REPORT NO. 15 OF THE LUTMAN'S TROPICS 2000 TRIP
Alarm off at 4:00 am. We have a banana and some orange juice (which we ordered from the restaurant last evening and stored in our room's refrigerator). Then we pack up our gear, and go to the front to wait for...
Donald Anthony, premier birder, who picks us up at 5:00 am.
We learn later in the day that he doesn't keep a life list, but he's birded in 33 countries on five continents. Africa is one of his favorites. I'd guess his life list would be in the 4000-5000 range. He is also his country's representative to many world conferences on birding conservation and other such subjects, so his travel and accommodations are paid for.
By 5:30 am, we are on a highway, paved all the way, but full of potholes. Donald says you need a PhD to drive here, which stands for Pothole Dodger. He says that if you can drive in the Caribbean, you can drive anywhere, and he drives very fast on these narrow roads.
Sharon is sliding all over the back seat, where there are no seat belts. Bang left hip, two three four, bang right hip, two three four. A mongoose crosses our path. We spot a light phase Little Blue Heron, as we move off the highway, and head toward the Forest Reserve. At 6:44 am, we are there. It has taken an hour and 40 minutes of driving Donald-speed, and we get an immediate Broad-winged Hawk, then a CARIBBEAN ELAENIA*, a small flycatcher with a pale yellow belly, looking pretty much like your standard flycatcher. Good thing Donald is here. All this is at our parking spot.
We head up the trail and begin hearing RED-NECKED PIGEONS*, according to Donald, a sort of one-note coooooo. Suddenly another hummer, a PURPLE-THROATED CARIB*, and unlike the Green-throated, whose wings look black, the Purple-throated's look sparkling green. The purple throat is spectacular in the right sunlight. So am I by the way, but we just haven't quite found the right sunlight yet. (I disagree, he's spectacular in ANY light--Sharon).
A pair of parrots fly over and circle, and these are our first ST. LUCIA PARROTS*. We hope for a better look later.
7:15 am, and Donald pulls us over to the left side of the trail and points out a tiny Purple-throated Carib hummingbird nest. It is attached to a hanging plant of some kind. We look inside, wondering if there will be eggs, and there are two baby birds, so tiny that they look like micro-miniature toys. They are asleep.
A little later now, and further up the trail, Donald shows us some little seeds that have fallen from a huge tree by the path. He tells us the latin name, then the common name -- De de fu de, and sorry, but I don't know how to spell this. It sounds like "day day foo day." The locals call it "donkey eye." These seeds are similar to an Ohio buckeye, but they are only about 2/3rds the size. If you think of them a little like a wheel, you could lay the wheel down flat, or stand it on its end, like a tire on a car. So stand up our little seed like a car tire. Then dip the shiny black seed into bright red-orange paint, but instead of a line going around the seed which is the place where the paint would stop, make that line be an irregular shape, sort of like a sine wave (see you DID need that trigonometry). Donald gives us about a dozen seeds to take home. He says they use them for decorations on hats and jewelery.
It just seems impossible that these are not manufactured items. Very colorful.
Last night we heard these frogs, who say "buh-LEEP" all night long, and we hear them up here in the rainforest too. As we are stopped, listening to things, Sharon spots a bird ahead of us, and it is the PEARLY-EYED THRASHER*, to match the Scaly-breasted one we got yesterday. Donald says the yellow bill makes it a Pearly-eyed.
These birds are cannibalistic, and sometimes rob the rare St. Lucia Parrots' nests of eggs and young ("Those bastards. They killed Kenny" - Kyle, in "South Park").
8:15 am and we are at a lookout because Donald says he often sees parrots (St. Lucia Parrots are the only kind on the island) land in a tree we are overlooking. Sharon can't wait and has to use the forest toilet. She hates to do it, but she makes it there and back successfully without missing anything. Then I have to go
I can't tell you what happened while I was gone, but let's just say that Sharon knows much better than I what a St. Lucia Parrot looks like. Dangit DANGIT.
It has been sprinkling off and on all morning, but suddenly Donald says, "Rain," and pulls a blue poncho out of his pack. Sharon and I get out and open our umbrellas. We have a nice break, waiting out the rain.
