Caribbean cruise. 3rd - 17th  January 2016


I was a lecturer on the M.V. Voyager on a cruise to the Caribbean calling at Jamaica, Turks and Caicos islands, Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Cuba and Mexico.

Itinerary and birds seen:-

Sunday 3rd January 2016.

Depart Gatwick Airport 10:30 local time on Preferential chartered aircraft to Montego Bay, Jamaica, arriving 16:30 local time. Transfer short distance to M.V. Voyager. Night in Montego Bay. Cloudy with slight shower.

Brown Pelican (5); Magnificent Frigatebird (60); Great Blue Heron (2); Great Egret (2); Cattle Egret (30); American Kestrel (2); Royal Tern (4); Antillean Palm Swift (6); Grey Kingbird (5)

Monday 4th January 2016.

Pre-breakfast walk along pier where M.V. Voyager berthed (quite productive – found a Red-billed Streamertail male here as well as a selection of American wood warblers), then depart 09:20 via private taxi to Rocklands Bird Sanctuary. Taxi driver Murphy and met with Fitz at Rockland. Price taxi $120 US; Rockland $100 US. A very good morning. Return to ship 13:15. My wife and I were the only people at Rockland, and we had a walk along the road near the property with Fitz as well as birding from the property itself.

Then departed Montego Bay at 16:00 heading for Grand Turk on Turks and Caicos islands.

Lovely clear sky morning, slight cloud by middle of day. Warm. Calm.

Brown Pelican (6); Magnificent Frigatebird (3); Cattle Egret (50); Turkey Vulture (1); Royal Tern (1); Mourning Dove (2); Zenaida Dove (2); White-winged Dove (2); Common Ground Dove (1); Olive-throated Parakeet (4); Northern Potoo (1, found by Chris); Antillean Palm Swift (10); Jamaican Mango (2 males); Red-billed Streamertail (10 males); Jamaica Woodpecker (2); Eastern Kingbird (1); Loggerhead Kingbird (1); Sad Flycatcher (2); Northern Mockingbird (2); White-chinned Thrush (1); Jamaican Crow (2); Northern Parula (2); Black-throated blue Warbler (10); Yellow-throated Warbler (1); Prairie Warbler (2); Palm Warbler (2); American Redstart (1); Jamaican Euphonia (1); Bananaquit (30); Saffron Finch (2); Orangequit (4); Yellow-faced Grassquit (4); Black-faced Grassquit (2); Jamaican Oriole (2); Shiny Cowbird (2).

Tuesday 5th January 2016.

Day at sea. No birds seen, no cetaceans. Calm, dry. Warm.

Wednesday 6th January 2016.

Arrive Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos, 07:30.  Left ship 08:30. Collect hire care from Nathan’s car hire. $80 all day – dropped off with keys in ignition at collection point. Day spent exploring the island. Dry sunny and very warm. Locals very friendly and helpful. Return to ship 18:15. Depart 18:45 for overnight to Dominican Republic.

Great Blue Heron (2); Great Egret (4); Reddish Egret (3); Tricoloured Heron (1); Cattle Egret (30); Green Heron (2); Caribbean Flamingo (2); American Wigeon (2); White-cheeked Pintail (4); Blue-winged Teal (2); Osprey (4); American Kestrel (2); Merlin (1); American Oystercatcher (2); Grey Plover (15); Semi-palmated Plover (2); Kildeer (4); Whimbrel (2); Spotted Sandpiper (2); Lesser Yellowlegs (20); Turnstone (10); Sanderling (1); Semipalmated Sandpiper (2); Least Sandpiper (2); Stilt Sandpiper (25); Lesser Black-backed Gull (2); (Royal Tern (4); Collared Dove (2); Common Ground Dove (4); Zenaida Dove (2); Smooth-billed Ani (12); Belted Kingfisher (2); Barn Swallow (5); Northern Mockingbird (20); Blue-grey Gnatcatcher (1); Palm Warbler (4)

Thursday 7th January 2016.

