Development of green tourism
Far from seaside tourism, which has put Saint Lucia among top tourism destinations in the Caribbean, this hike including bird watching demonstrates that ecotourism is developing on the island. It appears indeed that all the conditions are met in order to move in this direction: a lush and unspoilt forest, part of which is primary, inland landscapes with low levels of urbanisation, well-maintained nature trails that are accessible to the general public, rare and spectacular endemic bird species, the government’s commitment to safeguard the country’s natural heritage with the setting up of natural reserves as well as a friendly population which is interested in its local heritage.
Measures to safeguard endemic bird species
The Millet Bird Sanctuary is the best-known site for bird watching in Saint Lucia, especially the five endemic species. Located inland, 6 km from the coastal road, it provides ideal conditions to admire the rarest species on the island, including the Saint Lucia parrot (Amazona versicolour), known affectionately to the locals as ‘Jacquot’. These species are protected by national law and are subject to efficient conservation measures.
The ‘Jacquot’, the national emblem of Saint Lucia
This beautiful bird with yellow and green plumage was under threat of extinction in the late 1970s, a period during which there were only a hundred individuals, according to Jovicich (1976). To put a stop to the hunting of this rare bird, the government has implemented a conservation programme and started by proclaiming this beautiful bird the national emblem of the island! A song has even been composed in its honour and the lyrics specify that the mere fact of injuring a Saint Lucia parrot is an act of treason! This shows the importance of the species for the inhabitants of Saint Lucia. Beyond these symbolic decisions, the Ministry of Forestry has launched an environmental education campaign and has managed to almost completely reduce poaching and deforestation problems within the reserve. There are today more than 2,000 parrots in the forest canopy, where they find a habitat worthy of the name and can once again feed on a large variety of fruit, seeds and insects. Our guide, Damas Justin, points out that these charming creatures are fond of mangoes. ‘The best period to observe these parrots is in March during the mango season; if we come early enough, we are sure of seeing some specimens around mango trees in the forest,’ explains our guide while showing these trees with yellow flowers. They can be easily identified by their characteristic screeching noises that can be heard all over the forest ‘The breeding season is between February and May. The parrots nest in holes inside the trunks of hollow trees such as gum and chestnut trees. Adult females lay two, and sometimes even three white eggs in the nests.’ Our guide tells us that these parrots are very faithful and can stay together until death. ‘When either of them dies, it can take years before the surviving one finds another companion.’ In this month of November, we haven’t seen a single parrot’s feather, but we keep in mind the touching behaviour of these birds.
Discovering the tropical forest of Saint Lucia
We walk in silence along the marked trail under the thick plant cover, watching for a wing beat or a bird’s cry. Despite our concentration, Justin, who knows well HIS tropical forest, is always one step ahead of us. He stops and warns us of the presence of a female black finch (Melanospiza richardsoni), an endemic species of the island whose local name is ‘Moisson Pied-blanc’. He also gives us some explanation on the species. We stop at some feeding stations, where open coconuts have been placed to attract birds. Justin can imitate some bird calls, which attracts the attention of specimens of the species in question. Justin tells us that two weeks before our arrival, he was able to observe two boas moulting their skins. Besides this snake species, which is harmless as long as it does not feel threatened, there is no danger for hikers in the tropical forest of Saint Lucia. They must, however, remain alert and discreet as in any wild natural environment. The trail winds across the national Forestry Reserve of Millet and leads to an incredible view of the Roseau Dam. It is the largest in the Eastern Caribbean with 2 km length and a daily production capacity of 6.3 million gallons of water.
A reforestation programme under way
There are also some traces of the damage caused by hurricane Tomas in November 2010. According to our guide, the main reservoir on the island is totally out of use following a landslide, leading to the rationing of drinking water. For his part, the Minister of Health has issued an urgent appeal to the population. Saint Lucia has substantial experience of forest management and the Ministry of Forestry was quick to launch a reforestation programme. Ms Donovan, the Director of the structure, explains the ongoing work and takes us on a visit of the nursery where various seedlings are grown. Reforestation must be undertaken to use fast-growing tree species such as oocarpa pines from Nicaragua and slower-growing specimens.
Encounter with the endemic Pewee of Saint Lucia
Sheltered from the sun by the lush foliage, we continue our walk and fully enjoy the profusion of fruit trees, plant and animal species. At a bend in the trail, Justin shows us a Caribbean lizard (Anolis roquet) – a species that abounds in the Antilles – lazing on a tree trunk. We notice the ability of the Caribbean lizard to change its colours according to the environment. Its skin turns green with temperature and darkens when the temperature decreases.
Before turning around, we reach a new viewpoint and rest for a few minutes on a wooden bench to admire Mount Gimi, the highest peak of the island at 950 m, which towers majestically above the canopy and a slight layer of mist. We follow the majestic flight of an osprey (Pandion haliaetus ridgwayi) over this scenic landscape.
Our guide then suggests us to turn around, but our intuition tells us to take one last small track. We are well inspired by nature as it is there that we will find the highlight of our hike! Justin stops and cocks his ears; he thinks he recognises the characteristic call of a Pewee (Contopus oberi), which is similar to a ‘pree-ee’ and a high-pitched ‘peet-peet-peet’, that he will repeat for us later. Before our eyes, an elegant small bird with a slender body is perched on a branch. This endemic flycatcher species is locally known as the ‘Pin Kaka’, explains our guide. This 15 cm long bird has a dark yellow to olive-brown colour. This is a very shy bird that is difficult to observe, hence our big chance! A number of bird enthusiasts come to Saint Lucia to observe this species endemic to the island, among others. The habitat of the Pewees is mainly in the undergrowth of the canopy at high altitude, and less frequently at low altitude and in drier areas. They build their nests made of leaves, lichens and moss on branches. The females lay two eggs that are dark cream in colour and speckled with brown. The breeding season occurs from May through June.
Delighted by this rare encounter, we go back on our tracks with a smile on our faces and a lifetime supply of beautiful images in our cameras.