The Caribbean has many islands rich in exciting birds, but for unspoilt montane forest and sought-after endemics in a relatively small and visitor friendly setting, few can compete with St Lucia. Dominic Mitchell reports.
Exotic birding destinations exert an irresistible pull during the northern winter, offering a welcome change from the shortage of warmth, light and avian diversity that comes with the territory in colder climes. No matter how much we enjoy watching wildfowl, gulls and other winter visitors, the chance to trade places for the tropics where regional specialities, island endemics and northern migrants mix en masse is one to savour.
The Caribbean offers numerous opportunities, many of them unique to some degree. There are no fewer than 28 nations in the region, and a staggering 7,000 or so individual islands. The various archipelagos and many of the larger islands are well endowed with endemic birds, offering plenty of potential options to the visiting birder. If you are wondering where to go, especially for a first visit, the choice can be readily simplified: try St Lucia.
Lying in the Windward Islands, the southern section of the Lesser Antilles separating the Caribbean from the Atlantic, mountainous St Lucia is still largely covered in lush forest. It also has excellent beaches and a good tourist infrastructure (including direct flights from Britain). And best of all, the birding – with up to five endemics on offer – is outstanding
West side Visiting last January, my first taste of St Lucia’s birds came on the west coast at the resort of Anse Chastanet, near Soufrière. Nestled in a cove where the forested western ranges slope steeply down to sheltered sandy beaches by the sea, it offered the ideal mix of creature comforts and prime birding habitat. On checking into my room, which in this hot climate was open to the elements on one side, a fruiting tree right outside harboured several small passerines. Most were Lesser Antillean Bullfinches, but a striking yellow and blue-grey warbler quickly proved to be my first island endemic, St Lucia Warbler. Great start!