REPORT NO. 14 OF THE LUTMAN'S TROPICS 2000 TRIP
It's 9:30 am, and we're driving back down to the airport when Sharon says, "What I'm not noticing is all the Black Vultures that we saw on Trinidad," and then we come around a corner and see this "kettle" of perhaps fifty Magnificent Frigatebirds. They are swirling around in the same direction, rising to the top, spilling over and dropping down again. Like a whirlpool washing machine.
There is an incredible thing that goes on here. To call it hitchhiking would be totally inadequate. It's more like a transportation system. It happens as often as you see people board buses in the U.S. As a Tobagonian (or whatever), you stand on the road, and when you see a car coming, you either point at the ground in front of you, or you point down the road in the direction the car is heading towards. Sometimes you hold your hand out palm up, Vanna White fashion, and generally aim down the road. Next, the car stops about 90% of the time to pick up whoever wants to ride. Now much of the time, it's a pickup truck, and the people (even the women) just climb into the back. The guy races down the road at 50 miles an hour, not slowing down or trying extra-hard to miss the potholes. The riders just bounce around in the back. It's remarkable.
We never pick up anybody because of another thing that goes on. That is that most of the young men are carrying machetes. This seems to be sort of like saying "I'm available for work," since so much work here is keeping roads clear by chopping back the plant growth. Anyway, I can't bring myself to pick up a stranger carrying a machete. But we also couldn't resist buying one ourselves. We'll be the only ones on our block to have our own machete. Have any plants you want cut back?
We make it to the airport, drop off our car, pay our departure tax of $100 TT each, and wait for our plane. About a half-hour before loading time, an official comes around saying "Boarding passes please," so I give him ours, he rips them off, and returns the stubs. I stick them away.
Twenty minutes later they call our plane and we get up to the gate, and the same guy says, "Boarding pass please." Excuse me? "You just took it," I say, in a mild stupor. "Boarding passes," he repeats. I dig out the stub again, and he looks at it, and lets us go. Good one.
We land in Grenada 25 minutes later. Some get off, some get on and we take off again. Another 25 minutes or so later, we land on Barbados, and everybody has to get off as this flight terminates here. We lug off our carryon bags, and a helpful Liat worker tells us that our connection flight to St. Lucia will leave from Gate 9. "Excellent," I say, then turn and see that the terminal that we have to walk to is about (conservatively) about 100 miles away. Well maybe 300 yards. We struggle up there and enter. At least it's air-conditioned. After we get seated, I ask a lady at a metal detector where Gate 9 is. She points down to exactly where we have come from, and says, "Down there at the end."'
Forty minutes later, they call our flight to St. Lucia and we walk the Green Mile again. We wait a bit down there, and finally get on board, and off we go for another short island hop.
At 4:36pm, we are in the parking lot at St. Lucia's Vigie Airport, right in the city of Castries.
We have a beautiful new car rented from Hertz (although it isn't the new Vatare SUV we have reserved), and they check us out on everything. Everything except the A/C, that is. As I get in, preparing to drive up to the terminal and pick up Sharon and the luggage, I turn on the A/C, but it doesn't cool off
I walk back to Hertz, and the girl who signed us in tries to get it to work. Her: "It's starting to cool off," as she puts her hand in front of the warm dash vent. I look at her and say, "No, it's not," which it isn't in any manner.
Then she brings me back to the office, checks, and finds that this is the last car they have that has all the stuff we want. "Now WHY do you think you want air-conditioning?" the same girl asks. Her point being that since we went through ALL that paperwork, I should just go ahead and take this one.
My head begins to spin, "Can you rent one from one of the other companies here and give us that one?" "Yes," she said, which meant no, in this case. They tear up my contract and Visa bill (or say they do anyway), and send me to Economy Rental Car. There, we get the car we want, for less money, though it's an older car with a repaired dented left fender.
We drive more or less straight to our hotel, check in, move in, and marvel at the fact that this place has a TV! Sharon is tickled pink.
We decide to find the beach to see what's there, and drive around a little. We locate what appears to be the public access parking lot and do a slow drive-through. On the way out, Sharon notices a bird through a fence, on the grass, and has us stop. We check it out, and it's a dove of some kind. It is similar to a Mourning Dove, but has a white wing patch. We check the book, and get our first St. Lucia lifer -- a ZENAIDA DOVE*. There will be many more during our stay.
We go down to Domino Pizza, about one-half block away, and order pizza plus some Coke. Semi-civilization.
I call Donald Anthony, Assistant Chief Forestry Officer for St. Lucia, to see if we can hire him as a birder guide. I have traded emails with him once, a couple of months ago, and he said to give him a call.
We would be out of luck except that Monday is Labor Day holiday here, and he won't be working, so he's available. But for today, he suggests a nature trail near the local Mini-Zoo, perhaps only four or five miles from here.
We will do that tomorrow (Sunday), then Donald will be our guide on Monday.
Lifer Today: Zenaida Dove, not particularly handsome or remarkable, and all over the place
Totals: Today 1, St. Lucia 1, Trip 149+1, = 150
8:26 am, and we have slept in. I look out our front sliding glass door, and can see the swimming pool. We pack up to go birding on our own, but have breakfast in the hotel dining room first, and charge it to our room, number St. Thomas.
There is a nice breeze blowing after breakfast, as we pull out onto the road, passing Domino's Pizza.
