Tour 2: In Search of the Amazonas (The Perfect Combo!)
Daily Itinerary + Pricing
Islands we will visit: St. Lucia, Dominica, St. Vincent, (with optional extension to Trinidad)
The first leg of our tour sees us travel to three of the most spectacular islands in the Lesser Antillean chain in search of several endemics (including each island's critically endangered species of Amazona parrot) , and a host of indigenous regional Caribbean species - ranging from wonderfully vibrant orioles and enigmatic thrashers to delicate warblers and dazzling hummingbirds. The timing of the tour ensures that dotted amongst the myriad local species will be a host of North American migrants overwintering on the islands. For the optional second half of the trip our lodging will be the internationally renowned Asa Wright Lodge on the island of Trinidad. In addition to exploring select trails which traverse the Centre's 1,500 acres of tropical rainforest, we will also use Asa Wright as a base from which to launch birding excursions to various other habitats across the north and west of the country, in search of a wondrous variety of South American species .
This truly is the perfect Caribbean, South American and North American birding combo!
November 19th - 29th 2017: Please click here to read the trip report for this tour
February 11th - 21st 2020: there are only 2 spaces remaining on this trip, please click here to contact us and express your interest
November 23rd - December 3rd 2020: we are now accepting bookings for this trip, please click here to contact us and express your interest
March 1st - 11th 2021: we are now accepting bookings for this trip, please click here to contact us and express your interest
From the moment the dark green silhouette of volcanic St.Lucia comes into view, you know you are in for something special. From your plane window it’s clear that towns and settlements are very much concentrated along the flat coastal areas while the interior is defined by mountainous terrain impractical for large scale development. Such a topographical deterrent has been instrumental in preserving the extensive pristine habitat so essential for the multitude of bird species that thrive here.
We are collected by pre-arranged transport and en route to our hotel stop at the sprawling Aupicon Wetlands where yellowish stems of the sedge that dominate this largest marsh on the island are seemingly ablaze in the orange glow of the setting sun. The marsh is inhabited by a wide variety of wetland species, and we enjoy stunningly close views of nesting Pied billed Grebes , Caribbean race of American Coot and Green Heron, but as we take up our vantage point atop a small hillock perfectly placed to the east of the main body of water, we are treated to a display of birdlife that sets the tone for what will be a wonderful birding experience through the islands - the return of hundreds of cattle and snowy egrets to a roost in the centre of the wetland. These are soon joined by Great Egrets, Tricoloured Herons, and Little Blue Herons which serve to further saturate species sightings already dominated by Blue-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup and the entertaining Belted Kingfishers - what a start!
The idyllic Foxgrove Inn, a locally run, small hotel surrounded by forested hills and offering a stunning view of the spectacular Praslin Bay and the enchanting Frigate Islands Nature Reserve is our home for the next three nights and we arrive in time for a leisurely and welcome dip in the pool. We meet at the bar for a cocktail before dinner which will be enjoyed tonight, as every night, on the sweeping open-air verandah. The chef and local co-owner of the hotel is brilliant and having worked most of his life in fine-restaurants in Paris and London returned home to add what he learnt in foreign lands to local cuisine. Prepare your tastebuds for some delicious creole dishes.
Leaving Foxgrove behind as the early morning light begins to reveal the small, sleepy villages that are dotted along the island’s coastline we make for our first birding location. This first hotspot offers us quite possibly the best views on the island of all three hummingbird species that reside on St.Lucia. Here, the imposing and absolutely glorious Purple-throated Carib, it’s slightly smaller but equally grand counterpart, the Green-throated Carib, and the dainty Antillean-crested Hummingbird all shift and flit amongst an unbelievably lush landscape filled with flowers of every imaginable colour and scent.
