Aruba - March 2006
Aruba: 14 – 28 March 2006
My wife and I spent 14 lovely days in Aruba in March 2006. We always try to go to countries where we both can enjoy most we want. Consequently, we always choose a place that combines interesting birdlife and beaches. My wife is not as much into bird watching as I am, and I cannot make her holidays miserable by making bird trips all day.
By choosing Aruba as our next holiday destination, I accepted the likelihood that birdlife may not be as abundant as I would have liked. However, my bird trips in Aruba proved to be very exciting and rewarding and I almost never had a day that I did not find another new species of bird.
As always, I prepared our vacation properly. On http://www.surfbirds.com/ and http://www.arubabirds.com/ I found very valuable information in respect of the birds I was going to see and the places where I could view them best.
These sites also helped me in preparing a checklist on the birds of Aruba. This time I felt that I had to make my own new checklist. The books on the birds in Aruba are very limited. Actually, there is only one: The “Stern – guide to the birds of Aruba” which is quite helpful but only contains a very limited number of the birds to be seen on the island. In addition, this booklet contains quite some mistakes on the names and the number of pictures is very limited and often of poor quality. During my trip and looking at the pictures I took myself of the Aruba birds, I sometimes convinced my self that I should write and publish a new book on the birds of Aruba. If I only had the time …
You will find birds everywhere on the island. However, there are some best birding spots:
Bubali Bird Sanctuary;
Tierra del Sol Golf Course;
Arikok National Park, and
Below I have listed the birds I have seen in the above places. In addition, I have listed some birds I have seen on other places on the island.
1. Bubali Bird Sanctuary
I found two specific locations of this water reservoir area very rewarding: (1) the viewing tower area on the east side (entrance opposite of the Dutch wind mill) and (2) the small pond area on the opposite side of the Aruba Phoenix Beach Resort on the north side of the water reservoir (follow the dirt track into the grass land on the left side of an (old?) electrical house and at the end turn left at the little blue brick construction).
Standing on the viewing tower you will see the water and marsh area on the sea side which is filled with all kind of herons and olivaceous (former name: neotropic) cormorants. However, the distance is quite far and therefore the birds are difficult to determine without a telescope. In the reeds I found dozens of great white egrets, snowy egrets and various black-crowned night herons (including many juveniles). The little pond (with only plants) on the left side of the road to the tower almost always only had one green heron. The little pond left from the road to the tower (seen from the tower) proved much more interesting, also because it contained open water and is much nearer to, and better to observe from, the tower. Each time, besides the Caribbean coots and moorhens, I found here 1 pied-billed grebe and a couple of white-cheeked pintails with three juveniles swimming. Only on 15 and 16 March, I saw here 1 male blue-winged teal. Most of the time, I also saw here 1 or 2 tri-colored herons. Right after some heavy rains on 15 March, I found 2 sora rails walking on the plants between some moorhens and Caribbean coots. Almost each time I came here I saw the sora rails (also walking between the plants on the west side). Best time to see them (and the other birds) is right after sunrise around 07.00. From the tower, I also spotted numerous brown pelicans, magnificent frigate birds, each time the same great blue heron, sometimes a cattle egret, 5-7 barn swallows flying just above the reeds and the water, 5 groove-billed ani's and Caribbean parakeets in the tree between the pond and the road to the tower. One early morning, a peregrine falcon flew a circle around the tower, trying to catch a snowy egret that dived into the reeds to escape (I found another peregrine falcon on 21 March, at the end of the day sitting on the high raised telephone pole in down town Santa Cruz).
Pond area on the opposite side of the Aruba Phoenix Beach Resort
This is probably the most exciting place, because you need to approach the little pond (and stream into the direction of the Aruba Phoenix Beach Resort) very secretive. If you do, it will be rewarding. The trees next to the pond contained often groove-billed ani's and the sky was most of the time filled by magnificent frigate birds. In the water I found here always many black-crowned night herons (many juveniles), tri-colored herons, moorhens and some killdeer. On 16 March, I spotted here 12 solitary sandpipers and one greater yellow-legs. In the early morning of 23 March, I saw here 10-12 stilt sandpipers and 4-5 lesser yellow-legs. Walking back to the road on 23 March, I was surprised to run into 2 crested caracaras flying over and a burrowing owl standing guard in front of his rabbit hole (the pictures I took are unbelievable!). The next morning, at the same time (08.30), the crested caracara flew over once again and at the doorstep of the burrowing owls' nest I saw 2 juveniles trying to get a sun tan.
Don't forget to check out the trees opposite of the Aruba Phoenix Beach Resort, on the west side of the butterfly farm and next to the road. I found here always some Caribbean grackles, tropical mocking birds, eared doves, bare-eyed pigeons, yellow warblers and bananaquits, and on a few occasions black-faced grassquits, a few palm warblers and green emeralds and only once 1 common yellow-throat. Next to the entrance of the butterfly farm, you will often see green emeralds and ruby-topaz hummingbirds feeding from the flowers.
