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22-24 November 2006

by Craig Faanes

Although Bermuda is high on the list of “gotta get to” places for the rich and famous, it’s not really that much of a stopover area for bird watchers.  The reason is simple.  Other than the Bermuda Petrel (Cahow), there is not much reason for anyone interested in birds to travel there. Yet, for someone with wanderlust and an incurable affliction for islands, Bermuda is an understandable place to want to spend a few days.

Being a firm believer that the Pilgrims actually ate much more fish than fowl on the first Thanksgiving, I’ve tried often to be on an island on Turkey Day in the United States.  This year it was Bermuda which was the 206th oceanic island I have stepped foot on, the 98th country I have visited, and the 506th airport that I have landed at or taken off from... 

I have checked into traveling to Bermuda for several years, in part because it was one of only three countries in the Western Hemisphere that I had not visited (Suriname and French Guiana are the other two – and they are next), but in most instances the airfare was ridiculously expensive.  Why spend $500 or more for a two hour flight after I spent $520 to fly halfway around the world last February to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates?  Decisions, decisions.

However, and surprisingly, US Airways offered a $99 each way fare to Bermuda for travel outbound the day before Thanksgiving and returning the day after.  That amount of time, I surmised, was just about right for getting a feel for the island and maybe, with luck, seeing a Cahow.

November 22

US Airways’ daily nonstop from Washington National airport (never EVER call it Reagan National) blasted off at about 5:30 pm this evening.  The weather was nasty. The air temperature was 37 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s about 3 degrees C), there was a biting northwest wind gusting to 40 mph, and it was spitting a combination of rain and sleet.  It was more like a normal June day in North Dakota than Turkey Day in Washington.  Hanging out in the departure area, I was looked at by many folks leaving for La Guardia and Boston like I was nuts.  I was the only person there wearing shorts while the weather outside was nasty.  Oh well. 

I had been upgraded to First Class for the flight (helps to have elite status on US Airways and Northwest Airlines I’ve learned) and was told by the gate agent that “there’s a meal in First Class.”  “A meal” in the view of US Airways is little packets of roasted almonds.  At least the wine was free.

Enroute to Bermuda we passed through one hell of a wicked storm, getting bounced around and jostled for most of the 2 hour ride.  At a couple of times the flight attendants had to take their seats and stop serving wine because it was so bumpy.  However, a few minutes outside of Bermuda the weather chilled out.  Stars began popping out as we began our approach for a landing to the east at the Bermuda airport.

We were only about 15 minutes late (on time for Bahamasair) when we taxied to the terminal and were let loose into the Bermudian night.  I was the first one off the plane and the first to enjoy the 75 degree temperature and 90 percent humidity that immediately fogged my glasses. Unlike the song line in Jimmy Buffett’s new smash hit (and the title of the album), “Take the Weather With You”, I didn’t.  Clearing Immigration and Customs was a breeze.  As with most places I travel the Customs agent had to ask and be re-assured twice that all I was bringing into the country was my day pack. 

“How long are you here for and what is your purpose?” the Customs agent asked.

“Three days, two nights, and I’m looking for birds,” I answered.

“Feathered birds or the other kind?”

“Feathered, but if I see a naked other kind of bird I won’t complain,” I said.

The agent, a female, burst out laughing and welcomed me to her country.

The first thing I noticed about the airport and Bermuda for that matter was how absolutely spotless the place is.  One common misperception about Bermuda is that it’s in the Caribbean.  Its not!  Its about 1,000 miles north of the nearest Caribbean island (and, no, the Bahamas aren’t in the Caribbean either!).  A check of Google Earth will reveal that Bermuda is at about the same latitude as Wilmington, North Carolina.  In fact, the airport terminal sits at about 32 degrees 21 minutes North latitude and 64 degrees 42 minutes West longitude.  That, as Buffett once sang about Paris is “a mighty long airplane ride” to the Caribbean, mon.

Regardless, I’ve been in more than my share of West Indian airports and hung out on 65 West Indian islands, and none of them are as clean and spiffy as Bermuda. 

Walking out of Customs I met Andrew, a rather jolly Bermudian taxi driver who took me to my hotel, the Grotto Bay Beach Resort.  It was an extremely nice place to hang out, with its own beach area, freshwater swimming pool, and, logistically important, set at a bus stop along the number 3, 10, and 11 routes from St. George’s to Hamilton. 

