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A Report from

Antigua, Oct 27th to November 10th 2010,

Chris Grimshaw

Early on Wednesday 27th of October 2010, Ann and I were on a Virgin Airways Boeing 747-400 crossing the Atlantic for the fifth time together bound for Antigua. This was a life long ambition for me and really a holiday of a lifetime for us both

We arrived at V.C.Bird airport at St Johns in Antigua and while walking to the terminal we were caught in a heavy downpour. We had left Lincoln on Tuesday with heavy persistent rain all the way to Gatwick but this rain was different. It had the advantage of actually being warm rain which lifted the spirits after days of poor weather and having the central heating on at home

Our holiday was based at the Jolly Beach resort just outside Jolly Harbour which is not too far from the Island’s capital, St Johns. It wasn’t a birdwatching holiday as such but I did take every opportunity that I could to go off and do some. My binoculars went virtually everywhere with me but early on in the stay I had a problem with the focus wheel on my scope and my tripod was very close to expiring and has done so since my return home

Jolly Beach

Jolly Beach resort is classed as a three and a half star hotel which is perhaps a little generous. It is in one of the most perfect locations anybody could want for a beach holiday. The colour of the sea really has to be seen to be believed. The beach which is just over a mile long is out of this world. It is backed by Jolly Harbour a superb marina with some great looking homes and yachts. At the northern edge of the beach is Reeds Point a small cone shaped hill which is an ideal spot for sea watching. At the southern end of the beach is Coco Hotel and Restaurant. There is a path from here which takes you to Coco Lagoon which was good for all kinds of birds at dusk. It was in these spots that all my birding was done. Lush vegetation was evident throughout this area

The weather throughout the first part of the stay was somewhat indifferent and on the first Saturday we found out why when hundreds of holiday makers were diverted to our resort from Barbados because of Tropical Storm Tomas making it unsafe for aircraft to attempt to land on that island

Subsequently, the Tropical Storm was upgraded to a Hurricane when it hit St Lucia about 360 miles south of us. 14 people lost their lives in this storm and untold damage was done to the islands infrastructure

Torrential storms hit us on Saturday evening – with rain and wind unlike anything we had seen before but this was nothing in comparison to that suffered by the beautiful and enchanting Island of St Lucia

The birds

Wednesday 27th October


Easily evident from the mini-bus were Carib Grackles, Zenaida Doves, Grey Kingbirds and Cattle Egrets. Arriving at our accommodation we soon became acquainted with the Bananaquit and the Brown Pelican. All these birds were subsequently seen on every day of our holiday. We also noted a Great Blue Heron on the cricket field and then half hidden in long grass on the far side of the field were a couple of waders. Shoes off and across the field towards these birds which turned out to be American Golden Plover

Thursday 28th October

Saw me up with the dawn and off to investigate Coco Lagoon which was only a couple of hundred yards from our room across the waterlogged cricket field. The lagoon was totally screened by bushes and trees. Birds that were eventually seen once I had found a way to the lagoon included White Crowned Pigeon almost immediately and my first genuine White Cheeked Pintails. Although somewhat skulking, Caribbean Coot were soon evident. Some reports had claimed American Coot here but I couldn’t confirm this as the ones that I saw clearly were the Caribbean variety. Three Black Necked Stilts dropped in virtually as I arrived at open water but they were the only ones I saw during the two weeks I was in Antigua. I also noted Belted Kingfisher briefly, Spotted and Least Sandpiper and several Magnificent Frigatebirds soaring and gliding majestically.

Egrets included Great White, Cattle, Reddish and Snowy. Also evident were Little Blue Heron, Blue Winged Teal, Pied Billed Grebe and Ruddy Duck for the first time overseas

Later in the day I noted both Osprey with a fish in its talons and a Broad Winged Hawk over Jolly Harbour. On the beach Ann found two Wilson’s Plover and on returning to our room later in the afternoon I found three American Golden Plover on the cricket field

American Golden Plover

Friday 29th October

Friday saw me getting into a routine of a walk down the beach in the morning and a wander to the Lagoon in the late afternoon

Just one American Golden Plover on the cricket field this morning with lots of Zenaida Doves as the grass had been cut and seemed to attract them. An Osprey was also evident in the area

Later in the day I walked into the attractive village of Jolly Harbour by road rather than by beach. The road route only took five or so minutes. Not many birds evident here other than the Grey Kingbird and a few Pelicans, Frigatebirds and a Broad Winged Hawk were. This was where the focus wheel on my scope gave up the ghost which devastated me at the time until I realised a couple of days later that I could still use it after a fashion

