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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Lesser Antilles

2023 Narrative

Day 1 - Antigua

After rum punches and local beer flow at the meet and greet, everyone is feeling particularly merry as we leave the comfortable lounge of our hotel and make our way over to the open-air dining room to tuck into dinners that include salmon, creole chicken and pork chops, seasoned vegetables and roast potatoes. Everyone eats heartily and the conversation buzzes in anticipation of the epic multi-island birding adventure we are about to embark on tomorrow.

Day 2 - Barbuda

After an uncharacteristically choppy crossing we arrive in the quiet port town of Codrington. Barbuda is one of the least developed isles in the region and boasts vast stretches of unpopulated glistening white sand beaches surrounded by sparkling turquoise seas. The dry scrubby vegetation that dominates the west coast represents perfect habitat for our number one target - the Barbuda Warbler.

As everyone gathers outside of the vans, a flash of yellow darts across the entrance to the trail. Unbelievably this is our bird - and we haven’t even stepped foot on the trail! Everyone enjoys close views of the telltale cocked tail, brilliant yellow underparts and grayish upperparts - all characteristics that differentiate it from the Adelaide’s from which it was split in 2000 (and indeed from the St.Lucia Warbler - who we are scheduled to meet later in the trip).

As we walk a little further along the dry sun-baked trail a fluttering of wings draws our attention to an adult Caribbean Elaenia feeding a juvenile - the sharply defined wingbars and extremely pale underparts a sure sign we are looking at riisii as opposed to any other subspecies in the region. Continuing into the dry forest we are soon emersed in the undulating song of Barbuda Warblers as they dart and flit across the path before us. It is then that a Myiarchus makes an appearance. A quick look confirms it to be a Lesser Antillean Flycatcher! This subspecies (berlepschii) is not often seen, but this particular bird is very obliging and unbelievably cooperative as it perches on a scraggy twig - casually turning its dusky brown head and pivoting to reveal the soft yellow underparts - each movement eliciting a series of excited squeaks and exclamations from the tour leader!

Later, a short ride across a placid lagoon brings us to within touching distance (literally) of thousands of Magnificent Frigatebirds at home here in the largest colony in the Caribbean. As our skiff tucks ever closer to the multiple nests lining the stunted mangrove islands, 2 metre wingspans come close to brushing our heads, and adult males furiously clack their beaks and inflate their brightly coloured red balloon dulaps in attempts to lure females soaring in a holding pattern above, down for a closer look. We are also fortunate enough to have a close look at 8 Brown Boobies - this small mixed flock of adults and immature birds happy to share perches on the stunted mangrove islands alongside their far larger and noisier neighbours.

After a delicious buffet lunch of fried fish and curried chicken enjoyed in our rustic beachside hut with stunning views of sparkling turquoise seas and white sands, we head back into the dry forest and are rewarded with views of American Kestrel and White-winged Dove. The journey back to Barbuda is uneventful, as the seas have by late afternoon returned to the more customary gentle swells so typical of this time of year. For the duration of the passage, a golden sun slowly sinks ever-closer to the horizon - marking both our return to Antigua and the end of our first day in the magical Lesser Antilles.

Day 3 - Montserrat

Many in the region associate Montserrat solely with the powerful eruption that in 1995 so decimated the southwest quadrant of the island, and as we approach by private speedboat, we can indeed see the mighty Soufriere Hills still smouldering and smoking above us. But as those who visit her shores can attest - there is far more to this Second Emerald Isle than its troubled volcanic past.

Waiting aboard the boat for Customs to approve our entry, we marvel at the almost unfathomable clarity of the water, as Blue Tang, DamselFish and Gar slowly pass back and forth beneath our stern, each surrounded by a wondrous array of brain, staghorn and fire coral. On the steep towering volcanic cliffs that line the small dock, a pair of American Kestrels (subspecies caribaerum) dart in and out of crevices, spurred on by the plaintive and demanding calls of their chicks; while 3 large Lesser Antillean Iguanas bask in the warm Caribbean sunshine.

Once on land, our van ascends the well tarmacked roads, winding through tiny hillside villages and residential houses, until we arrive at our chosen trail. Initially upon entry the forest seems quiet, but then we hear it - a soft chuck chuck chuck. Montserrat Oriole……and it’s close!

