Monday, 28 April 2014

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus)

Lesser Black-backed Gull at Six Men's Bay, St Peter on April 20, 2014

Friday, 25 April 2014

Third Weekend of April Birding Excursions

The third week of April was a wonderful birding week.  I added one more bird to my life count and two to my year count.  For the island of Barbados, our avian species count went up by one, now making it 266 species. 

Friday April 18, 2014

Oistins , Christ Church

My first stop on this beautiful morning was at Oistins, the small town in the south coast parish of Christ Church.  The reason for stopping there was to investigate the report of a Ruddy Turnstone
whose legs became entangled in what was believed to be the remnant of fishing net. I arrived there at about 6am and noted the customary birds for that location for this time of year. Some of the birds on the beach were Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, Cattle Egrets and the ever present Rock Pigeons, just to mention a few, but the highlight of the morning was to watch and photograph five Laughing Gulls feeding and interacting  with each other. This was the closest I had ever been able to get to this bird.  After an unsuccessful search for the Ruddy Turnstone with the net on its feet, I moved on to my main reason for being out birding that morning – Red-Billed Tropicbirds.

Click this link to see photographs from the 3rd Weekend in April 

Green Point, St. Philip

The Red-billed Tropicbirds breed on the rugged South and East coast of the island but this bird, which spends most of its life at sea, has always been a favorite of mine. So when reports of sighting Red-billed Tropicbirds were raised I made time to go and see it.  To reach the coast line at Green Point, I had to navigate a maze of houses and roads. It was about a mile off the main highway and its coast line was Rugged because of the constant battering of the Atlantic Ocean.  I was unsure of where to start looking but as I walked to the cliff looking over the sea I saw the bird. With its white plumage and its elongated central tail feather, this was unmistakably the bird I came to see – The Red-billed Tropicbird.   However it quickly disappeared in the glare of the sun and that was the last I saw of it. I spent over an hour searching the cliffs and the sea for the birds but to no avail.  I saw Caribbean Martins going in and out of holes in the cliffs, no doubt nesting or preparing to nest, Grassland Yellow Finches and Black-faced Grassquits but no other sightings of our star birds.  I will definitely be paying another visit to Green Point.

 Click this link to see photographs from the 3rd Weekend in April

The New Bird in Town

Later that day Dr. John Webster and Edward Massiah met at a private residence located on the border of the parishes of St. Philip and St. John to observe and photograph one of the most exciting additions to the local avian species. A bird no one expected to be this far south.   The bird is the White–crowned Pigeon. The discovery was made by the keen eyes of the master of the residence when the bird came to his bird bath for water, along with some Scaly-nape Pigeons. This discovery was made known to us by a local historian and birder Dr. Karl Watson on April 9th. From then, a cat and mouse game was played with this bird in an effort to see and photograph it.  Finally, on April 18th, Dr. Webster and Edward Massiah were finally able to see and photograph the bird.  I am hoping to be able to see and photograph this rarity to our shores in the coming week before it moves on.  So stay tuned for the photographs.
The White-crowned Pigeon, Patagioenas leucocephala, is about 13-14”, the same size and shape of the Scaly-naped Pigeon, dark grey with a white crown.  

Click this link to see photographs from the 3rd Weekend in April 

Sunday April 20, 2014

Six Men’s Bay St. Peter

It was a dark and gloomy morning with threats of rain all around. As I pulled into the car park of the fishing village at Six Men’s, my goal was to see and photograph for the first time an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull.  This gull, a vagrant to the island, was first spotted by birder and photographer Richard Roach. The tide was high and the sea looked angry. The sandy beach in front of the car park, where Sanderlings would have been busy looking for food was now replaced by waves pounding against the foundation well of the car park.  These conditions made me more protective of my camera, but were ideal for gulls. Laughing Gulls were plentiful, flying over the surf, swooping down to feed, amassing on the water break and boats off shore. It was on one of those boats off shore that I first saw the Lesser Black-backed Gull. He was standing on the top proudly preening his white breast feathers. I took up a better position to photograph the Laughing Gulls feeding close to the shore and then the rain came. I ran for cover under one of the stalls just in time to see the Lesser Black-backed fly by.  I took out my camera and started to shoot this beautiful bird as it made a series of fly bys. I was at Six Men’s Bay for about forty-five minutes before having to leave to fulfill a commitment.
So that was my weekend. I am hoping to be able to see and photograph White-crowned Pigeons in the coming weeks. I will also be going back to Green Point sometime this week to look for the Tropicbirds. Hope you had fun birding last weekend like I did.

Click this link to see photographs from the 3rd Weekend in April

 Here is the list of birds recorded.

