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