Friday, 19 June 2015

Collared Plover

On Saturday June 13th 2015, I registered my 119th local lifer and 74th Barbados bird for the year.  It was a very small bird, spotted first by the dynamic duo of local birding, Dr. Webster and Mr. Roach in the parish of St. Lucy.  The bird is a Collared Plover (Charadrius collaris).  It is between 5.5 – 6.25 inches in length, with white underparts, brownish- grey upperparts, nape and crown reddish-brown, white forehead and throat and a breast band which is black in adults but brownish in juveniles.
The Collard Plovers breeding range stretches as far north as Mexico, and South to Argentina and a few islands of the Caribbean.
It is labelled as an irregular visitor to Barbados in the book “Birds of Barbados an annotated Checklist” which has a registered twelve records dating from June 1959 to August 2007.  Sightings were also confirmed post publishing of the book.
It was a very hard bird for me to photograph because of its small size and its hyperactive behavior.  Its foot speeds and quick burst of speed is unlike any bird I have ever seen before.  Below are the photographs I took.  

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Identifying the Gull by Steve Bright

Gulls are a family which I find really interesting so I was delighted when Julian sent me the images of the large Larus species he saw recently. Despite only having a limited time to view the bird he managed to get images with enough detail to lead to a confident ID. 

I am by no means an authority or expert on gull identification but I love to work through the process methodically.

My thought process on this gull was as follows:

  • It's clearly a large gull, excluding the small larids such as Laughing, Franklin', Bonaparte's, Black headed gull.
  • Its wing tips are black excluding the white winged species such as Iceland and Glaucous gull and grey winged gulls such as Glaucous-winged and Kumlien's gull.
  • The mantle colour is relatively pale excluding Lesser Black backed through to Greater Black backed gull.
  • It leaves the paler grey mantled gulls. For me the 3 main contenders were Yellow-legged, American Herring and Herring gull.
  • The wing tip pattern is often a critical identification feature in large gull diagnosis but there can be much variation within a species. Looking at the wing pattern here the amount of white on primary 10 seems too small for Yellow-legged gull. This, coupled with the amount of white on P9 tip being relatively large, effectively excludes this species.
  • This leaves the two Herring gull possibilities. There appears to a quite a large amount of black on the tips of primary 5 & 6 which looks good for American Herring gull.

During my research on this bird and being that I am from the UK, most of my literature, especially my main reference text - Gulls of Europe, Asia and North American by Klaus MallingOlsen and Hans Larsson - refers to this as a separate species. Several authorities on this side of the Atlantic, such as the Association of European Rarities Committees and British Ornithologists' Union recognise American Herring gull as a separate species (Larus smithsonianus) having been split from Herring gull (Larus argentatus) based on a report from 2007 (Sangster et al.  Taxonomic recommendations for British birds: Fourth report.  Ibis [DOI: 10.1111/j.1474-919X.2007.00758.x]) suggesting American herring gull should be moved into a different clade or lineage. That clade includes the East Siberian gull, Larus vegae, which occurs in northeast Asia.

However, American authorities such as the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) and the American Birding Association (ABA) still consider it as a subspecies of Herring gull (Larus argentatus smithsonianus).

The 'smithsonianus' gull is distributed throughout North America with the breeding range in the north of the continent but the winter range extends south into Central America and the Caribbean.  Herring gull (Larus argentatus argentatus and argenteus) are confined to Northern Europe making the former much more likely on a Caribbean island.

Regardless of whether this is considered a separate species or part of the Herring gull species, this is a rare bird in Barbados and another great find.  

Steve Bright has been interested in birds since he was a child and has now been birding for over 20 years. He started to take birding seriously  during his first conservation expedition to Northern Cyprus. During the University of Glasgow's ongoing project monitoring breeding populations of green and loggerhead turtles he met likeminded bird obsessed students which spurred his interest further. Subsequent expeditions involved trips to the study the endemic Seychelles white-eye (Zosterops modestus), at the time considered one of the rarest birds in the world. During this trip he located a solitary osprey which was a national first. He subsequently coordinated expeditions to Ecuador and Kazakhstan in search of important bird areas supporting some of the World's most threatened bird species. Now very much a hobby, Steve continues to birdwatch whenever he can and has been lucky enough to visit many countries and has birded in all continents except Antarctica.