Arrive Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, 08:00. Depart via taxi to Isabella de Torres. Drive up (not cable car). Walk around botanical trails – excellent and well maintained – as well as spectacular views back to the port.  $75 US excluding tip. Driver Eduardo, and guide (we hadn’t asked for one but he was good) Simon.

After walking around up on top drove back to arrive at ship at 13:00.

Dry, sunny and very warm.

Cattle Egret (20); Turkey Vulture (10); Royal Tern (5); Spotted Sandpiper (1); Scaly-naped Pigeon (1); Collared Dove (30); Common Ground Dove (2); Hispaniolan Lizard Cuckoo (2); Antillean Palm Swift (3); Hispaniolan Emerald (1); Hispaniolan Woodpecker (there must have been at least 30 individuals in the relatively small area we walked through at the top – the highest density of woodpeckers I have ever encountered. Made even better by the fact that they are a truly beautiful species. Also very vocal!); Grey Kingbird (1); Northern Mockingbird (6); Red-legged Thrush (2); House Sparrow (1); Black-throated Blue Warbler (2); Ovenbird (1); Black-crowned Palm Tanager (4); Bananaquit (5)

Friday 8th January 2016.

Arrive Great Inagua 08:00. There then followed what can only be described as a complete farce. The small (tiny) jetty the captain had chosen to tender to (about 10 miles down the coast from town and presumably perfectly serviceable jetty) was deemed not suitable due to the low water level. An effort was made to use one of the ships lifeboats but it was then decided that there was too much swell (very hard to believe as it was flat calm) for the passengers to get ashore.  As a result we were then informed that three Zodiacs were coming to the ship to provide a beach landing. After waiting for three hours for these to arrive, the captain decreed that they were ‘not up to the safety standard’ of the ship / company, and as a result, at 14:30 the landing on Great Inagua was cancelled. This was both pathetic and very disappointing. I had pre-booked Henry Nixon the naturalist on the island to meet us off the ship with the idea of seeing Inaguan Woodstar and lots of Flamingoes.

Also, it was a disappointment to my wife who was not able to get ashore on her birthday.

Osprey (2 – 1 flew over the ship and one was seen in trees on land); Barn Swallow (1 accompanying ship in evening and likey roosting on board)

Saturday 9th January 2016.

Arrive Antilla, Cuba, 08:00. Depart ship at 10:00. Found taxi (old US Chevrolet, 1955 with a Toyota diesel engine, transplanted in 1997). Exchanged money in official exchange building before proceeding to walk up hill about 5km out of town. Brief visit to limestone cave complete with complement of bats. Then return to car for drive to bay, then taken to only restaurant in Antilla. Lovely scallops meal with fish and rice and peas. Local beer and soft carbonated drink.

Next brief visit to museum before leaving our guide (Henry) and driver (Josi) to return to ship. Cost of car and driver and guide for 4 hours – 40 CUC (we gave 70 CUC as they were both very good.) Then return to land shortly after for a couple of hours exploration on foot of this town off the beaten track (only 1 ship visited last year, albeit 6 times).

Depart 19:00 for Havana. Dry, clear sky and very hot – hottest day so far.

Brown Pelican (8); Double-crested Cormorant (1); Magnificent Frigatebird (5); Little Blue Heron (1); Cattle Egret (2); Turkey Vulture (10); Spotted Sandpiper (1); Willet (2); Turnstone (6); American Herring Gull (1); Ring-billed Gull (1); Laughing Gull (20); Sandwich Tern (10); Royal Tern (8); Black Skimmer (80, present all day on the jetty at this tendered port); Common Ground Dove (2); Great Lizard Cuckoo (1); Cuban Emerald (1); Cuban Tody (2 birds heard but not seen); Loggerhead Kingbird (1); Northern Rough-wing Swallow (20); Northern Mockingbird (2); House Sparrow (2); Yellow-rumped Warbler (2); Yellow-faced Grassquit (2); Cuban Blackbird (1)

Sunday 10th January 2016.

At sea, from Antilla to Havana.  Clear, sunny and very hot all day.

