The Caribbean is an extensive and varied region. It has several hundred islands in 28 territories arranged in an arc that demarks the boundary of the Caribbean Sea—the islands extend over 3,218km (2,000mi) miles from the Bahamas and Cuba, in the northwest, to Trinidad and Tobago in the southeast, i.e., from 10°N to 25°N and 60°W to 86°W. It has a wide range of habitats from a 10,000ft mountain, to highlands, lowlands, valleys, karst landscape, cays, islets, rainforests, mangroves, swamps, plantations, grasslands, &c.
The region boasts 752 bird species including a substantial number of migratory birds and 172 endemic species. Particularly, amongst its birds are 38 species of hummingbirds, 14 of which are endemic species—most are found in the Greater Antilles. South American hummingbird species are found in the islands of the southern Caribbean, chiefly Trinidad and Tobago. Three migratory and/or incidental species to the Caribbean islands, the Green-breasted Mango, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and Rufous Hummingbird, occasion the Greater Antilles.
Birding the Caribbean can be an itinerary and scheduling challenge given the number of destinations, the region's extensiveness, and the variety of bird species. N.B. further complications, not insurmountable, may set in due to the want of timely air-travel schedules, infrastructure, and ground support, and varying trip durations (as little as two days on a small island like St. Lucia, 7-10 days on Trinidad and Tobago, or 10-17 days on a large island like Jamaica or Cuba). Yet, one itinerary possibility is the "Hummingbird Circuit" which involves the least number of islands that gives the opportunity to observe the 38 hummingbird species of the Caribbean, along with other bird species: Bahamas, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic or Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad and Tobago. Another is the "Hummingbird Endemics Circuit" which affords the birder the opportunity to observe the 15 endemic hummingbird species of the Caribbean plus two migratory species: Bahamas, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic or Haiti, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. Yet, another is the "Trinidad and Tobago Circuit" which best showcase a microcosm of the Caribbean's South American hummingbirds, up to 22 species, along with some other continental bird species.
Notes: Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata (Zapata Swamp National Park) is contained within the overlay of the designated preserves of Ciénaga de Zapata Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO's World Heritage Site, and Ciénaga de Zapata Ramsar Site. It is about 150km (93mi) southeast of Havana.
The park is irregular shaped (est. 1,300km2) with two main protuberance extending westward from Playa Larga into the Ciénaga de Zapata Peninsula.
Playa Larga is a popular staging point for ecotours on the park and wider peninsula and it is the location of the park's headquarters.
Birding locations within the Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata or on its fringes are:
The most notable trait about birding the island of Cuba, aside from the 25+ endemic bird species, is its huge size—unlike most Caribbean islands. Cuba's land areas is 109,884 km2 (42,426 sq mi)—the Caribbean has over 700 islands in 28 territories, and succeeding Cuba in size are Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic and Haiti) 76,40km2 (29,529 sq mi), Jamaica 10,991km2 (4244 sq mi), and Puerto 9,104 (3515 sq mi). Cuba is 1,250 km (780 mi) long by 191 km (119mi) across its broadest points making distances between birding sites a challenge. In addition, there are numerous satellite islands the largest being the Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth) in the southwest, with an area of 2,200 km2 (850 sq mi).
Some destinations on the classic birding tour, e.g., Cayo Coco, La Guira, Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata, Rancho La Belén, Najasa, and Vinales are separated by hundreds of miles. The driving distance from Vinales National Park, west of Havana, to Rancho La Belén, Najasa towards the eastern end of the island is 790km (490mi), a nine and one-half hour drive, and the driving distance from Cayo Coco, on the northern coast, to La Guira National Park is 660km (410mi), a seven and a half hour drive. Therefore particular attention must be paid to accommodation, transportation, routes/schedules, and, possibly, tour guides.
Three species of hummingbirds embellish Cuba's bird population. They are the bee hummingbird and the Cuban emerald, both endemic species, and the ruby-throated hummingbird, a migratory species from North America. Due to habitat loss the bee hummingbird's range has become patchy but the Cuban emerald can still be observed throughout Cuba. Observation of the ruby-throated hummingbird is more of a "hit and miss" experience.
A tourist visa card is a requirement for access. However, citizens of a few countries have visa-free access, e.g., some states of the Caribbean islands, some states of the former Yugoslavia and from the former Eastern Bloc, and a few others—in all, less than two dozen. Conventionally, flights to the island originate in Europe, Mexico and Canada. Recently, some flights have become available from the US. Havana, the main entry point, is served by Jose Martí International Airport. Whilst Antonio Maceo Airport at Santiago de Cuba, in the southeast, is another major point of entry.