“You will love it here on Bermuda, sir” Andrew told me.  “We are the most loving and friendly people in the Atlantic.”   At least he was honest and didn’t try telling me I was in the Caribbean, mon.

The Grotto Bay Resort was closer to the airport than I originally thought; just a 1.2 mile ride. Still, in what would turn out to be Bermudian fashion, the 1.2 mile ride cost me $8.00.  Only a 2 mile ride that cost the equivalent of $20 US in Norway was more expensive.  This was my introduction into how expensive it can be on Bermuda.

I checked in at the Grotto Bay (cheap, by Bermudian standards, at $200 a night including taxes and gratuity).  It was now 9:15 pm Bermuda time (1 hour ahead of the US East coast in winter; same time in summer when we are on Daylight Savings) and the bag of roasted almonds for “dinner” on US Airways wasn’t setting too well so I asked the person at check in if the restaurant was open.

“Sorry, it’s about to close.” 

At 9:00 pm?  These folks have obviously never been in Spain or Argentina!

Although it was about to close, she called the restaurant and was told they would stay open for me.  Instead of dropping my stuff in my room, I went directly to the restaurant where three couples were still noshing away and sipping wine.

My second Bermudian shock happened when I opened the menu and looked at the prices.  You’d think that a country that is surrounded on all four sides by ocean would have cheap seafood.  Guess again.  The cheapest thing on the menu (and most important) was beer.  At $7.00 a bottle, or $12.00 a pint.  At least they have their priorities straight.

Jimmy Buffett once said that you should never eat seafood if you can’t see the ocean.  I wasn’t sure if he meant that you should only eat seafood during the day when the ocean was visible, but not wanting to upset the master because it was after dark, I opted for an 8 inch pepperoni pizza that I wolfed down when it finally arrived.  Then came the check.  $37.00 for a microscopic pizza, a pint of Bass Ale, and the automatic gratuity.  Apparently the gratuity I paid with my room rate didn’t apply in the restaurant.

After my “dinner” I walked to the Paget Lodge building of the Grotto Bay Resort and found room 816.  I was surprised as I walked along to hear the tree frog called Coqui on Puerto Rico and other West Indian islands singing away in the darkness.  Unless they were introduced to the island, these must be fantastic swimmers to have made it across 1000 miles of open ocean from Hispaniola or Puerto Rico to arrive here. 

November 23

Happy Turkey Day.  I was up at 6:15 and ready to bolt out the door by 6:30 to look for birds but I hadn’t factored in that sunrise wasn’t until about 7:00 or so, plus this is an island where things run on island time.  Instead of racking up a huge list, I stood on my balcony and looked out over the bay and the causeway to the airport.  Nothing moved and nothing sang. Nothing.  Finally a medium sized bird came flopping along over the ocean and I added American Crow as my first Bermudian bird.

Watching the Crow I had to wonder about its origin.  Fish Crow’s are much more common along the immediate coast of the eastern United States than are American Crows.  Yet, there are only records for American Crow on the island.  Another ornithological mystery for someone who really wonders about that stuff to figure out.

Not long after the onslaught of Crows I was greeted with the familiar “kiss-ka-deeee” call of Great Kiskadee.  Introduced onto Bermuda from Trinidad in 1957, its original purpose was to eat some gecko or anole or something that was all over the place on Bermuda.  As with most other introductions, it didn’t work. The Great Kiskadee’s didn’t eat what they were told to eat, and instead they went about rapidly filling a niche that was wide open for them to exploit.  Almost 50 years after its initial release on Bermuda, Great Kiskadee has to be one of the three most common birds there (the others, also introduced, are European Goldfinch, and the interminable Eurasian Starling).  After two days on Bermuda, I’m convinced that if you don’t see a Great Kiskadee while there you never left your hotel room.

As the Kiskadee’s continued their morning serenade from the top of every exposed branch for miles around, the Gray Catbirds started to crank up from deep in the undergrowth of the coppice.  Along with their meowing came a few odd warbler voices including Yellow-rumped.  I had been on Grand Bahama island a month before coming to Bermuda and while there I was surprised by the number of Yellow-rumped Warblers on that island and at such an “early” date.  The same held for these on Bermuda.  The familiar “witch-chew-witch-chew-witch” call of a Northern Cardinal soon drowned out the call notes of the Warblers.