Audubons Shearwater (2); Magnificent Frigatebird (3); Royal Tern (14); Laughing Gull (1)

Monday 11th January 2016.

Met at Havana port at 08:45 by Tania Reyes (wife of Ernesto Reyes) and driver Adonis. Drove to bed and breakfast property at Caleton on Bay of Pigs. Nice, simple place with very friendly staff. Dropped things off then drove to Palpite, then Playa Larga, Bermejas and Playa Giron, via Cuevas los Peces, where met with Ernesto Reyes who was leading a party of American ‘birders’.

Second trip to Palpite for Bee Hummingbird in someone’s garden before returning to Caleton. Dinner at Hostal Enrique – excellent with lobster, octopus, fish and pork.

Rainy on arrival at Havana but improved weather as we headed east to Bay of Pigs. Reasonable quality newish car. Same straight 6 or 8 lane motorway with more traffic on than in 2010. Also many more Hostals / Restaurants in existence and many more western tourists, especially at the dive venue of Cuevas los Peces.

Brown Pelican (4); Great Egret (1); Little Blue Heron (1); Cattle Egret (50); Turkey Vulture (100); Crested Caracara (3); American Kestrel (7); Collared Dove (2); Blue-headed Quail Dove (3 at Cuevas los Peces. In 2010 we spent a long time in hot forest at Bermejas trying to see this bird without success. Over the last month or so the restaurant at Cuevas has been putting out food for the Doves with great success); Smooth-billed Ani (1); Stygian Owl (1 at Caleton – seen well in flight over village several times. Never seen perched. Wing-clapping display flight heard as well); Cuban Emerald (3, all males); Bee Hummingbird (4 – 3 (2 males, 1 female) at private garden in Palpite – including coming to feeder and male in stunning display flight; 1 male at Orlando’s brother’s garden, Bermejas); Cuban Trogon (1 heard); West Indian Woodpecker (1); Cuban Pewee (1); Northern Rough-winged Swallow (1); Cliff Swallow (10 Caleton); Grey Catbird (1); Northern Mockingbird (4); House Sparrow (2); Black-throat Blue Warbler (3); Yellow-throated Warbler (1); Prairie Warbler (1); American Redstart (1); Common Yellowthroat (1); Cuban Blackbird (20)

Tuesday 12th January 2016.

Early morning departure from Caleton (picked up by Tania and Adonis). To crocodile farm (outside of only), then to Zapata swamp for rest of morning. Depart for Havana from Tania’s, Ernesto’s and Adonis’s town of Jaguey Grande for return to Havana about 13:20, arriving there at 15:20. Dry and cloudy much of day then intermittent heavy showers as we approached Havana. After returning to ship, time for walk around centre of Havana before departing for Mexico. Depart Havana 19:00.

Brown Pelican (5); Double-crested Cormorant (2); Magnificent Frigatebird (1); Great Blue Heron (1); Snowy Egret (1); Cattle Egret (50); Green Heron (1); Yellow-crowned Night Heron (1); Turkey Vulture (70); Crested Caracara (1); American Kestrel (3); Common Gallinule (3); Royal Tern (4); Mourning Dove (1); Common Ground Dove (2); Cuban Parrot (4); Smooth-billed Ani (1); Cuban Emerald (2); Cuban Trogon (2); Belted Kingfisher (1); Cuban Tody (2); West Indian Woodpecker (2); Cuban Green Woodpecker (1); Cuban Pewee (1); Loggerhead Kingbird (1); Zapata Wren (very, very brief view of one bird Zapata); Grey Catbird (1); Northern Mockingbird (2); Cuban Crow (1); Northern Parula (1); Black-throated Blue Warbler (1); Yellow-throated Warbler (1); Prairie Warbler (1); Palm Warbler (1); American Redstart (1); Northern Waterthrush (1); Common Yellowthroat (2); Yellow-headed Warbler (3); Zapata Sparrow (3 – very good views, Zapata); Cuban Blackbird (4); Eastern Meadowlark (2 – possible future split to endemic Cuban species)

Wednesday 13th January 2016.