Saturday 30th October

We awoke to grey skies with the occasional short lived downpour. It was after dark that heavens really opened and gave us a taste of what extreme weather can be like in the Caribbean. Four or five inches of rain in a short period of time and trees being bent double by the wind

When I got up I had no idea of what was on the horizon. Taking advantage of cooler weather I took a fairly long walk visiting areas that Google Earth and birdwatching reports suggested were potentially good for birds. I walked the coast road as far as Darkwood Beach investigating various pools lagoons and lakes on the way

Not having the use of my ailing telescope restricted me somewhat but the birds I saw were a continuation of those nearer to our hotel. Brown Pelicans, Magnificent Frigatebirds were seen in good numbers. A Yellow-Crowned Night Heron was the first of the stay. I also had a nice close view of a Broad Winged Hawk on a tree which flew off when I attempted to get the camera out. An Osprey was evident once again.

Sunday 31st October

The day started wet and grey – very wet; water was everywhere after the previous days deluge. Keeping to my usual morning routine I walked down the beach to Reeds Point. Prominent birds were four Royal Terns and the odd Brown Booby patrolling off shore. In the bushes of the Point were three Yellow Warblers, three Green Throated Carib, Antillean Crested Hummingbird and the Osprey fishing off the Point which thrilled the early risers

The biggest thrill of the day was well after dark. At the time I was trying to increase the islands consumption of rum at the open air bar when I noticed a group of people on the lawn examining something in the grass. Curious I went and looked. There were about fifty hatchling leatherback turtles making their way inland on a moonless night. No doubt they were attracted by the lights of the resort and a dire karaoke that was going on at the time. They were soon collected in a box and then taken to the sea


Monday 1st November

Another dullish day as by now Hurricane Tomas was heading towards Haiti well to the north-west of us. The sun was reluctant to show its face but it was still pretty warm. There was no sign on the beach of a turtle nest but perhaps it had been filled in for safety reasons. Bird highlights great views of an Osprey, Brown Booby and a single American Golden Plover on the cricket square after an absence of two days. A Lesser Yellowlegs was also on the fringes of the cricket field. At the Lagoon I discovered my first Fulvous Whistling Ducks and a splendid Spotted Sandpiper but my outing was cut short by threatening weather

Tuesday 2nd November

The sun was out again after three days of grey skies and the occasional downpour. Highlights were Little Blue Heron, Reddish Egret and my second Green Heron. Down on the beach were eighteen Semi-Palmated Plover, one Least Sandpiper with one Snowy (Kentish?) Plover. Broad Winged Hawk and Osprey were again evident in the vicinity of the hotel. Breakfast and lunch was always interesting at the restaurant with Carib Grackle, the pretty Bananaquit and Lesser Antillean Bullfinch always aware of an opportunity to scavenge some food

Wednesday 3rd November

The second week is when the holiday always seems to fly by. The day was very hot. We decided to walk into Jolly Harbour but were caught by a another downpour just before reaching cover. Birding was fairly routine now – I knew what to expect and was resigned to the fact that there wasn’t likely to be much migrating through. In Cuba last year there had been lots of warblers to see but Antigua seemed to migrant free. At first I had put this down to the Hurricane but when that had cleared and there was still little new I put it down to Antigua not being on a natural migration route

Still there was plenty to see but it was difficult not to be blasé about what back home you would give your right arm to see. Eighteen Semi-Palmated Plover, Osprey several times a day, Broad Winged Hawk, a dozen or so Black Faced Grassquit. Zenaida Dove at your feet everyday, Cattle Egret by the hundred. Pied Billed Grebe of which I now think I have seen more of than I have Slavonian. Two Belted Kingfisher, fifteen Fulvous Whistling Duck, Blue Winged Teal, Green Heron and the plentiful and spectacular Magnificent Frigatebird

Thursday 4th November

Thursday was a poor day weather-wise with there being a fair amount of rain about once again. Usually with the Caribbean rain comes down in bucket fulls but then the sun comes out again and an hour or so later there is little sign of that downpour

There were up to thirty-seven Semi-Palmated Plover and four Least Sandpipers on the beach. Ann and I got a glimpse of our only American Kestrel of our stay off Reeds Point. Brown Booby was in among the Frigatebirds and Pelicans around the Five Islands just off Reads Point. Royal Terns patrolled the beach.

