Saturday April 4th was our sail date from Ft. Lauderdale. We arrived at the port early in the dark hours and boarded our little cruise boat. This boat runs daily from Ft. Lauderdale to Grand Bahama. As we watched the sunrise we started IDing birds. Before leaving port our list hit 17 species with the highlights being Tree Swallows and Black-necked Stilts. I missed the stilits due to a small nap on the ship's deck but I don't regret it because I would need some rest for this crazy whirlwind of a trip.
The boat ride over was fairly slow but we did have a pair of Royal Terns feeding the whole way over. At times they would perch on the airhorn to rest. Also a Semipalmated Sandpiper was spotted about half way over and cruised along aside us for most of the trip in. Our hope was to see some pelagics but we had to settle for the above mentioned birds and some really cool flying fish.
Upon arriving we found a taxi and were promptly dropped off at the wrong airport where our rental car awaited us. After walking down the road to the right airport we spied many Smooth-billed Anis and a our first American Kestral of the trip. Once we had our car we made a quick trip to our bed and breakfast to check in and then we hit the road east.
Our birding spots were provided for us by the very essential Tony White book A Birder's Guide to the Bahama Islands. Our first bird stop of the trip was Lucayan National Park where a series of caves are located. These caves or caverns as they are called are some of the most extensive surveyed systems in the world. We hiked toward Ben's Cave with very little bird activity other than the anis that called from the pine trees.
Once down in the cave we found a Northern Waterthrush and some bats. These Buffy Flower Bats (Erophylla sezekorni syops) are endemic to the Caribbean. There's a photo below taken by Kim while we were at the cave. The caves are a host to many interesting animals including a species of crustacean (Spelionectes lucayensis) that has never been documented elsewhere in the world. We also found that the birding was almost always good where a cave was located so we visited quite a few during our stay on Grand Bahama.
Two photos above taken by Kim Cressman. The top photo shows you the stairs into Ben's Cave and the last shot is of the fruit bats that live there.
The next cave, Burial Mound Cave, was even more productive for birding. Once again upon walking down into the cave we located another warbler. This time a stunning Hooded Warabler gave us great looks. Outside the cave entrance we picked up our first Bahama targets. A Western Spindalis and a LaSagra's Flycatcher were found in the same tree over the cave entrance area. And further down the path we found a few Thick-billed Vireos in a mixed flock that included one Black-whiskered Vireo, a Black-and-white Warbler, and a few Pine Warblers.
Once we sufficiently birded the cave areas to the north we headed south to Gold Rock. Along the way we weaved through the mangroves but the only new birds we picked up for the trip were Red-winged Blackbird and Ruddy Turnstones on the beach. Apparently they filmed parts of Pirates of the Carribean near Gold Rock beach.
Photo by Kim Cressman of myself and Andy checking out Gold Rock.
Since the birding was slim on the ocean side we decided to bird the cave areas one more time before departing back to our lodgings. On the second loop we found a Prairie Warbler, a female American Redstart, a gorgeous male Cape May Warbler and a Black-throated Blue Warbler. We ended the day with two vireo species and eight warblers. Migration seemed to be just right for our trip and we fell asleep that night listening to a Chuck-wills-widow calling outside.
Tomorrow's post will detail our trip out to West End, our rental car woes, and a few new lifers.