Breakfast (not included in the room rate) was an “all-you-can-eat” buffet in the breakfast room of the hotel.  Its price, after the gratuity is automatically added, was $20.20.  For that amount I had an omelet, a slice of bacon, a thing of yogurt and a glass of orange juice. I could have opted for the less expensive “continental breakfast” at $18.00 but I thought I’d live like a Repugnican and go for the most expensive option.

Getting around on Bermuda is quite simple.  Although there are no rental cars (that would be “hire cars” in British) you can dash all over the place on a very efficient bus system.  To use the bus, you need to purchase tokens or transportation passes. No money of any form is allowed to be used on the buses.  You can purchase transportation passes on a 1, 3, 5 or 7 day basis (also monthly but I cant imagine anyone other than Bill Gates or some Repugnican member of Congress trying to escape a Grand Jury being able to afford a month on Bermuda).  The passes allow you unlimited travel on the bus system and on the ferries for the amount of time you purchased.  Most hotels sell transportation passes.  I purchased a 1-day pass for $12.00.  A three day pass was $28 and I think a 7 day pass was $45. 

With my transportation pass in hand, and a very precise lesson from the person in the hotel on how to use the bus system, I trundled out to the main road and waited for the number 3 bus to Hamilton to come along.  While I waited, an entire regiment of Bermudian school children walked up to the bus stop and waited with me. Each of them was decked out in their finest school uniforms and, unlike so many American kids, these little folks were extremely well behaved (and not ONCE did I hear one say “like” as a filler as 99 percent of American kids and adults lazily use it).

When the number 3 bus came to the stop I asked if I could be dropped off at the Spittal Pond National Park because I didn’t know where that was located.  The bus driver told me “I’ll be happy to show it to you, mon.”

Spittal Pond N.P. is the premier site among all the Nature Reserves on Bermuda – all 65 acres of it.  However given the density of humans living on the island, the Bermuda government should be commended for being able to eek out even 65 acres in one chunk to preserve.

Spittal Pond is also, apparently, a RAMSAR wetland.

Its inclusion as a RAMSAR wetland of “international significance” again brings into question the validity of and importance of a RAMSAR designation.  I once thought this was reserved for really spectacular wetlands – places like the Platte River in Nebraska.  Instead it’s apparently used for political more than biological purposes.  For instance, Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota is a cattail-choked artificial impoundment on the James River.  Several years ago it was nominated for a RAMSAR designation and despite it not being the least bit internationally important, the former Majority Leader of the Senate was from South Dakota and he wrote a letter of support for the designation and voila, it was internationally important.  Then there’s the Werribee Sewage Treatment facility that handles all of the flushing from the city of Melbourne, Australia.  It too is a RAMSAR wetland.  Granted when I was at Werribee there were tons of birds of many species using the artificial excrement filters, but designating a sewage lagoon as something of international importance??  The same holds for Spittal Pond.  It’s the only non-tidal wetland on the island and while I was there I saw a pair of Blue-winged Teal, 7 American Coots, 1 Common Moorhen, and a Lesser Yellowlegs on or in the wetland. That was it.  Yet it deserves the designation of being Internationally significant?? I think not.

I entered Spittal Pond at the east entrance and followed the obvious trail down the hill and toward the ocean. The first birds I encountered were flock after flock of European Goldfinch., and behind them in abundance were Eurasian Starlings.  Eventually I found an American Redstart (male) hawking insects in the underbrush, while the ever-present Great Kiskadee sang from dead snags.  One Ovenbird and a male Indigo Bunting put in appearances, as did a strikingly bright male Black-and-white Warbler.

As I moved toward the ocean I found a small secluded wetland adjacent to Spittal Pond where the only Yellow-crowned Night-Heron of the trip was snoozing away in the undergrowth.  Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was introduced to the island in the 1970s as a way to control land crabs (I never knew that land crabs were an issue).

I continued my leisurely stroll through the woods of Spittal Pond and when I reached another patch of woods decided to see if I could scare up the Bermuda race of White-eyed Vireo.  Wikipedia has this to say about his endemic subspecies

•    A subspecies, V. g. bermudianus, is endemic to Bermuda. This has shorter wings and a duller plumage. Along with other endemic and native Bermudian birds, it was threatened with extinction following the loss of 8 million Bermuda cedar trees in the 1940s, and is now quite rare.

