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.