Thursday, 4 September 2014

Bird #86: Gull-billed Tern

Common Name: Gull-billed Tern
Scientific Name: Gelochelidon nilotica

13-15 inches; chunky gull like tern; bill black, short and thick; crown whitish with greyish fleck and spot behind the eyes; wings long, broad, very long outer primaries; upperparts light grey; underparts white; legs black.Breeding: crown and nape black.

lakes, marshes and coasts.
Statue: Migrant


·         Wikipedia
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Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Chronicle of the Grassland Finches

The Grassland Yellow Finch
Sicalis liteola called Grass Canaries locally, are small seedeaters.  These birds are poached locally for the pet trade and can be seen in pet shops or in cages around the island. I never really understood the battle for survival these birds go through until I found a nest with three eggs on July 30th and started documenting the life cycle of these birds.  Below are the diary entries.

July 30

Eggs @ Nest A
The Grassland Yellow Finch builds its nest on the ground, camouflaged among grass.  On July 30th, while in the North of the island, I came across two nests, one nest, which we will call nest A, contained three whitish eggs with irregular brownish speckles.  The nest was cup shaped, made of grass with the top being about 3” in diameter.  I could not say how long the eggs were there but no bird was seen sitting on or returning to it during the half hour I was there. 
Chicks @ Nest B

Now a second nest, nest B, was a different story.  I found it just a few feet from the first nest.  An adult bird was sitting on the nest but flew off allowing me to see three chicks in the nest.  I could not tell the age of the chicks but they were covered with down feathers/baby feathers and their eyes were closed.   I took a few photographs before backing off to a comfortable distance so “mummy bird” could return to the nest without feeling threatened. I searched but was unable to locate other nests.

The only other birds I observed in the area were three Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) who I thought were searching the grass for insects or small rodents.  This was not the case, as I found out later.

July 31

Posting this find on our local Bird Alert messaging board drew the attention of Dr. John Webster and the next day he paid a visit to the St. Lucy location.  Following my directions he was able to locate Nest A.  He reported that the nest no longer contained three eggs but now had two chicks and one unhatched egg making the chicks less than one day old.  He searched for Nest B but was unable to locate it.   He was surprised to see the Cattle Egrets still busy in the area so he paid closer attention to them only to see that these birds were in fact searching out and feeding on the hatchlings of the Grassland Yellow Finches.

August 1

At 3pm I set about checking the nest of the Grassland Yellow Finch at St. Lucy.  Nest A now contained three chicks now a day old.  These chicks were very quiet, no doubt a protective measure for a ground breeder.  The three looked healthy and alert, raising their heads to accept food from a parent. The chicks were covered with down feathers and their eyes were closed.
Nest B was empty. Could there have fallen prey to the Cattle Egrets? As defenseless chicks on the ground, other possible predators are rats and mongooses. Even poachers are a threat to these beautiful birds but the evidence points in the direction of a group of white Egrets, which were still in the area.

August 03

2 Remaining Chicks
Around midday, with the sun high in the sky, I made the trip to check on the nest of the Grassland Yellow Finch in the northern parish of St. Lucy.  As I approached the nest I noticed a parent was sitting on the nest.  She flew off and I was now able to see two chicks.  This meant that one was missing.  I searched in and around the nest for the body, but did not see any. I also noted that egg shells were nowhere to be seen in or around the nest.  Was the mother responsible for the removal of the shells, trying not to attract attention to the nest?  I moved away from the nest and the mother reclaimed her position to protect the hatchlings from the scorching sun.

August 07

Having not visited the hatchlings for a couple of days I was eager to see how they were doing.  As I approached the nest I realized to my dismay, that it was empty.  I searched around the nest but found nothing.  I sat on a rock looking around in disbelief.  A Cattle egret a few feet away caught my interest, what was even more interesting though was the way this bird was searching the grass fields. Like a detective searching for clues on a crime scene the bird walked a few paces to the east, turned and made the same amount of paces in a western direction.  It searched every bit of grass, and stopped ever so often to closely inspect something that grabbed its attention before continuing on its mission.  With this methodical approach by these birds the Grassland Finches maybe loosing many of its chicks. Is this affecting the local population of this bird species? It is hard to say.

The Grassland Yellow Finch is a bird protected under the laws of Barbados.  Still these birds are openly poached in the grass fields around the island. Birds can still be seen in pet shops being offered for sale. That is just one of the battles for survival these birds face, but observing these chicks over a couple of days, it showed me that the fight starts from the unhatched egg.  

What a truly beautiful bird!!!

World Shorebirds Day

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Birding Long Beach

Long Beach on the Map

When one thinks of Long Beach, on the South Coast of our island Barbados, one envisions a mile long, white sandy beach, touched by the Atlantic Sea.  It is known mainly for its surfing, kite surfing and other water sports.  But birding? No way!  Maybe Inch Marlow to the south, or the Chancery Lane Swamp just inland, but definitely not Long for birding.  Well, that may have been true before, but not this year.  Long Beach is probably one of the best locations to see shorebirds this fall migration season thanks to Sargassum seaweed (What is Sargassum Seaweed?).  While this seaweed may have proven to be a headache for coastal managers and an eyesore to beach goers, it is a welcomed buffet for famished shorebirds.  This seaweed has trapped goodies for birds such as fish eggs, small fish and crustacean. 
I visited Long Beach a number of times during a three week period, stopping mostly at the southern end of the beach.  With each visit the number of birds and species increase.  The total bird species recorded up to Friday August 15 was sisteen.  This includes nine shorebirds, two seabirds, a Martin and four of our common birds.  

The table below shows the list of bird species recorded.

Common Names
Scientific Names
Semipalmated Plover
Charadrius semipalmatus
Ruddy Turnstone
Arenaria interpres
Spotted Sandpiper
Actitis macularius
Least Sandpiper
Calidris minutilla
Pectoral Sandpiper
Calidris melanotos
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Calidris pusilla
White-rumped Sandpiper
Calidris fuscicollis
Short-billed Dowitcher
Limnodromus griseus
Lesser Yellowlegs
Tringa flavipes
Magnificent Frigatebird
Fregata magnificens
Laughing Gull
Leucophaeus atricilla
Roseate Tern
Sterna dougallii
Zenaida Dove
Zenaida aurita
Carib Grackle
Quiscalus lugubris

Barbados Bullfinch  
Loxigilla barbadensis

Caribbean Martin  

Progne dominicensis 

 Bird Photos from Long Beach

Laugh Gull (juv)

Frigate Bird (M)

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Birding at Long Beach (Photos)

Magnificent Frigatebird

Lesser Yellowleg

White Rumped Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpipers- (R) breeding (L) non-breeding plumage

Short-billed Dowitchers

White- rumped Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Semipalmated Plover

Pectoral Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Ruddy Turnstone