With only a few hours on this island, we resort to playback and are successful in luring in 2 stunning males, one of which chooses to perch over the trail and provides awesome views! 5 minutes later a remarkable mustard-olive female appears and creates just as great a stir amongst the group as the males.

Before leaving Montserrat, we pause to collect some delicious and flavour-packed chicken and veg wraps doused in spicy Creole sauce, then it’s back aboard our boat for an hour and a half ride back to Antigua - this time joined by two adult Brown Boobies streaking alongside for a considerable portion of the trip, and a fleeting view of a Manx Shearwater.

Day 4 - Antigua / Barbados

Today we set off for a dawn encounter with West Indian Whistling Duck - and three of these large critically endangered ducks certainly got the memo - offering excellent views as they swim across the sedge filled ponds below us. As the soft morning light gradually spreads across the wetland, small, scattered flocks of Lesser Scaup, Common Gallinules and Ruddy Duck emerge from the vegetation, whilst Tricolored Herons and Little Blue Herons crisscross the waterways below us. 

Our next stop is Mckinnon’s Salt Pond, where several species of shorebirds show well, including excellent comparative views of Greater Yellowlegs and Lesser Yellowlegs feeding alongside each other. There is also time to enjoy a small flock of Stilt Sandpipers feeding amongst the mangrove roots. A short drive back to our hotel is followed by breakfast and a bit of hotel ground birding - which yields fabulous views of Green-throated Carib dexterously moving from one star-shaped Ixorra flower to another - all the while bathed in wonderful sunshine; as well as another look at Caribbean Elaenia (riissii).

Touching down in beautiful Barbados the international airport is a hive of activity as multiple flights from the UK and USA bring sun-seekers to this tiny island’s shores. The lines are unbelievable, but no worries - the tour leader is local, and after a few words to an airport employee, whisks the whole group to the front of the queue. Within 30 minutes we have collected our luggage and are away from the madness!

Immediately upon arrival at our beachfront hotel, what should we see but a pair of Barbados Bullfinches! Definitely our easiest (or at least most conveniently located) endemic sighting of the tour! As we settle into our rooms, from our private balconies we are afforded sightings of several Scaly-naped Pigeons plucking palm berries in the last of the rays of a setting sun……which simultaneously casts a warm orange glow over the peaceful waters of the Caribbean Sea.

Day 5 - Barbados

A morning visit to a nearby wetland is slow to reveal inhabitants, an unseasonable downpour perhaps stifling movement. However, after proceeding steadily along the mangrove lined trail, our key targets begin to reveal themselves. Endemic subspecies of Caribbean Elaenia, Bananaquit and Common Gallinule (each barbadensis) are all seen, along with absolutely superb views of the nominate Golden Warbler (Yellow Warbler subspecies) - a male whose already brilliant yellow plumage is accentuated further as the sun peeks from behind a low-lying cloud.

Heading into the center of the island, our first stop is a large man-made and sedge filled reservoir, where immediately upon exiting the vehicle, we see 6 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks cavorting and flapping in 4 ft deep water, as well as a pair of Blue-winged Teal hurtling by. The sweet undulating notes of Grassland Yellow-finch successfully lead us to their position, although scope views of perched birds prove challenging due to high winds shifting them rather unceremoniously from their position on exposed grass stalks, and down into dense tussocks below. Still though, the birds are close enough that even with binoculars, all key features including brilliant yellow underparts, pale beak and the crisscrossed, straw coloured pattern of the upperparts are clearly visible.

We round off our time on beautiful and busy Barbados with a delicious meal of grilled Marlin, Mahi-mahi and Flying Fish - freshly caught and prepared at Oistins Fishing Village.

Day 6 - Grenada

We arrive at Mt. Hartman in darkness and while waiting for the first long mournful note of the Grenada Dove to resonate from the hillsides around us, we silently consume yogurts and apples as a pre-breakfast snack. Almost simultaneously three birds begin to call, though each too far up the hillsides dominated by dense thorny scrub to even consider venturing towards. But encouragingly, after an hour, one bird finally begins to call in our vicinity. Stealthily and in single file we creep towards its position. We are soon rewarded with one of the most incredible experiences of the entire trip - a pair of doves not 10 feet above us - one on a nest, and its mate calling from a perch nearby. After much contorting of bodies and even some kneeling and crawling along the ground, we have all seen the bird! With possibly less than 100 remaining on the planet, every chick’s survival is crucial, and as soon as everyone has had a look, we respectfully and silently leave the area. Back at the vans everyone is beaming! What an unforgettable experience, what a privilege, what a moment to have shared.