2. Tierra del Sol Golf Course
I started to explore this area by going to the entrance of the golf resort (on my bike, yes!). I wanted to ask permission in the golf shop for going to the fresh water pond near the 4th hole, but I was refused to go there without paying a green fee and hitting some balls. On my way back to the entrance, I ran into a troupial and a couple of crested bob-whites that were feeding on the grass along the road. A bit further I found another couple (again, great pictures!). Then I decided to go and have a look at the fresh water pond from outside the golf course, on the very north-east side on the course. The way to get there is to go to the California Light House and some 300 meter before getting there, to take the dirt road (there are more alternatives) on the left side into the flat gravel/sand area. After approximately 1.5 km following the fence of the golf course, the pond is on the right side. On my three trips I found here 2 ospreys hunting for fish, 10-15 white-cheeked pintails, numerous Caribbean coots, some moorhens, 4 pied-billed grebes, 25-30 black-winged stilts, 3 green herons, 2 great blue herons, two tri-colored herons, many great white egrets and snowy egrets and more than 15 black-crowned night-herons and some 10 yellow-crowned night-herons (mostly juveniles). In addition, I spotted 20-25 greater yellowlegs, 1 spotted sandpiper, 1 wigeon (male), and some common ground doves. I am sure that there were much more different species in the many groups of birds in the pond, but without a telescope and only a pair of binoculars, I could not distinguish more species. A little further along the rocky coast side I found my only American oystercatcher, feeding on the rocks. A few times a crested caracara flew over trying to find his breakfast on the sandy area. Each visit, I ran into an American kestrel flying low over the ground and after some searching I found its nest with 3 still very young chicks in it. On my way back to the light house, I found my third (!) nest with a couple of burrowing owls guarding the entrance (as they always do when an intruder is around). When I came back the second time, 2 juveniles were in front of the nest while mum and dad were on the look out. Probably the most amazing thing was the one time I tried to get as close as possible to a Caribbean parakeet near the pond. After some 1.5 hours of patience and persistence, I even managed to have the bird sitting on my hand and picking my wedding ring and nails (again, unbelievable pictures!).
3. Spanish Lagoon
I visited this area only once, because I didn't find many birds here. Quite to my surprise actually, because this place should have many birds according to the trip reports that I found on http://www.surfbirds.com/. On an early morning (again!), I parked my car on the “parking lot” at the end of the dirt road on the north-west side of the lagoon (right after Frenchmen's Pass take the dirt road exit on the right side of the road marked by a wooden sign and follow the direction “Spanish Lagoon”). Most of the lagoon was dried out leaving beautiful cracked ground. I walked around a little bit and run into a crested caracara that soon was chased by a merlin, probably because it came too close to the merlin's nest. I walked into the dry mangroves and found my only Louisiana waterthrush. Then I followed the path along the lagoon that begins from the wooden poles (marked with yellow-black planks) and runs until close to the sea. I found here a couple of troupials, 1 yellow oriole, 1 green heron, numerous eared doves and bare-eyed pigeons, tropical mocking birds, Caribbean parakeets and bananaquits. I don't know why I saw that few birds but it probably had to do with the dry conditions of the lagoon.
4. Arikok National Park
As recommended by many bird watchers, I went to the Arikok Cunucu area on the left side after the entrance gate to the park (just follow the signs!). It is a nice walking area through many cactuses and big rocks. I found numerous troupials, Caribbean parakeets, eared doves, bare-eyed pigeons, common ground doves and bananaquits. In addition, I saw 1 crested caracara, some green emeralds, 2 scrub flycatchers, 1 yellow oriole, and during my second visit on 22 March, 1 ruby-topaz hummingbird. One of the rangers told me that the two trees next to the old-style Cunucu house, which can be visited in this area, always have green emeralds and ruby-topaz hummingbirds when the trees carry their red flowers.
One early morning, one of the rangers wanted to walk with me through this area. I hoped for some great and helpful information on the birds and their hiding places in the area, so I agreed. Soon I discovered that the ranger had almost no knowledge about the birds and I even surprised him by showing him the 50-60 bats living in the cave with the famous bird painting in it. Anyway, he was a very nice man and after the walk he invited me into the park's headquarters where he showed me a stuffed caracara and some snakes they had captured in the park (one very poisonous cascabel (rattlesnake) and 4 boa constrictors which latter have been mistakenly introduced in Aruba and now are a nuisance to Aruba's other wild life).
5. Beach areas
Anyone that goes to the beaches of Aruba will inevitably run into magnificent frigate birds (roaming the air, especially in the ports), brown pelicans (roosting on the rocks or diving for fish), eared doves, bare-eyed pigeons, common ground doves, house sparrows, Caribbean grackles, tropical mocking birds (all on the ground and trees in the hotel and restaurant areas) and bananaquits (in the trees and even sucking from Malibu bottles in the open beach bars). In addition, there are quite some terns and gulls but I only distinguished a few species. On the rocky pier some 200 meter west of the Aruba Phoenix Beach Resort, there were always laughing gulls, royal terns and cayenne terns roosting. In the little port on the east side of the Marriott Hotel (at the lovely Moomba Beach Bar & Restaurant), you will also find these birds. In addition, on 24 March, I spotted here various ruddy turnstones on the pier and (only) 1 common tern in between the dozens other terns. I guess the time was not (yet) right to see other shore birds.
The total number of different birds seen in these two weeks amounted to 59. Not bad, bearing in mind that 3/4 of the almost 200 birds ever seen on the island are either occasional migrants or uncommon or rare.
Finally, if you want to see black-faced grassquits from close range, go and look for them in the green grass of the hotel next to the Wilhelmina park on the south side of Oranjestad. I found hundreds of them here.
Bird list for Aruba: 14 – 28 March 2006
Great Blue Heron
Great White Egret
White-cheeked (Bahama) Pintail
Brown-throated (Caribbean) Parakeet
Northern Scrub Flycatcher