Sunday, February 14, 2016

Islands Birds

We've been home from the Islands for a week now, and it's snowing again, so it's time to make another post about our trip. I would definitely NOT recommend St. Thomas as a birding destination. You would expect to see plenty of gulls on a tropical island, but we didn't find any. We did see Frigatebirds overhead though.
I got some great photos with the new Canon of Brown Boobys as we boated to the British Virgin Islands. This guy in particular enjoyed following us after he pulled this little fish out of the water.
I know dolphins will surf on the bow wave of a boat. This Booby seemed to be surfing on a lift of air provided by our boat. Is that possible? I've never seen one from below before.
As we pulled into harbor, another Booby just rested on the buoy. They seem to take the place of gulls in the Virgin Islands.
Despite the small number of species, we did find two new life birds. The Pearly-eyed Thrasher was the noisiest bird at the Bluebeard Beach Club. We kept walking under trees looking for the source, and finally found this bird. At first, I thought it was some juvenile Robin, then noticed the light colored eyes.
We also found the native Zenaida Dove, which has a rosy tinge to its breast.
My goal bird for the trip was the Bananaquit. They are most often are encountered in pairs or in small family groups, according to the field guide. With a diet of nectar and fruit, Bananaquits frequent flowering trees and shrubs where they often cling to flowers, so we looked around all the flowering trees and flowers. Once, I thought I saw a yellow flash crossing the road, but that's not enough to count a life bird sighting. Sigh. We had much better luck seeing tropical fish, which will be my next post.

Monday, February 08, 2016

British Virgin Islands

St. Thomas is in the US Virgin Islands, and you don't really need to have a passport to visit there. The British Virgin Islands, right next door, are, in fact, in another country. We decided to take our passports, just in case, and actually did take a boat trip on the Breakaway!  The Breakaway is a good sized power boat, instead of a sail boat.
All the Virgin Islands are made of igneous rocks, lifted from the ocean floor, so we went past big cliffs everywhere. The route included the Baths at Virgin Gorda, Diamond Reef for snorkeling, Marina Cay for lunch, and Jost Van Dyke and the Soggy Dollar Bar. We left the resort just as the sun started to rise the meet the boat at 7 am.
Tortola is the largest of the British Virgin Islands. I thought St. Thomas was mountainous, but we all cringed to see the roads going straight up and down here! I recall the name Tortola from stories about pirates, since Blackbeard and Captain Kidd were the first permanent residents on the island. You can still find a few old-fashioned sailing ships in the Road Town harbor, along with the sleek modern boats.

We snorkeled at Diamond Reef before lunch, and it had the most beautiful living corals I've ever seen. You know they are alive because they have bright colors. The white ones are dead. However, once again I had camera trouble, and had to buy one of the old film disposable underwater cameras from the captain. The developed photos won't be back for a week. Now I remember why I love digital photography.
Everyone said we should visit the Baths, although few seemed to know how it got that name. Some folks said it was where the slaves used to go to bathe, but actually "Bath" is short for "batholith," and are large bodies of intrusive igneous rock. Formed when magma cools and crystallizes beneath Earth's surface, batholiths have a coarse grained texture. So we hiked down to sea level and between these huge granite boulders. Several times you had to duck way down to get through at all.
One spot is known as the Cathedral. When the sun shines just right, it reflect off the blue water, onto the sides of the rocks, illuminating the green algae to look like cathedral windows. A cruise ship was in harbor  at the same time, and we didn't get the chance to really explore the Baths because of the crowds.
Over the eons, the waves carved strange shapes in some of the rocks, including this one that resembles a skull.
Marina Cay is a small island that is home to Pusser's Restaurant. Obviously, you can only get there by boat, but we ordered our lunch ahead, and they had no problem serving all 23 of us. For more than 300 years, from the earliest days of wooden ships and iron men, sailors of Great Britain's Royal Navy were issued a daily ration–or "tot"–of rum by the ship's "Purser" (corrupted by the sailors to Pusser's). Prior to 1740, the men's daily tot of Pusser's Rum was a pint a day, which they drank neat, that is without water! Before battle, they were issued a double 'tot', and always after victory for a job well done! From 1655 to the 19th century, Pusser's Rum was one of the few daily comforts afforded those early seamen of Britain's Navy as they fought around the globe to keep the Empire intact and its sea lanes open. Of course, the Navy no longer does this, but Pusser's Rum is still made from the same recipe.

