Monday, January 28, 2019

Woodstars, beers,and beaches

Today is my third day at sea.  It has been a bit of a secret that I’ve been up to something.  I’ve got my annual trip to Texas’s Lower Rio Grande Valley, later next month I fly to Uruguay and then expect to begin the voyage to secure such interesting birds as the South Georgia pipit and the inaccessible island rail.  In March I’ll be in Africa, and then we’ve book a trip down the Colorado for June.  This may or may not end up as an adventure book, I’m not sure yet.  Two weeks ago I was in Curacao, tomorrow, I’ll be in Jamaica, yesterday I stopped off at a small private island owned by Carnival Cruise lines. This is no regularly scheduled cruise, in fact, it is a private charter, sort of a theme cruise for lack of a better description, which I won’t elaborate, you’ll have to buy the book, if there is one.  This isn’t a birding cruise, although for me, it is, that is all I’ll admit to, nor is it a quilting charter.
Little San Salvador is small and generally dry.  There was little in bloom now and since my main goal was to find a Bahama woodstar, the Bahamas endemic hummingbird, and as such, I was in trouble.  It was going to be a difficult find.  For other species, it was clear that the island was not very birdy.  I walked the nature trail and saw my first bird, a red junglefowl, the local wild chicken.  It snuck off into the scrub without me getting a picture.  If there is any thoughts of whether these chickens are wild, think again.  It was easier seeing the doves out in the open than any of these birds.  They make the Key West chickens, which look the same, seem tame.  Tick! (I guess, I have the Kauai junglefowl so it isn’t a lifer bird anyhow.
            It was seeing the second bird of the day that became difficult.  I walked, backtracked, got passed by joggers, honked at by tour buses, and saw nothing.  Then near the horse farm and stables, I saw two junglefowl making a break for it across the pasture.  They slowed down a bit in the middle and then scurried to cover on the other side of the fence.  I’d never seen chickens move so fast.  I guess the slow ones are called …stew.

Red junglefowl, a long ranged photo but the best I got, and I saw thirty or forty of the birds.
The chicken is a countable bird, I suppose, they have been here for at least 150 years.
They had seed feeders up on the nature trail but this appeared to be mostly for the doves.  It was good I stopped to see the chickens as I heard a quiet melodious song, I looked around and then I saw the long tail below me.  A Bahama mockingbird was looking at me.  This is a  larger mockingbird than the one we see in the USA and it lacks wing-bars.  This species occasionally ends up in Florida where I have seen one.
Bahama mockingbird
It was near the Pegasus Ranch where they keep the horses, when I started to dig out a few birds.  I tallied a Cape May warbler, a Midwest summer bird, and the Bahamas subspecies of the Bananaquit, which look nothing like the ones in Curacao.  The birds in Curacao even have wing-bars and to my eye, fly and act differently.  They are larger, too.  I read a study on the genetics of the species and the Bahama birds diverged some time ago.  They match the birds in Qnintana Roo, Mexico of all places.  The species does not exist in Cuba.

Bananaquit from the Bahamas

Bananaquit from Curacao

There has been talk about splitting them into up to three species, as they have with Spindalis and a number of other species but they haven’t yet.  Maybe soon?  I doubt it but they really don’t look that much alike.
Cape May Warbler, Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

            So there I was.  Looking at these warblers, when a Cuban pewee popped up and then looked and me and then dove into the bushes, never to return.  I was about to give up on seeing a hummingbird when I saw the exact same tree with rather pungent odor surrounded by bees that I got my hummingbirds on in Curacao.  I do not know what these bushes are called and the flowers have no color but the hummers sure love them. 
As I stood there, I heard a single chirp.  A nice male Bahama woodstar lit not ten feet from me with the sun on it.  It was stunning.  Unfortunately, I was not ready with the camera.  It took me a while to get my camera out as being around a bunch of naked people, lawyers, politicians, doctors, and businessmen, they get quite uneasy with Olaf and his big lens.  Eventually without a good photo it disappeared.  I was quite frustrated.
I looked around and tried to phish a parula out of the bushes and then I thought of where my phone was.  Where was my phone?  The question became a panic.  I was making an ebird list, so I had it out, but when and where?.  I looked in my backpack, then emptied my backpack. It was nowhere to be found.  I swore.  Then I began a laborious backtrack to where I saw the mockingbird a couple hundred yards away.  Luckily there it was, just a few feet off the road, and nobody saw it and helped themselves.  I was really lucky.  Did I mention my team of guardian angels…
Even odder was when I looked at my pictures of the mockingbird. I had one picture with my cell phone in it.  If I hadn’t found it, that would have bothered me for a long time, a very long time.

Bahama mockingbird upper center, cell phone lower right

            I stood on the road and then behind me, world lifer #1054 lit on a branch, Bahama woodstar.  It was like the hummingbird gave me a break.

Bahama woodstar

I was hot, tired, thirsty, and well, did I say thirsty.  I’d had enough birding.  I decided to celebrate with a beer.  I went to find Stuart, who was watching our beach chairs and stopped to see our ship out in the bay.

Drinking my beer, I though, birds, beer, and a sunny beach….someone texted me that it was -26 at home….ah, home, this idyllic moment made one temporary forget about home, but life moves on and so does Olaf.  Tomorrow my Facebook friend Wendy is taking me birding in Jamaica.  An island where everything will be a lifer bird.  How many Red Stripes can a guy drink?


  1. Well, my guess is the theme of your " secret cruise " involved making sure you brought lots of sunscreen along!!
    Some nice birds for sure.
    From my experience spending a number of Christmas holidays on various Caribbean islands is that you may be hard pressed to find any beer that doesen't have a passing resemblance to good old " Bud ". Still tastes good after a hot day birding or on the beach. And the birding sure is different, so one out of two ain't bad.

  2. Hi Olaf,
    Congrats on your Bahama Woodstar!

    I had been to The Bahamas in the summer of 1979 to the island of Eleuthera so a marine Biology class. I saw a Bahama Woodstar and a Bahama Mockingbird, I saw my first Limpkin and my only Tropicbird in life, a white tailed. It was a beautiful place.


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