My wife and I spent from March 27 – April 4, 2008 in the Lesser Antilles. The trip was a combined relaxing vacation with several excursions to try and find the Lesser Antillean endemics. We visited four islands (Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Dominica).
I would strongly recommend seeing each subspecies on every island you visit. With the current momentum of splitting, many of the Lesser Antillean island subspecies are likely to be elevated to species status. Example: each of the four islands we visited has its own subspecies of House Wren and all four look and sound different (and habitat requirements are much different for several of these subspecies).
This trip report will focus on the Dominica portion of the trip. Our main targets were the two endemic parrots plus Plumbeous Warbler and Blue-head Hummingbird. The primary location for these species (at least the main location that people go to look for these two species) is the Syndicate Estate. The area is easily accessed from Portsmouth.
Primary Locations: Syndicate Estate
We arrived at the Mellville Hall (DOM) airport at 8:45am on a LIAT flight direct from St. Lucia on April 3. We spent one night. We birded the Syndicate Estate on the afternoon of April 3 and morning of April 4. We had major problems with rain during our time on the island and were very fortunate to get the two endemics.
Birds and Reference material:
Dominica has two endemic species (Red-necked Parrot and Imperial Parrot). Additionally, Blue-headed Hummingbird only occurs on Dominica and Martinique. Plumbeous Warbler only occurs on Dominica and Guadeloupe. The Dominica House Wren is split by some experts.
We used the field guide “Birds of the West Indies” by Herbert Raffaele and others, published in 2003. It adequately depicts the expected species. We also had the CD, Bird Songs of the Antilles, “Oiseaux des Antilles”. Realize that most of this CD is in French but the names are also provided in English. We downloaded the CD to our MP3 player and brought a small speaker so that we could tape in species
We were self guided for the entire time on Dominica. Bertrand Baptiste is a recommended guide (email@example.com).
Timing of the trip:
The dry season is from January to April and I understand that April is the best time to visit the island. July through November is the hurricane season. Locals were commenting on the unusual amount of rain that was occurring before and during our visit.
Dominica has two airports. Melville Hall (DOM) airport is on the northeast part of the island and Canefield (DCF) airport is on the southwest portion of the island near Roseau. The official language is English.
Driving and Rental Car:
Driving is on the left side of the road and the vehicles have the steering wheel on the right side of the car. Driving was similar to St. Lucia (much easier than St. Vincent or Grenada). The drive up to Syndicate Reserve is steep in several locations (especially after the initial turn off the main road). These steep sections may require a 4WD. A small 2 wheel drive may have trouble (especially if the road were wet), but you would almost certainly make it. I never needed 4WD and drove in heavy rain.
Budget has a rental car office at the airport. I rented from Courtesy Car Rental which had better rates (email: firstname.lastname@example.org website: www.avirtualdominica.com/courtesycarrental Melville Hall phone: 767-445-7677. Gas was expensive (US $ 13.15/gallon). Gas stations are not common and I only saw two. One gas station was one on the south side of Portsmouth (just after the bridge over the Indian River). The other was on the north side of the road between the Melville Hall airport and Calibishie (near Wesley). I am not sure of the gas station’s hours of operation. I did have to get a Dominica driver’s license (US $12.00 as Dominica does not recognize the AAA International Driver’s License).
I picked up the Skyviews map of Dominica in the airport (also available at our hotel). It is adequate for the areas of interest.
Taxis and local transportation:
Taxis appeared less common than other Lesser Antillean Islands. I am not sure if you can get to Syndicate Reserve by public transport.
Currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (EC). We never exchanged money as we had enough EC dollars prior to arrival. The locals gave an exchange rate of EC $2.6 = US $1.
Hotels and Food:
We stayed at the Calibishie Lodges. We booked (US $105/night) on their website www.calibishie-lodges.com/ phone: 1-767-317-1843 or 767-445-8537. It is in the town of Calibishie. It is a nice place (with a kitchen) and I would recommend it, but its location is not good for birding the Syndicate Reserve. I would recommend staying in Portsmouth (for ease of driving). The drive from Calibishie to Portsmouth is about 30 minutes.
Syndicate Nature Reserve: This is the best location for the two endemic parrots. You must purchase a nature pass to visit the reserve. This can be purchased in Portsmouth and at the Syndicate Nature Reserve visitor center. The directions are straightforward. Go south from Portsmouth for several kilometers (about 6km?), and the turn from the main road is on your left (it is signed). The road goes inland (east) and goes uphill (very steep). You will stay on this road until you get to the visitor center. There are some small side roads off the main road, but continuing on the main road will ultimately get you to the visitor center. It is signed along the way. The nature center is at the end of the road.
Dominica has a departure tax to leave the island (EC $55). It is payable as you check in to depart at the airport. You get the best rate by paying the departure tax in EC$.
Weather & Clothing:
April is the “dry” season on Dominica. However, we suffered a significant amount of rain on both our afternoon and morning there. You should bring an umbrella and/or raingear.
Mosquitoes were not a problem in any place that we went. We never saw a snake. We had no problems with ticks or leeches.
If you are planning a trip purely for birding and want to see the two endemics, you need to spend at least one night (arrive around noon, spending all afternoon and the following morning at Syndicate Reserve, then departing the following afternoon). The Imperial Parrot can be difficult so two nights is generally recommended. The Red-necked Parrot is easy at the Syndicate Reserve as is Plumbeous Warbler. You should be able to see Blue-headed Hummingbird along the last 1km of the road to the visitor center. We missed Forest Thrush (likely because of the rainy weather), perhaps if we had another day, we may have found it.
Brown Pelican: Portsmouth Bay
Magnificent Frigatebird: around 15 in Portsmouth Bay
Great Egret: Portsmouth
Cattle Egret: multiple locations
Osprey: flying over Calibastries
Broad-winged Hawk: three at Syndicate Reserve, subspecies rivierei
Laughing Gull: Portsmouth Bay
Scaly-naped Pigeon: multiple locations
Zenaida Dove: common
Common Ground-Dove: common
Red-necked Parrot: easily seen at Syndicate Reserve
Imperial Parrot: one on the first afternoon at Syndicate Reserve, initially heard calling and then located along the main road just before the visitor center (I was within sight of the visitor center parking area when I first heard it). Most report seeing it from the parrot overlook in the reserve along the trail. With the rainy weather, we were very, very fortunate to get this bird.
Smooth-billed Ani: several in lowlands
Black Swift: one in foothills south of Berne
Lesser Antillean Swift: I had a lot of trouble with this species as we missed it on both St. Lucia and St. Vincent. We missed it on our first afternoon at Syndicate Reserve as well as the next morning at Syndicate Reserve. Remarkably (after thinking that we had missed it for our trip), we had 4 different groups for a total of 26 birds on the drive from Calibastries to the airport on the afternoon of our departure from the Lesser Antilles.
Purple-throated Carib: common at higher elevations
Green-throated Carib: lower elevations
Antillean Crested Hummingbird: lowlands and highlands
Blue-headed Hummingbird: one male and one female on road before visitor center at Syndicate Reserve
Ringed Kingfisher: along the Indian river (you can hire locals to take you up the river in a small boat at the bridge over the river in Portsmouth)
Caribbean Elaenia: common
Lesser Antillean Pewee: one in foothills
Gray Kingbird: common
Lesser Antillean Flycatcher: around the visitor center at Syndicate Reserve, subspecies oberi
House Wren: subspecies rufescens, along trails at Syndicate Reserve
Brown Trembler: common along the main road before the visitor center at Syndicate Reserve, subspecies rifucauda
Scaly-breasted Thrasher: multiple locations
Pearly-eyed Thrasher: multiple locations
Rufous-throated Solitaire: one singing along trail behind visitor center at Syndicate Reserve, subspecies dominicanus
Red-legged Thrush: one at Syndicate Reserve, subspecies albiventris
Black-whiskered Vireo: common
Antillean Euphonia: two birds along main road near visitor center at Syndicate Reserve, flavifrons
Plumbeous Warbler: common along main road before visitor center at Syndicate Reserve
Black-faced Grassquit: common
Lesser Antillean Bullfinch: common, subspecies dominicana
Lesser Antillean Saltator: several in lower elevation scrub on road up to Syndicate Reserve
Carib Grackle: common, subspecies guadeloupensis