At sea from Havana to Progresso, Mexico.

Wind force 6-7 all day.

Brown Pelican (1); Magnificent Frigatebird (1)

Thursday 14th January 2016.

Arrive Progresso 08:00. Depart on trip to Chichen Iza Mayan site 08:30. Arrive there approximately 10:45. Two hours on site then return to ship returning at 17:00. Overnight at Progresso. Mainly dry. Occasional light shower, cloudy.

Brown Pelican (200); Double-crested Cormorant (150); Magnificent Frigatebird (3); Great Blue Heron (1); Turkey Vulture (150); Black Vulture (2); Ring-billed Gull (1); Laughing Gull (150); Royal Tern (4); White-winged Dove (2); Collared Dove (5); Cinnamon Hummingbird (2); Turquoise-browed Motmot (1); Yucatan Woodpecker (1); Social Flycatcher (5); Couch’s Kingbird (1); Tropical mockingbird (1); White-eyed Vireo (1); Yellow-throated Warbler (1); Summer Tanager (2); Melodious Blackbird (1); Great-tailed Grackle (150)

Friday 15th January 2016.

Morning departure (08:00) to Dzibil Chaltun Mayan ruins. I wandered alone around the site whilst passengers had escorted visit.

Depart for return to ship 11:00. Then depart Progresso 13:00 for overnight to Cozumel.

Dry and warm but cloudy most of day, misty to start.

Brown Pelican (100); Masked Booby (1); Brown Booby (2); Double-crested Cormorant (50); Magnificent Frigatebird (20); Great Egret (2); Little Blue Heron (1); Snowy Egret (1); Turkey Vulture (5); Black Vulture (5); Blue-winged Teal (2); Black-necked Stilt (4); Killdeer (1); American Herring Gull (1); Laughing Gull (150); Cabot’s Tern (1); Royal Tern (50); White-winged Dove (20); Collared Dove (20); Ferruginous Pygmy Owl (1); Belted Kingfisher (1); Social Flycatcher (4); Great Kiskadee (2); Boat-billed Flycatcher (1); Tropical Kingbird (1); Dusky-capped Flycatcher (1); Blue-grey Gnatcatcher (1); Yucatan Jay (6); Rufous-browed Peppershrike (4); White-eyed Vireo (3); Magnolia Warbler (1); Yellow-throated Warbler (4); Scarlet Tanager (1); Altamira Oriole (3); Great-tailed Grackle (10)

Saturday 16th January 2016.

Arrive Cozumel 08:00. Collect pre hired car from Alamo at port. Spent day from 09:00 – 18:00 driving around island. Including eco resort; El Chapo  ruins then St Gervais ruins then drive round rest of island. Volkswagen car, 2,000 km on the clock. Cost $65 including all insurance.

Dry humid and very hot.

Pied-billed Grebe (2); Brown Pelican (1); Magnificent Frigatebird (10); Great Egret (4); Snowy Egret (6); Turkey Vulture (100); Black Vulture (60); Osprey (3); Grey Plover (1); Willet (1); Lesser Yellowlegs (2); Solitary Sandpiper (1); Laughing Gull (50); Royal Tern (6); White-winged Dove (6); Ruddy Ground Dove (4); Smooth-billed Ani (6); Green-breasted Mango (3); Cozumel Emerald (1 male);  Tropical Kingbird (20); Black catbird (3); Tropical Mockingbird (10); Yellow Warbler (1); Palm Warbler (2); American Redstart (2); Bananaquit (10); Blue-black Grassquit (several females); Yellow-faced Grassquit (10); Great-tailed Grackle (50)

Sunday 17th January 2016

Morning at Cozumel port before ferry to mainland then drive to Cancun for return overnight flight to Gatwick.

Brown Pelican (1); Turkey Vulture (6); Ruddy Turnstone (6); Laughing Gull (30); Royal Tern (3); Tropical Kingbird (12); Tropical Mockingbird (1); Great-tailed Grackle (4).