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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Lesser Antilles

Thursday 26 January to Wednesday 8 February 2023
with Ryan Chenery as leader
Thursday 16 February to Wednesday 1 March 2023
with Ryan Chenery as leader
Monday 6 November to Sunday 19 November 2023
with Ryan Chenery as leader
Monday 12 February to Sunday 25 February 2024
with Ryan Chenery as leader
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The White-breasted Thrasher is found on the dry forests in St.Lucia. Photo: Keith Clarkson

These 10 stunningly beautiful Caribbean islands form the eastern border between the placid Caribbean Sea and the mighty Atlantic Ocean. Each tropical island gem is separated by turquoise seas and boasts rich wetlands, vast open grasslands, dynamic coastlines and lush tropical rainforests. These diverse habitats are home to a lengthy list of highly threatened single-island endemics and near endemics along with a host of indigenous regional specialties.

Starting in Antigua (the northernmost of these islands), we’ll travel south along the island chain in search of often critically endangered single-island and regional endemics like the Whistling Warbler in St. Vincent; the majestic Imperial Amazon in Dominica; the dazzling Purple-throated Carib and the bemusing Gray Trembler on St. Lucia; the flame-breasted Martinique Oriole on “L’île aux Fleurs; and—rarest of them all—the gentle, unassuming Grenada Dove, still found quietly walking the pathways in the only area of suitable habitat remaining on the “Spice Isle” of Grenada.

We’ll also have the possibility of encounters with whales, dolphins, marine turtles and pelagic bird species while crossing the crystal-clear waters between some islands, and we’ll do all this while travelling to some of the most sought-after holiday destinations on the planet.

In addition, the region has long remained off the “birding map”, resulting in numerous species splits only now being researched and/or proposed. We therefore also target every endemic subspecies and near-endemic subspecies in the region - thus ensuring that when what is currently regarded as a subspecies of Ashy-faced Owl is elevated to full species status of Lesser Antillean Barn Owl, or the subspecies of Carib Grackle on Barbados is elevated to the full species status of Barbados Grackle, or the endemic subspecies of House Wren on Dominica is recognized as a full species - you will have already seen it! This is a tour that truly has the potential to keep on giving and adding to your life list long into the future!

Day 1: Our epic birding adventure through the enchanting islands of the Lesser Antilles begins on the popular tourist destination of Antigua. A stunning gem in the region’s crown, the island of Antigua is a land of myriad crystal-clear bays and coves, and its residents boast of their being able to go to a different beach every day of the year and still not be able to visit them all!

Upon arrival in the early afternoon, you’ll be collected by pre-arranged transport and taken to our accommodation for the first three nights of our trip - a delightful country inn just outside of the capital city of St. John’s. After checking-in, you have time to enjoy the property’s spacious tropical gardens - perhaps picking up a selection of indigenous regional species, including Antillean Crested Hummingbird (one of four species of hummer we’ll target on this trip), Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, and subspecies of Caribbean Elaenia. Alternatively you may wish to take a dip in the pool and enjoy a cocktail in the large open air lounge before we come together as a group to have a welcome briefing and a delicious West Indian dinner - the first of many on our trip! Night on Antigua.

Day 2: With our packed breakfast, we’ll head to Antigua’s main port (a short 10-minute drive away), where we’ll embark on a day trip to the smaller sister of this twin-island state: Barbuda. We’ll board our vessel and soon be jetting across some of the most beautiful waters in the Caribbean Sea.

Arriving on Barbuda, one can immediately see the stark contrast between the heavily developed and well-established tourist destination of Antigua and this little-visited island, where vast stretches of undisturbed beaches, sheltered coves, and dry coastal forests support a very different cast of characters to those we will encounter during the rest of our trip.

Our main target here will be the diminutive Barbuda Warbler. This charming warbler is perfectly at home in the dry scrublands of one of the Lesser Antilles’ driest islands and shares the habitat with species such as: Common Ground, Eared, and White-winged Doves; Black-faced Grassquit; Lesser Antillean Iguanas; and, bizarrely, herds of feral donkeys!

