This trip was a family vacation aboard Princess Cruise Lines’ Princess Caribbean, leaving out of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The 7-day cruise offered all family members plenty to do and see, while affording me occasional opportunities to bird in different ports-of-call. This was the third Caribbean cruise we had taken and, once again, proved to be an excellent time for all.
Cruise ships offer the convenience of traveling without a lot of logistical worry, visiting a number of ports. The inclusion of transportation between ports, lodging, and most food eliminates a significant part of trip planning. My wife and children took ship-sponsored shore excursions at two ports (Jamaica and Grand Cayman Island). All of us took a ship-sponsored shore tour, leaving the island of Cozumel for the Mexican mainland.
Pre-trip birding planning followed similar approaches in the past: peruse trip reports, read various bird-finding guides, and surf the web a bit. Relevant bird-finding and field guides that I took with me on the cruise included:
- Birds of the West Indies by Herbert Raffaele, James Wiley, Orlando Garrido, Allan Keith, and Janis Raffaele, published by Princeton University Press (2003)
- Birds of Jamaica: A Photographic Field Guide by Audrey Downer and Robert Sutton, published by the University of Cambridge (1990)
- A Photographic Guide to Birds of the West Indies by G. Michael Flieg and Allan Sandler, published by Ralph Curtis Publishing (2000)
- A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America by Steve N.G. Howell and Sophie Webb, published by Oxford University Press (1995)
- A Field Guide to the Butterflies of the West Indies by Norman D. Riley, published by William Collins Sons & Co. (London) (1975)
Other books that I read prior to the trip included:
- A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies by Herbert Raffaele, James Wiley, Orlando Garrido, Allan Keith, and Janis Raffaele, published by Princeton University Press (1998)
- Birds of the West Indies by James Bond, part of the Peterson Field Guides series, published by Houghton Mifflin (1993)
- Where to Watch Birds in Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean by Nigel Wheatley and David Brewer, published by Princeton University Press (2001)
- A Birder’s Guide to the Bahamas (Including Turks and Caicos) by Anthony W. White, part of the ABA Birdfinding Guide series, published by the American Birding Association (1998)
- A Birder’s West Indies: An Island-by-Island Tour by Roland H. Wauer, published by University of Texas Press (1996)
I used the International Travel Map of Jamaica (scale 1:250,000), Second Edition published by International Travel Maps. This map was very useful in determining possible birding destinations in Jamaica.
The web has an amazing number of useful trip reports and site information available for downloading. Some of the websites that host trip reports or contain useful trip planning information include:
I also posted a Request for Information (RFI) on BirdChat several weeks before my trip began. I received a number of very helpful responses to my RFI. I would like to gratefully acknowledge those responses by Jane Barnette, James Remsen, Richard ZainEldeen, Marcia Balestri, and Stephen Greenfield.
I also sent email inquiries for guiding services to Brandon Hays for the Jamaica portion (email@example.com) and Geddes Hislop for Grand Cayman Island (firstname.lastname@example.org), based on recommendations by Richard ZainEldeen. Unfortunately, neither was available on my days in port. Geddes Hislop, however, did provide some useful current information for Grand Cayman. Since Brandon Hays was unavailable, I did a bit of internet research and decided to hire a car and driver in Jamaica. This worked out well and is discussed later in this report. I had previously birded Grand Cayman Island on a prior cruise and decided to rent a motor scooter for the day and bird by myself. This, too, worked out very well. I have no financial or personal interest in any of the guiding services or vendors mentioned in this report.
July 30, 2005 - Ft. Lauderdale Pretrip
We decided to visit Flamingo Gardens near the town of Davie before parking our car at Port Everglades and boarding the ship. Flamingo Gardens (not expensive) is located a few miles west of Port Everglades. We spent several hours at Flamingo Gardens, walking the paths and viewing the exhibits. There are numerous birds on display and the gardens are very nicely kept. I saw two nice butterflies on the grounds (there were plenty of others too): RUDDY DAGGERWING and JULIAN HELICONIA (male).
