Birding in the Caribbean

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#1
2 Posts
Joined Feb 2006
My wife and I are going on a Western Caribbean cruise with Royal Caribbean the week of 3/12/06. We're interested in getting ashore at Ochos Rios, Grand Cayman and Cozumel to see the local birds. (Some of them may be the birds that will be in our RI back yard by June.)

Can anyone give us any advice on local bird tour operators or birding sites in those ports?

I wonder why none of the established excursions involve birding, since it's such a popular hobby. If people are willing to pay big bucks for bird tours in Alaska or Costa Rica, surely among the 3,000 people on a big cruise ship there would be enough birders to fill an excursion.

Fred G.
#2
Southeastern CT
521 Posts
Joined Sep 2004
Hi Fred,
I, too, have wondered why birding excursions are neglected. I have used local birding chapters for do-it-yourself tours and information. I love bird and all wildlife watching from the boat itself, but find it difficult to positively identify many of the seabirds.
I hope you have a great trip next week,
Maureen
#3
2 Posts
Joined Feb 2006
Maureen,

Thanks for your message.

We found all our ports except Haiti had been damaged by hurricanes in the past 18 months. The damage was worst at Cozumel.

We did see a few birds that were new to us, though. At the Shaw Park Gardens in Ocho Rios, we spotted the Jamaica streamertail hummingbirds, which are really unusual. There were magnificent frigatebirds over the coast there, too. At Cozumel, we rented a car and drove all over the island. The eco-park and lighthouse at the southern tip of the island were blocked off, even to foot traffic. We saw tropical kingbirds at the San Gervasio ruins, but all in all there were few birds around in the wind-blasted scrub. It was unnecessary to bring the spotting scope; we never used it. Maybe at another season, when shore birds were around, it would be useful.

I think the cruise lines are missing an opportunity. They seem to have no idea how many birders there are out there. Birding is a low-investment sustainable activity that could be offered at most of the islands where ships stop.

--Fred G., back in RI
#4
Southeastern CT
521 Posts
Joined Sep 2004
Hi Fred,
Ooooh! Jamaica streamertail hummingbirds! How amazing. Sorry you couldn't access the eco park and lighthouse...Better luck next time! Anyway, welcome back to New England. It's actually snowing here (Mystic) at the moment. Never a dull moment.
Maureen
#5
beautiful Jersey Shore
926 Posts
Joined Oct 2005
I agree with what both of you are saying. Major cruise lines virtually ignore the hobby of birding, when it could be a significant opportunity for them to a) introduce laypeople to the wonders of nature, especially in tropical destinations; b) increase revenue through alternative excursions; and c) look eco-friendly (or at least eco-aware).

On an 11/05 cruise to the western Caribbean on RCL we booked an excursion through Merritt Island NWR while in Port Canaveral. Our tourguide was woefully ignorant about birds, although it was booked as a birding trip. We spent most of the trip in the Visitors Center at Merritt Island (with gift shop, of course). By the time we hit the trails in the refuge it was getting dark; we didn't see many birds at all. The highlight was looking at a baby 'gator by flashlight. Whoopee. Our guide also mis-identified easy birds like Snowy Egret and Glossy Ibis and missed most birds altogether.

A year earlier we booked a kayak tour on the Indian River, also in Port Canaveral. Again our tourguide mis-identified Ospreys and egrets with startling regularity, and could not identify trees beyond cypress. Forget about herps.

The tourguides are usually nice, retired sorts looking to make a few extra bucks by leading a tour. But surely there are QUALIFIED people willing to do this, too -- right???!?

I wonder if any of the cruise lines would let we naturalists sail for free, if we agreed to lead bird walks and field trips in port? I can't imagine there would be a shortage of qualified leaders under those circumstances.

D. Temple
NJ
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#6
7 Posts
Joined Jul 2006
I will be in Puerto Rico in December and booked a private birding tour. It was not an easy task to find a birder, but seems that I will be having a good time. They invited me to a Christmas Bird Count they coordinate. Any one visiting PR in December 23, 2006?
#7
Rhode Island
5,800 Posts
Joined Dec 2005
There is a bird sanctuary in Jamaica called the Rockland Bird Sanctuary.
A-Z Jamaica Planners does an excursion to the sanctuary. I think it's only listed for the Montego Bay port though.

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#8
Southeastern CT
521 Posts
Joined Sep 2004
I'm heading back to sea again in early Februaury, this time to Saint Thomas, Tortola, Saint Maarten (I know I'll head to Oyster Pond there), San Juan and NCL Private Island in the Bahamas. Any helpful hints? Thanks, and Happy New Year!
#9
east coast
4,697 Posts
Joined Jan 2005
We are just back from a Panama Canal partial transit on the Coral Princess. Our best birding stop (not surprisingly) was Costa Rica, where we had some very good guides on the Tortuguero boat trip. We saw a variety of water birds, as well as toucans, aracari, black hawk, squirrel cuckoo, and quite a few flycatchers. Our afternoon excursion (the skywalk/jitney ride) produced oropendolas, tityras, tanagers, and some wonderful frogs and herps.

