Shortly before I left for Florida , I received my new issue of a birding magazine, which featured a birdfinding guide to the Bahamas. What I immediately took an interest in was a feature on Abaco, and noticed that there were as many as eight Caribbean or Bahamas endemics possible on this one small island. The article even described exactly where to go to find them! I couldn't resist shortening my planned stay in Florida and hopping over to Abaco for a day or two to look for a few of these neat birds.
Since the stay had been planned on such short notice, I hadn't bothered to secure a hotel or rental car. (Oops.) After arriving at the airport, I discovered that it didn't consist of much more than an airline counter and a waiting area. There were no rental car franchises, and no tourist information. The town of Marsh Harbour was several miles away, certainly too far to walk. I decided to hop in a taxi, ask for a hotel, and they dropped me off at one of the more expensive ones, a beautiful resort on the beach.
I checked into this hotel, and got a fairly good deal on a room. My biggest concern, however, was for a rental car. I asked how much a taxi would be to go to Bahama National Park (home of the Cuban Parrot, among others), and discovered that it was way too expensive to bear. All the rental car companies were small businesses, and they were all closed since it was Sunday. The lady at the desk offered to call around and let me know if she could find a car for me. I decided to spend the afternoon in a hammock by the beach, reading a book.
Yet I could still bird from my hammock! There were Palm Warblers and Yellow-throated Warblers in trees, and even a West Indian Woodpecker pecking on the tree bark behind me! I still had hope to get a rental car the next day, and the weather was clear and beautiful.
That night I went to the bar, and met an American woman who was there on a belated honeymoon. When I told her about my plans, she seemed really interested, and wanted to come along. Similar to Arizona, though, taking a nonbirder along may not have been the greatest idea.
We agreed to meet at six o'clock, and I was in the lobby at the 6am sharp. Of course, the car wasn't. The desk clerk hadn't actually gotten one yet. My birding pal wasn't there either... she was still in bed. She did finally come down, and by seven our guardian angel had also found us a car. We just needed to take the shuttle bus into town to pick it up. It turned out to be... a red, mid-80's model Ford Escort. (It ran, anyway.) The owner had just one comment: it's too early/late in the day to see parrots. They only come out at dusk or dawn. Well, that wasn't promising.
Anyway, we drove down to the park through the flat pine woodlands of the island's interior. Actually, we drove right by it, since the big, prominent sign in the magazine article was actually in Marsh Harbour and not near the park itself. The road forked, and we naturally followed the paved segment, and not a gravel sideroad imbued with enormous potholes. And so, we ended up at the far end of the island, in a little village called Sandy Point.
It was a nice little town. We stopped at a restaurant for lunch, and had deep-fried conch. I was a little worried, though. My flight left in the middle of the afternoon, and I was anxious to find the park so I could see a few more birds before I had to leave. I think my companion was a little put off by that, since she was having a great time just admiring the place.
Driving back, I finally gave up looking for the park, and just pulled off on one of the gravel sideroads. We hadn't gotten far before we encountered car-sized holes in the road, and so I just decided to find the nearest trail and have a quick walk in the woods.
We didn't see any parrots (as predicted), but the birds were thick. In fact, they were popping out at us with such frequency that my companion asked "Is that what birding is like? The birds just jump out at you?" Not usually, but wow! This was fun! We saw Bahamas Mockingbirds, a Thick-billed Vireo, a Painted Bunting, a Cuban Emerald , a Stripe-headed Tanager, and a Greater Antillean Bullfinch, all on this one mile trail.
Afterwards, I dropped her off at the hotel, and went to return the rental car. No one was there to receive it, so I just left it and took a cab to the airport. It was actually a pretty productive day, since the only two species that I missed were the Cuban Parrot and the Bahamas Yellowthroat.
'Course, when I tried to go through customs in West Palm Beach, I was the first one in line. That, and the fact that I had come from Seattle to go to the Bahamas for one day kind of set off the customs agent. He held me up for ten minutes, went through every pocket on all my luggage and camera equipment, and generally refused to believe I was just birding, and not engaging in a more lucrative activity. (Sigh.) Well, that was an appropriate ending to a rather misguided adventure.