What a nice day for birding! That’s because such a friendly, enthusiastic group of participants joined the VCHT Bird Team for today’s walk. Of course, seeing a few birds helps, and that we did. Starting at the Malecon across from the Trust we introduced ourselves, got organized, and saw our first birds:
Black-necked Stilt Melissa James eBird S40570219
Narrative by Dale Doucette, Chief Birder
2 Eurasian Collared-Doves
3 Royal Terns
3 Brown Pelicans
1 Pearly-eyed Thrasher
1 House Sparrow
Our next stop was the radio tower just outside of town. Cesar was there with the scope focused on the pond and some interesting birds including the Stilt Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, and the smaller Solitary Sandpiper, easily identified by its white eye ring These birds winter here and migrate to the tundra in Canada and Alaska to breed in the spring. (See Educational Note at the bottom for more about identifying this bird).
We had a good scope view of the Ruff, a bird that usually winters in Africa and breeds in Asia. It was first spotted here in November by Daphne Gemmill, the woman who wrote the book on the Birds of Vieques. We will be interested to see how long he continues to stay here. Horses come to this field for the water, and Cattle Egrets feed on insects stirred up by the horses. Someone spotted a White-winged Dove perched at the top of a leafless tree, and hopefully, everyone saw the Bananaquit, Gray Kingbird, and the very common Northern Mockingbird. We only heard the Adelaide’s Warbler. On our walks, we give every participant the newly printed Birds of Vieques Checklist and they checked off eleven species.
1 White-winged Dove
1 Stilt Sandpiper
1 Solitary Sandpiper (See Educational Note at the bottom of the narrative)
2 Lesser Yellowlegs
1 Great Egret
18 Cattle Egrets
1 Gray Kingbird
1 Northern Mockingbird
1 Adelaide’s Warbler (heard only)
Leaving the radio tower, we drove to the far end of Sun Bay Beach, parked, and walked to the Saltrail, i.e., Sun Bay Lagoon. The walk along the road there is a good place to hear a Mangrove Cuckoo or Adelaide’s Warbler. We didn’t see either, but we did hear both. We did spot a Bananaquit.
Vieques is home to two hummingbirds, the Antillean Crested and the Green-throated Carib. We saw the Green-throated Carib. Cesar went ahead to the lagoon, set up his scope, and found several lovely birds. A couple of Black-necked Stilts and Lesser Yellowlegs poked around the edge. A Great Blue and Little Blue waded farther out and White-cheeked Pintails cruised by. Farther out, but easily seen in the scope, Cesar counted a raft of about 100 Great/Snowy Egrets. We had a nice view of a Yellow-crowned Night Heron, some Pelicans, a Magnificent Frigatebird, and an Osprey. We couldn’t identify but estimated a count of 200 peeps. All in all, we listed the following:
9 White-cheeked Pintail Ducks
1 Mangrove Cuckoo (heard only)
1 Green-throated Carib Hummingbird
2 Black-necked Stilts
200 peeps sp
3 Lesser Yellowlegs
2 Magnificent Frigatebirds
4 Brown Pelicans
9 Great Blue Heron
100 Great/Snowy Egrets
1 Little Blue Heron
1 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
1 Adelaide’s Warbler (heard only)
Our final destination was a freshwater pond on the east side of Sun Bay where the very elegant Black-necked Stilts and a Solitary Sandpiper were waiting for us. We could hear their alarm calls before seeing them. On the walk in and back we spotted a few more birds, and we added them to our list:
2 White-crowned Pigeons
7 Black-necked Stilts
3 Lesser Yellowlegs
1 Great Blue Heron
1 Puerto Rican Flycatcher
We had a great bird walk today not only because we saw nice birds, but also because the people we were birding with were so great. Your interest and enthusiasm give us hope that we can save the birds. Speaking for the Bird Team, we really enjoyed meeting and being with you all. There are more birds to see in Vieques, so please join us again when you can. We will be here. Our next walk is on March 1, 2023, and our last walk of the season will be on March 15th, 2023.
The VCHT Bird Team
Priscilla and Dale Doucette, Chuck Sklar, Cesar Montero, and Marie and Mike Murphy
Educational Note - Spotted vs Solitary Sandpipers (By Daphne Gemmill)
Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers look and act alike. They are roughly the same size, and both bob their tails. The Spotted is usually found in freshwater ponds and brackish mangrove lagoons, and on beaches. The Solitary is almost always associated with fresh water. Many guidebooks lead one to believe that the eye ring of the Solitary distinguishes it from the Spotted. When one is trying to identify similar-looking birds, one needs to look for more features than one. The Spotted has a broken eye-ring that from a distance can look like a complete eye ring leading to misidentification.
A few things to remember…
The most distinguishing field mark that differentiates the two is a white peak between the wing and the breast on the Spotted but not on the Solitary.
Also distinctive for the Spotted is the plain pale brown back with no spots and vs. a spotted back on the Solitary.
The Spotted has a dark eye stripe just below a white supercilium (eye line) but the Solitary does not.
Field guides lead one to believe that the complete eye ring is a definitive field mark for the Solitary but it is not.
The Spotted can have what looks like a complete-white eye ring, which on further inspection has a small break in it.
In flight, the Spotted shows a small white line in the wings while the Solitary has all dark wings with no markings.
Whew… if you would like this narrative with pictures, please email Mike Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll forward the complete text, with pictures, to you!