I’m headed home from Barbados.
Two impressions remain that speak Barbados to me.
Rare birds? No, though there were plenty.
The Barbados Bullfinch, the island’s only endemic bird? No.
TRAFFIC. The kind that would fill a Los Angelino’s nightmares. From 7-10 am and from 3-6 pm (and some of the time in between), at least one quarter of the island is constipated by gridlock. A conga line of cars stop-and-going in-and-out of Bridgetown and environs. Pedestrians make better time. If there is a laxative to cure this problem, it hasn’t been consumed. At least the abundance of cars bespeaks the country’s relative prosperity.
But ‘traffic’ encompasses more than mere congestion. The roads form not a grid (so, I guess it is not really gridlock, eh?), but more of a web woven by an intoxicated spider. I was warned that I’d get lost. Most blamed a lack of traffic signs, and to some extent, that is true. To a much larger extent it is that you can’t just get on a road and head north or east. Instead, it winds around taking you hither and yon. And in the towns, even where roads are signed, the maps don’t bear their names.
Reading road signs was also a bit of a challenge for I was in constant terror of a head-on collision. The roads are exceptionally narrow (as well as winding), and many times I was forced to choose between risking a close encounter with a bus or a curb. I usually chose curb. Hey, isn’t that what rental cars are for?
So, careening down the road and lost, or moving at 2 mph getting nowhere? Sound like fun? Try doing it while driving on the left instead of the right. This transposition definitely increased my curb encounters. I am proud that only once did I venture onto the wrong (right) side of the road, and then I corrected myself before encountering traffic. I did, however, have a tendency to signal with my windshield wipers. I suspect that other drivers did not interpret wipers on intermittent as an intention to turn left. For that matter, signalling a right turn did little to clear the water from the front window.
Somehow, I managed not to die or even hit anything. Luck was definitely involved. So was the extremely courteous, if also erratic, driving by the Barbadians (also known as Bajans, pronounced Bay-gens). This brings up the second distinctive feature of Barbados.
A FRIENDLY NATION
Bajans, by-and-large, are exceptionally friendly and nice. It is interesting how each West Indian country, sometimes each island, has its own character. Bajans are proud of their country, their people, and this translates into a warm friendliness. Their country is great, and they want you to share the experience.
Twice we had folks stop what they were doing (a postal worker on a motorbike and a sugarcane worker in a large truck) and lead our poor lost souls to our intended destination. People always made an effort to direct us when we asked for directions, though the contorted nature of the roads made such very challenging at times.
We (my wife, Casey, and I) arrived in the land of traffic and smiles (now there’s a paradox for you) on 5 November. We weren’t in our beds (at the Coconut Court Beach Resort) until about 10 pm. We’d left Everett, Washington, 24 hours prior. The next morning, Eddie Massiah, Barbados’ premier birder, was taking me out for a tour of the island’s south and east. At 5:45 (in early Nov., sunrise is about 5:50 and sunset about 5:30) Eddie pulled up into “the resort” in his Daihatsu 4-WD. The beast was clearly capable and well used. The passenger side was lacking a door handle (an effective theft deterrent, Eddie pointed out). He reached over and popped the door open from inside. There sat a slender man with a British look of a Bondesque quality (more George Moore rather than Sean Connery). Sharp, handsome features that were a bit imperfect in a way that enhanced. His voice and handshake had the soft quality oft found in the Caribbean, a rather dramatic contrast to my tendency to boom-away. Born in Barbados, he was schooled in Britain and returned to the island in the early 1990s. Subsequently, he has found a slew of rarities, including a couple of firsts for the Western Hemisphere.
6 Nov: with Eddie Massiah: Amity Hall access to Graeme Hall Swamp; Chancery Lane, Packers, Congo Road, Golden Grove, Chimp Marshalls, Codrington College, Long Swamp, South Pt, East Pt, other spots: 6am - 4:30 pm
7 Nov: Harrisons Point area, North Point, Turners Hall Woods, elsewhere in n Barbados. With Eddie Massiah and Casey Beachell. 7am - 4 pm.
