August 11-27, 2012

Alf and Jeannine King







Aruba is neither a key nor special place for a birding holiday but offered the opportunity of plenty of sunshine and rest combined with a little recreational birding. The island is very small and not very fertile with a thinly scattered bird population and a few well-known main sites. During our two weeks there we didn’t encounter another birder although one or two people were interested (or puzzled) in what we were doing. A final trip list of 71 shows how few are the species to be found particularly outside of the main migration periods. Notable highlights were:


  • An adult Wattled Jacana present at Bubali throughout. This hasn’t been previously recorded for Aruba as far as I can determine.
  • An immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron seen clearly only once on a small litter strewn pool opposite the Grand East home and hardware store.
  • A Roseate Tern still in breeding plumage on a reef near Malmok Beach
  • Significant wader passage throughout the two weeks.





Wattled Jacana (Bubali)




We flew direct from Manchester (UK) with Thomson’s taking advantage of their Premium upgrade which resulted in very good and comfortable flights in both directions with just a small delay on the return journey due to an issue with luggage. Arrival, processing and luggage collection were very straightforward and we proceeded to collect our hire car from Avis. For some reason this was a very slow process but we eventually emerged in our stately Kia Cerato – not the newest of cars given that the island is barely 20km long and it had 64000 on the clock, and a cassette player in the dashboard; as with many things on Aruba it was also quite expensive.


Navigation is very straightforward even without many road signs, given the small size of the island. We quickly found our way to our accommodation at Paradera Park a very comfortable and friendly place offering apartments of various sizes together with a welcoming pool and all facilities. This met our preferences for self-catering accommodation perfectly.




Reddish Egret (Boardwalk pool)


Birding Resources


I was uncertain about what to take with me for the trip wondering if a telescope was really necessary and if a monopod would be better than a tripod. Fortunately I took both my ‘scope and tripod and they both were invaluable. The island has almost permanent strong winds (trade winds) which are very welcome in the heat of the day but make hand-held photography quite difficult and cause fairly shake ‘scope views when particularly strong.


A field guide exists in the form of Birds of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire by de Boer, Newton and Restall (Helm field guides). This is apparently extracted from the much larger birds of Venezuela by the same authors. It is a slim volume giving details of all of the birds likely to be found on the islands. The plates are a bit mixed with some having been described elsewhere as naïve but the information is useable enough and it was very light to carry around. I also had with me a Stokes guide to waders which did come in handy and, to anyone who is unfamiliar with waders (shorebirds) from this side of the Atlantic I would certainly recommend a reference book if visiting in a migration period.


The web site Aruba Birds was very useful and Jeff Wells also provided me with excellent information even whilst I was on the island and uncertain about accessing some sites. He is to publish a book on these sites which will hopefully be available soon.


Finally, wear a hat and carry plenty of water.

Birding Sites


There are only a few sites on the island that promise much in the way of birding although surprises may be found anywhere along the coast especially in migration season which had barely begun when we were there.


Bubali Bird Reserve


Although the status of this is uncertain it was the place that we visited most often. The main part is a conspicuous watchtower accessed via a dirt track opposite the large red windmill close to the Rui Hotel. The large wetlands are being rapidly encroached by extensive reed growth but a reasonable area can still be easily viewed from here. It is also possible to walk along a couple of indistinct tracks here in search of passerines but very few other than the common residents were to be found when we visited the island.


“Boardwalk Pool”


This pool didn’t appear to be named on any map but was quite productive and certainly always had birds of interest on all visits. It is just north of the Boardwalk hotel behind the Aruba Skydiving hut near Palm Beach. The pool is of variable size depending upon the seasons but is very shallow and attracted numerous waders whilst we were there, including our only sightings of Semi-palmated Plover. It held a flock of around 20 Black Skimmers of the Amazonian race when we were first there declining to five by our last visit.


Arikok NP


This is easily found by following the numerous road signs. The entry fee is $8 pp so it is worth getting there early (8.30 am opening) to get full advantage of the cooler weather. The Cunucu trail (about 4km) is very pleasant and the best for birding with most of the rest of the reserve being fairly inaccessible but also unattractive. The trail and the grounds around the visitor centre proved very good for Yellow Oriole, Burrowing Owl (on the bridge) and hummingbirds with lizards of various species being abundant. On our second visit here we were caught out in a storm and returned in a very bedraggled state indeed.


