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

1 comment:

  1. Wow Sue. That sounds great. I will certainly put the Millet Forest Trail on my list of places to visit. The idea of a rain forest really appeals to me. Your description makes it sound really exciting. I am very interested in all natural history, so the plants alone will be fascinating for me. Any birds, reptiles and insects will be bonuses!
    I enjoy the challenge of driving abroad. My other hobby is classic cars and I regularly take my 1959 Triumph TR3 to Ireland on rallies. St Lucia sounds quite similar!