Archive for the ‘Snowy egret’ Tag

Lesser Antilles part 4: St Lucia and St Vincent: 11th – 15th June 2017   Leave a comment

This is the fourth blog post from my island hopping tour of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. I had intended to include the four remaining islands St Lucia, St Vincent, Barbados and Grenada in this post but inevitably there were too many photos so I have just written about the first two of these islands.

 

The first European power to settle St Lucia were the French who signed a treaty with the local Carib Indians in 1660. From then until 1814 the island changed hands many times between the French and British. In 1979 it was granted independence as a member of the Commonwealth. In the case of St Vincent the Carib Indians and escaped African slaves vigorously opposed European settlement and it was not colonised until 1719, first by the French then by the British. Like St Lucia power switched between these countries several times. Attempts by the British to affiliate St Vincent and the Grenadines with other nearby islands failed, but in October 1979 they became the last Caribbean Island to gain independence.

 

Apart from our flight to and from Montserrat and between Guadeloupe and Martinique, all the remaining eight ‘internal’ flights on this trip were with the local carrier LIAT. This stands for Leeward Island Air Transport, but it has also been interpreted as ‘Leaves Island Any Time’ or Luggage In Another Terminal’. That said we had no trouble with LIAT at all, they always left on time, sometimes early and never lost a single bag.

 

We stayed at a lovely hotel in St Lucia right by the harbour.

 

There was an egret colony in the grounds and I was lucky to get a room on the 1st floor with a grandstand view. I was able to observe the Cattle and Snowy Egrets from the balcony on several occasions, even as here whilst sheltering from heavy downpours.

 

There were a few Snowy Egrets in the colony ….

 

…. but by far the majority were Cattle Egrets.

 

There even appeared to be Cattle and Snowy Egret chicks in the same nest, presumably the older and more mobile Snowy Egret chick had gone ‘walkabout’ from its own nest.

 

There was a puzzling degree of variation in the Cattle Egrets, some like this one were in bog standard breeding plumage ….

 

…. others had bright red bills and/or had no chestnut in the plumage at all (even though they were breeding) and the bill colour of the chicks seemed to vary from yellow to black almost at random.

 

This individual, who had one of the closest nests to my balcony, sported and strangely swollen and elongated bill.

 

I don’t know if any Black-crowned Night Herons were nesting deep in the colony but one or two could be seen skulking around on the ground at the base of the tree.

 

A Green Heron quietly stalked its prey from the giant lily pads

 

Among the lily pads was a pair of Common Gallinules, recently split from the Old World Common Moorhen. Interestingly, here we can see a juvenile from an earlier brood feeding its younger sibling along with one of the parents.

 

Just outside my room was this large ornamental plant, if you look at the right hand fronds you will see ….

 

…. an Antillean Crested Hummingbird’s nest with two tiny chicks. Joseph waited in the corridor (and even skipped some outings for endemic birds) in order to get video of the parents coming to the nest.

 

Most of our time in St Lucia was spent in the interior searching for the four endemic species. There used to be five but Semper’s Warbler has not been seen since for certain since 1961, it was probably driven to extinction by introduced mongooses.

 

The endemic St Lucia Amazon was seen several times, but only in flight, St Lucia Oriole was seen but not well enough for photos ….

 

…. but the beautiful St Lucia Warbler put on a great show, We also saw two endemic subspecies that could be split in the future, St Lucia House Wren and St Lucia Pewee

 

We saw Grey Trembler on Martinique, but not well enough for photos, so it was great to get good views here, the only other island where it occurs.

 

As we are now in the southern Lesser Antilles there is a greater influence from South America. Examples include this Short-tailed Swift ….

 

…. and this female Shiny Cowbird.

 

In the afternoon of our first full day we headed for the southern most point of the island

 

…. and the lighthouse at Moule de Pique.

 

Strange barrel cacti grew on the precipitous cliffs.

 

In spite of the strong wind Keith, Mark and I tried some seawatching and added a few distant Bridled and Sooty Terns to the trip list, but Joseph had the right idea ….

