrasher that really thrashes (on the ground like a towhee)", the White-breasted Thrasher, is one of the world's rarest birds. It only occurs in a limited area (and specific habitat) on the islands of Martinique and St. Lucia. On the latter, the total population has recently been estimated at only about 100 birds. All of us, on our tour, saw it well.
The Tremblers (the Gray on St. Lucia and the Brown on St. Vincent) are birds that we just can't stop watching. These thrasher-types have the odd habit of strongly trembling, constantly. As they do so, with their cocked long tails, and their shaking wings, and bright yellow eyes, they are quite a sight for our eyes.
Tremblers are endemic to the Lesser Antilles. A number of species, seen during our tour in that region, are endemic to either the area, or to particular islands. On Saint Lucia, for example, island endemics include the St Lucia Oriole, the St Lucia Black Finch (once thought erroneously by museum men in England to be a Galapagos Finch), and the Saint Lucia Warbler (formerly conspecific with the Adelaide's Warbler, now endemic to Puerto Rico).
On the island of St. Vincent, the endemic Whistling Warbler has become quite rare. This inhabitant of the forest has declined in recent years. But in the forest, we had the good fortune to encounter it.
All of the Lesser Antillean islands we
visit are beautiful, but an area in St. Vincent particularly so, was an
interesting botanical garden, out in the countryside, by forested slopes, mostly
green, but with trees with bright orange flowers (called by some flamboyant, but
a tree with a different name on different islands - it's a nice sight
Especially interesting for us were trees of various sorts filled with food attracting many birds. In one tree, a bit like a mimosa, there were a multitude of Bananaquits (but in that area of St. Vincent, all of them were of an all-black subspecies, with no yellow or white, only red when they opened their mouths).
In another tree, we saw the Lesser Antillean Tanager, a regional endemic called the "Pawpaw Bird" or "Soursop Bird" for food that it favors.
And yet in another tree, there were dozens of thrushes and thrashers feeding on berries Scaly-breasted Thrashers, Bare-eyed Thrushes, and Cocoa Thrushes. The subspecies of the Cocoa Thrush, endemic to St. Vincent, is Turdus. f. bondi, named after James Bond, not the British private-eye, but the Philadelphia ornithologist.
A group of birds not mentioned yet, but one that should be, is hummingbirds. Throughout the Lesser Antilles Tour, they were a constant marvel. As we listened on St. Lucia to the beautiful sound of the Rufous-throated Solitaire, we were distracted by as many as 25 or more Antillean Crested Hummingbirds feeding on flowers on a slope. Both of the hummingbirds known as Caribs were nice to see the Green-throated and the Purple-throated (with wow, what color!). And on Dominica, there was the Blue-headed Hummingbird, limited in the world to that island and nearby Guadeloupe.
Also on Dominica, another bird was seen that's restricted to just a handful of Lesser Antillean islands, the Forest Thrush. Also on Guadeloupe, and previously on St. Lucia (maybe there still, but it hasn't been recorded in a while). A factor could likely be that on Dominica there are no introduced Mongooses. On St. Lucia, that predatory animal does exist.
I haven't mentioned all the birds we
encountered during our recent Caribbean tours, but if I don't stop now, I could.
As already noted regarding the birds during our Puerto Rico tours, there's also
a complete listing of birds during our Lesser Antilles Tours, elsewhere in this
In that list, there are notations regarding endemics, rarities, and subspecies.
A final item, now, not referring to a
bird, or animal, or anything on the ground or in the sea, but rather something
in the sky:
On both the islands of Saint Lucia and Dominica, in the western sky, at sunset, we saw a phenomenon known as the "green flash". It was visible just as the red ball of the sun dipped below the horizon, appearing rather like a bright spark from an electric wire.
Some consider it to be fantasy, but, really, given the right circumstances, it can be seen.
The following is an astute account of it, taken from the book "Eastward to Singapore", written by a surviving officer of a vessel named the "Electra". The "Electra" disappeared in World War II in the battle of the Java Sea in February 1942:
"In the region of the equator, the
sun sets with a jerk, and legend has it that at sunset, a "green
flash" spreads across the horizon. On the "Electra", opinion was
divided as to whether or not this was merely a fairy tale. So, as the ship was
due to cross the line at almost precisely sunset, the bridge became packed with
officers inquisitive and eager to resolve the argument.
