Frigate birds, with their bright red gullets, can be found in Barbuda. // © 2018 Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority
Feature image (above): These birds are coming back to the island. // © 2018 Getty Images
There are 45 million birdwatchers in the U.S. This adds up to a hefty market waiting for proactive travel agents to wade in with their travel expertise. The Caribbean is loaded with prime birdwatching sites that also provide plenty of options for sun-sea-and-sand vacations for birders.
Aruba’s Bubali Bird Sanctuary is the island’s central spot for birdwatching. This wetland area has 80 species of migratory birds, with everything from egrets to fish eagles. Bubali Bird Sanctuary has an observation tower accessible to birders and is only a short walk from Aruba’s popular Palm Beach.
Antigua’s tiny sister island of Barbuda has long been a prime destination for birders. The offshore Frigate Bird Sanctuary in Wa’Omoni Beach Park is home to five species of frigate birds, as well as 150 additional bird species. But it’s the nesting frigate birds with their blazing red gullets and wingspans of up to 7 feet that are the stars of the show.
Barbuda and its frigate birds were hit hard last September by Hurricane Irma; the whole island was evacuated, and the frigate birds disappeared. Now, they’re slowly coming back while Barbuda rebuilds its tourism infrastructure. Birders visiting Barbuda and contributing to its tourism — even for a day trip from Antigua — will aid in restoring the island. These visitors will also witness a community of birds slowly renewing itself.
Birders intent on prime birdwatching while in the Dominican Republic have some challenges ahead of them. The best birding in the DR can be found in the less-developed western half of the country, in Sierra de Bahoruco National Park. The park measures 500 square miles and is home to 49 species of birds. To access the park, birders will need to travel via four-wheel drive vehicle. The going can get rugged, so it’s advisable that clients join an organized birdwatching tour. The town of Barahona makes the best base. A good place to start the accommodations search is Casa Bonita Tropical Lodge.
Little Tobago, a 450-acre uninhabited island famous for once harboring the elusive bird of paradise, is easily reached from Tobago’s mainland. October to June is the optimum bird-viewing time here. While most visitors are content to bird watch via boat, the island also has hiking trails for hardy birders. The village of Speyside and its Blue Waters Inn make a convenient base for exploring Little Tobago.
At Caroni Swamp, birders board a boat in the pre-evening hours to travel through mangroves, to eventually arrive at a lake containing a tiny islet. As the sun sets, the sky fills with black specks flying closer and closer to land in the trees of the islet. As these specks land and settle, they reveal themselves to be scarlet ibis. The tree blooms with bright red birds before clients’ eyes. It’s a dramatic and beautiful moment that will most likely be the highlight of a birder’s trip to Trinidad.