We explored driving the road down to the beach but I wouldn’t advise this unless you have a car with a high ground clearance. Easing your way through the 28 storm drains – there and back – is quite tedious if not a little hazardous.




Black Skimmer (Boardwalk Pool)


Roger’s Beach Islands


These reef islands in the south, opposite Roger’s Beach can be ‘scoped from the car park at an abandoned police station close to the refinery. As we were there outside of breeding season we only saw Brown Noddy but in season they would clearly be much more productive.



Tierra del Sol Salina


This is within the Tierra del Sol country club alongside the 15th tee of the golf club, hence only accessible through the generosity of the club. When we visited we were asked to return at 10.00 am when it would be less busy on the course and we were kindly lent a buggy to drive ourselves out to the Salina. Unfortunately at that time it was dry but we still found our only Killdeer and Southern Lapwing of the trip.



Savaneta Pans


These disused salt pans can be found in the Savaneta settlement by parking carefully alongside the road. Clearly attractive to many waders they contained plenty of interest but nothing new when we visited but would repay repeat visits.


Spanish Lagoon


A difficult to find site close to the old gold mines at Balushi. The entrance to the parking area should be treated with great caution as there is a hazardous ditch to trap the unwary. Once again a pair of confiding Burrowing owls were here together with a host of fairly tame waders. Lizards and land snails could be found in abundance. A couple of trails looked promising so an early morning visit would be recommended.




Spotted Sandpiper (Bubali)







Crested Caracara (Arikok)