8 Nov: Graeme Hall Swamp, Chancery Lane, Packers, Congo Road. Casey Beachell. 6:30am - 3pm
9 Nov: Flower Forest, Turner Hall Woods, Golden Grove, Chimp Marshalls. Casey Beachell.
11 Nov: Chimp Marshall’s, Golden Grove, Packers, Congo Rd, Graeme Hall Swamp.
We were off. Upon my request, we stopped at the nearby Shell 24-hour gas station/mini-market, and I grabbed a beef pasty, a cup of coffee, and a juice. Our first birding stop was nearby, along the westside of Graeme Hall Swamp. From Hastings Main Road (which is the road the hotel is on, and is untainted by any signs bearing its name), we turned left just past the Shell (which is east of the hotel by a km or two, and a short distance west of the main reserve entrance, which is of Hastings Main Road as well). We went a few blocks and turned right where a small sign pointed to Amity Hall. Just before that road ended, we turned right again, went one block, and then turned left. In about 100 yards or less, the houses ended (though the road continued as a muddy track). We parked and took off down the track on foot.
At this point, I need to apologize for my unusually sketchy directions. Many of the places I did not drive to, and when I was finding my way to spots, the road’s above-mentioned challenges made note-taking potentially lethal. Additionally, as discussed below, several spots were private property, and the status of access should really be checked with local birders.
So, we birded our way down the muddy track about 1 km until it climbed onto agricultural land. Along the way, we were surrounded by scrub. Vigorous pishing produced not a single migrant other than a couple Northern Waterthrushes (which are fairly common winter residents). We did see a couple Golden Warblers (local resident race/species of Yellow Warbler) plus stacks of the endemic Barbados Bullfinch. Unlike other Lesser Antillean Bullfinches, the males closely resemble the females, which are clothed in a variety of browns ranging from dun to pale yellow buff to rich chestnut. No black. No red or orange. Also of interest is that the local Carib Grackles show little sexual dimorphism, with the females looking like the males (balancing out the bullfinch situation, I suppose). This is quite different from the population in Aruba, but similar to some populations in northern South America. I didn’t see any displaying grackles, but some of the call notes were different from what I’d heard in Aruba, again showing that the Caribbean is really evolution’s playground.
We skipped the main entrance to Graeme Hall Swamp, as it was readily obvious from the road, and Eddie had correctly predicted that I could re-find it on my own. Just past (east of) the main reserve entrance, Eddie pointed out a gravel road headed to the left (away from ocean), mentioning that it was an area also worth a go for passerines. Our next stop was Chancellory Lane Swamp. You will notice the frequent use of the word “swamp.” Graeme Hall Swamp really is a mangrove swamp. Most “swamps,” however, are impoundments, typically with some marshy bits, several ponds, and areas of mudflat. These are maintained for hunting shorebirds. Yes, shorebirds. And yes, without these areas being actively maintained, the island would have far less wetland, for shorebirds and for egrets, ducks, etc. Thousands of shorebirds are shot during the hunting season of September and October. At other times, birders are generally welcome. Shorebird hunting on Barbados is an old tradition (I guess continued partly due to the relative lack of waterfowl. Shorebird hunting was once popular in the U.S.) carried on by the Caucasian portion of the population. Their friendliness towards birders is an interesting paradox. Some momentum is building towards changing this pastime, and there is hope of turning hunting into conservation.
