My wife and I spent from March 27 – April 4, 2008 in the Lesser Antilles. The trip was a combined relaxing vacation with several excursions to try and find the Lesser Antillean endemics. We visited four islands (Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Dominica).
I would strongly recommend seeing each subspecies on every island you visit. With the current momentum of splitting, many of the Lesser Antillean island subspecies are likely to be elevated to species status. Example: each of the four islands we visited has its own subspecies of House Wren and all four look and sound different (and habitat requirements are much different for several of these subspecies).
This trip report will focus on the Grenada portion of the trip. Our main target was the Grenada Dove which is critically endangered. The primary location for this species is the Mt. Hartman Reserve. However, the Four Seasons Hotel chain has expressed interest in building a resort and golf course on the Mt. Hartman Reserve. As 75% of the total Grenada Dove population (estimated to be as low as 60 species) occurs on this small reserve, such a development would likely be devastating for this species. We had been considering a trip to the Lesser Antilles for several years. Once we learned of the Four Seasons development plan, we felt we should go see the Grenada Dove before it is too late. This report is not intended to be a political diatribe but please see the following website: http://www.grenadadovecampaign.com/ as well as my comments on seeing the Grenada Dove below.
Mt. Hartman Reserve
Grenada airport area
We arrived at 8:55pm on an American Eagle flight from Puerto Rico on March 28. We spent three nights. On the morning of March 29, I birded the Mt. Hartman reserve and then Gran Etang. The afternoon was spent driving and birding the northern end of the island. As we had seen all of the primary targets, I returned the rental car the evening of March 29. The remainder of my birding was done by foot (I could walk from our hotel in Gran Anse to the Mt. Hartman Reserve).
Birds and Reference material
Grenada has one endemic species (Grenada Dove), and it was the primary target. Additionally, Grenada Flycatcher and Lesser Antillean Tanager only occur on Grenada and St. Vincent. We also targeted the Grenada race of Hook-billed Kite and the Grenada race of House Wren (split by some experts). Furthermore, there are several South American species (Collared Plover, Eared Dove, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Gray-rumped Swift, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Cocoa Thrush, Blue-back Grassquit, and Yellow-bellied Seedeater) that just make it to the Caribbean via Grenada. Those interested in building a West Indies list must spend some time on Grenada.
We used the field guide “Birds of the West Indies” by Herbert Raffaele and others, published in 2003. It adequately depicts the expected species. We also had the CD, Bird Songs of the Antilles, “Oiseaux des Antilles”. Realize that most of this CD is in French but the names are also provided in English. We downloaded the CD to our MP3 player and brought a small speaker so that we could tape in species. I also downloaded the recording of Grenada Dove from xeno.canto (www.xeno-canto.org) but did not play tape for Grenada Dove in the field (due to this being the breeding season and the critical nature of the species).
We were self guided for the entire time in Grenada.
Timing of the trip:
My understanding is that January to April is the best time for the Grenada Dove (breeding season and calling). They are most vocal during this time of the year. The rainy season is June through November with July through November being hurricane season. Grenada is not at significantly high risk for hurricanes but has had several notable hurricanes that have caused significant damage.
Grenada is the southernmost of the Lesser Antilles. The airport is in the southwest portion of the island and the capital city is about five miles north of the airport on the southwest coast.
Driving and Rental Car
Driving is on the left side of the road and the vehicles have the steering wheel on the right side of the car. The roads are narrow and winding. In general, you must drive slow, such that despite short distances between locations, transit time is longer than anticipated as you are unlikely to drive much over 40mph. The roads were in good condition. We had a high clearance vehicle but did not need it. The roads often have deep/steep ditches on the sides of the road, thus you must be careful not to get too close to the side of the road. With the winding roads, the steep ditches and the oncoming traffic (often trucks), driving can be harrowing.
We rented a car from Advantage Rent-A-Car at a rate of US $73.50/day (including tax) via the internet. Advantage Rent-A-Car’s representative on the island is actually Archie’s Auto Rental. I chose this company as it was open after 9pm (our arrival time). There is a Dollar rental office at the airport but it closed at 6pm. I was forced to buy a Grenada drivers license (US $12/day) despite having an International Drivers License from AAA (which Grenada reportedly accepts). Gas was expensive (EC $12.25/gallon). There were plenty of gas stations in the southern part of the island (both at Gran Anse and St. George). The Shell station at Gran Anse was still open at 9:30pm. From questioning, most gas stations open around 7am.
I picked up the Skyviews map of Grenada in the airport (also available at the rental car counter and at our hotel). It is adequate for the southern portion of the island but it is not adequate for the northeast portion of the island. The roads in the northeast portion of the island simply do not match up with the map.
Taxis and local transportation
Taxis are present but you may need to have one called for you. Taxis are very expensive. Buses (red vans) are common. You can get to Grand Etang via public transport and close to Mt. Hartman by public transport, so it is possible to do the areas of interest without a taxi/rental car. However, having a rental car certainly allows more freedom to go to places not on public transport. I was told that the public buses (red vans) do not go to the airport (but then we saw one there, apparently you can negotiate transport to the airport by these red vans).
Currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (EC). We never exchanged money, but withdrew EC Dollars from the ATM. There is an ATM at the airport and we saw several at multiple locations (especially at banks) around the island. Most locations accept US dollars (US$) and provide change in EC Dollars. The locals gave an exchange rate of EC $2.6 = US $1. Prices were often quoted in US dollars but can also be given in EC dollars (so be sure to ask which one).
Hotels and Food
We stayed at the Grenada Grand Beach Resort. We were able to book at very reasonable rate (US $99/night) on their website: www.grenadagrand.com. The entrance to the resort is at the stoplight just south of the Shell station in Gran Anse. Food is very expensive (although good) at the resort restaurant. There are many other places to stay in Gran Anse. We went during the end of the high season and booked the hotel a couple nights before our departure. When searching for places to stay on the internet, it appeared that most/all had vacancies during our time period. I would recommend staying in Gran Anse due to its close proximity to the airport, Mt. Hartman Reserve and food outlets (see below).
You can walk across the street from Grenada Grand Beach Resort to a simple sandwich/burger/pizza place in the shopping center. However, this place is closed on Sunday. Other options include the mall at the south end of Gran Anse (adjacent to the large soccer/cricket field). There is a KFC, a Chinese take-out restaurant, a wrap store, a smoothie store, and a grocery store in this mall. Food at the grocery store was more expensive that in the USA.
Mt. Hartman Reserve: This is the best location for the Grenada Dove. The site is easily accessible in the southwest part of the island (it is only a few miles northeast of the airport). I will give directions from the airport (which is easiest to understand). Exit the airport and drive north (northeast). At the second roundabout, take the northeast exit (right turn). The northwest exit (left turn) of this roundabout goes to Gran Anse. For reference, there is a Texaco gas station at this roundabout. After you have turned from the roundabout, there is an almost immediate paved road to the south. Do not turn on this road but continue east. Then, take the next right turn which is not paved (although they were doing road improvements while I was there – perhaps getting ready to pave the road). This turn appears just as the main road bears left. After you turn right onto the dirt road, you will come to a fork (with a Grenada Dove sign). I turned left at the fork. As you go along this road, there are houses on your left and scrub on your right. I continued to the last house and parked just after the last house on the left. I believe others have entered the area from other directions (see other trip reports).
Gran Etang: Go north on the main road from Gran Anse towards St. George’s. You will pass the bay on your left. As you are driving along the bay road, you will enter a roundabout that is signed for Gran Etang. Take the roundabout to the northeast. Follow the signs (there are several turns) and eventually you will be going up into the hills (center of the island). This road is narrow and windy. Along the way you will pass a nursery (signed on the left/north side of the road as you are heading uphill). The nursery is reportedly a location for Cocoa Thrush but I did not see it at this spot. As you reach Gran Etang, there is a parking area and a visitor center (with a fee) on the south side of the road. The entrance to the lake is on the north side of the road (also with a fee). For the lake, you will turn north off the main road and follow a paved road down to a parking area (there are two parking areas, you should go to the last one which is along the lakeshore). The last parking area has picnic tables on the side of the hill. The Shoreline trail (Cocoa Thrush and Lesser Antillean Tanager) starts at the end of the parking area/picnic tables.
Airport: The airport is a known location for Fork-tailed Flycatcher and there is a large freshwater lake there. The Flycatcher is reportedly best in the late summer (post-breeding dispersal from South America?). If you have the time, I would recommend walking around the airport area.
There is a departure tax to leave the island. It is payable as you go through security screening. You get the best rate by paying in EC$.
Weather & Clothing
This is the dry season for Grenada. However, we experienced brief rain showers everyday. These rain showers lasted 15 – 30 minutes. It was very windy (and thus cool) at Gran Etang. A light rain jacket/wind breaker would be recommended.
Mosquitoes were not a problem in any place that we went. We never saw a snake. We had no problems with ticks.
If you are planning a trip purely for birding and want to see the Grenada Dove, you could probably fly in on one afternoon (go immediately and look for the Dove), then have the following morning to look for the Dove again if necessary and then go up to Gran Etang as soon as the Dove is located. Then, you could fly out that afternoon (essentially a 24 hour stay on the island). A conservative attempt would allow two days (fly in afternoon/night and get a hotel for two nights. Then you would have one afternoon, one full day and one morning, flying out on the 2nd afternoon). You should be able to get the Grenada Dove on your first morning. Grenada Flycatcher occurs in the same area as the Grenada Dove and is easier (so you should be able to get that at the same time). Lesser Antillean Tanager reportedly also occurs at Mt. Hartman Reserve but I did not see it there (and I noted that several trip reports missed it there as well). The tanager was easy at Gran Etang.
Other helpful trip reports
Lesser Antilles December 2003 by Jeff Hopkins: http://maybank.tripod.com/Caribbean/Caribbean-12-2003.htm
Lesser Antilles November 1999 by Frank Frazier: This report is getting dated.
Brown Booby: seen from north end of island
Magnificent Frigatebird: several birds along the north coast
Great Blue Heron: airport pond
Great Egret: airport pond
Little Blue Heron: airport pond
Cattle Egret: common throughout
Hook-billed Kite: one at Mt. Hartman Reserve. See Grenada Dove information for specific site details. This is the critically endangered Grenada subspecies: mirus. Mt. Hartman is an important area for this species. The proposed Four Seasons development of the Mt. Hartman Reserve would certainly end the occurrence of this species in this area. Unfortunately, the Mt. Hartman Reserve environmental assessment did not incorporate the effects of the proposed development on this critical endangered subspecies.
Broad-winged Hawk: common throughout, Subspecies antillarum
American Kestrel: only one seen on the island, Subspecies: caribaearum
Laughing Gull: north end of the island
Royal Tern: north end of the island
Eared Dove: very common on the island including abundant at Mt. Hartman Reserve, subspecies rubripes
Zenaida Dove: four seen on Mt. Hartman Reserve (this species is much less common on this island than other Caribbean islands).
Common Ground-Dove: common throughout island
Grenada Dove: This was the target species for the trip to this island. I saw two after about 1:45 in the area. On both occasions, once the Grenada Dove saw me, they appeared disturbed and walked away from me into denser scrub. My two exposures suggest that it is a shy species (I would think that any development of this area would certainly negatively impact this apparently shy species). After entering the area (see above directions), I parked the car just past the last house on the left (the house is teal blue in color). Just past this house, there is a partially constructed cement block building on the left side of the road (this is where I actually parked). I initially walked and birded down the dirt road (which is currently being improved). This road then turns to the left (mangroves on the right) and very shortly after turning left, the road forks with the main road going right and a smaller (non-developed) road going straight. I took this small, non-developed road (I saw the Hook-billed Kite near this fork). I walked along this small road, and it ultimately goes down to a bay. However, prior to going down to the bay, you can go left/north (about 100 meters? past the fork) through open scrub and between two hills. I walked through this open area (between these two hills) until the scrub became thick and you could not get through it. However, there was a small trail through this scrub, and I took this trail. I saw the first dove on the ground almost immediately upon entering this trail. However, I did not get a good look so I continued down the trail. The trail winds through the scrub forest (I took a right turn at a fence and followed the trail along the fence). It ultimately came up to a house (surrounded by a chain linked fence) and I had my second dove near this fenced blue/green house. There is a concrete block shed/building (no roof on this shed) close to this fenced house. The dove was very close to this concrete building. I then walked along the side of the fenced house and came out of the scrub immediately adjacent to the house that that I parked the car next to (basically I walked a large circle). Thus, from where I initially parked the car, the Grenada Dove was less than 100 meters. I could have initially parked, walked beyond the blue house and past the fenced house and immediately into Grenada Dove habitat.
Mangrove Cuckoo: two at Mt. Hartman Reserve
Smooth-billed Ani: common at Mt. Hartman Reserve
Owl species (Tyto sp.): this bird was seen at night near Gran Anse. It was dark faced and there is some confusion as to the species of owl that occurs on several of the southern Lesser Antillean islands (Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia?). Possible species include: Barn Owl, Ashy-faced Owl, or an undescribed species of Tyto. To me it looked like Ashy-faced Owl.
Gray-rumped Swift: one flying over the mountain ridge near Gran Etang Lake
Rufous-breasted Hermit: one in the flowering bushes between the entrance to Gran Etang Lake and the Gran Etang visitor center.
Antillean Crested Hummingbird: common throughout. Subspecies:emigrans
Yellow-bellied Elaenia: three seen at Mt. Hartman Reserve
Gray Kingbird: common throughout island
Fork-tailed Flycatcher: one bird seen at the airport. This is the traditional spot but it normally does not occur until later in the year (July/August).
Grenada Flycatcher: two seen at Mt. Hartman Reserve, two additional birds heard
Bank Swallow: two flying over Gran Anse
Barn Swallow: four at the airport
House Wren: multiple birds (at least 6) seen and heard on Mt. Hartman Reserve
Tropical Mockingbird: common throughout
Cocoa Thrush: one bird responded to tape along the Shoreline trail at Gran Etang
Bananaquit: common throughout. Both dark form and typical forms seen and there appeared to be mixed pairs. Subspecies aterrima
Lesser Antillean Tanager: a pair responded to tape along Shoreline trail at Gran Etang Lake. A third bird seen near the visitor center. Subspecies: cucullata
Blue-black Grassquit: two seen at Mt. Hartman Reserve
Yellow-bellied Seedeater: two seen at Mt. Hartman Reserve. It is worth looking at all the Grassquits.
Black-faced Grassquit: very common throughout island
Lesser Antillean Bullfinch: common throughout island, subspecies grenadensis
Carib Grackle: common throughout island, subspecies luminosus
Shiny Cowbird: several seen at various locations including Mt. Hartman Reserve