Happy Superb Owl Sunday, everyone! For me, it was last Sunday, when I went out to Jamaica Bay to look for Snowy Owls.
I was a little worried about finding any, even though they are reported daily there. It was foggy, with intermittent rain, and visibility wasn't great. But I went down the West Pond trail, straight out from the visitor center, and a little past where the breach from Hurricane Sandy was, I looked up in the trees and stopped dead in my tracks.
I hadn't expected an owl (a) roosting in a tree (b) so close to the trail. I figured I'd have to scan the mudflats through the fog.
Instead, here was an owl in pain sight in a tree not 50 feet off the trail. Easy!
Eventually, I continued down the trail...and 100 feet further on, another owl! In another tree right off the trail! This one was hanging out next to an old Osprey nest.
Both these owls continued giving great views to a bunch of people all day.
The West Pond, by the way, is really beginning to look good. There were a large number of ducks with a good variety of species. After the breach was filled in, it took a while to pump out the brackish water enough to make it attractive again to fresh-water species. It seems to be working, though.
The hotel we stayed at (Comfort Suites Paradide ISland) was also close to a little mall. (Let me take a moment here to recommend Anthony's Caribbean Bar & Grill. Delicious food and the prices are not bad for the Bahamas.) It was just a strip mall, but there were still birds in and around it. The White-Crowned Pigeon I spotted perched by the ScotiaBank was my 300th life bird.
not wary of people
The White-Crowned Pigeon is the national game bird of the Bahamas, so you'd think they'd be more wary of people; but no. Also, there's a huge statue of one on the road to the airport. I did not get a photo of that, but trust me, you want to see a ten-foot-tall pigeon.
The street trees on the road next to the mall had a variety of birds passing through them. I was most surprised by this Loggerhead Kingbird.
I spotted Yellow-Throated Warblers in those trees as well. They were also in the trees on the hotel property and near other buildings.
support your local Woodstar
The Bahama Woodstar hummingbird was quite widespread. This one was feeding on a tree at the hotel.
So, New Providence has Rock Pigeons, of course, and we've seen the native White-Crowned Pigeon and the exotic Pied-Imperial Pigeon; but also, there were Eurasian Collard-Doves everywhere. They were practically the first bird we saw when we arrived and sat down at the hotel bar for lunch.
Everywhere you went, there they were. It's a little surprising that they coexist with the Rock Pigeons, they seem to have adopted the exact same niche.
turnstone and trash
One of the features of the hotel was that guests can use the beaches at the Atlantis resort. We spent a pleasant afternoon there. The beach was fairly quiet--it was in the low 70s F, so maybe a little cool for many beachgoers--and there were some birds around. The best one was this lone Ruddy Turnstone who walked the beach like he owned it.
surf 'n' turnstone
Up here, we only see Turnstones at a great distance, huddled on the rocky shores of islands in the harbor or on the East River. It was quite shocking to have one just walk right up to us.
There were pigeons hanging out on the beach as well, and of course gulls. The Lesser Black-Backed Gulls were actually a life bird for me. Somehow I had never seen one in New York, although they are not unknown; in fact, I would say that was the most embarrassing hole on my life list.
gull and turnstone
There were other gulls on the beach as well, mostly Herring Gulls, occasionally trying to steal food from children. In fairness, the kids seemed to be deliberately teasing the birds. Mostly, though, they were just loafing. Like us.
One more species I want to mention is Palm Warbler, who were pretty common in urban-type settings, behaving like House Sparrows in the mall, around the hotel, and this one on a restaurant deck at the airport.
In the Bahamas, we stayed at the Comfort Suites on Paradise Island (following a recommendation by Corey Finger at 10000 Birds). Just down the road, less than a quarter-mile, is a birding hotspot, the Lakeview Drive Ponds, and we visited them several times during our stay.
Even before getting there, there were birds, like this cooperative young Green Heron by the roadside.
too young to know better
And the edge of a dirt parking lot held a few Common Ground-Doves, which were actually a life bird for me.
There are two ponds. The east pond is larger and a little wilder, and harder to find a good vantage point to. In one spot at the west end, you can sit on the roadside railing (or stand between it and the pond edge) and look east over the pond, though. The east pond is where the Least Grebes mostly stay (another lifer).
Least but not last
There was a mama grebe with a baby grebe peeping after her around sunset one day. Quite charming, though the light was too poor for photos.
Bahama Duck, yet another life bird
The west pond has a nice viewing platform, and is where the ducks mostly hang out. The exceptionally cute White-Cheeked Pintail (a.k.k Bahama Duck) was a real highlight.
