Cayman Islands: Queen Elizabeth Botanic Park on Grand Cayman (QE), Mastic Trail on Grand Cayman (MT), Cayman Brac (CB) - 1st - 3rd July 2011

Published by Frank Rheindt (frankrheindt AT


This was a quick Independence Day vacation (an afternoon and 2 full days) with easy morning birding thrown in. All birds of interest on Grand Cayman can be seen at the Queen Elizabeth Botanic Park (Vitelline Warbler, Thick-billed and Yucatán Vireo, Cuban Bullfinch, the Amazon etc), and we found this area more rewarding than the Mastic Trail. They open quite late (9am), but all the endemics could be seen at the gate area at dawn, with easy views of Caribbean Doves walking on pavement (early visit recommended).

A one-day side excursion to the Brac added exciting endemic subspecies. Amazons on these islands can be a bit variable in coloration, but we were unable to discern a noticeable difference between the range of variation seen in Brac versus Grand Cayman birds. The Brac-endemic hesterna Amazon has mtDNA that is nested with Cuban birds, not with caymanensis birds from Grand Cayman (Russello et al. 2010; Conservation Genetics), but even so, the divergence times in this study are based on a fast-evolving locus and indicate a very recent separation of the Grand Cayman taxon caymanensis.

The songbirds on the Brac turned out to be much more interesting. The thrush has lost all its natural shyness and came picking up scraps from our beach table and singing in the mid-day heat. This form has been shown to be closely related to Cuban populations of the Red-legged Thrush, which – in turn – are very distinct in plumage and DNA from the “Eastern Red-legged Thrush” on Hispaniola and Puerto Rico (Ricklefs & Bermingham 2008; Auk).

The biggest surprise on the Brac was the local Vitelline Warbler (crawfordi), which looked paler yellow than the Grand Cayman one and sounded quite distinct. While we only ever heard one song type on Grand Cayman (three ascending raspy notes followed by a lower-pitched one), the birds on the Brac gave several different versions, but never exactly the one we’d heard on Grand Cayman: most often, Brac birds would replace the three short ascending notes with one long ascending note, while still giving the final lower-pitched note. But on occasion we heard them give 1 to 2 ½ ascending notes without ever following up with the lower-pitched one. Our vocal sample size during one day is not that large, but I do think these differences would be robust once thoroughly analyzed.

Unfortunately, our flights to/from the Brac did not stop over at Little Cayman, so we ended up missing the Red-footed Booby colony and the Little Cayman subspecies of the Grackle. Little Cayman is within sight distance from the Brac, but all the boobies seen while scanning were regular Brown Boobies.

Species List:

(1) Brown Booby (CB only; constantly present at coastline in 1-3 individuals)
(2) Magnificent Frigatebird (both Grand Cayman and CB with few individuals)
(3) Great Blue Heron (1 CB),
(4) Mangrove Heron (1 at lake near Willie’s Pig Farm on North Side of Grand Cayman),
(5) Little Blue Heron (1 CB),
(6) Cattle Egret (many CB),
(7) Tricolored Heron (few CB; many Grand Cayman),
(8) Night-Heron spec. (CB 1),
(9) Snowy Egret (few Grand Cayman; many CB),
(10) West Indian Whistling-Duck (CB c. 6),
(11) Common Moorhen (Grand Cayman and CB),
(12) Common Stilt (CB and Grand Cayman),
(13) Willet (CB c. 4),
(14) Least Tern (c. 2 at lake near Willie’s Pig Farm on North Side of Grand Cayman),
(15) White-crowned Pigeon (c. 20 sightings each on CB and Grand Cayman),
(16) Zenaida Dove (only 2-3 QE; common CB),
(17) White-winged Dove (common both islands; on CB a flock of c. 40 flying out east into Caribbean),
(18) Common Ground-Dove (common both islands),
(19) Caribbean Dove (1+1 QE coming in to whistled imitation in the morning),
(20) Rose-throated Amazon (caymanensis: several sightings of 2-3 individuals, mostly overflying, but three good perched sightings and photos at MT, QE and in between the latter two; hesterna: 2 sightings of 2 each, including photos, perched by roadside on bluff in CB),
(21) Smooth-billed Ani (both islands),
(22) Antillean Nighthawk (a few individuals on both islands, always with full display of vocalizations),
(23) Northern Flicker (several QE & MT; very impressively spotted all over and looking quite distinct from North American yellow-shafted ones),
(24) West Indian Woodpecker (several QE & MT),
(25) Gray Kingbird (both islands, but more common on CB),
(26) Loggerhead Kingbird (widespread on both islands with occasional sightings, usually further outside settled areas than previous species),
(27) La Sagra’s Flycatcher (c. 7 sightings at MT and QE),
(28) Caribbean Elaenia (most common small songbird on both islands),
(29) Northern Mockingbird (most common bird on both islands),
(30) Western Red-legged Thrush (common on CB, including around hotel tables),
(31) Thick-billed Vireo (1+1 QE; 1 CB),
(32) Yucatán Vireo (3-4 QE),
(33) Yellow Warbler (a few scattered sightings over Grand Cayman),
(34) Vitelline Warbler (vitellina: 3 seen well and photographed at QE, but heard more widely on Grand Cayman; crawfordi: seen on bluff and on south-west coast of CB, but heard more widely; vocally variable crawfordi seemed to differ in song from the nominate taxon: the latter has three ascending notes followed by a lower-pitched one, while crawfordi either has one long ascending note (rather than three short ones) followed by the descending one, or a series of 2 – 2 ½ ascending ones without any subsequent descending note)
(35) Bananaquit (both islands)
(36) Western Spindalis (common at QE entrance)
(37) Greater Antillean Grackle (common on Grand Cayman)
(38) Cuban Bullfinch (a few at MT and QE each)
(39) Yellow-faced Grassquit (a few on both islands)