Netherlands Antilles: A Birding Day In Bonaire

Click photo to enlarge
June 6, 2009
Until yesterday, all the birding I have done on Bonaire has been within walking distance of downtown Kralendijk, where Peregrine is moored. Even without a car or bike or public transportation, I had most of the birds one could expect to find on Bonaire, but I was missing a few I really hoped to get. One was a Pearly-eyed Thrasher. I missed seeing it in the West Indies and I knew Bonaire was my last chance since it is not present on Curacao or Central America. Two other lifers I hoped for were the other resident Hummer: Blue-tailed Emerald (sounds like a fire-cracker) and Rufous-collared Sparrow. Of course I looked forward to seeing the island’s logo, a Flamingo, which would be a good one for my island and 2009 list.
Yesterday Gene and I rented a well used and very dusty Suzuki Jimny for $40.00US from Rento Fun Drive and headed north. A good chunk of the northern part of the island consists of the Washington Slabaii National Park. The rental agent told us we could not take the car into the park because there are no paved roads. I guess you’d have to get a jeep for that. At the northern end of the paved road was the Lagun Goto and we had a good stop there. Most of the birds hung out across the lagoon, but we could see Wilson’s Plovers, Snowy Plovers, Least Terns , Royal Terns, Black-winged Stilts and two Island firsts for me: Flamingo and Tricolored Heron. But best was an Olivaceous Cormorant because I’d forgotten I could see him here. I’m thrilled he reminded me. Lifer #667. The lagoon was quite large and we drove along it, stopping now and then to check things out. I yelled stop to Gene when I saw what I thought might be a grebe. Gene said, no, duck. We stopped and got good views of a White-cheeked Pintail. Lifer #668. We took a little loop drive in the Flamingo Sanctuary and had close up and personal encounters with the Flamingoes. Fantastic birds. My views in Egypt and Spain were nothing like this.

Pearly-eyed Thrasher click to enlarge
After Lagun Goto we went to Dos Pos (Two Wells) where we saw a few Pearly-eyed Thrashers and a Blue-tailed Emerald. #669 &670. We were chastised by a feral donkey. It’s funny. When we first ‘met’ him, we were pulled to the side of the road in the car. He came up and stuck his head in the window and asked us with his eyes for a treat. When he didn’t get one, he wandered down the road. When I got out to look for birds, he was quite a distance. He saw me, Hee-Hawed and ran toward me as if he wanted to chase me off!! He didn't come close, he wasn't dangerous, he was just a bit afraid and wanted us off his path. He eventually did walk past us again while we were out. I was on the right side, so he went by on the left; then he crossed the road and passed Gene who was standing near the car on the left side. I get the impression some of the locals must have carrots or apples in their cars at all times. We saw four feral donkeys and there is a sanctuary on the island for them

We continued on to the only other town on the island; Rincon. We went into a funky little snack shop called the Fui Kee and had Nasi-Goreng and a beer and Coke. I got addicted to this rice dish in Indonesia and was almost as stoked to see it as I was the Pearly-eyed Thrasher.
Fui Kee Snack
From there we drove back down south and around the Salt Works to the Lac. The Lac is a big lagoon protected by reefs. It is on the windward side of the island and the winds were fierce and the sea broke violently on the reefs, but the Lac was flat and wind kiters were having a great time. There were mangroves and I did a little exploring and got two more for my island list; Reddish Egrets and Black-bellied (Grey) Plovers. By this time we were ready for a swim, a beer and dinner so we headed home. On the way home we went through more mangroves where we saw Scrub Flycatchers, Caribbean Parakeets, Yellow Warblers and a Barn Swallow. I knew the Barn Swallows migrated through but was a bit surprised to see one in June. I guess he was too tired to move on, we know how that goes.
I was unable to id a few doves when we arrived here and was lucky to find a small book on the birds of Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire. It's called "Our Birds" and was written by Dr. Bart A De Boer. It's also called "Nos Paranan" and "Onze Vogels" because he has written it in the three major languages of the island; Papiamento, Dutch and English. A tri-lingual book. That reminds me of the old cruising joke: If a person speaks three languages, he's tri-lingual; if a person speaks two languages, he's bi-lingual; if a person speaks one language, he's American.

Dr. De Boer mentions that in October large flocks of swallows and martins arrive from North America and some are so exhausted from the journey they are too weak to eat and perish. Poor little things. If you find yourself in Bonaire and need this book, you can get it at Books and Toys in town.
Caribbean Parakeets
Bonaire Bird List
Bare-eyed Pigeon
Barn Swallow
Black-Bellied (Grey) Plover
Black-faced Grassquit
Black-winged Stilt
Blue-tailed Emerald
Brown Booby
Brown Pelican
Caribbean Grackle
Caribbean or Brown-throated Parakeet
Common Ground Dove
Eared Dove
Gray Kingbird
Green Heron
House Sparrow
Laughing Gull
Least Tern
Lesser Yellowlegs
Magnificent Frigatebird
Olivaceous Cormorant
Pearly-eyed Thrasher
Reddish Egret
Royal Tern
Ruby-topaz Hummingbird
Ruddy Turnstone
Saffron Finch
Scaly-naped Pigeon
Scrub Flycatcher
Snowy (Kentish) Plover
Snowy Egret
Tricolored Heron
Tropical Mockingbird
White-cheeked Pintail
White-tipped Dove
Wilson’s Plover
Yellow Oriole
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-shouldered Parrot

