Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Birding the 3rd Weekend of November

I had a great weekend birding. Here are some of the images. 
  Saturday November 20, 2015
Blue-winged Teal
Stilt Sandpiper

Semipalmated Plover

Ruddy Turnstones

Monday, 23 November 2015

Birding the 3rd Weekend of November

I had a great weekend birding. Here are some of the images. 
Friday November 20, 2015 Morning 

Cattle Egrets

The Egrets Tree at The Oilfield St. Philip

Friday Afternoon
American and Eurasian(?) Wigeons

Yellow Warbler
My best photo of this Glossy Ibis to date

Black-whiskered Vireo

Whiskers of the Black whiskered Vireo
Ring-necked Ducks at Greenland

Blue-winged Teals and Ring-necked Ducks at Greenland

The Greenland Irrigation Pond at Greenland St. Andrew

Friday, 13 November 2015

A new Avian Species Record for Barbados – the Western Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) by Dr. Webster

Photograph by Dr. John Webster

On Thursday 5 November we added yet another species to the record of avian species seen on Barbados. The new species is the Western  Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus). The photographs presented here represent the photographic record of this sighting. Unfortunately the photos are not up of the highest quality as Thursday was a heavily overcast and rainy day with terrible light for photography and most photos had to be taken into the light. However, they are what they are, a documentary record of the first sighting in Barbados, of yet another rare European species for our region.

Photograph by Dr. John Webster
The bird was first seen by me at about 10.00am sitting in a cow pasture in the Golden Grove area in the eastern part of the island. It then took flight and for the next 45 minutes circled and hunted over the Golden Grove private impoundment, hovering at times very low and then regaining altitude for further circling. The swamp area has become rather overgrown in recent months with an assortment of sedges, rushes and other vegetation, thereby creating a habitat similar to that favoured by this species. During the time it hunted, I never saw it catch any prey.

The following morning Richard Roach and I returned to the site and once again we observed the Harrier at about 6.30am. It continued its behaviour as per the day before but never approached close enough for any decent photos. We have returned to the location several times since but it has never been seen again.
Photograph by Dr. John Webster

The Western Marsh-Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) is a Eurasian species rarely recorded in the Western Hemisphere. It appears that there have only been about 5 previously recorded sightings of this species in the Caribbean.  The first fully documented record was a female Western Marsh-Harrier, found and photographed at Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin on the island of Guadeloupe on 14 December 2002 and again on 19 January 2003 by Anthony Levesque and Frantz Delcroix. The second and third records were a female at the Laguna Cartagena National Wildlife Refuge in Puerto Rico from 14 January to 30 March 2004 and an immature at the same locality from 11 January to 11 February 2006 (Merkord, Rodriguez and Faaborg, Journal of Caribbean Ornithology 19:42-44, 2006)

).  Prior to this latest sighting in Barbados, two other sightings were recorded in eBird for this year, both from from Guadeloupe:  at Ilet Christophe, Guadeloupe, Wed Oct 14, 2015 by Gomès Régis and at Baie-Mahault birnhingam, Guadeloupe, Sat Oct 17, 2015 by Frantz Delcroix (Duzont). It is very likely the bird observed here in Barbados may be the same bird observed on two occasions in October on Guadeloupe, making its way southward through the chain of islands.

According to the Hawkand Owl Trust, the Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) a large harrier, is making a slow but steady localised recovery from extinction in the early 19th century. The largest harrier found in the UK, the population is at its highest for 100 years, but still low and very localised. Since its recovery the Marsh Harrier has adapted its behaviour, with individuals wintering in the UK and breeding on farmland as well as traditional reedbed habitats. Marsh Harriers can be found in large numbers at the Hawk and Owl Trust’s, Sculthorpe Moor Community Nature Reserve in North Norfolk.

Slightly larger than a Buzzard, Marsh Harriers can be distinguished by their longer tail, slimmer body and narrower wings. Females are dark brown with a distinctive cream coloured crown and pale patches on the forewing and throat. Males have dark wing tips and grey tail, the breast and head appear yellowish with a brown belly, the upper-wing is a combination of black, grey and brown. Juveniles are dark brown with a golden crown and throat and a pale leading edge to the wing. Length: 47-57cm; wingspan: 115-140cm.

Status in UK
370 breeding females (2005), increasing but localised; AMBER listed; resident and summer visitor

Population Trends
Extinct in the UK by the end of the 19th century due to habitat loss and persecution, occasional nesting pairs returned to eastern England during the 1970’s. Numbers have increased steadily since then with birds adapting to different habitats for nesting. Many birds now overwinter and large roosts can be seen in some areas, especially in eastern England.

Habitat and Distribution
Mainly found in areas of reed bed, although as mentioned they also now frequent and breed on farmland. Main populations are in Norfolk, Kent, Lincolnshire, Humberside, Lancashire and Southern Scotland.

Originally nesting on the ground in reed beds, Marsh Harriers also nest in crops. Breeding pairs carry out impressive displays of aerobatics, tumbling through the air with the male dropping food for the female to catch in mid-air.

Females have a single clutch of 4-5 eggs and start to breed at 3 years of age. Males are not monogamous and will sometimes mate with 2 or 3 different females.
Marsh Harriers feed on small mammals and birds, preferring prey that is easier to catch. They will also take reptiles, insects and carrion.

