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A Report from

Eastern Caribbean Cruise 17-23 Dec. 2006,

Jan Landsverk

My wife and I plus 3 of my sons and one daughter-in-law went on our first cruise Sunday 23 Dec. from Miami with Norwegian Cruise Line. We really looked forward to visit Puerto Rico, Antigua, St.Thomas and Bahamas the coming week. We had lovely weather (about 28 degrees C) every day except one at sea.  My son, Erlen, and I birded every island for a few hours taking a taxi to a nearby site that we hoped would produce some good birds. There are not that many species of birds found in the Caribbean, but it’s a very beautiful area perfect for a holiday and easily combined with a little bird watching. Totally we observed 78 species.

We paid each only US$ 540 (you can get it cheaper) including taxes on Norwegian Jewel (4+) – a new ship built in Nov. 2005 taking about 2700 passengers and had a crew of about 1100.

Puerto Rico Dec. 19.

When the ship pulled into the harbour 8 o’clock in the morning, we were met with a few Brown Boobies. We negotiated with a few taxi drivers and hopefully found the right price and the right place to watch birds – the botanical garden outside San Juan.  Normal price was US$ 30 per hour, but we paid him 50 to set us off and pick us up again after about 3 hours. Upon arrival we felt that there were birds everywhere, so we agreed that we had found the right place. The garden was big with many different types of trees.  There was no entrance fee and few people around, so we had the park for ourselves.  Zenaida Dove and Common Ground-Dove were both very common here, but we also saw a few White-winged Doves and a Red-necked Pigeon.   Only one hummingbird was seen – for a few seconds – Puerto Rican Emerald.  A flock of Parakeets were very noisy flying over us, and we also saw a couple high up in a tree, but no Parakeets are supposed to be here, so I have no idea which species we are talking about. I have found very few bird reports from Caribbean on Internet, and the few that exist are of no help. Can anyone out there help? (See also under Antigua)

A few over wintering American Warblers were also found; Prairie Warbler and Northern Parula.  We were happy to see Puerto Rico Vireo and two Black-cowled OriolesRed-legged Thrush is a beautiful bird while Pearly-eyed Thrasher is rather strange and shy.  Orange-cheeked Waxbill, Black-faced Grassquit and Hooded Mannikin were common in their right habitat.  Gray Kingbird was also very common here and we got a short glimpse of a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Smooth-billed Ani.

After three hours we were set off near the castle close to where the ship was docked and found a Red-tailed Hawk and a MerlinGreater Antillean Grackle was common in town. 

More than hundred Cave Swallows were flying over a big green pasture just by the sea together with some Barn Swallows.  

In the evening we found that we had a species list of 35 including 14 lifers - not bad for a few hours. Most species of birds are most easily found southwest on the island.

Antigua Dec. 20

Another beautiful morning when we docked in St.Johns harbour. Here also we were met by Brown Boobies. Antigua belongs to the Lesser Antilles and is well known for its laidback life and beautiful beaches.  Our taxi driver smoked weed every day and so did most other people on this island, he told us. 

Erlen and I had a problem in finding where to go and getting a good bargain with the taxi drivers, so we just walked out of the town, taking right in the main street (southeast).  In the outskirt of the town we found to our surprise an interesting birdlife, including several Hummingbirds of the two species that are found on the island: Antillean Crested Hummingbird and Green-throated Carib.  Zenaida Dove and Common Ground-Dove were common.  Just further up the hill - in a small suburb - we also found a Merlin, Gray Kingbird, Caribbean Elaenia, Lesser Antillean Bullfinch and Black-faced Grassquit. 

We walked back to town after an hour or so and agreed with a taxi driver to take us to Mc Kinnons Salt Pond for 15 US $. When driving along the pond we saw a small flock of Fulvous Whistling-Duck.  There were not that many birds in the pond, but quite a few species.  We walked along the pond and observed among others these birds:  60 White-cheeked (Bahama) Pintails, Am. Wigeon, Lesser Scaup/Ring-necked Duck (seen at very long distance), Caribbean Coot, Black-necked Stilt, Black-bellied Plover, many Spotted Sandpipers, Yellowlegs, a Western Sandpiper and surprisingly enough a Stilt Sandpiper.  Behind (south of?) the pond there was a small dam or a wetland.  Here we were very lucky to see a very rare bird: Hudsonian Godwit. We found it hard to believe, but when it flew up all doubt was removed when we saw its tail.  Some minutes later we found another one, or was it the same individual that had come back?  Before we got so far, we went into a hotel garden where we found a White-crowned Pigeon, a few Carib Grackles and a bird that we didn’t find in the book.  I have consulted books after I came home, but can’t find out what it is.  It was a pair feeding on the ground – large, broad beak, male black head and belly reddish brown and the female brownish/reddish all over. I need help on this one.  The closest I have come is Lesser Seed-Finch, but that species is not supposed to be here. (See also Parakeets under Puerto Rico).

