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Birding in the Caribbean

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My wife and I are going on a Western Caribbean cruise with Royal Caribbean the week of 3/12/06. We're interested in getting ashore at Ochos Rios, Grand Cayman and Cozumel to see the local birds. (Some of them may be the birds that will be in our RI back yard by June.)

 

Can anyone give us any advice on local bird tour operators or birding sites in those ports?

 

I wonder why none of the established excursions involve birding, since it's such a popular hobby. If people are willing to pay big bucks for bird tours in Alaska or Costa Rica, surely among the 3,000 people on a big cruise ship there would be enough birders to fill an excursion.

 

Fred G.

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Hi Fred,

I, too, have wondered why birding excursions are neglected. I have used local birding chapters for do-it-yourself tours and information. I love bird and all wildlife watching from the boat itself, but find it difficult to positively identify many of the seabirds.

I hope you have a great trip next week,

Maureen

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Maureen,

 

Thanks for your message.

 

We found all our ports except Haiti had been damaged by hurricanes in the past 18 months. The damage was worst at Cozumel.

 

We did see a few birds that were new to us, though. At the Shaw Park Gardens in Ocho Rios, we spotted the Jamaica streamertail hummingbirds, which are really unusual. There were magnificent frigatebirds over the coast there, too. At Cozumel, we rented a car and drove all over the island. The eco-park and lighthouse at the southern tip of the island were blocked off, even to foot traffic. We saw tropical kingbirds at the San Gervasio ruins, but all in all there were few birds around in the wind-blasted scrub. It was unnecessary to bring the spotting scope; we never used it. Maybe at another season, when shore birds were around, it would be useful.

 

I think the cruise lines are missing an opportunity. They seem to have no idea how many birders there are out there. Birding is a low-investment sustainable activity that could be offered at most of the islands where ships stop.

 

--Fred G., back in RI

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Hi Fred,

Ooooh! Jamaica streamertail hummingbirds! How amazing. Sorry you couldn't access the eco park and lighthouse...Better luck next time! Anyway, welcome back to New England. It's actually snowing here (Mystic) at the moment. Never a dull moment.

Maureen

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I agree with what both of you are saying. Major cruise lines virtually ignore the hobby of birding, when it could be a significant opportunity for them to a) introduce laypeople to the wonders of nature, especially in tropical destinations; b) increase revenue through alternative excursions; and c) look eco-friendly (or at least eco-aware).

 

On an 11/05 cruise to the western Caribbean on RCL we booked an excursion through Merritt Island NWR while in Port Canaveral. Our tourguide was woefully ignorant about birds, although it was booked as a birding trip. We spent most of the trip in the Visitors Center at Merritt Island (with gift shop, of course). By the time we hit the trails in the refuge it was getting dark; we didn't see many birds at all. The highlight was looking at a baby 'gator by flashlight. Whoopee. Our guide also mis-identified easy birds like Snowy Egret and Glossy Ibis and missed most birds altogether.

 

A year earlier we booked a kayak tour on the Indian River, also in Port Canaveral. Again our tourguide mis-identified Ospreys and egrets with startling regularity, and could not identify trees beyond cypress. Forget about herps.

 

The tourguides are usually nice, retired sorts looking to make a few extra bucks by leading a tour. But surely there are QUALIFIED people willing to do this, too -- right???!?

 

I wonder if any of the cruise lines would let we naturalists sail for free, if we agreed to lead bird walks and field trips in port? I can't imagine there would be a shortage of qualified leaders under those circumstances.

 

D. Temple

NJ

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I will be in Puerto Rico in December and booked a private birding tour. It was not an easy task to find a birder, but seems that I will be having a good time. They invited me to a Christmas Bird Count they coordinate. Any one visiting PR in December 23, 2006?

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There is a bird sanctuary in Jamaica called the Rockland Bird Sanctuary.

A-Z Jamaica Planners does an excursion to the sanctuary. I think it's only listed for the Montego Bay port though.

 

kitty

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I'm heading back to sea again in early Februaury, this time to Saint Thomas, Tortola, Saint Maarten (I know I'll head to Oyster Pond there), San Juan and NCL Private Island in the Bahamas. Any helpful hints? Thanks, and Happy New Year!

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We are just back from a Panama Canal partial transit on the Coral Princess. Our best birding stop (not surprisingly) was Costa Rica, where we had some very good guides on the Tortuguero boat trip. We saw a variety of water birds, as well as toucans, aracari, black hawk, squirrel cuckoo, and quite a few flycatchers. Our afternoon excursion (the skywalk/jitney ride) produced oropendolas, tityras, tanagers, and some wonderful frogs and herps.