In any case, Chancery Lane Swamp is no longer hunted at any season. We peered from a bluff above. Initially there seemed to be little. A Willet, uncommon on Barbados, was on the far shore. My first Little Egret for the trip (Barbados is the only breeding area for this species in the Western Hemisphere). Blearily, I looked at two distant gulls. One had a darkish gray back and had some smudging on the head. The other was an all brown first-cycle bird. Still jet-lagging (that’s my excuse, and I am sticking with it), I called them Laughing Gulls. Eddie quickly corrected me. They were big guys. Either Lesser Black-backed or (Gasp!) Yellow-legged. We worked our way down to the swamp’s edge, initially driving through wet grass, then walking through wet grass. The gulls were surprisingly edgy, but eventually allowed better looks and decent photographs. The older bird, showing mostly 3rd winter features, but retaining some 2nd cycle features, looked like a Lesser Black-backed Gull. The younger bird was much more intriguing. Structurally, it was more Herring Gull than Lesser Black-backed. It had a lot of white on the head and underparts, and importantly, in flight it showed a pale panel on the inner primaries reminiscent of that of a Herring Gull. These are Yellow-legged Gull, not Lesser Black-backed, characteristics.
Happily we moved through a series of swamps – Packers, Congo Road, Golden Grove, and Chimp Marshalls. These were peaceful places with lots of herons and shorebirds. We had a few interesting birds, such as late Stilt Sandpipers and American Golden-Plovers among numerous peeps (White-rumped, Western, Semipalmated, and Least), yellowlegs, Black-bellied Plovers, and Semipalmated Plovers – but we avoided any further true rarities. A few stops at passerine sites revealed a single migrant among the bullfinches, Banaquits, and grackles – a Prothonotary Warbler at Codrington College.
The next day dawned with the same promise of mixed showers and sun. The rain rarely interfered with the birding, and the clouds helped keep everything a nice temperature, avoiding the blistering heat sometimes encountered in the Caribbean. Casey joined us, and we birded a number of spots on the island’s north side. Land-birding again revealed few migrants (Eddie had warned me of this – Barbados is definitely east of the main passerine migration route). Our catch for the day was a Blackpoll Warbler, an American Redstart, a Bobolink (at Fosters Swamp) and seven Yellow-billed Cuckoos, the latter being a very high count. For whatever reason, Barbados was having a banner fall for YBCU’s. Shorebirding was again good, with the best concentration feeding in a large spread of manure along a farm’s edge. The flock contained 12 or 13 shorebird species, including a Stilt Sandpiper and an American Golden-Plover that, oddly, seemed to enjoy each other’s company. We briefly popped into the Spring Hall Swamp, which had a Long-billed Dowitcher – a less-than-annual species in Barbados, with most previous records also from November.
One of the more memorable places was the North Point itself. There, a small shop served excellent Ham-&-Cheese sandwiches Cuban style, but adorned with Barbados hot sauce – a complex orange-yellow condiment that is slightly sweet and moderately hot (superb over fried eggs this morning – kind of a Bajan Huevos Rancheros). The ocean view from the cliffs revealed a world of aqua, baby, and royal blue. From 200 feet or so up, a fisherman cast his line into the broiling waters below. Nearby, we visited an area that looked like British heathland. Shallow pools surrounded by short emerald-green grass and scattered dense thickets. Through this landscape wandered a herd of sheep. These were Black-bellied or Barbados Sheep. Small, generally hornless, they looked like a sheep x goat cross. Their black bellies and chestnut flanks reminded me of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and was quite attractive, but they were camera shy, and slowly wandered off as we approached. Ten minutes later, I was on my knees, butt up, photographing a baby Marine Toad. Casey whispered that the sheep were back. To my surprise, and horror, the entire herd had adjourned ten yards behind my exposed rump. I turned the camera upon them , snapping several good shots before the skittered off. I wondered, with distinct trepidation, what they’d been up to.
Having been disappointed with the hotel’s leathery prime rib the night before, we crossed the street to a small Italian restaurant/deli. The atmosphere was Italy. Warm, lively, festive. We sat outside, where the temperature was perfect, and ordered pizza. Okay, the pizza was only average, but it hit the spot, and the surroundings utterly compensated. Most of the staff was Italian, but our waitress seemed to have a rather British accent (as opposed to the similar Bajan accent). Turns out she was Czech, had lived in Britain, and it was her 10th day on Barbados. She was somewhat evasive about her reasons for coming to that tropical isle, but several days later I saw her, dressed rather fashionably, walking down the street with one of the young dashing Italian proprietors. So, I suspect it was romance rather than running-from-the-law.
