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All posts for the month April, 2013

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Bird photography by Hank Davis, DNS Board Member

The last birds on the list were special highlights of the DNS trip to Cuba in February.  They were at the top of our list to see, and everyone was really excited to get great looks at these birds.  Let’s see the final birds…

#2 – Parrots and Parakeets

Cuban Parakeets are a rare sight in Cuba, the only place they live in the world.

Cuban Parakeets are a rare sight in Cuba, the only place they live in the world.

In the small village of Bermejas works a birding guide named Orlando.  He guides people to show them many species of birds in the forest and town where he lives.  He makes his living from this, and I am sure the other villagers in Bermejas know this.  Perhaps people support him by leaving wild birds alone.  This might explain why there are still Parakeets around Bermejas.  In this village, Orlando found a flock of about 30 Cuban Parakeets, and Hank Davis was once again quick with the camera, capturing part of the flock in flight with this beautiful image.  This species has disappeared from most of Cuba because of habitat loss and being trapped as a caged bird.

The Cuban Parrot shares the #2 spot with the Parakeet.  Cuban Parrots actually live in Cuba, Cayman Islands, and the Bahamas and is considered “near threatened” with about 10,000 individuals in Cuba.  They used to live throughout the island, but habitat destruction and capture for the pet trade have seriously reduced their numbers.  Sound familiar?  We saw them in Guanahacabibes and Zapata National Parks.

Cuban Parrots are beautiful, noisy, and "near threatened" due to habitat loss and collection for the pet trade.

Cuban Parrots are beautiful, noisy, and “near threatened” due to habitat loss and collection for the pet trade.

#1 – Bee Hummingbird

I asked everyone on the trip what bird they most wanted to see.  Just about everyone listed the Bee Hummingbird as their top choice.  After all, it is the world’s smallest bird measuring just 2.5″ long.  For comparison, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird that visits your backyard in summer is 3.75″ long.  The Bee Hummingbird really seems more like an insect than a bird as it zooms around feeding on small flowers.  We were able to see several males in Guanahacabibes National Park, however, this is the only place we saw them during the two weeks we were there, conducting bird surveys over half the island.  The Bee Hummingbird used to be common, but due to habitat destruction, now has a very spotty distribution and is considered “near threatened”.

The Bee Hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world and is only found in Cuba.

The Bee Hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world and is only found in Cuba.

The Bee Hummingbird is considered "near threatened" and has a spotty distribution in Cuba, the only place it lives in the world.

The Bee Hummingbird is considered “near threatened” and has a spotty distribution in Cuba, the only place it lives in the world.

During our two-week trip to Cuba, the Delaware Nature Society team of “skilled avian field workers” found more than 160 species of birds.  We collected data on bird species found and numbers of individuals we came across.  Our data was shared with the Caribbean Conservation Trust and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Our findings will be used by the scientific community on the status of resident and migratory species on the island.

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

Eastern Phoebes are back and calling loudly from locations along the Red Clay Creek at Ashland.  Photo by Derek Stoner.

Eastern Phoebes are back and calling loudly from locations along the Red Clay Creek at Ashland. Photo by Derek Stoner.

Spring has absolutely burst forth in the past couple weeks, and there are lots of exciting sightings to report upon.  The first Skunk Cabbage in bloom was noted on March 18, while and an Eastern Phoebe arrived on March 20.

The First of Season Garter Snake showed upon March 27, while the first Anglewing butterfly of the season was noted fluttering by on April 4.

Violets burst forth in bloom at Ashland on April 11.  Photo by Derek Stoner.

Violets burst forth in bloom at Ashland on April 11. Photo by Derek Stoner.

With temperatures reaching almost 80 degrees last week, plants burst forth in bloom:  Bloodroot flowers were noted on April 9, Spring Beauty blossoms on April 10, and Violet flowers on April 11.

The warmth also brought along the first sighting of Barn Swallow on April 6, and the American Toads emerged on April 7.  The first Snapping turtle of Spring was noted in the Ashland Marsh on April 10, while the first Water Snake made an appearance on April 11.

At this point in the season (April 15), there are only three remaining official Signs of Spring yet to be observed (or reported) at Ashland Nature Center:  House Wren, Robin building nest, and Trout Lily blooming.

Pleas let us know what Signs of Spring you are seeing in your backyard!

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Photos by Hank Davis, DNS Board Member, Professional Photographer, and one of the 13 skilled avian surveyors on the recent trip to Cuba

This is Part II of the “Top Ten Cuban Birds” from the February Delaware Nature Society trip to Cuba.  See below for numbers 5 through 3, picked because our group wanted to see them, were really excited when we did see them, or because of their rarity.  Most are endemic to Cuba, meaning that is the only place they live.  To see numbers 10 through 6, and to read a little about the trip, see my previous blog.

#5 – Cuban Gnatcatcher

The Cuban Gnatcatcher is endemic to eastern Cuba.  It is similar to our Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, but smaller.

The Cuban Gnatcatcher is endemic to eastern Cuba. It is similar to our Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, but smaller.

