My wife and I spent an incredible honeymoon in the US Virgin Islands from May 22'nd to the 27'th 2010. I am a crazy birder who was lucky enough to marry an amazing woman who loves to explore new places and go on crazy adventures with me! She would guide me to good spots with her smart phone, and we would hike. In the process, we founds some amazing, secluded beaches, a boat marina, a landfill, a good restaurant, boozy milkshakes (HIGHLY recommended!), and even a few birds. Since neither of us are into water sports like diving and snorkeling too much, we focused much of our attention exploring the land of the islands.
We stayed at the Green Iguana, a cute little hotel located in Charlotte Amalie, the territory capitol on St. Thomas. Our room had a spectacular view of the quaint, historical town below us, the beautiful harbor, and the surrounding hillsides. There was no pool or hotel restaurant, but it was perfect for us! Our rental car from the airport was sufficient to get us around on all of the curvy, steep, paved island roads. However, in one spot where we could have continued down a bad, dirt road, we turned around to avoid getting stuck. On St. John, our rental was four-wheel drive, but we never needed to use it as we stuck to the paved roads (we only walked the dirt ones).
May 22'nd, 2010 - DAY 1
We flew from Orlando, FL (where we live) and changed planes in Miami. We arrived at Cyril E King International Airport on St. Thomas after dark at about 8 PM, where we picked up our rental car and drove to our hotel. Since it was already after dark and we were hungry, we ate and hit the sack.
May 23'rd, 2010 - DAY 2
The next morning, I woke up early and went to the balcony. It was there I found my first lifer of the trip within minutes: PEARLY-EYED THRASHER. Other species seen over the next 30 minutes included MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD, LAUGHING GULL and BANANAQUIT. On my way to pay for our hotel room (we had arrived too late to officially check in the night before) I found an ANTILLEAN CRESTED HUMMINGBIRD foraging for nectar. The Green Iguana is aptly named: they're everywhere on the tiny grounds, as they are all over the islands.
When my wife got up, we walked down the famous 99 Steps to the historic heart of Charlotte Amalie. We had breakfast, and then we enjoyed a great morning of exploring the quaint town on foot. Of course, I had my binoculars with me, and I was able to add several species to the trip list: SCALY-NAPED PIGEON, GREEN HERON, BROWN PELICAN, GRAY KINGBIRD, ROYAL TERN, ZENAIDA DOVE and BLACK-FACED GRASSQUIT to name a few.
After our hot, full-on-sun walk, we decided to hit the beach. We drove to Magen's Bay, on the north side of the island. Magen's Bay was beautiful! It is small enough to walk the entire beach without too much effort, and the rocks that line the east end of the bay are great to scramble along, as I did (and the bay is shallow enough to walk along beside the rocks if you don't want to scramble, as my wife did). Just beware of the unnoficial nude beach as you get further along on the eastern part of the bay! We didn't know about that!! The walk was still great and birds such as WHITE-WINGED DOVE, ROSEATE TERN, BROWN BOOBY, GREEN-THROATED CARIB, and BROWN-THROATED PARAKEET were new for the trip. We also saw our first of several introduced mongooses! On our way back to town, we stopped and bought the yummy, boozy milkshakes at a small ice cream place along the road.
May 24'th, 2010 - DAY 3
We arose very early on Monday morning to drive over to Red Hook on the eastern end of St. Thomas. From there, we caught a ferry to St. John. When we arrived at Cruz Bay (at about 8 AM), we scrambled to find a rental car, eventually renting a jeep from a guy in a shack with a photocopied contract who wanted us to have the car back by 4 PM.
Once we got driving, we headed to the Reef Bay Trail, in the heart of Virgin Islands National Park. The hike is 4 miles round trip, down most of the way there, and up most of the way back. We packed a lunch and had a picnic on the beach where the trail ended before hiking back up. We were on the trail for only a few minutes when a BRIDLED QUAIL-DOVE landed on the path only several yards ahead! We both got spectacular views of this beautiful bird. We ended up seeing a few more on our way down and back. Other new trip birds along the walk were SMOOTH-BILLED ANI, BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO and LESSER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH. PEARLY-EYED THRASHERS and BANANAQUITS were very common along the trail. We also had our first (heard-only at this point) encounter with MANGROVE CUCKOOS.