We picked up our rental car that night at the hotel from World renowned Juphil Rental Cars, named after the owners, Judy and Phil. The white mid-size Nissan suited us well and the price was good. Our usually superb travel agent had booked us with “New Frontiers” Rental Cars. Sadly, no one had heard of them, the phone number on our itinerary didn’t exist (even the exchange didn’t exist), and they weren’t in the phone book. A New Frontier, indeed. Happily, Judy rode to our rescue, and her car was dandy.
Morning three found us eating beef roti wraps (delicious curried beef, potatoes, and beans surrounded by a tortilla-like wrap), sipping coffee, and drinking juice at the Shell. From there, we hit the Amity Hall access. Same as before, but no downpour, and we did find one migrant – a Prothonotary Warbler (a few winter most years in Barbados). The sky was less threatening, but there were still plenty of protective clouds. We headed from this spot to the aforementioned strip along the east edge of Graeme Hall Swamp. This short walk takes you through mangrove swamp. Herons stalked deep in the trees while a few Golden Warblers responded tepidly to our pishing.
The Graeme Hall Swamp Sanctuary itself is a world-class facility. It costs $25 Barbados (about $13 US) per person to enter. There is a manicured lawn with pavilions (for shelter in the rain), boardwalks past a heron nesting colony (that often includes Little Egrets) and a shorebird pool (with numerous tame-but-wild shorebirds, having grown accustomed to people), several well-kept aviaries, and of course, a large and magnificent mangrove swamp (but don’t forget to get some Barbados rum chocolate fudge at the visitor center on the way out). The head naturalist is Wayne “Doc” Burke. Wayne is a hale-fellow-well met – a man with an infectious smile, keen mind, and much enthusiasm. And actually, thinking of it, actually looks a bit like Sean Connery. Don’t worry, the James Bond theme ends here. Wayne’s assistants, Kevin and Ryan, were equally pleasant folks.
We wandered about, and frankly, I was distracted by photography, sunshine, warmth and not focused on birding. I was feeling a bit guilty about ignoring the birding end as we were deciding how much fudge to bring home when Ryan burst into the visitor center stammering, “there’s a blaiesnwesiagagacaqg..... Just come with me!” I ran after him and found Wayne perched beneath the lip of a pavilion while scanning just over the mangroves.
“There’s a swift over the mangroves. It looks like a Chaetura, but which... I don’t know.” There are a few records of Chaetura swifts from Barbados, mostly Short-tailed Swift. Black Swifts (which are not Chaetura) breed locally in at least one sea cave but should have been long gone by early November. When the bird first topped the tree line, I thought Black Swift. It looked long-winged and large. It hardly flapped at all. When it did, the flaps were, for a swift, relatively languid, not frenetic like a Chaetura. As it passed to and fro, we could see some pale on the throat and a hint of a rump patch. The tail was slightly rounded. Not a Black Swift. Wayne mentioned Chimney, and we were wondering about the possibilities when Martin Frost, another of Barbados’ birding illuminati appeared.
Immediately he pronounced, “Chaetura.”
“Hmmmm. The wings are awfully long and it’s not flapping like one,” I muttered.
“It’s a Chaetura; I’d say a Chimney,” he responded dismissively
“I’ve seen lots of Chimney Swifts, and I’ve never seen one fly like this in any kind of persistent way.”
Of course, at that very moment, the bird decided to fly over our heads with that rapid twittering flight of a Chaetura. I felt pretty stupid, but at least I got photos. It was indeed a Chimney Swift, only the 3rd ever seen on Barbados (and I believe the first two were together).