Friday, 12 June 2015

The Grackle's Chronicle -The Other Side of the Story

Carib Grackle

There are always two sides to a story, some people say three sides.  It is almost folklore the way Blackbirds, our local name for the Carib Grackle (Quiscalus lugubris), are perceived as very aggressive especially towards Herons and Egrets.  You can guarantee that on any given day, whether rainfall or sunshine, you will see Grackles chasing Egrets or Herons.  That side of the story I knew very well, but the other side was made clear to me on the afternoon of June 2nd while on my way home from work.  As I was driving under an Ackee tree (Melicoccus bijugatus)(not to be confused with Jamaican Ackee Blighia sapida ) which was planted next to the roadway, I saw a Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) sitting in the tree, from the corner of my eyes.  He was being hounded by a flock of Carib Grackles.  As I drove along, I thought to myself “poor egret”, however something did not seem quite right, but I could not figure out what it was.  As I drove, I continued playing the scene over in my head and it struck me that the Cattle Egret was furiously stabbing away at something with its bill.  “He was invading the nest!”  I blurted, and stopped the car, turned around and returned the tree.  
The following series of photographs shows what I saw when I arrived at the Ackee tree. 
The Cattle Egret with a Grackle chick in its mouth

Tossing the chick head first into its bill

Lifting head to help swallow its prey whole

The Grackles attacks were ignored

Not fully down

It took him about two minutes to fully consume the chick and after a short break he started on a second one.  Meanwhile the colony of Grackles tried helplessly to chase him off.
The Cattle Egret starting on the other chick
 Then suddenly without warning he left the second chick, which I assumed was already dead, and flew off, with four or five chirping birds behind him.  Now that was something I was accustomed to seeing but now it felt different, I was rooting for those poor Grackles.

It was only this year with a nesting Grassland Yellow Finch, who nest on the ground, that I realized that Cattle Egrets are guilty of the predation of other bird’s chicks, but I never expected to see one invading a nest stationed in a tree and with such savagery.  It was an eye opener for me and it reminded me to always get the other side of the story.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Excursion to the East

After a busy Saturday I decided to treat myself to a relaxing birding excursion to the east of the island. My plan was to visit the Bayfield Pond and two private artificial wet areas close to it. I arrived at my first location, Bayfield, at about 4:30pm.

Bayfield Pond

A Mask Duck (M) at Bayfield Pond
My main purpose of visiting the Bayfield Pond was to check on the status of the Masked Ducks which were spotted there a few weeks ago.  These duck are very difficult to locate among the over grown red and white water lilies which covers up to 90+% of the ponds surface.  Straight away I spotted the dark brown plumage of a male duck resting motionlessly in an area free of plants.  Its head was turned away from me with its bill buried among its feathers to keep it warm.  I scanned among the plants for other ducks but could not find any.

Common Gallinule- Juvenile(L) & Adult

It was refreshing to observe the Common Gallinules of all ages foraging among the lilies. The adult’s black plumage and the bright red shield on their faces contrasted with the greyish colour of the shieldless juveniles.  The very young hatchlings were also visible, completing a view of the full cycle of this bird, all in one location.  Really, it was a sight to see.

Golden Grove

My next stop was the private wet areas at Golden Groves.  It has been a while since I visited this location and as I approached the only tray with a little water, a large gull flew over head.  The gull was larger than a Laughing Gull, it had a white head and white underparts, and it also had a red spot on its bill.  The wings were light grey with black tips.  After sending the poor quality photographs which I managed to get, to three experts on gulls in different parts of the world, they all agreed that this gull was a Herring Gull. I would like to say a big thank you to Ian McKerchar of Manchester Birding, Lou Salomon, who I met through the website Bird Forum and maintains the website   and our very own Steve Bright. This rarity to the island became my 137th lifer, 118th Barbadian Lifer and my 72nd for the year.  Another surprise was the amount of Great Egrets (six) which were still at this location at this time of the year.  I spent about fifteen minutes hoping the gull would return but it never did so I was off to my final location.

Herring Gulls

Herring Gulls are large gulls between 21–26 inches in length.  Adults have light grey upperparts, white underparts, and black wing tips with white spots.  Their legs are pink, while their bills are yellow with a red spot.  Young birds are mottled brown. They are nine records of this bird visiting the island, not including this one, with the first bird recorded in 1937 and the last one in 2007. – Birds of Barbados an annotated 144

Congo Road  

Congo Road was one of the few places on the island which still attracts shorebirds at this time of the year.  I saw five species of shorebirds there.  I saw Black-belled and Semipalmated Plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Short –billed Dowitchers and a Ruddy Turnstone.  Common Gallinules were plentiful preferring the dryer trays to the ones with water.

I recorded nineteen species of birds that afternoon with one of them being a lifer.  It was indeed a relaxing birding afternoon.
Below is my list for that afternoon. (clicks here for photos)
  1.  Masked Duck (Nomonyx dominicus)
  2. Great Egret (Ardea alba)
  3. Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
  4. Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)
  5. Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
  6. Green Heron (Butorides virescens)
  7. Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata)
  8. Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
  9. Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)
  10. Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
  11. Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla)
  12. Short-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus)
  13. Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)
  14. Scaly-naped Pigeon (Patagioenas squamosa)
  15. Common Ground-Dove (Columbina passerina)
  16. Zenaida Dove (Zenaida aurita)
  17. Gray Kingbird (Tyrannus dominicensis)
  18. Carib Grackle (Quiscalus lugubris)
  19. Shiny Cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis