Saturday, May 7, 2011

Warbler Morning at Rock Creek Park.

It was awful early when the alarm went off at 5:30 am! But it was the only day that I would be able to go down and join the group watching for new warblers during this spring migration in Rock Creek Park. There is a wonderful group of birders that meet every morning---and have for years!

Daniel and I made it down there and spent a few hours searching the tops of the oak trees. After holding the binoculars and bending your neck scanning the tops of trees for several hours, you end up with what affectionately referred to as "warbler neck." Unfortunately it was a slow day for migrants---but just as we were getting ready to leave, we spotted the striking Blackburnian Warbler. This is one of the most gorgeous birds in the United States (of course some of us think all birds are in their own way), with a bright orange face and neck that just blows you mind when the suns catches it just right!

Many a birder have started their birding lives after seeing this bird! Every time I see this bird, I can understand wow! One lady that was with our group had never seen one before. After watching this orange fireball dance around in the branches, she dropped her binoculars and literally yelled out in joy.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

St Thomas Birding Adventures

We had a wonderful spring break in St. Thomas. Of course, I spent time every day checking out the birds of both St. Thomas and St. Johns. After birding St. Thomas four or five times, I didn't expect to find any new birds. But, it was a great week. I saw 39 species, including one new lifer! But more to come on that in a minute!

At the Ritz, where we stayed, I saw 21 species including a White-crowned Pigeon, Smooth-billed Ani, White-winged Dove and a Ruddy Turnstone (complete with its bright orange legs) that I had not seen around the hotel before. We also found a Green-throated Carib sitting on a nest about ten feet up in a tree and a pair of Kestrels that Katharine and I found while kayaking to "Secret Beach" and which screeched at us as they were determine to defend their nesting site.

The highlight of the week, however, was my morning trip to St. Johns. I caught the 6:30 am car ferry from Red Hook and landed in St. Johns just before 7:00 am. Within minutes of driving out from the ferry landing, I had stopped and watched a pair of Lesser Antillean Bullfinches jumping from branch to branch as they grabbed some breakfast, with their reddish throat and under-tail coverts contrasting with their black bodies and flashing in the early morning sun rays.

But I had other goals. For three years I have come to St. Johns and looked for the elusive Bridled Quail-Dove. This ground dwelling plump dove can only be found in dense mountain forests with thick undergrowth in a few of the islands in the Lesser Antilles and Virgin Islands. It looks like a large brownish dove, but with a large white strip below its eye and greenish iridescence on the back of its neck. I headed up Centerline Road and stopped at the head of a hiking trail to Cinnamon Bay. I hiked the entire length of the road, sweating pouring off my head as the sun begin to beat down. Around each bend I searched the trail scanning up and down the mountainside on each side and finally ending up at Cinnamon Bay, but no Quail-Dove. I was disappointed, thinking that once again, I had failed in my quest! However, on the way back, just 20 feet in front of me, I found the treasure, as the beautiful bird walked across the trail and then graciously posed on the side giving me the looks that I wanted. As it slowly made its way up the steep embankment on the other side of the trail, I did my best to quietly follow it for another 100 yards or so. Success! I throw up both arms and silently mouthed "YEAH!"

Before heading back home, I spent an hour at Francis Bay, picking up the normal species around the pond, including a pair of Clapper Rails and lots of Antillean Crested Hummingbirds, with their short bills, and pointed green crest.

Mangrove Cuckoos, Brown-throated Parakeets, Scaly-napped Pigeon, Sandwich Tern and White-checked Pintail were all nice additions to the week.