Visit your favourite destinations
|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
This report appears with the kind permission of Bren McCartney of the Berkshire Birds Web Pages
The island of Antigua is situated in the Caribbean Sea, at the northern tip of the Lesser Antilles, with Anguilla and the US Virgin Islands to the north, and Guadeloupe to the south. The nation of Antigua and Barbuda gained independence from the UK in 1981, and also includes a third island, Redonda. The idyllic Caribbean beaches are the primary touristic attraction of Antigua. For the birder, Antigua holds no species which cannot be found on other Lesser Antillean islands (e.g. Guadeloupe). However, my girlfriend is a non-birder and we found this destination to be ideal in that a relaxing beachy holiday can be combined with some relaxing yet relatively productive all-round birding. We also visited Guadeloupe for 2 days (EC$389 for the flight). Our two-week self-catering holiday with Thomson cost £409 each, a late "Square Deal" booking.
(See checklist for scientific names). The main species to look for on Antigua is Bridled Quail Dove, apparently very difficult on the other islands in its northern Lesser Antillean range. The nocturnal West Indian Tree Duck apparently occurs, but I failed with this species, and I doubt it is common here. The Tree Duck is best located on Barbuda (day trips can be arranged from Antigua). Other uncommon local species to be sought are Scaly-breasted and Pearly-eyed Thrashers, and Red-necked Pigeon, all of which I located with reasonable ease.:
Antigua boasts a wide range of habitats, ranging from humid forest (not rainforest as the guides may lead you to believe) through dry woodland and scrub, mangrove swamps and salt lagoons to a large freshwater reservoir in the centre of the island. You will need the 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey map, which you can purchase for EC$21 from the Map Shop in St. Mary's Street, St. Johns. There are no roadsigns and navigation is difficult even if you are a proficient map-reader!
We stayed at the Jolly Harbour Hotel, on the west coast, which was of an excellent standard. Local currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar, which is pegged to the US dollar at EC$2.70 to US$1. Most places accept US$, but all take EC$. Prices are fairly high, and throughout this report are given in the currency we paid. We hired bikes for a few days (US$10 per day), which gave us access to a couple of sites down the coast, but cycling long distances under the Caribbean sun is no joke. A car is definitely needed to explore some of the more remote sites, and serves as an excellent hide at a couple of spots. Ours cost US$50 per day. A 2-wheel drive car is just about adequate but the roads are in a terrible state, particularly in the south. Taxis are not really a viable option - they are very expensive - a return trip to St. John's from our hotel cost US$24.
Access to most areas is no problem; the people are extremely friendly and an amiable chat should gain you free access. It is essential to remember that it is customary in Antigua for the visitor to initiate conversation ("morning", "afternoon" etc. will suffice to begin with), otherwise you will invite an uncooperative attitude.
This report is presented in three sections: Site Details, Daily Log and finally an Annotated Species List.
These sites are arranged in no particular order. If you have only a short time on the island, I would recommend the Wallings Reservoir area, Christian Valley, Potsworks Reservoir and Mc Kinnons Salt Pond in that order. Landbirds which are common to abundant in virtually all habitats are: Broad-winged Hawk, White-crowned Pigeon, Zenaida Dove, Common Ground Dove, Green-throated Carib, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Grey Kingbird, Caribbean Elaenia, Black-whiskered Vireo, Yellow Warbler, Bananaquit, Carib Grackle, Lesser Antillean Bullfinch and Black-faced Grassquit. They are not mentioned in the following site accounts. American Kestrel and Caribbean (Purple) Martin are reasonably easy. Of the aquatic radiation, Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Cattle Egret, Snowy Egret, Great White Egret, Least Tern and Laughing Gull can all be seen roadside with ease.
Best visited in the evening, this is the premier site for waders on Antigua. Head north out of St. John's following the signs to Miller's-by-the-Sea (Fort James). Just after passing the drive-thru KFC, turn left (signed to Miller's). After about ½ mile, turn right onto the metalled road and follow this towards Runaway Beach to view the saltpond on the right. There are various pull-ins where you can stop and scan the pool. I visited this site twice and considered it suprisingly productive for the time of year: maxima were c50 Bahama Pintail, 7 Greater Yellowlegs, 4 Lesser Yellowlegs, 1 Stilt Sandpiper, 65 Short-billed Dowitcher, 50 Semipalmated Sandpiper, with 1 Least and 2 Westerns, 20 Semipalmated Plover, 15 Wilson's Plover (with chicks), 20 Black-necked Stilt, 50 Sandwich Tern, 25 Least Tern, 50 Laughing Gull, 1 Great White Egret, 2 Yellow-crowned Night Heron and 2 Snowy Egret. Dark Wood Salt Pond contained a greater variety of herons (see below).