Notes: The more frequented trail runs between Laudat and the waterfall, which takes an hour. An alternate route is from Cochrane to the waterfall, which is less steep and courses through more pristine rainforest.
Notes: Start the trail at the Syndicate Visitors Centre in the Parish of St. John. The trails finishes in the Parish of St. Andrew although passing through the Parish of St. Peter. Hiking to the mountain's summit takes 2-3 hours, one-way.
Access to the visitor centre is gained via the road to Portsmouth, north form Roseau. Turn east onto the the secondary road just north of the village of Dublanc but before Morne Espagnol. Continue, up, to an elevation above 1,700ft, for 6.8km through banana plantations until the route levels; then, make a left.
Notes: Scotts Head is located within the Soufriere-Scott’s Head Marine Reserve (SSMR)–it includes the villages of Scott’s Head, Soufriere up to Anse bateau, and the Soufrière Bay, an extinct volcanic crater—which is on the south-western tip of the island of Dominica.
It is a peninsula with a hilly section and lowland spit.
Notes: Access to the visitor centre is gained via the road to Portsmouth, north form Roseau. Turn east onto the the secondary road just north of the village of Dublanc but before Morne Espagnol. Continue, up, to an elevation above 1,700ft, for 6.8km through banana plantations until the route levels; then, make a left.
The trail is a 1.77km (1.1mi) lasso shaped loop that can be completed in 6o minutes, at a casual pace.
Dominica is a small island, just 47km (29mi) by 26km (16mi), of volcanic origin--it is the youngest of the islands of the Lesser Antilles with 7 of the region's 19 volcanoes-- and roughly midway between Martinique and Guadeloupe. Substantially of mountains and highlands, rugged and steep, the terrain rises to 1,447m (4,747ft), at Morne Diablotins--the second highest peak of the Lesser Antilles--a dormant volcano, in less than four short miles. It is popularly recalled that Christopher Columbus described the island as "... completely covered with mountains with nary a flat spot."
Access to Dominica is slightly challenging, resulting from small airports, again, due to the terrain, as there are only indirect flights from international points of origin in Europe and North America. International visitors can gain direct flights to Antigua, Barbados, St. Maarten, Puerto Rico, and Guadeloupe, and then access connecting regional flights, on smaller aircrafts, to Douglas-Charles or Canefield Airport in Dominica.
Nature trails are profuse in Dominica. Those better suited for the bird watcher should be rated easy or medium level of difficulty—on the other hand, the birder would go for every extreme--and the round trip should be three to six hours (a half day). In addition to other spots and trails, two segments of the Waitukubuli National Trail (WNT)--segment seven and ten of 14 segments that course from Scott's head, at the bottom of Dominica, to Capucin Cape, at the top of the island, and then on the Cabrits National Park--are recommended for birding. Segment seven goes from Hatton Garden to First Camp--about six hours--and segment ten goes from Colihaut Heights to Syndicate--about four hours.
Dominica has an estimated 194+ bird species, a great part of which are migratory, two bird species are endemic to the island, i.e., the Imperial Parrot (Sisserou) and Red-necked Parrot (Jacko), a further two are endemic to the region--one of which is the blue-headed hummingbird, also found on Martinique--and five species were introduced. The birder should expect hiking terrain and rainy conditions--the island has one of the highest annual rainfall in the world, averaging up to 9,000mm (354in) on exposed mountains and typically surpassing 5,00mm (196in) on the windward coast. The rainiest time of the year is from June through October.
Hikes cross many rivers/streams, with slippery rocks, and streams can experience flash flooding. The birders gear should include a waterproof poncho, camera carrying case and boots. Due to high humidity wear shorts or light pants. A hat or cap may be an asset as well as insect repellant.
Birding this island can be done in less than a week. But with the rain forest, lush vegetation, waterfalls, sulphur springs, breathtaking vistas, and unique island culture there will be excursion creep.
Notes: An operating tropical coffee plantation; The best visiting time is prior to harvesting, March to June, when the beans are ripening.
Access to the estate, via Radnor Road, is a trial. It is a narrow, twisty, and hazardous dirt road, with steep sections. However, the roadside offers further opportunities for birding. Abbey Green is about an hour's drive from Forres Park Nature Resort and Spa. Arrangements to visit Abbey Green can be made at the Spa.