The remainder of the day was pleasant outside of driving-related terrors. I nailed a bunch of dragon/damselfly photos, hoping to document the Odonates of Barbados, which are poorly known. I’ll leave it to my friend Dennis Paulson to ID them. The birds were plentiful, we had a major rarity under our belts. The only other avian occurrence of interest was a group of seven Common Terns hawking insects over the ponds at Packers, apparently Barbados’ first “inland” record. We returned to Graeme Hall at sunset, hoping an interesting heron might come to roost. Notably, an entire flock of Anhingas had appeared months before, likely related to some flooding in northern South America. That evening, Harry Roberts, Graeme Hall’s ebullient manager, had mentioned that one or two were still around. To our delight, five minutes later, a security guard came rushing up to us and herded us to the water’s edge where we could see an Anhinga sunning itself in the mangroves across the lake. As I said, a friendly people.
That night’s dinner involved a return to the Italian restaurant. Penne pasta, pesto, and chicken were on order for me, forming a lovely combo. The same comely Czech waitress looked after us, but she seemed just busy enough to avoid queries about her appearance on Barbados.
For the second night in a row the couple in the room next door returned circa 2 am, slamming their door, and turning on the TV. Sadly, the walls were paper thin. We called the front office, giving them a room number and asking them to make a “please be quiet” call. Sadly, it was the wrong room number. I am certain that the folks on the silent side of us were surprised to be wakened from a sound sleep by a phone call requesting they quiet down. Magically, it worked on the noisy neighbors as well, for we were not troubled again. A sound sleep did not return that night but morning did, and we headed back to our favorite breakfast spot. We decided to try passerine birding again. First stop, the Flower Forest. In the center of the island’s north, it was a beautiful spot, filled with exotic flowers but few birds and no migrants. Next was Turner Hall Woods, not far away. Moist and rainforest-like, it yielded a goodly 7 Black-whiskered Vireos, a most interesting 4" long flat slug, and our only swallowtail.
Though in many ways enjoyable, the profound lack of passerine diversity and time of day (around 1 pm) sent us back to the “swamps.” Golden Grove was first. And the first bird I put my bins on was a Wilson’s Phalarope, a prairie species that is quite a vagrant in the West Indies. As I was photographing this star, Casey said, “I’ve got a tern.... no it’s a small gull.” The phalarope fled from my mind. It took me a few nerve wracking moments to locate the bird, but when I snapped my bins to my face, I saw a Franklin’s Gull, a Bajan first and, curiously, hailing from the same region as the phalarope. Moments later, the first Franklin’s was joined by a second. I frantically shot photos. The gulls were hawking insects over the pond, but more so, over the nearby cattle pastures. We forgot about the shorebirds, which became a moot point anyway, as they balled up (as if a falcon was about, and one probably was – probably a Peregrine, but....) and took off. The gulls were nice enough to give me some fine flight shots but didn’t hang around for the Bajan birders to see them the next morning.
Spaghetti and meatballs.
I was utterly whacked. Casey stayed home the next morning, and I wandered to Graeme Hall Swamp. Across the street from the east access, I heard some parrots and found them to be free-flying Orange-winged Parrots, a species from northern South America which has established itself successfully (via escaping from cages) on Barbados and other islands in the West Indies. A lifer, though it felt a bit cheezy. When I entered the sanctuary, I found the Anhinga sitting close at hand among the nesting Cattle Egrets. That started another morning of photography. Slow paced and pleasant. I went back to the hotel at noon, intending to relax, but instead explored an abandoned property next to the hotel that had another Black-whiskered Vireo and gave great views of a Green-throated Carib. Among the scrub, there was a second species of Buckeye, one with extensive blue-gray on the hindwings. I plopped down on a beach chair and spent the next three hours deleting unwanted photos, the downside of my new hobby, and I really need a new hobby like a new hole in my head.