 

…. he was videoing Red-billed Tropicbirds just below us.

 

St Lucia was also pretty good for other forms of wildlife, I don’t know the name of this butterfly ….

 

…. but this is the highly migratory Monarch (migratory in North America at least) which is capable of crossing the Atlantic and which I have seen on Scilly and Portland in the UK.

 

Bizarre caterpillars and ….

 

…. bizarre crabs were the order of the day. One of our group (perhaps unadvisedly) picked up a Hermit Crab in its borrowed seashell. It probably climbed out of the shell and scuttled away ‘butt naked’.

 

Well three endemics had fallen easy enough but the fourth remained a problem. However on our last morning we connected with the St Lucia Black Finch on a trail where forest meets farmland. Views were quite brief, light was poor and so were my photos. Here’s pic of the little fella from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website taken by Marcel Holyoak see https://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/Species-Account/nb/species/slbfin1/overview

 

IMG_3642 Grand Pitons

We were staying at the capital Castries in the northwest but on the final afternoon some of us persuaded Mark to drive us down to the viewpoint overlooking the town of Soufriere to see the St Lucia’s most famous landmark, the Grand Pitons.

 

So it was ‘job done’ for St Lucia with all the endemics ‘under the belt’ ….

 

…. and time to fly on to St Vincent. Our journey time was quite long as we had to fly all the way west to Barbados before flying back east to St Vincent.

 

Our hotel in the capital Kingstown was fine ….

 

… and boasted one of the tallest cheese plants I have ever seen ….

 

…. but the streets in the town outside lacked a certain sparkle ….

 

…. and the same could be said for the residential areas.

 

Mind you the weather didn’t help. It had been dry on Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat and Guadeloupe, cloudy with some rain in Martinique and St Lucia but on St Vincent it rained most of the time.

 

Nearly all our birding was done on the Vermont trail ….

 

…. but we had to shelter by the water works building during the worst of the rain.

 

There was a good forest trail alongside a stream ….

 

…. with some impressive mature fig trees, but with the poor weather we struggled with the birding. We did see Lesser Antillean Tanager, the local race of House Wren (like all the other island forms of House Wren it deserves to be split) and Grenada Flycatcher (found only here and on Grenada) but the delightful Whistling Warbler was a ‘heard only’. This undoubtedly the disappointment of the trip as it looks a stunner in the field guide.

 

On the positive side we had good prolonged scope views of a flock of the endangered St Vincent Amazon but as with the other parrots they were too distant for photos so again I have used a pic of a captive individual from the Internet Bird Collection taken by Mikka Pyhala.  https://www.hbw.com/ibc/species/st-vincent-amazon-amazona-guildingii

 

One afternoon we birded the Botanical Gardens in Kingstown but again we were thwarted by rain.

 

A juvenile Broad-winged Hawk called noisily from a nearby tree ….

 

…. and whilst sheltering from the heaviest rain under this shelter ….

 

…. we had great views of the endemic race of Antillean Crested Hummingbird.

 

 

 

So that was it for St Vincent. We flew east the following morning to Barbados (we were getting heartily sick of emigration and immigration forms and airport security checks by this stage) which will be the subject of the next post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Central Peru part 7: the pelagic – 26th November 2016.   2 comments

This is the final post about the Central Peru tour I did in November 2016 and deals with the pelagic boat trip on the final day.

 

 

 

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Over the last 17 days we had followed this route clockwise from Lima. Now we were back at the capital for a final day of birding – not onshore but at sea on a pelagic trip 35 nautical miles (65 km) offshore.

 

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So early on the final day it was down to the docks ….

 

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…. to set off on our little open boat past the Peruvian Navy’s submarine ….

 

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and head out to sea ….

 

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As we passed the breakwater we saw a Hudsonian Whimbrel ….

