Sunday, 10 January 2016

First Day, Big Day


I always go birding on the first day of the year but this year I decided to turn it into a big day.  I even came up with a catchy name for it ‘First Day Big Day’.  I spent the last week scouting and planning my route, and worked out that I should be able to get forty species pretty easily.  Fifty would need a bit more effort and sixty would need some luck.  So I set a goal for fifty-five species.  I was able to pinpoint a few of the rarities still on the island but I foresaw problems with the Eurasian Marsh Harrier.  It had suddenly switched from the northern side of the island, the only place where I had ever seen it, to the eastern side where it was first sighted but where I had tried unsuccessfully to see it many times.  One reason for this is that the best place to see the Harrier is on a private swamp which I do not have access to.  I will also have this problem with the West Indies Whistling Duck, which seems to have taken up residence on the island.  Another bird which proved difficult to pinpoint was the Grey Heron and for safety reasons I decided to skip the most likely location where this bird may have been seen, that is Long Pond. Long Pond would also have been a sure bet for the two night herons but safety comes first.

D Day

The day for action started surprisingly just ten minutes into the new day when I registered my first bird, a Common Ground Dove1, no doubt affected by the New Year’s celebratory fireworks.  I woke up at 5am later that morning, made breakfast then packed snacks and water into my trusty cooler bag.  My camera bag was packed from the day before, card emptied and installed and battery fully charged.  I was out the door at 5:30am making my way to my first stop, the gas station.  From the gas station with the sun just peeking over the horizon I made my way to my first birding sight, the local recycling center and landfall in the Parish of St. Thomas.
I tallied six species at that location which included the bird I really went to see a Great Blue Heron2. The others were Cattle Egret3, Common Gallinule4, Bananaquit5, Barbados Bullfinch6 and Carib Grackle7.  My next stop would be Redland where I hoped to add my first duck to the count but as I was passing a small catchment of water at the side of the road not too far from the landfill, something caught my eye.  I noticed some birds wadding in the mud and water.  I stopped and was able to add Wilson’s Snipe8, Least Sandpiper9 and Grey Kingbird10 to my count.  I finally arrived at Redland at 6:33am and was happy to find that the female Lesser Scaup11 and the two male Green-winged Teals12 were still there.  Other birds added to the count at Redland were Blue-winged Teal13, Grassland Yellow Finch14 and Shiny Cowbird15.

Green Heron
It was at this point that I got the belated news that the Marsh Harrier was sighted about 20 minutes earlier, at the private location I spoke of above.  On monitoring the Harrier sightings over the few weeks it was around, it seems to have a routine, so I knew that it was probably on its way to my next stop, Golden Grove, but the fact that the news was almost a half hour late and I was about twenty minutes away my chances of seeing it there was very slim.  I arrived at Golden Grove at 7:30am and waited for an hour and ten minutes.  While there, I added eleven species to my checklist.  There was Snowy Egret16, Little Blue Heron17, Green Heron18, Sora19, Solitary20 and Stilt21 Sandpipers, Greater22 and Lesser Yellowlegs23, Rock Pigeon24, Eurasian Collared Dove25, Zenaida Dove26 and Green-throated Carib27 but no Marsh Harrier.  It was at this point that I reached for my lunch bag which I so carefully packed before leaving in the morning, only to realize it was missing.  I forgot it at home!
Black-whiskered Vireo
Anyway my next stop was at Bushy Park where someone feeds a large group of Eared Doves28 but I also saw a Caribbean Elaenia29.  Onto Congo Road Swamp for sandpipers, where I added Semipalmated Plover30 and Sandpiper31, Ruddy Turnstone32, Great33 and Little Egrets34.  Scaly-naped Pigeon35 was seen at Woodbourne Shorebird Refuge while a search of Inch Marlow and Oistins turned up a single Spotted Sandpiper36 and nineteen Royal Terns37.   I completed my morning with a short visit to Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary and added Yellow Warbler38 and Black-whiskered Vireo39 then headed home for a bite to eat and a short rest at about 11:30.

American(L) and Eurasian(R) Wigeons
For the afternoon half of my expedition I was joined by my wife and two kids, who came along to lend moral support.  I got started at 2pm and made my first stop at Greenland, St. Andrew adding American40 and Eurasian41 Wigeons, Masked Duck42, Pied-billed Grebe43, American Coot44 and Antillean-crested Hummingbird45. The last bird I registered for my Big Day was a Sanderling46 which was seen at Six Men’s Bay at 4:45pm bringing an end to my first ever First Day Big Day.

The birds I was surprised not to find were the Rose-ringed Parakeet, Peregrine Falcon, Magnificent Frigatebird, Osprey, Black-bellied Whistling Duck and the Lesser Black Backed Gull, which was a staple at Oistins Fishing Complex.  I thought I heard a Northern Waterthrust while at Graeme Hall but could not find it.  I did not list it because it is a new bird for me and I am not too confident in identifying it by ear.