Monet’s, a kilometer or so from the hotel. It was not French food, nor impressionistic. Languid and tasty are more apt descriptions. Sadly, I was too tired to enjoy languid. I slept like the dead. The neighbors had either died, departed, or gotten the message.
Friday had arrived, and I finally felt comfortable navigating and driving in Barbados. I thus arrived at Packers with calm nerves. The temperature was soothingly warm. Dragonflies flitted to and fro. Sadly, I got out of the car, partly in a relaxed daze, and flushed the heron flock in front of me. “Damn,” I cursed as I saw the ibis among them. I also added some words not allowed by the FCC. An alternate plumaged Glossy Ibis, identifiable even in flight. A bit distant, but photographable. It turned out to be the first in Barbados in ~50 years, but also as it turns out, it had been seen intermittently for months. I also photographed a new damselfly for the trip – a nice start. And so the day continued. A couple late Stilt Sandpipers lingering at Congo Road along with a late Short-billed Dowitcher. A Green-winged Teal at Chimp Marshall’s Swamp (no one seems to know, or be willing to admit, how that nickname was obtained). The hotel for a couple hours, and a final evening at Graeme Hall that featured watching Caribbean Elaenias devouring Fiddlewood berries.
Am I writing this from home? No. Or at least not the first draft. I am sitting at Dulles Airport. We’d boarded and then the crew noticed that there was no captain. Well, gosh darn, he was still in Chicago. Off the plane we went, with a promised departure time of 7:30, two hours late. We’ll see......
Anhinga Graeme Hall Swamp 8-11 Nov
Little Egret (16) southeastern Barbados 6 Nov
Glossy Ibis Packers 11 Nov
Green-winged Teal Marshall’s Swamp 11 Nov
Merlin Harrison’s Point 7 Nov
Solitary Sand (cinnomomea) Graeme Hall Swamp 10 Nov
Willet Chancery Lane 6 Nov
Long-billed Dowitcher Spring Hall Swamp 7 Nov
Wilson’s Phalarope Golden Grove 9 Nov
Franklin’s Gull (2) Golden Grove 9 Nov
Lesser Black-b Gull (1) Chancery Lane 6 Nov
Yellow-legged Gull ? Chancery Lane 6 Nov
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (7) near Harrisons Point 7 Nov
Eared Dove (25) Marshall’s Swamp 11 Nov
Chimney Swift Graeme Hall Swamp 8 Nov
Prothonotary Warbler Codrington College 6 Nov
Prothonotary Warbler Graeme Hall Swamp 8 Nov
Bobolink Fosters Swamp 7 Nov
Little/Snowy Egret: Scattered at various “swamps” and has bred most years at Graeme Hall Swamp. Max was 16, as noted above, as we covered areas from Chancellory Hall Swamp to Long Swamp. Saw two birds that appeared to be hybrids, with a mixture of plume types and greenish (more Little-like) feet. One had bright yellow lores, the other dull yellow. The one with dull yellow lores had green going up the back of the leg. There were a number of birds that defied certain ID. This is not a problem I encountered with Little Egrets in Britain or Snowy Egrets in North America, where the ID is typically obvious.
Magnificent Frigatebird and Brown Booby: Surprisingly scarce. Two distant boobies on buoy along ne coast and an imm Mag Frig at same site. Casey also had a frigatebird at our hotel.
Blue-winged Teal: Common.
Osprey: two. both of migrant North American race.
Shorebirds: Still moving, with daily turnover. Semi Plovers and Semi Sands probably most common, with 20+ most days, but had 10+ Greater Yellowlegs some days and a few Lessers. Least Sand numbers often topped 10, had 8 American Golden-Plovers one day, a sprinkling of Black-bellied Plovers hither and yon. There seemed to be a Western and a White-rumped or two in most peep flocks. Spotted Sands were widespread. Found Pecs frequently, one day as many as 25. A couple lingering Stilt Sands were around as well as a late Short-billed Dow. Turnstones and Sanderlings on beaches. Wilson’s Snipes, particularly at Marshall’s Swamp, with as many 12 there one day. Finally, had a couple Solitary Sands here and there, with single juvs of both races at Graeme Hall Swamp.
