Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Global Big Day

My bird of the day a Ruff at Trents
It was intense, it was fast paced, it was fun, it was my first ever big day event.  I joined thousands around the world, taking part in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Global Big Day on Saturday May 9th, 2015.  It was when birders try to sight as many birds as possible in twenty four hours. The preceding week and day, I scouted.  I took note of what and where the birds were and from that, I set a goal of reaching fifty species.  This would normally not have been much of a challenge with an entire day to do it in, but I did not have a full day, because of commitments, I had just about four hours in the morning, so planning was very important.  I targeted areas in the south and east of the island because they were no more than fifteen minutes apart from each other.  Another potential problem was that four of the birds I needed were located on two private irrigation ponds.   With such little time on my hands my timing was not in sync with my fellow birder who had permission to enter these private locations.  
With that in mind my journey started in the cool morning at 4:45am but before leaving home I registered my first bird- a Grey Kingbird breaking the silence with its cheerful wakeup call.  As I drove to my first location, Belleville, it was still dark out  and with no real nocturnal birds to check on I was starting to regret not spending a few more minutes in bed and leaving at my accustomed time of 5:30am.  I adjusted my plans and headed to the south coast road looking for any sign of life on that quiet morning.  I traveled the road next to the boardwalk then drove to the Garrison Savannah and to the horse racing tracks.  It was a hive of activity with joggers and walkers.   Just one horse and its jockey were pacing back and forth on the sand track with a sprinkling of spectators looking on.  I was surprised to see so much activity before sunrise so I started my birding there at 5:20am.

Garrison Savannah: 8 species

At the Garrison I saw eight species mainly our common birds with the Carib Grackles (49) having the highest count.  I added to the Grey Kingbird; the Barbados Bullfinch, Blackface Grassquit, Caribbean Elaenia, Cattle Egret, Scaly-nape Pigeon and Zenaida Dove.  Next stop Belleville!!
Species Count: 8

Belleville: 14 species

I arrived at Belleville at 5:35am this was the best time to see the two main birds I was after, the Orange- winged and Yellow-crowned Parrots.  These birds for me are not easy to find but with recent sightings, I decided to give it a try.  I spent longer than I had originally planned looking for them (30 minutes), but to no avail.  I did not know that I would regret giving that extra time later.  I added the ever present Rose-ringed Parakeet, Bananaquit, Black-whiskered Vireo, Common Ground-Dove, Shiny Cowbird and Green-throated Carib to my tally.  Next stop on the list was Oistins.
Species Count: 14

Oistins : 4 species

At Oistins, I registered just four species of Birds; three were added to the count.  These three were Ruddy Turnstone, Laughing Gull and Rock Pigeon.  I was hoping to see Royal Terns and Magnificent Frigatebirds at this location but did not.  As I continued along the south coast my next stop was Inch Marlow.
Species Count: 17

Inch Marlow: 4 species 

Shorebirds at Inch Marlow
Inch Marlow was the first stop I made which had the birds I expected to be there.  The large flock of Ruddy Turnstones (50) was easily seen along with a few Sanderlings, one of which was in the process of molting to breeding plumage.  I did not take too long at Inch Marlow staying just 10 minutes before heading off to Chancery Lane.
Species Count: 19

Chancery Lane: 20 species

The Lane Swamp was the most productive stop of the day.  There I added seven species to my day’s tally and one species, the Willets to my year count. The birds added were Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egrets, Green Heron, Black-belled Plover, Common Gallinule, Greater Yellowleg, Lesser Yellowleg, Semipalmated Plover and Yellow Warbler.  I was hoping to see a Stilt Sandpiper, as I did earlier in the week but these appeared to have moved on.  The Black-bellied Plover was a bonus, I was not expecting to see one here but it allowed me to add my next stop to the list. Congo Road was going to be my stop to see the Black-bellied Plover but after registering that at Chancery lane, I decided to make a stop at Green Point.
Species Count: 29

Green Point: 8 species

Green Point is known for Red-billed Tropicbirds but with no reports of sightings in the last couple of weeks and with the short amount of time that was available to me I had no plans of visiting but I am glad I did. Within seconds of arriving I saw two Tropicbirds and a Frigatebird.  I spent ten minutes at that Point and added four more to my list: Red-billed Tropicbird (6), Magnificent Frigatebird, Grassland Yellowfinch and Caribbean Martin.
Species Count: 33

Congo Road: 4 species

Black-billed Plover at Congo Road
Congo Road was a very short stop.  The main bird I was looking for was the Little Egret but it was not there.  I did pickup an Ear Dove before moving on to WSR.
 Species Count: 34