The Lagoon held its usual number of egrets, herons and ducks. The area does seem destined for development as there are small properties down one side and a bulldozer clearing a site at the end of the lagoon. I did try to explore the roads to these properties to see if there was better access to the Lagoon but the roads were in an appalling state for those on foot like me

Friday 5th November

Zenaida Dove

Heaven, no fireworks for us but the weather did take a permanent turn for the better becoming hot and humid with lots of sunshine. The lagoon held White Cheeked Pintail and was the best place around the resort to observe White Crowned Pigeons. I noted six male Ruddy Duck here where previously I had only seen two or three. Two, Spotted Sandpiper also stuck to the muddy fringe of the Lagoon

Although the Semi-Palmated Plover numbers were down to fourteen, I noted that the Snowy (Kentish) Plover and five Least Sandpipers were among them again

After yesterdays previous Osprey free day was on the rock overlooking the cricket field and lagoon. I heard its alarm calls before I could I saw it. It flew off when I got to open ground around the lagoon

Saturday 6th November

Now it was real sunbathing weather. A beautiful day with plenty of non alcoholic bearing liquid being the order of the day.

The beach was a stunning place first thing in the morning with just the odd jogger, a few walkers and swimmers and one bird watcher

This was to be the best day for waders on the beach with forty-five Semi-Palmated Plover, six Wilsons Plover and four Least Sandpipers being in the flock which was roughly in the same place morning or afternoon. Walkers didn’t unduly bother the flock. Also present was the Snowy Plover. The plumage colour in my guidebook was not as light as the actual bird but when I got home and I checked my mediocre photo against other guidebooks and the internet I was surprised that Snowy Plover is deemed to be the same species as Kentish Plover or at least a sub species. Being in non breeding plumage this bird had non of the black markings associated with the adult

I noted my first Solitary Sandpiper and Tricoloured Heron of the holiday later in the afternoon. I also had splendid views of the Osprey carefully eating a fish that was almost as large as itself. Merlin and Northern Parula were also seen – the latter giving me hope for a few warblers but to no avail

Sunday 7th November

Sunday was extremely hot and humid and even a short walk had me dripping in sweat. My tee-shirt always seemed wringing wet through

Snowy and twenty-nine Semi-Palmated were present on the beach once again along with two Wilsons. The Osprey, Royal Terns, Pelicans and Frigatebirds were always seen offshore early in the day.

Lesser Yellowlegs and Fulvous Whistling Duck were seen at the lagoon but it was to hot to make a lot of effort to go birding

Monday 8th November

Monday saw us on a boat cruise around Antigua. Really we should have gone to Barbuda which is apparently very good for seeing Frigatebirds roosting but it is easy to be wise after the event.

The cruise itself was enjoyable. Bird wise it was disappointing but I console myself by saying it wasn’t a bird watching holiday

We did note three separate Osprey on the cruise and needed the telescope when we reached St Johns Harbour. Twenty odd great Blacked Gulls were in the harbour and there were plenty of Terns – but what species they were other than Royal well God alone knows

Some of the property was only available to the super rich

We were back at the hotel in time for me to spend the final hour at the Lagoon. I was rewarded with a West Indian Whistling Duck but was punished as usual by being bitten by mosquitoes despite the fact that much insect deterrent was used 

Tuesday 9th November

Great White Egret

The penultimate day dawned giving me the last chance to see most of the areas specialities.

The most surprising bird of the day was a Turnstone – not in itself surprising but its location totally. It was by the swimming pool among all the bathers and it was pecking away at a chicken bone which someone had dropped

Later in the day one of my favourites the Green-Backed Heron, plus Great White Egret and the usual herons, egrets and ducks gave good views as did two Belted Kingfishers and of course the Osprey. Star wader of the day was Greater Yellowlegs just before I left

Wednesday 10th November

Just time enough to walk down the beach before the final packing. Time enough anyway for fifteen species and time enough to enjoy the glorious beach and its fabulous coloured milky blue sea for the final time

Three Semi-Palmated Plover were still in the same spot but in decreasing numbers (sixteen).  Disappointingly the Snowy Plover wasn’t there

We were not disappointed by the Osprey or the Broad Winged Hawk as they put in their usaual appearances. The final birds of the stay were the Carib Grackle, Lesser Antillean Bullfinch and Bananaquit in the restaurant during our final lunch and Grey Kingbird and Cattle Egret from the bus to the airport

A trip and place never to be forgotten but at the time of writing nearly two weeks after the event I am wondering on this cold evening if it was just a dream

Fifty one species in all with five lifers which perhaps was not as good as hoped but satisfactory nevertheless.

Full species list.


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