We left the gardens in the early afternoon and parked our car in the covered garage (nice!) at Port Everglades, just outside Fort Lauderdale, and boarded ship.
July 31, 2005 - Bahama Islands (Princess Cay)
During the night, the ship sailed to Princess Cay, a “private” island just off the southern coast of Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas. Princess Cruise Lines owns the island which is connected to the Eleuthera mainland by a short bridge, located just behind some buildings near the tender boat landing area. Princess Cay itself was overrun by cruise ship passengers, so my wife, daughter, and I headed across to the mainland, walking the dirt roads. There was very little development and almost no houses, just dirt roads winding through scrubby forest interspersed with tidal pools. There was very little shade and it was extremely hot. Bring lots of water!
The first birds seen were the Bahamian race of BANANAQUIT. These birds were abundant. A BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD flew up to perch on a utility wire to dine on a small lizard. Bahama Mockingbirds struck me as significantly larger than Northern Mockingbirds. A bit further up the road, a MANGROVE CUCKOO flew up from the ground to perch in a small tree. It too clutched a small lizard, which were numerous in the dry leaf litter under the trees. A male GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH was joined by a female. These birds were fairly commonly observed throughout the walk. Near some flowering shrubs along the road, a female BAHAMA WOODSTAR perched and gave nice views before zipping off into the scrub. Other birds seen along the walk included COMMON GROUND-DOVE, GRAY KINGBIRD, GULL-BILLED TERN, GREAT EGRET, THICK-BILLED VIREO, and BLACK-FACED GRASSQUIT. By mid-afternoon, the heat and sun had taken their toll and I headed back to the ship (and several ice cold beers).
August 2, 2005 - Jamaica
After spending a day at sea (no birds seen, but then I wasn’t looking too hard), we arrived at Ocho Rios, Jamaica. My wife and kids had a ship-sponsored shore excursion planned, which freed me up to bird the entire day. I had previously made arrangements with Carolyn Barrett of Barrett Adventures (www.barrettadventures.com) to drive me to Cranbrook Flower Forest (her suggestion) and then up into the mountains near Mount Diablo (my suggestion). I had read a number of trip reports and few of them mentioned any of these sites. I want to recommend hiring Carolyn Barrett (her rates are $20/hour for 1-2 persons) and doing a similar itinerary for anybody who has a day to spend in Ocho Rios. In the event that Barrett Adventures is booked up, there are other similar services available.
As I awaited my turn to disembark, I saw numerous CAVE SWALLOWS wheeling around the dock. Carolyn was waiting for me as soon as I disembarked. We were soon traveling along west along Highway A3 (which merges with A1) toward Cranbrook Flower Forest, a local botanical garden. The weather was sunny and warm. Carolyn is a font of information regarding Jamaica and I learned lots of interesting things.
We were the only tourists at Cranbrook Flower Forest. The gardens are beautifully maintained and attract numerous birds. My first bird there was an obliging WHITE-CHINNED THRUSH. Numerous RED-BILLED STREAMERTAILS buzzed the flowers. A nice JAMAICAN MANGO perched above a pond in perfect light. We walked a woodland trail that produced some excellent birds, including JAMAICAN WOODPECKER, LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD, ORANGEQUIT, OLIVE-THROATED (JAMAICAN) PARAKEET, JAMAICAN SPINDALIS, JAMAICAN TODY, and JAMAICAN EUPHONIA. A very nice start to the day and I was very glad that Caroline had recommended Cranbrook Flower Forest.
We headed up into the mountains, first stopping for Jamaican jerk lunch at a series of roadside stands near Faiths Pen. I had no specific directions for this area, so we decided to try to find a sideroad off the main highway (A1, which runs along the coast and then crosses the island) and see what we could find. We found a dirt road built by a bauxite mining company and followed it up, stopping at several places. This area reminded Caroline of the Haystack Hills in terms of geology and climate.