An old friend, Danny Bystrak, once taught me that the mnemonic for White-eyed Vireo’s voice was “Chick-pizza-wheel-CHICK” so I stood there saying those words in a sort of “spishing” manner and within seconds I got a response.  As I kept calling, the Vireo kept coming in closer until it was probably less than 5 feet from me, trying his damndest find this male White-eyed Vireo who had the audacity to enter his territory.  He had no luck other than to find an ugly human male who couldn’t possibly sing his song. So the Vireo kept looking.  The one thing that surprised me about this race of the bird was how much it resembled a Thick-billed Vireo from the Bahamas. 

From the second ocean overlook until you reach the farm at the west end the Natoinal Park you walk through some thick forest that held only one calling Gray Catbird.  Just as I was approaching the farm, I met a woman who was walking her two dogs (she was walking them instead of the normal other way around).  She became extremely apologetic when she saw me asking if I “would be offended’ that her dogs were off their leash.  It didn’t matter to me and I wondered why she was so paranoid.  When I reached the west end of the Park I saw a rather large sign with rules for park visitors.  One of the rules was that “all dogs must be on a leash at all times.”  That explained it.

At the verge of the farm at the west end of the Park (where I hoped to find a Cattle Egret but didn’t) I saw a group of Eurasian Starlings blast into the air from the top of a leafless shrub.  This seemed like normal flighty Starling behavior until I heard a loud “smack,” and watched as a Merlin decapitated the one starling that didn’t flush with the others.  Eugenics is truly a beautiful thing to watch.

I turned around at this point and and followed my path back to the east entrance.  At the point where I first saw the pond, I watched the same pair of Blue-winged Teal paddling around the wetland being teals.  Suddenly both of them dove under the water (something I’ve never seen a Blue-winged Teal do before) and as they did an adult Peregrine Falcon screamed by where they were once sitting.  You could almost hear the Falcon saying “damn it” as he banked out of his stoop and swung around to line up for another assault. And he did as soon as the first duck stuck its head up out of the water.  Almost immediately the Falcon stooped again on the Teal.  This duck had obviously played this game with a Falcon before because it wasn’t about to become a mid-morning snack. It dove as the Falcon swooped in and this time didn’t resurface until it was on the far side of the wetland. 

The Falcon gave up after two unsuccessful attempts and flew off somewhere to sulk.  I waited a few minutes and watched as the pair of ducks quietly reconnected at a small point of vegetation near where the initial assault occurred.

I sat at the ocean overlook for a few minutes working on my tan and hoping that something, anything, would fly by.  It never did. Instead I just watched the ocean slip  past me. As I watched the featureless surface of the ocean, I thought back to a time in college when our Biome Biology class took a trip to the Florida Panhandle (the old Redneck Riviera) and the Florida Keys one spring break.  At the conclusion of the trip the students were required to give a slide presentation to describe their activities while in Florida (well, those you could describe in a public forum that is).  One of the students, Marynell Redmann, gave a very interesting description of the project she and her husband Jack worked on.  It had something to do with a community of beach organisms somewhere along the Redneck Riviera.  As she droned on describing her project, she flashed up on the screen a picture of a languid ocean, the horizon, and the sky above it.  That was it.  Water and air. Nothing more.  Her commentary accompanying the slide was simple. She said “and this is where we saw the shark.”

I didn’t see any sharks from this overlook, but the scene in front of me mimiced almost exactly the shark habitat that Ms Redmann showed us in her slide 34 years earlier.

Although I saw nothing on the ocean I was able to hear a rucous being caused by a large group of American Crow’s who seemed to be bent out of shape about something. Turning around to find them I saw maybe 7 or 8 Crows mobbing an Osprey who was out for a leisurely post fish breakfast lap around the south coast of the island.  The Crows were relentless in their harassment of the Osprey.  The Osprey on the other hand could have cared less.  He flew around with the Crows on his tail, burping and belching fish while the Blue-winged Teal, still scared half to death on the pond beneath them were wondering “where in hell were you Crows when you could have really been useful about 5 minutes ago?”

I got back to the Spittal Pond bus stop at almost the same instant that the bus arrived on its journey from Hamilton to Grotto Bay.  There were several other tourists on the bus that was driven by a rather jolly man who loved to tell stories.  At one point in the journey the bus passed through a rather large golf course that was smothered with people playing barnyard pool.  As we passed one point the driver said “the funniest thing that ever happened to me while driving a bus happened right here.”  And he pointed out the window at the golf course.  

