Virgin Gorda Birds

About to try a curried cashew.

I had the good fortune to spend last week on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. I’ve never been anywhere near the Antilles, Greater or Lesser, so I was quite unfamiliar with the flora and fauna. I’ll be posting shots and thoughts over the next week or so detailing explorations and discovers.

In summary, I was quite wowed. Watching the waning moon’s light shimmer over the water as the constant Trade Winds swept back the coconut palms was a magical experience. (Lorca writes Cantaran los techos de palmera). I suddenly got the whole Gauguin thing (even if he was in that other ocean): I didn’t wear socks for a week, drank rum, let my hair go curly, and didn’t want to come back…. Meanwhile, to the birds!

The russet on the nape is breeding plumage.

On our first full day there — my birthday, coincidentally — I saw most of the island’s year-around bird species without trying too hard. I woke up to unfamiliar bird song. These would eventually resolve themselves into Pearly-eyed thrashers and Bananaquits. The Pearly-eyed were bold birds who had obviously met a few tourists in their day: one flew into the kitchen and plunged into the tomatoes and apples and shit here and there. The Bananaquits, more civilized, were richly yellow-breasted. A splash in the water below our villa introduced me to the resident Brown pelicans in Little Leverick Bay. These huge birds coasted by at eye-level, swirled down, and then plunged heedlessly into waters that looked too shallow for the length of their pouched bills.

Jetting by, American kestrels were a daily sight; once a male and female pair nicely perched on a coconut palm for comparing and contrasting. Another regular was the Gray kingbird, whose bill demotes our kingbirds to prince status. Green-throated Caribs, large hummingbirds with delicately curved bills, were here and there dipping into the super-saturated flowers. Overhead near and far, Magnificent frigatebirds, the Man o’ war bird, soared pterodactyl-like: an extraordinary sight I would never tire of. Brown boobies too, were occasionally seen; in Pirate’s Bight at Norman Island several of them were whitening a rock with their guano. An American oystercatcher, Belted kingfisher, and Spotted sandpiper, birds I know from more familiar habitats (they’re Brooklynites, too), were all seen around the little stretch of mangrove on the bay. Both species of dove, Zenaida, which is somewhat similar to our Mourning, and the surprisingly tiny Common ground-dove, also ambled by.

In the National Park that surrounds Virgin Gorda Peak (1395ft), I saw something that I first thought was a Black-faced grassquit, but once I saw several of those two days later, I thought it might be a female Lesser Antillean bullfinch instead — but this one didn’t make it to my life-list because I couldn’t be sure in retrospect. (A distant naked-eye glimpse of a Tropicbird also didn’t make the cut since I couldn’t be sure it was Red-billed. A bin-less glimpse of a Greater Flamingo, on the other hand, on Prickly Pear Island, was unmistakable, although it was too far away to be a satisfying view).

Flocks of Smooth-billed anis, looking like grackles from a distance until that enormous bill came into focus, passed through; one day they flew towards us on the balcony to land in the trees nearby. Their whiny alarm-like calls stick in the mind. On our last morning, I was looking out a bathroom window and saw a male Antillean crested hummingbird working the aloe flowers right outside. The flat iridescent green crest flashed in the morning sun like some flamboyant warrior’s shield.
Can we have a reprise of the Pearly-Eyed Thrasher?

8 Responses to “Virgin Gorda Birds”

  1. 1 Out Walking the Dog March 1, 2011 at 9:42 am

    Sounds like a wonderful trip. Love those pearly eyes, and what a beak on the ani. Very cool.

  2. 2 Paul Lamb March 2, 2011 at 7:33 am

    I’ve spent some time in the USVI, and I think if I lived there full time, I would be an alcoholic. An amiable one, but adrift. And I can recall a little yellow bird visiting my lunch table once too.

  3. 4 Sharyn March 19, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Thanks for pointing us in the direction of what we serious birders are seeing during our week at Little Dix Bay, BVI (13 March 2011 and following 12 days). We couldn’t find a bird book for the local species and you helped us identify soem of what we’re seeing. Good job! It’s appreciated.

    • 5 mthew March 20, 2011 at 5:32 pm

      Thank you! I took along the Princeton Field Guides Birds of the West Indies by Raffaele/Wiley/Garrido/Keith/Raffaele (sounds like a law firm) and found it fairly helpful.

  4. 6 Rita Fastov February 17, 2017 at 11:22 am

    Why there are no parrots on VIRGIN GORDA?

    • 7 mthew February 18, 2017 at 7:53 am

      I don’t know. But, glancing through Princeton Field Guid to Birds of the West Indies, it looks like most parrots on the smaller islands are there because of introductions. Cuba, Hispaniola (Haiti/DR), & Jamaica have some endemics.

  1. 1 St John Birds I « Backyard and Beyond Trackback on January 25, 2012 at 7:47 am

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