Friday, March 25, 2016

Willemstad, Curacao - 17 Mar 2016

We arrived in port of Willemstaad, Curacao shortly after 7 am to cloudy skies and high humidity. I disembarked into a mini steambath. Walking over to the nearest park, which was basically a small patch of lawn next to a shopping center and surrounded by hedges, I spotted a large Iquana sitting atop some of the vegetation. When I pulled the camera out, however, it was cold to the touch and covered in condensation. So, I spent the next 20 minutes wiping down the lens and waiting for it to warm up. The iguana was patient. I had time to put on the Better Beamer and SB-800 Flash, and when the time was ready, took several portrait shots of the lizard from just a few feet away.

White-tipped Dove
Meanwhile, Bananaquits and Tropical Mockingbirds made their presence known with numerous squawks, chatter, and banter. On the ground nearby were several dove species: Common Ground Dove and White-tipped Dove.

Common Ground Dove

Tropical Mockingbird

A pair of Black-faced Grasquits were foraging on the edge of the lawn.

I also spotted a Yellow Warbler feeding overhead. Very similar to our Yellow Warblers this one had a dark red cap much like you’d find on a Wilson’s Warbler. It appears to be an intergrade between Yellow Warblers seen in the US, and the red-faced Mangrove Warbler seen in northern South America and Central America.

Blue Whiptail Lizards appeared in several locations. Their thick, blue tails and spotted sides made them lovely to look at. However, I’d have to create composite images as I was too close w/ the 300/2.8 VRII and 1.7TCII Teleconverter.

Out on the bay an Osprey was perched on a buoy, and was surrounded by noisy Laughing Gulls. Overhead, several Magnificent Frigatebirds soared on the Trade Winds. A Brown Pelican made a brief fly-by.

I headed back to the ship shortly after 10 am. We have an afternoon tour and there was nowhere close to walk to for any decent birding. A mangrove patch was seen along the shoreline just north of the ship but getting there involved hiking through construction zone and I was carrying enough camera equipment to get everyone’s attention. It would not have been a safe place to explore on my own…

Robin and I then disembarked for an afternoon “Sea and See” Tour of the island. Michaela, our tour guide, loaded 33 of us aboard a bus and we drove to the Hilton Curacao, where a semi-submarine boat awaited us. Mean temperature on the island was 85F and stiff Trade Winds blew, which helped reduce humidity.

Once aboard the boat we walked down some steep steps to the underwater portion of the boat where glass windowed hulls greeted us on either side. We sat on benches two-abreast and looked out as the captain motored along the edge of steep reef and dropoff. Sargent Major Fish, Pufferfish, Green Sea Turtles, Yellow-fin Snapper, Butterfly Fish and Pipefish were just some of the dozens of species we saw through the windows. Several species of Parrotfish grazed on Brain Coral and Tan-tipped Corals, which we were told causes severe blistering and burns should one brush up against them. We didn’t see any Lionfish, which also causes month-long blisters should one get stung.

Once the boat portion of tour ended we returned to the Lobby of the Hilton to await a bus trip to the Curacao Liqueur Company (Chobolobo) on the other side of the island. While folks relaxed I looked for Bananaquits among the palm trees just outside the lobby; they were noisy with their hummingbird-like chatter. White-tipped Doves flew by in the afternoon winds, but none came close enough for photos.

As I scanned the trees for other birds, a bright, orange-colored oriole flew in to feed on the bright orange flowers overhead. The heavy, large bill was suggestive of a caquic, but the bird turned out to be a Venezuelan Troupial – one of my target birds for this island! Its bright white eye and cyan-blue eyebrows were distinctive for this gorgeous nectar-feeding oriole.

As the bus pulled up a flock of noisy Brown-throated Parakeets flew into the palms nearby, so I ran over and grabbed a few pics. They had bright green backs and bright yellow faces. I suspect that their brown throats are more prominent on the coast of Panama and Costa Rica where they are also found.

We then drove through town and over the Queen Julia Bridge to the shopping district and a stop at the Curacao Liqueur Company. A quick tour of the factory taught us that the orange, green, and blue-colored liqueurs all taste the same but look different due to coloring. Only liqueur shipped in round-bottomed bottles are authentic. The Curacao liqueur is a product of a century of orange trees being planted by the Dutch, only to turn bitter in taste due to the soil (or lack thereof). The trees withered, the fruit dried and produced an alcoholic aroma that was intensified when the rinds were dried and boiled. Blah, blah, blah, yada-yada-yada, and you have the famous blue liqueur! Yummy!

While folks wandered the liqueur shop I ran around the courtyard chasing Bananaquits, and managed to find a migrant Northern Waterthrush skulking in a shady ditch. The bobbing tail was the ID cinched.

There is a reason these Bananaquits are called "Sugar Thieves".

We would return to the ship just in time to get some dinner before pulling out to sea. Curacao is a very interesting island, and we fell in love with it by the time our tour had ended. Definitely will be a place to return to in the future…

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