Tuesday, March 11, 2014

St. John's National Park - 05 Mar 2014

We arrived in St Thomas just after 7 am. A hundred sailboats sat moored in the shallow cay while the much larger private yachts sat next to shore. Not a single bird to be seen on land or in air.

I got off the boat just after 8 and headed to the end of the pier where a ferry boat 'Island Girl' took us on a 45 min boat ride to the isle of St John's. I signed up to see the island on my own, while Robin stayed aboard the cruise ship. I planned to hike the National Park when I got there, hoping to get better pics of the resident hummingbirds.

The boat ride to St John's was neat. We saw dozens of small private islands, and even one that was for sale for only 20 Million. We passed the mansion where Charlie's Angels was filmed in the 70's, and just below that was Carol Burnett' vacation home. Information given is questionable...

The only bird I could see was a Brown Booby. But it was soaring literally just above the bow of the boat and obscured by the cabin. I w as in the back of the boat and unable to photograph it, even though it was only 20 feet away! It finally peeled off just before we entered the cove to the island. A Peregrine Falcon was atop a small outcrop of rocks, while a Brown Pelican soared by as we were docking. A Caspian Tern was resting on a buoy behind us.

I was wondering how I was going to get to the National Park. But then I saw the entrance literally at the end of the pier. As I approached the hiking trail next to the parking lot I spotted a large Iguana perched atop a telephone pole next to the steep hill I would have to climb to reach the entrance to Lind Pt. Trail. I had three hours to explore so I was hoping to find some more hummingbirds to photograph .

I was disappointed with yesterday's pics, so I decided to use the flash w/o the Better Beamer, hoping that that wouldn't overexpose my images. But a few test shots of the many Banaquits on the trail proved useless. So I switched from TTL on the SB-800 to AA and exposures suddenly looked better. A few pics of a Banaquits confirmed.

As I rounded a corner I spotted a black hummingbird perched on a limb in the open. Green-throated Carib!

Farther up the trail a Pearly-eyed Thrasher was perched quietly on the ground and I would've missed it if not for the older couple that distracted my attention from the treetops.

A Prairie Warbler was foraging nearby, and appeared just long enough to be recognized. A Bay-breasted Warbler also appeared before being flushed by several pair of Lesser Antillean Bullfinches. A male was mostly obscured by branches, but a female was most cooperative.

female Lesser Antillean Bullfinch
Lots of Anole lizards were scurrying over the trail and up the trees, so it was fun to try and capture their antics.

I took a cutoff down the hill to Salomon Beach, which was just a tiny patch of sand between two rocky outcroppings. Along the way I came across a cooperative Zenaida Dove that rested quietly in the shadows of the undergrowth. Groups of tourists were snorkeling from catamarans, so I headed back up the trail back toward the dock. The sun was high overhead and the chorus of birdsong was dying out in the dry, scrubby cactus habitat.

I walked along the edge of town looking for hummingbird feeders after a pair of Caribs shot past me chasing each other. I trailed them to a small parking lot where one was perched on a limb just a few feet above me. It stayed for a half dozen pics, then took off.

A small shopping mall held several private driveways, and at the top of one a large Iguana was standing sentinel. Farther up the road a small public courtyard provided shade and a chance to rest. I spent some time reviewing pics, and photographing several Zenaida Doves and Pearly-eyed Thrashers that were wandering by.

The boat returned for our trip back to St Thomas and I was the last to board. I sat near the bow outside the cabin and photographed a soaring Red-tailed Hawk overhead, and a Yellow-crowned Night Heron next to a shoreline littered with conch shells. Seas were a bit rough, and salt spray was hitting me where I sat. I grabbed my backpack to shield the camera from the spray, and was fortunate to do so as a huge wave crashed over the rails and drenched me in sea water! Spitting out salt water I decided to head inside the cabin to dry off.

I returned to the ship and found Robin in the Garden Cafe and joined her for lunch, then went for a shower to clean up. We bought tickets for the Illusionarium Show this evening, and relaxed the afternoon away in the spa (complete with hot tub, wave pool and saunas). Had the place to ourselves.
Shortly after 4:30 pm the ship headed back out to sea for our last stop on Friday in the Bahamas. We ate a small dinner in the Garden Cafe and then walked the deck along the outside of the ship. As we strolled we were beset by a flock of 16 Brown Boobies that decided to dive bomb the waters next to the ship. The birds flew close enough to see what they were thinking, and you could almost reach out and touch them! And yes, the camera was back in the cabin.

After our stroll we headed back and I grabbed the camera and flash. Running back to Deck 7 I found only one single bird still flying next to the ship. Try as I might it was impossible to get sharp photos of the bird; the flash sync is only 1/250s and it was too dark to shoot without so the bird was perfectly illuminated but blurry. I guess I have to file this moment under the fond memory sans photos category. I then ran to the other side of the ship just in time to see three porpoises jumping next to the ship. Again, no pics possible.

With the next day at sea I would could expect no more photos.  Pelagic birds were absent, and as we pulled into port in Miami on Saturday morning it was time to pack up and head home.  Great trip!
NCL Getaway - wonderful ship.

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