Aruba, 12/29/12 – 1/6/13
Birding Trip Report
Jeff Ryan, Gray, Maine
Let me start this report by making the following points: I’m an amateur naturalist, and I felt constrained in my birding efforts this week by:
a lack of a car for the first four days of our trip (Avis couldn’t honor our reservation due to overbooking)
the fact this was a family vacation and not a “birding trip”, and
not having a local field guide for reference.
Nevertheless, I’m a bright guy with a better-than-average background in biology and ornithology, so I was able to make do. With only my North American birds field guide as a reference, my daily mantra was “If you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras.” This kept from wildly imagining species I wasn’t likely to see.
My family and I stayed for the week at the Boardwalk Hotel, a very nice small hotel off the beach at the north end of the Palm Beach high-rise hotels strip. The hosts are friendly and accommodating, the grounds pretty and peaceful, and as it happens, the hotel is located in a very good spot for birding on foot, with wetland both north and south of the hotel. We recommend this hotel.
Most of the herons, egrets and other waterfowl I noted were all found in this area on either side of the hotel: of great surprise was the lone greater flamingo wading in the pond north of the hotel, along with the great egrets, snowy egrets, little blue herons and green herons. There were even a couple of great blue herons mixed in for another somewhat unexpected surprise, and I flushed a blue-winged teal on one afternoon’s walk.
Also right out the back door were the American kestrel (having captured a lizard), bananaquits, tropical mockingbirds, blue-tailed emerald hummingbirds (the light must have to be awfully good to see a blue tail!), a gray kingbird, and a burrowing owl.
A trip to Bubali Bird Sanctuary one morning revealed a couple of ospreys, brown pelicans, and brown-throated parakeets (I’m not 100% sure of these since I caught them on the fly – but they definitely were parrots, and if these are the only psittacines on the island, then I saw two or three small flocks.) Remember, if you hear hoof beats…
I was also able to catch a quick glimpse of the local race of yellow warbler, which initially confused me – remember, I was without a field guide to Caribbean birds – until I remembered Jeff Wells’s comments at this website about this race having a cap – then it all came clear!
Bubali also revealed common moorhens, pied-billed grebes, and white-cheeked pintails, which I found commonly in nearly any water I looked at. Other reed dwellers could be heard in the tall reeds but wouldn’t show themselves. The various pigeon species were seen here as well as at lots of other “oases” scattered on the island. The grounds at most of the hotels are lush enough to offer good cover for not only the columbidae, but lots of the other passerine types, including the bananaquit. Once seen, heard and identified, one quickly recognizes they are nearly everywhere.
In fact, on Palm Beach one morning, my daughter Liv was inquiring about a tubing excursion with a beach-based vendor and she noticed “his” bananaquit, bold and persistent. She learned the vendor often shared a daily sugar packet with “his” bananaquit, but he didn’t have one that morning, and the bird wasn’t letting him forget his transgression!
A driving tour of Arikok National park yielded only a troupial, but it was a driving tour, and since I was doing the driving (by then we had been able to secure a car through Value Car Rental, a nice local company), I had to rely on eyesight alone. Other species could be heard on our occasional stops to get out and take in the view, but no amount of pishing or kissing would lure them out. I would definitely recommend a park tour, and I will certainly get back there for a more thorough survey my next time in Aruba. Regardless of the birding opportunity, be sure to get to the Fontein Caves for up-close views of native pteroglyphs 1200 years old.
All in all, we had a great vacation in Aruba. The days were sunny with temperatures in the upper 80’s and low 90’s Fahrenheit daily, which made for great beach weather (so the daughters and wife were happy.) We were there for New Year’s Eve, and the island came alive with firecrackers and fireworks up and down the beaches, as far as one could see.
And the birding, for as little as I actually squeezed in, was tremendous. A few lessons I learned which might benefit other amateurs are:
Buy a good field guide in advance of your trip. I didn’t, and bet that I could get on on Aruba, but neither of the two bookstores I could locate had field guides for birds.
A lot of my sightings were long distance – I found myself wishing for a stronger pair of binoculars than my Pentax 8x30’s, although they were certainly adequate most of the time.
I wish I had discovered www.birdingpal.org a lot sooner than I did; I might have taken advantage of Mr. or Mrs. Rasmijn for a guided excursion. As much of a challenge as finding one’s own way around can be, the benefits of a local guide should be apparent.
If your stay on Aruba includes the Christmas/New Year holidays – pre-pay for your rental car.
Definitely try a piece of Aruban cashew cake – you won’t be sorry!