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VCHT Bird Walk - February 1, 2023

Caleb Putnam eBird S68377216

Sixteen birders joined five VCHT Bird Team members at the Malecon at 7:30 a.m. Again, it was great to welcome new and familiar faces. Marie and Priscilla collected contact information. We do that so we can send everyone a report on what we saw as a component of our educational focus. They also distributed VCHT Birds of Vieques Checklists. After introductions, Chuck made sure that everyone saw the Royal Tern on the rocks at the east end of the beach. Usually, there are more birds on the Malecon, but we have noticed this year fewer and fewer each month of our walks. After a brief pause, we set off to the radio tower and the mini-wetland in the field below the tower. At the Malecon, we saw just one Royal Tern.

At our next stop, we were pleased to find the Ruff poking around the edge of the small pond under the radio towers. Scopes and binoculars quickly focused on it, and we made sure that everyone had a good look at this vagrant. It might be the only chance they ever get to see a Ruff, which is normally found in Asia. Although the Ruff stole the show, we were pleased to see other shorebirds, including the Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and a Stilt Sandpiper. These birds typically spend winters in the Caribbean, Central, and South America. They travel to northern Canada and Alaska to breed. Once the chicks are old enough to fend for themselves, the parents leave. Many travel east to the Bay of Fundy where they feed, gain weight and then head south. Yellowlegs will fly for four days straight. Their digestive systems shut down and all energy is used for flying. Several Cattle Egrets were following the horses around the field, a White-winged Dove, three Gray Kingbirds, a Northern Mockingbird, and a Greater Antillean Grackle were easily spotted flying around the field as well. Vieques has two kinds of Kingbirds, Gray, and Loggerheaded. Gray Kingbirds and Northern Mockingbirds are abundant in Vieques. They are often seen perched on roadside wires. At the towers we increased our count to nine:

1 White-winged Dove

1 Ruff (Photo compliments of local Biologist Erick Bermudez)

1 Stilt Sandpiper

1 Greater Yellowlegs

5 Lesser Yellowlegs

10 Cattle Egret

3 Gray Kingbirds

1 Northern Mockingbird

1 Greater Antillean Grackle

Our next stop was just past the entrance to Sun Bay where we found Zenaida Doves, Cattle Egrets, a Great Egret, Gray Kingbirds, Northern Mockingbirds, and Loggerheaded King Birds. The Loggerheads have a distinctive head that is dark and appears to be somewhat flat. As we continued to drive, we had nice views of Killdeer, easily identified by the two black rings around their necks. Although classified as shorebirds, they like grassy areas. Our list of birds grew:

6 Zenaida Doves

5 Killdeer

1 Great Egret

6 Cattle Egrets

2 Gray Kingbirds

2 Loggerhead Kingbirds

2 Northern Mockingbirds

1 House Sparrow

Along the beach, we spotted Royal Terns and Brown Pelicans that seem to have found a school of fish. Lists in hand, people checked off:

3 Royal Terns

7 Brown Pelicans

Our final stop was at the east end of Sun Bay where we walked quietly into the Saltrail (lagoon). Cesar went ahead and set up his scope. Along the way, we heard the familiar call of a Mangrove Cuckoo and the song of a Bananaquit. A few Yellowlegs were feeding near the shore and farther out we had good scope views of White-cheeked Pintails, Great Egrets, a Snowy Egret, a Little Blue Heron, a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, and Osprey. Thanks to Sofi Lewis, we have some great photos of the birds there. At the lagoon we checked off:

20 White-cheeked Pintails (a duck)

1 Mangrove Cuckoo (heard only)

1 Greater Yellowlegs

2 Lesser Yellowlegs

4 Great Egret

1 Snowy Egret

1 Little Blue Heron

2 Osprey

1 Bananaquit (heard only)

Determined to once again see those elegant Black-necked Stilts, we hiked the trail on the eastern side of the beach down to a small freshwater pond. We were rewarded with close views of Black-necked Stilts and Yellowlegs. Along the way, we heard a White-winged Dove and saw two Caribbean Elaenia and an Adelaide’s Warbler. Again, Sofi provided us with more excellent photos of what we saw. We completed our list with:

1 White-winged Dove

7 Black-necked Stilts

2 Lesser Yellowlegs

2 Caribbean Elaenia

1 Adelaide’s Warbler

Birds are in trouble. Their numbers are declining at an alarming rate. In the US alone, domestic cats kill a billion birds a year. Window strikes kill millions more. Habitat loss and climate change claim untold bird lives. We can, we must, and we are doing something to stop the decline.

eBird is a powerful program that compiles bird data gathered by thousands of people around the world every day. That data is used to inform conservation policy and efforts. Our observations today will be posted on eBird. VCHT’s Bird Committee employs a member of the local community to make a count of birds in the lagoon regularly. It has raised funds for a MOTUS tower which, in conjunction with US Fish and Wildlife Service, will be erected this spring. Google MOTUS Tower Network to learn more about what it does.

The VCHT Bird Team, Marie, Mike, Chuck, Cesar, Priscilla, and Dale, all thank you for joining us on this walk. A special thanks to Sofi Lewis and Erick Bermudez for allowing us to use their bird photos.

Please donate to the Trust and encourage people to keep their cats indoors. Most of all, download several birding apps and get to know the birds in your neighborhood. They need your support.

To learn more about “window strikes” check out the following link:

To learn more about bird migration, we recommend the book A World on the Wing by Scott Widensaul.


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