See more of Dr Webster's images below

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Northern Trip


It has been a while since I was out birding and I was eagerly looking forward to this northern trip.  At the end of September I was sitting on ninety-one birds for the year and coming to the end of October it remained unchanged.  I was sure that by the end of the day I would at least record one bird, a Godwit.  For the past week, two Godwits were hanging around one of the swamps in the north; this would be a new year-bird for me.  The prospect of recording migrating warblers at their main landfall location, Harrison’s Point, was also adding to the excitement for the trip.

Harrison’s Point

I was on my way at 5:30am to meet Edward Massiah at Harrison’s Point (HP) at 5:45am; with a 30-35 minute drive ahead of me I knew I was going to be late.  When I reached HP at about 6:00am Edward was already there and we both began a search of the foliage for these tiny birds.  We worked our way north to the lighthouse recording mainly common birds such as Yellow Warblers which were singing sweetly, Grey Kingbirds, Shiny Cowbirds and Antillean-crested Hummingbirds to mention a few.  Flying above our heads back and forth were Barn and Cliff Swallows.  On reaching the lighthouse I noted a number of Swallows were sitting on the powerline to the east and I went for a closer look.  As I came to the powerline, a flock of birds flushed from a grass field just in front of me.  The flight calls of these birds (clink clink, in single notes) were new, but straight away I knew that they were Bobolinks.  It was a small flock of about sixteen birds feeding on grass seeds and I was able to get a few photos.  Bobolinks were my 122nd Barbados lifer and my 92nd species for the year.  It was about this time that we were joined by Dr. John Webster and Mr. Richard Roach, both of them made their way to see and photograph the bobolinks.  

John told us of a Blackpoll Warbler he saw just a few minutes previously so I went off in search of it.  
Blackpoll Warbler
I have been practicing my Pishing for a couple months now and it works well with the common birds now I have to see if it will work with these migrants.  I found what I thought was a good location, an opening among the trees and started my calls.  Straight away I drew the interest of a few birds, one of them being… yes, a Blackpoll Warbler.  That became my 93rd bird for the year.  We left Harrison’s Point at 7:50am for our next location at Bright Hall for the Godwit.

Bright Hall

American Wigeon
This was my first visit to this location for the year and it was clear to see that this wet area was also suffering from the ongoing droughts.  There were many shorebirds on the mudflats and wadding in the low water.  A few ducks were also there but as I scanned the area, it was clear to see the Godwit was no longer there.  However eight Blue-winged Teals and an American Wigeon were present, which I tried to photograph.  Stilt and Pectoral Sandpipers were also there busy searching for food.  That was about it, so I moved on to my final stop at Greenland.


This irrigation pond at Greenland, St. Andrew is one of the few wet areas showing little or no effect from this prolonged drought.  This pond is deep and rarely attracts dabbling ducks, such as Teals, which are the main type of migrating ducks we see.  It does not have much of a mudflat and for that reason does not attract many shorebirds.  It attracts divers like Grebes, Masked and Ruddy ducks etc. but I visited because it was on my route to home.  I was surprised to see a Yellow-billed Cuckoo as I walked in.  Another surprise was to see that the Ruddy Duck I first recorded in September was still there.  The family of three Grebes who live in the pond was nosily making their presence known.  I did not see the forth one which I first noted last month.  This may have been a migrant which had moved on.

At the end of that northern excursion I claimed one lifer, Bobolink and a year bird (Blackpoll Warbler).  I missed the Godwit but hopefully one is still around and just moved to a different location.  It was a pleasant outing and I look forward to doing it again.  

List of the birds seen during the trip

1.       American Wigeon - Anas americana
2.       Blue-winged Teal - Anas discors
3.       Ruddy Duck - Oxyura jamaicensis
4.       Pied-billed Grebe - Podilymbus podiceps
5.       Magnificent Frigatebird - Fregata magnificens
6.       Snowy Egret - Egretta thula
7.       Cattle Egret - Bubulcus ibis
8.       Common Gallinule - Gallinula galeata
9.       Semipalmated Plover - Charadrius semipalmatus
10.   Spotted Sandpiper - Actitis macularius
11.   Greater Yellowlegs - Tringa melanoleuca
12.   Lesser Yellowlegs - Tringa flavipes
13.   Stilt Sandpiper - Calidris himantopus
14.   Least Sandpiper - Calidris minutilla
15.   White-rumped Sandpiper - Calidris fuscicollis
16.   Pectoral Sandpiper - Calidris melanotos
17.   Semipalmated Sandpiper - Calidris pusilla
18.   Wilson's Snipe - Gallinago delicata
19.   Scaly-naped Pigeon - Patagioenas squamosa
20.   Common Ground-Dove - Columbina passerina
21.   Zenaida Dove - Zenaida aurita
22.   Yellow-billed Cuckoo - Coccyzus americanus
23.   Green-throated Carib - Eulampis holosericeus
24.   Antillean Crested Hummingbird - Orthorhyncus cristatus
25.   Caribbean Elaenia - Elaenia martinica
26.   Gray Kingbird - Tyrannus dominicensis
27.   Black-whiskered Vireo - Vireo altiloquus
28.   Caribbean Martin - Progne dominicensis
29.   Barn Swallow - Hirundo rustica
30.   Cliff Swallow - Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
31.   Yellow Warbler - Setophaga petechia
32.   Blackpoll Warbler - Setophaga striata
33.   Bananaquit - Coereba flaveola
34.   Black-faced Grassquit - Tiaris bicolor
35.   Barbados Bullfinch - Loxigilla barbadensis
36.   Bobolink - Dolichonyx oryzivorus
37.   Carib Grackle - Quiscalus lugubris
38.   Shiny Cowbird - Molothrus bonariensis