This mangrove swamp area is situated south of the airport. Take the minor road running from south of the terminal building through St. Georges to St. George Hill and stop en route at likely-looking spots. This site has Clapper Rail, but I unfortunately visited at high tide, thus greatly hampering my efforts. I tried to reach the mangroves by skirting around the US Air Force building north of St. George's Church, but the thorny Acacias were impossible. However this was a brilliant area for photography as the birds were readily brought in by pishing here. The mangroves and brackish ponds by the road around St. George's Hill (use the car as a hide) had a Spotted Sandpiper, 10 Snowy Egret, 3 Green-backed Heron, a Willet and 20 Black-necked Stilt.
On the Five Islands Peninsula to the west of St. Johns, the pool inland from the Galley Bay Hotel held a variety of waterbirds, primarily herons and waterfowl and could be worth a visit if you have time. Take the right fork heading west out of Five Islands Village to view.
A must. This site has both Scaly-breasted and Pearly-eyed Thrashers. Bridled Quail Dove has also occurred, but I could not find any in my two visits. Take the well-defined track south from the main road, about 3 miles S of St. Johns. If you have trouble locating the track, get to the Caribbean Radio Lighthouse building by the side of the road between Bolans and Jennings and then drive towards St. Johns. The track is about 500m away on the right. If you are driving, do not take the track opposite the Radio Lighthouse as this is impassable at the creek crossing where it joins the main Christian Valley track. The main track is gated about a mile and half from the main road, and the area which is an agricultural station opens at 7.00am. You could climb the gate or sneak through along the creek bed, but be prepared to do some explaining. I had both thrashers at about 8am.
If you struggle for Caribbean Martin, which is certainly not abundant, try this hotel as there were usually a few over the marina itself, or around the car park area by the security barrier. Access to all beaches in Antigua is public, so don't worry about going into hotel grounds. Jolly Harbour is on the west coast about 4 miles south of St. Johns.
Very good for herons and waterfowl, but contained few migratory waders (for which try Mc Kinnons Salt Pond) and possibly deteriorated since previous reports I was using. Viewable from the coast road about 6 miles south of St. Johns. Maxima here were: 4 Yellow-crowned Night Heron, 1 Black-crowned Night Heron, 15 Wilson's Plover (with chicks), 1 Semipalmated Plover, 80 Least Tern, 2 Black-necked Stilt (with chick), 8 Bahama Pintail, 3 Great Blue Heron, 1 Tricoloured Heron, 3 Snowy Egret, 2 Green-backed Heron, 1 Little Blue Heron. Clapper Rail has been seen here. A female Masked Duck was present for three days on the second roadside pond north of the salt pond, and a pair of American Kestrel were breeding in the further ruined windmill from the road towards Ffryes Bay. The pools and mangrove swamps by the coast road between Crab Hill and Old Road are worth exploring if you have time.
By the road between John Hughes and Old Road, this area contains Red-necked Pigeon and Bridled Quail Dove, and is a must. I did not visit the reservoir itself as prior permission was necessary. I parked at the pull-in by the hairpin 100m west of the western pumping station. Walk back to the roadside pond, cross the marshy inlet at the NE corner, and follow the track up into the humid forest. The resonant call of Bridled Quail Dove can be heard from a great distance, but the bird is hard to pin down, and it took me half an hour to get a brief glimpse of this bird. I had two flyover Red-necked Pigeon. This forest looks like the best bet on Antigua for Antillean Euphonia, but I couldn't locate any.
Very productive and well worth a visit, this site has patently improved since previous reports - you can drive to the water's edge and use the car as a hide. The road from St. Johns via the Sugar Factory is the best way to approach this reservoir. I spent about 3 hours here, and noted 47 Pied-billed Grebe, 30 Moorhen, 2 Caribbean Coot, 30 Cattle Egret, 50 Great White Egret, 3 Great Blue Heron, 75 Black-necked Stilt, 100 Laughing Gull, 7 Semipalmated Plover, 8 Turnstone, 13 Snowy Egret, 6 Willet, 5 Short-billed Dowitcher, 20 Least Tern, 4 Brown Pelican and 1 Little Blue Heron as well as a remarkable 117 Ruddy Duck. The nearby Collin's Reservoir held of note 3 Green-backed Heron, 3 Pied-billed Grebe and 2 Bahama Pintail.
