North Andros Island and Grand Bahama Island, 20th January - 3rd February 2001

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by Steve Mlodinow


The date is February 4th, and Casey and I are aloft somewhere over Mississippi heading back to wet and windy Washington. We are happy to be back in the USA. Not that our Bahamas trip wasn't successful and enjoyable, but this holiday in the sunshine certainly had a steady stream of trials and tribulations - very much unlike our trip to Abaco two years ago. I won't trouble you fair folks with the various stories, excepting a couple that might be useful to future visitors.

In North Andros, we stayed at the Lighthouse Marina Yacht Club ($120/night). The rooms at Lighthouse Marina were comfortable, but the restaurant was lonely and desultory. We did eat dinner twice at Small Hope Bay Lodge. This lodge is remarkably well run with an exceptionally nice staff. Double occupancy, including all meals but without dive privileges, runs $350/night double occupancy. We figured that all included, we saved about $700 by staying at the Lighthouse Marina. On the other hand, Small Hope Bay may have been more successful at arranging a reputable rental car and certainly the aggravation factor would have been less. Were I to return, I'd stay at Small Hope Bay.

Enough of that. Birding on Andros was good. We were somewhat thwarted by high winds and rain the first three days, but we had an awesome day four to compensate with 80 species. Tony White's Birder's Guide to the Bahamas was a tremendous help. I wish that more finding guides approached this level of accuracy and information. We had our best birding on Andros at Nicholls Town. The hottest spot was the neighborhood near the now defunct Andros Beach Hotel and Resort. Per local residents, this establishment was owned by a drug dealer now incarcerated in a fine US prison somewhere, hence the property's decline. The neighborhood provided us, beyond gossip, with two Baltimore Orioles, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and a Yellow-breasted Chat among numerous Western Spindalis, Thick-billed Vireos, etc. We also watched a Yellow-throated Vireo subdue and consume an unfortunate mid-sized anole!! I was surprised that the vireo could fly after this cumbersome repast.

The San Andros Airport was also good. The pond had no ducks, but the Brazilian Peppers around it yielded Western Kingbird and Cedar Waxwing, plus a nearby flooded spot had a Glossy Ibis. There is a good area to bird near the airport not mentioned in White's tome. From the traffic circle at the airport, head west. On your right will be an extensive scrubby area which was packed with Western Spindalis, catbirds, bullfinches, and warblers. We had our only Rose-breasted Grosbeak here. Also note that the road along the airport (providing access to Ag areas) mentioned on p. 93 of White's book is now overgrown and essentially inaccessible.

Between San Andros Airport and the Owens Town cutoff, we found two other quality spots. The first is a pond on the east side of the highway near a development that is under construction. The pond is easy to see - you won't miss it. It had the usual Ring-necked Ducks and Blue-winged Teal, plus a wild-appearing male Mallard. We also had Bahama Swallows over the pond. Spot number two was a mile or two north of the Owens Town turnoff. On the west will be a large field, on the east will be pine forest. We birded the southeast corner of this field and had a Yellow Palm Warbler, a Clay-colored Sparrow, a Grasshopper Sparrow, and many Bahama Swallows. I wish that we had time to return here.

Owen's Town itself was quite birdy - another spot worthy of more time. The highlight here was a Key West Quail Dove plus smashing views of Greater Antillean Oriole.

The Small Hope Bay property was high quality and birdy, and we did give it adequate time. We heard Great Lizard Cuckoo (but never did see any), plus had Swainson's Warbler, Hooded Warbler, and up to 9 Shiny Cowbirds. The small dump of the more southerly nature trail was especially good.

Finally, the grounds around the Lighthouse Marina were fairly birdy, especially back by the Androsia Factory. Also the Tarpon Ponds provided us with our only West Indian Whistling Ducks, American Wigeon, and Northern Pintail.

The Grand Bahama Island portion of the voyage was partly for a continuing education program. We had several days to bird nonetheless. And the birding on Grand Bahama Island was splendid, and once again, Tony White's book was invaluable. Our favorite area was th West End. The shoreline along Roberts Town and West End Settlement (see p. 45 of White's book) had many gulls and terns, including a Greater Black-backed Gull and 2 Forster's Terns. There was also a Brown Pelican and a Magnificent Frigatebird. The trees outside the West End Resort provided 17 species of warblers (in 1 hour), including Orange-crowned and Wilson's. Plus there was a BULLOCK' S ORIOLE, House Wren, Blue-headed Vireo, and 2 Summer Tanagers. We were also surprised at how good the landbirding was in the Queen's Cove development near Freeport. Among the many warblers here was an Orange-crowned and a Wilson's.