Notes: Ecclesdown Road twist through the foothills of John Crow Mountains. Birders should expect sudden showers, marauding insects, the absence of hospitality facilities and uncertain footing in humid conditions.
Three to six hours in the morning is the best birding time.
There are no hospitality facilities. Hotel Mocking Bird Hill, 30km away, is accessible by car from this location.
Difficult driving conditions due to landslips, potholes, deep ruts, steep inclines make access to the best birding spots demanding.
The south side of the gap can be reached from Kingston in an hour. First head for Papine from their take Gordon Town Road (for a mile and a half) to New Castle Road then follow New Castle Road to New Castle, from there proceed another half mile.
Do not expect hospitality facilities.
The best birding is in the morning in the foliage along the road; venturing off the road is dangerous.
Note: The best birding time is early in the morning as birds are more active then and there is less chance of disruption by crowds and social events. The recommended birding duration for the site is 2-3 hours.
Hours: Mondays–Sundays: 5.30am to 6.00pm (October–February)
Hours: Mondays-Sundays: 5.30am to 6.3opm (March–September)
National Labour Day: Closed
National Heroes's Day: Closed
Notes: Mystic Mountain overlooks Ocho Rios Cruise Ship Terminal, which is only 5 minutes away; Dunn's River Falls is also close by.
Other attractions at this site include a butterfly garden, mountain and seascape views, hiking, cycling, Sky Explorer, a chairlift that soars above the mountain treetops on ascent but weaves through the canopy on the descent; Rainforest Bobsled Jamaica, a 1000 meter sledge through a tropical forest; and Zip-Line that jets the rider, attached by a body harness to overhead cables, through the forest canopy.
Directions: Follow the main road (A1) west from Montego Bay (towards Negril), after passing the town of Reading, 3 miles out, take the Long Hill Road (B8) south that passes through Long Hill Gorge. After a mile the signs to the sanctuary will be visible.
Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean measuring 235km (146mi) by 84km (52mi) at its extremes; many cays to its south add to its size. The island, situated 190km (118mi) to the west of Haiti and 140km (90mi)
south of Cuba, is remarkably mountainous and largely made up of highland, as more than half of the island is above 300 metres. Beware, birding Jamaica involves hiking as most recognized birding sites are on inclines, highlands or mountains, e.g., Abbey Green, Hardwar Gap, Hotel Mocking Bird Hill, and Rocklands Bird Sanctuary.
Nevertheless, the island offers 324 bird species, amongst which a substantial proportion are migratory, 15 were introduced, and 28 are endemic-- three of which are hummingbirds, the Jamaican mango, red-billed streamertail and black-billed streamertail. In addition to the endemic hummingbird species, there is a potential three other species of hummingbirds: the vervain hummingbird, the ruby-throated hummingbird, a migratory visitor, and the bee hummingbird, an incidental visitor from Cuba.
There are various visa requirements for access to Jamaica ranging from none for citizens of the US, Canada, and the Commonwealth, with some exceptions, to visa requirements for citizens of other countries. Visitors may be required, at a minimum, to produce a valid passport, ID, or birth certificate. There are international flights from North America and Europe to the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston and the Donald Sangster International Airport at Montego Bay.
Main Ridge Forest Reserve, off Roxborough to Parlatuvier Road
Notes: The trail head begins at the 35.5km marker on the Roxborough to Parlatuvier Road.
Gilpin Trace is a circuit of 7.6km (4.7mi) that winds through a tropical forest. At the trailhead there is a lookout of the Forestry Division—limited parking is possible there. The trail descends sharply at first proceeding to the north northeast, despite minor diversions. Where the trail's main direction turns to the east south east it incorporates part of the abandoned Roxborough-Bloody Bay Old Road—running roughly west-northwest to east southeast. It rejoins and continues along the Roxborough to Parlatuvier Road—there is cabin of the Forestry Division at this point—heading west southwest until the lookout of the Forestry Division.
In the rainy season—June to December—this trail is very muddy.
Notes: Little Tobago is an uninhabited island that is a seabird refuge. In 1909 the greater bird of paradise, from New Guinea, was introduced. But, in 1963 the island was hit by Hurricane Flora and it is presumed that none of the birds of paradise survived.