Immediately after celebrating our sighting with handshakes and High 5s, the endemic subspecies of House Wren (grenadensis) emergesfroma tangled mass of vines and clings to the wall of the dilapidated visitor centre, effortlessly plucking termites from an exposed trail running towards the roof. Copying the antics of their winged compatriot, a pair of Black-faced Grassquit (endemic subspecies omissa) also join the feeding frenzy.

Back at the hotel a buffet breakfast awaits, before we continue our birding north into the tropical forests of Grand Etang. However, prior to setting off, we take the opportunity to bird the road alongside the hotel - with superb results - Yellow-bellied Elaenia (wonderful thick bushy crest fully erect), Eared Dove, Smooth-billed Ani and the best for last - a Grenada Flycatcher cleverly extricating beetles that have been lured into and trapped within a water-filled pipe.

After a relaxing drive north along the west coast, bypassing yacht-filled marinas and resorts perched beside glittering bays, we arrive at Grand Etang. Although a steady flow of cruise ship passengers have just arrived to see the Mona Monkeys perched expectantly at the top of the ridge awaiting handouts, we are here for the Grenada Tanagers - and they certainly don’t disappoint! A pair perch at eye level and within 8 feet of us - the male tactfully negotiating his way along an outstretched limb - his soft violet breast, buff mantle, dark maroon cap and turquoise wings there for all to see, while the female nonchalantly preens on the limb above him.

Lower down on a shaded and heavily tree-lined road, the endemic subspecies of Green-throated Carib is seen well, as is a Lesser Antillean Bullfinch male. But the highlight is a perched and preening Rufous-breasted Hermit facing the sun and in full view - its ruffled feathers on rusty underparts looking positively radiant. And, well, that bill is just superb!

Day 7 - St. Vincent

There are some experiences that are quite simply unforgettable and today we are fortunate enough to enjoy not one, but two! After a beautifully scenic, but ultimately fruitless walk along the Soufriere Trail, we arrive at a large dry riverbed, the vast quantities of material expelled during the April 2021 volcanic eruption still littering the ground surrounding the large boulders upon which we perch eating our snack of local plantain chips and Tarral. With the wind steadily picking up, any chance of seeing the critically endangered Whistling Warbler in Soufriere vanishes. In truth, since the volcano destroyed such a vast amount of the moist montane forest that comprises this little bird’s home, it has become increasingly difficult to see this species here in Soufriere.  The decision is therefore made to head to a little-known location in the south of the island for what will prove to be our final opportunity for a sighting of this full endemic, and lone member of the genus Catharopeza.

After a large local lunch of chicken, dumplings, salad and yams, enjoyed in the presence of two St. Vincent Tanagers delicately feeding on Cecropia berries, and the Lesser Antillean endemic Scaly-breasted Thrasher (vincenti) - this darkest and smallest of subspecies - managing to position itself in such a manner as to show the softly scaled breast, we make for the rich forests to the west. On an island endemics trip, there’s no returning. Once you leave to go to the next island you’ve either seen the endemics or you haven’t.

We must leave this warbler site at 15.30 in order to make our date with the parrots, and we then fly to St. Lucia the following day.

Starting to feel the pressure, we decide to try one final stand of bromeliad-laden palms to call in Mr. Whistles! No sightings at 14.50, nothing at 15.15, nothing at 15.25! It’s getting a bit tight! Then in one of the most incredible birding experiences of this leader’s career, a stunning, full adult Whistling Warbler alights on a palm frond not 12 feet above our heads! A quick check of the watch confirms it…… we had 30 seconds to go! Not only does this bird show itself, but uncharacteristically it perches for almost a minute (a longevity when it comes to Catharopeza!) allowing us to hone in on and appreciate all of the key ID features - lengthy cocked tail, whitish underparts punctuated by black breast band, and of course, that glorious white eye ring! Euphoria. Absolute glee. What a bird!

Although difficult to match the elation and exuberance of the timely arrival of the warbler, our next birding experience comes pretty close. As our vans arrive in a deep and heavily forested valley, we hear them. The Amazona parrots are here. Immediately upon exiting the van, 4 parrots start to fly from their position perched on drooping coconut tree limbs and make for a fruiting tree along the ridgeline above. Scopes are trained on them in an instant, and soon this wonderfully and oddly plumaged parrot fills the frame. Resonating calls constantly echo around the valley, leaving us in no doubt that others will soon join these 4 foragers. But nobody expects 34 of these stunning and critically endangered birds to erupt en masse from the tree lined ridge and wheel and cavort their way down towards our position - the cue for a series of ‘oohs and ahhs’ from their appreciative fans below.

Day 8 - St. Lucia

The views from the plane leave us in no doubt as to why St.Lucia is fast becoming one of the most popular vacation destinations on the planet. Sparkling azure seas line white sands and towering heavily forested peaks run down the spine of the island - a prominent axial ridge. This spectacular island also boasts the largest number of single island endemics and near-endemics in the region. Beauty and birds!

Touching down at the tiny regional airport in Castries we continue north to a number of small tree-lined “feeder” roads, where we soon start to pick up endemics. A very cooperative St. Lucia Warbler responds to spisshing by perching in a young Gloriceeda tree - whose pale pink flowers perfectly frame this stunning little bird; glorious sunshine yellow breast and soft bluish grey upperparts bathed in bright sunshine. Next to arrive is a St.Lucia Pewee and a Lesser Antillean Saltator, two species that could not be more different. The former is quite possibly one of the “cutest” birds in the Lesser Antilles, shy and almost mouselike both in appearance and mannerisms, whilst the latter is a “bruiser” - large and heavy-billed with an aggressive and inquisitive nature. Climbing steadily higher, our vans pass through the rural region of Des Barras, where sightings only increase! A pleasant surprise and one identified initially by call is a Lesser Antillean Euphonia which descends from a tall Fiddlewood Tree and alights in a Ficus enshrouded in mistletoe. This bird appears plain initially, with olive green upperparts and yellowish underparts the dominant plumage. However, as it pivots to face us, its electric turquoise crown and stunning orange forehead are clearly visible. Superb.

Another species that can be challenging, but whose high pitched piercing whistle immediately announces its presence, is the St.Lucia Black Finch. And it’s close. Binoculars at the ready we wait in anticipation of its arrival to the playback. Suddenly a chestnut-brown bird flits into an opening, diagnostic grey hood, pale pink legs and tail bobbing, easily identifying it as a female Black Finch. And still the birds come - scope views of a gruff and chortling Mangrove Cuckoo, a flyby of Black Swift, and incredibly close views of a serenely singing House Wren (subspecies mesoleucus).

From here we head to the open grasslands of the Northeast where we listen for and hear the Rufous Nightjar, however, save for a few rapid fly-bys - one directly at the group, (but far too quickly for good views) we have no luck. Back at our lavish resort, we enjoy a sumptuous dinner of pumpkin soup, shrimp and scallop brochettes, passion fruit glazed ribs and pork loin. And we wash it all down with Piton beer and Mai Tais.

Day 9

An early start today is crucial in order to get us to the best site on the island for the near-endemic White-breasted Thrasher. Arriving while the sun in still low in the sky, the birds are especially active, and in less than 30 minutes we are enjoying brilliant views of this dapper dressed bird (plumage not unlike a tuxedo) - posing in front of us in an expanse of dry forest. On the road behind us drivers hurtle by en route to Dennery, the vast majority no doubt completely oblivious to the presence or indeed existence of this critically endangered bird.

Abandoning the dry forest, we make for the lush tropical forest and true jewel in St. Lucia’s crown - the incomparable Des Cartiers Rainforest. After a snack of fresh fruit, yogurt and banana bread, we begin our gradual ascent. The calls of parrots inundate this forest and on the way to our observation point we see several make brief flights from one side of the trail to the other, as well as a single bird abandoning a nest cavity. However, when we reach the platform, we are afforded views across the entire valley - and here are treated to fabulous perched views in good light. A wonderful array of other species also fill the trees around us - some extremely close - such as the songster extraordinaire Rufous-throated Solitaire who announces its presence with a series of hauntingly beautiful and almost ethereal notes, before perching in brilliant sunshine before us. This site also provides us with our first view of the ridiculously long-billed Grey Trembler, who on cue proceeds to cock its lengthy tail, lower its head, and tremble. An odd and lovely bird. Purple-throated Caribs, another super view of a Euphonia, Pearly-eyed Thrasher and more parrots in flight - this is a rewarding site and a splendid view.

