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March 2000

by Kent Orlando

I just got back from a week vacation in Bermuda and I thought I would share some nature observations.

Located 650 miles east of North Carolina, Bermuda is maintained temperate by the Gulf Stream.  The Island is very small (21 miles long, 1-2 miles wide) and enjoys temperatures in the 60-70  range all winter becoming quite warm in the summer.  The water temperature dips to 65-70 in the winter but the extensive reefs contain quite a diversity of tropical marine fish.  I will save most of my comments for birds, but let me tell you that Bermuda is a great diving/snorkel destination.  I snorkeled almost everyday (I think the locals thought I was crazy because the water to them was cold, but for me I thought it was great, not like the numbing salt water swimming around here).  The reefs are never far from the beach and many fish, coral and invertebrates can be seen with mask and snorkel.  I had the opportunity to scuba dive on one of many shipwrecks and had a great time, visibility was excellent and many fish species were identified, including some only found in Bermuda.

Bermuda has surprisingly few resident bird species.  It reports several accidentals, brought in by storms including a Snowy Owl of all things, but most of the resident bird species were introduced by British settlers.  Resident birds (endemic and established introductions) include: Cardinals, Eastern Bluebird, White-eyed Vireo, Kiskadee, European Goldfinch, White-tailed Tropicbird, American Coot, Gray Catbird, Great Egret, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Ground Dove, Mourning Dove, Bermuda Petrel, House Sparrow, Starling, Herring Gull, Pigeon, Ruddy Turnstone, and Crow.

The White-eyed Vireo is considered a local race compared to its mainland counterpart.  The Cardinals and Bluebird were introduced a couple of hundred years ago for their bright plumage and song. The Kiskadee is a large boisterous and somewhat tame scavenger which was introduced in the 1950's to control lizards (which were also introduced).  These are striking birds which are almost like a kingfisher/shrike cross with lots of color (see page 301 of Peterson's Eastern Birds (1980)).  The Ground Dove looks like a stunted Mourning Dove, only about the size of a sparrow.

There were several White-tailed Tropicbirds courting each morning until noon which I was able to watch from my hotel balcony.  They chased each other off shore with one bird flying over the other and dragging its twinned tail feathers over the other bird, interesting to watch.  These birds are apparently very rare elsewhere, but common in Bermuda during the breeding season which begins in March.  They remind me more of Parrots than seabirds when they fly because of their long tail feathers.

The most common birds by far are the sparrows and Starlings.  The resident Bluebirds are maintained by the supply of many nest boxes placed mostly on golf courses which don't allow other birds to nest in them.  They are struggling due to competition for nest sites by the more aggressive introduced birds (sound familiar?).

I saw several Ruddy Turnstone (in winter plumage) on the beaches of Bermuda.  One bird took bread from my hand, and seemed quite tame.  Makes me wonder if this bird stays year round here, or migrates north?

The Bermuda Petrel is claimed to be one of the rarest birds in the world.  This is an endemic species, found no where else.  Thought to be extinct for 300 years it was rediscovered in 1951 and is strictly protected.

For me it was a great trip and I added several birds to my life list including Kiskadee, White-eyed Vireo, American Coot, Ground Dove, Great Egret, Ruddy Turnstone and Cardinal.  Its funny that the Cardinal and Coot are found throughout N.B., but I had to go to Bermuda to see them for the first time!

Kent Orlando

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