These observations, along with many others plus his research and collecting, finally resulted in the publication of the ‘Origin of Species’ in 1859, changing our perception of evolution forever.
Observing wildlife is one of the most absorbing and fascinating of all hobbies, and for many, birds come top of the list. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a scientist to enjoy their beauty and engaging behaviour, especially in their natural habitat.
When that habitat is the stunning island of St Lucia, straddling the Caribbean and Atlantic seas, its attractions may prove irresistible.
Just 27 miles long and 14 miles wide, the dramatic Caribbean island of St Lucia is proof that the best things really do come in small packages. Find out more here
Beautiful St Lucia
This small Windward island is famed for its beauty. The landmark ‘Les Pitons’ – twin volcanic spires – form part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes a geothermal field and coral reef with a breathtaking array of marine life.
I’d like to try snorkelling on a Caribbean trip but I’m a poor swimmer. Can I do it?
Snorkelling and scuba diving are two of the great joys of a tropical holiday and it’s a shame to miss out. The former allows you to swim close to the water’s surface, while scuba diving needs an oxygen tank so you can swim deeper.
Confidence in the water is very important. Alison Dando of the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) says: ‘Safety as well as enjoyment is paramount when it comes to scuba diving and snorkelling, so a level of comfort in the water is essential.
You don’t necessarily have to be a strong swimmer but you should be able to swim, even at a basic level, and be comfortable at the surface.’
BSAC has clubs throughout the UK and offers snorkelling and scuba lessons to non and weak swimmers alike (bsac.com, 0151 350 6203). Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) too offers pool-based scuba training you can try before you go on holiday (padi.com, 0117 300 7234).p>
The peaks themselves have a variety of plants and rare tree species, plus of course birds.
As if this were not enough, the island is made up of rainforest, a coastline dotted with golden beaches, rocky outcrops and reefs, the bustling capital of Castries, markets, fishing villages and more.
But perhaps some of its most famous residents are its five endemic bird species, including the St Lucia Parrot.
Seeking out these elusive residents, along with the rare whales and dolphins that inhabit the surrounding sea, is not an easy task, but that’s where Diarmid Doody comes in.
Protecting, filming and watching birds
As Saga’s expert bird and wildlife-watching host on St Lucia, Diarmid knows better than most the effect that watching and being among wildlife can have.
With a childhood spend in southern Africa, encounters with bull elephants, prides of lions and fighting impala filled his early years. A move to the UK at the age of eight did not, fortunately, signal an end to his fascination with wildlife.
The flash of a yellowhammer sparked a new and even more consuming passion and his entry into the world of birds began. Diarmid subsequently went on to study that most elusive of birds of prey, the merlin, for the RSPB.
He became instrumental in protecting red kites in Wales as they teetered on the brink of extinction in the area.
This was followed by protecting nests, rearing and returning the first kites to the Scottish highlands after 90 years of absence, and establishing CCTV as a method of gaining an insight into the secret nests of ospreys and other birds of prey.
Today Diarmid is perhaps best known as a presenter and cameraman for wildlife programmes, and he’s also recognised as a talented wildlife artist. We asked him what it was about the St Lucia rainforest that made it such a remarkable place for watching birds…
“Going into the rainforest for the first time is an amazing experience. You are simply bombarded with extraordinary sounds coming from everywhere around you. In the stillness of the early morning it is somehow even more fantastic.
Around you are vast trees with flying buttresses, vines, colourful nectar-laden plants and, if you are lucky, the screams and squawks of the rare St Lucia parrots as they fly overhead or perch in trees far above you.
You may also hear the haunting and plaintive song of the rufous-throated solitaire – it’s hard to believe a small bird can make such exquisite fluting notes.”
During 2014 Dairmid was able to film the endangered white-breasted thrasher – possibly the only footage of these forest-dwelling birds.
They’re now on the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list of threatened species, something which worries Diarmid considerably:
“St Lucia is very small and so the chances of a whole species being wiped out forever is even greater. On a larger landmass one can afford losses in some areas but on a small island, every reduction in numbers is potentially critical.”
Witness birds take flight and soar the skies of their natural habitat on a special interest bird watching holiday. Find out more here
From hummingbirds and warblers to whales and dolphins
Diarmid’s ‘eye’ as a wildlife cameraman makes him an impassioned special interests host. Keen to help guests get the most from their holiday, he says
“I have filmed in many places but St Lucia is a real favourite of mine. You can get close to so many colourful birds.
When you fill the viewfinder of your camera with perhaps a stunning gold and black St Lucia oriole, or a St Lucia warbler in all its colours just a few feet away, you realise this is a very special place.”
But it’s not just the birds that are the stars of the island, which also has a wealth of lizards, butterflies, moths, and of course sea life.
Within its surrounding waters lie short-finned pilot whales, Frazer’s dolphins, spinner dolphins, pigmy sperm whales, flying fish and more, not to mention the sea birds which include Audubon’s Shearwaters and red-footed boobies, all of which Diarmid has seen when accompanying guests.
Even taking time out to relax in the gardens of the Bel Jou Hotel where guests stay on the holiday he hosts, you may be rewarded with the breathtaking sight of hummingbirds.
Diarmid has watched “two and often three species of jewel-like hummingbirds around the sugar feeders or sometimes nesting in the garden (the nests are the size of half a walnut shell and the eggs the size of tic-tacs)!”
In addition to these enchanting birds, he advises you may also see “…butterflies on the flowering plants, fruit bats taking water from the swimming pool after dark, noisy little frogs the size of a fingernail all over the garden, and jet black bullfinches sitting opposite you at breakfast trying to pinch your toast!”
Experience and feel part of this wonderful island
From rainforest walks to geological explorations, whale and dolphin watching to searching for lizards and visiting bat caves, Diarmid feels St. Lucia is a place that offers experiences to fill you with fascination and wonder.
“The great thing about our wildlife trips is that in a fortnight we travel to almost every part of this wonderful and colourful island. You can come back feeling that you have really experienced St Lucia and seen a large selection of its wildlife.
The sights of the island, with its twin volcanic peaks, mist-clad rainforest mountains, golden beaches, rich seas and flamboyantly-clad islanders remain with you, as do the wildlife images you go home with.”
On the 18th April 1832 Darwin found himself in Rio de Janiero as he made his famous voyage on the Beagle. He concluded his entry for the day with the following words:
‘It is easy to specify the individual objects of admiration in these grand scenes; but it is not possible to give an adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, astonishment, and devotion, which fill and elevate the mind.’
If he had been fortunate to visit St Lucia he may well have made the same observation.
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