Category Archives: Cruise Birding

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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Cruise Birding: Ocho Rios, Jamaica

On December 30, our Caribbean cruise on the Norwegian Spirit stopped at Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Here we booked a private tour with Carolyn Barrett of Barrett Adventures. We asked for a birding tour but got more of a general tour where we stopped at some random somewhat birdy spots with a binocularless guide. She knew a lot about the island and its wildlife but for the most part identifications were left up to us. This was a bit disappointing. I added seven life species here, including Streamertail (hummingbird); Jamaican Tody; Sad Flycatcher; Bananaquit; Smooth-billed Ani; White-chinned Thrush; and Jamaican Oriole.

White River, Ocho Rios Jamaica
White River in Ocho Rios (photo by Arthur)

Black-crowned Night-Heron
Immature Black-crowned Night-Heron along the White River

Loggerhead Kingbird
Loggerhead Kingbird at Walkers Woods

Walkers Wood, Jamaica
Arthur birding at Walkers Woods

Sad Flycatcher
Sad Flycatcher at Walkers Woods

Jamaican Oriole
Jamaican Oriole at Faith’s Pen

Just a couple of days were left on our cruise! First we’d spend the last day of the year at sea, and then New Year’s Day on Norwegian’s private island in the Bahamas. Post to follow!

NCL Spirit Cruise eBird Checklists: Ocho Rios, Jamaica
White River between St. Mary’s & St. Ann’s
Walkers Wood
Faith’s Pen
St. Ann’s Bay – Arg Byfield Highway
Ocho Rios port area

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Cruise Birding: Chacchoben Ruins from Costa Maya, Mexico

Arthur and I spent the last days of 2015 and the first of 2016 on a 7-night Norwegian cruise around the Caribbean. We had several ports: Costa Maya, Mexico; George Town, Grand Cayman; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; and Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. Birding was not our primary objective for the most part; I added 16 life species over the holiday.

In Costa Maya we opted for a tour of the ruins at Chacchoben which we booked via The Native Choice. In the port area and walking from the ship to the tour guide offices, we found three lifers: Tropical Kingbird; Tropical Mockingbird; and Great-tailed Grackle. At the ruins we noted 10 bird species, including lifers Brown Jay and Great Kiskadee. A Short-tailed Hawk flew overhead and there were spider monkeys in the trees.

ruins at Chacchoben
One of several pyramids at the ruins of Chacchoben near Costa Maya, Mexico

ruins at Chacchoben
One of several pyramids at the ruins of Chacchoben near Costa Maya, Mexico

Brown Jay at ruins at Chacchoben
Brown Jay at the ruins of Chacchoben (photo by Arthur)

spider monkey at ruins at Chacchoben
Spider monkey sp. at the ruins of Chacchoben (photo by Arthur)

Back in port, Magnificent Frigatebirds flew low overhead; this photo was taken with my iPhone!

MAFR over Costa Maya
Magnificent Frigatebirds at the port of Costa Maya

NCL Spirit from Costa Maya
The NCL Spirit at the port of Costa Maya (photo by Arthur)

The next day our ship docked off of George Town in Grand Cayman. Here we booked a snorkeling excursion via the cruise ship. It was a mediocre experience — the snorkel boat left behind a pair of our fellow tourists at the first location and the two spots where we stopped didn’t have much going on sealife-wise. I entered one small checklist here to note the frigatebirds flying around port and House Sparrows that were busy around a church garden. I was surprised when the sparrows got flagged by eBird as rare. Huh?

The following day we planned on birding in Jamaica — see next post!

NCL Spirit Cruise eBird Checklists: Costa Maya & Grand Cayman
Costa Maya port area
Ruinas Chacchoben
Grand Cayman port area

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Cruise Birding: A Day in Madeira

Back in May 2014, Arthur and I took a transatlantic cruise from Miami to Barcelona on the Norwegian Epic. Along the way we had one stop — one day in Madeira. We hired a private bird guide, Catarina from Madeira Wind Birds for the day; we had a great time.

