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.
Looking for birds at Emerald Golf Course
La Sagra’s Flycatcher at Emerald Golf Course
Least Grebe at Emerald Golf Course
American Kestrel at Emerald Golf Course
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 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 in Erika’s yard
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 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 at Garden of the Groves
Our birding group at Garden of the Groves
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.