The island is 3.01km east, across Tyrell's Bay, from Speyside. It is accessible from a marina at Speyside—a 15 minute boat trip. There is a berth on the western side, a visitor centre near the jetty and four observation posts at highpoints.
Over one-square kilometre, it stands 37 metres (121 ft.) at its highest point; and, lengthwise, the island stretches from the northwest to the southeast. It is bisected by bilateral prominences one to the northeast and the other to the southwest, off centre to the northwest—the jetty is at the corner in the northwest quadrant.
There are over 14km (8.7mi) of trails. They reach all the extremities of the islands. The trek from the jetty to the visitor centre is less than ten minutes uphill. From the jetty the furthest point is to the south east, nearly 1.5km.
Main Ridge Forest Reserve, off Roxborough to Parlatuvier Road
Note: Niplig—Giplin spelt backwards—was established by the Forestry Division around 1985/1986. The trail, on the south side of the Roxborough to Parlatuvier Road, is roughly opposite Gilpin Trace. The trail head begins at the 34.2km mark, further along the road from the Forestry's cabin, i.e., approximately 400m from where Gilpin Trace rejoins the road.
The trail, a circuit of 4.8km (2.98mi), incorporates part of the Roxborough to Parlatuvier Road on its last leg. But, generally, it courses through a part of the Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve, the oldest officially designated as such in the Western Hemisphere, which was established in 1776. At the beginning, secondary forest encompasses the trail but this soon turns to woodland. It rejoins Roxborough to Parlatuvier Road just shy of the Forestry Division's lookout, further west. A great part is steep and often muddy and mosquitoes also abound in this environment—the trail is considered to be very challenging.
Parking is possible at the cabin belonging to the Forestry Division.
Tobago is one of the two main islands of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Situated at 11° 9' N, latitude, and 60° 40' W, it is 30km (19mi) to the northeast of Trinidad.
A cigar-shaped island it is 298 sq. km. (115 sq. mi) or 41km (25.5mi) by 12km (7.5mi). Its highest point, on the Main Ridge, is 600 metres. The Main Ridge is of volcanic origin and runs from the northeast to the southwest. Southwest Tobago is flat lowlands made up of coralline limestone.
Access to Tobago can be accomplished by direct flights from Europe or indirectly from Trinidad and other Caribbean islands. Additionally, an interisland ferry service, with multiple daily sailings, connects the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. There is one visa requirement for both islands of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
There are 279 bird species attributed to the island of Tobago, two of which were introduced—the carib grackle and the green-rumped parrotlet. Evidence of the greater bird of paradise, introduced on the islet of Little Tobago in 1909, have been lost since 1963. A further five species are considered extirpated or presumed so. The island's eight hummingbird species are, substantially, a subset of those found on Trinidad.
The rufous-breasted hermit, black-throated mango, ruby-topaz hummingbird, copper-rumped hummingbird, white-necked jacobin, and blue-chinned sapphire are also native to Trinidad. The white-tailed sabrewing is also found in northeastern Venezuela whilst the green-throated carib is an itinerant visitor from further north in the Lesser Antilles. Hummingbirds can be found in all the habitats on the islands. Of note is the white-tailed sabrewing predilection for the forests surrounding Gilpin and Niplig trails.
Directions: east on the Churchill Roosevelt H'way (from Uriah Butler H'way intersection) towards the town of Arima and Wallerfield (20.8km); turn north on Demerrara Rd (the first road on the left after Santa Rosa Heights, residential community); proceed north on Demerrara Rd (2.9km) to the Eastern Main Rd; cross the Eastern Main Rd directly to Arima Bypass Rd; continue on Arima Bypass Rd (3.1km) to Blanchisseuse Rd; follow Blanchisseuse Rd to the 7¾ mile mark (12.47km up the mountain); turn left onto ASA Wright Nature Centre driveway ("ASA Wright Nature Centre" sign indicates the driveway); follow the driveway to facility for ½ mile (.8km).
Notes: Located on the former Spring Hill Estate, at an altitude of 366 metres (1,200ft), this site is on 607 hectares (1,500 acres) of protected forest. It has an observation deck and several trails totaling 3km.
Directions: from Churchill Roosevelt H'way proceed south on Uriah Butler H'way (1.8km), exit at the Caroni Flyover; continue for 220m, bear right at junction; proceed 58m south, bear right onto Caroni Flyover, continue 280m; turn south, continue south for (160m) then west for 1.13km to the centre.