Sharon spots Gray Kingbirds on the wires during the drive. We poke around and finally find the Goodwill Charles Forestry Nature Center and Mini-Zoo, then easily find the start of the nature walk. But the old groundskeeper says we need a permit. I ask if we can buy a permit from him, and he checks inside, comes back out and says $4 US. There doesn't seem to be another soul around. We have $3.80 and ask if that would be OK. He says the coins are no good, then goes and (we presume) checks the exchange rate to decide if $3.00 US will be ok. He scratches his head, then goes and gets a lady named Mary, who is in charge of the caged animals in the mini-zoo. She talks to us a while, then says $3 will be ok.
We start on the trail and Sharon immediately spots a LESSER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH*, all black but with a dark red throat and undertail coverts. This male also has a female mate with him, a bird with mixed brown colors. Both birds sort of swish back and forth, left and right, staying in position. We later learn that this, even better than the colors, is the mark of the Bullfinch. They are a busy, friendly little bird, and we see them throughout our St. Lucia stay.
Having done that in the first ten feet of the walk, we take two more steps, when our first St. Lucia hummer shows himself, a GREEN-THROATED CARIB*. The wings appear black, but in the right light, you can see the emerald green throat. Then we make maybe three more steps, and another hummer flies in, lands, facing towards us. It has a light neck and chest, with dark undertail coverts. It turns its head, and we both see the crest of this ANTILLEAN CRESTED HUMMINGBIRD*. The crest looks very smart.
We see a few Bananaquits (they always seem to come in BUNCHES), and then at 10:22 am, Sharon spots a bird that's dark brown above, light underparts, tail sort of cocked up and even leaning a little towards the front, like a wren. The amazing part is that frequently he will stop where he is and just shake, as if having a seizure or something. And that's where the TREMBLER* gets its name. The field guide says this bird is readily identified by that feature. It's supposed to be rather hard to find, but they hadn't figured on Sharon being the spotter.
Ten more steps and I see a bird whose picture I've studied, along with another who looks almost identical. They are the Scaly-breasted Thrasher and the Pearl-eyed Thrasher. The Scaly-breasted has a short, dark brown bill, and so that's what this one is -- a SCALY-BREASTED THRASHER.
We hear a mixture of tweets and ticks next, and Sharon thinks it's a hummer. I think it's several Bananaquits, so we're SPLIT over these birds' ID till we see them.
Suddenly we see two male bullfinches leap off a branch and sort of grab onto each other, then we think we're mistaken because we just watch a big dark leaf spin to the ground, but -- the leaf separates back into two Bullfinches just before hitting the ground. Some sort of spinning sparring.
It's Sunday morning, and at 11:14 am, we're listening to a lot of yelling and commotion, and we figure it's some sort of revival church, because there's a whole lotta shaking going on (and it's not the Trembler).
We hear a nice whistled call over and over, but we can't get an eye on it. I record it, hoping to play it for our guide tomorrow, and we move on.
We are on the upper part of the loop trail now, and we keep hearing an unusual sound. Sharon is in the lead, and turns around to look at me. "Cuckoo?" she mouths. "Frog," I say. She turns around and we continue our slow, silent walk. More frog sounds, but now a little different, louder and more pronounced. "THAT's a cuckoo," says Sharon. I shake my head. "Frog," I say. "I don't know..." says Sharon, and again we continue. Suddenly a bird flies in, just in front of us and we sight what I first ID as a Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo (OK, so I thought it was a frog first. Sue me), but later I check the NGS Field Guide, and it's a perfect Mangrove Cuckoo, responding smartly to Sharon's distress squeaks. Mine don't even phase it, but Sharon's makes him jump.
We fnish up our walk, and hear the pitter patter of raindrops on the forest canopy. We return to the beginning, and see several caged St. Lucia Parrots in the zoo. We try to fasten the colors in our minds to use when we see a wild one.
On the way out, we get a pair of Black-whiskered Vireos, and then we head back to our motel. We need to do some grocery shopping. We stop at JQ's, and a fellow walking out tells us that it's closed. It's 1:03 pm, and on Sundays it closes at 1:00. Other days it's 9 to 9. Dohp! I don't hear this next conversation, but a fellow tells Sharon that there is a smaller grocery store down the road about a quarter of a mile on the left.
We drive around a bit this afternoon, get some KFC for lunch, and later head out for this other grocery store after Sharon tells me about it. We get there at 4:05 pm, and it has closed at 4:00. Shar-on.
And tomorrow's a holiday so neither one will be open.
Lifers Today: Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, Green-throated Carib, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Trembler, Scaly-breasted Thrasher, Streaked Saltator (heard)
1. Green-throated Carib (very dark hummer. Wings appear dark in all but direct sunlight, head brilliant green, throat green),
2. Antillean Crested Hummingbird (sparkling green crest blows about in the wind).
Most Difficult Bird: Streaked Saltator identified later (Could NOT locate that bird, even though it sat and called endlessly in the top of a tree)
Most Remarkable Bird: Trembler (Very frequently shakes his whole body, as if he were in an earthquake. You especially notice the tail shaking. Often sits with tail cocked so far up, that it's pointing a little forward)
Totals: Today 6, St. Lucia 1+6= 7, Trip 150+7 = 156
We've gotten some of the good St. Lucia birds on our own, but there are some that are only in the rainforest, and Donald Anthony will hopefully help us with them tomorrow.
Sharon and Bob
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