Lesser Antilles part 5: Barbados and Grenada: 15th – 17th June 2017   Leave a comment

This is the final part of the Lesser Antilles saga, covering the islands of Barbados and Grenada, although I have still to report on the optional extension to Trinidad.


Contrary to St Vincent, our time in Barbados was marked by sunshine and warm weather, however what little we saw of it looked flat, built up and uninteresting, far from the tropical paradise that is usually portrayed as. Barbados was claimed by Spain in late 1400s but was first European settlement was in the early 17th century by the British. Barbados gained independence in 1966.


We had a really bizarre reason for coming here and a reason that would only appeal to the dedicated world lister. All over the Lesser Antilles the Lesser Antillean Bullfinch is a common and easily seen bird, however on Barbados both sexes show a female-like plumage. Recent research has demonstrated that this form is a full species, so as we were on a endemics clean up we had to go, even though it looked just like the female Lesser Antillean Bullfinches that we had previously seen on every day of the tour! So common were they that we saw one or two just outside the airport, we could have run back inside and got back on the plane before it departed!


But of course we had to stay on the island overnight just in case and we were taken to this hotel by the sea.


It was a perfectly nice hotel but it lacked any form of garden and given that all we had time for was garden birding it seemed to be a strange choice.


Even so, in spite of the lack of cover I was able to photograph several species in our short time there such as these Scaly-naped Pigeons, a species with a wide distribution throughout the Caribbean.


I had been puzzling why the Carib Grackles on Grenada and St Vincent looked like the one we saw in the northernmost island of Antigua and Barbuda but quite unlike the ones in the central Lesser Antilles (see earlier post). The reason is simple, if not immediately obvious, birds from Grenada have been introduced to the northernmost islands (why I cannot imagine).


Another bird that shows some variation throughout its very large Neotropical range is the Bananaquit. Birds here show the red gape that is absent on many other islands and some of the islands we visited have an all dark morph. Bananaquits have often been described as ‘trash birds’ which is surprising as they have been considered to be in a monotypic family, however even that honour has been removed and they are now (as of August 17) lumped in with the Thraupidae tanagers.


It was clear why the Bananaquits were hanging around the breakfast table, they were using their long beaks to winkle grains of sugar out of the sugar bowls.


And guess what, the Barbados Bullfinches were on the scrounge too.


Other guests at breakfast must have wondered why this drab ‘sparrow’ was getting so much attention.


And so having only spent about four daylight hours on the island we returned to Barbados’ open-air airport, with just a canopy protecting the check-in area.


Then it was yet another LIAT flight to our final Lesser Antilles destination, Grenada. Although claimed for Spain by Christopher Columbus in 1498 there is no evidence Spanish colonists ever landed there. The island changed hands several times between Britain and France but was ceded to Britain in 1763. Independence was obtained in 1974. Our very pleasant hotel was quite near the airport ….


…. and proved to be a good place to photograph the mainly South American Eared Dove, here an adult ….


….and here an immature.


But it was soon time to head off to a nearby shopping centre for lunch ….


…. and then drive to the Hartman Reserve for our main quest, the endemic Grenada Dove.


From the observation tower we had good views of Broad-winged Hawks ….


…. seeing one being repeatedly mobbed by a Grey Kingbird (this aggressive behaviour is what gave the Kingbirds their name and also the name of the entire family – Tyrant-flycatchers).


Our main quarry remained elusive however, but on our second visit the following morning we all had brief views in a tree and somewhat better views in flight. This photo was taken by Pete Morris of Birdquest on a previous tour. Grenada Dove is endemic to the island and is one of the most critically endangered pigeon/doves of the world, with perhaps as few as 100 individuals remaining mainly due to the the destruction of its xerophytic scrub habitat.


We also had great views of Grenada Flycatcher, which despite its name is found on St Vincent as well. However the light was so much better on Grenada that I have only posted images I took here.


I know light levels can be a bit low in some restaurants but this tour member is taking the matter to extremes!


We had a nice evening meal at the hotel but service was slow, which was a shame as we were all itching to get out for one of the very few owling excursions of the  trip. Our target was this very dark ‘barn owl’ which we saw well even if I didn’t get any photos. This form is currently classified as a subspecies of American Barn Owl, however it looks just like Ashy-faced Owl of Hispaniola and the HBW Illustrated Checklist treats it as such. On Hispaniola Ashy-faced Owl is sympatric with American Barn Owl and so must be a separate species. What is more likely; a) that Ashy-faced Owl evolved in Hispaniola from a barn-owl-like ancestor and then spread down the Lesser Antillean chain only to die out in the northern and central islands or b) that American Barn Owl colonised Grenada and the southern Lesser Antilles from either North or South America and then, in this location only, evolved to look just like Ashy-faced Owl? I’ll go for the former option! Photo from the Internet Bird Collection by Mikko Payhala see here


So that was it, (almost) the end of a lovely tour and goodbye to the Lesser Antilles. However there was still the optional extension to Trinidad which I will report on in the next post.
















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