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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Bahamas: New Providence, Andros, and Key West Quail-Dove, June 22 – 28, 2011,
We took a several day trip to The Bahamas and, while there, set aside three days exclusively for birding. We hired Carolyn Wardle of Bahamas Outdoors to be our guide for one day on New Providence (Nassau) and a one day trip over to Andros, and hired a car for a third day to bird on our own. We ended up seeing every endemic, endemic sub-species, and specialty, except the Cuban Parrot. We were especially pleased to see the elusive Key West Quail-Dove,.
We had a couple of days on New Providence (where Nassau is) before we started our actual birding trip. During this period we saw several specialty birds at our hotel, such as Bahama Woodstar, Antillean Nighthawk, Gray Kingbird, Bananaquit, Western Spindalis, and White-crowned Pigeon. On our first day official day of birding, Carolyn picked us up at our hotel at 8AM and we headed to the west end of the island to search for Key West Quail-Dove. We heard several along the entrance road to the closed Blue Shark Golf Club but did not see any – their low, long “hoo” call travels a long distance, and they are quite skittish. So it is much easier to hear them than to see them. We then went onto the grounds of the golf course where a local guard let us meander along a few fairways, where we again heard several quail-doves but did not see any. We did see several Caribbean Doves, and Northern Bobwhite and Smooth-billed Anis were plentiful. Carolyn then took us to the Primeval Forest National Park, which is currently closed to the public but she has access. We walked along boardwalks, which was a good idea since the area has many concealed sinkholes in the limestone. Here we heard a couple quail-doves, and maybe had one flyaway view, but nothing conclusive. We then walked around the perimeter of the park until about 11AM, when we gave up and had lunch. We then drove to Carolyn’s house where she dropped off the lunch items and where we saw a young male Bahama Woodstar, as well as a couple of Cuban Pewees on her access road. We saw Western Spindalis during the drive to the garden of one of her friends, which garden gave us great views of Cuban Grassquit as well as a boa constrictor! In the late afternoon we went to downtown Nassau where 3 to 5 Cuban Parrots have been seen on and off over the last few years. Carolyn told us that it is believed they arrived from Abaco, where they are a resident, during a storm but no one is sure. We checked several of the normal places they are sometimes seen but no luck, and then called it a day. We then finished with a stop at Arawak Cay where a Bahama Swallow, rare in New Providence, was nesting in a boat!
After a break of a day, during which we went snorkeling with Stuart Cove’s company (recommended), Carolyn picked us up at 5:30AM for a short flight to Andros. We picked up a rental car from a local who hires out some cars, and it soon failed to start. Fortunately he had another car available. The rest of the trip was uneventful mechanically. Our trip on Andros was along the only road north from the Andros Town airport to Stafford Creek, with stops along the way. Here we saw Great Lizard-Cuckoo, Bahama Mockingbird, Bahama Swallow, Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Bahama Oriole, Cuban Emerald and, with much difficulty, Bahama Yellowthroat. We also saw a young Yellow Warbler that confused us for a while as it should have long since migrated! On our return we stopped at the charming Small Hope diving center, where we saw an unusual Reddish Egret that was either a white phase bird with some dark markings or a dark phase bird with a lot of white. On the road to the airport a fellow who saw us birding asked us to look at a young Osprey he had found alongside the road; it looked fine but was so weak it could be carried. Not sure what his fate will be. At this point we had seen all of the species we had hoped to see with the exception of the quail-dove and the parrot.
On our third day of birding we rented a car from Budget and drove back to the Blue Shark Golf Club, arriving late (9:30AM) due to a late pickup. The road to the golf club was very quiet when we arrived, but we still played a tape of the quail-dove that Carolyn had let us copy. Almost immediately we heard two birds, one that seemed close. But this is never a sure thing, as these birds are known to be quite the ventriloquist. As we approached the source of the closer call, it seemed it was coming from within 20 or so feet of the road. This was a great break, because if we had to plow our way into the forest we would certainly scare the bird far away. After a bit of triangulation, we eventually spotted the Key West Quail-Dove on a limb inside a tree about 25 feet up and only 10-15 feet in from the road. Although it was in the shade, we could see it well, especially the bold white eye line. It stayed for about a minute before disappearing into the forest. To celebrate we had an early lunch at the Cricket Club – very nice with low prices, good food and atmosphere. Then we visited the Harrold and Wilson Ponds National Park, which has about 100 yards of boardwalk through a wetlands and which is a work in progress. Nothing special there at that time except some White-cheeked Pintails and Least Grebes. We continued to the Bonefish Pond National Pond, which also has a boardwalk but along a salt marsh. This is another work in progress, and the sights depend on the tide. It was coming in as we arrived and we saw Green Heron, Reddish Egret and Belted Kingfisher but little else. In the late afternoon we made another trip around Nassau to try to hear the Cuban Parrots but no luck. Considering we had seen everything else, we considered this to be an excellent trip.
Details of hotel, restaurants, contacts, activities and birding sites: First of all, it is important to realize that the Bahamas are an expensive place to visit. In Nassau there are no budget or even medium-priced hotels. Food, lodging ,drinks, car rentals, etc., are all at least double US prices. US dollars can be used interchangeably with Bahamian dollars. Everywhere we went accepted US credit cards.
We stayed at A Stone’s Throw Away, www.astonesthrowaway.com., 242-327-7030, email@example.com. For a review of the inn itself, I suggest consulting www.tripadvisor.com as the opinions varied widely. I will say the birding was good around the grounds and the view was great. Our room had an empty mini-fridge available for use, but there are no close by stores, so plan accordingly.