The WSR: 8 species

The WSR was a lot dryer than when I was last there but the main bird I was hunting for would not be affected by the dry conditions. This bird was the Black-crowned Night Heron (BCNH) which roost in the back swamp of the refuge but none was visible when I checked.  I saw a Solitary Sandpiper which was in flight and leaving the swamp.  Other first sightings for the day were Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, Little Egret and Spotted Sandpiper.
Species Count: 39

I left WSR at 8:10am ending my morning birding on the Global Big Day.  About an hour later I added an Antillean Crested Hummingbird to end the morning at forty species.
Species Count: 40

I restarted my Global Big Day drive at about 5pm in the north of the island.  My first stop was at Greenland St. Andrew.

Greenland: 5 species

The main birds I was hoping to see at Greenland were Pied-Billed Grebes and I was not disappointed, I saw two of them right away.  I also saw a duck with a dark grey to black bill which I was and am, still unable to identify.  I was only able to take one very poor photo of it before it disappeared.  From Greenland I traveled further north to meet up with Dr. Webster to visit the Half Acre for Black-crowned Night Herons. He was running late so I decided to try a pond at Trents in St. Lucy first.
Species Count: 41

Trent’s: 5 species

I have never seen much at this pond so it was never on my list as a place to visit during the Global Big Day but I was glad I did, for that is where I saw my bird of the day which was a Ruff (Calidris pugnax). This Eurasian Shorebird which is about 8-12” in size, is becoming a yearly visitor to our shores.  This was my second ‘first for the year’ bird of the Big day.  My next stop was Half Acre.
Species Count: 42

Half Acre: 5 species
Because of the location of this pond I never feel safe going to it alone but with time running out and the sun setting I made the trek to the Half Acre pond.  I parked my car and as I was approaching the pond I saw a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron flying around. That was all I needed, I was back in my car in a flash and off to my next stop.
Species Count: 43

The Turf Farm: 1 species

Before heading off to the Turf Farm I met Dr. Webster at Trent’s to confirm the sighting of the Ruff.  I spent a few minutes photographing the bird and then headed off to what was my last stop for the day, The Turf Farm. The Turf Farm is a private business so I did not want to venture on the property so late in the afternoon but I saw a “strange” bird which got up and alighted in the center of the turf just out of view.  I also heard the calling it made.  I was unable to identify it so I ended the day with forty- three species.  I visited the Turf Farm once again on Monday after the reported sighting of the Southern Lapwing and confirmed that the bird I saw on 9th May was indeed a Southern Lapwing which brought my Cornell Lab of Ornithology Global Big Day tally to forty-four species.
Species Count: 44

My Big Day ended at 6:30pm. I spent just over six hours in the field, completed fourteen checklists and recorded three birds for my year list.  Dr. Webster, who also participated in the Big Day, recorded forty eight species. Together we registered fifty species for the island which contributed to the close to six thousand recorded species worldwide in just one day.  What a day of birding May 9th 2015 was.  Truly a Global Big Day!

The complete list of birds seen  
  1. Grey Kingbird
  2. Blackface Grassquit,
  3. Caribbean Elaenia,
  4. Cattle Egret,
  5. Scaly-nape Pigeon
  6. Zenaida Dove
  7. Carib Grackle
  8. Barbados Bullfinch
  9. Rose-ringed Parakeet,
  10. Bananaquit,
  11. Black-whiskered Vireo
  12. Common Ground-Dove
  13. Green-throated Carib
  14. Shiny cowbird
  15. Ruddy Turnstone
  16. Laughing Gull
  17. Rock Pigeon
  18. Ruddy Turnstones
  19. Sanderling
  20. Willets
  21. Snowy Egrets
  22. Great Blue Heron
  23. Green Heron
  24. Common Gallinule
  25. Black-belled Plover
  26. Greater Yellowleg
  27. Lesser Yellowleg,
  28. Semipalmated Plover
  29. Yellow Warbler
  30. Magnificent Frigatebird
  31. Red-billed Tropicbird
  32. Caribbean Martin
  33. Grassland Yellowfinch
  34. Ear Dove
  35. Solitary Sandpiper
  36. Little Blue Heron
  37. Little Egret
  38. Spotted Sandpiper.
  39. Great Egret
  40. Antillean Crested Hummingbird
  41. Pied-Billed Grebes
  42. Ruff
  43. Black-crowned Night Heron
  44. Southern Lapwing