We were back in our car at about 1:30 PM, and we continued to explore the island's roads. We drove to Coral Bay on the east side of the island, encountering herds of wild donkeys and goats along the way. A nice patch of mangroves near Coral Bay produced WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAIL, WILSON'S PLOVER, BLACK-NECKED STILTS and the trip's only YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON. We drove on to Francis Bay, where we walked the trail (boardwalk through the mangroves) and found some great birds: more WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAILS and BLACK-NECKED STILTS, plus CLAPPER RAIL, GRAY KINGBIRD, YELLOW WARBLER, and more heard-only MANGROVE CUCKOOS.
We returned our rental car in Cruz Bay at about 3:15, and after taking shelter from the rain under the overhanging of a town building, we hiked to Solomon Beach along the Lind Point Trail. It was another beautiful walk full of birds we had already seen, and still more heard-only MANGROVE CUCKOOS (are you detecting a theme??).
When the sun set, we had a delicious dinner in Cruz Bay at Margarita Phil's, a Caribbean/Mexican place, got some ice cream for dessert, and walked back to the ferry which took us "home" to St. Thomas.
May 25, 2010 - DAY 4
We slept in on Tuesday morning after the day full of hiking and sun the day before. We emerged at lunchtime and explored Charlotte Amalie a little more.
At 1:30, we hopped in our car and set out to explore "the rest" of St. Thomas. We took all the back roads we hadn't taken in the island's interior, and a few along the coast. At one beach we stopped for a quick 20-minute swim, the trip's only RED-FOOTED BOOBY flew right by. We stopped at a few spectacular views along the island's spine, but the day's best find was Botany Bay, on the island's very non-touristy western end. This is a gated community where there are a few wealthy homes built, and a planned resort that hasn't begun construction. The residents don't want people driving, but the guard at the gate said we were welcome to walk down to the beach. We walked a paved road and sidewalk for about a mile down, not seeing a single building, vehicle or person. We had the most picture perfect beach I've ever seen entirely to ourselves. We went for a quick swim, with BROWN PELICANS diving for fish just a little ways off. A good assortment of birds were seen along the walk: SCALY-NAPED PIGEON, BLACK-FACED GRASSQUIT, BANANAQUIT, ZENAIDA DOVE, COMMON GROUND-DOVE, CARIBBEAN MARTIN, AMERICAN KESTREL, LESSER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH, NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD, WHITE-WINGED DOVE, GRAY KINGBIRD, and finally a seen-very-well MANGROVE CUCKOO!!
By the time we were back to our car, the sun had almost set. We made our way back to our hotel, picking up some fast food fried chicken for dinner!
May 26, 2010 - DAY 5
For our last full day, we headed to 500 acre Water Island via a ferry. There is a beach there called Honeymoon Beach, so we just couldn't resist! We arrived on the island at about 10 AM. Water Island has no passenger cars. It is mostly a secluded, residential island with nice homes and paved roads that the residents traverse by walking, biking or golf carts. Becky and I hiked the length of it in about 2 hours, starting at the Botanical Gardens in the north and ending at the ruins of the World War 2 era military fort on the island's southern end. The star bird of the day was the trip's only CARIBBEAN ELEANIA, but other highlights included SCALY-NAPED PIGEON, ZENAIDA DOVE, BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO, PEARLY-EYED THRASHER, BLACK-FACED GRASSQUIT, YELLOW WARBLER, SMOOTH-BILLED ANI and AMERICAN KESTREL.
After eating lunch and spending a couple hours on the beach, we arrived back at St. Thomas at about 3:30. We drove back towards Magen's Bay because we wanted one more boozy milkshake each! On the way back to our hotel room, we stopped along the high ridge that over looks Charlotte Amalie to take pictures. As we were enjoying the breathtaking view, the honeymoon's only RED-TAILED HAWK came soaring right overhead. It was a great final bird species for the trip.
May 27, 2010 - DAY 6
Not too much birding was done this day. It rained most of the time, and we spent most of our time indoors before our flights back to Miami and Orlando.
The list is below, but a few quick notes first. Our biggest misses were probably White-Crowned Pigeon and the supposedly common Red-Billed Tropicbirds. I was also surprised by how uncommon Smooth-Billed Anis and Black-Whiskered Vireos were. Pearly-Eyed Thrasher was very abundant, so I'm wondering if it has impacted these species negatively.
Overall, it was a great trip. Even though it neither has endemics nor a huge breeding bird list, don't forget your binoculars on a trip to the US Virgin Islands. First-time Caribbean visitors will easily get a few lifers, even if it's only a 6-hour stop on a cruise ship. The habitats are very accessible and the birds are mostly confiding and a lot of fun! Plus the entire place is beautiful with great food. How can you beat that?
We saw a total of 41 species, including 11 lifers(*)
Little Blue Heron
Antillean Crested Hummingbird*