Following this memorable encounter we continue on further into the Northern Range, and are soon birding in the shadow of the majestic 2,600 ft Pitons. Although we are in a mountainous region of the island, it will be the van's engine (not our own) which does most of the work on the day. We drive up a long steady incline to the quaint hilltop village of Bouton, where we are afforded a spectacular view of the surrounding landscape. From here we set out on a leisurely stroll along an established track, lined to one side with an extensive orchard, laden with tropical fruits of every imaginable shape and colour, and on the other with the magnificent swathe of rainforest which sprawls across the majority of St.Lucia's wild Northern Range.
Birding within an ecotone such as this promises to reveal a number of the island's indigenous and endemic species, and it is no exaggeration to state that birds will be all around us. Overhead, Lesser Antillean Swifts effortlessly manipulate the air currents, amongst the trees colourful St.Lucia Warblers peer underneath leaves in search of gorging caterpillars, overhanging tree limbs represent perfect vantage points for St.Lucia Pewees to launch attacks on insects, and an abundance of fruits ripening in the tropical sun prove an irresistible lure for opportunistic Scaly-breasted and Pearly-eyed Thrashers. These more obvious bird sightings mask the fact that sometimes on this trip we will need to be patient in order to spend time with a particular target species, but the results often tend to be very rewarding as an encounter with one of the most secretive and reserved species on the island testifies - when a Bridled Quail Dove softly begins to call , and in so doing reveals his position.
An early start today is justified as it provides us with the best opportunity to see a bird which for many of us may well represent the highlight of our time on the island - the most beautiful and brightly colored of the Amazonas - the St.Lucia Parrot. In order to get the best views of the island's national bird we venture into St.Lucia's rugged , volcanic interior where within the sprawling Des Cartiers Rainforest the greatest number of sightings of this stunning species have been reported. As we negotiate the well-established trail network which runs through this forest, we are likely to also encounter among others, such gems as St. Lucia Black Finch, Forest Thrush, Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, splendid St.Lucia Oriole and even the mesmeric and enchanting Rufous-throated Solitaire. While making our way through this pristine site we may also be fortunate enough to come across other inhabitants of the forest such as Lesser Antillean Iguana, Tree Boa, and the island's endemic race of Anolis Lizard.
As midday approaches we begin our gradual descent out of the forested highlands, and down into the oldest town on the island - Soufriere - where we enjoy lunch and an ice cold Piton lager at a kabawé (local bar). We venture into some of the shops and local stalls that line the coastline of this popular seaside town before making our way to a site renowned throughout the Caribbean. A 20 minute drive from Soufriere, sees us enter the only “drive-in” volcano in the world! While escorted by a guide we explore the base of the crater where the very earth itself appears to come to life in the form of hissing springs and large bubbling mud filled ponds. Despite the fact that this volcano is classed as dormant and is therefore completely safe, this is still an incredibly spine tingling experience and one not to be missed (although as with all tours on this trip you can of course choose not to partake)
There are few places that I have been in the world that can match the remarkable beauty of the Caribbean, and as is the case with the other Lesser Antillean islands on this tour, St.Lucia's small size means that for a birder and nature enthusiast the range of different habitats that can be visited on one day is truly phenomenal. Having spent the first half of our third day exploring moist montane and tropical rainforests and gazing on high elevation specialists such as Antillean Euphonias, we then make a 25 minute drive to the dry woodlands of the east coast in order to search for those species that prefer a drier, low-lying habitat - including the largest finch in the world - the Lesser Antillean Saltator, and one of the rarest birds we are likely to see on the entire trip - the White-breasted Thrasher. Incredibly, we end the day by driving to the highest point in St.Lucia where we are treated to a magnificent aerial display by a resident colony of Red-billed Tropicbirds.
For a List of our Top 10 Target Species for St.Lucia please click here and scroll down the page to St.Lucia
At 7 a.m. we make the short 30 minute flight to Dominica - an island regarded by many as the "Nature Lover's Caribbean Island".
Dominica is an island renowned for it's outstanding natural beauty. With it's innumerable waterfalls and a river for every day of the year coursing through it's vast tracts of primary rainforest, Dominica offers a snapshot of what many of the more developed islands of the region would have looked like in years gone by. Our morning sees us drive along little known trails in order to access spectacular montane and elfin forests, harbouring such gems not found on St.Lucia such as White-crowned Pigeon, Red-legged Thrush, the endearing Plumbeous Warbler, Brown Trembler, and the inquisitive local race of House Wren.
