West Indies Birding, Antigua: White-cheeked Pintails and Black-necked Stilts

A bird which I noticed as soon as I scanned the lagoon was White-cheeked Pintail, as several small flocks were feeding around the edge of the lagoon.  I read in the guide that this duck has declined dramatically across the West Indies over the last ten years; almost certainly due to overhunting and destruction of habitat. I’m glad to say that Antigua remains a stronghold and the species is still classed as a common breeding resident. Most of the birds were in the water but several came onto the mud and like the Green Heron appeared to be feeding out of the cracks in the mud.  I only found out when I checked my life list that the Pintail was a new addition, I thought I had seen the bird on Puerto Rico back in 2001.

White-cheeked Pintail, Antigua, West Indies, 9th June 2014

White-cheeked Pintail, Antigua, West Indies, 9th June 2014

White-cheeked Pintail, Antigua, West Indies, 9th June 2014

White-cheeked Pintails, Antigua, West Indies, 10th June 2014

Along with the Pintails, Black-necked Stilts were common around the lagoon. The bird is widespread across much of the West Indies and usually breeds between April and August, but occasionally into September and October.

Black-necked Stilt, Antigua, West Indies, 9th June 2014

Black-necked Stilt, Antigua, West Indies, 9th June 2014

Steve C

West Indies Birding, Antigua: Egrets and Herons in the Mangroves

Opposite the entrance to the Coconut is a shallow salt water lagoon surrounded by mangrove scrub. There were plenty of birds to be seen as we drove by earlier, so I spent an hour or so at the lagoon at the end of my walk around the area. As you would expect the heron family was well represented. A Yellow-crowned Night Heron gave good views near the bench where I sat on, as did a Green Heron. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, although the Yellow-crowned Night Heron is classed as a nocturnal bird you are far more likely to see it out in the day compared with Black-crowned. The Green Heron was taking advantage of prey items caught in the mud cracks by the retreating tide. A single Tricoloured Heron, which is noted as uncommon resident on Antigua then flew in to feed but stayed to the deeper water.

Yellow-crowned Heron, Antigua, West Indies, 9th June 2014

Green Heron, Antigua, West Indies, 9th June 2014

Tri-coloured Heron, Antigua, West Indies, 9th June 2014

Further around the lagoon I came across Brown Pelicans, Laughing Gulls and a small number of distant waders, which after a good grilling I was happy that they were Wilson’s and Semipalmated Plovers. Unfortunately they were too distant for any decent record shots. Several Great White Egrets were feeding at the lagoon and a Snowy Egret was also added to the list.

Snowy Egret, Antigua, West Indies, 9th June 2014

Great White Egret, Antigua, West Indies, 9th June 2014

Steve C

West Indies Birding, Antigua: Green-throated Carib

A hummingbird is always a stand out bird on any trip so I was really pleased to connect with a number of Green-throated Caribs whilst in Antigua. They are a common breeding resident and if you stand by a flowering shrub for more than a few minutes you would be unlucky not to see one. The bird pictured below had its own tree and other birds such as Bananaquits that tried to feed were soon dealt with. It would then return to perch where I was able to get a few shots before feeding again itself.

Green-throated Carib, Antigua, West Indies, 10th June 2014

Green-throated Carib, Antigua, West Indies, 10th June 2014

My attempts to get the birds in flight were not as successful but I was reasonably pleased with the two efforts below. No doubt given more time I could have hopefully achieved images a little sharper, but there is always another day.

Green-throated Carib, Antigua, West Indies, 9th June 2014

Green-throated Carib, Antigua, West Indies, 9th June 2014

HMS Protector and RCS Jewel in the Sun, Antigua, 10th June 2014

I have put the last image in for interest. Whilst the Protector was alongside in Antigua, the Royal Caribbean ship Jewel of the Seas pulled into port for a day visit. The Jewel of the seas was the cruise ship that I sailed with around the Baltic a few years back with my family. Bird wise the ship brings back memories of the White-throated Sparrow stowaway which set up home in one of the pool areas and caused minor twitches in Stockholm and Helsinki; fond memories.
Steve C

West Indies Birding, Antigua: Yellow Warbler and White-crowned Pigeon

As I ventured around the scrub, a number of local species started to pop up. Yellow Warbler is a difficult bird to miss and a pair feeding in a small tree soon caught my attention. The birds appeared very industrious as they continually fed. I would assume these birds are local and as such were probably in the middle of their nesting cycle which runs from March to July. It could well be that they were busy collecting food for growing young. White-crowned Pigeon was a bird I had seen in Florida in the summer heat of 2011. Quite a sought after bird in the States. Here however, it is a common breeding resident and at least five birds were seen. They seemed to have a liking for overhead wires as did the Grey Kingbird Which is another common and conspicuous bird on Antigua and the rest of the islands in the Caribbean.