Arrived on schedule early afternoon at Antigua International Airport, noting 4 adult summer Laughing Gulls upon leaving the 767. A couple of Carib Grackles were feeding outside the airport as we waited for a taxi. Reeling from our first experience of Antiguan roads, we recorded 2 Magnificent Frigatebirds, 2 Broad-winged Hawks, 8 Cattle Egrets and a Great White Egret on the way to the hotel. Antigua is dry, and there is little avian activity during the middle part of the day. Our accommodation was allocated on arrival and we were somewhat relieved to find ours was to be the Jolly Harbour Hotel. Our apartment was spacious, airy and clean. A walk round the hotel grounds produced Caribbean Martin, White-crowned Pigeon, Zenaida Dove, Brown Pelican, Least Tern, Bananaquit, Black-faced Grassquit, Grey Kingbird and Lesser Antillean Bullfinch. Had an excellent burger and a beer in the evening at the barbecue.
Up at 5.30am and walked to the Christian Valley. A cracking singing male Yellow Warbler was by the track to the valley and Common Ground Dove was common here. A tiny Antillean Crested Hummingbird was an amazing sight as it flitted at unbelievable speed between flowering bushes. 3 Brown Rats were present in a ramshackle roadside building and Indian Mongoose was abundant here. A couple of Caribbean Elaenias were singing along the small track off to the left before reaching the buildings in the valley, and a calling Broad-winged Hawk was there. No sign or sound of any thrashers or Bridled Quail Dove. We hired a couple of bikes and after lunch headed south to Picarts Bay. Crashing out on the beach, only c25 Least Tern, c10 Magnificent Frigatebirds and c25 Laughing Gulls were noted. Attempted to construct our own meal this evening. Hmm.
Got up at a not-so-enthusiastic 7am and cycled to Dark Wood Salt Pond. The pond was fairly dry, and probably not performing as well as it can. Additionally the level of disturbance here was unfortunately very high with kids regularly crossing straight through the area scaring the birds for fun. I noted 4 Yellow-crowned Night Herons, a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron, 5 Wilson's Plover, including a pair with two young chicks, c80 Least Tern, 4 Bahama Pintail, 2 Great Blue Herons (1 white phase), 3 Snowy Egret, 2 Green-backed Heron and 39 Laughing Gulls. A Black-necked Stilt was very agitated in defence of its half-grown chick. Landbirds around the pond were 4 Caribbean Elaenia, 5 Black-faced Grassquit, 2 Bananaquit, 7 Zenaida Doves, 2 White-crowned Pigeon, a Grey Kingbird, 2 singing Yellow Warblers and a Common Ground Dove. A half-hour seawatch off Picarts Bay produced 2 Audubon's Shearwater, 7 Magnificent Frigatebirds, 9 Laughing Gulls and a Least Tern. The rest of the day was spent relaxing on the beach!
Up at 6am and cycled to the Christian Valley again. Arrived at the gate at about 6.30 and birded around the entrance area for a while. A Pearly-eyed Thrasher was singing from the hillside to the N of the gate. Lost patience when the gate hadn't opened by 7.00 and wheeled the bike along the creek bed bypassing the main fence. Carried on up the valley, taking the right hand track just before the road reaches the buildings. About 100m up this track, got crippling views of a juvenile Broad-winged Hawk as it perched in low trees calling. Single Scaly-breasted and Pearly-eyed Thrashers were singing either side of the narrow footpath between the clearing and the "fields" and had good views of a singing male Yellow Warbler. We visited Picarts Bay again in the afternoon, and I briefly looked at the salt pond from the southern edge. There were 25 Brown Pelicans, 3 Snowy Egrets, 2 Wilson's Plover and an immature Little Blue Heron. Got some good photos of a pair of Caribbean Elaenias and a Green-throated Carib whizzed by. A Black-whiskered Vireo was in the pondside vegetation.
Visited the York Salt Pond on the way back to the hotel. It was fairly dry and contained only 2 Wilson's Plovers. A flock of 25 Carib Grackles was drinking it a freshwater puddle nearby. A shrill call brought three American Kestrels to my attention along the approach road. They perhaps had bred in the more seaward of the two ruined windmills, as two juveniles were eating prey and an adult was in attendance. A female Masked Duck was an unexpected find on the small pond by the main road opposite the end of the track. This species is quite different to Ruddy Duck - very noticeably smaller, with a more barred face, barred back and large white flashes in the wings. I saw both species of Oxyura on Antigua during this trip.
We cycled out to Pearns Point for the day, finding some superb unspoilt and deserted beaches. Two American Oystercatchers were on the Five Islands off Pearns Point, along with about 20 Magnificent Frigatebirds perched on the rocks. The common passerines were at their most abundant on this peninsula.