In panama, we spent most of our time in the canal itself, but still saw a few raptors, parrots, toucans, and flycatchers.

We didn't have time to visit rocklands in Jamaica, but did spend some time at the Cranbrook flower forest, where there were plenty of hummingbirds and many north american migrants. Our timing was bad (didn't arrive until 11am).

We found relatively few birds on Cozumel and Grand Cayman.

On our last cruise, we really enjoyed the rainforest aerial tram in Dominica, where we saw hummingbirds, tremblers, warblers, and wonderful views. We also had amazing looks at sperm whales on an afternoon whale watching excursion.

Seabirds seem to be few and far between in the Caribbean, although we have seen quite a few masked boobies:
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#10
Crestview, Florida
18 Posts
Joined Nov 2007
Being an avid birder I was disappointed to see that none of the excursions were tailored towards birdwatching. I will be aboard NCL Spirit departing NOL December 9, 2007, and have booked a day outting in Belize with a local bird guide that I found on my own. I'll let you know how the birding excursion was when I return, if anyone is interested.
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#11
Southeastern PA
25,209 Posts
Joined Jul 2005
Just coming back from an Alaskan cruise this summer, I found they had many wildlife-related excursions. But then, people who go to Alaska typically want to see that kind of thing (myself VERY included). The Caribbean is a different animal - most who go on those cruises are probably less interested in the wildlife and more interested in the sun, beaches, shopping, and possibly snorkeling/kayaking which is still a short-term sun-based activity. I imagine people who go to the islands for the wildlife typically will stay on the island rather than cruise.

Myself, I will be going to Jamaica in February for the week (non-cruise) and hope to do some birding. On that note, I am open to any ideas for birding spots and guides anyone has especially for the Whitehouse area.
#12
24 Posts
Joined Dec 2007
I will be cruising on the Western Caribbean on the Spirit on Jan. 13. Looking at my schedule, it's easy to see why they don't aim the tours at birders. The tours don't start early enough in the day to catch a good number of species.

I would like to read your trip report of your bird guide in Belize. For Belize I have booked the Lamanai and New River Tour through the cruise line, at least there will be the chance of seeing some of the notable large birds although I'm not sure it will work with the hustle and bustle of a large tour. There is always the choice to cancel this tour if I can arrange an experience like yours.

For Roatan I have booked a driver for just the two of us through Victor Bodden and will visit some gardens and photo ops. I am not expecting a great number of species, considering the ship is not even going to dock until 1 PM.

At the end of the day, I think for the most species, one must actually move around from lodge to lodge in different habitats and be prepared to rise quite early in the morning, so I'm just looking at this cruise as a way to relax and if some new species happen, they happen.
#13
Oklahoma
49 Posts
Joined Feb 2006
This summer my family took a wonderful cruise up the Atlantic coast of the U.S. and Canada aboard RCCL's Grandeur of the Seas. There we some excellent opportunities to see wildlife while on board and we also took advantage of a tour affiliated with the ship which took us into Acadia National Park. This tour which was well attended IMHO was led by a local naturalist who was also a bird expert. He brought along his own spotting scope which he allowed interested folks to use. All in all I thought it was well done.
#14
Southeastern PA
25,209 Posts
Joined Jul 2005
Just got back from a land trip to southern coast of Jamaica. Went on a couple guided trips of the Bluefield Mountains and coastal regions (including a YS River trip) - saw streamertails, Jamaican todys galore, a Northern Potoo, euphonias, elenias, loggerhead kingbirds, and about 40 other species. Weather was also great (about 70 at night to 85 during the day, mostly sunny with clouds coming up mid- to late- afternoon, HOT sun!)
#17
Derbyshire UK
283 Posts
Joined Jan 2008
Originally posted by whale-watcher
and I have always wanted to see a Potoo!
Me too, but as I'm only doing Cozumel, Progreso & Roatan, I don't think it's likely but I now know where to try for next time!

Anyone got any ideas of what I'm likely to see? bearing in mind I'm gonna have two kids and a non-birding husband with me! As a UK birder I will even be pleased with some of the more common stuff that we don't get over here.
#18
Southeastern PA
25,209 Posts
Joined Jul 2005
Originally posted by Benjismum
Me too, but as I'm only doing Cozumel, Progreso & Roatan, I don't think it's likely but I now know where to try for next time!

Anyone got any ideas of what I'm likely to see? bearing in mind I'm gonna have two kids and a non-birding husband with me! As a UK birder I will even be pleased with some of the more common stuff that we don't get over here.

Try these sites:

http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/birdover.htm

http://www.birdinghonduras.com
#19
Derbyshire UK
283 Posts
Joined Jan 2008
Originally posted by PABirder
Try these sites:

http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/birdover.htm

http://www.birdinghonduras.com
Thanks, these look a great starting place. I'm spending a bit of time in Texas too, which is a bit easier to research, although I'm going to have to get to grips with some different names - loon/diver etc etc
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