Zenaida doves (Zenaida aurita) are near matches for mourning doves except they’re slightly smaller and darker, have shorter more rounded tails, and white trailing edges on their wings. They live on Caribbean islands, including Cuba. They are very rare in Florida (*).
These field marks would make for a subtle and complicated identification except that mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) don’t live at St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands — at least not in the southeast corner where I’m staying.
Interestingly, they sound just like morning doves so you could be fooled by their song.
(photo by Dick Daniels on Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
(*) See Vincent Lucas’ comment below on Zenaida doves in Florida.
Compared to ruby-throated hummingbirds the green-throated Carib (Eulampis holosericeus) is a surprise at St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands.
He’s larger than any ruby-throat and has a bulky build (for a hummingbird), a long broad tail, and a long decurved bill. Females have even longer, more decurved bills but duller plumage.
As his name suggests the “Carib” lives in the Caribbean, never leaving the arc of islands from eastern Puerto Rico to Grenada. Fortunately his preferred habitat includes heavily degraded former forest, gardens and urban parks, all of which are easy to find in the Lesser Antilles, especially at the vacation resorts.
I didn’t see this hummer while he waited on his perch but when he zoomed in to sip some nectar … like this …
When English-speaking settlers first saw the North American robin they named it for a bird they knew in Europe. This happened despite the fact that the two robins are unrelated. The European robin is an Old World flycatcher (Muscicapidae). The American robin is a Thrush (Turdidae).
A similar confusion occurred with the Lesser Antillean bullfinch (Loxigilla noctis).
Native to the arc of islands from Puerto Rico to South America, the beak on this bird resembles that of the Eurasian bullfinch and so he was named. But the Eurasian bullfinch is a True Finch (Fringillidae). The Lesser Antillean bullfinch is a Tanager (Thraupidae).
And now the Tanager family is in flux. Our familiar tanagers (scarlet, summer and western) have been moved to the Cardinal family (Cardinalidae) while euphonias and chlorophonias left Tanagers to become True Finches.
This bird remains a Tanager but he was joined by a very famous set of birds: Darwin’s finches of the Galapagos.
I’ve already seen and heard this bird at St. John and guess what… His song resembles a northern cardinal’s.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons taken at St. John, US Virgin Islands by Dick Daniels. Click on the image to see the original)
The U.S. Virgin Islands are so beautiful it’s no wonder people come here every winter, year after year. Some birds do too, and they show incredible site fidelity even in their choice of rest stops along the way.
Whimbrels are large shorebirds with long decurved bills who breed on the marshy tundra of Alaska, Northwest Canada and Hudson Bay.(*) Their breeding season is short so they make 14,000 mile annual migrations to spend most of the year in Brazil or the Caribbean. On migration they often use the same favored stopovers on the U.S. coast. That’s how one particular whimbrel nicknamed Hope encountered biologists from William & Mary’sCenter for Conservation Biology (CCB) in May 2009.
Since 2007 CCB had been tracking shorebird migration by fitting whimbrels with satellite backpacks at their staging areas on the Delmarva peninsula. The satellite data, mapped by CCB and The Nature Conservancy, provided astonishing results. For instance, from 2009 to 2011 Hope traveled faithfully from the Mackenzie River Delta to Great Pond at St.Croix, nearly always stopping at Delmarva along the way.
Hope retired from the tracking program but she didn’t stop her normal life. True to her habits, she still makes her faithful journey. In August 2013 she was photographed at St. Croix having completed her first round trip to Canada without the backpack. Here she is sporting her yellow and green leg tags at Great Pond. She’s there this winter, too.
We humans may visit the same places every year but for truly incredible site fidelity follow a whimbrel.
1. Though I visited St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands I did not go to St. Croix to see “Hope.” St. Croix is 43 miles south of St. John and there is no longer any ferry service. Like a whimbrel, you have to fly.
When a brown booby shows up in the northeastern U.S. it’s usually late in the year (August to December) and the bird is usually quite brown. That’s because juvenile birds like this one are more prone to wandering from their tropical ocean homes than are their parents.