We didn’t have high expectations for the outing, especially since the ship arrived in Funchal port late in the morning, past prime birding time. Our first checklist started at 11AM! In the end we ended up seeing 26 species over 8 checklists, with 8 lifers. Our bird list is at the end of this post.

Madeira first look
Approaching Madeira

We watched as our ship approached the island. It was covered in clouds and hard to see — our first impression was that we would have a dreary day, but this misty, cloudy start is typical of Madeira. By the time we could disembark the skies had cleared. We walked off the pier and met our guide.

Madeira Zebra
Wide pedestrian path adjacent to Funchal cruise port

Our first stop, Ponta de São Lourenço, was at the far eastern side of the island. Here we successfully searched for Berthelot’s Pipit. In the windswept fields we also found a lark which we had trouble identifying in the field. Using photos and our guidebooks we were able to ID this bird as a Greater Short-toed Lark with the help of our guide Catarina. This bird is considered a rare vagrant on the island.

Madeira scenery
Madeira’s eastern coast

Madeira birding
Looking for pipits

Madeira Berthelot's Pipit
Berthelot’s Pipit

Madeira Greater Short-toed Lark
Greater Short-toed Lark

On the way to our next stop we picked up Spanish Sparrows nesting in urban palm trees. Along the water at Porto de Recreio de Machico we added 8 species.

Madeira Spanish Sparrow
Spanish Sparrow

Porto de Recreio de Machico

Maderia Gray Wagtail
Gray Wagtail

Madeira Eurasian Blackcap
Eurasian Blackcap

Madeira Island Canary
Island Canary

Madeira European Goldfinch
European Goldfinch

At our final stop, Santo António da Serra, we successfully searched for Madeira Firefinch. This is a local subspecies that we didn’t think we would find, considering the time of day. It was a lucky tick, though I was not so fortunate with my camera.

Driving back to Monte, we spotted a Eurasian Kestrel hovering over the airport.

Arthur and I had lunch in Monte and looked around a bit before taking the scenic Teleférico do Funchal aerial tram back down to the port. The other fun way to descend from the town of Monte back down to the port is via toboggan. We watched the drivers for a bit before we got on the tram.

Madeira tile
Tile work in an abandoned building

Madeira sleds

Madeira sled
Toboggan driver

Madeira air tram
Arthur with NCL Epic in the background

Madeira bridge
View from the tram

View from the tram

The Madeira Flower Festival was winding down during our visit, so we saw lots of flower displays throughout Funchal as we walked back to the Epic for the continuation of our journey from Miami to Barcelona.

Madeira flower festival
Flowers in Funchal

Madeira flower festival
Flowers in Funchal frame the Epic

Madeira port murals
Funchal port murals

Madeira Bird List May 5, 2014; lifers bold

Muscovy Duck – Cairina moschata
Cory’s Shearwater – Calonectris diomedea
Manx Shearwater – Puffinus puffinus
Little Egret – Egretta garzetta
Eurasian Sparrowhawk – Accipiter nisus
Common Buzzard – Buteo buteo
Eurasian Moorhen – Gallinula chloropus
Ruddy Turnstone – Arenaria interpres
Yellow-legged Gull – Larus michahellis
Lesser Black-backed Gull – Larus fuscus
Roseate Tern – Sterna dougallii
Common Tern – Sterna hirundo
Rock Pigeon – Columba livia
Eurasian Kestrel – Falco tinnunculus
Greater Short-toed Lark – Calandrella brachydactyla
Firecrest – Regulus ignicapilla
Eurasian Blackcap – Sylvia atricapilla
European Robin – Erithacus rubecula
Eurasian Blackbird – Turdus merula
Gray Wagtail – Motacilla cinerea
Berthelot’s Pipit – Anthus berthelotii
Common Chaffinch – Fringilla coelebs
European Greenfinch – Chloris chloris
European Goldfinch – Carduelis carduelis
Island Canary – Serinus canaria
Spanish Sparrow – Passer hispaniolensis

eBird checklists:
Ponta de São Lourenço
Caniçal Spanish Sparrow location
Porto de recreio de Machico
Santo António da Serra
Madeira Airport drive-by
Marina do Funchal
Funchal at sea

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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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