Hank Davis captured images of all the birds on this blog and my previous one about the birds of Cuba.  This is one of his best of the trip, I think.  Cuban Gnatcatchers live in coastal xeric scrublands in eastern Cuba.  This kind of habitat is dry and very low and impenetrably thick.  Even though its range and habitat are limited, and some of it is threatened by coastal development, the Cuban Gnatcatcher is still relatively common.  These small birds are similar to the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher that lives in Delaware during the summer, but it has a small crescent behind the eye and sounds different, plus it is a little smaller than the Blue-gray.  We saw this species on the islands of Cayo Coco and Cayo Romano in north-central Cuba.

#4 – Zapata Wren and Zapata Sparrow (I know I am cheating.  Who cares!)

The Zapata Wren looks like an oversized House Wren.  It only lives in Cuba's Zapata Swamp.

The Zapata Wren looks like an oversized House Wren. It only lives in Cuba’s Zapata Swamp.

Zapata Swamp is the largest wilderness area in the Caribbean.  If you have ever been to the Florida Everglades, it will look similar…large expanses of sawgrass and cattail marsh, hummocks of tropical forest, and scattered palm trees.  It is vast, at over 1-million acres, and it is a world biosphere reserve.  There are two species of birds that live here and nowhere else on earth, the Zapata Wren and Zapata Rail, and a third that lives hardly anywhere else, the Zapata Sparrow.  No one ever sees the Zapata Rail, not even the author of the Birds of Cuba book, Orlando Garrido, and hardly anything is known about it.  We didn’t see it either.

We did get great looks at the Zapata Wren, however, which looks like a very large House Wren that might live in your backyard during summer.  It even sounds a little like a House Wren.  The Zapata Wren is an endangered species, and lives within extensive areas of tall marsh grass, where it stays low and creeps around out of sight.  The director of the Zapata National Park successfully called one out of the marsh and it came within feet of us, which is how Hank was able to take the above image of this ridiculously secretive bird.

The Zapata Sparrow is a tame, colorful sparrow that lives in three widely separate areas in Cuba...Zapata Swamp, Cayo Coco area, and Guantanamo Province.

The Zapata Sparrow is a tame, colorful sparrow that lives in three widely separate areas in Cuba…Zapata Swamp, Cayo Coco area, and Guantanamo Province.

Zapata Sparrow is a species with a very strange range.  It lives in the Zapata Swamp, Cayo Coco, and Guantanamo.  These small populations are over 100 miles away from each other.  The Zapata race likes habitat that is extensive areas of sawgrass marsh.  The Cayo Coco race lives in semi-deciduous coastal forest/thicket.  The Guantanamo race lives in areas of thorn-scrub and cacti.  We saw both the Zapata and Cayo Coco races.  This is a colorful sparrow, and is quite tame, and may approach you within a few feet.

#3 – The Quail-doves (3-way tie for 3rd)

In an area known as Bermejas in the Zapata National Park, we had a Quail-dove Hat Trick.  Blue-headed, Gray-fronted, and Key West Quail-doves at one location.  Luckily, a local birder named Orlando knows where they are and put up a bird blind for us to see them.  Quail-doves are a type of dove that acts more like a quail…very secretive and skittish.  If they hear you, they get out of there quickly, so one must be quiet and still to see them.

The Blue-headed Quail-dove is an endangered species that only lives in Cuba.

The Blue-headed Quail-dove is an endangered species that only lives in Cuba.

The gorgeous Blue-headed Quail-dove is a Cuban endemic endangered species threatened with habitat loss.  It likes heavily forested areas, and most of those have been cut down in Cuba.  We were fortunate to see two of them at close range in Zapata National Park.  I will let Hank’s photo do the talking…this bird is stunning!

This plump species of Quail-dove is another beauty.  It's population, which only lives in Cuba, considered threatened and vulnerable.

This plump species is the Gray-fronted Quail-dove and is another beauty. It’s population, which only lives in Cuba, considered threatened and vulnerable.

The Gray-fronted Quail-dove was one of the top birds that I wanted to see on the trip.  Luckily, we saw one at Zapata National Park.  This species was recently split from a similar one on Hispanola, so it is considered a Cuban endemic, and like many forest birds here, is threatened with habitat loss.

The Key West Quail-dove was a high-priority bird for me to see.

The Key West Quail-dove was another high-priority bird for me to see.

Ever since I opened my first Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds, I desperately wanted to see the Key West Quail-dove.  When John James Audubon explored Florida in the 1800’s, he found them on the Florida Keys.  They live there no longer.  To see one, you must go to the Bahamas, Cuba, Hispanola, or Puerto Rico.  Luckily, we saw one on our “Quail-dove” morning.  All of the Quail-dove species on Cuba are shy residents of thick, tropical forest and are very difficult to see.  On top of that, they are gorgeous and mysterious…perfect for #3 on our list.

Stay tuned for the top two birds from the Delaware Nature Society’s February trip to Cuba!