5 best Caribbean birdwatching destinations
Birdwatching in the Caribbean is as easy as falling out of bed. Nature lovers visiting the Caribbean will find colorful birds virtually everywhere they look. Enjoy breakfast in your villa, with sparrows flying in the open window to share a few crumbs; marvel at pelicans diving into the sea for a meal; and delight in hummingbirds hovering over tropical blooms. Dedicated birders who desire more than these caught-on-the-fly experiences can seek out sanctuaries where scores of bird species flourish in their natural habitat.
The Caroni Swamp | Trinidad
The Caroni Swamp is the site of one of the most eye-popping birding experiences in the world. It begins with a boat trip down a narrow channel thick with mangroves and eventually leads to an open lake-like expanse of water. Then it’s a quiet wait of a few minutes, until a multitude of black specks appear in the sky, becoming larger until they’re recognized as birds – Scarlet Ibis – Trinidad’s national bird. As the birds settle in the branches of the trees covering a tiny island, they transform from black marks against the sky into bright red splashes of color in the trees, as though the trees were blooming with scarlet flowers right before your eyes. The ibis are actually returning from their daily feeding on the coast of Venezuela, which lies 11 miles away.
Caroni Swamp is Trinidad’s largest mangrove wetland, and is an easy drive from the island capital city, Port of Spain. In addition to the Scarlet Ibis, the swamp is home to over 200 species of birds, including flycatchers, ant birds, and kingfishers. In addition to birds, the swamp is shelters other spectacular creatures, including the four-eyed fish, spectacled caiman and tree boa. Caroni Swamp is one of Trinidad’s major natural attractions, and boat trips leave daily around 4:00 p.m.
Frigate Bird Sanctuary | Barbuda
No trip to Barbuda is complete without a guide-accompanied boat ride to the Frigate Bird Sanctuary at the Codrington Lagoon in Wa’Omoni Beach Park. The sanctuary is home to five species of large frigate birds, also known as ‘Man o’ War’ for their impressive seven-foot wingspan and the fact that they often swoop down and grab meals away from smaller birds. The male birds are instantly recognized by their bright red gullets, which they inflate to attract a mate. Frigate birds are great aerial fishermen, and are so quick they can snatch a flying fish out of the air during its brief flight above the water. While the sanctuary is the largest nesting colony of frigate birds in the Caribbean, it actually shelters a total of 150 bird species, including kingfishers, pelicans and herons. The Frigate Bird Sanctuary can only be reached by boat.
Getting to Barbuda takes a little extra effort. Most travelers first fly into the international airport in Barbuda’s sister island, Antigua. Then it’s a matter of either taking the 90-minute ferry ride to the island aboard the Barbuda Express; or connecting with a flight on ABM Air, which flies into Codrington, Barbuda’s main city. Barbuda doesn’t have a lot of hotels, but it makes up for that in variety, from luxury all-inclusive accommodations at Coco Point Lodge, to bare-bones lodgings in small hotels or guest houses in Codrington.
Little Tobago | Tobago
The tiny forested island of Little Tobago is famous as a former home of the elusive Birds of Paradise, which were imported to the island in 1909 from the Aru Islands off New Guinea. In fact, the 450 square-acre island is sometimes referred to as Bird of Paradise Island. Unfortunately a hurricane in 1963 swept through with such force it wiped out the resident Birds of Paradise. Little Tobago has since recovered and is now an avian sanctuary, especially for seabirds. The best time for birders to rack up names on their birding life lists is during the months of October to June. A variety of birds make their home on the island, including bridled terns, red-billed tropic birds, magnificent frigate birds, brown boobies, Audubon’s shearwaters, brown noddy, laughing gulls, sooty terns and white-tailed tropic birds.
It’s easy to arrange a boat tour of the island though local operators, including several operating glass-bottom boat tours. The boat trip from the Tobago mainland is a quick one, only about 15 minutes. Some operators combine a birdwatching tour with a chance to snorkel the waters off the coast. For the most intrepid birders, there are also hiking trails on the uninhabited island.
Bubali Bird Sanctuary | Aruba
Aruba is one of the Caribbean’s most popular destinations, celebrated for its resorts, beaches, nightlife and shopping. Less well-known is its options for birding at the Bubali Bird Sanctuary, a wetland teeming with 80 species of migratory birds, including egrets, ducks, herons, cormorants, and fish eagles. Known as Bubali Plas to the locals, the sanctuary is easily accessed by either foot from Palm Beach or by vehicle. When birders see the historic red windmill they’ll know they’ve reached the sanctuary. This is also a family-friendly birding site, with a handy observation tower located across from the windmill. The observation tower makes it easy to spot the maximum number of birds. Keep an eye out for the Aruban brown-throated parakeet.
Sierra de Bahoruco National Park | Dominican Republic
Getting to Sierra de Bahoruco National Park will take a little extra effort, since it lies far to the west of the DR’s capital, Santo Domingo and the tourist enclave Punta Cana. Sierra de Bahoruco National Park is one of three key zones in the UNESCO Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve, giving the park global status as an important ecological zone. The national park is substantial, measuring in at 500 square miles of mountains, forests and lowland desert. Birders will have a chance to glimpse 49 species of birds, everything from white-necked crows to Hispaniolan parrots. Prime locations for spotting the maximum amount of avian species are on the northern and southern slope of the Sierra de Bahoruco. Birders will need the use of a 4X4 vehicle and if they’re unskilled drivers they’re better off taking an organized birding tour. A good base of operations is the town of Barahona, where birders will find a range of resorts and restaurants, including beachfront B&Bs, like the Hotel Piratas del Caribe and Hotel Casablanca.
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April 10, 2015
Category: DR Living |