Saint Lucia Birdwatching
When birdwatchers consider a new destination for their next holiday, one of the first questions they ask is "what are the speciality birds of the area?". High on their list of priorities will be birds that are endemic to that location - in other words, they are found nowhere else on earth. St Lucia is blessed with five such species and four of them can be found within the grounds of Anse Chastanet with the fifth located not too far away.
Firstly there is the St Lucia Pewee - a delightful small flycatcher; green on top and orange underneath which sallies out from its favored perch in search of prey before returning to the same branch. These can be found both along the entrance track to the resort and also in the estate at Anse Mamin. Next, the St Lucia Warbler, both brightly colored and inquisitive; blue-gray above with bright yellow under-parts and black facial markings, it is widespread throughout the grounds.
Not quite as numerous, but both dramatic and boldly colored is the yellow and black St Lucia Oriole. Back in 1987, there were considered to be less than 60 pairs in existence, however there has been a considerable recovery since and probably two different pairs can be found at Anse Mamin.
Finally, there is "Jacquot," our national bird, officially known as the St Lucia Parrot or Amazona Versicolor. Threatened by extinction in the 80's, there now is a flourishing population of perhaps 1,000 birds normally found in the nearby rainforest and selected areas.
Whilst not strictly endemic, two other species easily found on property only occur on one or two nearby islands: the Lesser Antillean Saltator and the Gray Trembler. Both are easily found in the damp lowland deciduous estates and the drier forested slopes.
However, you don't have to hike into the woods to find a wealth of colorful birdlife. Both Green and Purple-throated Caribs together with their tiny relative the Antillean Crested Hummingbird can be found taking nectar from the flowerbeds surrounding the accommodation areas; both Zenaida Doves and Common Ground-Doves amble along the walkways in the early mornings whilst Scaly-naped Pigeons, Scaly-breasted Thrashers, Tropical Mockingbirds and Gray Kingbirds are ever present along the tree-lined roadways. Overhead, both Broad-winged Hawks and American Kestrels keep an eye out for prey; Magnificent Frigate birds, or "Cisseau" as they are known locally simply hang in the air looking for a free meal whilst in the restaurant, if you don't keep a watchful eye on your butter or jam, those piratical Lesser Antillean Bullfinches and Bananaquits will enjoy a stolen breakfast.
And a final note on the subject of "special birds." Keen "birders" will be well aware just how shy and elusive Mangrove Cuckoos are to see - there is nowhere in the world where this species is easier to find than at Anse Chastanet.
By Ed Drewitt
Ed Drewitt is a freelance naturalist showing people wildlife around the world. He also studies urban Peregrines and has a book published in June. Ed has been escorting birdwatching groups to Anse Chastanet, Saint Lucia for the past 4 years.
Once you step off the plane onto the runway in St Lucia the hot sunshine hits your skin; the air smells and feels tropical and moist. The lush vegetation and colourful flowers grace towns and villages on your way to Anse Chastanet. On every other power line Grey Kingbirds, a type of flycatcher, stand tall waiting to fly out in a circle to catch an insect while gangs of Carib Grackles, black, glossy birds related to the Starling look for grubs and insects.
Anse Chastanet offers the ideal location to spot common birds of St Lucia including many that are only found on the island (endemics) and is well positioned to travel out from on day trips to see many of the more secretive and rarer birds in the mountain rainforests.
As you enter the Treehouse Restaurant for breakfast it is worth taking your binoculars and camera to spot the local Lesser Antillean Bullfinches, bright yellow Banaquits, and iridescent Carib Grackles looking for titbits. You may even be lucky to spot a Grey Trembler, quivering its wings in excitement. If you take a table looking out across the tree canopies you have a good chance of spotting some shy species such as the Spectacled Thrush, a brown thrush with yellow colour skin around its eyes.
From the bar you can enjoy the freshest of cocktails while watching Scaly-breasted Thrashers feeding in the adjacent trees, and as the sun drops below the horizon the beautiful song of the Tropical Mockingbird permeates the airwaves. Free-tailed Bats begin to fly around in big numbers, and down by the beach the White-crowned Night Heron may appear to feed on Ghost Crabs.
Keep your eyes up towards the sky – you never know what may pass overhead from frigatebirds to Brown Boobies, and Peregrines to Ospreys.
Throughout Anse Chastanet, the colourful, tubular flowers provide the perfect food source for hummingbirds. There are three to look for – the Antillean Crested Hummingbird, green with a distinctive crest on its head; the Purple Carib, often looks black but in the right light to a lovely purple or Merlot red; and the Green Carib, a green hummingbird but without the crest.
In the nearby Anse Mamim Broad-winged Hawks and American Kestrels may soar overhead and the woodland is home to Spectacled Thrushes, vireos, St Lucia Warblers, and St Lucia Peewees. The stream running through the woods is a good spot to look for Spotted Sandpipers, Blue and Green Herons.
The dawn chorus around 6am is a time to listen for the Grey Kingbirds – the main sound you will hear in the morning accompanied by the calls of Zanaida Doves and perhaps the mockingbird.
An early start is also a good time to visit some of the forest nature reserves where you have the chance to see the endemic parrot, the St Lucia Parrot. A colourful bird, this large parrot disappears in its forest habitat as its colours make it very well camouflaged. St Lucia Peewees, St Lucia Warblers and hummingbirds are all common. And in these areas you may also see or hear the St Lucia Oriole, a black and yellow bird with steely grey legs and beak and the Rufous-throated Solitaire with its beautiful single note song. Meanwhile, the Millet reserve is a good place to watch for the St Lucia Black Finch as it comes to feed on coconuts put out for it.
Whether you just want to chill on the beach or fancy more of an adventure around Anse Chastanet's estate or further afield into the native forests you can be sure to see something and catch a glimpse of St Lucia's wild side.