Barbuda is also home to the largest Magnificent Frigatebird colony in the Caribbean. These giants are most commonly seen soaring high above the ocean, carefully scanning the waters for food floating on or close to the surface. It is a wonderful treat to board a dinghy that will take us across a shallow lagoon teeming with marine life, as evidenced by the hundreds of jellyfish of every shape and size floating beneath us and clearly visible from our boat. We’ll spend time in the presence of these incredible birds, observing their behavior and watching as squadrons of adults manipulate their impressive six-to-seven-foot wingspan to return to their perches with food for their young.

Driving around the island, one cannot help but be struck by the spectacular and unspoiled natural beauty of Barbuda. The water is a glistening turquoise blue, and the colors of the sands effortlessly blend between brilliant whites and varying shades of pink. With some of the most untouched beaches in the Caribbean literally on either side of us, what better way to spend the rest of the day than to head to a charming “Robinson Crusoe-esque” beach bar to enjoy a freshly-prepared meal of mahi mahi, chicken, (or lobster if you’re feeling indulgent), followed by a relaxing swim or snorkel in shallow waters and a stroll along an idyllic white-sand beach known to be frequented by Royal and Least Terns. This truly is a case of “Birding in Paradise”! NOTE: Participants can bring (or rent) snorkels and masks on this Caribbean trip as there will be opportunities to snorkel on some of the islands.

On our return leg across the seas to Antigua, we may have the opportunity for dolphin and whale encounters. Night on Antigua.

Day 3: This morning, we hop aboard our pre-arranged transport for a short jaunt to a nearby saltwater pond to do some leisurely birding, focusing on a number of waders, waterfowl, and herons. There is even a chance for an encounter with small flocks of West-Indian Whistling-Duck.

We then return to our inn for a leisurely breakfast enjoyed with a view of White-crowned Pigeons feeding in the crowns of swaying palm trees, before taking a 30-minute flight to Dominica. With its innumerable waterfalls and a river for every day of the year coursing through her vast tracts of primary rainforest, Dominica is affectionately known as “the Nature Island of the Caribbean,” and offers a snapshot into what many of the more developed islands of the region would have resembled in years gone by. Additionally, it is one of only two countries in the Caribbean that is home to two endemic Amazona parrot species: the Imperial and the Red-necked Parrot (Jamaica, almost 15 times the size of Dominica, being the only other).

Upon arrival, we are collected by pre-arranged transport, and taken to our family-run hotel perched atop a sea cliff overlooking the rugged black sand beaches of Salisbury Bay. Here, we enjoy a light lunch at the hotel’s cliff-top restaurant before setting out in the afternoon into the Northern Forest Reserve (Syndicate Nature Trail).

We likely won’t have to travel far before the calls of an array of wondrous Lesser Antillean species give our van cause to pull off the dirt track to investigate. Species possible during a veritable barrage of sightings of near-endemics and birds indigenous to the region include Lesser Antillean Pewee and Zenaida Dove, the dazzling Purple-throated Carib, pairs of delicate Plumbeous Warblers dancing delightfully amongst the creeping vines dangling tantalizingly close to our heads, the deeply rufous endemic subspecies of House Wren, and always inquisitive Lesser Antillean Saltator. As our van climbs ever higher along the track, we scan the roadside for the albiventris subspecies of the Eastern Red-legged Thrush. We’ll also see two members of the Mimid family: the largely common Tropical Mockingbird (subspecies antillarum) and the less often seen Scaly-breasted Thrasher.

Upon arrival back at our clifftop accommodation we have a fabulous view of the setting sun and enjoy a well-earned cocktail before tucking into a Creole-inspired dinner. Night on Dominica.

Day 4: We’ll wake to the aroma of rich Dominican coffee as we set off before dawn with a packed breakfast to give ourselves the best opportunity to see one of the rarest species not only in the region, but on the entire planet: the majestic Imperial Amazon.