I felt that better planning would have resulted in more birds and I will try again next year for sixty species.  Here is the break down for my first annual First Day Big Day:

Number of Species Recorded: 46
Number of Individual Birds: 737
Number of Checklist: 15

Thursday, 7 January 2016

First Day, Big Day - Images

I started the new year, as I normally do,birding, but this time I decided to try doing a big day. At the end of the day I tallied forty-seven different species. Here are a few of the many images from that day.
Green Heron

Little Egret

Little Blue Heron

Black-whiskered Vireo

Yellow Warbler



American(L) and Eurasian(R) Wigeons

Blue-winged Teals


Greater Yellowleg
Stilt Sanpipers, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Bye 2015

Alpine Swift
2015 was a good birding year for the island of Barbados with a total recorded sighting of over one hundred and fourteen (114) species of birds.  One of the most exciting birds for that year was an Alpine Swift (Apus melba), which was seen at Salters, in the central parish of St. George.  This represented only the fourth sighting for the island.  Another was Purple Herons (Ardea purpurea), with two records for 2015, first recorded at The Woodbourne Shorebird Refuge (WSR) early in the year and later in September in the north of the island. These may have represented the fourth and fifth records for the island.    We also saw a few
Franklin's Gulls (Leucophaeus pipixcan), four at one time, this maybe only the second record.  Another bird that made its second appearance was a Striated Heron (Butorides striata), which was seen during the month of September at the local recycling plant and landfill (SBRC). The Eurasian aka Western Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) was the only new addition to the growing avifauna of Barbados during 2015.

This year I recorded my highest species count of one hundred and five (105) species for a calendar year, since starting my birding in 2013.  I missed a few birds here and there but recorded twelve lifers in the process.  Dr. John Webster, who classified this year as his best since he started birding, ended the year with 110 species.

Bird of the Year

Bird of the Year
The bird of the year was an easy choice. At different times of the year any of the above mentioned species may have been candidates for Bird of the Year (BOY) but after November 5th only one bird was on the lips of local birders.  When quizzed on their top three birds for 2015, this bird topped the list of all birders asked.  So it is not surprising that the Eurasian Marsh Harrier, first seen by Dr. John Webster on November 5th in the northern parish of St. Philip, was for me the Bird of the Year for 2015.

The Mother of all Big Years

In January 2015 I started to follow the quest of Noah Strycker, through Audubon’s Birding without Borders, as he attempted to become the first person to see 5000 species of birds in one calendar year.  It was intriguing following his quest which started in the freezing water of Antarctica to forty one countries; including our Caribbean neighbour Jamaica.  He saw a whopping total of six thousand and forty-two (6042) different bird species.  Now that is what I call a Huge Year and birding without borders. Congratulations Noah!!  See highlights of his year in this short video here.

On to 2016

I am really planning to take it easy in 2016 but I have as a goal, moving my local lifers count from 126 to 135 species by the end of the year.  My bucket list of birds I am hoping to see includes Tri-coloured and Western Reef Heron, Purple Gallinule, Northern Harrier and Wilson’s Plover.  I will like to devote more time birding for Warblers during their peak periods as I believable we, the local birders, for one reason or another, don't pay that much attention to this area birding. So bye 2015 you were an exceptional year, on to 2016, what will you have in store for us? Only time will tell.

Our Mega-rarities for 2015

Striated Heron

Eurasian Marsh Harrier

Alpine Swift

Purple Herons

Franklin's Gull

Saturday, 2 January 2016

State of my Birding: Fourth Quarter 2015

Franklin's Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan)
I would describe the last quarter birding as epic. I registered seventy-seven species, fourteen of which were first for the year, including five lifers.  The rains finally came in this quarter and refreshingly brought to life those wet areas which depend on rain water as its source.  Wet areas such as Chancery Lane Swamp, WSR and Redland Irrigation Ponds came alive but it had little or no effect on the ponds in the north of the island.  The cave Swamp at North Point and the Hope Pond had zero water for the entire year. 

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)

I recorded five lifers during the last quarter namely Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), Eurasian Wigeon (Anas Penelope), Franklin's Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan), and Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) a local lifer.  But the biggest find for the year, a first for the island seen by Dr. John Webster in November would be the Eurasian Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) affectionately known as Harriette.

Bird of the Quarter
Eurasian Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)

My bird of the quarter and for sure my bird of the year was the Eurasian Marsh Harrier.  This bird was first seen by Dr. John Webster in the eastern part of the island on November 5th.  It took me just over a month, December 8th, to see this bird.  I saw it in the northern parish of St. Lucy.

The Blue-winged Teal was the migrant that dominated this quarter with its share numbers.  Flocks tallied between fifty and one hundred at a few locations.
The exciting discovery by a local birder of a suspected nest with adults and hatchlings of a Yellow-crowned Night Heron could represent, if confirmed, the first record of this species breeding on the island. It was seen in the parish of St. Peter.  No doubt this will be closely monitored in the New Year.
At the close of this quarter and year my checklist stood at 105, a new personal record.  It was indeed a good quarter.