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BAHAMAS -- Grand Bahama Island

June 1995

by Jeff Pippen

Last week my wife (Anne) and I spent several days in Southern Florida and on Grand Bahama Island, where I managed to sneak a few hours of birding in here and there.  This post will be a trip report for Grand Bahama Isl. and I'll post a separate FL trip report soon.

Early Friday morning, 9 June 95, we boarded the Discovery 1 cruise ship at Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale.  About 6 hours later we docked in the harbor at Freeport on Grand Bahama.  While waiting for the ship to be cleared, we saw LAUGHING GULLS and a GREEN HERON fly by.  After walking through customs we crammed 8 people into a taxi and rode to the Bahama Princess Hotel.  In the Bahamas the taxi drivers usually wait until the taxi is fuller than you think possible before leaving.  They use bungi cords and ropes to "close" the trunk around all the luggage!  The advantage is that this keeps the cost per person to a minimum ($3 ea. from docks to hotel).

After checking in we did a little shopping at the International Bazaare (a famous shopping district located next to the hotel casino) and the Bahamian "straw market" (an arts & crafts market where locals sell their mostly hand-made products -- famous for straw hats, baskets, placemats, etc.)  Of course t-shirt shops are almost ubiquitous and one can usually bargain them down to 4 or even 5 for $10.

What was left of the afternoon was spent lounging around the pool and birding the hotel grounds:

Rock Dove -- numerous
White-crowned Pigeon -- quite actively building a nest in one of the palms over the pool
Red-legged Thrush -- fairly common and vocal in landscaped hedges, trees, and lawn
Stripe-headed Tanager -- in trees near the hotel tennis courts, singing a long drawn out variable series of warbles and trills
European Starling -- flybys
Northern Mockingbird -- abundant

Taxis are rather expensive for just one person, but I made arrangements for one to meet me at 7am the next morning (10 June 95) to take me to The Garden of Groves across town, drop me off, and pick me up again at 11am to bring me back to the hotel.  I actually didn't bird inside the Garden, but rather I birded the adjacent abandoned golf course and some of the nearby roads through the pineland and coppice.  Much of Grand Bahama Island is composed of pinelands with fairly low, dense understory of palmetto and scrub vegetation called coppice.  Fortunately this is where most of the desired birds occur, and there are plenty of little traveled roads which are easy to walk along and bird:

Turkey Vulture -- 4 or 5 perched and soaring
White-crowned Pigeon -- saw several fly by singly or in pairs
Rock Dove -- several
Common Ground-Dove -- several
Eurasion Collared Dove -- a few on wires driving through city and in parking lot
Smooth-billed Ani -- 5 birds calling, a deliberate rising "weeeik", from a hedge at the golf course
Cuban Emerald -- several, nectaring on many flowering shrubs at golf course and in pinelands
Hairy Woodpecker -- 2 in pinelands
Gray Kingbird -- several in golf course, pinelands, parking lots
La Sagra's Flycatcher -- 1 bird, uttering a "wheet", in pinelands, looked like a washed out Myiarchus with a hint of rufous in primaries and retrices
Bahama Swallow -- 2 birds flew over golf course
Red-legged Thrush -- several along roadside, golfcourse, etc.
Northern Mockingbird -- abundant everywhere!
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher -- a vocal couple in the pinelands
Thick-billed Vireo -- several in hedges on golf course, song is similar to White-eyed Vireo
Black-whiskered Vireo -- several singing in coppice and golf course hedges
Bahama Yellowthroat -- heard about 7 or 8 before finally getting a cooperative one to repond to pishing and give me a show!
Olive-capped Warbler -- adult and immature, which had fledged and was foraging on its own along pine branches.  Every couple of minutes the adult would come along and give a morsel to the immature.  The immature reminded me of young Pine Warblers which are about as drab as warblers come, showing no color and very little pattern whatsoever.
Stripe-headed Tanager -- several, mostly male -- oh darn    ;-)
Bananaquit -- several
Greater Antillean Bullfinch -- common along roadside coppice
Black-faced Grassquit -- I nearly stepped on these they were so tame and common along the roadside!
Red-winged Blackbird -- a pair in the shrubbery next to the water hole at the golf couse
House Sparrow -- around parking lot

Butterflies seen included Tropical Buckeye, Barred Yellow, Jamaican Sulphur, Julia, White Peacock, Gulf Fritillary, Doriantes Skipper, and a blue which looked most like a Marine Blue.  Does anyone know if they occur in the Bahamas?

That afternoon Anne and I took an organized city tour ($16 ea.; about 3.5 hours) which had 10 - 40 minute stops at a beach, The Garden of Groves, downtown, and duty-free liquor store.  Avian highlights of this tour included 4 ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS over the downtown shopping area parking lot and a couple of ZANAIDA DOVES on the grass in front of the chapel in the Garden of Groves.  The Garden was otherwise was NOT a good place to bird in the heat of the afternoon, but it was an fun place to poke around for plants, butterflies, history and scenery.  Oh, there were some ratty looking Muscovy and Mallards on the pond in the Garden!

About midnight that night we walked across the street from our hotel to get a nighttime photo and heard several (4-5) CHUCK WILL'S WIDOWS calling from the pinelands/coppice all around us.  Both the Brudenelle-Bruce and the Bond field guides indicate that the latest date ever recorded for Chuck in the Bahamas is 15 May.  Is this a significant find or is that data just old?

Sunday morning I birded the pinelands/coppice within walking distance from the hotel from 6:30 to 8:30am.  I only added one species (Greater Antillean Pewee) but saw quite a few good birds.  Here's the list for the 2 hr. period:  ROCK DOVE, WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON, MOURNING DOVE, EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE, COMMON GROUND-DOVE, CUBAN EMERALD, HAIRY WOODPECKER, GRAY KINGBIRD, GREATER ANTILLEAN PEWEE, LA SAGRA'S FLYCATCHER, BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER, RED-LEGGED THRUSH, NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD, THICK-BILLED and BLACK-WHISKERED VIREOS, BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT, STRIPE-HEADED TANAGER, and HOUSE SPARROW.

We had a great time on Grand Bahama Isl. and saw quite a few birds in only about 7 hours of birding.  My biggest disappointments were not finding Bahama Woodstar, Bahama Mockingbird, or Loggerhead Kingbird, although I've heard that all are (or are becoming) pretty scarce.  Also I didn't really expect to see Key West Quail-Doves because those are rare and hard to find, and I knew I wouldn't have time to go to the right places.  I guess that means I have a few reasons to go back!

Jeff Pippen                                Duke University Botany Dept.                    Durham, NC  27708

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