Deep in the cloud forest, overlooking richly forested valleys with the distant sound of thunderous rivers coursing far below us, we’ll scan the towering emergent trees for the undisputed avian monarch of this land. Its more gregarious cousin, the Red-necked Parrot, should provide far more frequent entertainment, as small flocks awaken to flutter from one fruiting tree to another. Meanwhile, the trapline habits of the near-endemic Blue-headed Hummingbird will ensure that we regularly turn our attention to small groves of Costus spictatus and flowering bromeliads. Fifty-five species of butterfly—including regional endemics such as Dominican and Godman’s Hairstreaks, Godman’s Leaf, and St. Lucia Mestra—have been recorded on Dominica. These, along with the more wide-ranging Caribbean Buckeye and Cassius Blue, will ensure that we won’t ignore sunlit areas of forest floor during our time in the forest. We spend as long this morning as needed awaiting the odd creaky metallic call of the mighty Imperial - one of the most reliable means of honing in on its position. Lunch will be taken in the field, at the recently renovated Visitor Centre, before returning into the cloud forest to again target the Imperial (if we were not fortunate enough to see it in the morning). Pairs often return to their roosts shortly before sunset, and therefore if we have not seen this parrot earlier in the day, the late afternoon represents our best and final chance. On our drive back along the coast, we will stop at a small village Church, where we have a very good chance of seeing the subspecies of Ashy-faced Owl, almost certain to be elevated to full species status of Lesser Antillean Barn Owl in the near future. Dinner will then be taken back at our hotel. Night on Dominica.

Day 5: We’ll follow our time on Dominica with a visit to the French Overseas Territory of Guadeloupe. The Basse-Terre island of Guadeloupe is remarkable, for its forests provide glimpses of some of the more secretive species rarely seen on other islands, such as Bridled Quail Dove (which can sometimes be seen walking at our feet), and the otherwise often elusive Forest Thrush - here in the Parc national du Guadeloupe, a bird that frequents roadside verges and feeds beneath picnic tables!  In addition, the movements of the Guadeloupe Woodpecker are somewhat unconventional, with birds often seen dangling upside down directly overhead while clinging to slender swinging branches and plucking ants from clusters of berries. Odd? Yes. But they certainly provide a fabulous show! Other species that frequent these lush forests are Brown Trembler - often seen displaying by lifting their wings, cocking their heads and tail, and trembling; and the dapper near-endemic Plumbeous Warbler.

Following a picnic-lunch of charcuterie, fromage and pâté, accompanied by freshly-baked crusty french baguettes and washed down with a local Ti’Punch (Guadeloupe’s take on a Caipirinha) we make our way back to the hotel. Here, you can relax around the pool for the remainder of the afternoon, or take a 15-minute walk to the white-sand beach for a dip in the refreshing turquoise waters before dinner. Night on Guadeloupe.

Day 6: Montserrat is widely known as the Second Emerald Isle, and one can circumnavigate it on foot and never leave the lush expanse of dense primary forest that dominates this largely unspoiled island. A volcanic eruption in 1995 rendered half of the island uninhabitable, covered it in magma, and caused a significant proportion of the population to emigrate…but what remains is simply stunning. The volcano itself still smolders and is constantly monitored by volcanologists who have declared the sparsely populated portion of the island safe for residents and visitors alike. This is also the half of the island where we’ll find our target bird species. The striking Montserrat Oriole will be our number one goal, and we’ll walk the paths of this ancient forest, dominated by huge emergents and long swinging lianas, until we come to reliable stands of giant heliconias, our best site for seeing orioles. We’ll be on the island during nesting season, so it is highly likely that such stands will reveal both the olive-green female and the fiery-breasted male.              

Although Montserrat is home to this single-island endemic, it is also the best island for honing in on Pearly-eyed Thrasher, which can prove difficult to find on other islands. However, on Montserrat it can be approached relatively closely both within and on the outskirts of the forest. Another target and one which will require far more patience is the secretive Forest Thrush. The Forest Thrush is a Lesser Antillean endemic, and the subspecies dorotheae is endemic here on Montserrat.

We’ll continue our walk through this picturesque habitat, where it is clear that the forest floor can be just as alive as the trees above. Leaves rustle everywhere; Montserrat’s Anolis lizard scuttles across the ground and clambers up tree trunks; the non-venomous and exceptionally rare Montserrat Racer warms itself in patches of sunlight; and unbelievably tiny Dwarf Geckos no bigger than the tip of your thumb study us with big googly eyes as they peek out from beneath the fallen leaves on the path before us.

