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Big Day (Bird Race)

13 October 2002

by Floyd, Brett and Marta Hayes

Big Day Statistics:
Comments: This is a new record from the U. S. Virgin Islands....


Since moving to St. Thomas on 1 September, my 10-year-old son Brett and I were eager to break the modest record of 30 species established by Tim Fitzpatrick on 15 November 1997. And my wife, Marta, was eager to visit St. John for the first time even though it would be primarily a birding adventure which she could tolerate. As we pulled out of our driveway just before dawn, a Pearly-eyed Thrasher chirped, providing our first bird of the day. Ten minutes later we pulled into a small, flooded field beside Turpentine Run (an intermittent stream) and were pleased to pick out a stakeout White-rumped Sandpiper and an unexpected Wilson’s Snipe among other shorebirds in our headlights. However, a quick look along the streambed failed to produce the Short-billed Dowitcher seen the week before.

At Compass Point Pond, our next stop, we were pleased that the tide was low, revealing mudflats and several species of shorebirds and waders not normally present, including an unexpected Black-bellied Plover. We quickly departed for Red Hook, stopping along the way to see a White-winged Dove (recently established colonist in the Virgin Islands),  to catch the 0630 ferry to the neighboring island of St. John, but discovered to our dismay that the ferry wouldn’t leave until 0730. We then backtracked to Compass Point Pond and picked up a few more birds, including a calling Clapper Rail. At Sugar Bay we added several more species including our record-breaking 31st just before 0700: a Killdeer.

We rolled our car onto the ferry at 0730 and rolled off at St. John around 0800. Our first stop was Bordeaux Mountain, where we spent 1.5 hours hiking through humid forest and picked up several native landbirds, including a few cooing Bridled Quail-Doves. However, we were especially thrilled to encounter six species of Nearctic migrant warblers: a Prairie Warbler, three Blackpoll Warblers, a carefully studied immature Bay-breasted Warbler (in a tree with two Blackpolls; we didn’t realize until 2 days later that it was the first for St. John and only the third for the U. S. Virgin Islands), three Black-and-white Warblers, five American Redstarts, and an Ovenbird. Even Marta enjoyed seeing them. By 1000 the forest was considerably quieter; with 46 species already tallied, we drove down to Francis Bay where we picked up a few more birds (but failed to find a Whimbrel reported the week before) and took a snorkeling break. Brett missed a Belted Kingfisher.

We spent much of the afternoon exploring the east coasts of St. John, accumulating more expected species until we found a Wilson’s Plover, our 57th species, at 1500. At 1700 we spotted an Osprey from the ferry while en route to St. Thomas, where we arrived at 1730.

With little daylight remaining to pick up a few more birds in St. Thomas, we sped to Tutu Park where we picked up two established exotics: House Sparrow and Rock Dove. Moments later we spotted three Pied-billed Grebes at Raphune Pond and Brett heard Brown-throated Parakeets (third established exotic of  the day) while I sped to Charlotte Amalie, where we had seen a Royal Tern the day before. We drove along the seashore with no luck, but on our way back Brett spotted some white dots on distant pilings on Hassel Island. We stopped, pulled out the telescope, and were pleased to find not only four Royal Terns but three Sandwich Terns as well, our record-shattering 64th species of the day.

As dusk approached we considered speeding back to Turpentine Run to search for the Short-billed Dowitcher, but Marta talked us out of it. However, the following morning I found two missed birds at Turpentine Run: Short-billed Dowitcher and Solitary Sandpiper. We suspect 70 species are possible in April, when several seabird and landbird species return to breed.

Species List:

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)
Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster)
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens)
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)
Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
Green Heron (Butorides virescens)
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea)
Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)
White-cheeked Pintail (Anas bahamensis)
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
Clapper Rail (Rallus longirostris)
Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
Wilson’s Plover (Charadrius wilsonia)
Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)
American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus)
Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)
Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia)
Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla)
Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)
White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)
Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)
Stilt Sandpiper (Calidris himantopus)
Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata)
Laughing Gull (Larus atricilla)
Royal Tern (Sterna maxima)
Sandwich Tern (Sterna sandvicensis)
Rock Dove (Columba livia)
Scaly-naped Pigeon (Columba squamosa)
White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)
Zenaida Dove (Zenaida aurita)
Common Ground-Dove (Columbina passerina)
Bridled Quail-Dove (Geotrygon mystacea)
Brown-throated Parakeet (Aratinga pertinax)
Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor)
Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani)
Green-throated Carib (Eulampis holosericeus)
Antillean Crested Hummingbird (Orthorhyncus cristatus)
Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon)
Caribbean Elaenia (Elaenia martinica)
Gray Kingbird (Tyrannus dominicensis)
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
Pearly-eyed Thrasher (Allenia fusca)
Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia)
Prairie Warbler (Dendroica discolor)
Bay-breasted Warbler (Dendroica castanea)
Blackpoll Warbler (Dendroica striata)
Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia)
American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla)
Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus)
Northern Waterthrush (Seiurus noveboracensis)
Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola)
Black-faced Grassquit (Tiaris bicolor)
Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (Loxigilla noctis)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

Species not seen by all:

F. Hayes: Brown-throated Parakeet
B. Hayes: Belted Kingfisher

Times and species totals:

0700    leave Sugar Bay, St. Thomas; 33 spp.
0740    leave St. Thomas; 34spp.
0800    arrive St. John; 36 spp.
0900    Bordeaux Mountain, St. Thomas; 43 spp.
1000     left Bordeaux Mountain, St. Thomas; 46 spp.
1100    Francis Bay, St. Thomas; 49 spp.
1200    Francis Bay, St. Thomas; 49 spp.
1300    Salt Pond, St. Thomas; 51 spp
1400    Salt Pond, St. Thomas; 52 spp.
1500    Coral Bay, St. John; 57 spp.
1600    Coral Bay, St. John; 57 spp.
1700    leave St. John; 58 spp.
1800    Frenchman’s Bay, St. Thomas; 64 spp.