On our way back down the trail the soft pitter patter of falling fruit alerts us to the presence of a female St.Lucia Parrot perched in a mature palm not 30 feet from the trail. As she holds the stem still with one foot and nonchalantly and delicately plucks the deep purple berries and satiates her hunger, we enjoy stunning scope views.

Dinner tonight is on the bustling waterfront of Gros Islet where a deep orange sunset bathes tall masted catamarans and monohulls in a warm glow. As a blend of sweet reggae and soca music washes over us we tuck into local specialties of grilled red snapper and seasoned chicken.

Day 10 - Martinique

Saturday is market day in Castries, and as our vehicle eases past this (the 5th largest open air market in the world) vendors are busy assembling their wares in anticipation of a busy morning ahead. Arriving at port, we board our vessel bound for the Overseas Department of France, and most ancient of the Lesser Antilles - Martinique.

Arriving into bustling Fort de France we clear customs and board our vehicles bound for the dry forests of Presqu’île de Caravelle. Our number one target here is the nominate White-breasted Thrasher. Having spent time on St.Lucia in the company of the endemic subspecies (and likely split) of thrasher found there, it is crucial that we see its close Martinique relative. And so we do……quickly. No sooner do we exit the vehicle and glance into the first open window in the scrubby vegetation, than a significantly browner and plainer version of the bird we saw on the previous island is seen foraging amongst the leaf litter. Excellent views. This bird was expected. What was far less likely was what happened next. A soft chuhk alerts us to the presence of a Martinique Oriole! This is normally a bird associated with the lush forests of the Carbet range, however the call is definitive. A brief playback and there it is! What a stunner of an oriole - a deep maroon hood, and bright orange mantle and belly stand out against the otherwise jet black glossy plumage. This threatened single island endemic spends 10 minutes in our company, providing us with unparalleled views, before making off deeper into the tangled canopy.

A delicious lunch of crab and accra follows, enjoyed whilst gazing out across the quiet bay of Tartane with its Spotted Eagle Rays and Gar fish, before heading for our hotel.

Day 11

After a wonderfully relaxed and leisurely breakfast enjoyed on the balcony overlooking the glittering Fort de france Bay, and with Orange-winged Amazons perched above us and Tropical Mockingbirds and Lesser Antillean Bullfinches taking an interest in the contents of our plates; we set off to bird.

Martinique is the most ancient of the islands dotted along this remarkable and fascinating island chain and this morning we make for its heartland - dominated by the towering and densely forested Carbet Mountains. As we exit the vehicles, wispy clouds snake their way between low lying mountains, while towering peaks are capped with dense cloud. But this is as it should be, for we are entering the moist montane forest, and home of our number one target today - the Blue-headed Hummingbird.

Walking along a slightly soggy trail between waist high ferns we arrive at a reliable site and literally within 30 seconds a male is spotted perched on a favorite snag. We have our bird, but the rain soon starts. Undeterred, we head for shelter and enjoy the rhythmic contortions of a Purple-throated Carib fanning its tail and lifting its wings to ensure the maximum surface area is exposed to droplets.

From here we take a walk through what is one of the most beautiful and lush expanses of forest in the region. Towering Tree Ferns, enormous bromeliads and moss-covered trunks dominate this primary forest. In this wonderful setting and with the sun peeking out from behind the clouds the birds begin to become more active. A Rufous-throated Solitaire first calls and then darts out to snatch a dangling berry, before repeating the action several more times - each time returning to the same exposed perch to consume her prize - and in so doing offering brilliant views of her intricately patterned face and warm orange throat.

But the highlight of this walk is undoubtedly the appearance of yet another Blue-headed Hummingbird male - but this time perched in full sunlight. Scope views are enjoyed by all and we gasp as we admire his deeply rich and heavily scaled sapphire blue head and neck and glistening turquoise body. Not to be outdone, a more conservatively attired female with her pale beige underparts and darker green uppers flits out to feed on the tiny white flowers of a rubis before perching in a heliconia and backing us - allowing good views of that long and elegantly forked tail.