Common Name
Scientific Name
Coereba flaveola
Barbados Bullfinch
Loxigilla barbadensis
Black-faced Grassquit
Tiaris bicolor
Carib Grackle
Quiscalus lugubris
Caribbean Martin
Progne dominicensis
Cattle Egret
Bubulcus ibis
Common Ground-Dove
Columbina passerina
Eared Dove
Zenaida auriculata
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Streptopelia decaocto
Green Heron
Butorides virescens
Grassland Yellow-Finch
Sicalis luteola
Gray Kingbird
Tyrannus dominicensis
Laughing Gull
Leucophaeus atricilla
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Larus fuscus
Magnificent Frigatebird
Fregata magnificens
Red-billed Tropicbird
Phaethon aethereus
Rock Pigeon
Columba livia
Ruddy Turnstone
Arenaria interpres
Calidris alba
Zenaida Dove
Zenaida aurita

Thursday, 24 April 2014

3rd Weekend of April Birding Excursion (Images)

3rd Weekend of April Birding Excursions

Oistins, Christ Church

Ruddy Turnstone

Birds feeding at Oistins

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

Green Point, St Philip

Eared Dove

Eared Dove

Eared Dove (Immature)

Grassland Yellow Finch

Grassland Yellow Finch

Black Faced Grassquit (Male)

Black Faced Grassquit (Male)

Six Men's Bay, St Peter

Laughing Gull
Magnificent Frigatebird (Female)

Laughing Gull
Laughing Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull on a Boat

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull


Saturday, 19 April 2014

An Update of Birding Activity- Part 1 by Dr John L Webster

This episode was the first in a three part series titled “An Update of Birding Activity for the First 12 weeks of 2014 in Barbados”. In this series I sought to investigate and share some of the activities of both our Resident and Migratory bird species on the island, during the first 3 months of 2014. In this episode I discussed and demonstrated the changes that I observed in the moult of a male Juvenile (?) Northern Pintail duck (Anas acuta), shared the story of a juvenile American Golden Plover (Pluvialis dominica) that seemed to have taken up residence at the Grantley Adams International Airport, and shared the beauty of the Birds of the Glyricidia trees that flower annually during the first three months of the year.

This male Juvenile (?) Northern Pintail duck arrived on the island in late November. This photo was taken on 30 November 2013, Note the total absence of any of the pintail feathers for which the species is named.

Here is the same duck 3 1/2 months later, after it has completed its moult, resulting in a complete change of plumage. He is now beautiful coloured with fully developed pintail feathers, and ready to choose a mate and head back north to their breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra of Alaska and northern Canada, the Canadian prairie provinces, the Dakotas, northern Montana, northern Utah, central Nevada and the Klamath Basin of Oregon and California.

Whilst here in Barbados, the Pintail remained at a private swamp in St Philip, moving between three adjacent ponds. For the first 4-6 weeks it hung around with a small flock of Lesser Scaup ducks. In this photo it can be seen stretching its wings as it swam with the Lesser Scaup.

The Northern Pintail, highlighted here with the yellow arrow, often flew around the area with the flock of Lesser Scaup, always returning to the same ponds. When the Scaup finally moved on, the Pintail befriended a small flock of semi-domesticated Muscovy and Muscovy/Mallard cross ducks, with which it could often be seen swimming.

Here is the Northern Pintail in a fly over, clearly showing its now well developed pintail. It finally disappeared from the pond in mid-March and we assumed that it had started its annual Spring migration back to its northern breeding grounds

This Juvenile American Golden Plover arrived at Grantley Adams International Airport in late December ...somewhat late for their annual south-bound migration. It seemed to enjoy the surroundings and basically "took up residence" on and around Ramp postion 16, where the big jets park on the Eastern most side of the parking apron!. It would daily appear out on the hot paved areas, patrolling up and down, pecking at things on the tarmac and drinking from pools of rain water. When the planes arrived, it would simply walk back towards the aircraft service equipment, where it would take cover until the aircraft departed. This photo was taken during one of my patrols with the Wildlife Patrol Unit of the airport, who are given the responsibility of keeping the runway and taxiways clear of all all wildlife, including birds, to avoid birdstrikes, and the like, on aircraft. The yellow line shown in the photo, along which the bird is walking, is the line painted on the tarmac to aid the pilot in taxiing his aircraft to its parking position at Ramp Position 16 ....perhaps the Plover thinks he is also taxiing into postion!!! At the time of preparation of this show, about 3 months after the Plover made his first appearance, he was still there at the airport, keeping his daily routine ...truly an unusual bird!!

Every year during the first three months, the Glyricidia trees across the island come into flower ...a great show of beautiful pink coloured flowers. The birds go wild ...all those that feed on nectar, and also the fly catchers going behind the insects, attracted by the nectar. The trees are alive with sounds of chirping and twittering, buzzing of wings and snapping of beaks! There are constant squabbles and fights between the highly territorial hummingbirds and also with the Bananaquits. In the following photos I seek to capture some of the birds that frequent the trees and show some of their activities.

