Thursday, 18 February 2016

A week in St Lucia

Clare and I are recently back from a relaxing week in St Lucia, in the Lesser Antilles. She was on holiday, while I was leading the Ornitholidays group. The profile of the island is dominated by twin volcanic plugs, called Pitons, that rise sharply out of the Caribbean. Here only one is visible: the other is directly behind it. 

Our resort, Anse Chastenet, is on the west coast. It has two beaches, including this quiet and little used one, Anse Mamin. Good birding is available right there, including two endemic species, St Lucia Warbler and St Lucia Pewee. Our room had views over the sea and across to the Pitons. 

 A number of birds could be enticed to our verandahs with a few crumbs liberated from the breakfast buffet. Boldest are Lesser Antillean Bullfinches and Bananaquits, but with patience this shy Grey Trembler was tempted away from its usual diet of fruit and small lizards. The trembler is so-called as it quivers its wings as if in excitement. In family terms, it is a thrasher, related to mockingbirds. 

On three days we had early starts with picnic breakfasts, guided by one of the top birders on the island, aptly named Vision. Here we are on the Des Cartier Rainforest Trail, where Vision is explaining the importance of some of the rainforest trees. In particular, we were keen to see the national bird, the St Lucia Parrot. The island has six endemic species of birds, which can all be seen fairly easily in the company of a good naturalist guide.

After finding shelter from a passing shower, our driver Sherman summoned us back along the trail to watch a pair of parrots that he found. At their low point, in 1975, the parrots declined to about 150 birds. A national campaign and education programme persuaded islanders to protect them and their nesting trees, and made it illegal to keep them as pets. Now there are over a thousand birds, and all the schoolchildren know about 'Jacquot.'

On another day out with Vision, we watched Magnificent Frigatebirds and this Red-billed Tropicbird flying around the southernmost point of the island. Tropicbirds were always a welcome sight to seamen in the sailing ship days, since they rarely fly more than a day's sailing from land. One morning we took a boat out from the resort, where we found a school of Pantropical Spotted Dolphins, many Brown Boobies, plus one Red-footed Booby and two wintering Pomarine Skuas. 

The afternoons were for relaxing, or exploring the coral reef just off our two beaches. Here a Yellowtail Damselfish swims past Yellow Tube-Sponges. Among the brain corals, sea-fans, sea-plumes and giant clams swam a great diversity of fish, in many shapes, sizes and colours. In addition to Clare's and my photos, many thanks to Eoin Hanley and Sue Goodyer for the others. 


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