As we walked along the road we stopped and pished out from the bushes at least 12 Yellow Warblers.  Pishing is such a good way of finding skulkers, so we did it often.  A Broad-winged Hawk and two Ospreys were observed, and on the other side of the pond we saw a bird looking very much like a Belted Kingfisher.  We dipped on the Black-whiskered Vireo that is supposed to be common on the island. 

After a couple of hours walking around, we were surprised to find a deserted beach – Dickson Beach, close to Runaway Beach. We were tempted to have a swim nude, but didn’t take the chance, so we bathed in our underwear.  Great beach and about 26 degrees in the water.

We took a taxi back to the harbour, where we pished on birds hiding in trees and bushes.

47 species in a short time visiting only two habitats - 10 lifers.

St.Thomas  Dec. 21

All six of us took a taxi to Coki Beach for snorkelling. Taxis here were rather expensive and no bargaining possible.  We paid 9 US $ each - one way.  The beach was nice, but very crowded.  The snorkelling was okay.  I walked a little around in the area, but from the beach we could observe species like:  Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Green-throated Carib, Gray Kingbird, Pearly-eyed Thrasher and Black-faced Grassquit.  We all observed from the beach (without binoculars) a small flock of Martins/Swallows a couple of times, but are still unsure of what species. Most likely they were Caribbean Martin. What else could it be?

Erlen and I walked “home” from Charlotte Amalie (St.Thomas is a former Danish/Norwegian colony, so therefore the name.  Street names are still Danish). 

Very close to shore here we were amused by some very active Brown Boobies and Brown Pelicans putting up a show for us - diving from on high. 15 species – 1 lifer?

St. Thomas is a beautiful island with a perfect climate, but very popular among American tourists and cruise passengers - too many for me.

Bahamas (Great Stirrup Cay) Dec. 23

Before we “landed” at the Norwegian Cruise Line’s Private Island, we had a day in the sea.  The only “thing” you see flying around here is Flying Fish.  But when we were eating breakfast the morning after we had left St.Thomas, I looked out of the windows and saw to my enormous surprise two Gannets.  I didn’t have my binocular, so it was hard to tell which Gannet.  They flew just outside the window – alongside the ship, but I didn’t think I had time to fetch my binocular.  But they didn’t go away, so I ran to my cabin and then to the top deck in order to identify them – an adult and a juvenile (partly).  There are not so many to choose among, so we found soon out that they were Masked Gannets – formerly called Blue-faced.

The next day (Dec. 23) we boarded some small boats to go ashore Great Stirrup Cay in order to enjoy a day on the nice beach.  The island is only about 3-4 km long and less than one km broad with not so many trees, but plenty of bushes.  Erlen and I went to explore the island – optimistic, but we didn’t have such great expectations.  However, it turned out to be quite a few birds around.  There even was a small pond here, where we found a White Ibis, a Black-bellied Plover, White-cheeked Pintail and American Coot.  In the bushes behind the pond was a few Warblers and Gray Catbird.  There were plenty of Pine Warblers and Yellow-rumped Warblers, but we also managed to find – by pishing – a Worm-eating Warbler, a Yellowthroat (Bahama or American I am not sure), Prairie Warblers and Thick-billed Vireos. We found a Green Heron in a very strange place, and we also got good observations of Common Ground-Dove, Bahama Mockingbird, Greater Antillean Bullfinch and Black-faced GrassquitLaughing Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls were flying over the beach as well as a Magnificent Frigatebird.  It was an enjoyable day for all of us.  20 species were seen on this tiny island – 4 lifers. 

Totally I got 29 lifers – definitely more than I expected and hoped, though not that impressive.  I was in Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada in March 1990 and in Florida Jan. 1984, which explains why I didn’t get more lifers.

We only had available James Bonds book “Birds of the West Indies”, which turned out to be no good, even if it was of some help.  In addition we had Petersons “A field guide to the Birds east of the Rockies”, which was much easier and lighter to bring instead of The Northern American Bird Guide by David Sibley.

Explanation to the species list:  * = Lifer, X = didn’t count.  The Masked Booby we didn’t see on the Bahamas, but out in the open sea between the Bahamas and St. Thomas.

Full list (.pdf)


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