Montserrat has experienced many natural disasters over the years, but the most catastrophic event was the eruption of the Soufrière Volcano in 1997, resulting in the destruction of the capital city, Plymouth, which is now known as a modern-day Pompeii. The volcanic eruption destroyed much of the natural forest habitat and coral reef in the southern part of the island, and resulted in two-thirds of the island being an exclusion zone. The areas of Montserrat outside of the exclusion zone are perfectly safe, volcanic activity being monitored constantly by experts at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.
Soufrière Hills Volcano (Photo by Dr. Mike Pienkowski)[/caption]
The rainforest of the Soufrière Hills volcano was major habitat for the endemic Montserrat Oriole, putting additional pressure on a species already limited in habitat availability on this relatively small island. The Oriole and other forest birds are a really special feature of Montserrat, and rain and cloud forest are its predominant natural ecosystems. Seven species endemic to the Lesser Antilles (including Forest Thrush, a subspecies endemic to Montserrat) and two others endemic to the Caribbean can be found in these ecosystems.
There are also five more specialist forest bird species. Bird watching in dense, dark, rain-forest is difficult. By far the best chance of seeing the orioles, and other forest birds, is to book a walk with local expert James ‘Scriber’ Daley, or one of the other guides. The Montserrat National Trust can help with this. The well-maintained Oriole Trail is a good place to start. There are a few steep sections, and in wet weather it can be muddy and sticky.
All the sites below, along with many others, are described in more detail, including directions for finding them, in the Guide Book mentioned on this page.
The Lookout Sugar Mill yard is a historic and cultural site, with fascinating original machinery including the steam engine, and giant gears and rollers. It was built in 1921 by Bhudda Allen and destroyed by the Okeechobee Hurricane in 1928. The mill was subsequently donated to the people of Montserrat in 1999. However, the vegetation around the yard—including some fairly large trees, plus the water usually present in the old sugar boiling pans—can attract a variety of small birds. Continuing along the road to the public cemetery provides views over the cliffs and the seabird breeding offshore Pinnacle Rock.
Little Bay, Carr’s Bay and the north-west coast: Little Bay is where the new Capital is being developed, and where the ferry from Antigua docks. Carr’s Bay, is noted by four old cannons on a grassy area, and a short walk from here along the beach front, or further along the road, crosses a stream which is on either side of the road, a good place for moorhens, passing shorebirds, and herons. The cliffs of the north-west coast frequently have frigate birds soaring around them. These locations provide good bird-watching for pelicans, boobies, frigate birds and possibly red-billed tropic birds. There is a large cattle egret colony in a tree by the stream.
Woodlands Beach: From the parking and picnic area at Woodlands Beach you might see a range of woodland birds, and occasional migrant birds of prey. Woodlands Beach, and other beaches around the island, are nesting sites for endangered green and leatherback turtles. If you see tracks up the beach, or uneven mounds and hollows near the top of the beach, please avoid these.
Old Road Bay and Belham River Mouth: The Belham River valley floor has been covered by volcanic lahars. Pay heed to the warning sign if there has been recent heavy rain. Various tracks lead through thick scrubby vegetation, through a quarry, to the beach. There are many opportunities for bird watching here, both in the scrub and on the beach, for example: Smooth-billed Anis, Common Grackles, doves, Green Herons, American Kestrels, Antillean Crested Hummingbirds, Yellow Warblers and Bananaquits. The cliff area by the beach is good for Caribbean Martins.
Jack Boy Hill Visitor Centre can be reached by car, by a paved road, although as this is also the road which leads to the waste landfill tip, the paving is somewhat potholed in places. The road which passes the airport, goes along the east coast, with great views. Jack Boy Hill Visitor Centre is not currently manned, but sits in pleasant gardens, with picnic places and toilets, and offers great views both out to sea, across the volcanic outflows, and of the Soufrière Hills volcano. This is a good spot to enjoy great views, with the opportunity to see a variety of seabirds.
Garibaldi Hill is south of the Belham River valley, and overlooks this to the north, and the remains of Plymouth to the south. There is a narrow, steep, mainly paved road to the top, so that the volcano warning post can be serviced, but be aware that in wet weather this road becomes very difficult and sometimes impassable. The views from the top are outstanding, and the shrubs and trees alongside the road, and at the top, often have a variety of small birds in them.
The National Trust Botanic Garden at Salem contains pleasant and interesting gardens, with native and endemic plants, that many attract birds, especially hummingbirds. There is a small entrance fee to this garden, which is used to maintain it. While here, you can also visit Trust exhibitions, such as the Volcano Exhibit, and the well-stocked Oriole Gift Shop.