 

In panama, we spent most of our time in the canal itself, but still saw a few raptors, parrots, toucans, and flycatchers.

 

We didn't have time to visit rocklands in Jamaica, but did spend some time at the Cranbrook flower forest, where there were plenty of hummingbirds and many north american migrants. Our timing was bad (didn't arrive until 11am).

 

We found relatively few birds on Cozumel and Grand Cayman.

 

On our last cruise, we really enjoyed the rainforest aerial tram in Dominica, where we saw hummingbirds, tremblers, warblers, and wonderful views. We also had amazing looks at sperm whales on an afternoon whale watching excursion.

 

Seabirds seem to be few and far between in the Caribbean, although we have seen quite a few masked boobies:

booby.jpg.661c50cbb2be947820e911a6160b106d.jpg

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Being an avid birder I was disappointed to see that none of the excursions were tailored towards birdwatching. I will be aboard NCL Spirit departing NOL December 9, 2007, and have booked a day outting in Belize with a local bird guide that I found on my own. I'll let you know how the birding excursion was when I return, if anyone is interested.

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Just coming back from an Alaskan cruise this summer, I found they had many wildlife-related excursions. But then, people who go to Alaska typically want to see that kind of thing (myself VERY included). The Caribbean is a different animal - most who go on those cruises are probably less interested in the wildlife and more interested in the sun, beaches, shopping, and possibly snorkeling/kayaking which is still a short-term sun-based activity. I imagine people who go to the islands for the wildlife typically will stay on the island rather than cruise.

 

Myself, I will be going to Jamaica in February for the week (non-cruise) and hope to do some birding. On that note, I am open to any ideas for birding spots and guides anyone has especially for the Whitehouse area.

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I will be cruising on the Western Caribbean on the Spirit on Jan. 13. Looking at my schedule, it's easy to see why they don't aim the tours at birders. The tours don't start early enough in the day to catch a good number of species.

 

I would like to read your trip report of your bird guide in Belize. For Belize I have booked the Lamanai and New River Tour through the cruise line, at least there will be the chance of seeing some of the notable large birds although I'm not sure it will work with the hustle and bustle of a large tour. There is always the choice to cancel this tour if I can arrange an experience like yours.

 

For Roatan I have booked a driver for just the two of us through Victor Bodden and will visit some gardens and photo ops. I am not expecting a great number of species, considering the ship is not even going to dock until 1 PM.

 

At the end of the day, I think for the most species, one must actually move around from lodge to lodge in different habitats and be prepared to rise quite early in the morning, so I'm just looking at this cruise as a way to relax and if some new species happen, they happen.

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This summer my family took a wonderful cruise up the Atlantic coast of the U.S. and Canada aboard RCCL's Grandeur of the Seas. There we some excellent opportunities to see wildlife while on board and we also took advantage of a tour affiliated with the ship which took us into Acadia National Park. This tour which was well attended IMHO was led by a local naturalist who was also a bird expert. He brought along his own spotting scope which he allowed interested folks to use. All in all I thought it was well done.

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Just got back from a land trip to southern coast of Jamaica. Went on a couple guided trips of the Bluefield Mountains and coastal regions (including a YS River trip) - saw streamertails, Jamaican todys galore, a Northern Potoo, euphonias, elenias, loggerhead kingbirds, and about 40 other species. Weather was also great (about 70 at night to 85 during the day, mostly sunny with clouds coming up mid- to late- afternoon, HOT sun!)

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and I have always wanted to see a Potoo!

 

Me too, but as I'm only doing Cozumel, Progreso & Roatan, I don't think it's likely :( but I now know where to try for next time!

 

Anyone got any ideas of what I'm likely to see? bearing in mind I'm gonna have two kids and a non-birding husband with me! As a UK birder I will even be pleased with some of the more common stuff that we don't get over here.

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Me too, but as I'm only doing Cozumel, Progreso & Roatan, I don't think it's likely :( but I now know where to try for next time!

 

Anyone got any ideas of what I'm likely to see? bearing in mind I'm gonna have two kids and a non-birding husband with me! As a UK birder I will even be pleased with some of the more common stuff that we don't get over here.

 

 

Try these sites:

 

http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/birdover.htm

 

http://www.birdinghonduras.com

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We did Freedom of the Seas last year and I managed to see some beautiful birds though mostly in walk-in aviaries. I have reports and photos on my website Feathered and Free.

