Lesser Antilles part 4: St Lucia and St Vincent: 11th – 15th June 2017   Leave a comment

This is the fourth blog post from my island hopping tour of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. I had intended to include the four remaining islands St Lucia, St Vincent, Barbados and Grenada in this post but inevitably there were too many photos so I have just written about the first two of these islands.

 

The first European power to settle St Lucia were the French who signed a treaty with the local Carib Indians in 1660. From then until 1814 the island changed hands many times between the French and British. In 1979 it was granted independence as a member of the Commonwealth. In the case of St Vincent the Carib Indians and escaped African slaves vigorously opposed European settlement and it was not colonised until 1719, first by the French then by the British. Like St Lucia power switched between these countries several times. Attempts by the British to affiliate St Vincent and the Grenadines with other nearby islands failed, but in October 1979 they became the last Caribbean Island to gain independence.

 

Apart from our flight to and from Montserrat and between Guadeloupe and Martinique, all the remaining eight ‘internal’ flights on this trip were with the local carrier LIAT. This stands for Leeward Island Air Transport, but it has also been interpreted as ‘Leaves Island Any Time’ or Luggage In Another Terminal’. That said we had no trouble with LIAT at all, they always left on time, sometimes early and never lost a single bag.

 

We stayed at a lovely hotel in St Lucia right by the harbour.

 

There was an egret colony in the grounds and I was lucky to get a room on the 1st floor with a grandstand view. I was able to observe the Cattle and Snowy Egrets from the balcony on several occasions, even as here whilst sheltering from heavy downpours.

 

There were a few Snowy Egrets in the colony ….

 

…. but by far the majority were Cattle Egrets.

 

There even appeared to be Cattle and Snowy Egret chicks in the same nest, presumably the older and more mobile Snowy Egret chick had gone ‘walkabout’ from its own nest.

 

There was a puzzling degree of variation in the Cattle Egrets, some like this one were in bog standard breeding plumage ….

 

…. others had bright red bills and/or had no chestnut in the plumage at all (even though they were breeding) and the bill colour of the chicks seemed to vary from yellow to black almost at random.

 

This individual, who had one of the closest nests to my balcony, sported and strangely swollen and elongated bill.

 

I don’t know if any Black-crowned Night Herons were nesting deep in the colony but one or two could be seen skulking around on the ground at the base of the tree.

 

A Green Heron quietly stalked its prey from the giant lily pads

 

Among the lily pads was a pair of Common Gallinules, recently split from the Old World Common Moorhen. Interestingly, here we can see a juvenile from an earlier brood feeding its younger sibling along with one of the parents.

 

Just outside my room was this large ornamental plant, if you look at the right hand fronds you will see ….

 

…. an Antillean Crested Hummingbird’s nest with two tiny chicks. Joseph waited in the corridor (and even skipped some outings for endemic birds) in order to get video of the parents coming to the nest.

 

Most of our time in St Lucia was spent in the interior searching for the four endemic species. There used to be five but Semper’s Warbler has not been seen since for certain since 1961, it was probably driven to extinction by introduced mongooses.

 

The endemic St Lucia Amazon was seen several times, but only in flight, St Lucia Oriole was seen but not well enough for photos ….

 

…. but the beautiful St Lucia Warbler put on a great show, We also saw two endemic subspecies that could be split in the future, St Lucia House Wren and St Lucia Pewee

 

We saw Grey Trembler on Martinique, but not well enough for photos, so it was great to get good views here, the only other island where it occurs.

 

As we are now in the southern Lesser Antilles there is a greater influence from South America. Examples include this Short-tailed Swift ….

 

…. and this female Shiny Cowbird.

 

In the afternoon of our first full day we headed for the southern most point of the island

 

…. and the lighthouse at Moule de Pique.

 

Strange barrel cacti grew on the precipitous cliffs.

 

In spite of the strong wind Keith, Mark and I tried some seawatching and added a few distant Bridled and Sooty Terns to the trip list, but Joseph had the right idea ….

 

…. he was videoing Red-billed Tropicbirds just below us.

 

St Lucia was also pretty good for other forms of wildlife, I don’t know the name of this butterfly ….

 

…. but this is the highly migratory Monarch (migratory in North America at least) which is capable of crossing the Atlantic and which I have seen on Scilly and Portland in the UK.

 

Bizarre caterpillars and ….

 

…. bizarre crabs were the order of the day. One of our group (perhaps unadvisedly) picked up a Hermit Crab in its borrowed seashell. It probably climbed out of the shell and scuttled away ‘butt naked’.

 

Well three endemics had fallen easy enough but the fourth remained a problem. However on our last morning we connected with the St Lucia Black Finch on a trail where forest meets farmland. Views were quite brief, light was poor and so were my photos. Here’s pic of the little fella from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website taken by Marcel Holyoak see https://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/Species-Account/nb/species/slbfin1/overview

 

IMG_3642 Grand Pitons

We were staying at the capital Castries in the northwest but on the final afternoon some of us persuaded Mark to drive us down to the viewpoint overlooking the town of Soufriere to see the St Lucia’s most famous landmark, the Grand Pitons.

 

So it was ‘job done’ for St Lucia with all the endemics ‘under the belt’ ….

 

…. and time to fly on to St Vincent. Our journey time was quite long as we had to fly all the way west to Barbados before flying back east to St Vincent.

 

Our hotel in the capital Kingstown was fine ….

 

… and boasted one of the tallest cheese plants I have ever seen ….

 

…. but the streets in the town outside lacked a certain sparkle ….

 

…. and the same could be said for the residential areas.

 

Mind you the weather didn’t help. It had been dry on Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat and Guadeloupe, cloudy with some rain in Martinique and St Lucia but on St Vincent it rained most of the time.

 

Nearly all our birding was done on the Vermont trail ….

 

…. but we had to shelter by the water works building during the worst of the rain.

 

There was a good forest trail alongside a stream ….

 

…. with some impressive mature fig trees, but with the poor weather we struggled with the birding. We did see Lesser Antillean Tanager, the local race of House Wren (like all the other island forms of House Wren it deserves to be split) and Grenada Flycatcher (found only here and on Grenada) but the delightful Whistling Warbler was a ‘heard only’. This undoubtedly the disappointment of the trip as it looks a stunner in the field guide.

 

On the positive side we had good prolonged scope views of a flock of the endangered St Vincent Amazon but as with the other parrots they were too distant for photos so again I have used a pic of a captive individual from the Internet Bird Collection taken by Mikka Pyhala.  https://www.hbw.com/ibc/species/st-vincent-amazon-amazona-guildingii

 

One afternoon we birded the Botanical Gardens in Kingstown but again we were thwarted by rain.

 

A juvenile Broad-winged Hawk called noisily from a nearby tree ….

 

…. and whilst sheltering from the heaviest rain under this shelter ….

 

…. we had great views of the endemic race of Antillean Crested Hummingbird.

 

 

 

So that was it for St Vincent. We flew east the following morning to Barbados (we were getting heartily sick of emigration and immigration forms and airport security checks by this stage) which will be the subject of the next post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: