Thursday, 29 January 2015

Birding in St. Lucy

I have not been birding in the north of the island for a couple of weeks.  Birding in the north has always been fun but with the lost of access to one of the main birding locations and the quickly drying wet areas, make the drive to the north seem pointless.  The morning of January 25th, I decided to go to the northern parish of St. Lucy after reports of two ducks, a Northern Pintail and a Lesser Scaup, were spotted.

I started my journey at 5:30am.  It was dark, wet and cold from early morning rain.  The sky looked angry with a large percentage of cloud cover and the threat of rain at any moment.  With sunrise officially forecast for 6:25am I was hoping to make the 16 mile drive, from the central parish of St. George, through the parishes of St. Thomas, St. Joseph, St. Andrew and St. Peter, and arrive at my first stop, the Hope Pond  just before the sun had fully awaken.  Everything went according to the plan except for the lighting for photography.  For those who know photography - my camera’s maximum Fstop is f5.6 @ 400mm.  The lighting was so poor I was shooting with an ISO of 6400 and shutter speed of below 500; this resulted in grainy and very soft photos.    

Hope Pond   

Hope Pond is a small, seasonal pond next to a public road.  This was the pond in which the Mask Duck Laurie was released last year. (See that post on Masked Duck Laurie ) The birds at the pond this morning were 7 Blue-winged Teals which included a male in breeding plumage with its distinctive white crescent in front of each eye, a Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers and 3 Yellowlegs.  Two Peregrine Falcons showed themselves briefly just to the south of the pond.  In total twelve species were recorded at the Hope Pond.  After spending about fifteen minutes at the Hope, it was off to my next stop, the Cave swamp at North Point. Click for Checklist  

Cave Swamp 

Cave Swamp is an abandoned shooting swamp situated on the most northerly part of the island called North Point.  This artificial swamp, which depends on seasonal rains for its water, was full to capacity just a month ago and was teaming with many Shorebirds.  Now it was dry.  The ever present and heavily porch Grassland Yellow Finches were singing and fluttering around, while part time fishermen were fishing from the high cliffs, occasional taking cover from the explosions, as the waves violently bashed against the cliffs and shooting  salt water high into the air.  The sun was now lazily climbing into the sky with palates of blues and oranges that made you sit up and take notice.  So this stop turned into a landscape shoot.  Then it was off to my final stop, Trents.


Trents is the location where the two ducks, a Lesser Scaup and a Northern Pintail were seen.  Both of these ducks would be a first for the year for me.  I arrived there at 6:30am and saw the Scaup right away. A Snowy Egret was also wading on the far side of the pond.  I made a thorough search of the pond but could not find the Pintail.  Maybe it had moved on.  If it had, its most likely current location would be Chance Hall’s Pond I thought.  So my next stop was now Chance Hall’s pond.  (Click to see Checklist)

Chance Hall Pond

Chance Hall’s Pond has water all year round.  It is a location where you can find large flocks of ducks, mainly Teals, which flock here when other ponds and wet areas start to dry.  I figured it would be the place to find a duck like a Northern Pintail.  I arrived there at 7am and as I had guessed, ducks were in the pond, about nine of them, but they were all Blue-winged Teals, no Pintails.  I was now out of time and was unable to make any further checks for the Duck.
It was a fair morning; I saw a total of 15 species and added one bird to my year list.  

Monday, 26 January 2015

From WSR to Oil Field Road and Back (Photographs)

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck - Dendrocygna autumnalis

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducklings

Great Egret - Ardea alba

Solitary Sandpiper - Tringa solitaria

Solitary Sandpiper - Tringa solitaria

Black-crowned Night-Heron - Nycticorax nycticorax

Black-crowned Night-Heron - Nycticorax nycticorax

Little Blue Heron - Egretta caerulea

Great Egret - Ardea alba

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Turner’s Hall woods and the Oven Bird

Yellow Warbler as easily seen in the Woods

January 04, 2015

I now understand the term Warbler’s Neck.  This was after spending close to three hours in the Turner’s Hall Woods, which is located in the parish of St Andrew, in search of wintering Warblers.  Our guide was one of the most knowledgeable birders on the island, Martin Frost, along with fellow birders and photographers Dr. John L. Webster, Mr. Richard Roach and my son, Jason.  A week before Martin had seen an Oven Bird while in the woods and we were hoping it was still around.  It would have been a lifer for all three of us.

