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Sunday, 25th January, 2004
Port of call - Oranjestad, the capital city
Estimated time onshore: 8 hours
Aruba is a small (19.6 x 6 miles), windy, hot, arid southern Caribbean island about 15 miles north of the Venezuelan coast. With Bonaire and Curacao, it is one of the 3 islands which were originally part of the Netherlands Antilles. Tourism is it's major source of income. It has a bird list of 187 species, of which none are endemic, 3 are introduced and 3 are threatened or vulnerable.
We had read a few trip reports for Aruba and noted that the Bubali Bird Sanctuary was about 3 miles from where our cruise ship docked at Oranjestad. For this port of call we opted to take the cruise's "Natural Wonders Tour" from 9 am to noon, giving us a chance to spend the afternoon exploring on our own.
Our first stop was at an Aloe Factory, where we spotted a pair of Tropical Mockingbirds* fly onto the roof of the building, as we got off the bus (photo top right). They have a marked white eyebrow, lack the white wing patch and are a lighter grey than our Northern Mockingbirds. En route across the island to the next stop, we saw a Bare-eyed Pigeon* and later a Troupial*, both perched atop the common organ-pipe cactus. Bare-eyed Pigeons are a Venezuelan and Columbian species which look very similar to the White-winged Doves I see in Texas, having the same white wing patch, but they have a flesh colored area around the eye, not blue. The Troupial is a large member (10-11") of the oriole family, with very striking black and orange-yellow plumage and large white wing patches. As we neared the Natural Bridge rock formation on the north coast of the island, we noted a pair of Ospreys, over the rocky cliffs at the water's edge. Unfortunately, we were only allowed 15 minutes to view and photograph the natural bridges (photo above right) sculpted by the sea in the rugged lava rocks and didn't see any more birds here.
Our last stop was the Butterfly Farm and as it was right next door to the Bubali Bird Sanctuary, our tour guide told us we could stay there at the end of the trip and make our own way back to the ship later. Bubali is a freshwater wetland resulting from the recycled water produced by the hotel sewage treatment facilities. It has an observation tower from which we saw several species, some of them lifers:
Caribbean Coot* (threatened), Eared Dove*, Carib Grackle*, Tricolored Heron (juvenile), Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Pied-billed Grebe, Common Moorhen, Magnificent Frigatebird, Neotropic Cormorant and Brown Pelican. We also saw some ducks in the distance, but unfortunately couldn't identify them, and our time there was cut short by a fast moving tropical rainstorm which sent us running to shelter in a souvenir shop, near the Dutch windmill across the road. I thought they said it never rained in Aruba!!
When the rain had passed we decided to walk the 3 miles back to the cruise ship terminal and began by making our way to the beach through the grounds of the Wyndham Hotel - all beaches in Aruba are open to the public, and we had been told by our tour guide that it was okay to walk through hotel reception areas to get to the beach. In the hotel grounds we were able to get much better looks and photos of the Eared Doves, which were feeding around the base of several parrot cages. Also seen were Bananaquits, which are locally nicknamed "sugar thieves"! Scavenging along the edge of the beach amongst the trees and thatched beach sun shades, were House Sparrows and lots of Carib Grackles, and we also saw a female Lesser Antillean Bullfinch*. As we left the hotel area, we stopped to watch a group of immature Brown Pelicans practicing their diving skills and a little further along we spotted a lone American Oystercatcher and 10 Ruddy Turnstones. When walking on the beach became difficult, we made our way up to the road and here we found a group of Brown-throated Parakeets* in the bushes in the central reservation. I tried to get some photos, which later helped to confirm the identity of the parakeets, but they were of very poor quality (see below!). However, a little further on we had a great photo opportunity, when we found a female American Kestrel perched on a lampost on the central reservation of the road into Oranjestad. We have never been able to get so close to one in the USA! During our walk back we got soaked twice more when tropical squalls blew through, but finding another Troupial and a Bananaquit for two more great photo ops made it all worthwhile!
Trip list for the day:
Lesser Antillean Bullfinch*
Birding from a cruise ship - Jan/Feb 2004
This page was last updated on: June 13, 2007
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Caribbean Coot ~ note the white shield, which extends above the forehead to the top of the head, unlike that in the American Coot. We were some distance away and with the approaching storm, there was not enough light to get a good photo, but this is good enough for ID purposes!
Back on the ship we saw Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns while waiting to sail off to our next destination - the Panama Canal.
25 species with 8 lifers*
Eared Dove seen from the observation platform, at Bubali
Great Egret in the wetlands of the Bubali Bird Sanctuary
Tropical Mockingbirds at the Aloe Factory
Our first view of Oranjestad, capital city of Aruba
One of the natural bridges on the north side of the island
One of the beautiful butterflies at the Butterfly Farm
Another tropical squall blowing towards the island
Eared Dove in the grounds of the Wyndham Hotel
Long distance shot of the American Oystercatcher
Bananquit at the Cruise Ship Terminal
The Troupial ~ a large member of the oriole family
Great views of this female American Kestrel
Brown Pelican diving for fish
Long distance shot of the Brown-throated Parakeet, on our walk back to the ship
Neotropical Cormorants at Bubali Bird Sanctuary
The Dutch windmill across the road from Bubali
Text ~ Helen Baines
Photography ~ John & Helen Baines