Our guide was Carolyn Wardle, Bahamas Outdoors, www.bahamasoutdoors.com, 242-457-0329; firstname.lastname@example.org. She has lived in the Bahamas 40+ years, and knows all about its birds and other wildlife. She did a great job for us.
As noted above, we had one lunch at the Cricket Club across from the Fish Fry area at Arawak Cay, and we recommend it. The food and prices were very good and the beer was cold (even though the atmosphere was British). We had several meals at the Travelers Rest, an easy walk from our hotel. They offer a wide range of local and continental food at a good price with indoor and outdoor seating and very good music on weekends. We also liked the bar at the Compass Point hotel; good food at a good price and a great sunset view. Several people recommended that hotel as a good place to stay.
If renting a car, the Bahamas Trailblazer Map is critical to find your way around. It has good detail for the Nassau area but finding your way around can be a challenge on the rest of the island. The British heritage is evident based on the driving on the left side of the road, but most cars are imported from the US with the wheel on the left. That means you cannot see around a car to pass it – having a passenger in the front seat helps a lot. It also means the locals pass with abandon. Speed limits are clearly only a suggestion, as are yield signs. Driving can be nerve-racking. There are inexpensive bus services but they are not reliable. Taxis are available but expensive, about $ 12 for a trip of a mile. Hiring a car or having a local guide is the only way to realistically do birding around the island.
The two national parks we visited on our own were Harrold and Wilson Ponds NP, just off Fire Trail Rd, off Sir Milo Butler Hwy / Faith Rd, and Bonefish Pond NP off Cow Pen Road. The Harrold and Wilson Ponds NP is not hard to find but the Bonefish Pond NP definitely is. Directions to Bonefish Pond NP: From the west side of the island, take Carmichael Rd east to Cow Pen Road, turn right (south) and look for a very small (less than a foot square) sign just after sharp turn to the east and take dirt road to the right. From the east end, take Cow Pen Road west past Faith Rd, continue about 2 miles to sharp turn right. Then turn around and look for the small sign. The Primeval Forest NP is not open to the public as work is still underway on its boardwalks.
For a guide book, we used Birds of the West Indies, by Herbert Raffaele and others, Princeton University Press.
One day we went with Stuart Cove’s snorkeling tours, 242-362-4171, www.snorkelbahamas.com, who has hotel pickup and a top-notch operation.
International roaming is required for US mobile phones.
Our goal was to see the specialty birds (noted in bold) so we did not try for every species possible. Quite a few birds were seen right from our hotel porch and many others were common. Detailed locations are only given for those we did not see at several places.
Least Grebe, several at Harrold and Wilson Ponds NP.
Brown Booby, common.
Great Blue Heron, common.
Reddish Egret, several at salt water locations, including one unusual whitish-phase on Andros.
Green Heron, common near fresh water including our hotel pool.
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, one near our hotel.
White-cheeked Pintail, several at Harrold and Wilson Ponds NP.
Osprey, several seen.
American Kestrel, common.
Turkey Vulture, abundant on Andros,
Northern Bobwhite, many at Blue Shark Golf Club.
Common Moorhen, one at Harrold and Wilson Ponds NP.
American Coot, several at Harrold and Wilson Ponds NP.
Laughing Gull, common.
Royal Tern, common.
Rock Dove, common.
White-crowned Pigeon, common.
Eurasian Collared-Dove, common.
Zenaida Dove, ssp zenaida, one on Andros.
Mourning Dove, several.
Common Ground-Dove, ssp bahamensis; common.
Caribbean Dove, several at Blue Creek Golf Club.
Key West Quail-Dove, one seen at Blue Shark Golf Club, 10+ heard there and at Primeval Forest NP.
Mangrove Cuckoo, common.
Great Lizard Cuckoo, only one seen on Andros.
Smooth-billed Ani, many at Blue Shark Golf Club.
Antillean Nighthawk, ssp vicinis; common.
Bahama Woodstar, ssp evelynae; common but we never saw a full adult male.
Cuban Emerald, several on Andros.
Belted Kingfisher, one at Bonefish Pond NP.
Hairy Woodpecker, common.
Cuban Pewee, ssp bahamensis; two.
La Sagra’s Flycatcher,ssp lucaysiensis; common.
Gray Kingbird, common.
Bahaman Oriole, several on Andros, seemed to prefer pines.
Bahama Swallow, one unexpectedly on New Providence, several on Andros.
Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, several on Andros.
Red-legged Thrush, ssp plumbeus, common.
Northern Mockingbird, ssp orpheus, common.
Bahama Mockingbird, ssp gundlachii; several on Andros, only in pine forest.
Thick-billed Vireo, ssp crassirostris; common.
Black-whiskered Vireo, common.
Yellow Warbler, one juvenile on Andros.
Pine Warbler, several on Andros.
Bahama Yellowthroat, several on Andros but no adult males.
Bananaquit, common; this Bahamas ssp bahamensis is much whiter than most..
Western Spindalis, ssp zena; common and usually in pines.
Cuban Grassquit, several around New Providence.
Black-faced Grassquit, ssp bicolor; common.
Greater Antillean Bullfinch, ssp violacea; several on Andros.
Red-winged Blackbird, common.
House Sparrow, common.
Bahama Woodstar Cuban Grassquit
Great Lizard-Cuckoo Key West Quail-Dove
Least Grebe and White-cheeked Pintail Green Heron
Laughing Gulls Light-phase Reddish Egret