We went to the Freeport Dump twice. The entrance is on your right along Queen's Blvd just north and west of the airport property. The road goes for a couple miles before actually reaching the dump. Ask the attendant, if present, for permission. So far, it seems okay for birders to come here. This dump is a smoldering (sometimes flaming) heap that looks like an outcast from hell. The smoke was so acrid on my first visit that I thought I might expire. The reward: 14 Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Alas, the second visit was greeted by less noxious fumes and NO gulls.

Another treat was Rand Nature Center. Overall, the birding here was fair, but some of the birds are exceptionally tame (partly because they are sometimes fed mealworms). The Nature Center visitor center is staffed by friendly folks, and the operation is run by Rick and Kathy Oliver, who are very knowledgeable and are generous with that knowledge. The displays are nice, and the gift shop was partly denuded by our shopping spree. The Nature Center is open 9-4 on weekdays, 10-1 on Saturday, and closed on Sunday.

We found the Garden of the Groves, Shannon Golf Course, and Emlen's Tract #1 disappointing.

The road to Owl Hole, however, was good. We parked at the end of the first straight stretch (just past the 16th pole - see White, p. 48). One day we walked to the highway, another day we walked to the beach (3.6 miles round trip). The "best" bird was 2 Brown-headed Nuthatches at the 7th to 8th pole from the highway. We had these on all three visits here. Olive-capped Warblers, Bahamian Yellow-throated Warblers were numerous. Also, this area had numerous blooming agave, each with its attendant Bananaquit, Cuban Emerald, and Palm Warbler.

Lucaya National Park was another pleasant spot. You're supposed to purchase your entrance ticket at Rand N.C. The National Park is lovely. The walk through the mangroves to the beach is fairly birdy, and Ruddy Turnstones at the beachside picnic tables are used to being fed bread! I was disconcerted by the swarm of Ruddy Turnstones advancing towards us through the Casuarina, but my fears were allayed when tourists (yes, covered with oil) started feeding them. The boardwalk through the mangroves gave fabulous views of several fish, including Schoolmaster, Mangrove Snapper, and some sort of parrotfish. We also had great views of Golden Yellow Warbler here. Near the National Park, the road to Gold Rock Creek was fairly birdy, with the singular highlight being a wood-pewee (presumably Eastern).

Finally, Dover Sound Observation Hill was a bit of a yawn, but the fields surrounding the once (and future?) dairy (White, p. 47-48) was birdy. We had 80 Common Yellowthroats, 18 Northern Waterthrush, 1 Louisiana Waterthrush, 2 Lincoln's Sparrows, 2 Yellow Palm Warblers, 9 Bahama Swallows and a Tree Swallow here.

Highlights

Brown Pelican: 14 near Rock Creek, GBI, 31 January plus singles at West End on 1-2 Feb and at Our Lucaya on 1 Feb.

Magnificent Frigatebird: One at West End on 1 Feb.

White Ibis: 6 at Small Hope Bay on 21 Jan; 7 at Lighthouse Marina on 22 Jan.

Glossy Ibis: 1 at San Andros Airport on 23 Jan.

West Indian Whistling-Duck: 6 at Tarpon Ponds, Androstown, 20 Jan.

Snow Goose: 4 imm at Bahama Reef Golf Course, Lucaya, on 28 Jan. A fond reminder of the Pacific Northwest.

American Wigeon: A pair at Tarpon Ponds, Androstown, 20-24 Jan.

Mallard: A male near San Andros, 24 Jan. Appeared to be acting wild and did not show any "mutant" traits that captive birds sometimes show.

Northern Pintail: A pair at Tarpon Ponds, Androstown, 21 Jan.

Ring-necked Duck: Max of 75 at Tarpon Ponds, Androstown, 21 Jan.

Piping Plover: 2 in Lucaya, 29-30 Jan. 4 at High Rock, GBI, 31 Jan.

American Oystercatcher: Reportedly rare on Andros. 2 at Androstown 24 Jan.

Lesser Black-backed Gull: Well, I couldn't match Hallet's amazing 30+ earlier in the winter, but I'll take my 14 at the Freeport Dump on 26 Jan. 11 were adults, two were 1st winter, and one was 2nd winter. Also, an imm at Our Lucaya on 29 Jan and an adult at Dover Sound Overlook on 1 Feb.

Great Black-backed Gull: First year bird at West End on 2-3 Feb.

Forster's Tern: 2 at West End on 3 Feb.

Black Skimmer: one at Our Lucaya 29 Jan-1 Feb.

Eurasian Collared Dove: An amazing and scary 1200 at one spot near Freeport on on 26 Jan.

Key West Quail Dove: One at Owens Town Site under a feral Orange tree, 23 Jan. Another at Taino Beach Park, GBI, 28 Jan.

Great Lizard Cuckoo: Heard twice- once near dumpsite at Small Hope Bay. The other time near Bill's Blue Hole.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird: Adult male in Silk Tree at Nicholls Town on 24 Jan. Per Tony White's book and the Birds of North Andros Island checklist (by Osborne and Gering), this was a first Andros record. This bird was a small hummingbird (compared with Cuban Emeralds). The gorget was entirely metallic red and squared off (no whiskers like an Anna's). Beneath the gorget was a white 'collar', and below that the underparts showed an dusky green vest with a paler central area. The tail was all dark and forked. The remainder of the upperparts were metallic green.

Wood Pewee: Gold Rock Creek on 27-28 Jan! We saw this bird twice, both times for only a minute or so. Initially, the most striking feature was the jizz. Cuban Pewees usually remind me somewhat of Empid, but this bird had the more enlongated classic pewee shape. Also, it tended to perch high and did not flick tail and wings upon landing like a Cuban Pewee. More importantly, this bird lacked any noticeable eyering or eye crescent. The bill was relatively longer and narrower than a Cuban Pewee, and the entire lower mandible was pink. The bird had two wingbars. Given all pale lower mandible, chest pattern, and most importantly, location - I would say this bird was an Eastern WP, but I can not reliably separate the wood-pewees by sight. And I guess, if one wanted to be a real stickler, Tropical Pewee should be eliminated, too!!

Western Kingbird: San Andros Airport on 23 January!!! Bright yellow belly, pale grayish chest paling into a whitish throat. Gray crown and nape. A faint hint of a dusky facial mask. Black tail with narrow bright white sides and no terminal band. Tail squared as well.

Loggerhead Kingbird: Only one on Andros! It was at the San Andros Airport (Apparently the last headed out of town!?). We had a couple per day on GBI. Notably, this species seemed much more numerous on Abaco a couple years ago. Also, the GBI birds seemed more darkly capped than the Abaco birds. This feeling (based on memory) seems substantiated when comparing the photo from Abaco in PW Smith's recent article in NAB (54:235-240) with my videotape from GBI. As an aside, Smith's article is great and worth reading.

Blue-headed Vireo: One at Taino Beach on 31 Jan and one at West End on 2-3 Feb.

Tree Swallow: One with Bahama Swallows at the dairy near Dover Sound Park.

Bahama Swallow: 65 near San Andros at two locations on 24 Jan; 9 near Dover Sound Park on 2 Feb; 5 at Stanyard Creek 21 Jan.

Brown-headed Nuthatch: Thanks to Tony White and Rick Oliver for the leads on this snazzy endemic subspecies. We had two birds on three occasions along the road to Owl Hole, 27-31 Jan. Overall, more than two birds may have been involved.

House Wren: One at West End on 2-3 Feb.

Bahama Mockingbird: None, Nada, Zip, Zero. Ouch!
Cedar Waxwing: 10 at San Andros Airport feeding on Brazilian Pepper berries on 23 Jan.

Blue-winged Warbler: singles at Owen's Town, Queen's Cove, and West End.

Orange-crowned Warbler: Quite a surprise. One at Queen's Cove on 25 Jan and another at West End on 2 Feb.

Nashville Warbler: 2 at Taino Beach, 28-31 Jan.

Northern Parula: max of 18 on 28 Jan while birding from Freeport to Gold Creek Beach.

Golden Yellow Warbler: 2 at Lucaya NP, 27 Jan, plus another bird, probably of this race, at Freeport Dump on 3 Feb.

Yellow-throated Warbler (USA forms): max of 14 at Nicholls Town on 24 Jan.

Yellow-throated Warbler (BAH form): 2-3 near Owl Hole, 27-31 Jan.

Yellow Palm Warbler: One in agricultural field north of Owen's Town cutoff on 24 Jan; two at old dairy near Dover Sound Park on 1 Feb.

Swainson's Warbler: One at Small Hope Bay, 25 Jan.

Northern Waterthrush: max of 18 near Dover Sound Park, 1 Feb.

American Redstart: max of 25 on 28 Jan birding from Freeport to Gold Creek Beach.

Black-and-white Warbler: Max of 10 at West End on 2 Feb.

