TOLL FREE USA\CANADA
Getting to Andros Island, The Bahamas is very easy!
We may be slightly off the beaten path, but that's a big
part of our appeal. Even though we're not in the center of a big tourist hub (thankfully!) we're really quite accessible.
(more info on getting to Andros)
Wow, I can hardly wait for next year! We had an outstanding time at Small Hope and I've decided that the best way to describe the trip is to give a day-by-day accounting. The only thing that I won't repeat in every entry is how nice the weather was. We were never rained out and the sun shone everyday. A few cool evenings made a sweater feel good and we even had a fire in the fireplace one night! Next year we will follow a itinerary similar to that described below.
Everyone arrived with all their luggage at Small Hope and we talked logistics while sitting on the outside patio sipping the drink of our choice (Diet Coke for me). The first bird of the trip was a Little Blue Heron that spent the entire week flying from the beach in front of the cabins to the beach in front of the lodge. After the short orientation everyone got a quick walking tour of the grounds highlighting the best birding areas. As if released from a cage, a clapper rail ran across the entrance road to the resort as I explained that watching the road was the best way to see rails. In the evening after dinner there were birds slides and everyone retired early, anxious for the next day's birding.
Early breakfast beginning at 6:30 a.m. included scrambled eggs, bacon, fruit, juice cereal and milk. We were off to the settlement of Staniard Creek by 7:30 a.m. Staniard Creek is a short van ride from Small Hope and is one of the best birding locations in all of the Bahamas. It is a small settlement on the beach, connected to the mainland by a causeway road that cuts right through a dwarf red mangrove forest. We are here in search of Neotropical migrants, Black-cowled Orioles, and first looks at many of the dozens of West Indian resident species that we will see all week long.
The morning was sunny and a bit breezy and the migrant warblers didn't disappoint as we walked along a lightly traveled road with mangroves on one side and backyard gardens on the other. We saw over a dozen warbler species including Cape May, Palm, Prairie, Yellow-throated, and Magnolia Warblers, Northern Parulas, Northern Waterthrushes, Ovenbirds, and others. We also get our first looks at Greater Antillean Bullfinches, Bananaquits, Black-cowled Orioles, and Black-faced Grassquits.
Before leaving the settlement we scanned the mangroves for water birds and a sharp eye in the group spotted a Pied-billed Grebe as someone else sighted an Osprey circling overhead. Perhaps the best bird of the day was a Summer Tanager, a decidedly rare winter resident in the West Indies. The afternoon of this day was set aside for catching-up on sleep and/or taking the complimentary resort course for guests that are not certified SCUBA divers. Following an afternoon on the dock learning how to dive the next step for the interested guest is a shallow check-out dive, followed by an intermediate depth dive. After completing the second dive you are able to do all the dives that Small Hope offers. This is a great opportunity to experience SCUBA diving without having to spend several hundred dollars to get certified.
Up early and on the road again at 7:30 a.m. This morning we birded in the pine forests and visited one of the island's many blue holes; water-filled limestone sinkholes. In the pine forest we got "soul satisfying looks" at Pine Warblers, Stripe-headed Tanagers, Cuban Pewees, and Loggerhead Kingbirds. The Cuban Emerald Hummingbird doesn't stay in one place very long so we got several repeated glimpses of this little jewel. Bahama Swallows, one of the three species endemic to the Bahamas, flew over the still waters of the blue hole.
As always on Andros in the winter, there are migrant warblers: Prairie, Yellow-throated, and Black-throated Blue Warblers were most memorable today. In the afternoon, several members of the group helped me set-up the mist nets that we will be operating for the next three mornings. The nets are arranged in a line almost 200 meters long a short walk from the resort. The birds that are caught in the nets will be identified and marked with numbered aluminum leg bands. The netting does not harm the birds captured and recaptures of marked birds allows one to make estimates of survival rates and reproductive success. The intention of the netting project is to monitor migrant and resident bird populations by sampling them every year in the same place in January. The opportunity to assist in mist-netting activities, which every participant did and will be able to do in the future, is an experience of a lifetime for many.
