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Birds and botany in the Bahamas.

TO BIRD-WATCHERS from the Western states, the Bahamas promise beautiful birds found only here, as well as a variety of East Coast birds that winter here October through May.

In Nassau, two botanic gardens--Ardastra Gardens and Zoo and The Retreat--offer good viewing. You needn't be a skilled birder to enjoy them, just patient. Take time to pick out birds that flit about in the foliage.

At either garden, you may spot endemic birds such as the Bahama woodstar (a hummingbird with brownish tail markings), Eastern birds like the yellow-throated warbler, or West Indian birds such as the glossy black smooth-billed ani, or the bananaquit (with whitish to yellow stripes above its eyes). At Ardastra Gardens, you'll even see the rare Bahama parrot in an aviary (it's part of a captive-breeding project).


Even if the bird-watching is lukewarm, you'll enjoy walking through impressive plant collections at these two gardens. Each is a cab ride from Nassau's main hotels.

To help you identify the birds, bring binoculars and a field guide to North American birds, as well as The Collins Guide to the Birds of New Providence and the Bahama Islands, by P. G. Brudenell-Bruce (Penguin USA, 1986; $15.95). If weather is windy or rainy, wait for a dry, calm day when birds are more active.

Ardastra Gardens and Zoo. This 5-acre topical garden has aviaries filled with dazzling birds. Look also for wild birds: mangrove cuckoo and Bahama mockingbird in the verdant canopy, green or little blue herons by the waterways.

A flock of "trained" flamingos puts on a quirky but funny display of synchronized movements at 11, 2, and 4 daily. Visitors get to walk briefly among these curious creatures, the Bahamas' national bird. Flamingos are near threatened status; a breeding flock here may someday boost populations in the wild.

Off W. Bay Street at Chippingham Road (follow signs); (809) 323-5806 or 323-7232. Open 9 to 5 daily; admission is $7.50 ($3.75 for ages 10 and under).

The Retreat. Once a private estate, this 11-acre garden is now run by the non-profit Bahamas National Trust. Here you walk into a towering forest with 92 genera of palms--arecas and fishtails, cabbages and queens. The palms attract a plethora of small, colorful birds. Look for the white-crowned pigeon, stripe-headed tanager, red-legged thrush, and thick-billed vireo. The garden has about a mile of twisting trail, padded by vegetation. Walk softly and you'll hear these birds before you see them.

Staff in a 150-year-old Bahamian cottage can provide trail guides and brochures.

On Village Road across from Queens College; 393-1317. Open 9 to 5 weekdays; tours ($2) at noon Tuesdays through Thursdays.
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Author:Finnegan, Lora J.
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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