 

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…. as well as several Surfbirds, a bird with one of the strangest non-breeding distributions on the planet, after leaving their Alaska/Yukon breeding grounds the entire population occupies a narrow intertidal band a few metres wide and 17,500 km long from Alaska to the Straits of Magellan. I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo as the boat sped by so I used this shot by Marlin Harms from Wikipedia.

 

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Leaving the coast behind we headed towards the Islas Palominas ….

 

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…. passing sizeable flocks of Inca terns …

 

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…. and rocks covered with Peruvian Boobies.

 

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We spent some time at the Islas Palominas ….

 

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…. that held truly impressive numbers of South American Sea Lions.

 

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Many were hauled out on the rocks. The darker ones are still wet from their last swim.

 

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A small number of impressive bull sea lions were present.

 

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A boat load of people were in the water …

 

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…. swimming with the sea lions ….

 

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…. whilst undoubtedly a great experience for the swimmers, I’m sure it disturbs the sea lions, all the individuals on shore are alert and moving up the rocks (our boat is much further away and the photo was taken with a 1000mm telephoto setting) ….

 

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…. in addition taking swimmers into such heavy surf close to the rocks is the height of folly (I was H&S man at work and can’t help doing ‘risk assessments’, even now).

 

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Many other birds were seen including Peruvian Boobies, now much reduced in numbers compared to 30 years ago ….

 

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…. although still providing a spectacle as they fly back to the rocks …

 

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Once very common the boobies, like several other birds of the Humboldt Current, have seen catastrophic declines due to over fishing and climate change have all had an impact.

 

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Three species of cormorant were seen, the elegant Red-legged ….

 

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….Neotropic, which is more usually seen on freshwater lakes and the Guanay Cormorant, which although the commonest, was never seen close enough to photograph.

 

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Another ‘guanay’ bird is the Peruvian Pelican, a larger version of the more familiar Brown Pelican.

 

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For a centuries the droppings (guano) of all those cormorants and boobies was harvested for fertiliser apparently without harmful effects. However recently these ‘guanay’ birds particularly Guanay Cormorant have dropped markedly. On a similar trip in 1989 I recorded over 6000 Guanay Cormorants, this time we saw less than 1000. The major factors driving this decline seem to be the El Nino phenomena, climate change and overfishing. Here the loading platform and associated warehouses of the guano collectors can be seen.

 

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Other birds seen included the elegant Inca Tern ….

 

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… often seen in large tightly knit flocks.

 

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This lovely shot was taken by my friend and room-mate Steve Lowe.

 

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The cold waters of the Humboldt Current which flows up from the Antarctic has allowed a separate species of penguin to evolve off the coast of central South America, named (perhaps unsurprisingly) Humboldt Penguin.

 

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On the rocks were a number of Blackish Oystercatchers ….

 

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…. and the only passerine of the boat trip, Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes.

 

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Leaving the islands we headed out to deeper waters.

 

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On an earlier post I described Belcher’s Gull as being ‘inappropriately’ named. A friend pointed out that it wasn’t inappropriate as the species was named after an Mr Belcher, so perhaps I should have said ‘unfortunately’ named. The original Band-tailed Gull was split into two – the Atlantic Olrog’s Gull and the Pacific Belcher’s Gull. I suppose we should be grateful the Atlantic species wasn’t named after any other bodily function!

 

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We only saw a pair of the delicately plumaged and ‘appropriately’ named Grey Gull.

 

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Further out under the persistent grey clouds we saw our first Swallow-tailed Gulls.

 

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Swallow-tailed Gull breeds only on the Galapagos Islands (a location I have never visited). There are just two species of gull breeding on the Galapagos, the other – Lava Gull is one just of two gull species worldwide that I have never seen. The unusually large eyes must mean that it is adapted to foraging at night.

 

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The upper-winged pattern makes Swallow-tailed look like a large version of Sabine’s Gull (an Arctic breeding species that also winters in the Humboldt current). We also saw Sabine’s on the pelagic but due to the rocking motion of the boat the photos were too poor to use.