Elena has decided these are the Best Duck.
Other waterbirds were also plentiful--a surprising number of White Ibis, one Glossy Ibis, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Common Gallinules, American Coot, a couple of stray Mallards that I'm assured are releases, Neotropic Cormorant...
About sunset, an Osprey flew in to roost, and we saw Merlins as well.
I'll be your Osprey this evening
The viewing platform makes the west pond a popular place to feed ducks. I watched one afternoon as six people (one couple and four individuals) came and fed mostly the resident domestic Muscovy Ducks over a half-hour period. These are very fat ducks. Oddly the Mallards didn't come close for feeding, though the Pintails and Coots did.
Common Gallinule not shy at all
Some of the other waterfowl were quite habituated as well; a couple of the Gallinules would come right up on the platform and mix with the Muscovys, one one of the Great Egrets liked to loaf there as well.
Notable among the landbirds was a fairly sizable flock of Boat-Tailed Grackles, which apparently are increasing numbers in New Providence recently. I took this photo just to document how many there were in one tree, but I kind of like how it came out.
North of the ponds, you can walk east along Casio Road to the Ocean Club. There were some nice birds hanging out in the vegetation on the north side of the road. Though I didn't find the Black-Faced Grassquits I was hoping for I did get amazing close looks at Smooth-Billed Anis foraging in the hedges.
Near the Ocean Club, I had my best view (and only half-decent photo) of a Red-Legged Thrush. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed by these thrushes; for some reason I thought they were bold and easily seen like Robins. Oh well. Very pretty, though.
got to be good-lookin' 'cause you're so hard to see
I'm going to do one more post about the Bahamas soon. Fair warning!
Elena and I went to the Bahamas in December. It was my first time there. We had a great time relaxing on the beach and all, and we also took some time for birding.
We were in New Providence (that's the island with Nassau), and we hired a local guide for a day of birding. Some online research led us to Carolyn Wardle of Bahamas Outdoors, and she was just great.
We started at eight in the morning, hitting Montague Foreshore at low tide, where we saw some nice shorebirds including the very confiding Ruddy Turnstone above and the nice Black-Bellied Plover below, and then set about hitting our target species list (which we got using the Target Species feature of eBird).
First we stopped in a residential neighborhood and found Pied Imperial-Pigeons.
It seems that a lot of people in the Nassau suburbs have aviaries, and kept these quite elegant pigeons, and some of them... well, escaped, and set up housekeeping on their own. So now if you drive through this one neighborhood, you can spot these big white pigeons up in the trees.
Nearby, we stopped outside somebody's backyard and saw Bahama Woodstars (the endemic hummingbird of the Bahamas), Smooth-Billed Anis, wintering Prairie Warblers, and Common Ground-Doves. This is the kind of thing that makes it worthwhile to have a local guide--we'd never have gone through the neighborhood on our own, much less stopped at this productive spot.
Then it was off to the Retreat Garden National Park. The Retreat is a small park that used to be the estate of a wealthy couple who willed it to the Bahamas National Trust. They had a famous collection of palm trees, and the whole grounds is great bird habitat. We started finding birds right in the parking lot, where a Cuban Pewee (Crescent-Eyed Pewee) was hanging out. IT's apparently his spot, which is another thing we'd never have guessed by ourselves.
Moving through the gardens, we lot a lot of species, many of them Bahama specialties. There were more Woodstars (and Bananaquits who took advantage of the hummingbird feeders as well). We saw Red-Legged Thrush and Loggerhead Kingbirds (who didn't give us a good photo opportunity) and Le Sagra's Flycatcher (who did).
We also good great close-up looks at a very cooperative Thick-Billed Vireo.
I mean, really close looks.
Next, we headed for a youth camp in a semi-rural area, but on the way we stopped in front of a church along a major commercial street. A shop next door had bird feeders, and there, mixed with the House Sparrows...
...were Cuban Grassquits. These pretty little birds were introduced as cage birds, and escapees made their way as streetbirds quite well.
The native Black-Faced Grassquits are much shyer of people; and in fact, we never caught up with one.
By the time we got to the youth camp (also not a place we'd have found on our own), it was getting into the mid-afternoon and bird activity had slowed down. We saw more Vireos, heard a Hairy Woodpecker, and got some excellent views of Loggerhead Kingbirds.
Later, in a pretty stretch of pine-and-palm forest that had been a pine plantation, we got another fine look at a Cuban Pewee.
Our final stop was Hobby Horse Pond, a wetlands trail maintained by the huge Baha Mar resort. There were some more wintering warblers, and a great look at a pair of Smooth-Billed Anis.