During the three mornings of netting we caught 68 individual birds of 21 species. Eleven of these species are Neotropical migrants including the difficult to observe Black-and-White, Worm-eating and Swainson's Warblers. We also caught several LaSagra's Flycatchers and Thick-billed Vireos and two Red-legged Thrushes. We didn't catch a Great Lizard Cuckoo but heard several near the nets. We should catch these individuals next year. A film crew from Nassau captured some of our activities on video and these images should show-up on a nationally televised program on eco-tourism later in the year.
We did some shopping during a trip to Fresh Creek and the world famous Androsia batik factory. The self-guided tour of the open-air factory allowed all to see every step of the process that culminates in the production of the beautiful, colorful tropical fabrics that few can leave the island without purchasing. The outlet store next to the factory allows one to buy clothing that still smells of the fresh Bahamian air!
Of course, there was birding. As usual several species of warblers were about in the almond and orchid trees near the outlet store. At the mouth of Fresh Creek we counted over three dozen Bahama Swallows, an endangered species whose world population is estimated at less than 20,000 individuals.
We were on the water this afternoon for a three hour trip into the interior of the island via Fresh Creek, guided by the islands chief councillor, Peter Douglas. This was one of the highlights of the trip for some in the group. Andros is so vast and unspoiled! We saw several species of water birds including Reddish Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Belted Kingfishers, Osprey, and one lone Northern Shoveler. There was talk of dinner on Peter's houseboat next year after the trip to eat seafood and watch the wading birds flying to roost!
This afternoon we met with the island commissioner to talk about Bahamian politics, health care, conservation, etc. For the political junkies in the group this was definitely a highlight. Mr. Gary Knowles is well spoken and obviously well educated and held the attention of the group for two hours. I could have listened to his assessment of the national political system for several more hours.
The running joke all week has been that whichever species we haven't seen on the trip we would see today. We decided to make today a "big day" which means that we will try to see as many species as we can today. First stop was the San Andros airport and the freshwater pond near the runway. Although the pond is less than half an acre in extent it is always a hotspot for a variety of things including, but not limited to, waterbirds. Today there were Blue-winged Teal, Gadwall, a Ring-necked Duck, American Coots, a Sora, and a Green Heron.
In the vegetation around the pond we saw a lone Savannah Sparrow and gobs of Yellow-rumped Warblers. The highlight of the airport stop for most, however, was hearing the prehistoric sounding calls of the resident Limpkins and getting a rare look at one before it snuck off into the underbrush. We made it to Red Bays about midmorning and met eighty-year-old Mrs. Amelia Marshall, the matriarch of the settlement, in her house working on baskets. Not only did she start basket weaving in the settlement but she is also a retired "granny" or mid-wife. She recalled some of her experiences as a mid-wife to the delight of the health care workers in the group. She has so much valuable information to share; I always lament that I can not spend an extended period of time with her recording her stories. The major objective of the trip to Red Bays was not only to meet Mrs. Marshall and some of the other basket weavers but also to buy some of these works of art.
Although the baskets are sold for a fraction of the price you would pay for them in Nassau or the states, there is no middleman when buying direct from the artisans and all the money goes to the people of Red Bays. It is so satisfying to know the place and people behind a basket that sits in your house. Every time you look at it you can take a brief trip back to the islands remembering the sights and sounds of the settlement. After lunch back at the resort , we headed to the Fresh Creek airport south of Small Hope to find the endemic Bahama Woodstar hummingbird. This hummingbird species is much less common on Andros than the Cuban Emerald but I knew where to find one. There was a female defending a patch of pigeon pea flowers near the airport parking lot several days ago and she was there when we arrived. Everyone got good looks. There are some brackish ponds along the road between the airport and the resort and scanning them from the road we see Least and Pied-billed Grebes, Lesser Scaup, and White Ibises. A beach walk in the late afternoon produced a small flock of Lesser Yellowlegs; the ninetieth species of the trip!
No slide show tonight. I haven't mentioned the slide shows but we have had them almost every night before dinner. The topics included "Origin of Bahamian flora and fauna", "Bahamian plant identification", "Recent arrival and potential impact of Shiny Cowbirds in the Bahamas", and "Are Neotropical migrants really declining?" (the answer is that some are and some aren't, and some are doing different things in different parts of their ranges). The talks were short and informal and given before dinner so that everyone would stay awake. Before each slide presentation we sipped drinks and reviewed the bird sightings of the day. Conch fritters arrived promptly at 6:30 pm (not a minute too soon)!
