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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Bahamas Birding Breeze: White-crowned Pigeon, Thick-billed Vireo and Cuban Emerald

[Freeport, Grand Bahama. April, 2014]

A quick sojourn in Freeport in the form of a cruise ship stop afforded a short window of birding opportunity to check out the local avifauna. The species observed were:

Local specialties:
  • Thick-billed Vireo
  • White-crowned Pigeon
  • La Sagra's Flycatcher
  • Cuban Emerald
  • Red-legged Thrush
Neotropical Migrants:
  • Ovenbird
  • Black and white Warbler
  • Palm Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Magnificent Frigatebird
  • Laughing Gull
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Common Ground Dove
This list, of course, should not be taken as representative of the avian wealth of the islands -- indeed, the Bahamas boast spectacular species such as the Bahama Parrot (aka Cuban Amazon), Great Lizard Cuckoo, Cuban Crow, Olive-capped Warbler and endemics such as the Bahama Woodstar and Bahama Swallow. The islands are also famous for the 60,000 resident flamingos. However, to make a significant dent in the country list would require much more time than afforded by this trip.

Starting with the local specialties:

Thick-billed Vireo

Thick-billed Vireo seen at Rand Nature Center

With a song sounding similar to our White-eyed Vireo, the Thick-billed Vireo is found on just a few islands in the Caribbean with its stronghold being the Bahamas. Two white wing bars are notable and the bill is prominent. It is a rare vagrant to Florida.

Unlike the Thick-billed Vireo, the White-crowned Pigeon is regular in Southern Florida (especially the Keys).

White-crowned Pigeon seen at Port Lucaya

A striking species, the White-crowned Pigeon is distributed widely in the Caribbean; however, its population trend is negative due to hunting and it tends to be very skittish when approached; it is classified as "Near Threatened".

La Sagra's Flycatcher

La Sagra's Flycatcher is another vagrant to Florida; however, its normal distribution encompasses Cuba and the Bahamas. It was earlier considered conspecific with the Stolid Flycatcher (profiled here when it was observed in Hispaniola). The flycatcher's name commemorates a former director of the Havana Botanical Gardens, Don Ramon de la Sagra.

Cuban Emerald (female) seen at Rand Nature Center

Other than the endemic Bahama Woodstar, the Cuban Emerald (found exclusively on Cuba and the Bahamas) is the only other hummingbird found on the islands. The male is a brilliant green (hence "emerald").

Red-legged Thrush

Red-legged Thrush is a common thrush found across the Caribbean; indeed, in addition to the Bahamas, the author has observed them on Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. It's Latin name, turdus plumbeus, doesn't refer to the red legs, but rather to the thrush's lead-colored plumage. Interestingly, the Bahamaian race of the Red-legged Thrush has a black chin while the one in Puerto Rico shows a clean white throat with black streaking (see here).

The Rand Center is only about 15 minutes away from the Harbor at Freeport. In addition to the local specialties, it also held some wintering warblers which will, in a matter of weeks, be soon elevated to "Neotropical Migrants" as they arrive on the US mainland.


Black-and-white Warbler

Palm Warbler

Common Yellowthroat

Grand Bahama is merely 56 miles away from Florida; small wonder, then, that the following species are seen equally well States-side:

Magnificent Frigatebird

Laughing Gull

Red-winged Blackbird

Northern Mockingbird

Common Ground Dove

Familiar yet exotic, the Bahamas is a great place to start or enhance your Caribbean list of species. In addition since Cuba is off-limits to US birders, it is the only place to see Cuban specialties such as Cuban Emerald and La Sagra's Flycatcher.

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