From Chaguanas proceed north on Uriah Butler Highway (4.42km), exit at Caroni Flyover (200m); make abrupt south turn and continue south (160m) then west for 1.13km.
Notes: A 1.25 square-mile wildlife reserve situated within the 32 square-mile (8,398ha) Caroni Swamp, a brackish mangrove swamp.
Several types of boat tours are possible including:
Late afternoon tour (from 4pm): to witness returning birds, e.g., herons, egrets and Scarlet Ibis, to their roosts.
Photography tour: aims to discover scarlet ibises feeding in their feeding ground and their flight in flocks.
General bird watching tour: a wider variety of birds are sought, including hummingbirds, passerines and various water birds.
Boat tours are in open-air, shallow-bottom pirogues—tour duration usually exceeds three hours.
Directions: from the Eastern Main Road, in St. Augustine, travel north on St. John's road until the private road (1.88km), on the left, to Mount St. Benedict. Continue on the private road, climbing the mountain, passing a vocational school and playing field on the left. After two switchbacks and avoiding any right turns continue until Benet Hall, at the end of the road (3.46km).
Notes: The bird watchers circuit, 3.2km (2mi), begins at the end of Mount St. Benedict's private road (after Benet Hall) and continues west northwest for a few paces and then sharply turns north, climbing through woodland, retracing the nascent route towards the earlier monastery ruins, at 294m, on Mount Tabor (671m). After exiting the woodland it proceeds along a ridge then follows the east (right) prong at a fork in the trail (the left prong goes to Mt. Tabor). From that point the trail descends, with a few switchbacks and skirting a spur on its right, and the direction is generally south. After the southerly direction is reaffirmed, it continues until some stairs on the right that ascend to Benet Hall.
Information about the various sites, in the vicinity, to observe birds can be obtained at Pax Guest House, located at the monastery. Birding tours and nature walks, of the surrounding trails, also, can be arranged there.
Directions: From Sangre Grande, continue southeast on Eastern Main Road to Manzanilla-Mayaro Road (11.6km); continue south on Manzanilla-Mayaro Road (11.5km) till a lengthy concrete bridge that crosses the Nariva River (the Nariva River parallels the Manzanilla-Mayaro Road on the right); after crossing the bridge proceed another 1.2km to a smaller bridge where there is a Nariva Swamp sign and a small house just beyond. From here a 10-minute boat ride to the sanctuary can be arranged.
At the sanctuary there is a boat-landing on its north eastern end, a forestry house, and several kilometres of trails. For the most part the trails run along the spine of the peninsula from north-northeast to south-southeast. Also, there are fire traces, sometimes very faint, at the dry wet boundary on the eastern edge that are sometimes passable.
An entry permit is necessary for access. Contact the Wildlife Section of the Min. of Agriculture or a tour operator.
The twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is the southernmost of the Caribbean's archipelagic island chain. It is merely 11km (6.8mi) off the northeast coast of Venezuela. Direct access, by air, to the Republic is possible from North America, South America, Central America, Europe, and other Caribbean islands. The main points of entry are Piarco International Airport, Piarco, Trinidad and Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson International Airport, Crown Point, Tobago.
Rectangular, Trinidad is 4,768 sq. km (1,841 sq. mi), roughly 80km (50mi) by 59km (37mi) and has three mountain ranges, running east to west. Mountainous and cigar-shaped Tobago is 298 sq. km. (115 sq. mi), 41km (25.5mi) by 12km (7.5mi). Trinidad is 30km (19mi) to the southwest of Tobago. Travel to and fro between any birding site and any population centre on either island can be accomplished in less than half a day. However, a full day must be reserved for travel—either by aircraft or ferry—between the islands of Trinidad and Tobago.
The Republic's bird species, mainly, are a microcosm—481 species, including migratory species, 4 introduced species, almost two dozen hummingbird species, and two endemics—of South America due to the continent's proximity and intertwined natural history.
The island of Trinidad is credited with 459 bird species. Amongst them the Trinidad piping-guan is endemic to the island of Trinidad whilst the Trinidad motmot is endemic to the region, i.e., Trinidad and Tobago. The island of Trinidad claims 21 species of hummingbirds one-third of them—rufous-breasted hermit, black-throated mango, ruby-topaz hummingbird, copper-rumped hummingbird, white-necked jacobin, blue-chinned sapphire, and green-throated carib—it shares with Tobago.