“It was one morning about this time of year and I came through here in my bus.  As I got close to this green, I saw a woman take a swing with her club and watched the golf ball sail into the air.  It was moving really fast and coming right at me.  I slowed down so I wouldn’t get hit.  Both of my windows where down, and I’ll be damned if that ball didn’t come right in this window here, fly in front of my face, and go out that window there, and then roll on toward the hole.  It was the funniest damned thing I’ve ever seen driving this bus.”

St. George’s, Bermuda, prides itself on being the 5th oldest European settlement in the Western Hemisphere.     It would actually be the sixth oldest settlement if anyone would ever recognize the little settlement on the north coast of Newfoundland that my Viking ancestors established long before those carpetbagging Brits came over here and led everyone to believe they got here first.

I ate a lunch of fish and chips, washed down with a pint of Bass Ale at the rather cool White Horse Pub in St. George’s.  The Lonely Planet Guide to Bermuda says there is better food to be had in St. Georges, but you cant beat the White Horse Pub for location.  The House Sparrows that hopped all over my table waiting for me to drop a scrap of food couldn’t have agreed more.  My lunch cost only $25.00 but that’s with the tip.  My only complaint was that the fish and chips did not come wrapped in newsprint like real fish and chips do in jolly old England.  Thinking back on it however, if they had used newsprint that would likely have increased the cost of the meal a couple dollars, so I wont complain.

From the White Horse I strolled over to the dock for the ferry to Royal Naval Dockyard north of Hamilton.  The Sea Exprsss has a very extensive ferry system (using high-speed catamaran’s) that spreads out from Hamilton and goes to the Dockyard and a couple of places west of Hamilton.  There is limited service from St. George’s to the Dockyard which, in fact, ended for the season the day I left Bermuda and returned home. To pay for a one-way ferry ride would have cost $3.00 for the 12-mile 30 minute run (curiously the bus fare from my hotel to the airport 1.2 miles away was $2.50.  Go figure.
On board the ferry I met Edward, a Chicagoan who had moved to Bermuda to work for 2 years. He’d left his wife and kids in Chicago “because we decided it was just too expensive for them to live here with me” and came to work in the hotel industry.  He had been on the island for 3 months and hadn't explored it much so today he was out bumming his way around the island on a boat. 

“There’s something so relaxing about feeling the initial surge of  power when a ferry takes off from the dock,” he said.  “I just love to ride on ferrys.”  Curious, so does my most favorite author Paul Theroux who seems to have an incurable lust for ferry rides and trains.

Although there wasn’t too much swell (maybe 2-3 feet) I wasn’t allowed to stand for the crossing so I took up a position on the starboard side of the ferry and watched the ocean cruise past me.  There was nothing on or over the ocean which wasn’t really surprising given the time of year.  However as we approached Royal Naval Dockyard I saw 4 species of gulls and a Ruddy Turnstone snoozing on the breakwater at the entrance to the cruise ship area. 

I had 30 minutes until my return to St. George’s and just hoofed it around the very touristy Dockyard area.  It had been recommended to me by my hotel that if I wanted to see Bermuda I should hop on a Number 7 bus from the Dockyard bus stop and take it back to Hamilton, then connect with a number 10 or 11 bus back to Grotto Bay.  That way I could see all of the great beaches at the southwest end of the island.  What I wanted to see was a Bermuda Petrel, not the overly-developed human dominated landscape of the island, so I opted for the ferry ride back to St. George’s instead.

One of  the tourist traps near the Dockyard is a funky pub called the Frog and Onion Pub.  Having not had a pint of Bass Ale in more than an hour, and feeling the health effects of non-alcohol soaked blood coursing through my veins, I stopped into the Frog and Onion to remedy this health issue.  The pub gets its name from the French (frog) and Bermudian (onion) owners.

Refreshed and able to face the trip back after putting a pint of Bass in my gut I boarded the ferry for the return to St. George’s.  We were probably 5 minutes out of the ferry landing when a flash of white caught my eye off the port side of the ferry.  Turning to investigate I got to watch an adult White-tailed Tropicbird poking around over the water being its usual, beautiful self.  This, the national bird of  Bermuda, is called the “Longtail,” for obvious reasons, by the Bermudians.