The yellow stripe above the eye indicates that this is a juvenile - in adult birds the stripe is white.

The Caribbean Elaenia, the TRUE Pee-whittler or Pee-Whistler, is one of the flycatchers that frequent the flowering trees, seeking insects.

The Grey Kingbirds, often INCORRECTLY referred to as the Pee-whittler, are always around seeking insects in flight. This one has caught a bee!

These two images are included to show the effect/importance of light on showing the iridescent colours on the throat of the hummingbirds, in this case the Green-throated Carib. They are of the same bird, taken seconds apart, with the only difference being that the bird has turned its head, thereby changing the angle at which the sunlight strikes the feathers in the neck. This area is known as the gorget. The following is a scientific explanation as to colour and iridescence seen in the feathers of Hummingbirds. It is taken from Paul A. Johnsgard's book, "The Hummingbirds of North America" (1997, second edition, published by Smithsonian Institution Press in Washington, DC.) 

The highly iridescent feathers of the hummingbird gorgets are among the most specialized of all bird feathers. But even in the male's gorget ... only about the distal third of each feather is modified for iridescence; the close overlapping of adjacent feathers thus generates the unbroken color effect. The iridescence is produced by the proximal part of the barbules, which are smooth, flattened and lack hook-like barbicels or hamuli. Beyond the color-producing portion, the barbule is strongly narrowed and curved toward the distal tip of the feather. The barbicels in this area help to hold together the barbules on the side of the barb, but do not unite the barbules of adjacent barbs. (Aldrich,1956).

...The colors do not directly depend on selective pigment absorption and reflection, as do brown and blacks produced by the melanin pigments of non-iridescent feathers. Rather, they depend on interference coloration, such as that resulting from the colors seen in an oil film or soap-bubble. Basically, the colors depend on light being passed through a substance with a different refractive index than air (1.0), and being partially reflected back again at a second interface. The percentage of light that is reflected back increases with the difference in the refractive indices of the two media; in addition, the thickness of the film through which the light is passed strongly influences the wavelengths of light that are reflected back. Put simply, red wavelengths are longer than those at the violet end of the spectrum and generally require films that are thicker or have higher refractive indices than those able to refract bluish or violet light. Thus, the optimum refractive index for red feathers is about 1.85; for blue feathers it is about 1.5.

Hummingbird feathers may attain any refractive index within this range because the iridescence portions of the barbules are densely packed with tiny, tightly packed layers of platlets. These platlets are only about 2.5 microns in length and average about 0.18 microns in thickness, but they vary in thickness and are differentially filled with air bubbles. The platlets matrix, probably of melanin, evidently has a refractive index of about 2.2, whereas the air bubbles inside have a refractive index of 1.0. Varying the amount of air in the platelets provides a composite refractive index that ranges from the red end of the spectrum (1.85) to the blue (1.5)....

Thus, the actual thickness of the platlets not only significantly determines the quality of the perceived light, but it also affects the amount of air held within the pigment granules and the consequent variations in interference effects. Further, a single pigment granule can produce different color effects according to the angle at which it is viewed. When an optical film is viewed from about, it reflects longer wavelengths than when viewed from angles progressively farther away from the perpendicular. Thus, a gorget may appear ruby red when seen with a beam of light coming from directly behind the eye, but as the angle is changed the gorget color will shift from red to blue and finally to black, as the angle of incidence increases (Greenwalt, 1960a).

In hummingbirds, the color-producing pigment platlets are closely packed into a mosaic surface, and 8 to 10 such layers are then tightly stacked on top of one another in typical iridescent feathers. Far from confusing the visual effects, such stacking actually tends to intensify and purify the resulting spectral color, which is why hummingbirds have possibly the most intensively iridescent feathers known in birds (Greenwalt, 1960a).

In late February 2014, I was invited to give a presentation on the Birds of Barbados, to a group of 56 birders, mainly from the USA, who were on a Caribbean Birding Cruise. The cruise, organised by Victor Emanuel Nature Tours of Texas, started in Antigua and sailed down the islands to Barbados, stopping at each of the islands on the way for a 1 day birding trip, The objective was to see the birds of each island, particularly those which are endemic to that island and hence not likely to be seen elsewhere. The cruise terminated in Barbados, where I delivered my presentation at the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary followed by a bit of birding right there on the site, Our only endemic bird species, made itself very present, thereby allowing our visitors to get up close and personal with the Barbados Bullfinch, our lowly Sparrow!. Whereas I considered it a privilege to be invited to present to such an esteemed group, the highlight of my day was to meet a true icon in the natiure tour business, Victor Emanuel, founder of Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, a gentleman with 50 years in the business!!