Tour 2: Every Endemic in The Lesser Antilles (plus optional extension to Trinidad)

Tour Summary

St. Vincent Parrots in the Buccament Valley (photo compliments of St.Vincent Ministry of Tourism)

St. Vincent Parrots in the Buccament Valley (photo compliments of St.Vincent Ministry of Tourism)

Islands we will visit on this tour:

Barbados, St. Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat St. Vincent, Grenada, (Trinidad)

 

Barbados

Photos L to R (click on image to scroll): Barbados is renowned for it's beautiful beaches; The island also boasts a number of prime birding habitats - this nesting colony in Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary is the first for Little Egret documented in the western hemisphere; The immaculately maintained boardwalk of G.H.N.S. meanders through the heart of the mangrove wetland; The wetland is a haven for regional indigenous species such as this glorious Antillean Crested Hummingbird (photo ©Sam Barone); Numerous species of dragonfly such as the Spot-tailed Dasher frequent secluded lily ponds on the island (photo ©David Petts); Caribbean Martins breed on the island (photo © Yves-Jacques Rey-Millet)

As a proud Barbadian (Bajan) I may be slightly biased, but I believe that we begin our birding adventure on the most beautiful island in the Caribbean. As someone who has spent 15 years leading hundreds of nature enthusiasts throughout it's 166 square miles, I can assure you that (provided you know the right places to visit), this island will surprise and delight you with it's variety of species.  Whether we are stealthily approaching a lily pond in order to get unbelievably close views of courting Masked Ducks, or standing high atop limestone seacliffs watching the extravagant aerial displays of Caribbean Martins and Black Swifts, your visit will see you explore the last remaining pockets of wilderness on an island often seen solely as a destination for those seeking sun and glistening white sand beaches. One highlight promises to be a journey to Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary - the largest remaining mangrove wetland on the island and ideal habitat for Caribbean Coot, Common and Purple Gallinule, Green Heron and Belted Kingfisher.  In addition to the plethora of aquatic species, the prime locations of observation decks and hides nestled within the mangrove trees, offer unparalleled views of such gems as Caribbean Elaenia, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Barbados Bullfinch, Zenaida Dove, Bananaquit and the shy, forest-dwelling Scaly-naped Pigeon.

 

St. Lucia

Photos L to R (click on image to scroll): The magnificent Gros Piton, one of two majestic peaks which dominate the St.Lucian skyline; St.Lucia's national bird - the St.Lucia Parrot (Amazona versicolor) pictured here in the Des Cartiers Rainforest (photo ©David Petts); One of St.Lucia's 5 other endemics, the St.Lucia Oriole shares this forest with the Amazona parrot (photo ©David Petts); The Lesser Antilles represent crucial habitat for an abundance of over-wintering North American migrants such as this Prothonotary Warbler (photo ©Sam Barone)

From flat and heavily developed, with a few pockets of remaining birding habitat, to mountainous, heavily forested and wonderfully wild. By only our second island, any preconceived belief that a visit to one Caribbean country is akin to a visit to another is quickly erased. The absolute contrast to Barbados in topography, vegetation and landscapes that we see upon arrival on St.Lucia, sets the tone for a journey which, as it progresses from island to island, illustrates the wealth of diversity of habitats that each island has to offer; and in so doing goes a long way to explaining the vast array of different species reliant on these habitats for survival. Such diversity is exemplified in St.Lucia’s dry coastal woodlands in the east of the country - a haven for the critically endangered White-breasted Thrasher, expansive wetlands to the south, and impressive Des Cartiers Rainforest that dominates the north - the last stronghold of the truly resplendent St. Lucia Parrot. As we bird each of these regions, the growing number of species reliant on these habitats becomes clear. Vibrant St.Lucia Orioles and Purple-throated Caribs, shy, retiring Bridled Quail Doves and Ruddy Quail Doves, charismatic and plucky St.Lucia Warblers and St. Lucia Pewees - all of these and many more inhabit an island widely regarded as one of the most biodiverse in the region.

One of the best ways to enjoy the range of seabirds found throughout the Caribbean is by getting out onto the water, hence Birding The Islands has looked to combine air travel between some islands, with ferry travel between others. Out wonderful time on St.Lucia is therefore followed up by a 2 hour ferry ride to Martinique. Sitting on the boat's upper deck, we are able to scan the turquoise seas for a host of gulls, terns, tropicbirds, and even such pelagics as petrels and jaegers - all keen on making the most of the bounty to be found in these rich waters.