 

I was too nervous to go far away on a non-cruiseline excursion and couldn't find anywhere close to port to do full-on birding in the wild with safety to get back to the ship on time.

 

We are doing Panama Canal in 2011 which has some good birding options. Huatulco has a Princess birding excursion. Nicaragua, I think we have to find something. Puntarenas, Costa Rica has a macaw sanctuary and Carara National Park not too far from the dock. So far, Princess doesn't have a shore excursion to Carara but it might be safe enough to go there in a rental car.

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Back from the tour of the south western Carib on the Jewel of the Seas, Jan 2010. Details on birding:

Aruba - took a taxi to the Bubali Bird Sanctuary ($15 each way) and got some. Loaded with green herons. Not bad birding around the ship - bananaquit in the trees, white crowned pigeon in a mixed pigeon flock behind the restaurants in front of the ship along the water. Hiked along the waterfront to the park about a half mile to the east. Grackles common.

 

Cartagena - not much seen but some martins and swallows off the ship

Colon - take the Rain forest excursion, follow Louis around, he's a birder. 14 lifers.

 

Puerto Limon - Excursion to Bacaraque Wildlife Area. Xavier is your man guiding, but when you get there, stick close to Sebastian who knows no English but knows the locals by ear. Tip him a buck a bird, eh? Have an Imperial lager and enjoy it during the folk dancing. Another dozen or so lifers. There's a park in front of the dock outside the fence, but it's got tall palms and not enough understory for good birding. Don't even think about going there with a rental car - it's really a crappy road!

 

Cayman - hired a taxi and set up a tour for $240 for 4. Queen Elizabeth Botanical Park for an hour or two (the Flower garden is the most prolific birding, but check the water ponds). Skip going to Rum Point. The Bird Sanctuary a couple miles east of Georgetown is good for water birds, but most of them are migrants from the States. Nothing found walking around the town. another half a dozen or so.

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The items in red were added by another birder on the trip, most of which I agree with and forgot to write down.

 

 

 

In USA:

Florida Keys. White Ibis, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Boat-tailed Grackle, Brown Pelican, Laughing Gull.

Tortugas. Frigate bird (first US), Brown Noddy (not seen by Steve)-LB, White rumped sandpiper, royal tern, Burrowing Owl.

 

 

Aruba:

White Crowned Pigeon (not by Steve), Wilson's Plover (not by Steve), Brown throated Parakeet, Trop Mockingbird, Bananaquit (not by Steve), Caribbean Coot, Eared Dove – all LB

Rock Dove, Purple Gallinule, Moorhen, Green Heron, Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Sora, least grebe. Magnificient Frigate, American Bittern

 

 

Cartagena:

Gray Breasted Martin (not by Steve) in air over ship – LB

 

 

Colon:(none seen by Steve)

Tyrranies (spelling?), Social Flycatcher, Double toothed Kite, Black Hawk, Keel Billed Toucan, Smooth billed Ani, Squirrel Cuckoo, Short tail Swift, Rufous Hummingbird, Blue headed Parrot, Plain brown woodcreeper, Blue Dacnis, Blackpoll Warbler, Slaty Antshrike – all LB

 

 

Puerto Limon: (none seen by Steve)

Palm Tanager, Chestnut sided Warbler, Did you see the red winged blackbird we saw at the same time?

Montezuma Oropendola, Scarlet Rump Tanager (now Poulonini's Tanager or something like that), Green breasted Mango Hummingbird, Muscovy duck, Black cheeked Woodpecker, Olivacious Woodcreeper I looked the woodcreeper up and it was a tawny winged woodcreeper – all LB.

Another pair of Purple Gallinule with a chick, tropical Kingbirds all over.

I have added the ones I think we both saw.

Cattle Egret

Great Egret

Great Blue Heron

Rufous Tailed Hummingbird

Little Hermit Hummingbird

Common Black Hawk

Turkey Vulture

Keelbilled Toucan

Violet green swallow

Swainsons Hawk- light phase. I looked it up in my National Geographic when I got back to the ship.

 

 

I think I saw this with the birds I saw after everyone headed back for lunch, but it may have been when you were with me.

Kiskadee

 

 

 

 

Cayman Islands:

Antillean Grackle, Rose Throated Parrot, West Indian Woodpecker, Caribbean Alaenia – all LB

White winged Dove, Moorhen, Pie billed Grebe, Little Blue Heron, Bananaquit.

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