Sunday, 26 July 2015

My Seventy-Seventh for the Year

Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopus

I registered my 77th bird for the year on Thursday July 23rd, 2015.  It was one of the largest shorebirds, the Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus), locally known as Crookbill. I saw two Whimbrels at the now dry Chancery Lane Swamp along with four Willets (Tringa semipalmata)  , two Black-bellied Plovers (Pluvialis squatarola) (maybe juveniles) and over twenty Semipalmated Plovers (Charadrius semipalmatus).  Whimbrels are large shorebirds about 15-18 inches in length with a long down curved bill.  These birds are annual visitors to the island mostly around this time.

We are still at the beginning of the southern Migration season but it is slowly heating up. Due to the low rainfall, we been having, many of the wet areas are dry or almost dry but this could change very quickly. So stay tuned!

Here are a few photos of the birds at Chancery Lane on Wednesday.

Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopus

Willet - Tringa semipalmata

Semipalmated Plover - Charadrius semipalmatus

Willet and Black-bellied Plovers

Willet and Black-bellied Plovers


Willet in Flight 

Yellow Warbler - Setophaga petechia

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

My 120th Barbados Lifer is a mega-rarity

I recorded my 120th local lifer on July 13th, 2015 while I was not even out birding.  Well, that is not altogether true because I am always birding, but on this occasion I was on my way home from work.  It was about 4:45pm and I was driving through an area which had a mixture of residential and commercial properties, most of which had neatly cultivated agriculture plots to the back of them,  along a highway in the central parish of St. George. This highway is usually very busy but it was abnormally light with traffic that afternoon and as I was driving, I noticed a bird I thought to be a Caribbean Martin but the wings were swift like in nature.  I pulled into a vacant lot to take a closer look only to realized it was not a Martin but a swift.

This was a large swift with brown upperparts, white belly and throat and a brown chest band.  I posted a photograph of the bird along with its description to our local bird alert net and Edward Massiah, a co-author of  The Birds of Barbados an annotated checklist, identified it as an Alpine Swift.  In less than 30 minutes he was standing next to me seeing the bird for himself.

Alpine Swift

Alpine Swifts (Tachymarptis melba) are 8 to 9 inches in length with a wingspan of 22 inches.  This bird breeds in southern Europe and winters in Africa.  It is one of the fastest birds in the sky and is said to spend most of its life on the wing, feeding, drinking and even sleeping while in flight.  It is considered a very rare bird for Barbados with this one being only the fourth ever confirmed sighting with the first one being in 1955.(The Birds of Barbados an annotated checklist pg167)

Here are a few of the photographs of the Alpine swift.

Friday, 10 July 2015

State of my Birding: Second Quarter 2015

The second quarter of the year is normally the driest, even though it includes the first month of the hurricane season, June.  Most of the wet areas around the island had low water levels with many completely dry.  I reduced my birding excursions significantly, and during that period I recorded twelve (12) new birds for the year, two of them were lifers, which brought my year count to seventy four (74) species. The two lifers - a Herring Gull, observed in the month of May and a Collared Plover in the month of June.


Scarlet Tanager by John Daniel
The Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea) on April 21st was the bird of the month for me. It was not a lifer but I am yet to get a photograph of this fiery red and black bird. There were many unconfirmed sightings of this species throughout that month. Other uncommon sightings included a pair of Bank and Cliff Swallows among a flock of Barn Swallows in Christ Church. These were the only new birds for the month of April.


Herring Gull
May was a good month for me. I added eight species to my year list which included a lifer. I was also part of the First Annual Cornell Global Big Day and recorded forty-four (44) species on that day, including a Ruff, which was seen in the parish of St. Lucy.  It was rare to see one at this time of the year. The lifer I recorded in this month was a Herring Gull seen in the East of the island.  I needed help identifying this gull because the quality of my  two photographs were not the best and I sought the help of experts both local and overseas, with all agreeing that it was an American Herring Gull.  One of the persons I asked, namely Steve Bright, wrote an informative post explaining the process he took in identifying this Gull.  The latter part of May was very dry and that continued into the month of June.


Collared Plover
June is the start of the hurricane season, but if you look at the wet areas around the island many were still dry or drying.  Important Birding areas like Chancery Lane and WSR were almost dry.  However, this did not prevent the migrating birds from stopping in, with shorebirds such as Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, Willets and a few Short-billed Dowitchers made use of the few wet areas still around.  My lifer for this month is a shorebird but it prefers pastures and lawns. It was a Collared Plover which I saw in the parish of St. Lucy.  I did very little birding in June, so I only recorded one bird for that month.

New Page

You may have noticed a new page was added to the blog called Book Store. This page highlights a number of field guides you can use in Barbados and the Caribbean. So if you are looking to get a field guide from Amazon you can use one of these links.
In this quarter I missed just one bird, a Ruddy Duck, which was seen in the parish of Christ Church. At the end of June it was still dry but we were starting to get some rain.  By the end of the next quarter we will be deep into the Southern Migration period and all of the wet areas should be at peak levels. It should be a blast. Stay tuned!!

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.