Having never seen a brown booby (Sula leucogaster) until this week at St. John, USVI my exposure was limited to a few photos of juvenile birds from Pennsylvania rare bird alerts. For years I assumed that brown boobies were 100% brown. Not!
Adults are crisp brown-and-white and even have white faces that acquire color in the breeding season.
Here’s a typical adult brown booby. Quite a different-looking bird!
Fortunately they’re brown enough that you don’t misidentify them as gannets when you see them on the northern ocean.
Note: Brown boobies are very common tropical ocean birds but their population is declining in the Caribbean because of encroachment and invasive mammals on their nesting islands. They made the State Of The Birds Watch List in 2014 because they’ve declined so much.
(brown booby photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals. Northern gannet photo by Chuck Tague)
The first bird on my St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands agenda is the bananaquit. For me, it’s a Life Bird so I’m excited to see one. I fear it will soon become “ho hum,” though, because it’s so common on the island.
The bananaquit (Coereba flaveola) is a small, non-migratory bird — only the size of a black and white warbler — but it moves much faster than the warbler. Can you say “hyper-active?”
Ornithologists have tentatively placed the bananaquit in the Tanager family but its family relations are often disputed. Scientists argue about where to place this bird; these two argue about where to place themselves.
They were photographed at Campo Limpo Paulista, Brazil by Leon Bojarczuk.
(photo by Leon Bojarczuk via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license. Click on the image to see the original)
When I heard about the trip last year I thought, How could I not visit St John in the U.S. Virgin Islands? My husband wasn’t interested (he’d had obligations in Pittsburgh and now he can’t travel because of his concussion) but I knew this would be a great opportunity to visit warblers at their winter home.
I expect to see this bird in the coming week … and many birds I’ve never seen before.
Stay tuned. 🙂
p.s. Internet access is spotty at St. John so I’ve written and pre-scheduled this week’s blogs ahead of time. I might not post/respond to your comments this week but I’ll be very active online next weekend!
Throw Back Thursday (TBT) is on Friday today because of the short work week.
In the seven years since I started writing about Pittsburgh’s winter crows I can see that they’ve changed their ways. No, they’re not less boisterous and gregarious. No, they have not stopped gathering in huge roosts. But they’ve made adjustments in where they roost and the flight paths they use to get there. The huge flocks don’t fly over my house anymore.
Back in January 2008 the crows roosted at WQED and caused quite a stir which I addressed with my favorite poem called Crows by Doug Anderson.
(Click here to read…)
p.s. I carry the Crows poem with me wherever I go. I’m probably the only person you know who carries a poem about crows in her purse. 🙂
As in Pennsylvania, Virginia’s breeding peregrine population has climbed from zero in the early 1970s to a nest count that matches the pre-DDT days. But just as in Pennsylvania most peregrines don’t nest in the mountains anymore.
In the report Libby Mojica of CCB writes, “Virginia’s falcon population is predominantly on the coastal plain with 24 breeding pairs on the coast including 10 [man-made] peregrine towers, 1 ground nest, 8 bridges, 1 Coast Guard navigation tower, 2 fishing shacks, 1 power plant stack, and 1 high-rise building. The population in the western part of the state remains small with only 3 pairs nesting on rock cliffs.”
Because of strong winds fledgling mortality is high at Virginia’s peregrine bridges so each year CCB, in cooperation with VDOT, translocates some of the bridge fledglings to hack boxes in the Shenandoah Mountains. This gives the young peregrines a better chance at life and may even persuade a few to nest in the mountains.
“Hope,” who nests at the Tarentum Bridge, was one of those translocated birds. She hatched on the Benjamin Harrison Bridge in Hopewell, Virginia in 2008 and was hacked in the Shenandoahs but she didn’t stay there long. Instead she flew nearly 200 miles northwest to nest on a bridge over the Allegheny River. We’re happy to have her!
Click here or on the population graph to read more about Virgina’s peregrine falcons in 2014. Scroll down to see a photo of a ground-nesting peregrine on the sand dunes.