After an enjoyable holiday in Antigua two years ago, we decided to follow up in the Caribbean with 2 weeks in St. Lucia. The former provided some good, generally common endemics, where I was able to walk into the forested hills from the hotel. St. Lucia is a few islands further South in the Caribbean islands chain, and the scenery and geography are quite different to that of Antigua. In size, it is a little larger, but the main difference is that the whole of the island is mountainous, and almost all covered in thick forest, which includes a fairly sizable rain forest in the South. October was chosen by default, following the departure of both children to University in September, and work commitments in late October. The main downside of this is that it falls towards the end of the hurricane season, and this was a significant threat, since Hurricane Ivan had severely damaged Grenada (only a couple of islands further down the chain again) a few weeks before we were due to depart. We were fortunate, although part of the reason for the lush vegetation on St Lucia is the amount of rainfall it receives (we had our fair share), and it is likely to occur at any time of the year.
As with most of the islands in the Lesser Antilles group, the number of species which can be seen is limited, although the islands do offer an interesting range of species restricted yet common here (such as Carib Grackle, Tremblers, Antillean Crested Hummingbird & 2 Caribs, Zenaida Dove, and 2 localised Thrashers). In addition, St Lucia is probably the best island in this area for the Holy Grail of birding – true endemics. St Lucia Parrot, Oriole, & Pewee are only found here, and all can be seen relatively easily in the rainforest. In addition, apart from on St Lucia, Adelaide’s (superspecies) Warbler is only found on Barbuda / Puerto Rico, with Grey Trembler and White-breasted Thrasher on Martinique (the latter is very rare, and a birding guide is probably needed to see them).
Choice of hotel was the St James’ Club at Morgan Bay, which is only a mile or two North of the capital, Castries. Almost all of the major hotels on the island are situated in the North-west, which is about 1½ hours from the southerly situated international airport – a vestige of the building by the USA in the second world war. We chose the St. James due to a reasonable price, and the fact that it lies in 22 acres of land, mostly surrounded by trees. This means that even sitting by the pool or beach can be interesting for birds, most of which are the common lowland and / or dry forest species, although I did see all 3 species of hummingbird in the grounds, as well as Scaly-breasted Thrasher and Lesser Antillean Saltator (all multiple sightings while sipping on a rum punch next to the adults only swimming pool).
To get more from the birds of the island, at least one visit to the rain forest must be made. Car hire is readily available, although I am not sure how expensive this proves to be, or the quality of the cars. To rent a car, either an international driving permit must be produced, or an additional license must be bought from the rental company. I decided not to hire a car, since I am not convinced that the entrances to the rain forest walks can be easily found – signposts are almost a myth, and roads are poor, although I did see signs to a couple of the major walks in the South-east on the return to the airport. Instead, the Virgin rep at the resort arranged a trip via the Forestry Department (permission is always needed from these for any foray into the rain forest), and she also sorted out the taxi to and from the walk. I had intended to do a rain forest walk per se, and spot any birds as I went along, but these normally require a minimum number of people (often 10+), but she happened to speak directly to a birder, and they arranged a morning trip just for me, specifically to see St Lucia Parrots. Price was US$30 for the guide, and US$80 for the taxi, who waited at the site for me (a chap called Winston, who has covered this route many times).
Practical points for the trip are that sunrise and sunset are both just before 6 o’clock. The currency on the island is the East Caribbean Dollar (EC$), but it is a reflection of the modern age that they readily accept the US$, which has a fixed rate of around US$1 = EC$2.7. I found a decent pair of walking shoes to be useful, since the year round rainfall can make some of the tracks a little on the soft side.
For identification, Raffaele’s “Guide to the Birds of the West Indies” seems to be the best, if not a little on the large size (Princeton Press). It covers all of the Caribbean (apart from Trinidad & Tobago), with a reasonably accurate distribution table at the back of the book.
Sites on the island are found in Wheatley & Brewer’s “Where to Watch Birds in Central America and the Caribbean” (Princeton Press).