Bird watching for the enthusiast (or the novice) is a chance not to be missed, and "peer pressure," never a problem. For the binocular-carrying visitors who come to the laid back island environment of Montserrat, most southerly of the Caribbean's Leeward Islands, it's part of a memorable stay.
Rare though they may be, part of the quest is to see the country's national bird, the Montserrat oriole, whose distinctive orange and black plumage was once easily seen the length and breadth of this 12 miles by 7 miles territory of the United Kingdom. Now, due to the unfortunate capriciousness of nature, the resident population of Icterus oberi has been reduced to a drastic degree, perhaps critically endangered, leaving major habitats only in the central and southern forests.
One location that draws bird watchers in search of the Montserrat Oriole is the Centre Hills region with its rain forest and lush vegetation. For the determined there is also the possibility to glimpse the rare Bridled Quail Dove (Geotrygon mystacea) and the equally shy Forest Thrush (Cichlherminia lherminieri). More abundant are the Mangrove Cuckoo, Purple-Throated Carib and Trembler, to cite a few.
Approximately three-dozen species of resident land birds also enjoy the friendly skies on this part of the "Emerald Isle" of the Caribbean. Be sure to take the time to use well-marked island trails in Centre Hills as excellent points of vantage.
Recommended as well is Silver Hills Trail in the north for more sightings of Mangrove Cuckoos as well as abundant Pearly-eyed Thrashers and Red-billed Tropicbirds. Magnificent Frigate Birds, with their long, pointed and curved black wings, which frequently span over seven and one half feet, can be seen off Pelican Point.
Also check out Runaway Ghaut (a ghaut is an island term for gully). A five-minute mini-trail takes the visitor through a cool, lush setting where the pleasant sounds of bird life combine with diminutive waterfalls. Picnic tables are available if you're pausing for a little snack.
A useful 48-page "Birds of Montserrat" booklet written by Allan Siegel and published by the Montserrat National Trust is available on island. It describes more than 40 birds with illustrations of many of them.
Want to give the Montserrat's fascinating bird life a chance to see YOU?
For more information about the island, its appeals and how to get there, write to the Montserrat Tourist Board, P.O. Box 7, Plymouth, Montserrat, WI or telephone 664/491-2230.
By Bob Heim, Heim Communications.