There was no other excitement for the rest of the ferry ride. Just endless green water ocean. Looking at it I remembered my first trip to the Bahamas in 1984 when I flew to Nassau for a few days in preparation for a research project we conducted there.  Before leaving Atlanta, my friend Chris Haney told me “You’ll know you’re close to the island when you see the water is green.”  Green water?? I thought Chris was pulling my leg until we were on final approach into Nassau and I saw the water turn from cobalt blue to green.  Ever since that initial experience I’ve constantly found that I’m most relaxed and carefree when the water around me is green.  Its green all the way around Bermuda.

From the ferry dock I caught another ferry to St. David’s island where I had made prior arrangements with someone to take me out in a boat near sunset to look for the Bermuda Cahow.  Apparently the entire world population of Bermuda Petrels now nests on about 4 or 5 small islets in Castle Harbour.  The total land area of where they nest is about 1.0 hectares (2.2 acres).  And I thought the small area where Kirtland’s Warbler nests was precariously tinyl!

The person I made arrangements with made it abundantly clear that I was not to advertise his/her name and I won’t.  But suffice it to say that this person was able to take me within 500 meters of a nesting islet where we sat in the bounding ocean and waited for an adult to return to the nest site.  Another reason I had planned this trip for November (aside from the Turkey Day connection) was that Bermuda Petrels are nesting then and finding them close to Bermuda is probably easier.  I didn’t have to wait long to find out because at about 17:15 hours, just as the sun was setting I saw one, then a second and finally a third Petrel come bounding in off the ocean headed for its nesting site. 

Although I have seen my fair share of rare and spectacular birds, there was something almost mystical about seeing this Petrel.  Once relatively abundant, early settlers on Bermuda pretty much shot them into oblivion.  It was thought to be extinct until the 1950s when David Wingate re-discovered them nesting in Castle Harbour.  My old friend Richard Pough (of bird guide fame) first told me about the Petrel and its precarious state while I was escorting him around Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota.  At the time I thought I’d never get to Bermuda to see one.  Through the dilligent work of Richard Pough, David Wingate, and others the bird has been brought back ever so slowly from the verge of oblivion to where there are about 200 birds today.  The numbers have increased enough to where Bermuda Petrel is being seen with some regularity (although obviously never in large numbers) off the North Carolina coast in May each year.

Given the crush of humanity that exists on Bermuda (someone told me it has the second highest population density of any country on earth) there aren’t many places where the Petrel can go and where its population can expand.  I just hope that 50 years from now some knucklehead American developer doesn’t get the big idea to decapitate the islets in Castle Harbour (like they wanted to decapitate the Piton’s on St Lucia). Once decapitated they would build another unnecessary luxury hotel for fat old ladies from the Bronx to come sit in the sun and tan their wrinkles at the expense of a unique bird species that was here long before the first white people started to defile the place.

After returing to shore and bidding my friend a fond thank you for helping me find this enigmatic bird, I took a bus to St. George’s and then transferred to a number 11 bus to Grotto Bay.  From my hotel I walked a short distance to the Swizzle Inn, a rather cool British pub just down the street from my hotel.  The Swizzle’s motto is “Swizzle In, Swagger Out”.  One of their main menu items is a Bermudian Rum Swizzle, which, apparently is the drink to have on the island.  However having never been a big fan of fermented sugar cane juice, I stayed with Bass Ale and demolished two pints while scarfing down the “catch of the day” sandwich (I think the catch of the day was Wahoo – damned good whatever it was).  I was really torn between dinner choices because they had Bangers and Mash on the menu but my Norweigan side won out over my desire to please the Queen, and I went for the fish.

The Swizzle Inn was packed with patrons, many of whom looked like they had spent the better half of the afternoon braced against the bar in anticipation of a tsunami. Although there were no tsunami’s anywhere nearby, a couple of people were ready to float away with it if one showed up.  My dinner of fish and Bass Ale was a more respectable $24.00. 

After swaggering out of the Swizzle Inn, I returned to my hotel and thought I would read for a bit before crawling in bed. However, as I opened the front door of the hotel I had this urge to have one more beer to celebrate the Bermuda Petrel so I followed the sound of a football game on television toward the bar.  There I found two rather sloshed American tourists absolutely wrapped around their axle’s over some football game (who was playing I do not know or, even less, care) but these two clowns thought the world was going to end if someone didn’t make a touchdown on the next play.

Trying to project my indifference, I interrupted the one drunk’s diatribe about how everyone’s first child would be sold into servitude if his team didn’t score a goal, and asked the bar tender for a Bass Ale.  They didn’t have it on tap, and in fact were about out of beer.  “We have Miller, Miller Light, Bud, Bud Light, and Coors in bottles sir.”  I asked “do you have any real beer or just those American substitutes?”  He chuckled and said “I have one Heineken left. Would you like it?”

Faced with the choice of American non-beers or a lone surviving Heineken, I opted for the latter and then was relieved of $7.00 for this 10-ounce bottle of real beer.

As I turned to walk out of the bar the sloshed tourist next to me (his team didn’t score the all important touchdown) raised his Manhattan glass toward the ceiling and said “I want to propose a toast to Thanksgiving or whatever it is everyone is celebrating.”

Seeing an opening to be an incorigible smart ass I said “I’m not celebrating Thanksgiving. I’m still too busy celebrating November 7.”

The drunk looked at me quizzically and said “November 7? Whats there to celebrate about November 7?”

Smiling I said “November 7 was election day. That was the day the Repugnicans were thrown out of the House and the Senate and we now have adults in charge of our government.  Isn’t that great?”

This fellow, who had probably never voted outside of the R column in his life, who watches Faux “News” and thinks that Rush Limbaugh is a reporter, kept his mouth shut, turned away from me, and ordered another Manhattan.

November 24

I was up early, showered, and ready to go before the first Great Kiskadee opened his mouth this morning.  It was raining gently after a couple of “gully washwers” over night.  I opened my hotel room door and looked outside and found the only Common Ground-Dove of the trip (I need to check if there is an endemic subspecies of this bird on Bermuda).  I wolfed down another $20.20 buffet breakfast and then started toward the main highway and eventually the Walsingham Preserve near the famous Tom Moore’s Tavern.  I almost didn’t make it.

Despite having returned two weeks earlier from three weeks in Thailand where they drive on the left, I had cycled back into thinking that I was in a correct-side-of-the-road driving area.  When I arrived at the main road I looked to the left (as you would if you were in a right side of the road country) and saw that there was nobody coming.  Foolishly I didn’t think to look the other way and stepped into the highway to make a dash across to the sidewalk on the other side.  Fortunately the person who almost hit me with his car had very good breaks.  As soon as I stepped into the highway someone on the sidewalk yelled ‘WATCH OUT” and at that moment I heard the heavy sound of screeching brakes.  I turned to my right (where the left hand drivers are supposed to be) and watched in horror as the car came to a halt less than 10 feet from me.  Had I left the curb one second later I would likely have been hit by a car moving at 35 km/h.  Granted that’s not really fast (about 20 miles per hour) but when steel and human flesh meet, steel usually wins.  After apologizing profusely to the driver who was almost as shook up as I was, and then scraping residue from the inside of my shorts, I walked on toward the preserve. 

There was surprisingly little to be seen or heard this morning, I think in response to the drizzly sky.  However I was able to pick up the only Palm Warbler and Northern Waterthrush of the trip.  A lone Black-bellied Plover was nerding around in the marly (not narly, marly) substrate along the shoreline.  Other than that there wasn’t much activity other than the ever-present and noisy Great Kiskadee’s and more than enough flocks of European Goldfinches.

Now watching very closely as every car came along the narrow, winding road, I slowly made my way back to the hotel (without coming close to being killed) and checked out about 11:00.  My original plan was to walk the 1.2 miles back to the airport on the very narrow causeway leading to it from the “mainland” but after this morning’s near miss experience I bought a one-way bus token ($2.50) and hopped on a number 11 bus for the 1.2 mile jaunt to the airport. 

I had been upgraded to First Class for the return segment to Philadelphia and then onto Washington National so I got in the First Class line for check in.  I was told by the US Airways agent that I could use the “Executive Lounge” to wait in for my flight because US Airways doesn’t have a Club on the island.  She gave me the secret code to enter the lounge (it's 325) and I entered this unattended but rather comfortable lounge area. I was the only person in there at the time but both of its televisions were on (didn’t these people watch “An Inconvenient Truth”?) and both of them were switched to Faux “News”.  Given his standing order that all televisions must be set on Faux “News” when he enters a hotel room, I figured that Vice-“President” Deadeye Dick Cheney must have been here at the end of another hunting trip.  That, or it could have been someone on the Delta flight to Atlanta that had left the gate as I was walking to the Lounge.