Reluctantly abandoning this spectacular habitat, we board our vehicles and wind our way back down to the historic capital of Fort-de-France.  After a lunch time encounter with a disco loving Spectacled Thrush and an inquisitive Green Iguana, we are soon hurtling across the seas on a fast-moving ferry. Choppy seas, waves and high winds are synonymous with pelagics and it isn’t long before a Cory’s Shearwater is spotted slicing low over the waves.

As we reach the calm Caribbean waters of Dominica’s western shore the 6th rainbow seen on the passage casts its prism-like pallet upon the towering peaks of this wildest and most rugged of the Lesser Antilles. 

Arriving at our hotel we enjoy a delicious beef stew, with talk at the table focused on tomorrow’s journey into the realm of the Imperial. 

Day 12 - Dominica

With a full moon still high in the sky and bathing a tranquil sea in pale white light, our vehicles make their way north before turning off into Syndicate. As we climb ever higher, we eventually arrive at a wooden visitor centre nestled within the impressive Morne Diablotin National Park. With breakfast in our bags, we make for the lowest of the 3 observation platforms, expecting a lengthy wait. Instead, in one of the fastest sightings of this mighty Amazona since the leader began running the trip, he spots a full adult breaking cover not 20 minutes after we arrive at site. High winds and the customary cloud so typical of this particular expanse of primary forest ensure that its exact location upon landing is obscured. However, after a brief downpour, the optimistic amongst us let our minds wander to the prospect of an Imperial emerging out of the dark dense forest and out onto an exposed perch to preen and bask in the sun. Unlikely of course……until it actually happens! Incredibly two birds abandon the area in which one was seen flying into, and this probable pair proceed to fly across the valley and up towards a mature palm located on the highest point of the slope. One disappears from view as it drops down below the other side of the valley, but the other selects a perch on a large frond and gets comfortable. After we have gotten over the initial shock, everyone makes a beeline for the scopes and feasts their eyes on this undoubted monarch of Morne Diablotin. The rich purplish-brown head, dark green upperparts and dark tail are clearly seen, but then it pivots to reveal its heavily scaled maroon brown underparts, and as it looks east, its deep orange eye and scaled feathering on the nape of the neck - fluttering in the high wind. We are privileged enough to spend an unforgettable 25 minutes in the presence of a bird known locally as the Ghost of the Clouds. Even after it has flown, we take time in this magnificent setting to just savor the moment, and appreciate the fact that we now belong to a minuscule group of birders who have ever seen this bird in the wild.

Although still a threatened species, the Red-necked Parrot is certainly far more abundant than the 50 or so Imperials who remain, therefore after our time with Imperialis, we shift our focus to searching for the species known locally as the Jaco. Far more gregarious and especially fond of magnolia fruits, we position ourselves above a grove over which soon fly small parties of 3 and 4 birds. From our position on high, we enjoy superb views of the birds bright green plumage and brilliant red and sapphire paneling in their unfurled wings.

When you’re on a roll, keep it going, and so we make for a well-known House Wren site (and in keeping with the day) enjoy excellent looks at the appropriately named endemic subspecies rufescens as it ascends a vine insearchofgrubs.  No sooner had it flown off than the near-endemic Plumbeous Warbler whisked its way into the exact same site - long, cocked tail and striking supercilium clearly visible for all to see. After a quick 20 minute drive up to the northern city hub of Portsmouth to see a roosting Lesser Antillean Barn Owl, we enjoy lunch at the Pork Parlour, where local dishes of barbecue chicken, rice and beans, makquiel (mackerell) and Accra balls made of Twiini  are all washed down with freshly made and flavoursome tamarind, guava and grapefruit juice……and for the brave……plantain and peanut punch or seamoss!

After lunch a 5-minute drive has us in the land of the Red-legged Thrush where all in the group have terrific views of this stunningly patterned Lesser Antillean endemic subspecies (albiventris) and the near endemic subspecies of Lesser Antillean Pewee (bruneiicapillus).

We wind down the evening with congratulatory Kubuli beers all around!

Day 13

The morning brings with it the promise of our seeing a bird not previously encountered on the trip. From the nearby Tareau Cliffs, the calm waters of the Caribbean Sea extend out to the horizon, and in the early morning light give the illusion of our gazing out upon a gigantic lake of glass.