Yellow Warbler, Antigua, West Indies, 9th June 2014

White-crowned Pigeon, Antigua, West Indies, 9th June 2014+

Grey Kingbird, Antigua, West Indies, 9th June 2014

My attention was then turned skywards as a life bird soared into view. I had read in the West Indies Bird Guide by Helm that Broad-winged Hawk was a common resident of Antigua. The main identification feature being the boldly barred tail. Happy to say this feature stood out in the bins and shows up well on the image below, despite the height of the bird observed. Carib Grackles were seen everywhere on the walk as you would expect from another of the islands common breeders. They especially favoured the short grass area around the hotels were good numbers would gather. A pleasant walk with a life bird was worth celebrating with a Rum and Banana cocktail at the Coconut Grove. I fully recommend you try one. (They do get a bit rich after half a dozen, but that’s another story).

Broad-winged Hawk, Antigua, West Indies, 9th June 2014

Carib Grackle, Antigua, West Indies, 9th June 2014

Coconut Grove, Antigua, West Indies, 9th June 2014

Steve C

West Indies Birding, Antigua: Bananaquits and Bullfinch’s

After my first watch rotation leave, which went all too quickly; I re-joined Protector in Antigua in the Caribbean Sea. It was a first visit to the island for me so I was hoping to tick off a few new life birds. I was aware that the middle of June was not the best time to visit the island but hey, I didn’t have a choice in the timings. On the second day in the mess was having a run ashore at a bar called the Coconut Grove about ten minutes by taxi. As we drove into the resort I spied a few patches of scrub and some agricultural land. The resort itself was on a lagoon which was bordered by mangroves so the area looked promising. Once inside there was a small lawned area with a pool and some flowering shrubs. The shrubs were alive with the trills of Bananaquits. I spent about twenty minutes by one shrub and eventually caught up with the birds. I had seen these birds before but not in the numbers I saw today. The hotel gardens were alive with them. Obviously the numerous flowering plants of the Coconut Grove as well as the nearby hotels were the attraction.

Bananaquit (1) Antigua, West Indies 9th June 2014

Bananaquit (2) Antigua, West Indies 9th June 2014

Bananaquit (3) Antigua, West Indies 9th June 2014

I joined the lads for a cold coke, but before sampling a few of the few local rums and a having a swim in the Caribbean, I took a stroll off into the ‘birding hotspots’ seen from the car. My first life bird of Antigua soon made it into the notebook. Lesser Antillean Bullfinch’s were relatively common in the scrubby area adjacent to the road. There are several Bullfinch species spread around the West Indies, but I had never come across any of them before. The male is pretty difficult to miss but the rather drab brown female is a little trickier. When I got back to the bar the lads pointed out a male that kept nipping into the kitchen; helping itself to nibbles.

Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (Fem) Antigua, West Indies, 9th June 2014

Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (Male) Antigua, West Indies, 9th June 2014

Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (Male) Antigua, West Indies, 10th June 2014

Steve C

Charleston, USA birding: Patriot Point – Clapper Rails and Northern Rough-winged Swallow

We walked back from the wader watch point towards the boardwalk and the Water Taxi back over to the other side of the harbour. We walked through some hotel grounds, (I think it was the Hilton) and on the far side was a large pond surrounded by scrub and small trees. A number of Egret and Herons were present in the trees. Great White Egrets were the most obvious species and a number of the nests contained two or three decent sized youngsters. Snowy Egrets were also on view with a couple of birds on the lower branches near the water. Also nice to see a single Black-crowned Night-heron perched in among the Egrets.

Great White Egret, Charleston - 11 May 14

Snowy Egret, Charleston - 11 May 14

Black-crowned Night-heron, Charleston - 11 May 14

Back at the boardwalk we were after a particular species which would be a life bird for Tony and that was Clapper Rail. So after much needed rehydration at the shop we sat on the boardwalk and waited. It was not too long before we heard a call we did not recognise and after viewing the deeper vegetation, we soon saw a Clapper Rail stalk into view for a few seconds before disappearing back into cover. As Tony continued looking for the first bird a second bird obligingly decided to cross a small patch of mud to give us both a more extended view of the species. A single Great White Egret was fishing nearby in the shallows. As we waited for the water taxi we had three species of Swallow. Barn Swallow, Cliff Swallow and lastly a single Northern Rough-winged Swallow which I managed to snap as it perched on a mooring rope.

Clapper Rail, Charleston - 11 May 14

Clapper Rail, Charleston - 11 May 14

Great White Egret, Charleston - 11 May 14

Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Charleston - 11 May 14

Steve C

Charleston, USA birding: Patriot Point – Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers

At the end of the mile or so long nature trail is a wooden viewpoint overlooking Charleston Harbour. There is a small island a mile or so away that was literally teeming with nesting seabirds. The majority looked to be Terns but a number of Brown Pelicans were among them. You really needed a scope to get the best views, but we only had bins and cameras with us. Of more interest to us were a couple of small muddy pools between the viewpoint and the beach. We could see a number of waders on the pools so we walked down for a closer look. On closer inspection we could see that around a 100 or so waders were actually present. The small American sandpipers can be an identification nightmare when you have a field guide, so the fact that we did not was never going to make things easy. With hindsight and reviewing the images back home I am reasonably happy that we had around a dozen each of Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, and several Western Sandpipers. Least Sandpiper does have yellow legs, as opposed to black in Western and Semipalmated, but when the birds are up to their bellies in mud, seeing the colour is not always an option.  As I always say please let me know if the id’s are off target.

Least Sandpiper, Charleston - 11 May 14

Semipalmated Sandpiper, Charleston - 11 May 14

Western and Least Sandpiper, Charleston - 11 May 14

Two other waders present did not produce the same id headache. Approx 15 Semipalmated Plovers were mixed in and among the sandpipers. As with all the waders present they were very confiding and were completely unconcerned at our presence around 15 metres away as they fed continuously. Dunlins were the most common wader present with around 40 birds. They were actually on a different pool at first but got flushed onto the pool we were watching by a Great White Egret which landed among them. The majority of the Dunlin were getting into summer plumage and I did notice that they seemed to be more rufous on the back than birds back home. Something I will have to read up on when I get home next. Tony also picked up a single Spotted Sandpiper which unfortunately I only had brief views of before it disappeared into the pool side vegetation.

Semipalmated Plover, Charleston - 11 May 14

Dunlin, Charleston - 11 May 14

Dunlin, Charleston - 11 May 14

Later in the day we came across another Least Sandpiper; this one feeding on the tideline back near the Yorktown. The yellow legs on the bird could clearly be seen as it foraged at the water’s edge.

Least Sandpiper, Charleston - 11 May 14

least Sandpiper, Charleston - 11 May 14

Steve C

Charleston, USA birding: Patriot Point – Yellow-crowned Night-heron

On leaving the water taxi we walked along a boardwalk to get to dry land. About half way along, we had great views of a Yellow-crowned Night-heron feeding along the shoreline. I am not overly familiar with this species but it would appear from sightings in Bermuda, Panama and earlier in the day that this species does tend to feed more so in the day than Black-crowned. Either way the bird showed really well for the camera. Feeding nearby was a single Ruddy Turnstone.

Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Charleston - 11 May 14

We then worked our way along the side of Patriot Boulevard heading towards a nature trail I had seen mentioned on the web. The scrub at the road edge produced several Northern Mockingbirds and a pair of Eastern Bluebirds near the baseball ground. A Great-crested Flycatcher perched on the perimeter fence of the baseball ground was the only one of the day. Nearby a small party of House Finches were feeding on the grass verge. I believe the bird was introduced into the Eastern States from the West, but it was a life bird for me.

Northern Mockingbird, Charleston - 11 May 14

Great-crested Flycatcher, Charleston - 11 May 14

House Finch, Charleston - 11 May 14

The nature trail walk produced plenty of Carolina Wrens and Northern Cardinals. But it will be best remembered for the biting insects, not sure if they were Mosquitos, Gnats or Biting Midge but they were a nuisance and it was nice to reach the sun drenched viewing point at the far end. The trail did produce our only Brown Thrasher of the day and also an obliging Mourning Dove where the trail crossed the road. The bird walked along the edge of the scrub then spread itself out in the sunshine. We thought the bird was anting, but after it had left we inspected the spot and could see no ants, so maybe it was just soaking up the sun.

Brown Thrasher, Charleston - 11 May 14

Mourning Dove, Charleston - 11 May 14

Mourning Dove, Charleston - 11 May 14

Steve C

Charleston, USA birding: Least Terns and Short-billed Dowitcher in Charleston Harbour

We had the day off on Sunday the 11th May, so Tony and I decided to visit Patriot Point on the other side of Charleston Hbr. As we waited on the pier for the Water Taxi we noted a number of birds feeding on the near shoreline. Several Snowy Egrets and a single Yellow-crowned Night Heron were soon joined by a Dowitcher. We were not 100% of the species at first as we had no American field guide on us, but I’m reasonably happy from the resulting images that the bird was a Short-billed Dowitcher. A small flock of wader possibly Least Sandpipers were flushed from cover by a Great Blue Heron that also flew in but we did not get enough of them for a positive id. A couple of American Oystercatcher feeding in the shallows gave us no id challenge. Several Boat-tailed Grackles were also feeding on the shoreline and as usual were making plenty of noise.

Short-billed Dowitcher, Charleston Harbour -11 May 14

American Oystercatcher, Charleston Harbour -11 May 14

Boat-tailed Grackle, Charleston Harbour -11 May 14

We boarded the Water Taxi and on the stop near the Charleston Marina we had a pair of Least Tern fishing near the boat. Never an easy bird to photograph so I was quite pleased with the results. We then headed over towards the impressive hull of the USS Yorktown at Patriot Point to continue our day’s birding.

Least Tern, Charleston Harbour -11 May 14

Least Tern, Charleston Harbour -11 May 14

Least Tern, Charleston Harbour -11 May 14

USS Yorktown (Essex Class Aircraft Carrier), Charleston-11 May 14

Steve C

Miller (moth) in Fareham Garden

New For Garden on Saturday night was a single Miller.  It is a common species that has a wide distribution within Hampshire and has consequently been a target species.  It was the forth species of macro that has been NFG during my Watch Rotation Leave after singles of Currant Clearwing, Ghost Moth and Broad-barred White.

Miller, Fareham Garden - 28 Jun 14

Good mothing,

Tony Tindale   BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)

Charleston, USA birding: Audubon Swamp Garden – Alligators, Turtles and Snakes

As you would expect in a swamp in the southern states, there was more to see other than birds. The American Alligator is a difficult animal to miss especially when basking on one of the man-made ramps in the main lake. On the other hand when one is partially submerged into the duckweed it could be easily overlooked.

American Alligator, Audubon Swamp Gardens - 10 May 14

American Alligator, Audubon Swamp Gardens - 10 May 14

Quite a few turtles were seen in the Swamp Garden. Most were basking in the afternoon sun, as they often tend to do; usually hauled out of the water on floating logs. Pretty sure that all the turtles seen were Yellow-bellied Sliders.

Yellow-bellied Slider, Audubon Swamp Gardens - 10 May 14

Yellow-bellied Slider, Audubon Swamp Gardens - 10 May 14

A single Water Snake was seen in the undergrowth near to where we saw the White-eyed Vireo. It was picked up by an American couple who happily put the pair of us onto it. We also saw many different species of Dragonfly. Photography of the insects was not easy in the high and very bright sunshine so I did not take as many images as I should have done. Given more time and several more visits I imagine you would knock up a large dragon and damselfly list.