 

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Another gull we saw was Franklin’s Gull, named after legendary Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin whose expedition to discover the North-west Passage ended in such tragedy. The species breeds in the prairies of North America and winters in the Humboldt Current.

 

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The species occasionally turns up in the UK as a vagrant and I have seen it six times at home, all in Dorset or neighbouring Devon and Hampshire.

 

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A migrant from the opposite direction was this Chilean Skua which breeds in the far south of South America.

 

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Another migrant from the south was this White-chinned Petrel, the nearest breeding colonies are in the Falklands and South Georgia. Possibly not the best name for the species as the ‘white chin’ can be as little as a single white feather and can even be absent.

 

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But one of the highlights of this pelagic was the storm-petrels. We saw no fewer than six species, four of which were life birds for me. These are Elliots (or White-vented Storm Petrels). The only known breeding grounds of this bird are the Galapagos and some islets off north Chile.

 

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The diagnostic white vent and lower belly can be seen here, the pale panel in the underwing secondaries is best seen in the top photo.

 

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Wilson’s Storm-petrel is similar but much more widespread (the commonest seabird and possibly the commonest wild bird in the entire world, but we saw very few on this trip). It differs from Elliot’s by the lack of a white vent and a different flight action. I took this photo in the subantarctic in April 2016.

 

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I’ve been unable to conclusively identify the storm-petrel in this picture. It is in moult which the Elliot’s weren’t. I suppose it is a Wilson’s but I have never seen them looking this long-winged. The other four species we saw can be easily excluded by rump colouration/shape.

 

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From the small and crowded boat, and not having my DSLR with me, I found photographing fast-moving stormies to be very hard. The following three pictures (all of life birds) have been taken from external sources. Wedge-rumped Storm-petrel breeds mainly on the Galapagos but also along the coasts of Peru and Chile. Photo (taken from Wikipedia) by Brian Gratwicke

 

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Another life bird was Markham’s Storm-petrel, a large and dark stormie. Until recently its breeding grounds were unknown but colonies (underground burrows) have been found several Km inland in the Atacama Desert of Peru and Chile. This photo by Cock Reijnders was taken from Internet Bird Collection. I also saw the northern hemisphere Black Storm-petrel which is very like Markham’s but is smaller with a different flight action.

 

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The most striking stormie was Hornby’s (or Ringed Storm-petrel). Its breeding grounds have never been discovered but are thought to be in the Atacama Desert. Photo by Cock Reijnders taken from Internet Bird Collection.

 

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But the best bird of the day and one of the top five birds of the trip was this Waved Albatross ….

 

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This magnificent bird breeds only on the Galapagos and is one of four albatross species confined to the northern and central Pacific.

 

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Waved Albatross is the new last albatross species that I will ever see. I hope to do a blog post on my observations of the world’s albatrosses soon but I need to assemble the photos, some of which are on 35mm slides.

 

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After our return to Lima we had a quick look at this lagoon near the port.

 

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As well as expected species like this Snowy Egret ….

 

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…. Grey-hooded Gull….

 

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…. and this adult Belcher’s Gull ….

 

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…. there were thousands upon thousands of Franklin’s Gulls. Our estimates varied from 20,000 to 100,000 but I made do with the lower estimate.

 

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Franklin’s Gull can be distinguished from the similar but larger Laughing Gull in winter by the partial black hood and prominent eye crescents.

 

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The gulls were easily spooked by people getting to close ….

 

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…. but the resultant clouds were quite spectacular.

 

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Franklin’s Gulls are unusual in that they have a complete moult after breeding ( as most gulls do ) and then again in the wintering grounds (a moult strategy shared as far as I know only by Willow Warbler). That said most of these individuals don’t seem to have started the moult yet.

 

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This lad seems oblivious to spectacle behind him.

 

From here is was just a short drive to a hotel for a wash and brush up and then to the airport for the flight home. All my foreign trips are interesting and rewarding experiences but this trip was exceptional in many respects. Peru is one of the most interesting of all Neotropical countries and I hope to return for a fourth visit sometime in the future.