Turner’s Hall Woods

Turner’s Hall Woods is the last trace of the original tropical forest which once covered our island Barbados, before it was colonized by the English.  It sits on fifty acres of land with a main hiking trail of over one mile.  There are many secondary trails branching off to the left and right of the main trail.  It is known mostly for its rich flora, containing trees and shrubs seen no other place on the island.  It also has a number of small streams and ponds flowing under its canopy of trees, making it a perfect place for local and migrating song birds to be found.  (Learn more about Turner’s Hall Woods)


American Redstart
Photo by Richard Roach
Our birding started at about 8:30am. As we started along the main trail, the calls of Carib Grackles, Barbados Bullfinches and Caribbean Elaenias filled the air.  We stopped at the few clearings and openings in the dense foliage to ‘pish’*.  It was not surprising that the Grackles and Bullfinches were the first to answer our calls.  As we journeyed deeper into the woods, we soon saw a few Yellow Warblers and heard the callings of Black-whiskered Vireos. By the time we reached the end of the trail and exited the woods to the views of the scenic east coast, our tally of migrating warblers stood at zero.  We still had a second bite at the cherry any way, since our vehicles were parked a mile away at the other end of the trail.  After a short pause we started our journey in the opposite direction.  We moved a little faster this time, stopping to take notice of a troop of Green Monkeys and the clearings.  At the last clearing we registered our first and only migrant for the trip It was not an Ovenbird though.  It was a Setophaga ruticilla; locally referred to as the Christmas Bird because it is mostly seen around the Christmas season.  It is known worldwide as an American Redstart.  This was a lifer for Richard, John and I.  It was a good start for the year, a two mile hike and a lifer in just the first week.  Not bad!!  I am looking forward to part 2 of birding at Turner’s Hall Woods.  After all, there is an Ovenbird to be seen.

Click to learn more about the American Redstart and Ovenbird.

*pish- Pishing is a technique birders use in the field to attract small birds... click to read more

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

My first lifer for 2015

Photo by Richard Roach
My first lifer for the year was an American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) seen on January 4,  while birding the Turners Hall Woods in St. Andrew. Redstarts are small  Warblers. The males are black with vivid orange patches on the sides, wings, and tail, while the females and immature males have more subdued yellow patches on a gray background. Only one person in the group of birder got a photograph of the bird. Thanks Richard for allowing me to share your photography.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Rare not so Rare Bird

My bird of the week was not a lifer yet it was a first-see for me and the other birders on the island.  I saw this bird as I was driving along the village of Chimborazo in the Parish of St. Joseph.  Chimborazo is one of the highest points on the island.  This is the second rarity I have come across in this area.  In 2012 I saw a Lesser Antillean Bullfinch Loxigilla noctis which was in the process of nesting with our endemic Barbados Bullfinch Loxigilla barbadensis.  By now you are looking at the photos and trying to guess what type of bird it is.  Well, it is a Leucistic Barbados Bullfinch.  While Leucism and Albinism are well documented in Bullfinches, it is the first I have seen.  This is also true of the others I have spoken to.  I would like to say thank you to the house holder, Kim, who lent me her point and shoot to get the photograph (since I was caught camera less on that day).
Happy birding…

Leucism is a condition in animals characterized by reduced pigmentation. Unlike albinism, it is caused by a reduction in all types of skin pigment, not just melanin. (Wikipedi)


Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Birding the first day of 2015

My first day of the year birding took in the East to the West coast of the island.  I visited locations in the parishes of St. Andrew, St. Lucy and St. Peter.  There were very few birds about, water at a few of the wet lands have evaporated significantly.  I recorded a modest twenty species with no birds being recorded at some locations, e.g. Greenland’s Lake and Chance Pond and very few at others e.g. Long Pond. The main locations with birds were Greenland’s Pond at St. Andrew, The Cave Swamp at North Point, St. Lucy and Six Men’s, St. Peter.

Greenland’s Pond

Solitary Sandpiper @ Greenland
This irrigation pond was dry for most of the year and weeds took over the pond’s bed. It became partially filled with the late rain of November but the water was now evaporating again.  I recorded eight (8) species at this location plus a domestic Muscovy duck that nested there last year was again in the process of building a nest.  The highlight was a cooperative Wilson’s snipe which allowed for close-up photographs. The other shorebirds at the pond were two (2) very vocal, Solitary Sandpipers.