Birding the Millet Forest Trail in St. Lucia

February, 2009

Untethered horse and colt behind blind corner.
I have been out of commission with a respiratory thing for weeks and when I finally started feeling better I was more than ready to rent a car and do some exploring. Gene was very obliging even though exploring to me means birding. We had the car for three days and he allowed me to dictate the entire time. Thank God he drove! I really couldn’t have done it. The island has one main road and it is narrow and windy and filled with heart-stopping surprises. Most of the scares occur just as you go around one of the many curves; a horse or cow or goat tethered to the shoulder, or a car (or community bus) coming head-on as it honks and passes the vehicle(s) in front of it.
Cow and Cattle Egret
The main road goes through all the small communities and you have to sit in a chaotic, bumper to bumper mess. Let me give you an example: Soufriere to Castries is about seven miles as the crow flies and it took us an hour to drive. The island is only twenty-seven miles long and yet a person could drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco in less time than it takes to get from Rodney Bay to Fort Vieux. The main road is stressful, but the little off-shoots that take you to places like the Millet Forest Trail are main-road stress cubed. People, animals and potholes abound on very steep roads that consist of one hairpin turn after another. Literally, ‘Hairpin Turn’ signs are everywhere; but there are no signs telling you where you are or how to get to where you want to go. When we would finally arrive at a forest or garden, it would take a half hour walk in the nearly silent beauty before my jaws became unclenched. I’m sure that the reason island rum punches were invented was because serious medication is needed by the time one gets home from even a grocery store run.
Gene on the steep trail.
On our second day with the car, we went to the Millet Forest Trail. It’s just about in the center of the island and I thought it would be a good place to see the St. Lucia Parrot. This was our second trip to the forest. The first time we went by bus to Castries and from there took another to Millet. We waited about an hour for the Millet bus. I asked the driver if he could take us to the Millet Forest Trail and he said yes. He did drop us off at a trail head, but it wasn’t the right one; it was the Center River Trail. I knew something wasn’t right because I had previously called the forest service and knew that there should be a building with personnel to collect fees or serve as guides. No matter, we knew we were on the Millet road so we just continued on by foot. Several miles up a steep road brought us to a small community which we assumed must be Millet. We found a cold beer in a signless, tin-roofed building and were told by the bartender that the Millet Forest Walk was just up the road. And so it was. It was also going to close in an hour. The forest service employee manning the station was a man named Peter and he was very helpful. He advised us that the time to see the parrot was early morning and we should set an appointment with a guide for 6:00am. An appointment was necessary because the park doesn’t open until 8:00. We didn’t set an appointment because we wanted to discuss a few things first:
1.I really didn’t want to go with a guide; I’m just not sure I can put a bird on my life list if it is pointed out by a hired professional. I have to resolve this dilemma. Most of the forests here require a guide and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the places I’m heading have the same policy. I haven’t researched that. I would hate to not list the birds I see in Grenada, Panama, Costa Rica, etc. because I have to go with a guide; on the other hand, how can I list birds that someone else is finding for me?
2.We knew we would be anchored in Marigot Bay at some point and thought it would be easier to get to Millet from there if we used public transportation. Still there would be no way to get there by 6:00 in the morning.
3.Discuss a car rental and where we should rent it.
Just as we finished talking to Peter, the bus to Castries pulled up and we headed home. The day wasn’t a waste, we saw a St Lucia Oriole on the walk up and we now knew where the Forest Trail was.
Our second trip to Millet was a lot easier. We had the rental car and were at the park by 7:30 in the morning. I had decided to go on the self-guided walk. I figured if I went through and didn’t see a thing, I could make an appointment and do it again with a guide. Even though we got there early we were allowed to go in. An employee was at the office and told us to go ahead and we could pay when we came out.
The forest is gorgeous. It has been awhile since we were in a rainforest and we were in heaven smelling the fresh green. The start of the trail was easy and feeders of halved coconut shells were placed along it. Lesser Antillean Bullfinches nibbled away. Gene and I both noticed a bigger bird fly down to the lower branches of a nearby tree and I got my bins on him. Long bill, cocked tail, trembling…a Gray Trembler! Lifer #637. We saw plenty of Bananaquits, a Saltator, a Mangrove Cuckoo and a Broad-winged Hawk along the easy beginning of the walk. For some reason, I thought the walk was labeled as easy. Not! Some stretches were straight up and the steps were my leg length. Several times I heard the squawk of a parrot. It sounded as if it was flying over the forest but it was too dense to see anything. A fairly heavy rain started at one point and I waited under a good canopy until it lessened. Gene was already way ahead. I got my breath while I waited. Ferns were everywhere; from low growing frills to tree ferns. I love ferns. The beauty of the place kept my mind off the climb. By the time I joined a waiting Gene at the reservoir overlook, I was gasping for air. It’s hell being fat and old!
The view from this area is spectacular and it was a great place to stop and catch my breath again. I was rejuvenated and feeling good when I heard a loud squawk. I turned toward the sound which came from the reservoir side and saw a St. Lucia Parrot fly over the treetops below me. The sun was on him and the colors of his back and wings were vibrant against the forest green. Lifer#638
Forest List:
Broad-winged Hawk
St. Lucia Parrot
Mangrove Cuckoo
Green-throated Carib
Antillean Crested Hummingbird
Gray Kingbird
Gray Trembler
Scaly Breasted Thrasher
Lesser Antillean Saltator
Lesser Antillean Bullfinch