Back at our local lunch spot, we’ll sit back, relax, and celebrate the day’s birding with a hearty meal and wash it down with a local specialty—Bush Rum! No sugar cane is used in this one—only select local herbs and plants gathered from the forest. Night on Montserrat.

Day 7: This morning, we’ll fly to St. Vincent with its black-sand beaches and vast sprawling wilderness. At the recently built international airport, we’ll be collected by prearranged transport and head into the lush primary rainforests of the towering La Soufrière volcano. These forests contain the best sites to see the critically endangered Whistling Warbler—one of four single-island endemic species of warbler in the region—along with a wonderful selection of near-endemics and indigenous regional species such as Grenada Flycatcher, Lesser Antilles Thrush, the stunning Green-throated Carib, and all-black Bananaquit - one of five distinct subspecies of Bananaquit found in the region. We’ll end our walk at a dry riverbed above which circle Common Black Hawk, as well as Broad-winged Hawk - subspecies antillarum, a near endemic known only to St. Vincent and Grenada. Periodically, we may have to lower our eyes from the skies to guard our snack of freshly picked fruit and plantain chips from inquisitive sapphire-headed St. Vincent Anoles!

After our day in the forest, we’ll head to a local family-owned hotel on the southwestern and only white-sand shoreline of St. Vincent. We’ll dine overlooking the swaying masts of catamarans and yachts moored off Young Island. Night on St. Vincent.

Day 8: This morning, we’ll have the privilege of being one of the few groups of people on the planet to observe large numbers of St. Vincent Parrots filling the skies above us. We’ll leave our hotel at 4:00 a.m. with packed breakfast in our bags to drive to a ‘secret spot’ that requires our vehicle to cross the same river seven times at different locations before ascending into the realm of the mighty Amazona guildingii. We’ll strategically select our spots atop a high ridgeline and from there wait for the raucous parrots to emerge from their roosts in the forests around us.

The St. Vincent Parrot is a species that was long on the verge of extinction and is still listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of the most-threatened species on the planet. So the opportunity to have incredibly close views of this number of wild birds in their natural habitat will be one of the highlights of the trip.

After our wonderful dawn encounter with the parrots, we’ll descend the mountain, pulling over at select sites where the ever-present mangoes and guavas prove an irresistible lure to the soon to be split Lesser Antillean (St. Vincent) Tanager, Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, Spectacled Thrush, Smooth-billed Ani, and even Yellow-bellied Elaenia, feasting on fruit flies drawn to the ripening fruit.

After the early start, our birding is mostly over for the day by mid-morning, so we’ll return to our hotel for a swim in the pool, or stroll along the spectacular beaches that line this coast. We’ll have lunch at the beachside restaurant and gaze out across the turquoise waters at Brown Pelicans, Royal Terns, and Brown Noddies before making the short 10-minute drive to the airport.

Following a 20-minute mid-afternoon flight, we’ll touch down in spectacular St. Lucia, where upon arrival, we are collected by pre-arranged transport and taken to our locally-run hotel in the seaside town of Rodney Bay. The meals here are excellent and we enjoy a sumptuous dinner before retiring to our rooms for the night. Night on St. Lucia.

Day 9: After an early breakfast, we head out to see one of the last thriving populations of the threatened near-endemic White-breasted Thrasher, and other inhabitants of the dry Atlantic forest in which it resides, such as the near-endemic subspecies of Lesser Antillean Saltator and curious Mangrove Cuckoo.

We then continue into the mountainous interior and island’s showpiece natural attraction: the sprawling Des Cartiers Rainforest. Des Cartiers is dominated by numerous trees endemic to the region including the majestic and aromatic Lansan along with gargantuan tree ferns, tiny bromeliads, and orchids. We’ll spend the rest of the morning here, walking the well-maintained (but in parts uneven underfoot) trails and identifying the wondrous diversity of flora all around us. Our forest walk culminates at an observation area, where we’ll be afforded excellent views of the island’s national bird and most colorful of all Amazonas: the magnificent St. Lucia Parrot. At this site, we will also be in the presence of a number of other deep-forest dwellers. With luck, the ethereal song of the Rufous-throated Solitaire and the high-pitched note of the Lesser Antillean Euphonia will reveal their location, and will be intermingled with appearances by Grey Tremblers and Lesser Antillean Flycatchers.