Later that day we join an experienced captain and crew on a search for ocean giants! An astonishing number of species of whale and dolphin have been sighted in Dominica’s waters, and our time on the island coincides with that of cetacean migration through the Lesser Antilles. Huge pods of Short-finned Pilots are the most commonly seen while other larger species have also been spotted on previous Birding the Islands trips. There is even the remote possibility of an encounter with Dominica’s resident population of Sperm Whale. Who knows what delights this 3 hour cruise holds in store for us. One thing for certain, the dinner table will be truly buzzing back at our hotel tonight!
Anticipation will be ripe as today brings with it a phenomenal opportunity to enjoy stunning views of the island’s two remarkable species of Amazona parrot - the vibrant and gregarious Red-necked Parrot or “Jaco” and the imposing, mysterious national bird of Dominica - the incomparable Imperial Parrot. Our arrival into the Morne Diablotin national forest is greeted by the noisy chatter and highly visual aerial displays and high pitched squawks of dozens of Jacos - by far the more numerous and easily seen of these two endemics. Such wildly flamboyant and obvious displays could not be in greater contrast to the more secretive and mysterious habits of the Imperials. For this species it will be much more a case of waiting and listening for that oh so telltale metallic call that signals the arrival of an endemic perilously close to extinction. Patience is rewarded when framed by the highest and darkest mountains in the range these birds drift towards us , ghost-like apparitions appearing from amongst the ever present low wispy clouds - a species barely clinging to existence in the most inhabitable region on the island. With their dark plumage and massive, imposing size, and a wingspan capable of negotiating the howling winds and heights of their range the Sisserou is unquestionably the undisputed monarch of this land and so obviously suited to this dark mystical realm they inhabit.
Although the Sisserou is undoubtedly the showpiece, this largely unspoiled region of the island is also home to a staggering array of other beautiful species. One sighting of the dazzling colours of the near endemic Blue-headed Hummingbird or the Antillean Euphonia can leave you in little doubt that you are in the tropics, while encounters with the resplendent Red-legged Thrush will no doubt prove equally memorable. With such treasures all around us, we spend the remainder of the morning exploring forest trails in search of other species local to the area, such as Lesser Antillean Pewee and Ruddy Quail-Dove, all the while being treated to the cacophony of calls for which such forests alone are reserved.
For a list of the Top 10 species that we will be targeting in Dominica, please click here and then scroll down through the list of islands to Dominica.
From the newly constructed Argyle International Airport that hugs the rolling coastline of St.Vincent, we make the short 20 minute drive to the spectacular Beachcombers Hotel, our home for the next 2 nights. After exiting the taxi we begin to explore the hotel's stunning grounds - a perfect introduction to a new range of species found in this southern corner of the Lesser Antillean chain. The all-black race of Bananaquit dancing amongst the brilliant yellow Alamandas, the Spectacled Thrush gorging itself on Christmas Palm berries, cooing Eared Doves perched in mighty Tamarinds and the unmistakeable call of a near endemic Myiarchus - the Grenada Flycatcher - flitting expertly from low-lying limbs to pluck insects out of mid-air.
The late afternoon is yours to enjoy lounging by the pool with a delicious cocktail in hand, or taking a stroll along the glistening black sand beaches of this quaint sheltered cove, bordered to the north and south by towering sea cliffs. Or if you are feeling more adventurous why not don a snorkel and explore the coral reefs just offshore. As we dine tonight on a wide selection of creole Caribbean dishes we gaze out across the bay at the twinkling lights of lavish yachts and catmarans reflecting in the deep blue waters of the Atlantic.
