11 - 12 January 1998
by Michael Houle
I enjoyed two half days birding in St. Croix. Thought you might like to hear of some nice midwinter sightings.
It is -7 F in La Crosse, Wisconsin, with a bitter wind carrying a chill which seems as though it was -40 F and I am watching the striking Bananaquit, Magnificent Frigate Bird, Royal Tern, Black-faced Grassquit eating grass seed of course, Common Moorhen, Smooth-billed Ani, White-cheeked Pintail, Brown Pelican, Green-throated Carib hummingbird, Scaly-naped Pigeon, Gray Kingbird and many other regulars.
No, I am not dreaming. It is 85 F and I have joined these and many of our regular fine feathered friends in St. Croix of the US Virgin Island. It is so neat, and a great educational opportunity to see several of the Little Blue Heron in the immature, blue and white phase and the Snow Egret, adult and immature, to study up close and personal. They may be found in the salt pond at Cheney Bay Resort with Great Blue Heron and Great Egret.
I have worked every day, but I get my bird fix at dawn's early light and as dusk slams out the day's brilliant sunshine in its unique manner on this very special Island. Other favorites such as the Osprey, Kestrel, Pearly-eyed Thrush, Bananaquit, Grassquit, Cattle Egret, Zneida Dove, the tiny Ground Dove are very, very common, and are seen all day, every day. I am beginning to wonder if I really miss shoveling the snow!
I grew quit fond of the Yellow Warbler as they nested in our back yard in La Crosse the past several years and it is a special treat to see them here daily in brilliant color. They are suckers for pisching and come right out to see you. The Aestiva form is prevalent here with the very red head and other markings. The Yellow Warblers and the Northern Waterthrush respond to pisching, in big numbers in these brackish mangrove swamps. The Warblers, Waterthrush and hummingbirds, however, do require more time to seek, listen and observe.
Tonight I went to the Great Salt Pond on the south side where I could see a mud flat in the brackish water mangrove swamp about the size of a small back yard. The Great Salt Pond is several hundred acres, but requires some courage to try to get to the big water. In the small mud flat I was fortunate to see Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellow Legs, Ruddy Turnstone, Whimbrel (lifer) clearly seen in full setting sunlight, Black-bellied Plover (lifer) in winter plumage, Ruddy Turnstone in winter plumage, Black-necked Stilt, even Killdeer, all at the same time, often two or three in the same scope view. This is all at 30 to 60 yards with a nice binocular and a 20x to 60x window mounted Super 80 spotting scope. What an education for a novice birder.
This is a report on my second free half day on St. Croix, USVI. I went directly to the Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge (open Sat & Sun only). I saw all the birds I reported last week in large numbers. At Sandy Point I saw an all dark gull/cormorant like bird. It finally sailed past me and I had seen my first Booby, an immature Brown Booby. I looked in the books a long while before I was certain of the ID. Later I saw a mature adult, and still later, at the pier in Downtown Fredrickstad I saw 11 more on an isolated mooring pier about 30 yards from the main pier. What a wonderful suprise at 3pm on a Sunday.
From there I went into the Rain Forest, Hy 58, and stopped at many sites. What a wonderful tropical canopy along this narrow road. I was quite pleased to see numerous Perly-eyed Thrashers in the thick tree tops and at the small trickle of water along the road.
I pulled into the only clearing along the mountain road, looked for birds, and was rewarded with an Antillean Mango, a beautiful hummingbird. Another lifer. I had seen it the previous week but did not know it was a lifer. I saw it fly and land on a vine and was able to examine it for twenty minutes. What a scene in a small opening in a very thick rain forest.
I traveled another 1/4 mile and stopped at an opening in a hillside which looked up on a tangle of vines with a brilliant, blaze orange daisy like flower on a creeping vine which covered the valley opening. A single, tall Kapok tree towered above the vines and there, on a small branch, high in the Kapok tree, was an Antillean Crested Hummingbird. Another lifer. I was so happy to be out, in the rain forest, just smelling the rotting vegetation at the floor of this jungle. The two lifer hummingbirds were a dream treat.
At the West End Great Salt Pond I was looking for anything, often being fooled by the bleached white mangrove roots. Then I saw what looked liked arrowroot type plants in one small shady spot on the opposite mangrove covered shore. But wow, they were all Black-necked Stilt, standing in the shade, motionless in the heat of the day. I looked more closely, and behind the Stilt was a small flock of Greater Yellowlegs, also sleeping in the shade. Between the 45 stilt and 25 Yellowlegs (actually fifty legs) they still looked like vegetation.
It's a great time to be alive enjoying fossils, fins, feathers, flight, ferns, flora, forests, fauna, fur, friends, fun, faith & family!
La Crosse Wi
One mile n of the Mississippi RM 698 on an Island in the Black River, home once again shoveling snow.