Probable Yellow-legged Gull
On 6 Nov at Chancery Lane, Eddie Massiah and I found two large gulls. One looked very much like a Lesser Black-backed Gull (2nd or 3rd cycle), and that ID has been confirmed by a number of outside experts. The second bird, still in juv plumage, is far more intriguing. Its larger size, much larger bill, longer legs led us to suspect Yellow-legged Gull. In flight, it had a "classic" YLGU wing pattern. Atlantis YLGU are in juv plumage in Nov whereas other YLGU's are not. The long wings are atypical for YLGU, though there is a picture in Olsen and Larsson of a juv atlantis YLGU with wings this long.
Expert opinion was sought from Europe and was split with opinions varying from "definite YLGU" to "definite LBBG." The LBBG side focused on wing length and the juv plumage (though atlantis could be in juv plumage this time of year) and dismissed the bill/body size/leg length differences as being due to photo artifact or being within range of sexual dimorphism. The wing pattern was said to be "within range" of LBBG, though the difference in wing pattern is supposed to be definitive. Some of the pro-LBBG commentary seemed to see things that were not on the photo or vise versa, making me wonder if the photo quality had changed with mulitple forwardings or if their monitors did not display the photos clearly. However, some of the pro-LBBG folks were obviously seeing a clear image.
The YLGU side was split between atlantis and michahellis. The problem with michahellis is that this bird is in juv plumage. The problem with atlantis is that its size and structure (and wing pattern) are more like LBBG. However, atlantis from the Iberian Peninsula are much more michahellis like in appearance, but I don't know when they molt from juv to 1st winter.
So, I still have a hard time buying LBBG on this bird. I've been unable to find a photo (after checking 100s) of a LBBG with a wing pattern approaching that of this bird, and indeed, Olsen and Larsson state it is definitive. The differences in structure between this bird and the LBBG were real.... the real problem seems to be with the long wings and -- if the bird is an atlantis, why is it so big? or if it is a michahellis, why is it in juv plumage?
Though leaning strongly towards YLGU on this bird (couldn't tell from the above discussion, eh?), I do not feel that it can be definitively ID'd at this time (especially given its ultra-rarity).
Common Tern: Saw several along south coast on 6 Nov and 7 lingered for several days at Packers Swamp. Also, one flew by the hotel on 10 Nov as I sat on a lounge chair. No other small terns seen.
Scaly-naped Pigeon: Wooded areas mostly and easy to find at Graeme Hall, though few birds allowed really good looks.
Zenaida Dove: Omnipresent
Eared Dove: Increasing. Apparently some debate as to whether this is an introduction or resurgence of native population.
Antillean Crested Hummingbird: Fairly common, mostly in wooded areas.
Green-throated Carib: Less common than expected; saw only a few during entire trip. Flowers in manicured area of Graeme Hall a good spot. Brilliant bird in good light.
Orange-winged Parrots: Apparently well-established in Bridgetown area. Had a group of 6 near Graeme Hall Swamp.
Coots: Raffaele et al 1998 lists them as rare on Barbados, but they really aren’t. A few present at both Graeme Hall Swamp and Chimp Marshall’s Swamp. One bird at Marshall’s defied ID. Apparently, at least one American Coot had resided there for some time and there may have been some American/Caribbean hanky panky.
Gray Kingbird: Ubiquitous.
Caribbean Elaenia: Once you learn its plaintive call, you find that it really is fairly numerous. With some effort, not that hard to see. A tree with berries at Graeme Hall allowed good studies of numerous individuals.
Black-whiskered Vireo: I was under the impression that most left before November, but had one or two at least in every decent woodland.
Caribbean Martin: Saw several most days. Only other swallow was Barn, two birds, both New World type.