The rain lets up and we move up. Donald is doing his bird stress call, and he calls in a pair of ADELAIDE'S WARBLERS*. They have bright yellow underparts with a gray crown and back. The upper wings and tail are black, with two white wing bars. There is a very smart yellow streak from bill to above the eye with some yellow below the eye. Very attractive, and with a pretty call too
8:40 am, a RUDDY QUAIL-DOVE* explodes from the trail in front of us and flies right over our heads. I reported that this was our 800th life bird but I was a few birds premature after reviewing the official numbers. Stay tuned.
Three minutes later we start on our next hundred by getting the more colorful female ST. LUCIA BLACK FINCH*. Later, we get the black male. Donald points out that he (the Black Finch, not Donald) is popping his tail up and down, as opposed to the Lesser Antilles Bullfinch, which wags its tail left and right. And of course, the Black Finch doesn't have any red on him at all. Plus the Black Finch stays in the understory and the Bullfinches are usually above you.
The female St. Lucia Black Finch is brown, and I get great video of her.
Suddenly a Red-necked Pigeon flies over, and we get our first look. I spot a flycatcher ahead of us, and it turns out to be a LESSER ANTILLEAN FLYCATCHER*, formerly known as the Stolid Flycatcher. Once again, we could never have made this ID without Donald
Onward and upward we climb, when Donald shushes us and says, "I hear an oriole." We listen and Sharon begins searching at the point where her radar tells her the bird is. "I got him," she says. She directs us, and there is the ST. LUCIA ORIOLE*, mostly black but with a few very brilliant orange markings. Donald is a little impressed, "Where? Where?" he asks. Gorgeous bird, then we get the female, brownish on the back and orangish on the underparts. Also a nice bird.
A little later Sharon spots another hawk, and we can hear the "ooooo," of the Ruddy Quail-dove. Donald says the Red-billed Pigeon has a little rattle in its "oooo."
10:22 am, and I spot a flycatcher with a distinctly rusty neck, chest and belly. I yell out that it's the one with the rusty underparts, and Donald gets on it too. "ST. LUCIA PEWEE*," he says, "formerly the Lesser Antillean Pewee." Then I get Sharon on it, and it's a great day. I spot a bird before Sharon.
Alert the media.
10:26 am, we hear a big crash on our right, and I spin around, adrenaline coursing! It turns out to be an old limb falling out of a tree. "Forest dynamics," says Donald. He starts doing his Red-necked Pigeon call, and he brings in one or two. They perch with the sun behind them, so we don't get a great look, but a little better than the earlier flyover.
Suddenly Donald is excited. "Blue-hooded Euphonia!" shouts Donald, and begins scanning the upper forest like crazy, trying to spot the bird from the plaintive "ee-ooo" sound. The sound stops in a couple of places on the way through, but doesn't stay in any one place for more than about five seconds. Then it's gone.
He explains that this is one bird that NEVER responds to any stimulus at all, such as making his call, or playing tapes of his call. You just have to keep your ears open, and try to find it from the sound as it moves around. It feeds exclusively on mistletoe berries, so Donald keeps looking for bunches of mistletoe.
We finally reach the far end of what Donald has planned, and I had hoped that he would get us a beautiful bird called a Rufous-throated Solitaire, but it has never called. Donald gives its call several times, but there is no response. Several more times. Disappointment. We turn around and head back down.
12:27 and Sharon spots a little lizard on the trail. "Pygmy Gecko," says Donald, "and we have the world's population." And that, ladies and gentlemens, is another way of saying it's endemic.
We hear some voice-type noise behind us, and Donald stops to wait for the people to catch up to us. Three adults plus perhaps 12 teenagers see us and stop when they catch up to us. They are puffing. They inquire about what is down below. "Is it the place where our bus will pick us up?" they want to know. Donald says no, they must double back about 45 minutes to the green house, then turn left. They should have gone straight, instead of turning left onto this trail.
"Groan," the teenagers groan. "Just think of the additional time you saved by not having to go all the way to the bottom of this trail, then come all the way back up here," I suggest. Well, that IS nice, they say, but I'm sure their thoughts were that it didn't help anybody get any closer to where they needed to go. [Sharon: One girl spends some time cutting off the toes of her tennis shoes to give her toes some ease. Too bad that won't work with our boots!]