Martinique

Photos L to R (click on image to scroll): Magnificent Frigatebirds are commonly seen along Martinique's coastline (photo ©David Petts); As with so many islands in the Lesser Antilles, Martinique has it's own unique landscapes and offers prime habitat to particular species indigenous to the region; Pearly Eyed Thrashers can be seen lurking in the thickets and woodlands of Martinique (photo ©David Petts)

As we dock in the French territory of Martinique we are reminded that it is not merely physical characteristics such as geology , geography and fauna that differ between islands, but also languages, architecture and cultures. History has played a significant role in shaping the socio-economic, linguistic and ethnic make-up of each Caribbean country, and as a result of our physically staying on each island, we are provided the perfect opportunity to experience and enjoy the pronounced cultural differences inherent in each of these remarkable countries. We will sample each island's unique cuisine, engage with the local community, and crucially, be afforded the time to bird in a host of areas well and truly off the tourist track. On the island, our exploration of little trafficked areas should serve to reveal such range-restricted species as Blue-headed Hummingbird, Grey Trembler, Pearly-eyed Thrasher and West Indian Whistling Duck, along with the endemic Martinique Oriole.

Dominica

Photos L to R (click on image to scroll): The secretive White-crowned Pigeon feasting on Red Birch berries (photo ©Yves-Jacques Rey-Millet); One of the rarest birds on the planet - the magnificent Imperial Amazon (photo by Bertrand Baptiste); The radiant Red-legged Thrush with centipede prey (photo ©James Hanlon); The island boasts a number of varied and rich feeding grounds, including vast saltmarshes and wetlands which are frequented by a number of indigenous aquatic species, as well as by a host of over-wintering North American species, such as this Whimbrel (photo ©David Rayner)

After another exhilarating ferry trip, during which we expand our ocean-faring target species to include turtles, and even dolphins, we arrive on Dominica - an island renowned for it's outstanding natural beauty. With it's innumerable waterfalls and a river for every day of the year coursing through it's vast tracts of primary rainforest, Dominica offers a snapshot of what many of the more developed islands of the West Indies would have looked like in years gone by. We stroll along some of the island's black volcanic sand beaches on the lookout for turtle nests, scan overhanging tree limbs for basking Lesser Antillean Iguanas and explore tranquil saline lagoons - hotspots for terns, gulls and a host of overwintering North American shorebirds. We drive along little known trails in order to access spectacular montane and elfin forests, harbouring such gems as White-crowned Pigeon, Red-legged Thrush, Antillean Euphonia, the endearing Plumbeous Warbler, and the inquisitive local race of House Wren. Yet even on this island of bountiful natural resources, a number of species maintain only a tenuous hold on survival. Indeed Dominica's ancient forests are home to two of the rarest birds in the world. Current estimates put the number of surviving Red-necked parrots at a paltry 900 individuals, while the island's other Amazona, the majestic Imperial Parrot, is in even greater danger of extinction, with a mere 300 birds left in the wild.

Guadeloupe

Photos L to R (click on image to scroll): The Guadeloupe Woodpecker is widespread on the island (photo ©Anthony Levesque); The endearing Plumbeous Warbler is not nearly as common

The second of what are known as "Departments of France" that we visit is Guadeloupe. Like Martinique , this island is home to one charming endemic - in this case the Guadeloupe Woodpecker. This species promises to be quite forthcoming, however while here we also target a number of regional specialties including Scaly-breasted Thrasher and Ruddy Quail-Dove, along with the Plumbeous Warbler (in case this near-endemic had proven elusive on Dominica - the only other island on which it is found).

We spend our night on Guadeloupe at La Heliconia an establishment that prides itself on ensuring it’s guests get a true feel for a type of accommodation first linked to the easily-transportable abodes of plantation workers, but which continues to be widely lived in to this day. Our stay in these quintessentially Caribbean, brightly coloured and charming chattel houses should give us a real taste of Lesser Antillean living.