Warblers: A few Golden Warblers in woods, particularly mangroves. Had one or two birds that seemed to fit plumage and primary extension of Northern Yellow Warbler group.
Black-faced Grassquit: Fairly common, especially in weedy areas. Females seem duskier chested and less drab pale brown than those in Aruba and Bahamas, though maybe that’s just my mind playing tricks.
Barbados Bullfinch: The island’s only endemic bird species. Likes woodlands best, but not embarrassed by playing role of House Sparrow in towns. More common than BF Grassquit and lacks olive hues seen in that species. Also heftier with a larger bill.
Grassland Yellow-Finch: A somewhat euphonious name for a rather pretty bird. Most likely a long-standing introduced species, though there has been some argument for natural colonization. Fairly common in weedy spots, but not seen elsewhere.
Carib Grackle: Another “Everywhere” bird. Males and females similarly glossy black.
Shiny Cowbird: Fairly common. Often around grackles, but then again, grackles are everywhere.
For a full species list please contact me
Chimney Swift Chaetura pelagica Graeme Hall Swamp, Barbados, 8 November 2005
On the morning of 8 November, my attention was brought to a swift feeding over the mangroves at east side of Graeme Hall Swamp. Wayne Burke had been watching it for a while and was still puzzling over its ID. The bird was mostly keeping its distance. It looked very black and long-winged. It rarely flapped, mostly streaking across the sky at some speed, with an occasional languid (for a swift) flap or two. We could see a hint of paler rump, and a paler gray throat and uppermost breast.
After a bit of time, it took to flying closer, occasionally passing directly overhead. The above mentioned marks became more evident, and the bird suddenly, and repeatedly, flew like a chaetura swift. It passed near a Caribbean Martin, and it was distinctly smaller, consistent with the size of a Chimney Swift. A photo is available that shows the bird’s shape well.
We watched the bird for 20 or more minutes. I see many Vaux’s Swifts, as they nest in my chimney. A Vaux’s would not have appeared so long winged and would have had a paler rump. Chapman’s Swift is also supposed to have a paler rump and darker throat. I’ve seen thousands of Chimney Swifts, and after prolonged and eventually fairly good views were had, the bird truly appeared typical for this species.
Everett, WA, USA
Yellow-legged Gull Larus cachinnans Chancellory Lane Swamp, Barbados, 6 November 2005
The multiple photos of this bird show the relevant marks well. I can only emphasize that it had a Herring Gull like appearance anteriorly: flat headed and large billed when compared with a Lesser Black-backed Gull. The wings were longer than normal for a Herring Gull, more like a Lesser Black-backed. My first thoughts of Yellow-legged Gull, besides Eddie Massiah’s suggestion that we think of such, was the whitish underparts, which are not shown well in the photos. The dark was mostly confined to the sides of the lower chest and anterior sides of belly. The chest and center of the belly were white, and the head more white than I am used to seeing on juv/1st winter Lesser Black-backed Gulls, especially this early in the season. The clincher was a pale inner panel, not as obvious as that of a Herring Gull, but visible the entire time the bird circled the pond, a good 5 minutes in total. Finally, the heavily marked greater wing coverts is a mark atypical of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.
I reviewed a number of websites, articles, and guides. The combination of the greater wing covert pattern, the panel on the inner primaries, relatively large bill, and overall relative paleness all speak relatively or absolutely against Lesser Black-backed Gull and fit Yellow-legged Gull nicely.
The first-cycle bird’s companion is more challenging. In the field, it did appear a tad smaller and smaller billed (it is a mostly 3rd cycle bird in plumage). This could just be the difference between a male and female. The bird’s mantle color seemed too dark for a Yellow-legged Gull, and certainly is too dark for the European races, but the Canary Island birds in particular are darker, and some appear (on websites) to be as dark as this bird. I hold back from making an ID on this individual at this time until further opinions can be elicited.
Everett, WA, USA