Common Yellowthroat: max of 80 near Dover Sound Park, 1 Feb.

Bahama Yellowthroat: Hard on Andros, 2-3/day on GBI. Had a male (good close views) at Botanic Gardens in Nassau on 20 Jan.

Hooded Warbler: one at Small Hope Bay, 25 Jan.

Wilson's Warbler: Really surprised by how many of these we found. Singles at Small Hope Bay, 25 Jan; Queen's Cove, 26 Jan; Taino Beach, 31 Jan; and two at West End, 2-3 Feb.

Yellow-breasted Chat: one at Nicholls Town on 24 Jan.

Summer Tanager: Garden of Groves, 26 Jan; 2 @ Taino Beach, 31 Jan; 2 at West End, 3 Feb.

Clay-colored Sparrow: one at ag area N of Owen's Town cutoff on 24 Jan! Got some distant but identifiable video.

Grasshopper Sparrow: one near CC Sparrow on 24 Jan.

Lincoln's Sparrow: 1 at Fresh Creek Township Dump on 21 Jan; 2 at dairy near Dover Sound Park on 1 Feb.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak: female at San Andros on 24 Jan.

Shiny Cowbird: up to 9 at Small Hope Bay dumpsite, 21-25 Jan.

Baltimore Oriole: male and female at Nicholls Town, 24 Jan.

Bullock's Oriole: female at West End 2 Feb. I was pishing at a large mixed flock of birds that included LaSagra's Fly, Loggerhead King, many warblers, 4 species of vireos, Indigo Buntings, etc when I heard a Northern Oriole chatter. As I continued to pish, the bird came in at a distance of about 40 feet in good light. I was immediately shocked to see that this bird looked like a typical Bullock's. There was dark line through the eye that was broadest and darkest just before and just after the eye. The supercilium was yellowish and distinct. The face was yellow as was the throat and chest (all perhaps with a tinge of orange). The belly and undertail coverts were a dull whitish/grayish without any yellow or orange. I carefully double-checked the face pattern and crissum, as I knew these were both especially important. The face color was as bright as the throat/chest. The median coverts showed a distinctly serrated white wingbar. There was also a duller wingbar on the greater coverts. I also double-checked the upper wingbar, to make sure that I was really seeing the serrated upper edge. Overall, I had this bird in view for three minutes or so. I never saw the top of the bird. I did get some poor quality video which confirms the bright yellow on the face, the colorless vent, and shows a bit of the facial pattern. I sent this description to Alvaro Jaramillo, who felt that it was diagnostic for Bullock's Oriole based on 1) dark eyeline with yellowish supercilium, 2) colorless crissum. The serrated wing bar helps, though it is not diagnostic.

Itinerary

20 Jan: 3 hours at Nassau Botanical Gardens and Zoo. One hour at Lighthouse Marina Yacht Club area in Androstown.

21 Jan: Small Hope Bay, Bill's Blue Hole, Fresh Creek Township Dump, Stanyard Creek, Forfar Field Station, Lighthouse Marina. Very Windy. 7-5:30.

22 Jan: Small Hope Bay, Lighthouse Marina, Fresh Creek Dump, Bill's Blue Hole. RAIN. 7-1 and 4-5:30.

23 Jan: Lighthouse Marina, Small Hope Bay, Owen's Townsite, San Andros Airport. Windy. 7:15-5:30.

24 Jan: San Andros Airport, Nicholls Town, Lowe Sound, Along Hwy between San Andros and Nicholls Town, Lighthouse Marina. 7:15-5. EIGHTY SPECIES.

25 Jan: Small Hope Bay, brief visit to Bill's Blue Hole. 7-Noon.

26 Jan: Shannon Golf Course, Garden of the Groves, Rand Nature Center, Freeport Dump, Queen's Cove. 7:30-4:30.

27 Jan: Dover Sound Park, Lucaya NP, Gold Creek Beach, Road to Owl Hole, Lucaya. 7:30-4:30.

28 Jan: Taino Beach, Road to Owl Hole, Gold Creek Beach, Queen's Cove, Bahama Reef Golf Course. 7:30-6.

31 Jan: Taino Beach, Road to Owl Hole, east end of GBI from High Rock to end. 7:30-5.

1 Feb: Bahama Reef GC (brief), Dover Sound Park, Rand Nature Center, Our Lucaya Beach. 7:30- Noon.

2 Feb: West End. 3pm-5:30pm.

3 Feb: West End, Freeport Dump, Queen's Cove. 11-4.