From the forest, we’ll make for the small coastal village of Micoud, where we will have a late lunch at a local spot. We will then head back to our hotel to spend the rest of the afternoon either at the pool, exploring Rodney Bay and Reduit Beach, or simply relaxing on our private balconies before gathering for dinner.*

*If anyone in the group wishes to continue the birding after lunch, you have the option of finishing the day atop one of the island’s highest peaks, where we are likely to be treated to the spectacular aerial acrobatics of a colony of Red-billed Tropicbirds.

NOTE: if you are unsteady on your feet, or struggle with balance, or have any mobility issues, it is recommended that you bring a walking stick to use during your time in Des Cartiers. This is one of the more lengthy and uneven paths we use on the entire tour. Night on St. Lucia.

Day 10: Following breakfast at our hotel, we make for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Soufrière, pausing at a reliable site for Black, Short-tailed and Lesser Antillean Swift. Once in Soufrière, isolated groves of drought-tolerant trees line the small secondary roads of this coastal habitat, and we’ll target the endemic St. Lucia Blackfinch, and one of four subspecies of Antillean House Wren endemic to individual islands in the Lesser Antilles; on St. Lucia it is Troglodytes aedon mesoleucus.

Lunch today is at what is surely the restaurant with the best view of Les Pitons - the island’s signature twin volcanic plugs which rise majestically out of, and contrast well with, the calm waters of the Caribbean Sea.

We’ll then continue on to a unique ecotone, known to harbor many of the island’s indigenous and endemic species. It is no exaggeration to state that here numerous target species of birds will join the myriad Gulf Fritillaries, Cloudless Sulphurs, and Great Southern Whites flitting all around us. Overhead, we may see Lesser Antillean Swifts effortlessly manipulating the air currents; amongst the trees, colorful St. Lucia Warblers peering underneath leaves in search of caterpillars; overhanging tree limbs representing perfect vantage points for St. Lucia Pewees to launch attacks on winged insects; and an abundance of fruits ripening in the tropical sun that prove an irresistible lure for opportunistic St. Lucia Orioles. Before we head back to our hotel for dinner, we’ll travel to a reliable location for an audience with one of the most difficult of endemics to see on the island—the St. Lucia Nightjar! Some have demoted this bird to a subspecies of Rufous Nightjar, but we support those who consider it a full species. Night on St. Lucia.

Day 11: With our packed breakfast on board with us, we’ll journey today by boat to the stunning and heavily forested French Overseas Territory of Martinique. By this stage in our travels along the island chain, any prior belief that a visit to one Lesser Antillean island is akin to visiting another is likely to have vanished. The stark differences in topography, culture, industry and development along with the varied socio-economic differences in populations ensure that a visit to the islands of the Lesser Antilles is very much an exploration of 10 very individual and unique islands.

The small bistros and cafes that line the main courtyard of the thriving capital city of Fort-de-France and the feverish games of boules played on well-manicured pitches are unlike anything we will have seen on previous islands and are testimony to the island’s French influence.

Martinique is the oldest of the islands in the Lesser Antilles, and it therefore makes sense that it is here that we’ll encounter the nominate of three of those species that have filtered out to other islands over millennia - the Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, Gray Trembler and Rufous-throated Solitaire. But the island also boasts a stunning single-island endemic in Icterus bonana, the Martinique Oriole. While in some truly spectacular primary forest, we’ll also be looking for Black-whiskered Vireo and Blue-headed Hummingbirds (in case this delightful near-endemic hummer has proven elusive in Dominica) as well as targeting the striking Rufous-hooded “Mangrove Warbler” and Ruddy Quail Dove. Night on Martinique.

Day 12: Today we arrive in Grenada, the southernmost island visited on the trip. From the air, the densely populated coastlines of this tiny island might seem an unlikely destination on a birding trip. However, by virtue of our visiting one of the last remaining vestiges of suitable habitat along the southern coastline of the island, we’ll be provided with the opportunity to see the rarest species of the entire tour: the Grenada Dove.

