Last week I wrote about some of my bird watching experiences while in Florida. My wife and I, along with her siblings and their spouses, did a western Caribbean cruise on Princess Cruise Lines out of Fort Lauderdale.
Our last cruise was 23 years ago — courtesy of raising six children! The Princess Regal was less than three years old, and was quite exquisite. However, as nice as the ship was, I was always anxious to get to shore at each of our four ports so I could go bird watching.
Our first stop was Princess Cays on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. We were on the very southern tip of this 100-mile-long, two-mile-wide island, and the only way I could get around was on my own two feet. I was on the first tender that left the ship and I birded until the last tender left the island!
Unfortunately, without any means of transportation, and no guide, my efforts weren’t very fruitful. I only saw a total of 20 different species for the day including Bahama mockingbird, bananaquit, black-faced grassquit, greater Antillean bullfinch, eight different warbler species and an endemic hummingbird called a Bahama woodstar.
Our next port was Jamaica, where I visited two amazing birding destinations — Rocklands Bird Sanctuary and the Montego Bay Sewage Ponds. The sanctuary was teeming with birds, and I saw many different endemic species such as Jamaican Mango, red-billed streamertail (both are a type of hummingbird), Jamaican tody, Jamaican woodpecker, Jamaican Vireo, Jamaican Oriole, orangequit, white-chinned thrush and rufous-tailed flycatcher.
The sewage ponds were very productive, with countless numbers of herons, egrets, ducks and shorebirds. One of the birds I observed was a beautiful male cinnamon teal, which I didn’t think too much about. However, after I put my observations into eBird, I received an email from its administrator for the area requesting documentation. As it turns out, this is only the third time in recorded history that a cinnamon teal has been seen there.
Our third port was Grand Cayman Island, where I took a taxi to the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. Botanical gardens are typically really good places to go bird watching, as they have excellent habitat. Some of my favorite sightings included the Cuban parrot (the locals call it the Cayman parrot), West Indian woodpecker, Yucatan vireo, vitelline warbler, Cuban bullfinch, and western spindalis.
Our last stop, before heading back to Fort Lauderdale, was the island of Cozumel just off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. One of the places I visited on the island was Punta Sur Eco Beach Park located on the southern tip of the island. It was here that I saw American flamingos, roseate spoonbills, white ibis, anhinga, magnificent frigatebird, brown pelicans, and numbers of herons and egrets.
The density of the vegetation on the island made it difficult to bird in the natural wooded areas, but I managed to find a few access points where I could venture into the thickets. It was here that I saw my one and only Cozumel vireo, an endemic species on the island. I also saw a green mango (a type of hummingbird), black catbird and 10 species of warblers.
Other than the many warblers I saw on each of the islands, most of the birds I observed at each port were new for my life list. It was thrilling to see so many exotic, beautiful birds for the first time. Now that I got my birding fix, it is back to reality for a while.
Until next week, Happy Birding!