Friday, March 18, 2011

Bahamas (Birding) Outdoors - 11 Mar 2011

I don't know why, but it was tough sleeping last night.  I was tired, but just couldn't doze off.  I might've been too excited about birding in the morning, but I'd like to think that I was just over-tired.  At any rate, I was up at 6 am so I decided to head out to the courtyard and do a little local birding before Carolyn Wardle of Bahamas Outdoors came to take Robin and me on a half-day birding tour of the southeast corner of Nassau Island.

Since morning light was still a half-hour away I decided to put the Better Beamer and Nikon SB-800 on the Nikon D300 and Sigma 400mm f/5.6 system I'd carry today.  I set the camera to ISO 400, Aperture-Priority, -1.0 Exposure Compensation, and Continuous Shooting.  The flash was set to iTTL/FP with -1.0 exposure compensation.

As I stepped onto the gravel walkway I immediately became aware of the chattering of hummingbirds.  I was hoping to see an endemic hummingbird this vacation, so I was excited when a pair of small unidentified hummers zipped past me while chasing each other.  To my left, however, a small warbler was hopping in the bushes, so I quietly walked over and was rewarded with a nice Ovenbird feeding on purple berries.  A Gray Catbird was also in the bushes, but was too obscured to photograph.  In the tree behind me a Eurasian- Collared Dove was quietly perched and allowed a few pics before it flew off.  Overhead a Merlin flew by the yard but would not stop, while a Bananaquit foraged in the hedge a few feet away.

The path around A Stone's Throw Away B&B goes under the deck overlooking the west shore of the island, so I quietly crept along the fenceline and spotted a gorgeous male Cape May Warbler foraging in the branches.  The flash allowed me to capture this early morning prize!

I wandered over by the staircase and spotted a small hummer perched in a bare shrub.  I fired off a couple of frames and was happy to discover that the little bird wasn't startled by the flash.  It was an immature male Bahama Woodstar, the only hummingbird endemic to the Bahamas and the only hummingbird found in Nassau. 

Carolyn would be here at 8 am for our tour, so I needed to head back to the room and get the scope.  As I reached the room a Northern Mockingbird landed atop one of the trees just 10 feet from the deck railing.  I grabbed the scope and was able to capture this digiscoped image using the Zeiss 85T*Fl, 45X Wide Eyepiece, Nikon Coolpix P6000 and homemade adaptor.

Carolyn arrived promptly at 8 and the three of us headed to a small wetland just a few blocks away.  A couple dozen American Coot were swimming in the open water, but no Caribbean Coots.  A single Greater Yellowlegs was quietly resting on a small sandbar, while a Neotropic Cormorant flew by.  We would see a Green Heron before leaving.

From there we headed to a nearby pine forest, where we were greeted by a Bahama Woodstar that perched long enough for a photograph.  Pine Warblers were heard almost immediately as we left the car, and within minutes we had nice views of a Western Stripe-headed Tanager.  I tried to digiscope it but was too slow w/ the camera.  A very dull-looking Yellow-rumped Warbler was foraging a bit farther back while a Thick-billed Vireo sang its "Chik-burrio-chik' song that sounds exactly like a White-eyed Vireo's song (but lazier).

As we walked Carolyn pointed out Saw Palmetto and Poisonwood Trees and warned us to avoid them at all cost.  Banaquits and Black-faced Grasquits were seen foraging in the thick underbrush, while Cuban Pewee and La Sagra's Flycatchers could be heard in the distance.  A Peregrine Falcon flew by and offered only a brief glimpse before it disappeared.  As we returned to the main trail another Western Stripe-headed Tanager flew in and landed just a few feet away.

I was able to get some nice photos showing the black back that helps separate the tanager from its three other races (recently split into 4 separate species). 

I had mentioned to Carolyn that I was hoping to see a Red-legged Thrush while here, so she took us back to her house, where chances were pretty good we might find one.  We would dip on the bird, but not be disappointed.  She had several hummingbird feeders, and at at least four Bahama Woodstars in the yard, so I was in heaven as I photographed a stunning male as it fed and perched in nearby shrubbery

Focusing on the hummers was a challenge, but I managed to get some images that I was very happy with.  It would take the male turning his head just the right amount to catch the purple-magenta irridescence in its gorget.  Otherwise his throat would take on the typical 'purple-black' appearance.

A nice surprise was seeing a Northern Parula come in and feed at one of the nectar feeders.  It was soon chased away by a Bananaquit that also attempted to feed from the feeder port.

A few more photos of the Bahama Woodstars were attempted before I headed to the seed feeders that were being occupied by a male and female Black-faced Grasquit.  Several Common Ground Doves were foraging on dropped seed, while much larger Eurasian Collared Doves were fluttering in nearby trees.  Just before leaving we had nice looks at a Green Heron that Carolyn said was typically found with a Yellow-crowned Night Heron that hung around (except today).

We still had several stops, so we reluctantly left her yard and headed back out on the road.  Driving through a nearby 'subdivision' of homes we spotted numerous Northern Mockingbirds, more collared doves, a couple of American Kestrels, and came upon four Smooth-billed Ani squabbling on a nearby lawn

We pulled off to the side of the road at one point to chase several birds that were foraging in the the hedges and trees.  We found a lovely Cape May Warbler and several Prairie Warblers.  Carolyn found a Northern Waterthrush but it refused to show itself for any photo opps.  Across the street another Black-faced Grasquit perched momentarily before flying off. 

Our next stop was a private wetland that was home to dozens of White-cheeked Pintails.  As we drove in Carolyn pointed to three Fulvous Whistling Ducks resting on a small mud spit.  The all-black wings tipped with white feathers helped differentiate them from the West Indian Whistling Ducks that have more spotted wings.