Latest counts estimate the surviving number of Grenada Doves to be as low as 130 individual birds. However, by drawing on experience and knowledge amassed over numerous previous trips, we should be treated to a sight few people have experienced. After visiting the last stronghold of this delicate, unassuming dove, we’ll explore the dry woodland that represents its natural habitat. Here, we’ll also be treated to views of the “Spice Isle’s” other inhabitants, including the Rufous-breasted Hermit, an endemic subspecies of Green-throated Carib (chlorolaemus), the last of the four endemic subspecies of House Wren (all surely to be split in the near future), and the soon-to-be split Lesser Antillean (Grenada) Tanager.

We’ll finish the day by climbing a well-positioned observation tower to scan the skies for the local race of Hook-billed Kite, before returning to our vibrantly-colored and newly refurbished resort for dinner. Night in Morne Rouge, Grenada.

Day 13: At midday we make the short 25-minute flight to Barbados. This tiny island of breathtakingly beautiful beaches surrounded by turquoise seas also shelters a few areas of prime birding habitat. Here, we will visit one of the most productive wetlands on the island, where we have the opportunity for sightings of many of the island’s unique species, including nominate “Golden” Warbler, subspecies of Carib Grackle, endemic subspecies of Caribbean Elaenia, and of course the Barbados Bullfinch. Long dangling aerial roots of Rhizophora mangle in the thickets at the water’s edgeprovide shelter for skulking Green Herons and Barbados Anoles along with armies of fiddler crabs. While in the wetland, we’ll also have excellent opportunities for views of Grey Kingbird, as well as up-close encounters with Antillean Crested Humingbird. This is also prime habitat for troops of Vervet monkeys (“Barbados Green Monkey”).

At dusk, the West Indian mahogany trees that surround our hotel are filled with the calls of Scaly-naped Pigeons selecting their favored roosts, the fluttering wings of Velvety Free-tailed bats, and the regional endemic Myotis nyctor setting out to feed. Food is also on our minds, and we’ll step down from our hotel onto the gleaming white sands that line the southern coastline of the island for a sunset stroll along the beach to the small fishing village of Oistins, where we’ll tuck into a delicious dinner of freshly caught grilled fish, shrimp, and lobster. Night on Barbados.

Day 14: After a buffet breakfast featuring Bajan specialties such as pumpkin fritters, fish cakes, bakes and fried plantain (all enjoyed on the hotel balcony overlooking the sparkling waters of the Caribbean Sea), we are collected by pre-arranged transport and set off on a scenic tour of this small island. The excellent infrastructure allows us to visit pristine habitats we locals refer to as being “behind God’s back”; including stunning lily ponds spring fed with water filtered through the limestone bedrock of the island. Such secluded ponds are home to families of Masked Duck, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, and Southern Lapwing along with a host of fascinating and dazzling species of dragonfly and damselfly - from the dainty Rainpool Spreadwing and Rambur’s Forktail to the imposing Great Pondhawk and Orthemis macrostigma (this Lesser Antillean endemic recently elevated to full species status).

Barbados is an island of two very distinct coasts. On the one hand there is the glittering white sand beaches and placid waters of the west coast, while a mere 11 miles east is a rugged shoreline constantly ravaged by the rolling waves of the Atlantic as they crash against this – their first landfall encountered since the shores of West Africa. On this wild eastern coast we enjoy lunch at a popular local “rum shop” where traditional Bajan cooking is at its finest. The local dish of flying fish and cou-cou is a popular choice as is fried or pickled “sea-cat” and pork stew.

With a rum punch in hand we gaze out across the sparkling seas that for two weeks we have journeyed across. What better way to draw to a close our remarkable tour of the magical Lesser Antilles. Tour ends with transfer to airport and late afternoon flights home.

Created: 04 March 2022

Prices

  • 2023 Tour Price Not Yet Known
  • (2022 Tour Price $7,050)
  • 2024 Tour Price Not Yet Known

Notes

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Questions? Tour Manager: Matt Brooks. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

*Note that the order of islands visited sometimes changes from year-to-year due to ferry and flight schedules.

This tour is limited to 11 participants with one leader

 

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