Without rain this pond will be all dried up by the middle of the month.

Cave Swamp

I did not take my camera out at the Cave Swamp.  This man made swamp sits on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  The winds were very high and the sea looked angrier than it normal does.  The waves were violently banging against the cliff, sending sea sprays many feet into the air and across the landscape.  Not good conditions for my Canon!!  The grass around the swamp was very wet, as if rain had just fallen, but it was rain that was needed as only two of the deeper trays contained water compared to just a few weeks ago when the more than seven trays were full of water.  I recorded six (6) species there with a high count of forty-two (42) Least Sandpipers.  Large flocks of this bird were noticed at other locations in the last couple of days.  I also recorded ten (10) Semipalmated Plovers at this location.

Six Men’s Bay

If you are a follower of this blog you should be able to guess right away which birds I saw at Six Men’s Bay; Yip!!- Wintering Sanderlings.  This fishing village provides a wintering base for over one hundred Sanderlings annually.  Other birders and I have reported two tagged birds at this location two years running (link about tagged sanderlings). On this occasion no tagged birds were observed among the flock of fifty (50) birds on the beach.

The first day of birding was not as productive as in 2014.  Let us hope it does not set the tone for the rest of the year.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Bird of the Year 2014 (Local Birders)

Here are a few 2014 highlights from my fellow birders and Photographers

Dr. John Webster (Birder, Photographer)

John's Bird of 2014 was his second major find for the year. The first being a Common Cuckoo he saw in the parish of St. Lucy.

Bird of Year : Northern Harrier

Photo by Dr. John Webster

Richard Roach (Photographer)

Richard always reminds me that he is not a birder but that he is a bird photographer, so he does not have a bird of the year, he has a photograph of the year.


Photograph of Year: Black-crowned Night Heron

Photo by Mr. Richard  Roach

Glenn R Carmichael (Birder)

Glenn, an Englishman, spent the latter part of this year birding with us here in Barbados. He has been credited for first sighting three Fulvous Whistling Ducks at WSR, a major record for the island.  Thanks Glenn!!

Checklist List (Barbados): 77 species in 3 months

Bird of Year (Barbados): Fulvous Whistling Duck 

(World) : California Condor 
                    : Zone Tailed Hawk

Sunday, 4 January 2015

State of my Birding in 2014

2014 was a strange year.  It started off dry, a drought which led to dry ponds and swamps.  This may or may not have been responsible for the low number of migrating shorebirds.  But it concluded with a bang!  The rains came; the ponds and swamps were bursting at the banks, there were many sightings which had us running back to the records.  No new species were recorded but we saw birds that had been recorded only a few times on the island.  It was a fun year and I was happy to share it with you.

Here are the stats:

Total Species: 101

Blackpoll Warbler (Lifer)
A good start in the first three months of the year, where I recorded 59 species, set the tone for my first triple digit year.  An early start allowed me to see the wintering birds from late 2013 before they moved on.   Included were some important birds such as a Green Winged Duck, Glossy Ibis and Northern Pintails along with a few rare ones like the Ruddy Duck seen in St. Lucy in February.
The real boost came in September, I wrote about that at this link.  It felt good reaching my first 100 in one year.  The next step is the local record of 118.

Total Lifers for 2014: 23
My first lifer for the year was the Yellow-crowned Night Heron seen at Woodbourne in February.  In November, rare bird month, I recorded the most lifers totaling 6 species, in September 5 species. Eurasian birds were mainly recorded in the latter part of the year.

Bird of the Year: ----

It was not hard to choose a bird of the year in 2013 but it very hard this year.  The birds in close
contention are Blackpoll Warblers, West Indian Whispering Duck, Scarlet Tanager, White-crowned Pigeon, Common Nighthawk, Anhinga (my 100th lifer), Red Billed Tropic Bird, Ruddy Duck, Common Cuckoo and a few others. I can’t decide…

The birds Missed in 2014: 10

I missed a few birds this year.
Mask Booby
Brown Booby
Black-throated Warbler
Western Sandpiper
Upland Sandpiper
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Purple Heron
Oven Bird
Northern Harrier