by Ram Nambiar
I was waiting for a chance to get to a warmer sun. Nassau, Bahamas was finally that destination. 73 degrees and cool breeze along the sands of Cable Beach. Not bad.
It was a short 5 days group (not birders, but people who were longing for sun tan) get away from Toronto to the island. Since I was born with a tan, my main interest was to see for the first time the islands' indigenous birds such as the Greater 'American' Flammingo, the national Bird of the Bahamas, the Bahama Duck,the White Crowned Pigeon, the Bahama Parrot. Some of them were heavily hunted in the past and are in the endangered list now, I was told. I didn't get to see them in the wild state due to too short a period and to some extent lack of information on these birds' frequenting areas in the island. Nonetheless, the trip was somewhat productive.
The first passerine I came across there was the Bahama Mockingbird (Mimus gundlachii). Slightly larger than our Northern,the Bahama cousin is a rather brownish grey above compared to the whitish grey. Its alert call helped me to trace and spot the bird on a tree behind the Nassau Beach Hotel where we stayed. Though a Mimidae member, James Bond, who made extensive studies on this species in the West Indies had reported that the Bahamian is incable of imitating other birds' songs. Later I spotted its mate also among the shrubs seemingly working towards a home to breed.
While walking through the beach one early morning I saw several Sanderlings running on the perifery of advancing and retreating waves. They were after the marine creatures on the cut leaves and algae that were being washed ashore. Unlike the ones we we see in summer these characters had a thick greyish band patch on the neck.
I went to Ardastra Garden located just south of the West Bay Street on Chippingham Rd.. The garden is a mixture of Cassurinas, shrubs and many tall flowering trees including the introduced Breadfruit, a small forest so to speak and thus a haven for wintering birds from north.I saw some of our familiar North American songbirds.
I was very excited at the sighting of several colorful warblers on higher branches. I saw the male American Redstart in its full black and orange-red plumage,the orange patched tail spread like a fan. Among the green leaves this nervously moving warbler was a pleasure to watch. I was under the impression that the males of most Oporornis and the Wood that go south in winter remain in their dull plumage until the high flow of testasteron and moulting in spring transform them into something spectacular. I saw the female Baltimore. I couldn't identify several others due to their coming and going in a flash. But they appeared more or less familiar to me.
Two species of thrushes were seen on the scattered dry leaves stopping and tilting the heads as though to listen before picking up something from the floor. One was the Red-legged Thrush, a Bahamian, and the other the Hermit. The latter slowly raised its brown tail. I saw another one with the throat heavily streaked reddish throat and uttering notes. I guessed it was the Fieldfare.It didn't stay long enough.
Ardastra's Pond had many of our common dabbling ducks, the Blue-winged, A.Widegeon, the Wood and a special one the White-cheeked Pintail,all taking rest on the shore with their bills tucked into the wings. A short-eared Owl and a Red-tailed Hawk that are victims of gun shot wounds are cared for and fed by the Garden officials. Some rare species of birds are bred in the Garden to be freed in the wild later.
Next day I visited Bahamas National Trust, a 11 acres wooded area, few miles south East of down town Nassau but just soth of the Shirley Street. Here, at Pergola Lawn my wife and I met a fellow Chatter, -Frank Bule and his wife. Forgive me if I spelled his last name wrongly. We had a short chat
While Frank and I were talking, a female Bahama Woodstar appeared from nowhere as close as 2' from us. With its speedy wingbeats it hoverd in front of a tubular flower before sending the bill. It came back again and again not a bit afraid of us. From my judgement it's size couldn't have been any larger than the smallest finger of mine. A slightly larger green-backed we saw later in the vicinity must have been a female Cuban Emerald. Another beautiful blossom prober but an Emberizid which could easily be mistaken for one of the Oporornis except for its bill is none other than the Bananaquit(Coerebs flaveola).
On the Coppice Path of the National Trust was a Palm Wabler on the ground which frequently wagged its tail. I had the regional Checklist of birds. In that they showed several species of our northern warblers including the Kirtland's, Blackburnians, Canada and others. I saw many yellow bellied warblers on high branches. Sadly though, I couldn't identify any one of them. Too fast for my binocular to foccus on them.
The final day was spent in two other Islands -- Paradise, and Blue Lagoon. Both were by Ferry. Blue Lagoon East Boat docking area on the tidal sandflat had a mixed species of gulls both adults and immature all in a group.They were the Ring-billed, the Bonoparte's,the Herring and the Black-backed.
On the other side of the East Lagoon facing the Ocean where the coastal shallow waters have corals a lone Solitary Sandpiper was seen standing on the rock and it started bobbing its head when my binocular was pointed in its direction. Not too far from this spot on another rock landed a pair of Oystercatchers to probe into the coral. One had more black on the long bill except the base where it was red. Could it be an imature?
The smallest dove I ever came across in my life perhaps was in this Blue Lagoon Island. Although they call this light pinkish Columbid, -the Common Ground-dove, I saw only one walking on the sand probably to pick up the bread pieces left by people. Speaking of small, I saw a race of Slate colored Junco, no white at all on the lower parts but fully slate gray. It was much smaller than the one we see in Toronto. Both mandibles moving and head turned skywards it kept on singing in a sudued voice from its perch on the stem of a small plant. It was not at all bothered by my presence couple of feet away. Time was up. Everyone had to leave the Lagoon by 4 pm. We took the Ferry Back to Nassau down town and bus to our hotel.