This area had numerous Jamaican specialties, which I soon saw, including (but not limited to) JAMAICAN BECARD, JAMAICAN VIREO, YELLOW-SHOULDERED GRASSQUIT, WHITE-EYED THRUSH, JAMAICAN CROW, SAD FLYCATCHER, JAMAICAN ORIOLE, and a stunning CHESTNUT-BELLIED CUCKOO. The Jamaican Crow has an amazing vocal repertoire.
Heading back to the ship, we stopped at a roadside stand for the obligatory souvenirs. Caroline had me back at the ship with time to spare. I highly recommend Caroline.
Back on board as we were leaving port, I saw a single ANTILLEAN PALM-SWIFT among the numerous Cave Swallows.
August 3, 2005 - Grand Cayman Island
We next visited Grand Cayman Island. It was hot, sunny, and breezy. My wife and kids took another ship-sponsored shore excursion, so I spent the day birding. I rented a motor scooter and headed out of town. I had previously visited Grand Cayman Island on another cruise, so had already seen the endemic Vitelline Warbler. I had a short list of four target species (Cuban Parrot, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, West Indian Whistling-Duck, and White-tailed Tropicbird) for the day. I saw three of them, dipping only on White-tailed Tropicbird.
The hurricanes of last year and this year had taken a toll on structures and vegetation, especially on the south side of the island. I headed east on the main highway, turning north on the connector highway after about ten miles. I then turned left on Mastic Road (small sign, be sure to watch for it) and followed it to the start of the Mastic Trail. This area had been mentioned in several trip reports as good for Cuban Parrot. The habitat around the trail head appeared to have been severely affected by the hurricanes with many downed trees. I walked the trail for about a quarter of a mile toward taller forest, but had to turn back because the trail was flooded. I thought I had seen two parrots flying toward the taller forest, but couldn’t be sure.
Returning to the connector highway, I turned left and continued north, turning left again at the northern highway (and then left again a few miles down the road), making my way toward Willie’s (Pig) Farm. After just a couple of miles, I saw two birds walking a dirt road off to my left. WEST INDIAN WHISTLING-DUCKS, one of my targets! Further down the road, there were at least several dozen ducks and I had terrific views.
I decided to travel east on the northern highway, going past the connector highway. I found a dirt road that seemed to go off a ways into the brush and took it. I came to a dead-end and parked the scooter. I soon had two very obliging LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHERS perching nearby; they seemed as curious about me as I was about them. This species had been somewhat of a nemesis for me and it was very gratifying to have extended views of these birds. I also saw the resident race of NORTHERN FLICKER, a species I had seen on my prior trip. It seems to be a very isolated population and could be a future split.
On the way back, I once again stopped at the start of the Mastic Trail. It was mid-afternoon and very hot. Just as I started to walk the trail again, two vocal CUBAN (ROSE-THROATED) PARROTS flew by and perched in a nearby dead tree. Sometimes the birding gods smile upon us. The views were spectacular. On the way back toward town, I passed another West Indian Whistling-Duck in a roadside swale along the road near the international airport. After turning in the scooter, there was still enough time to write postcards over several ice-cold beers.
August 4, 2005 - Yucatan
Today, we arrived at Cozumel, Mexico, and my family and I took a ship-sponsored shore excursion over to the Yucatan, visiting the Sian Kaan International Biosphere. Specifically, we were visiting the Muyil ruins within the park, which is huge. Some of the buildings at Playa del Carmen were still being repaired from a recent hurricane. As we traveled south, the damage from the hurricane became lessened.
I did casual birding on our guided tour at the ruins. Although I did not see anything new, I did have nice views of RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPER, BLUE-CROWNED MOTMOT, and EYE-RINGED FLATBILL.
August 5, 2005 - at sea
This was a day at sea as we headed back toward Fort Lauderdale. I did some casual birding from various decks during the day. In the late afternoon, I saw my last new bird of the trip as it crossed the bow: BRIDLED TERN.
West Indian Whistling-Duck
Olive-throated (Jamaican) Parakeet
Cuban (Rose-throated) Parrot
West Indian Woodpecker
La Sagra’s Flycatcher
Greater Antillean Bullfinch
Greater Antillean Grackle