 

Antigua, Barbuda and Montserrat

Photos L to R (click on image to scroll): Antigua will offer reliable sightings of the thratened West Indian Whistling Ducks (photo ©Yves-Jacques Rey-Millet); These 3 islands are a hotspot for over wintering migrants including Prothonotary Warbler and American Redstart (both photos ©Sam Barone)

With it's 365 beaches, capital city steeped in history, large international airport and shipping port, Antigua is a popular destination with tourists. Although it does not have any endemics, it is the best island on which to get reliable sightings of the much sought after West Indian Whistling Duck, is a popular over-wintering destination for North American migrants and also acts as an effective port from which we will embark on day trips to it's two closest neighbours - both of which have an endemic species each. Scenic Barbuda has the Barbuda Warbler, and the charming island retreat of Montserrat has the Montserrat Oriole.

St.Vincent & Grenada

Photos L to R (click on image to scroll): As is the case with all of the islands that we visit on this tour, the trails that we will be birding along in St. Vincent and Grenada are well established and easily navigable; Magnificent in flight - St.Vincent Parrots fly over the Buccament Valley; The highly sought Whistling Warbler shares these ancient stands of primary forest with the impressive Amazona parrot (both photos compliments St.Vincent Ministry of Toursim); With a mere 150 individuals left in the wild, the Grenada Dove is the rarest species we will see on this tour (photo ©David Rayner)

The final two islands in the Caribbean phase of our tour are two of the smallest, yet what they lack in size, they more than make up for in range restricted indigenous species and endemics - all of which are either classed as threatened or critically endangered. It is no coincidence that when it comes to endemics there is a common theme throughout the islands. Endemics on islands live perilous, precarious lives and are in constant danger of extinction. It only takes one natural event, an outbreak of disease or our turning a blind eye to years of relentless habitat destruction to see one of these species wiped off of the face of the Earth forever. During our travels through the islands we will come face to face with many of the people and organizations working desperately to ensure that the species that we see today, will not be gone tomorrow. Their work and the support generated from people such as ourselves who pay to explore the islands natural wonders, is crucial to the continued existence of such extremely rare endemics as the St. Vincent Parrot, Whistling Warbler and Grenada Dove - each of which we will target on our journey through these two islands.

Trinidad

Photos L to R (click on image to scroll): Seeing Channel-billed Toucans in the wild is an unforgettable experience (photo ©Sam Barone); An incredible 16 species of hummingbird can be seen on Trinidad, including the marvelous Tufted Coquette (photo ©Sam Barone); Constantly posing for the camera - the bandit-like Great Kiskadee (photo ©Sam Barone); An endemic of this South American Island of the Caribbean - the Trinidad Motmot (photo ©Sam Barone); Several of the sites we visit will yield spectacular views of raptors, including the beautiful Swallow-tailed Kite (photo ©Yves-Jacques Rey-Millet)

Having been fortunate enough to have been treated to fabulous views of some of the rarest endemics in the world and to have explored a range of habitats in 10 different countries (each home to an extraordinary array of range-restricted Caribbean specialties), the remainder of our tour sees us shift our attention to the species which inhabit the Lesser Antilles' neighboring continent of South America. In order to do so we fly to the vibrant island nation of Trinidad. What can be said about Trinidad's birdlife, except to say that a visit here is truly akin to a visit to the "South American Island of the Caribbean". Birding The Islands has set aside 3 full days for you to travel across the island and delight in the extravagant colours and majestic displays of this country's plethora of South American species. We board flat-bottom boats and delve deep into mangrove wetlands in search of Scarlet Ibis, Tropical Screech Owls, and species of tree-boa. We journey on a safari through vast grasslands that are home to scores of Savannah Hawks and Crested Caracaras, flocks of Saffron Finches and Red-breasted Meadowlarks, as well as secretive Red-brocket Deer and armadillos. We stroll along trails deep within the tropical rainforests of the Arima valley, home to a huge variety of spectacular species, including: Channel-billed Toucans, Bearded Bellbirds, White-tailed Sabrewings, Golden Manakins, Crested Oropendolas, Trinidad Piping Guans and a host of various species of tanager, euphonia, antbird, antwren and antshrike. We round off our travels through Trinidad with a visit to clay licks located deep within secluded groves of palm forest, commonly frequented by numerous species of macaw, parrots and parrotlets. It is the sheer volume and variety of these and myriad other dazzling and enchanting species, that have served to make Trinidad a mecca for birders the world over.

To find out more about this tour including Daily Itinerary and Pricing please click here