"Do you have a permit for this trail?" Donald asks one of the leaders. He pulls out the permit, and guess what, it's signed by Donald himself. But somehow, they didn't pay money for the kids to be here, so they make a gentlemen's agreement to pay for all the kids when they get back.
They turn around and head back up the hill. And we turn around, and continue heading down to Donald's pickup. At 12:30 pm, we cross the last stream before arriving back at the truck. We load up and head back out.
Donald sees some reject bananas sitting beside several of the banana packers' stands, and he stops and tosses them all into the back of the pickup while Sharon gets some video of me standing by a banana plant. "Is that for your goats?" I ask. "Yes," he says, and keeps stopping at banana stands, and picking up the rejects. I ask if his kids (children) peel the bananas before giving them to the goats, and this cracks him up. I guess he doesn't put too much energy into feeding the goats, since they are supposed to eat about anything. There is an insect called Thrips (I think) that turns the banana skins dark. The prescribed protection is to wrap a bag of blue plastic around each big bunch, but oddly, the bag is open at the bottom. I guess the blue color is enough to throw them off, and apparently they only view the field from above.
I ask if he has four goats (I thought I heard him say earlier), and he says he has 13. The bananas are a good supplement to their diet.
On the way out the entry road, a boy, and later a couple, hitch rides with Donald. They all get in the back of the pickup. He yells that it's ok to sit on the bananas. By my estimate, he makes absolutely no allowance for the fact that there are people in the back of his pickup getting bounced up and down. When we hit the highway, he hits the gas, and we zoom. Nobody seems to mind. When they want to get off, they just slap their hand on the back window.
He says he knows of no cases, where people have fallen out the back during such rides. His policy is to never let drunks ride back there. I can't spot his breathalyzer kit.
There were a few big misses, but Donald has gotten us most of the good birds that we had not gotten on our own. Hey wait, there's still a chance for one more!
He takes us to an almost-a-road, from the highway headed down to the sea to look for White-breasted Thrasher. We go in, and he calls and calls, but there is no answer. We decide we'll try it tomorrow again, even though it'll be a long drive over here.
On the way home, he stops by his hilltop home, and introduces us to his children, who he tasks with unloading the bananas. Then he shows us his goats, and heaves the first of the bananas over the fence. After a bit, he takes us back to The Islander, our hotel, and by 4:33 pm, we are in the room.
Lifers Today: Caribbean Elaenia (a flycatcher), Purple-throated Carib (hummer), St. Lucia Parrot, Pearly-eyed Thrasher, St. Lucia Black Finch, Ruddy Quail-dove, Red-necked (also called Scaly-naped) Pigeon, Lesser Antillean (formerly Stolid) Flycatcher, St. Lucia Oriole, St. Lucia (formerly Lesser Antillean) Pewee, Blue-headed Euphonia (heard only)
1. Purple-throated Carib (Wings appear brilliant green in all but poorest light, purple throat stands out in sunlight),
2. St. Lucia Oriole (Mostly black, but orange rump, wing patches and belly contrast smartly)
Most Difficult Bird: Blue-headed Euphonia (heard only three times, never came close enough to see). Donald says they do NOT respond to any calls at all, ever.
Most Remarkable Bird: Ruddy Quail-dove (explodes like a horse from a starting gate at the Kentucky Derby, from its resting position on terra firma, when discovered). The bird is also remarkable to us in that it's our 800th life (species) bird.
Rarest Bird: St. Lucia Parrot (down to 100 birds quite a few years ago, population up to nearly 200 a few years ago, not sure about right now, but still very susceptible to natural disasters and Donald is concerned with frequent and low-flying helicopter flights over their nesting habitat).
Totals: Today 11, St. Lucia 7+11= 18, Trip 156+11 = 167
It's difficult to comprehend unless you're here, but all over the island of St. Lucia, it's warm or hot and dry, with frequent breezes that cool you off. When you drive up into the rainforest, the feeling is cool and wet, with frequent showers to cool you off.
One more full day on St. Lucia, then we fly to and sleep one night in Miami, followed by a flight to Belize City, then a shorter one to Gallon Jug airport. There we will be met by a Chan Chich driver, who will drive us the last 6 miles, pointing out birds along the way.
But we want tomorrow to be a relaxing day.
Bye for now. Yall take care, y'here?
Sharon and Bob
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