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A Report from

Caribbean Cruise (Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, US Virgin Islands, St. Maarten), March 2009 ,

Russ Namitz

My wife and I were invited to a Caribbean cruise to celebrate my step mother-in-law’s 60 birthday.  I was able to bird for a few hours at each port.  Not optimal, but with some research and planning, I was able to see 17 life birds.

Antillean Crested Hummingbird (St. Martin)
Bahama Mockingbird (Eleuthera)
Bananaquit (Lesser Antilles subspecies from St. Martin)

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (March 22, 2009):  embarkation @ 5PM

Family obligations prevented me from padding my Florida list with any pelagic species.

Princess Cays (Eleuthera Island), Bahamas (March 23, 2009):  9AM to 4PM

Birdlist = 35 species

Princess Cruises owns a small barrier island (really a large beach) at the extreme SW corner of Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas.  Sometimes called a “bridge” in previous trip reports, the island is connected to the mainland by a diked gravel road.  From Google Maps(,-76.163406&spn=0.046498,0.071411&t=h&z=13), one can see a zigzag of roads leading north and south.  I chose the roads to the south and eventually made it to the southern tip of the island where gorgeous, isolated beaches were overlooked by a lighthouse (Lighthouse Beach).  Right along the diked road, I saw my first lifer, a BLACK-FACED GRASSQUIT.  Soon after, the singing of a BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD lead me to a teed-up bird and then I flushed a ZENAIDA DOVE from the side of the road.  Heading south, I heard and saw numerous THICK-BILLED VIREOS.  A little more secretive, but still relatively common were GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCHES.  While pishing for Neotropical migrants, I saw a male BAHAMA WOODSTAR.  Further south, I saw 2 more females.  I soon came to pond that had WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAILS.  Around this pond (west of road), there were 2 different pairs of LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHERS. I heard a WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON calling in the distance.  At the southern tip of the island at Lighthouse Beach, I saw a few species of shorebirds, including 1 PIPING PLOVER. No Bahama Swallows, only 2 Barn Swallows.  There were also some shorebirds & ducks in the southern most ponds.  I found 2 STILT SANDPIPERS amongst the plentiful Lesser Yellowlegs.  It was probably about a 4 mile round-trip walk.  Although I tried using playback, I didn’t hear any type of cuckoo or yellowthroat.

Brown Booby (St. Thomas)
Carib Grackle (St. Martin)
Gray Kingbird (St. Martin)

At Sea (March 24, 2009)

Birding was pretty sparse and I only searched for about 2 hours in the morning.  I set up my spotting scope on the promenade deck (lowest possible) and found a spot out of the wind with the sun behind me. I had distant looks at a WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRD, a few BRIDLED TERNS, 1 BROWN NODDY, 1 BLACK-CAPPED PETREL and many AUDUBON’S SHEARWATERS.  A dark morph PARASITIC JAEGER chased a Bridled Tern to get its fish.

Sint Maarten/St. Martin, Netherlands Antilles (March 25, 2009):  10AM – 6PM   Birdlist = 42 species

I rented a car from a local agency at the dock.  Beware of non-functioning door locks and improperly fastened car batteries.  From a recommendation by Adam Brown who runs the Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC), I birded Pic Paradis (Paradise Peak) on the French side of the island and then the ponds on the Dutch side.  At the base of Paradise Peak is Loterie Farm which one can pay to walk on or sample the multiple zip lines.  I opted to quickly bird the grounds and then drive up to the peak.  The parking area at the end of the road is a place of car break-ins, so I mostly birded within sight of my rental.  Near the top of the ridge, there are a few private residents that have flowering landscapes.  It was here that I watched feeding GRAY FLYCATCHERS, ANTILLEAN CRESTED HUMMINGBIRDS and LESSER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCHES.  BANANAQUITS were also numerous.  I saw more Black-faced Grassquits and a Black-whiskered Vireo.  I dropped my wife off at Orient Beach to meet her family and then birded the residential area back to the highway,  adding more Zenaida Doves, a nesting GREEN-THROATED CARIB & CARIBBEAN ELAENIA.  At a pond near Grand Case, I saw an adult BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON which is supposed to be rare on the island.  Another “rare” bird there was a fly-by WHITE-WINGED DOVE.  There were CARIB GRACKLES flying around north Marigot.  On the Dutch side, I birded Fresh Pond and the Great Salt Pond.  Here I added many wading birds and shorebirds.  CARIBBEAN COOTS were seen in small numbers on Fresh Pond and a pair of BLUE-WINGED TEAL were on Great Salt Pond.  MASKED & BROWN BOOBIES followed the ship as we left port.

St. Thomas/St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands (March 26, 2009):  7AM – 4PM

Birdlist = 28 species

This was a day of logistics, but I had high hopes for the birding possibilities.  We docked at St. Thomas and I immediately got a taxi to the ferry dock at Red Hook and ferried over to St. John.  The island of St. John is mostly a national park and has intact rain forest.  In the park across from the ferry dock, there were feeding PEARLY-EYED THRASHERS & SCALY-NAPED PIGEONS as well as White-winged & Zenaida Doves.  I took a taxi to Cinnamon Bay, a known area to see Bridled Quail-Dove along the hiking paths.  Alas, I spent 3 hours searching in vain.  I walked the short loop trail around the ruins as well as the longer path that connects Route 10 to Route 20 (  I ran into a few Neotropical migrants and 2 mongooses.  I took a taxi to Mary’s Pond, but was disappointed to only see Black-necked Stilts, a Yellow Warbler and donkeys.  I walked/ran back to Cinnamon Bay in order to get a taxi back to the ferry dock in time.  I arrived ½ hr early, so walked down to Frank’s Pond (south of ferry terminal), but saw nothing new.

Grand Turk  (March 27, 2009): 1PM – 7PM                     Birdlist = 23 species

I searched for pelagic species in the morning while cruising north.  I saw more of the same pelagic species already mentioned.  Of note, were 400+ Bridled Terns flying north in small, loose flocks.  A POMARINE JAEGER fly by as well as a flock of 11 ROSEATE TERNS.  At port, most of the time was spent snorkeling.  I was able to walk from the SW ship dock north to the airport and east into the scrub to see a few common species.  I added Northern Mockingbird, Killdeer & Mourning Dove to my West Indies list.

At Sea (March 28, 2009)

This morning I saw another Pomarine Jaeger and the usual pelagic species.  I had close looks at single sightings of Black-capped Petrel & White-tailed Tropicbird.  The rarest sighting was probably 2 RED PHALAROPES.  I have a bit of experience leading pelagic trips on the west of coast of Oregon and feel confident in this sighting.

La Sagra's Flycatcher (Eleuthera)
Pearly-eyed Thrasher (St. John)

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (March 29, 2009):  disembarkation @ 7AM

I ended up seeing 83 species on a 7 day cruise.  Even with the hordes of people, I was able to find solitude and good birding off the beaten path on each the island.  The average temperature was in the high 70s/low 80s.  It rained briefly the first day on Eleuthera.  Rough seas took its toll on sleeping the first 2 nights with gale force winds and smashing waves that vibrated the room.


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