Yet, as the sun went down, the triumphant shout of the believers, all of whom swore they'd seen the flash "as fast as lightning", was followed by derisive jeers from the infidels who said they hadn't.
So in the end, the test was a disappointment except that it proved that people will only see as much or as little as they have a mind to believe in".
The magazine "Scientific American" contained an excellent article, with some tremendous photographs, entitled "The Green Flash and Other Low Sun Phenomena", but unfortunately that article was in the January 1960 edition. Does anyone know of anything more recent?
Upcoming Caribbean Birding Tours
during FONT tours in the Lesser Antilles
Received by e-mail following our February 28 - March 7, 2004 birding tour in the
"From the White-breasted Thrasher to the Imperial Parrot -- it was a great tour and we send you our thanks for a memorable trip.
Our hat is off to you for some super birding, and all your great efforts and tireless energy. Your knowledge of the birds, where to find them, and your ability to remember roads and birding spots around the islands is impressive. We look forward to another great adventure with you!
With best wishes and, again, our thanks."
Tom & Margot Southerland
Princeton, New Jersey, USA
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LESSER ANTILLES (St. Lucia, St. Vincent & Dominica) - March 2003
During our annual Caribbean birding tour in theLesser Antilles in 2003, islands visited were St. Lucia (our 13th tour), St. Vincent (our 7th tour), and Dominica (our 4th tour).
In the Lesser Antillean Islands, birds include endemics and specialties. We saw all of those we sought.
Each of the 3 islands has its own parrot. (Actually, Dominica has 2.) Seen well, those on St. Lucia and St. Vincent were the most colorful.
The hummingbirds on the islands were great to see two species of colorful Caribs, the nifty Antillean Crested, and the beautiful Blue-headed.
Also wonderful to see and hear was the Rufous-throated Solitaire, as it sat by us on a branch in the forest, with a wide mouth as it sounded much like a flute.
Each of the three Lesser Antillean Islands we visited is attractive and picturesque in its own way, but Dominica is extraordinary, since it still has a large amount of forest. With rugged topography, the enchanting island is also so very green. In the Dominican forest, the Forest Thrush continues in fairly good numbers. (On other islands it has declined or disappeared.) One that we saw very well was one of our best birds of the tour.
One of the rarest of the specialties is the White-breasted Thrasher (it's one of the rarest of birds in the world, with just a total population of maybe a couple hundred). Usually close to the ground, it occurs in the dry forest of St. Lucia. We saw 2 together, at the base of a slanted tree trunk, close to us. These thrashers really do thrash, moving ground clutter aside as they feed.
In the trees, among the most fascinating
birds to be seen were the tremblers. And yes, they really do tremble. That is
they shake their wings, appearing nervous or neurotic. They're probably neither,
but who knows why they do it.
On St. Lucia, we watched the Gray Trembler and the St. Lucia Oriole alternately feeding on a large fruit in a tree.
On St. Vincent and Dominica, the Brown Trembler entertained us as it walked on tree branches, or on the ground, trembling as it went.
The forementioned tremblers and thrasher are among 5 species of thrashers on the Lesser Antillean Islands.
Two species of warblers are with limited ranges, the Whistling Warbler on Saint Vincent, and the Plumbeous Warbler on Dominica. We saw both well.
On Saint Lucia, an attractive warbler, now an endemic, is called the Saint Lucia Warbler. Formerly considered part of the Adelaide's Warbler of Puerto Rico. The species is now one of a few birds (that are endemic) named after the island of St. Lucia. In addition to the Saint Lucia Oriole, there's also the Saint Lucia Black Finch (at one time confused by distant taxonomists with Galapagos Finches), the Saint Lucia Pewee, a dapper nearly apricot-colored bird, and the "Saint Lucia Wren", that's been considered part of the House Wren, thought it's call different than that of the North American House Wren. All of these "Saint Lucia birds" were seen during our tour.
Also interesting on Saint Lucia, we
encountered, at a pond, a mixed flock of Snowy and Little Egrets.
There were 3 Little Egrets, one with the long plume of breeding plumage. Little
Egrets have been nesting on another Lesser Antillean Island, Barbados.
