Birdwatching St. Lucia
By Melanie Votaw
When I stepped out of my room called a “sanctuary” at Jade Mountain Resort, there were at least five Antillean crested hummingbirds competing for the flowers across the walkway. These are not just any hummingbirds. They have a neon green throat when the light hits them just right and a punk rock “hair style” that causes the feathers on their heads to stick straight up (pictured above).
This is just one of the species on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, and now Anse Chastanet Resort and Jade Mountain have started a five-day birdwatching package that takes guests to the island’s prime birding spots.
Many of the rooms at these resorts, which are owned by the same couple , have only three walls. You’re elevated enough to have privacy, and at Jade Mountain, your view is the sea and the famed Piton Mountains. Most of the sanctuaries there also have huge private infinity pools. It’s an unusual combination of nature and luxury.
A birding guide took me to the Anse Mamin Plantation, an 18th century estate on the resort property. A quick boat ride provided a shortcut to the Plantation, and on the way back, we sailed past a cliff on which you can see a family of brown boobies – large, strange-looking birds in the same family as the blue-footed booby of the Galapagos Islands.
At the Millet Bird Sanctuary and other areas on the island, you can see several endemic species, including the elusive St. Lucia parrot, St. Lucia black finch, St. Lucia warbler, St. Lucia oriole, and St. Lucia pewee. I was especially keen on seeing the parrot, and while I didn’t get a great view, I did see a family of three flying and squawking overhead.
Dolphin and whale watching can also be a part of the package, and there are boating excursions, as well as ziplining and biking. If you’d rather not go birdwatching every day, you can just add a half day or one-day birdwatching trip to your other activities, like fish watching as you snorkel or scuba dive.
You don’t even need to venture from the resorts to see several birds. There are two other hummingbird species that linger around the flowers – the green-throated carib and the purple-throated carib. You will also see lots of bananaquits and my favorite, the lesser Antillean bullfinch, near the bars on the beach and the outdoor Treehouse Restaurant at Anse Chastanet just waiting for an opportunity to steal something off your plate.
If you step away for a second, you’re likely to find one of these birds, or perhaps a grackle, sitting atop your juice glass and bending down to take a sip. The resort keeps water guns on the railings around the restaurant so that you can spritz the birds away if you prefer to eat in peace. Since I’m a bird lover, I opted to lure them to my table and hand-feed the ones brave enough to come close.
The birding doesn’t have to be physically taxing, and you can control the difficulty and extent of your hikes. The driving is also not as frightening as on some Caribbean islands. I never encountered a moment where we were driving on the edge of a cliff, although there are numerous curves and bumpy roads.
The forests are filled with bananas, cacao, and beautiful orchids, heliconia, and anthuriums. In all the rainforests I have visited around the world, the only place I have ever seen a forest floor filled with anthuriums is St. Lucia.
The mosquito situation varies depending on the time of year of your visit, but with non-deet repellent and the use of one of Stetson’s permethrin-treated canvas hats with UV protection and a vent for air flow, I didn’t get even one bite.
St. Lucia has a total of 177 bird species, seven of which are endemic and some of which are rare or endangered. The terrain on the island consists of dry coastal areas, rugged sea cliffs, lush rainforests, and scrub forests. That diversity gives you a chance to see several different types of birds within a short distance from one another without a great deal of effort.
Photos courtesy of Anse Chastanet.
About Melanie Votaw
Melanie Votaw is the author of 13 non-fiction books and has written for such publications as Woman’s Day, Executive Travel, and the South China Morning Post. She has visited 40+ countries on six continents and has more than 1,000 bird species on her life list. Some of her favorite experiences include flying in a microlight over Victoria Falls, bathing an elephant in the River Kwai, and hunting for a rare hummingbird at 12,000 feet in Ecuador. Melanie lives in the wilds of New York City.