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Aruba, for real

April 4, 2013

As I mentioned in the 10,000 Bird post posted earlier this week, I’m vacationing with my wife’s family on the Caribbean island of Aruba. If you, like me before I learned we’d be traveling here, have no idea where this place is, let me break it down for you. The islands of the Caribbean are broken more or less into manageable clusters. The Greater Antilles include the big ones, Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. Being so large and lush, they offer quite a bit for the would-be Caribbean birder with several endemics and near-endemics of not just birds, but mammals, bugs, herps, and all the major animal groups. I’ve never been to any of these islands.

The Lesser Antilles are then, as you can imagine, the smaller volcanic islands that run in an arc from Puerto Rico to the northern part of South America including the tiny nations of Grenada, Barbados, and Saint Vincent and its many Genadines, among others. That leaves the tree deserty, wind-blown islands of Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire as the remaining Netherlands Antilles.

There is no test and please don’t feel bad for not knowing all this. I had not given the West Indies a whole lot of thought beyond their role as a Florida vagrant factory until I was looking at coming here. But having spent a few days on what is arguably the worst West Indian island for birding, even I can see the appeal of the nature down here and it has me wanting to see more. But what else is new?

Anyway, Tuesday morning was my planned day for real birding. I had contacted a local through the Birdingpals website. I’d never used it before as a traveler. My own name is listed among many other North Carolina birders and even so I’ve been contacted for information on places to go, though I’ve never taken anyone out and around because of it. Aruba, however, has only one name and not expecting much I emailed her asking only for some info on where to have a nice morning in the field and ended up spending the entire first half of the day with Olinda Rasmijn, Aruban native and apparently the nature lady on the island.

She didn’t use binoculars, so I have to say I didn’t know quite what to expect. But what she did know was where the birds were. And our first stop, a ephemeral salt pan not more than 150 meters north of our hotel, turned out to be amazing, highlighted by a quarter of American Flamingos.

American Flamingos, Roseate Spoonbills, Black-necked Stilt

I don’t know the status of flamingos down here, but I they looked wild enough for me. It was about here that I realized that my copy of Bart De Boer’s Birds of Aruba, Curacao, & Bonaire was going to be an issue. I’d received a review copy some time ago but had decided not to review it as I found it significantly wanting. The illustrations are absolutely terrible, but in trying to use it here I realized that the information on the opposite side of the page was completely wrong too. Roseate Spoonbills, of which I was looking at no fewer than five individuals, were listed as a “rare visitor from South America”. I asked Olina if this was a good birds and she just said, “They’re always here”. Well, then.

As it turned out in conversations with Jeff Wells of the excellent Birds of Aruba website, who keeps excellent records of the island’s birdlife, De Boer had not even asked him for advice. An oversight to be sure.

Aaaanyway. Our morning was spent out and about at several of the hotspots on the western side of this tiny island. We saw Caribbean Coots and White-cheeked Pintails and loads of wading birds. I caught a couple glimpses of Venezuelen Troupial, an impossibly large oriole with a shocking patch of bare blue skin around the eye. No photos, but I will not leave this island without on.  I finally got a good photo of one of the amazingly blue Aruban Whiptails, one of the island’s endemic reptiles.

Aruban Whiptail - Bubali Sanctuary, Aruba

Best bird of the day was arguably the incredibly cute Burrowing Owl Olinda showed us at Spanish Lagoon on the south coast of the island. He popped up on the other side of a hill and stayed stock still as I came around on him. I took a few photos, then stepped away, as it kept its eyes on me the whole time. These guys are the national bird of Aruba, even though there aren’t that many of them around anymore.

Burrowing Owl - Spanish Lagoon, Aruba
After a whole morning in the field, eBird puts me as the top birder on Aruba for 2013, which means I should probably just go for the big year. I’m unlikely to get more than a handful of species more, though who knows what I could turn up this early in migration. I’m at 53 species for the trip, which is 3 more than I expected. not a bad haul. On to the record!


One Comment
  1. April 5, 2013 8:30 am

    Lovely pics.

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