Here we wait; wait for a bird which must be one of the most elegantly patterned and beautiful of all seabirds - the majestic White-tailed Tropicbird (or “Tareau” in Dominican creole). The birds nest on these Cliffs, but as we don’t run this tour during hurricane season (which happens to be when these birds nest), we have to be patient. Several fly-bys of Royal Terns and a particularly inquisitive Brown Pelican hold our attention, until high above low-lying clouds and far out to sea the first of 5 tropicbirds begin to make their way toward the sandstone cliffs. Excitement builds amongst the group as they approach ever closer, and the signature lengthy tail streamers become visible. Gradually as the clouds shift and rain squalls ease, the spectacular black carpal bars can be seen along with the superbly painted black bands drawn across the eye. Then, shockingly, two birds increase speed dramatically and shoot through a gap in the dense vegetation clinging to the cliff and disappear completely! Another bird then repeats the feat, but despite our best efforts we are unable to see exactly where on the cliff they have perched. No matter, the experience and views were memorable enough!

After a leisurely breakfast, several of us set out on a riverside walk, where a mature Mangrove Cuckoo offers excellent views, and our final needed Yellow Warbler subspecies (melanoptera) sings delightfully, while perched in the sun. As numerous Ameiva lizards scurry across our path and amongst the scrubby vegetation beside us, Belted Kingfisher shows well, as does Black-whiskered Vireo and Lesser Antillean Saltator. Flocks of Smooth-billed Ani squeal and shriek, while Antillean Crested Hummingbirds feed on the ruby red flowers of pea trees and Green-throated Caribs zip amongst the pink flowers of Gloriceeda. As the heat of the day intensifies, Broad-winged Hawks begin to rise on thermals and American Kestrels drop from perches on high. A relaxing walk is enjoyed by all, before heading back for a large lunch and drive to the airport. Our final destination of this 10-island adventure through the Lesser Antilles awaits.

Day 14 - Guadeloupe

Waking to the smell of scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage, we tuck into a breakfast that (as we are on Guadeloupe) also includes pain au chocolat and croissants, before boarding our vans and making for the most productive birding site on the island - Cascade aux Ecrevisses in the Parc National du Guadeloupe. Arriving just after dawn, 7 Brown Tremblers greet us as soon as we disembark the vehicle. They flit constantly in and out of a stand of mature heliconias each seemingly intent on outperforming the other in their frenzied trembling displays! In the vicinity of these maniacal mimids a lone Bridled Quail-Dove struts confidently out of the forest - providing absolutely astonishing views. With heavy clouds rolling in and a shower seemingly imminent, the bird seeks an elevated perch to wait out the squall. Once on the limb of the cecropia our views actually improve, with the bird providing both profile and full-frontal views. The splendid green and purple iridescence in the neck and breast show well, as does the wonderfully painted stripe directly beneath the eye. This is a handsome bird!

An incredible 3 Forest Thrush are seen shortly after the rains, each hopping somewhat jerkily across the parking lot, and occasionally popping up onto a small rock offering superb views of that wonderfully chevronned breast and belly - each chevron resembling a minuscule chocolate trimmed white arrowhead. This is our first and only view of this stunning Lesser Antillean endemic, and we soak in the views. As the sun rises the thrushes seek the shelter of the dense philodendrons, but for others, the days activities are only just beginning - 30 Lesser Antillean Swift wheel and cavort in an intense pursuit of insects, while Scaly-breasted Thrashers, Plumbeous Warblers, and even a Chestnut-sided Warbler move in the trees that line the slowly meandering river. But there is one species we still must see before we can officially draw to a close the birding activities on this Lesser Antillean adventure. So with lengthy strides we make for a small site known to harbour a family of 4 Guadeloupe Woodpeckers; and after a short 10 minute walk - we see them. Leaping purposefully upwards along a bare trunk, preening profusely, darting across from one side of the track to the other and slamming that sharp sturdy bill into decaying limbs in a furious search for larvae. Fully satisfied that the last of the endemics of the region has been seen (and seen well), we enjoy a delicious French themed picnic, featuring a selection of cheeses, paté, baguettes and chocolat - all washed down of course with merlot and rosé, before saying our goodbyes and making for the airport.

A hugely successful trip with 40 of 41 endemics seen (and seen extremely well), including of course three of the most critically endangered species on the planet in the Imperial Parrot, Whistling Warbler and Grenada Dove.

A special thanks to all participants for being wonderful travel companions.

Ryan Chenery

Created: 17 February 2023