As we approached the White-cheeked Pintails I was able to get several frames from inside the car before we attempted to get out.  I wanted to digiscope the birds, so I slowly got out of the car to retrieve the scope.  I was suddenly greeted by two of the friendliest dogs: a German Shepherd and Black Lab that 'had' to be petted and rubbed.  Digiscoping the now-retreating pintails was a bit of a challenge with two large heads propping up my arms while I attempted to focus and shoot.  Still, I managed to capture some memorable images of these lovely, local birds.  Several Blue-winged Teal were swimming among them, but I tended to concentrate my efforts on the brighter-colored ducks.

A nearby trash dumpster got our attention when we noticed a Cuban Pewee flying out from a nearby branch.  I wandered over and was able to get some nice images of the small flycatcherNote the 'eye-crescents' that give the Cuban (also called Crescent-eyed) Pewee its name.  A lovely male American Redstart was nearby and stayed long enough for a quick photo.  Other notable birds in the area were Common Moorhens, Neotropic Cormorants, Emperor Goose and Muscovy Duck (both introduced), and a Belted Kingfisher.

Our last stop of the tour was a nearby golf course.  We would park on a side road and hike through a wooded trail to get to the little-used links course, where we hoped to find Caribbean Coot among other ducks. 

We hiked across the fairway to a large pond surrounded by cattails and found a small flock of American Coot.  Though we scanned the birds we could not find a Caribbean Coot.  A small shorebird flushed that appeared to be a Wilson's Snipe, but it disappeared before ID could be verified. 

As we scanned the pond I noticed an American Kestrel foraging in the grass nearby.  It flew across the fairway and landed in a dead tree close enough to digiscope.  So I turned the scope on the perched bird and proceeded to get some images from about 150'.  Note the lack of spotting on the breast, and overall 'pale' look to the male bird.  They are significantly lighter in appearance and less boldly-marked than birds found here in the States. 

Carolyn and I wandered around the back of the pond, and true to her word, we found a single Caribbean Coot among several American Coot.  Note the all-white face shield with the bright yellow patch high on the forehead.  This is in contrast to the dark red spot found on American Coot. 

I spent considerable time trying to digiscope the bird from about 100'.  It was actively diving and visibly more active than the nearby American Coot, but in the end I managed some nice keepers.  Trying to digiscope the black duck, white bill and yellow shield was extremely difficult, especially with sunlight almost directly overhead.  I underexposed 2 full f-stops in order to avoid blowing out the whites on the bird's face.

Interestingly enough, there has been significant discussion concerning identification of 'apparent' Caribbean Coots sighted in the States.  Prompted by recent sightings of a white-shielded coot in Washington State, references have been made to several articles addressing variations in American Coot.  David Sibley even posted an article describing the challenge in separating a white-faced American Coot from a 'true' Caribbean Coot.

An Osprey flew in and soared near a pond farther back of the golf course.  We watched as it soared and was soon joined by three obviously-annoyed American Kestrels that tried to chase it away.

We tried to look for a White-crowned Pigeon in the woods nearby, but couldn't positively ID one.  Several large pigeons flew from the tops of the trees, but were too obscure for us to be sure.  We saw a small flock of Northern Bobwhites fly past and near the trees.  Mourning Doves and more Collared Doves were nearby.  Though we looked we couldn't find a Red-legged Thrush.

As we returned to the walking trail we spotted a pair of Loggerhead Kingbirds.  These large kingbirds are very similar to Eastern Kingbirds, but show a light yellow wash along their sides and undertail.  I took numerous photos from just a few feet away w/ the D300, and enjoyed great views.  I was then able to set the scope up and get digiscoped images of one cooperative bird from about 20' away.  Beautiful birds!

We then walked over to another set of ponds and found ~15 Neotropic Cormorants, an adult and two white juvenile Little Blue Herons, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, a pair of Snowy Egrets, a pair of Killdeer, and several Blue-winged Teal.  Common Ground Doves and Bananaquits rounded out the birds in this area.

From there we headed along the woods lining the golf course, and soon came upon a small flock of warblers.  Cape May, Prairie, Black-and-White, and Yellow-rumped Warblers were actively foraging.  At one point Carolyn was watching a Yellow-throated Vireo while I (thought I) was looking at a Pine Warbler.  She and I were looking at the same bird, and she was correct.  Another Thick-billed Vireo made an appearance, and this time I was able to get a quick photo. I would then spot a Worm-eating Warbler, but it would disappear before I could get close enough to attempt a photo.

As we avoided sink holes, we came upon a La Sagra's Flycatcher that was perched high in the trees above us.  Its most notable feature was the way it cocks its head to one side while it looks for food.

Before we left we came upon a small flock of 12 Smooth-billed Ani that were noisily squawking in a nearby tree.  I managed a few digiscoped images of one bird before they all took off for deeper cover.

It was now time to head back to town for lunch.  We thanked Carolyn for a wonderful outing.  And I'll use this space to recommend anyone wanting an insider's tour of the Bahamas Outdoors to contact Carolyn Wardle.  We found her to be a delightful host, excellent birder, knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna, and a person with more energy than the two of us.  Thank you, Carolyn!

Time to climb the big flight of stairs back to our room...


Nicole MacP said...

Awesome! Thanks for the "tour"!

Jeff Schultz said...

Very nice as always, Jerry!!!! Makes me wanna go there!

Patricia R Gamburd said...

As always - you take us on a great travel with fantastic photos - Thanx

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