Last days are always a little depressing. Back to the "real world". Many in the group were still going strong; snorkeling, kayaking, and beach combing. There is so much to do here! I have a feeling that many in the group will be returning. I hope to see you next year!
(Warning: This is my version of the group list, your list may look different).
Least Grebe SHBL Ponds Pied Billed-Grebe1 SC, SHBL Ponds Brown Pelican SHBL Beach Great Blue Heron1 SHBL mangroves, FC boat ride Green Heron SHBL mangroves, LHC, SA ponds Little Blue Heron2 SHBL mangroves, FC boat ride, SC Reddish Egret FC boat ride Great Egret SHBL mangroves, FC boat ride Snowy Egret1 SHBL mangroves Tricolored Heron SHBL mangroves Yellow-crowned Night Heron SHBL mangroves Least Bittern1 SHBL mangroves White Ibis1 Davis Creek mangroves Gadwall SA ponds Blue-winged Teal SA and SHBL ponds Northern Shoveller FC boat ride Ring-necked Duck SA and SHBL ponds Lesser Scaup SHBL ponds Turkey Vulture Everywhere! Red-tailed Hawk Road to Red Bay Osprey2 SHBL, SC, FC boatride Peregrine Stafford Creek Bridge Merlin SHBL dump American Kestrel SC, SHBL beach Limpkin SA ponds and vicinity Clapper Rail SHBL mangroves Sora SA pond Common Gallinule SHBL ponds American Coot SA and SHBL ponds American Oystercatcher SHBL beach Black-bellied Plover SHBL beach Ruddy Turnstone SHBL beach Lesser Yellowlegs SHBL beach Dowitcher SHBL beach Royal Tern SHBL beach Mourning Dove SA ponds Zenaida Dove SA ponds Eurasian Collared Dove SC, SHBL Common Ground Dove* Everywhere Key West Quail Dove SHBL coppice Rock Dove SC Mangrove Cuckoo SC Great-lizard Cuckoo heard near SHBL dump Smooth-billed Ani Everywhere Bahama Woodstar FC airport Cuban Emerald pine forest Belted Kingfisher SC, SHBL, Fresh Creek boat ride Yellow-bellied Sapsucker SC, SHBL Loggerhead Kingbird SC wellfield rd, road to Red Bay LaSagras Flycatcher* SC wellfied rd, SHBL coppice Cuban Pewee* SC wellfield rd, SHBL coppice Bahama Swallow CBH, FC bridge Northern Mockingbird* Everywhere Bahama Mockingbird* SHBL coppice Gray Catbird* Everywhere Red-legged Thrush* CBH, SHBL coppice Blue-gray Gnatcatcher2 pine forest, SHBL coppice House Sparrow LHC Thick-billed Vireo* Everywhere Bananaquit* Everywhere Black-and-White Warbler* SHBL mangroves and coppice Worm-eating Warbler* SHBL mangroves and coppice Tennessee Warbler SC Northern Parula Everywhere Yellow-throated Warbler Everywhere Yellow Warbler2 SC Black-throated Blue Warbler* SC wellfield rd, SHBL coppice Magnolia Warbler SC Cape May Warbler Everywhere Yellow-rumped Warbler SA ponds Pine Warbler2 pine forests Prairie Warbler* Everywhere Palm Warbler* Everywhere Ovenbird* SC, SHBL coppice Northern Waterthrush SC, SHBL mangroves Swainson's Warbler* SHBL coppice Common Yellowthroat* Everywhere Bahama Yellowthroat heard in SHBL coppice Hooded Warbler LHC American Redstart* Everywhere Red-winged Blackbird SHBL mangroves Black-cowled Oriole SC, SHBL dump Northern Stripe-headed Tanager Everywhere Shiny Cowbird SHBL Summer Tanager SC, LHC Greater Antillean Bullfinch Everywhere Black-faced Grassquit Everywhere Savannah Sparrow SA ponds
1 Extent to which species breeds on the island is not clear
2 Local populations supplemented by migrants during winter
Terms w/ a * = Species caught in mist nets
FC = Fresh Creek
SC = Staniard Creek
SA = San Andros
SHBL = Small Hope Bay Lodge
LHC = Lighthouse Club
CBH = Church's Blue Holes