Another late rise, and a day spent touring the southern part of Antigua. The main birding event of the day was finding the Masked Duck still present in the afternoon on the small roadside pond near Dark Wood Salt Pond. It concealed itself very quickly in the vegetation as soon as it saw me approaching. It is amazing how a Masked Duck and 5 Moorhen can disappear into such a small area of vegetation.
Up at 6am for a look around the Wallings Reservoir area. Stopped to look at the Masked Duck pool, but there was no sign of the bird, and I did not see it subsequently. Just after parking the car by the lookout a Red-necked Pigeon overflew. I made my way up the track into the humid woodland and soon heard a Bridled Quail Dove calling. Following the sound, I eventually managed to get a brief glimpse of the bird in the transitional zone between the humid and dry forest after about half and hour of searching. Another Red-necked Pigeon was observed at the top of the track, and brilliant views of an adult Broad-winged Hawk with a prey item were had on the way back down. Black-whiskered Vireo was abundant in this area. On the way back, I dropped in at Dark Wood Salt Pond which produced of note a fine adult Tricoloured Heron, 3 Great Blue Herons, 8 Bahama Pintail and an adult Semipalmated Plover. The Jolly Harbour Hotel produced 2 Caribbean Martins over the car park at about midday. After a beachy afternoon, I visited Mc Kinnons Salt Pond in the evening. Viewed from the western side, this proved to be an excellent site for waders, "migrants" including a Stilt Sandpiper (with a broken leg) 7 Greater Yellowlegs, 1 Lesser Yellowlegs, 18 Short-billed Dowitchers, c50 Semipalmated Sandpiper, with a couple of possible Westerns and 3 Semipalmated Plover.
Up early for a visit to Potsworks Reservoir in the centre of the island. The reservoir held 47 Pied-billed Grebe, 30 Moorhen, 2 Caribbean Coot, 30 Cattle Egret, 50 Great White Egret, 3 Great Blue Heron, 75 Black-necked Stilt, 100 Laughing Gull, 7 Semipalmated Plover, 8 Turnstone, 13 Snowy Egret, 6 Willet, 5 Short-billed Dowitcher, 20 Least Tern, 4 Brown Pelican and 1 Little Blue Heron as well as a remarkable 117 Ruddy Duck. Nearby Collins Reservoir was also checked, but produced no more than 3 Green-backed Herons, 3 Pied-billed Grebes and 2 Bahama Pintail. Two American Kestrels were noted from on the journey back in the Belmont area, just east of St. Johns. During an afternoon visit to Long Bay Beach in the eastern part of Antigua, a Common Tern was fishing along the beach front, and I got some good photos of a very aggressive Green-throated Carib which was chasing off Grey Kingbirds and Carib Grackles with gusto! Back to Mc Kinnons Salt Pond in the evening where 65 Short-billed Dowitchers, 4 Lesser Yellowlegs, 2 Greater Yellowlegs, c50 Semipalmated Sandpipers, with 1 Least and 2 Westerns, and c20 Semipalmated Plover were notable, and the Stilt Sandpiper was still present.
An early morning visit to Fitches Creek in search of mangrove species (Mangrove Cuckoo and Clapper Rail) proved largely unsuccessful. Rather carelessly, my visit coincided with high tide, and the mangrove swamp was inaccessible and little mud was exposed. A Spotted Sandpiper photographed at close range and a Willet flying low overhead were the highlights. An attempt to reach the mangrove swamp via the US Air Force building proved a non-starter; the Acacia bushes were extremely thorny and the swamp edges were inaccessible. However, I got some pretty good photos of passerines in this area (particularly Yellow Warbler) which were relatively easy to approach closely.
We visited Betty's Hope Sugar Mill in the afternoon, where we discovered a pair of American Kestrels which seemed to be nesting in one of the windmill towers. We spent the later part of the afternoon on the Hawksbill Bay Resort beach, where I noted a splendid Red-billed Tropicbird offshore. Dropped in at Galley Bay Lake at dusk to look for West Indian Tree Duck without success and then went to Millers-by-the-sea that evening for a beer.
Having to take the hire car back to Hertz, we spent the whole day relaxing on the beach and drinking fine Antiguan Cavalier Rum! 3 Feral Doves which overflew the Jolly Harbour Hotel were possibly of direct domestic origin.
17th - 19th July
We made a brief trip to Guadeloupe.
Another day spent on the beach, an evening seawatch from the hotel beach produced 6+ Audubon's Shearwaters and 2 Bahama Pintails. A couple of Caribbean Martins were again over the Jolly Harbour Hotel.
The final morning of trip was spent packing, and the only observation of note was a couple of Sandwich Terns visiting the marina briefly. We left Antigua on the 1530 brown, refreshed and with 52 new species (this was my first trip to the New World).