Water Snake, Audubon Swamp Gardens - 10 May 14

Dragonfly sp., Audubon Swamp Gardens - 10 May 14

Steve C

Currant Clearwing, Ghost Moth and Broad-barred White in Fareham Garden

Whilst I have been on Watch Rotation Leave I have routinely put out my 40W Actinic Heath Trap overnight.  Now that I am more familiar with the macro species to be found in my garden I have devoted more time at identifying the micros that I had previously largely ignored.  However, I have still caught the occasional macro species that has been New For Garden (NFG).  In fact the three species haven’t just been NFG but species I have never encountered before, not even with the numerous outings I have attended with the Fareham Mothing Group.

The first species was a daytime observation encountered after I had been summoned by Mrs T to remove a ‘wasp’ from the kitchen.  I immediately thought that I could be looking at my first ever ‘Clearwing’ species of moth and indeed it was.  After I had captured the specimen in a tube I was able to confirm that it was in fact a Currant Clearwing.

Currant Clearwing, Fareham Garden – 9 Jun 14

Currant Clearwing, Fareham Garden – 9 Jun 14

The second NFG was a female Ghost Moth.  The male is white.  The species gets its name from the characteristic to and fro display flight of the white males.

Ghost Moth (female), Fareham Garden – 16 Jun 14

The third was a rather smart looking Broad-barred White.  It is a species that inhabits coastal dunes, shingle and calcareous grassland as well as gardens.

Broad-barred White, Fareham Garden – 26 Jun 14

As well as the Broad-barred White on the 26th, singles of Early Thorn and Scalloped Oak were both New For Year.  Another noteworthy record was a presumed worn male Bee Moth (Aphomia sociella).  Female Bee Moths have been a daily occurrence with a maximum of four.

Bee Moth (male), Fareham Garden – 26 Jun 14

Good mothing,

Tony T   BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)

Charleston, USA birding: Audubon Swamp Garden – White-eyed Vireo and Eastern Bluebird

Although the herons and egrets were the stars of the show at the garden, there were plenty more species besides. The first was a cracking Prothonotary Warbler, this classic wetland warbler was heard first and then seen as it flitted around the base of swamp vegetation.  A White-eyed Vireo was another very vocal bird. It took us a few minutes to find the elusive singer, but eventually it did show well and allowed a few shots unlike the warbler.

White-eyed Vireo, Audubon Swamp Garden - 10 May 14

White-eyed Vireo, Audubon Swamp Garden - 10 May 14

Other species as expected were more common around the swamp. Red-winged Blackbirds, Carolina Wrens and Carolina Chickadees were three such birds along with Common Grackle and the unmissable Northern Red Cardinal.

Carolina Wren, Audubon Swamp Garden - 10 May 14

Carolina Chickadee, Audubon Swamp Garden - 10 May 14

Common Grackle, Audubon Swamp Garden - 10 May 14

Northern Cardinal, Audubon Swamp Garden - 10 May 14

In the more open areas nearer to the main plantation house we enjoyed overhead views of Turkey Vulture as well as Blue-grey Gnatcatcher and Tufted Titmouse feeding in the overhead branches. As we walked back towards the Swamp Garden for a second lap we came across an open area of grassland surrounded by trees. Around the perimeter was a number of bird boxes on post spaced at intervals. From Bermuda in 2011, I remembered boxes in this situation were sited for Eastern Bluebirds.  Sure enough as we scanned around we spotted a pair of Bluebirds around one of the boxes.  Just a fantastic looking bird, which I still have not managed to capture at its best.

Turkey Vulture, Audubon Swamp Garden - 10 May 14

Eastern Bluebird, Audubon Swamp Garden - 10 May 14

Steve C

Charleston, USA Birding: Audubon Swamp Garden – Breeding Herons and Egrets

On Saturday afternoon, Tony and I caught a taxi from the centre of Charleston and headed about ten miles North West to the Audubon Swamp Garden. A cracking reserve which is adjacent to an old plantation house which now serves as a museum and gardens. A large part of the nature reserve is traversed by board walks taking you through the swamp and gives great views of the numerous heronries. Over 100 pairs of Little Blue Herons nest at the reserve and as you’d expect they were easy to see. Many Snowy Egrets and even the odd Black-crowned Night Heron pair were nesting in the same major colony.