There are days when an early start is justified, and this is one of them. Leaving our hotel before dawn we head along deserted roads which steadily climb higher and then higher still - the terrain negotiated by our 4X4's testament to the fact that this is one of the least inhabited areas on the island. Under a still moonlit sky, we quietly exit our vehicles and enjoy a packed breakfast before making the last gentle ascent on foot, along fern-lined trails, to the crest of a volcanic ridge. As the early light of dawn begins to illuminate the dense dark forest below us, shadows flit amongst the trees. The sun rises in the tropics as rapidly as it sets and it is not long before these shadows reveal themselves as this tiny island nation's national bird - the stunning St.Vincent Parrot. We become the fortunate few who from our vantage point have the opportunity to gaze down upon one of the largest concentrations of this species remaining on the planet, and revel in the brilliant flashes of golds and sapphire blues that represent every flit of their mighty wings. Soon the trees below us and the skies above are filled with Amazonas - truly one of the highlights of the entire trip!
As the sun continues to rise, parrot activity is much reduced and we consequently leave the Buccament Valley behind and make for the lush forested slopes of La Soufriere. Here we seek out the final endemics and regional specialities remaining on the Caribbean leg of our trip, before making for the south american island of Trinidad in the morning. We are greeted at the start of the Soufriere Trail by an abundance of brilliantly coloured St.Vincent Anoles, their vivid greens , yellows and blues perfectly mirroring those of the lush landscape around them. This is an ancient forest, which after centuries of growth in a rich volcanic soil has become home to some truly gargantuan trees. As we round every corner in the trail, another hidden wonder seems to be revealed. Lesser Antillean Tanagers gorging themselves on small figs, startled Ruddy Quail Doves flashing before us, scratchy throated Cocoa Thrushes and Lesser Antillean Bullfinch proving the perfect foil for the eloquent calls of the gem of the forest - the secretive Whistling Warbler. An afternoon in a birders paradise is ours to enjoy. Our birding appetite well and truly satiated, we head to a local Rum Shop where the menu offers the opportunity to experience some true Vincy cooking, ensuring other hungers are also attended to!
For a List of our Top 10 Target Species for St. Vincent please click here and scroll down the page to St.Vincent
For those of us leaving at the end of the Lesser Antilles leg of our travels, you have the choice of flying back to St.Lucia this morning , from where you’ll return home (or if more convenient fly direct from St.Vincent home). For those continuing our travels further south along the island chain - Trinidad awaits…
Trinidad is truly fabulous - the only place where West Indies birds and animals overlap the ranges of Amazonian species. The island's proximity to South America, coupled with the fact that in the past it was physically a part of the landmass of the continent, helps explain the huge variety of South American species which can be seen here, and often nowhere else in the Caribbean. It is a very special island indeed, and every morning for the remainder of our tour we will be waking in one of it's most spectacular birding locales - the world renowned Asa Wright Nature Centre. Located in the heart of the Arima Valley in the Northern Range of the island, the Eco Lodge is perfectly nestled within bands of primary and secondary rainforest and hence ideally placed to attract a plethora of bird species.
Indeed such is the sheer variety of wondrous South American species residing in this vast protected valley that many birders might well be content to sleep in a hovel and eat nothing but bread and butter for the duration of their stay. But after experiencing the comfort of Asa Wright's cottages, the unbelievable peace and tranquility of the bungalows set amongst brilliantly blooming tropical gardens, and sampling the delectable tastes of the award-winning meals (all of which, plus tea/biscuits and rum punch, are provided on a daily basis) one will be left in no doubt as to the degree of "sacrifice" which will have to be made in order to enjoy the species on offer.
A phenomenal four days await.
