My wife and I spent from March 27 – April 4, 2008 in the Lesser Antilles. The trip was a combined relaxing vacation with several excursions to try and find the Lesser Antillean endemics. We visited four islands (Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Dominica).
I would strongly recommend seeing each subspecies on every island you visit. With the current momentum of splitting, many of the Lesser Antillean island subspecies are likely to be elevated to species status. Example: each of the four islands we visited has its own subspecies of House Wren and all four look and sound different (and habitat requirements are much different for several of these subspecies).
This trip report will focus on the St. Vincent portion of the trip. Our main targets were St. Vincent’s Parrot and Whistling Warbler (the two endemics). The primary location for these species (at least the main location that people go to look for these two species) is the Vermont Forest Reserve. The area is easily accessed from Kingston.
Vermont Forest Reserve (Vermont Nature Trail)
Kingston Botanical Gardens
We arrived at the Kingston airport at 3:15pm on a LIAT flight direct from Grenada on March 30. We spent one night. I had planned to bird the Vermont Nature Trail on the afternoon of March 30 and morning of March 31 if necessary. Due to delays in getting a rental car, I arrived at the Vermont Nature Trail shortly before dark and only saw (poor views) the St. Vincent’s Parrot.
Birds and Reference material:
St. Vincent has two endemic species (St. Vincent Parrot and Whistling Warbler). Additionally, Grenada Flycatcher and Lesser Antillean Tanager only occur only on St. Vincent and Grenada (The Lesser Antillean Tanager on St. Vincent is a different subspecies from that on Grenada). We also targeted Short-tailed Swift and Common Black Hawk as St. Vincent is the only Caribbean island for these two species.
We used the field guide “Birds of the West Indies” by Herbert Raffaele and others, published in 2003. It adequately depicts the expected species. We also had the CD, Bird Songs of the Antilles, “Oiseaux des Antilles”. Realize that most of this CD is in French but the names are also provided in English. We downloaded the CD to our MP3 player and brought a small speaker so that we could tape in species. I did not need to use the tape for Whistling Warbler as I heard multiple birds singing on my hike up to the parrot overlook, but it helps to be familiar with the song.
We were self guided for the entire time in St. Vincent. Fitzroy Springer is a recommended guide: email@example.com
Timing of the trip:
My understanding is that April is the best time to visit to combine best chances for Whistling Warbler (singing) with some chances at seabirds. The rainy season is May through November with July through November being hurricane season.
St. Vincent is one the most southern Lesser Antilles islands. The airport is in the south/central portion of the island. They are currently proposing a new larger international airport on the southeast portion of the island. The official language is English.
Driving and Rental Car:
Driving is on the left side of the road and the vehicles have the steering wheel on the right side of the car. Similar to Grenada, the roads are narrow and winding. In general, you must drive slow, such that despite short distances between locations, transit time is longer than anticipated as you are unlikely to ever drive over 40mph. The roads were in good condition. I had a high clearance vehicle but did not need it. There are a couple of steep sections towards the end of the road to the Vermont Nature trail that a small 2 wheel drive may have trouble (especially if the road were wet). However, even if you have trouble on these steep sections, you could park and easily walk to the Vermont Nature Trail. The roads often have deep/steep ditches on the sides of the road, thus you must be careful not to get too close to the side of the road. With the winding roads, the steep ditches and the oncoming traffic (often trucks), driving can be harrowing.
Avis has a rental car office at the airport. I would advise renting from them if available. I tried to book from Avis but they did not have a car available when I attempted to make reservations. Thus, we booked a rental car by phone with DJ’s Rental Car. DJ’s Rental Car office is about 500 meters from the airport. They told us to call their cell phone on arrival and they would pick us up at the airport and give us the car. On arrival, we called and were informed that they were closed. So despite taking our reservations for a rental car for Sunday afternoon, they were closed and would not rent us a car when we arrived!!!! I would avoid DJ’s Rental Car as they do not appear reliable. I walked to the Avis office and they were able to call Ben’s Rental Car Company who rented us a SUV (US $81/day). I then had to take a Taxi to Ben’s Rental Car Company (taxi cost EC $20). Ben would only take payment in cash (no credit car for a one-day rental). Gas was expensive (EC$ 12.25/gallon). There were plenty of gas stations in the Kingston area (I am not sure of their hours of operation).
