Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Boxing Day

What's better than being on a cruise for Christmas? Spending Boxing Day on Grand Cayman - that's what.

Boxing Day is a British holiday which is the day after Christmas. Nothing really happens except a day off of work. The good news is that the tourist industry on the island didn't take the day off. I wanted to go to the Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Gardens since reading about the variety of birds that are seen there. The garden is pretty far out of town and the off the tourist beat which also appealed to me. Di, Barbara, Jay and Brendan agreed to go along. The challenge was finding a way to get out to our destination. 

We found a taxi driver who agreed to drive us around at an hourly rate. She was really terrific and made the trip fun. We arrived at the Botanic Gardens just after 8 AM which was an hour too early. No problem. I had an alternative site picked out - the Mastic Trail which is located just across the road. It also had an impressive bird list so we decided to hike the 2 mile trail and meet the taxi driver at the other end. I'm glad that it worked out this way. The first bird that we ran into was this Smooth-billed Ani. He reminds me of Planet of the Apes.

Smooth-billed Ani
Our next birds were smaller but also really cool including a few Bananaquits which proved difficult to photograph. This Yellow Warbler posed nicely. We have these in our area in summer but they migrate south in winter. This one probably stays in the Caribbean all year. The reason for this is found on this bird's head which has a red tinge to it. We have seen that before in the Caribbean. 
Yellow Warbler
This warbler also looks alot like one that we see often in our area but after looking closely, this is not a Prairie Warbler. It is a Vitteline Warbler which is another resident of Cayman Islands (and probably Cuba).

Vitteline Warber
The next bird that posed for us - literally sat on the branch above the trail looking at us - was this LaSagra's Flycatcher. He/she just sat there like we were not there at all. It is handsome in it's subdued color scheme. 

LaSagra's Flycatcher
The loudest birds of the day were the Cuban Parrots that we heard throughout the hike. The trail was pretty challenging so we didn't look up at every parrot that we heard. This was the best photo that I could get.

Cuban Parrot
The other Cuban species that we saw on our hike was this Cuban Bullfinch. Here is one in "the wild". The identification of the bullfinch is all in the beak which is shaped similar to a grosbeak. 

Cuban Bullfinch
 Here is another that we saw later in the "not-so-wild" - looking at himself in the glass of a pickup truck.

Cuban Bullfinch
Next up - the Loggerhead Kingbird who posed along the road where our taxi driver picked us up. 

Loggerhead Kingbird
Our driver also showed us the endemic Blue Iguana. This dude was as big as a dog and looked pretty mean with slobber running down his chin. Yuck. Let's just say that we didn't get out of the van. 

Blue Iguana
The hiking was terrific but we definitely wanted to get to the tourist spots too before heading back to the boat. Our taxi driver took us to a cool beach which used to have a hotel that burnt down years ago. They didn't rebuild it but kept the pool, tiki bar and beach stuff going. We paid a whopping $2 each for access to a beautiful beach. After a quick swim, we headed to Da Fish Shack for a delicious lunch. We were joined by 2 guests - this Green Iguana who was patrolling the rocks just beneath the deck . . .

Green Iguana
 . . . and this chicken which they call Red Jungle Fowl who was patrolling the deck for anything that fell on the floor.
Red Jungle Fowl
I picked up 10 life birds and 1 life reptile (emphasis on the yuck). I am sure that the others in the group had more than a dozen lifers. Woo Hoo! Back to the ship to get to our next port of call. 
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