Upon arrival we are escorted to our cottages nestled within the very heart of the forest and following a siesta make our way to Asa Wrights unquestionable focal point - it's mythical verandah overlooking a rainforest that appears to stretch to the horizon. Here we spend the remainder of the afternoon. It may seem as though it would be difficult to stay on a verandah when there is a sweeping expanse of rainforest before you, but wait until you set foot on this verandah! There are visitors who stay at the lodge for a week and never leave this place. This truly is one of the most spectacular tropical wilderness experiences in the western hemisphere, if not the world. It is no exaggeration to state that here breathtakingly beautiful birds are quite literally at your fingertips. A mind boggling 13 species of hummingbird, each seeking out the life giving nectar of the brightly-coloured flowers and feeders dangling from the rooftops flip, zip and dance all around us. Skittish Long-billed Starthroats, dazzling Black-throated Mangos, pugnacious White-necked Jacobins and many others greet us at our every turn. Vibrant Yellow Orioles, hypnotic Purple Honeycreepers and splendid Violaceous Euphonias add to the swirling melee of tropical colours on show. Choose an elegant mahogany chair, sit back and soak it all in, we have all afternoon. As the shadows lengthen, afternoon tea, complete with selection of cake and brownies, will be brought to you and at 6 o'clock why not gravitate towards the bar for a complimentary rum punch to enjoy while watching the sun set on what truly will prove to be a day in paradise.
As we wake to a morning chorus of varied and wonderful birdsong we rendezvous at a reliable site for witnessing the aerial displays of male Tufted Coquettes. In a land of hummingbirds, this species is hard to beat. Elegant orange eartufts, punctuated by deepest green spherical orbs, a perky, fiery crest and a plucky demeanour that only fuels his popularity amongst his adoring public make this an encounter to savour.
After an extensive and delicious buffet breakfast we set out along the appropriately named Discovery Trail in search of such South American delights as Channel-billed Toucans, Green-backed, Guianan and Collared Trogons, endemic Trinidad Motmots, Golden-headed and White-bearded Manakins , antwrens, antshrikes, and a host of different species of brightly colored tanagers .
Hours of blissful birding while away, but as the trails all interconnect and surround the Lodge, we are never far from home, and can opt to head back to the peace and tranquillity of the verandah, or our cottages at any time. This being said, we all want to ensure that we are present and accounted for when it's time to take the half hour walk down to Dunston Cave.
On our way we are sure to keep a lookout for two of the the most abundant and popular non-bird species at the Lodge - the Red-rumped Agouti and impressive Golden Tegu Lizard.
However once at the entrance to the cave , the noise emanating from it's interior ensures we rapidly shift our focus back to birds, in preparation for an encounter with one of the most bizarre avian species you will encounter on the entire trip. The primary reason why the World Wildlife Fund made a large contribution to the establishment of the Asa Wright Centre in the 1960's was in order to protect one of the most accessible colonies of Oilbirds in the region, and we are about to come face to face with it. I won't go into too much detail as to the spectacle that awaits us, only to say that it is a truly unforgettable sight.
Tonight, dinner is followed by an optional exploratory night walk in search of species of owls and nightjars as well as a host of tree frogs and other nocturnal wildlife whose croaks, grunts and whistles all serve to add to the cacophony of calls so characteristic of evenings in the tropics.
After another morning waking to the wondrous calls of territorial Bearded Bellbirds and a colony of Crested Oropendolas we make our way by slow moving van along the winding, forest-lined Blanchisseuse Road, in the hopes of getting views of some truly astonishing species - from the hauntingly beautiful White Hawk, majestic Ornate Hawk Eagle and impressively coiffed Crimson-crested Woodpecker, to other more secretive forest dwellers like Streaked Xenops, Euler's Flycatcher, and the most coveted of all - the critically endangered Trinidad Piping Guan. When we eventually break cover, our eyes shift skyward in the hope of getting glimpses of those effortless manipulators of the air currents - Swallow-tailed Kites and Bat Falcons. After such a morning we will be in need of an equally impressive afternoon if we are to finish our tour on a high. Fortunately in the north west of the island, Trinidad has just such a location.