I picked up the Skyviews map of St. Vincent in the airport (also available at our hotel). It is adequate for the areas of interest.
Taxis and local transportation:
My understanding is that taxis are expensive. You can get to Kingston Botanical Garden by bus (actually vans) but you can not get all the way to Vermont Nature Trail by public transport. You can get close with public transport but not all the way to the Nature Trail.
We hired the following taxi service to get us from the airport to Ben’s Rental Car: PEECH taxi services, cell: 533-6332 or 455-6509. He was reliable and very helpful during our time with him.
Currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (EC). We never exchanged money, but withdrew EC Dollars from the ATM. There was one ATM at the airport and there are ATMs at banks. Most locations accept US dollars (US$) and provide change in EC Dollars. The locals gave an exchange rate of EC $2.6 = US $1.
Hotels and Food:
We stayed at the Villa Lodge hotel. We were able to book at reasonable rate (US $105/night) on their website (http://www.villalodgehotel.com/). Contact information as follows: telephone: 784-458-4641, email: firstname.lastname@example.org . Food was expensive (although good) at the hotel restaurant. Due to less tourism, there are fewer places to stay on St. Vincent than other Lesser Antillean Islands. We went during the end of the high season and booked the hotel a couple nights before our departure.
We ate dinner at the hotel. There are KFC fast food places in Kingston.
Vermont Nature Trail: This is the best location for the St. Vincent Parrot and Whistling Warbler. My directions originate from the Texaco gas station/hospital at the west end of Kingston (corner of Queens Street and Tyrrel Street) and the distances given originate from this Texaco station. Go north on the main road in front of the Texaco gas station and you will immediately go through a S intersection (hospital on your left). In approximately 0.9 kilometers, a sign for the Kingston Botanical Gardens appears on the right. Continue along the road (as you head over the hill out of Kingston), at 3.7 km there will be a turn to your left that goes to Camden Park (good views of the coast). However, keep going straight. As you continue on, there will be a Texaco gas station on your left and you will go through Chauncey and Quesstelles. At 6.8 km, there is a turn to the right with a sign for the Vermont Nature Trail (with a picture of a parrot). Take this right turn. You will drive through Dubois. At 8.5km, you will come to a T intersection. Go right at the T intersection. At 9.7 km, the road forks, take the left fork. At 11.7 km, there is another fork, take the right fork. At 12.6 km, you will reach the car park for the Vermont Nature Trail. Prior trip reports indicate that people have trouble finding the trail to the parrot overlook. I did not have trouble, but will give the following advice. Stand facing the large Information board, and walk to your left. You will go down to a stream and take the bridge across the stream. This trail will take you up to the parrot overlook.
Kingston Botanical Gardens: see directions above. Once you see the sign for the Botanical Gardens, turn right (east) for the Botanical Gardens (there is a waterworks building adjacent to the Botanical Gardens). I ultimately parked in the waterworks parking lot. There is an entry fee to enter the Botanical Gardens (EC $10). You can also walk and bird along the road that parallels the botanical gardens as the birding is good along this road.
There is a departure tax to leave the island. It is payable as you go through security screening. You get the best rate by paying in EC$.
Weather & Clothing:
This is the dry season on St. Vincent. However, I suffered a significant amount of rain on my walk from the parking area at the Vermont Nature Trail to the parrot overlook. You should bring an umbrella and/or raingear. Fortunately, the rain stopped just prior to my arrival at the parrot overlook and I had about 1 hour of no rain on the trail.
Mosquitoes were not a problem in any place that we went. We never saw a snake. We had no problems with ticks or leeches.
