Aruba Trip Report
I just returned from a wonderful, family-centric Aruban getaway. We spent the vast majority of our time on the beach and in family activities, but I did manage to squeeze in some birding -- both casual observation at the beach and hotel and a couple of short excursions to Bubali and the Salina just north of the high-rise hotel district.
As a fairly new birder, I was thrilled with the birding in Aruba. Despite missing quite a few "like-to-see" species (Burrowing Owl, Crested Caracara, and Ruby Topaz among others), for the amount of time and effort I put in, I was rewarded with many life birds and some wonderful views.
In one word, the Salina was epic. I wasn't really sure how to get there, so I checked it out on google maps and saw on the satellite image what looked like trails to the pond from the Sky Dive Aruba parking lot. I was wrong -- one could literally drive right up to the edge of the pond, or for that matter, directly into it. I kept the rental car a safe distance from the water as I really didn't want to test the limits of my insurance.
As I got out of the car, I was dumbfounded. Herons and Egrets of every size and shape lined the pond edges, occasionally joining a Reddish Egret to hunt in the middle of the pond. Staring straight into the morning sun past a mixed flock of yellowlegs running about, I blinked a couple of times to clear my vision as I spotted a juvenile flamingo across the pond! Wow! Completely unexpected. I peered closer and saw two chunky pinkish birds near the flamingo -- Roseate Spoonbills! Score! I returned to this spot the following morning with my 10-year-old son and camera in tow and, while the harsh backlighting made quality images tough to make, we were thrilled to see not one but three flamingos including two adults feeding in the pond and one of the spoonbills scything the water for a meal. It was awesome.
The Salina really is a great spot -- it couldn't be easier to access only a few minutes from the high rises and one can literally sit in the car and watch the birds from behind the wheel-- a great boon to those mobility-impaired birders. Aruba really ought to make the Salina a protected park as it holds a treasure trove of easily viewable and charismatic birds. A bit of cleanup of the few metal rails that defile this otherwise unspoiled pond, combined with a nice boardwalk, some signs, and maybe a coin-operated telescope could turn this place into a nice resource. I would have easily paid an entrance fee to see the spectacle.
I don't own a scope yet, but having one would have made this spot even better as a number of the birds were across the pond -- not too far to enjoy with 8x40 binoculars, or even my kid's 6.5x22s, but a bit of a reach. The light here is so strong that I would imagine even a 50mm scope would fare well.
Had I had a bit of a looser schedule, I would definitely have returned late in the day to take advantage of what must be immaculate light on the birds. Photographers could surely get some amazing shots here!
Mar 25, 2013 9:15 AM - 9:55 AM
American Flamingo 1
Neotropic Cormorant 25
Great Blue Heron 1
Great Egret 21
Snowy Egret 18
Little Blue Heron 1
Tricolored Heron 3
Reddish Egret 1
Roseate Spoonbill 2
Black-necked Stilt 49
Greater Yellowlegs 7
Lesser Yellowlegs 2
Greater/Lesser Yellowlegs 15
Whimbrel 1 (possibly more)
shorebird sp. 35 Flock flying too fast to ID
Bare-eyed Pigeon 4
American Kestrel 1
While not exactly an avian treasure trove, there are a lot of opportunities to enjoy very fun and cool birds right from the comfort of one's beach chair along Palm Beach. I could spend hours watching Magnificent Frigatebirds effortlessly dance aloft, or Brown Pelicans cruise low over the water and occasionally plunge in for a meal, or marveling at the miracle of migration as small Sanderling flocks speed past, staging for a flight to their high arctic breeding grounds. Even the ubiquitous Carib Grackles and Bananaquits provide fun entertainment with their displays and generally hilarity. For a northerner like me, seeing these unfamiliar species, however common, was a lot of fun.
Species seen at Palm Beach & the Hyatt:
Bubali was very cool, but nowhere near as much of a surprise hit as the Salina. I walked down to Bubali from our hotel, and I'm glad I did as I spotted a few Yellow Warblers along the way, some even falling for my pathetic attempts at pishing. Along the roadside, I heard parakeet-like squawks a few times, but the moment I stopped to peer around, the birds fell silent. Outsmarted again!
Overhead, I was blown away to see a remarkable flamingo flyover, heading straight south into Bubali (or to the waste water plant...). I also spotted a far-off soaring White-tailed Hawk along the way. Approaching the park, Green Herons were plentiful along the roadside drainages, and I picked up Black-faced Grassquit and quick glances of a group of three Troupials as well as a rocket-fast Blue-tailed Emerald.
In Bubali itself, I really enjoyed the peaceful setting, expansive views, and bountiful avifauna, my only frustrations being the howling wind that vibrated the tower, making it tough to get a steady view, even with just binoculars.
Bubali Bird Sanctuary, AW-
Mar 23, 2013 9:15 AM - 10:00 AM
Comments: Observations at north periphery of park, on main path, and at observation tower. Very windy -- maybe 25 mph
Blue-winged Teal 1
Pied-billed Grebe 2
American Flamingo 1 Super Cool! Flyover. At least 1 in a group of 3 birds (I studied a single bird until it flew out of sight). Would have been nice if my field guide reflected the Greater Flamingo split. I'm calling it an American Flamingo based on the range maps. Extremely long neck and legs. Massive shoe-shaped bill. Pink-washed white plumage.
Magnificent Frigatebird 1
Neotropic Cormorant 18
Brown Pelican 4
Great Egret 2
Snowy Egret 1
Green Heron 5
White-tailed Hawk 1 Distant observation of obvious Buteo soaring on a thermal. Short tail and broad wings, somewhat similar to a Red-tailed Hawk (but with a shorter tail). Bright and clean white belly. Dark head. Gray-ish wings contrasting with the incredibly white belly. Plumage somewhere between third and fourth bird from the top of page 76 of "The Crossley ID Guide to Raptors (2013)."
Common Gallinule 3
Bare-eyed Pigeon 4
Blue-tailed Emerald 1 fast little buggers...
Brown-throated Parakeet 4 Heard repeatedly in thick tall brush adjacent to tower and along periphery of park. Probably more than 4. Finally visually confirmed when a beautiful adult popped up next to the tower.
Yellow Warbler 2
Black-faced Grassquit 1
I brought along Raffaele's "Birds of the West Indies" and Sibley's Eastern US field guide. Neither provided complete coverage, but Sibley did a great job as my primary reference, with Raffaele doing an adequate job filling in a few blanks such as Grassquit and a few others. When I return to Aruba, I'll look for another volume to replace Raffaele. Sibley, my main US guide, will come along.
Note that neither guide reflects the renaming / splitting of Common Moorhen into Common Gallinule, nor Greater Flamingo into American Flamingo, creating a few issues when entering my data into eBird. Also, neither field guide includes Bare-eyed Pigeon, creating an embarrassing misidentification snafu when I mistakenly matched the large dove/pigeons flying about with prominent white wing patches to Sibley and Raffaele's White-winged Doves.
I brought my 8x42s and my kid's compact 6.5x22s, both of which worked really well. If I owned a scope, I would bring it, particularly when returning to the Salina and Bubali, though I thoroughly enjoyed both spots with my binoculars alone.
I also brought my DSLR, 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and 1.4x teleconverter. A 300 f/4 along with teleconverters would have been better. As with most bird photography, even more lens length would be an improvement, but of course must be balanced against the hassle of hauling a ton of gear and the high cost of exotic telephotos.