Species  Scientific Name Site Period Present Numbers
Black-bellied Whistling Duck Dendrocygna autumnalis Bubali Bird Reserve Throughout Numerous
White-cheeked Pintail [sp] Anas bahamensis Bubali Bird Reserve Throughout Common
Pied-billed Grebe [sp] Podilymbus podiceps Bubali Bird Reserve Throughout Present
Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens Common Throughout Common
Neotropic Cormorant [sp] Phalacrocorax brasilianus Bubali Bird Reserve Throughout Numerous
Caribbean Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis occidentalis Common Throughout Common
American Great Egret Ardea alba egretta Boardwalk Pool Throughout Numerous
Snowy Egret [sp] Egretta thula Boardwalk Pool Throughout Numerous
Little Blue Heron Egretta caerulea Bubali Bird Reserve Throughout Present
Tricolored Heron [sp] Egretta tricolor Boardwalk Pool Arrived  4/8 then remained throughout Present
Reddish Egret [sp] Egretta rufescens Boardwalk Pool Throughout Present
Cattle Egret [sp] Bubulcus ibis Boardwalk Pool Throughout Scarce
Eastern Green Heron [group] Butorides virescens virescens/bahamensis Bubali Bird Reserve Throughout Common
American Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax hoactli Bubali Bird Reserve Throughout Numerous
Yellow-crowned Night Heron [sp] Nyctanassa violacea Aruba Seen once on pool opposite Grand East store Scarce
Osprey [sp] Pandion haliaetus Bubali Bird Reserve Throughout Singles only
Crested Caracara [sp] Caracara cheriway Arikok NP Throughout Locally common
American Kestrel [sp] Falco sparverius Aruba Tierra del Sol GC and Abikok Scarce
Common Gallinule [sp] Gallinula galeata Bubali Bird Reserve Throughout Locally numerous
Caribbean Coot Fulica caribaea Bubali Bird Reserve Throughout Present
Southern Lapwing [sp] Vanellus chilensis Tierra del Sol Golf Course Throughout Scarce
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola Boardwalk Pool Arrived 5/8 then remained Tow birds seen
American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica Boardwalk Pool Arrived 5/8 then departed Single bird seen
Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus Boardwalk Pool Present  28/7 - not seen again Three birds seen
Killdeer [sp] Charadrius vociferus Tierra del Sol Golf Course Present Two birds seen
American Oystercatcher [sp] Haematopus palliatus Boardwalk Pool Present 28/7 - not seen again Two birds seen
Black-necked Stilt [sp] Himantopus mexicanus Common Throughout Common
Wattled Jacana [sp] Jacana jacana Bubali Bird Reserve throughout Single adult
Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularius Bubali Bird Reserve/Boardwalk Pool/Spanish Lagoon Throughout Present
Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca Present on suitable habitat Throughout Numerous
Willet [sp] Tringa semipalmata Boardwalk Pool Throughout Three birds seen
Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes Common on suitable habitat Throughout Common
Whimbrel [sp] Numenius phaeopus Boardwalk Pool Arrived 6/8 Single sighting
Ruddy Turnstone [sp] Arenaria interpres Boardwalk Pool Throughout Present
Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla Boardwalk Pool Present 28/7 - not seen again Single sighting
Western Sandpiper Calidris mauri Boardwalk Pool/Spanish Lagoon Present 28 till 30/7 Present
Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla Common on suitable habitat Throughout Numerous
Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris melanotos Bubali Bird Reserve/Savaneta Present throughout Present
Short-billed Dowitcher [sp] Limnodromus griseus Boardwalk Pool Present throughout Two birds seen
Wilson's Snipe Gallinago delicata Arikok NP Two birds flew over at 20ft on 2/8 Two birds seen
Laughing Gull [sp] Leucophaeus atricilla Common Throughout Numerous
Brown Noddy [sp] Anous stolidus Roger's Beach Throughout Present
Roseate Tern [sp] Sterna dougallii Exposed reefs 28 & 29/7 Two birds seen
Common Tern [sp] Sterna hirundo Boardwalk Pool Throughout Numerous
Royal Tern [sp] Thalasseus maximus Boardwalk Pool Throughout Numerous
Cayenne Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis eurygnathus Bubali Bird Reserve/Boardwalk Pool Throughout Numerous
Amazon Skimmer Rynchops niger cinerascens Boardwalk Pool Throughout  Present but declining in numbers from 28 to 6 
Feral Pigeon Columba livia 'feral' Aruba Throughout Common
Bare-eyed Pigeon Patagioenas corensis Aruba Throughout Common
Eared Dove [vinaceorufa] Zenaida auriculata vinaceorufa Aruba Throughout Common
Common Ground Dove [albivitta] Columbina passerina albivitta Aruba Throughout Present
White-tipped Dove [verreauxi] Leptotila verreauxi verreauxi Arikok NP Throughout Scarce
Brown-throated Parakeet [arubensis] Aratinga pertinax arubensis Bubali Bird Reserve Readily found Numerous
Burrowing Owl [arubensis] Athene cunicularia arubensis Arikok NP/Spanish Lagoon Readily found Present
Ruby-topaz Hummingbird Chrysolampis mosquitus Arikok NP Readily found Present
Blue-tailed Emerald [caribaeus] Chlorostilbon mellisugus caribaeus Arikok NP Readily found Present
Northern Scrub Flycatcher [pallens] Sublegatus arenarum pallens Arikok NP Readily found Present
Brown-crested Flycatcher [tyrannulus] Myiarchus tyrannulus tyrannulus Arikok NP Readily found Present
Tropical Kingbird [sp] Tyrannus melancholicus Arikok NP Two days only Three birds seen
Collared Sand Martin [sp] Riparia riparia Bubali Bird Reserve Two days only Four birds seen
Barn Swallow [sp] Hirundo rustica Bubali Bird Reserve Throughout Numerous
Cliff Swallow [sp] Petrochelidon pyrrhonota Aruba Two days only Scarce
Tropical Mockingbird [rostratus] Mimus gilvus rostratus Common Throughout Common
Golden Warbler [rufopileata] Setophaga petechia rufopileata Bubali Bird Reserve/Arikok Throughout Numerous
Caribbean Bananaquit [uropygialis] Coereba flaveola uropygialis Common Throughout Ubiquitous
Black-faced Grassquit [sharpei] Tiaris bicolor sharpei Arikok NP Throughout Present
Carib Grackle [sp] Quiscalus lugubris All suitable habitat Throughout Common
Shiny Cowbird [sp] Molothrus bonariensis Bubali Bird Reserve Throughout Present
Venezuelan Troupial [ridgwayi] Icterus icterus ridgwayi Common Throughout Numerous
Yellow Oriole [curasoensis] Icterus nigrogularis curasoensis Arikok NP Throughout Sparse
House Sparrow [sp] Passer domesticus Aruba Throughout Numerous