“BIG DAY” BIRDING RECORD SET ON ST. KITTS.
A birding record was set for the island of St. Kitts on Saturday, November 12, 2011. Mikey Ryan, Percy Hanley and Ken Porteous of Canada smashed the previous one-day record of 55 by identifying 61 different bird species. The record was set during a 12-hour period.
Big Day birding competitions are popular in North America. So what is a “Big Day?” A Big Day is an activity in which an individual or group of ‘birders,’ please don’t call them birdwatchers, endeavour to identify as many different species of birds as they can in a 24-hour period. You may ask yourself, what could you possibly see in the dark? Well, many owl species are nocturnal and you may hear their hooting, rather than actually seeing the bird. If you can recognize the call of an individual species, than that bird can be counted during your Big Day. As there are no owls on St. Kitts, the trio was limited to a 12-hour daylight period. Big Day competitions have no referees, so the activity is completed strictly on the ‘honour’ system. How civilized and how appropriate for the island of St. Kitts.
Mr. Ryan, Mr. Hanley and Mr. Porteous’s Big Day began at 6:00 AM in Fortlands and they were quick to identify a Magnificent Frigatebird as it sailed overhead and as they packed their gear in Mikey’s vehicle. Essential birding equipment for a Big Day includes binoculars, field guide and camera to attempt to capture any rare birds that might be seen.
From Fortlands, the three headed to Wingfield Estate and the trails around the Sky Safari zip-lines to try to identify species associated with rainforest habitat. Also, the manicured flower gardens of Romney Manor are ideal for trying to capture the hummingbird tri-factor. Three hummingbirds are found in St. Kitts; Purple-throated Carib, Green-throated Carib and Antillean Crested Hummingbird. Here’s where you want your camera in fine working order. An early highlight of the day was to find a Purple-throated Carib sitting on a nest, with the nest being about the size of a walnut. Another highlight at Wingfield was the identification of three thrasher species; Pearly-eyed, Scaly-breasted and the Brown Trembler, a species that actually trembles from time to time. The best ‘spot’ at Wingfield, (that’s birder’s talk for a difficult bird to find even in its natural habitat), was a Bridled Quail-dove.
The threesome’s next stop was the Basseterre harbour where they quickly knocked off a Spotted Sandpiper, Brown Booby, Brown Pelican, Royal Tern, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone and Semi-palmated Plover, a species that breeds in Canada’s high Arctic.
From Basseterre it was off in search of shorebirds and waders in the ponds around Frigate Bay and on the Royal St. Kitts Golf Club. After crawling under barbed-wire and over stone fences, the three were rewarded with wonderful looks at a Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Green Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Cattle Egret, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Stilt Sandpiper and the highlight, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo that posed cooperatively for Mikey and Percy’s cameras.
Last stops took place along the South East Peninsula highway as far as the salt ponds at Turtle Beach where a Yellow Warbler became number 61. And as the sun set, as if it was a set-up, a Antillean Crested Hummingbird obligingly sat still for a moment and allowed us to see and take photographs as the sun set off the iridescent green of its throat feathers as if mirroring a Caribbean ‘green flash.’
And how do Big Day record-setting birders celebrate their accomplishment. Do they nip down to the local library and research musty old bird books, perhaps make a pot of tea and toast the Queen, maybe browse through their stamp collections. No, for Mikey, Percy and Ken a couple of ice-cold Carib Beers at Mr. X’s Bar was the only way to celebrate another day in paradise.
The bird list was to have been posted by Mikey, but regretfully he has misplaced it! Aw well, life in the Tropics!