Our last stop was Jost van Dyke island, home of the famous Soggy Dollar Bar. You anchor your boat just off the beach, and swim ashore for a Painkiller, which originated at this bar. They hang the wet dollars up to dry - thus the name. Actually, I'd had so many Painkillers already, that I just sat on the beach. Here's the recipe:
2-4 oz. of Pusser's Rum
4 oz. pineapple juice
1 oz. cream of coconut
1 oz. orange juice
Grated fresh nutmeg

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice add first four ingredients and stir. Pour into cocktail glasses and top with grated nutmeg.

As we returned to our home port along the north side of Tortola, we noticed that it seemed very sparsely populated. The waves coming from the Atlantic were much larger than those we'd seen in the morning when we were sheltered between the islands. In all, this was a wonderful trip, well worth the money.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Get Cruisin'

We didn't get a big list of birds this week. When we asked, everyone says the mongoose imported to "control" the snakes/rats also eat the birds and their eggs, so numbers are small. Except for chickens. There are lots of chickens. There are also lots of cruise ships, and you can spend hours with binoculars and a camera watching the ships come into the harbor at Charlotte Amalie. Given my camera situation this week, some of the earlier photos were taken with my iPhone, and are surprisingly good. Others are taken with the new Canon Sure Shot, and its terrific zoom.
Many ships now have gigantic television screens on the top deck, where they show movies or anything else, I guess. The Regal Princess had some nature show going with penguins. Zoom with Canon from the top of Paradise Point.
On Tuesday, three big ships were docked nose to tail, and the passengers walked into town to do their shopping. The ships usually arrive in the morning so passengers can take day trips around the island, or ride a sailboat out for snorkeling. They just have to be back at the harbor before the ship leaves. Taxi drivers have a thriving business on ship days.
On Wednesday, six of these monsters hit town at once. Three lined up at the dock and another dropped anchor in the middle of the harbor. The other two had to go to the next harbor over, which I didn't even know they had.
But as the sun sank into the ocean, the ships all started off for their next destinations. Now, I have enough trouble backing and turning a car around. Can you imagine what it takes to maneuver these behemoths? A harbor pilot comes on board, but I don't know who actually steers the ship. Most of the have side thrusters allowing them to move sideways from the dock for more room. Then they swing around to go forward.
The cruise lines all use a large, easily recognized logo on their ships, so you know who makes the most trips. Disney, of course, has prominent mouse ears. This ship in the British VI had big eyes lips!
But it is beautiful to watch the big ship sail into the sunset with all their lights on. Some day we'll have to try a Caribbean cruise ourselves!

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere

When you begin blogging, you have all sorts of ambitious goals. I'm going to go birding and make a blog post every week, then every month. I'll post when there's something interesting going on. I'll post when we go on vacations, since I'm too busy to bird regularly any more. I had eye surgery and don't really feel I can see well enough to take good pictures. I'm really busy babysitting with my grandchildren. Sigh. So many of my birding blogging buddies from the early days have also dropped out, for some of the same reasons, I'm sure.
However, we are in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands this week, which has presented a whole new list of factors. It's warm and beautiful - a big plus. But people drive on the left side of the road. At first, I refused to rent a car and drive, then we started looking at taxi rates and decided to just cross our fingers and go with the rental. So far, so good. I've only turned onto the right side once, so far. I didn't realize how mountainous this island would be. There is little flat territory, and the roads are all narrow and windy, with blind curves.
So far, we haven't had much luck birding. We've seen three new species, and quite a few Frigate Birds and Brown Boobys. The locals say there aren't many birds at all, since someone brought in mongoose to control the snake population. Of course, there aren't any snakes either, but this little anole lizard quietly eyed me from his perch. Took all the photos so far with my iPhone, which is small and easy to carry in a pocket.
I took my bigger Lumix on the sailboat yesterday, and it decided to go snorkeling too. Not good. So today we took the water ferry across the harbor to Charlotte Amalie to go shopping for a new camera. The jewelry stores are all over, so we bought some sparklies too.
Lunched at an outdoor café down a palm lined passage. Great paella and more sangria than we could really handle after a strong rum punch at the jewelers to celebrate my new ring. I don't think the waitress had ever been asked for a to go box for sangria before, since she put it in a soup container!
Of course, we do most of our vacations through our Wyndham time share. They are always after you to buy more points, arguing that it will cost you less over all. Today we went to look at the new Margaritaville resort. It's a separate corporation from Wyndham, and our points here won't get us in there. It was a beautiful resort, but we really don't need any more.
Back home at sunset again, and now I can start taking pictures with the new Canon. But will I take it when we go kayaking tomorrow? I think not. Maybe we'll use Dick's smaller camera.