The knowledge that we are heading there is enough to make birders the world over green with envy. For our final phase of the tour we will be traveling to none other than the internationally-renowned Caroni Swamp (in 2015 renamed the Winston Nanan Caroni Bird Sanctuary)
We hire a comfortable flat-bottomed boat and begin our journey. To delve deep into the very heart of an established mangrove-dominated habitat in this manner is akin to being transported into a prehistoric ecosystem where everything appears to have been frozen in time. Mangroves have been on the planet for 250 million years and with their pattern of intricate aerial roots and interlaced overhead branches, the trees themselves almost appear to be shielding us in a protective embrace from the rigors and stresses of the modern world.
Unsurprisingly, the tranquility and sanctitude of such a place attracts an astonishing variety of birds and other wildlife; and dusk is the best time to see them. We encounter numerous herons, with possibly the most common being Little Blues and Tricoloureds, and the most secretive - Boat-billed Herons. Wattled Jacanas walk delicately across lilies, Red-capped Cardinals flit frantically from one mangrove branch to another, and roosting Tropical Screech-Owls patiently await the setting of the sun. In the skies above Short-tailed Hawks, Osprey and Yellow-headed Caracara effortlessly soar. However the swamp's inhabitants are by no means restricted to birds alone. It's banks are an ideal basking site for Spectacled Caiman, the mangroves' branches offer prime hunting for Cook's Tree Boa, and although Silky Anteaters and Crab-eating Raccoons share the Screech-Owls' fondness for nocturnal foraging, they can occasionally be seen during the day, securely curled up in the mangrove's embrace.
As the sun dips further in the sky, long-legged waders begin to fly in low over the water from the surrounding marsh; Cattle, Great, and Snowy Egrets, Little Blue and Tricolored Herons, and sometimes even a few Glossy Ibis arrive and serve to decorate the emerald-colored mangrove islands. But all of this serves as a precursor to the arrival of the Scarlet Ibis, and our bearing witness to a truly unforgettable sight. As we sit in our boat enjoying our rum punches and biscuits, the sky slowly begins to be patterned by the first few bright-red arrivals making their way towards us out of the east. But ones and twos soon give way to flocks of dozens of these resplendent birds, shifting and contorting in one rhythmic mass overhead, each individual negotiating the best approach to its preferred roost before nightfall.
Sitting, safely nestled within the extraordinary beauty and tranquillity of the Caroni Swamp, we watch as wave after wave of ibis slowly transform the dark green mangroves into soft hues of subtle pinks and vibrant reds; and it is here that we draw to a close our remarkable journey through the islands.
For a List of our Top 10 Target Species on Trinidad please click here and then scroll down through the list of islands to Trinidad
Flight back to St.Lucia and homeward journey.
Thank you for Birding the Islands with us!
The Bajan Birder
February 11th - 21st 2020 OR November 23rd - December 3rd
March 1st - 11th 2021
Number of species that will possibly be seen on this tour: 376
Number of endemics and near-endemics likely to be seen on this tour: 28
Number of species indigenous to the Lesser Antillean and South American region likely to be seen: 211
Number in Group: 10 - 12 clients + The Bajan Birder ( + additional leader if group is at maximum number of clients)
In Search of the Amazonas (excluding optional extension to Trinidad) US$ 3,375 per person (based on Double Room Occupancy Rates and full complement of 10 clients) (Single Supplement: $315)
In Search of the Amazonas(including extension to Trinidad) US$ 4,634 (based on Double Room Occupancy Rates and full complement of 10 clients) (Single Supplement: $831)
Included in Price: All flights between islands and internal ferry charges between islands, local taxes, airport departure taxes, all accommodations, pre-arranged food and drinks (non alcoholic), transport to and from destinations on the islands, park admission fees, local guides fees, hotel and restaurant service charges
Not Included in Price: Your flights to and from St. Lucia, extra charges incurred for overweight or additional pieces of luggage on international or internal flights; travel insurance; laundering services; alcoholic beverages (with the exception of complimentary rum punch at Asa Wright Nature Centre)
Terrain and Pace: We cover a diverse range of terrain on this trip, however there are no steep ascents and trails are primarily well maintained and relatively level. Any light to moderate ascents are conducted at a slow, steady pace with plenty of opportunities to rest along the way.