Category Archives: Bahamas

Cruise Birding: Great Stirrup Cay

The itinerary of our Caribbean cruise on the Norwegian Spirit called for a day at sea on December 31, 2015. A group of 12 Brown Boobies followed the ship for a while and we watched them hunt flying fish and loaf on the water between feeding. A lifer for us.

Brown Booby
Brown Booby

The first day of 2016 found us on Norwegian Cruise Line’s private Bahamas island, Great Stirrup Cay. We walked the hiking trail a few times and found some birds and other creatures on the way. We added three lifers here: Bahama Woodstar (hummingbird); Bahama Swallow; and Black-faced Grassquit. There were gulls and terns loafing around the beaches and we even found a few overwintering songbirds: Gray Catbirds; Palm Warblers; Yellow-rumped Warblers; and an American Redstart.

Bahama Woodstar on Great Stirrup Cay
Bahama Woodstar

Black-faced Grassquit on Great Stirrup Cay
Black-faced Grassquit

Bananaquit on Great Stirrup Cay

Black Witch moth on Great Stirrup Cay
Black Witch moth

on Great Stirrup Cay
unidentified little friend

on Great Stirrup Cay
unidentified little friend

The hiking trail was overgrown in places and became hard to follow a few times. It’s really nice to have a nature trail to follow and we wish NCL would take better care of it.

Hiking Trail on Great Stirrup Cay
Hiking Trail on Great Stirrup Cay

We brought along our own snorkeling gear and did a bit of underwater exploring as well.

snorkeling Great Stirrup Cay
Arthur snorkeling

snorkeling Great Stirrup Cay

snorkeling Great Stirrup Cay
stingray sp.

The island can be crowded at the main beach but we found lots of places where we could relax in peace. It was a great, relaxing start to 2016.

NCL Spirit from Great Stirrup Cay
NCL Spirit and giant Laughing Gulls

NCL Spirit Cruise eBird Checklists: day at sea & Great Stirrup Cay
Boobies following ship
Great Stirrup Cay

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1st Time Bahamas — Lifers in Freeport

At the end of October*, Arthur and I took a short cruise to Freeport in the Bahamas with Celebration Cruise Line. When I say short, I mean: we left the Port of Palm Beach Sunday night, arrived in Freeport Monday morning, left the Bahamas early Monday evening, and were back in Palm Beach Tuesday morning.

For our short time on Grand Bahama, we used the guide services of longtime island resident Erika Gates. We were joined by another birding couple for the day. Our tour included transportation from the port to four different birding locations and a pleasant lunch at the Garden of the Groves. Erika was a friendly and knowledgeable guide and we were very happy to finish the day with our brand new Bahamas list at 49 species, 9 of which were lifers.

Erika picked us up at the port taxi stand after we disembarked. She told us about the history of Freeport on the drive over to our first stop, The Emerald Golf Course. This is an abandoned course which is now a birding hotspot on the island. Here we spent just over an hour and found 26 species, including 5 lifers: White-cheeked Pintail; Least Grebe; La Sagra’s Flycatcher; Red-legged Thrush; and Worm-eating Warbler. That last one was a nemesis of mine for a while, and continues to be a county thorn in my side. They regularly migrate through central Florida, but I manage to miss them every season. So please, don’t ever mention Worm-eating Warblers to me.

birding group
Looking for birds at Emerald Golf Course

La Sagra's Flycatcher (Myiarchus sagrae)
La Sagra’s Flycatcher at Emerald Golf Course

Least Grebe (Tachybaptus dominicus)
Least Grebe at Emerald Golf Course

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
American Kestrel at Emerald Golf Course

Black-throated Green Warbler (Setophaga virens)
Black-throated Green Warbler at Emerald Golf Course

The most exciting bird at this spot was a species I’d seen many times before. We were walking along a dilapidated golf cart path when I noticed a sparrow hopping along the concrete in front of us. I got it in my bins and said something like, “Sparrow up ahead on the path! Hey, that looks like a Lincoln’s Sparrow! What do you think, Erika?” She got a bit excited but also said she did not know what it was, because they don’t get any sparrows on Grand Bahama! All five of us tried to get better looks and I was sure it was a Lincoln’s. I got some photos for ID of this locally rare bird. It was a life bird for Erika.

Lincoln's Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii)
Lincoln’s Sparrow at Emerald Golf Course

Our next stop was Erika’s house to see what birds might be visiting her extremely bird-friendly property – Garden of the Gates. We walked the paths and checked out the many water features, looking for birds. Here we saw 19 species, including two lifers: Loggerhead Kingbird and Thick-billed Vireo. We also had really nice looks at a bunch of migrants.

Red-legged Thrush (Turdus plumbeus)
Red-legged Thrush in Erika’s yard

Northern Parula (Setophaga americana)
Northern Parula in Erika’s yard

Our next destination was Reef Golf Course, another unused golf course, where we saw 7 species during our brief stop. We didn’t add any lifers here, but 5 out of the 7 weren’t seen anywhere else during the day.

Green Heron (Butorides virescens)
Green Heron at Reef Golf Course

Our final stop with Erika was at the wonderful Garden of the Groves, where we had 22 species. Two of these were life birds: Cuban Emerald; and Greater Antillean Bullfinch. The 12-acre tropical garden was designed as a gift to the founders of Freeport, Mr. Wallace Groves and his wife Georgette. In addition to exploring the paths here in search of birds, we had a nice lunch at the on-site cafe.

Cuban Emerald (Chlorostilbon ricordii))
Cuban Emerald at Garden of the Groves

birding group
Our birding group at Garden of the Groves

Birding Guide Erika Gates
Our guide Erika at Garden of the Groves

At the end of the afternoon Erika brought us back to the port. From the ship’s deck I kept a list of birds seen at the Freeport Cruise Port, where I found four species total and added my final Bahamas species: Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

We had a Groupon-style deal on the cruise which made this little getaway an affordable short and memorable birding trip.

*October 2013

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