Little Blue Heron, Audubon Swamp Gardens - 10 May 14

Little Blue Heron, Audubon Swamp Gardens - 10 May 14

Snowy Egret, Audubon Swamp Gardens - 10 May 14

Snowy Egret, Audubon Swamp Gardens - 10 May 14

Further into the reserve, especially around the main lake we came across smaller heronries and many of these contained good numbers of Great White Egrets. Most nests were occupied by adults and in many we could see decent sized chicks. Great Blue Herons also nested in the Swamp Garden but their nests tended to be more on their own. We also saw at least one pair of Tricoloured Herons in among the Great Whites and lastly we had great views of several Cattle Egrets.

Great White Egret, Audubon Swamp Gardens - 10 May 14

Great White Egret, Audubon Swamp Gardens - 10 May 14

Great Blue Heron, Audubon Swamp Gardens - 10 May 14

Cattle Egret, Audubon Swamp Gardens - 10 May 14

Steve Copsey

Chuck-will’s-widow (Nightjar) and Palm Warbler onboard HMS PROTECTOR in the Caribbean Sea

HMS PROTECTOR departed Balboa, Panama at dusk on 2 May 14 for a night transit of the Panama Canal towards the front of an eastbound convoy.  Interestingly, a ship travelling from west (Pacific Ocean) to east (Atlantic Ocean) exits the canal further to the west than it actually entered it – strange but true.  Despite the dark the floodlit locks provided sufficient light for Great Egret, Black-crowned Night-heron, Magnificent Frigatebird and Brown Pelican to prey upon the fish disorientated by the eddies caused from the operation of the locks.  I had never seen Egrets and Herons catch fish in flight before, but from the lock edges they dropped down and snatched up their prey.

The passage through the Caribbean Sea en route to Charleston, South Carolina, for the ship’s post Antarctic Deployment maintenance period, resulted in several land bird sightings.  The first was a single Cattle Egret (5 May 14).  The following day was the most productive with a total of five species recorded that included two ‘lifers’, as the ship steamed east between the Florida Keys and Cuba.  All the birds were encountered from mid-afternoon.  Being a Tuesday I secured early to take advantage of the Engineering Department’s Gym Hour (1500-1600), during which the ship conducted a MOBEX (Man Overboard Exercise).  Unknown to me the launching of the FRC (Fast Recovery Craft) flushed a Nightjar that had been roosting beneath the davit.  An excited Steve guessed where I was, and being the ‘good egg’ that he is, came down to the Lower Hold to inform me that there was a Nightjar fluttering around the upperdeck.  The expression on his face was a picture when I told him I had another sixteen minutes left to row.  “But it’s a Nightjar!” he stressed before he turned about and returned to the upperdeck.

Sixteen minutes later I headed to my cabin to grab my binoculars and camera and set off in search of the Nightjar.  Initially there was no sign of the bird (or Steve) but a small passerine caught my attention that I later identified as a male Palm Warbler.  Steve had apparently had a female earlier on.

Palm Warbler, Caribbean Sea – 6 May 14

It was after I had taken some record images of the Palm Warbler flying up the port side of the ship that I spotted the Nightjar at the stern.  The bird appeared to keep on getting buffeted off the flight deck nets by the wind across the deck.  Each time it got blown off it flew around for a while before again re-alighting on the nets.  The Nightjar was later identified as a Chuck-will’s-widow.  It was another ‘lifer’.

Chuck-will’s-widow, Caribbean Sea – 6 May 14

Chuck-will’s-widow, Caribbean Sea – 6 May 14

Chuck-will’s-widow, Caribbean Sea – 6 May 14

Chuck-will’s-widow, Caribbean Sea – 6 May 14

The other species encountered that day were Purple Martin (1), Sand Martin (1) and Barn Swallow (5+).  Four Brown Pelican also put in an appearance that evening and proved to be far more popular with the Ship’s Company than the Chuck-will’s-widow.

Brown Pelican, Caribbean Sea – 6 May 14

Brown Pelican, Caribbean Sea – 6 May 14

A single Sanderling on 7 May 14 was the last species of land bird recorded before the ship arrived off the South Carolina coast to be greeted by an American P3 Orion aircraft.

P3 Orion, Atlantic Ocean, South Carolina, USA - 8 May 14

Good birding,

Tony T   BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)