At the same pond , there was another interesting flock (if 2 birds is considered a flock). Two plovers were together, one a Black-bellied, or Grey, the other an American Golden Plover. The 2 birds stood together in the shallow water. They flew together, one with a white rump, the other with one dark. One (the Golden) with a brown cap, the other without. The Black-bellied, or Grey, Plover is common in the Caribbean in March. The Golden is rare.
Also that day in St. Lucia, we stood atop a high coastal cliff, watching Red-billed Tropicbirds circling about below us. A few days later, on Dominica, we watched White-tailed Tropicbirds flying about by seaside cliffs above us.
From shore, as we lunched sea-side on
Dominica, Pomarine Jaegers were seen flying above the blue Caribbean. (We've
seen Pomarines there each of the last 3 years.)
A Lesser Black-backed Gull we saw last year along the Dominican coast was there again this year.
Pelicans, Frigatebirds, and Brown Boobies flew by.
Offshore, we had about as close an encounter as there could be with2 Sperm Whales, an adult, and a young, floating on the water, by our boat.
From shore, as a day ended, on Saint Vincent, we watched the orange ball of the sun slip below the horizon. On it, in our binoculars, we could see sunspots. As the sun dipped out of view, there was the "green flash" looking as blue as it does green (or at least a combination). During the sunset over the sea, strings of Red-footed Boobies flew by, in the distance, all heading in the direction of their nocturnal roost.
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LESSER ANTILLES (St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Dominica) - March 2-10, 2002,
Caribbean Seabirds & Cetaceans, including Great Skua, Tropicbirds, and Fraser's Dolphin
The following account written by Armas Hill, the leader of
Off the coast of the West Indian island of Dominica (one of 3 islands visited during our FONT Lesser Antilles March 2002 birding tour), there was, once again, on March 9, a pelagic trip, where the water gets deep (over 1000 feet) very closely offshore.
Previously, during this pelagic
trip, we've seen very some interesting cetaceans, including Sperm
and Dwarf Sperm Whales, and Fraser's and Spotted Dolphins.
This time, we again saw Fraser's Dolphins (about 50 together) and
Pantropical Spotted Dolphins (about a hundred at once). Sperm Whales
were in the area, but we did not see them, or hear them (with the
During our pelagic trip in March 2002, we did see a wonderful assortment of seabirds. Other years, during this trip in March, we saw Pomarine Jaegers. This time we saw about 25 Pomarines, and 1 Great Skua.
Various times at the surface of
the sea, there were schools of fish. They appeared to be small tuna. Jaegers
were feeding on them. Boobies were diving into the water. Frigatebirds
were overhead in a swarm. Some were coming to the water grabbing fish. Others
were harassing jaegers.
During the trip we saw groups of both Brown and Red-footed Boobies.
At another time, as we were cruising off the beautiful coastline, with the forested hills of Dominica as a backdrop with puffy clouds and rainbows, a White-tailed Tropicbird flew in above us, with its long tail against a blue sky.
A few days earlier, during the tour, when we were atop a high sea-cliff on the island of Saint Lucia, there were about 50 Red-billed Tropicbirds gracefully flying about, calling as they flew.
Our fine day at sea on March 9, 2002 ended with the sun setting over the Caribbean Sea, where we had seen the boobies, jaegers, skua, frigatebirds, tropicbirds, and 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls (2 of only 4 gulls seen, the others Laughing). As the red solar ball dipped below the horizon, we could see the quick "green flash".
Seabirds were just part of our tour in the Lesser Antilles. There were also some wonderful landbirds, such as parrots (on St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Dominica), colorful hummingbirds (including 2 caribs), and various endemics, rarities, and other specialties (among them: two tremblers, the White-breasted Thrasher, the Forest Thrush, flycatchers, and three indigenous warblers: Plumbeous, Whistling, and St. Lucia). Also on St. Lucia, an endemic oriole.
"Top Birds" as voted by participants after the March 2002 tour were:
1 - Red-footed Booby
2 - Purple-throated Carib
3 - Great Skua
4 - Brown Trembler
5 - Red-billed Tropicbird
6 - Imperial Parrot
7 - St. Vincent Parrot
8 - Rufous-throated Solitaire
9 - White-tailed Tropicbird
10 - Red-necked Parrot
11 - St. Lucia Parrot
12 - Green-throated Carib
13 - White-breasted Thrasher
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