If you are planning a trip purely for birding and want to see the two endemics, you could probably fly in early morning and depart in the afternoon. This should give you enough time to get from the airport to the Vermont Nature Trail and find the target species. The drive from the airport to the Vermont Nature Trail takes about 35-45 minutes depending on traffic (very early morning = no traffic). We had originally planned to do St. Vincent as a stop-over on our way from Grenada to St. Lucia. LIAT has routes from Grenada to St. Lucia that stop-over for various amounts of time in St. Vincent. We had targeted the flight that departs from Grenada at 0605 and arrive in St. Vincent at 0640 (there is also a flight that leaves at 0700 and arrives at St. Vincent 0735). You then get a rental car or taxi or bird guide and go to the Vermont Nature Trail. The LIAT connection to St. Lucia then leaves St. Vincent airport at 1415. Thus, you would have plenty of time to find the two endemics. This would save you money (as you are only buying one plane ticket (from Grenada to St. Lucia) instead of two plane tickets (one ticket from Grenada to St. Vincent and a second ticket for St. Vincent to St. Lucia). Potential problems with this itinerary would include: getting a rental car at 0700 (I do not believe that any agencies are open at that time), having bad weather (rain) that causes you to miss one of the endemics, and relying on LIAT to get your luggage through a complicated connection (although we did not have any problems on any of our stops, LIAT is rumored to have a problem of losing luggage).
Other helpful trip reports:
Lesser Antilles December 2003 by Jeff Hopkins: http://maybank.tripod.com/Caribbean/Caribbean-12-2003.htm
Lesser Antilles November 1999 by Frank Frazier: This report is getting dated.
Red-footed Booby: four seen offshore Kingston harbor
Little Blue Heron: around the water treatment plant near the Vermont Nature trail
Cattle Egret: common throughout
Green Heron: several along the streams heading up the valley to the Vermont Nature trail
Common Black-Hawk: one at the water treatment plant, one along the stream on the Vermont Trail and two near the Botanical Gardens
Broad-winged Hawk: four in the valley to the Vermont Nature trail
Spotted Sandpiper: at the water treatment plant near the Vermont Nature trail
Laughing Gull: off Kingston
Eared Dove: common
Common Ground-Dove: common
Ruddy Quail-Dove: two seen remarkably well along the Vermont Nature trail, one very close to the start of the trail (just beyond the bridge), subspecies martinica
St. Vincent Parrot: six seen on the first afternoon visit. Over 20 seen on the next morning, including one perched in a tree very close to the parrot overlook.
Purple-throated Carib: common along the Vermont Nature Trail
Green-throated Carib: several at the Kingston Botanical Gardens
Antillean Crested Hummingbird: common at the Kingston Botanical Gardens, subspecies: ornatus
Caribbean Elaenia: three along the Vermont Nature Trail
Yellow-bellied Elaenia: two at the Kingston Botanical Gardens
Gray Kingbird: common throughout
Grenada Flycatcher: one at the Kingston Botanical Gardens
House Wren: two seen and more head along the Vermont Nature Trail
Tropical Mockingbird: several in lower elevations
Brown Trembler: near parrot overlook on Vermont Nature Trail, subspecies tenebrosa
Rufous-throated Solitaire: singing on the Vermont Nature Trail
Cocoa Thrush: Vermont Nature Trail
Bare-eyed Thrush: several at lower elevations (near hotel and Kingston Botanical Gardens)
Black-whiskered Vireo: common
Whistling Warbler: one seen and an additional three heard on the Vermont Nature Trail
Bananaquit: common throughout, subspecies atrata
Lesser Antillean Tanager: two near the parrot overlook on Vermont Nature Trail
Black-faced Grassquit: common
Lesser Antillean Bullfinch: common, subspecies crissalis
Carib Grackle: a couple at the Kingston Botanical Gardens. Of all the Lesser Antillean islands, I understand Carib Grackle is the most difficult on St. Vincent. I photographed two at the Gardens. Subspecies contrusus