I picked up a copy of the Bermuda newspaper, the Royal Gazette and read a front page story about some bullethead from New York who was arrested at the airport on Wednesday (the day I arrived) for hitting a taxi driver!  Apparently the taxi driver slammed the trunk door down too loudly for the poor New Yorker who took exception to the noise (has this clown never been in Times Square at 5:00 pm?? If you want noise…..) and punched the taxi driver. (No doubt another great emissary of the United States, from the mold of our “uniter not divider” “president”).  The New Yorker was promptly arrested and hauled off to jail where he stayed from Wednesday night until his “trial” on Saturday morning.  He complained that his entire vacation was going to be ruined because he intended to return home on Saturday.  I guess he should have considered that before clobbering the taxi driver?  Its now almost a week later. Hopefully this clown is still in a Bermuda jail.

Earlier as I was waiting in line to check in, I started talking with three Bermudians who, it turned out, were birders.  The husband and wife pair of this trio was headed to Copper Canyon, Mexico for a week of birding, while the lone male was headed to his family house near Charlotte, North Carolina.  As we talked they told me about some of the more spectacular sighthings that have occurred on Bermuda, like the nearly annual occurrence of Northern Saw-whet Owl, and how Ruby-throated Hummingbirds show up fairly regularly.  I thought about the Hummingbirds and how they make a 500 mile or so nonstop (as if they had a choice?) flight from the coast of Louisiana across the Gulf of Mexico, to the Yucatan each spring and fall) and remembered the Ruby-crowned Kinglet I saw the morning before at Spittal Pond.

The Patuxent Wildlife Research Center’s Bird Information Page tells us that Ruby-crowned Kinglets are only 3.75 inches long, weigh less than one ounce and are “short-distance migrants.”

Its an interesting tidbit of geographic trivia to discover that the largest American city that is closest to Bermuda is……drum roll……..Providence, Rhode Island about 740 miles north.  And if you look at the location of Bermuda in Google Earth in reference to the nearest point of land that is straight north of it (a place near westernmost Nova Scotia) you discover that its 800 miles from Bermuda.  Assuming that a Ruby-crowned Kinglet or any other bird flies in a straight line, that’s one hell of a long “short distance” for a bird as tiny as a Ruby-crowned Kinglet or a Ruby-throated Hummingbird to make each year.  Yet they do it. Millions of birds haul out from the coast of the United States and Canada and make their treks south fueled only with fat deposits put on before leavving their tree. 

The Bermudians I talked to said that in mid to late September the trees and shrubs of Bermuda can be crawling with southbound Blackpoll Warblers.  This bird, banding records have shown, has been known to leave the coast of Newfoundland and fly apparently nonstop to South American landfall on the coast of Venezuela, about 2,500 miles away.  But they do it and they survive it.

From what I’ve read, it seems that a mid-September trip to Bermuda (hurricanes willing) would be a perfect time to be on the island looking for migrant songbirds and shorebirds from North America.  Bermuda has had its share of Eurasian rarities show up also, things like Common Swift and Common Greenshank to name a few, so almost anything could be possible.  The only negative side is the cost of being there. 

My flight to Philadelphia took off 25 minutes early (can this be US Airways?) and landed under crystal clear skies 30 minutes early (can this be Philadelphia???).  On turkey day a rather nasty storm system passed over the mid-Atlantic region disrupting flights and causing general havoc. A rather eccentric expatriated British woman (is that an oxymoron?) told me on the bus on Thursday afternoon that flights into and out of Bermuda were running up to three hours late because of the lousy weather. Yet 24 hours later all was calm and tranquil and there was no sign of yesterday’s confusion.

I was able to get on an earlier flight (that was 40 minutes late – THAT’S more like US Airways) and returned to DC about 2 hours before my earlier planned flight.  I qucikly cranked up Avisys and entered my 42 bird species seen on Bermuda into the database.  When I clicked on Bermuda Petrel and entered the data, the little counter at the bottom of the screen registered it as life bird number 5,280.  So, I’ve now accumulated a mile of life birds.  I just wonder what the next one will be?

A list of the species seen on Bermuda during this trip follows.

<>Bird Species Observed on Bermuda During November 22-24, 2006

Bermuda Petrel
White-tailed Tropicbird
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Blue-winged Teal
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Lesser Yellowlegs
Ruddy Turnstone
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
American Herring Gull
Laughing Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Common Ground-Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Great Kiskadee
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Gray Catbird
American Robin
American Crow
European Starling
Common Waxbill
White-eyed Vireo
Northern Parula
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
European Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Species seen - 42

Craig Faanes

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