Saturday, 13 October 2012

Cruisin' USA Part deux


What with a Cruise to Mexico and a trip over the Bay of Biscay on board the Pride of Bilbao in 2009 plus a day on a boat at Radipole back in 98 I was really getting my sea feet, webbed feet. This cruise left from Jacksonville Florida, known to me for a long time as the home of the band Blackfoot. Other than that I knew nothing and still don't now actually. Lots of good birds here though, and that's what's important.



Of course leaving late there wasn't as much time to bird on the way out as there was when we left Mobile last year, lots of Ospreys hunting and Cattle Egrets, Royal Terns, Brown Pelicans and other gems...



The next day as I wandered the decks I was aware of some birds flitting about the boat from time to time, then I found this warbler feeding in Clarence's dog litter tray and at the time I presumed it was a female Pine Warbler, later I was corrected and I should have realised it was a female Blackpoll Warbler. There were 3 of them on board the ship for the whole 5 days, not sure on the sex of the others. They seemed to be feeding on scraps, faecal matter maybe (hence the dog tray?) and insects that had been blown offshore and landed on the ship and roosted would you believe in the fake palm trees on the veranda deck by the disco floor and bars. They left the ship at Key West and were in fact joined by a male Pine Warbler, hence even more confusion on my part. Always amazes me to think they flew all the way up only to return south again, then north again but on the scale of the distance they migrate this is nothing I suppose. Makes me wonder about the ones that get to the UK but then again this was only a few miles off the coast of Florida.



Skies are particularly wonderful at sea
The following day we arrived in Key West, where I went for a long walk, rather too long actually as it was very hot and humid, well for a Brit anyway.

Grey Kingbird



Northern Mockingbird

Common Grackle

Reddish Egret
Randy Mangrove

Black Iguana - introduced to the Keys

White Ibis on a lawn - good garden tick
Then I walked to the airport and in the salt pools nearby were a couple of Black-necked Stilts and 2 Semipalmated Plovers that quickly departed. I then seem to have spent hours recording an exotic sounding bird that finally turned out to be a Northern Cardinal, lovely strange song this one had.


Immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Red-bellied Woodpecker at nest hole
Our next port of call was going to be Nassau. But on the approach to the Bahamas things got interesting at sea. There were 250 plus Audubon's Shearwaters, one group with a Great Shearwater amongst them, an immature Brown Booby, 2 Roseate Terns and 22 Sooty Tern. To top it all as I was alone on the deck I heard a splash and looked ahead and a huge Swordfish jumped out of the water right in front of the ship, moving at a tremendous speed!


Nassau is not the kind of place I would choose to go for a number of reasons, but I'm not complaining, there were a lot of good points. We had a trip on a glass bottomed boat, not easy to see out of the glass I must add but seeing a Barracuda was worth it...


Yellow-crowned Night Heron


On the way back to the ship I found this pair of Antillean Nighthawks roosting
on the ground right between the ship docks and was able to show Margie

We then went back to the Cruise ship for dinner and I spent a while feeding and photographing the Laughing Gulls which Carol called sea rats. She lives on St Thomas island and does some voluntary work looking after the nesting Red-billed Tropicbirds and said that the gulls predate their eggs.

The next port of call was Paradise Island, a mixture of awful and the beautiful, beautiful celebs and ugly ordinary people but as the celebs hardly ever use their 5th homes there were only ugly people about.
There are still a lot of lagoons and marshes on this island but it is also the home to, for a week out of the year at least, the bassist of U2 among others which was enough to make me sick. After I was sick I got to birding, all the birds were centered around one pond it seemed and I could hear at least two Black-whiskered Vireos singing, very much like Red-eyed Vireos really, plus a Thick-billed Vireo, this is like a southern equivalent of White-eyed Vireo. I also got my first Least Bittern here.

Common Gallinule

Sammy Turtle

Neotropic Cormorant

The beautiful Red-legged Thrush

Green Heron

Least Grebe
Black-faced Grassquit
Another Green Heron


When the sun went down we had a couple of hours to kill on board the ship, I stood on the deck and above the din from parties kicking off in the town I could hear the calls of the Antillean Nighthawks overhead.


video

On the return the next day more interesting seabird activity with at least one Cory's Shearwater, more Audubon's Shearwaters and a Masked Booby following the ship


Masked Booby - these pics ended up in the Bahamas bird report, apparently

Barb, Me and Margie

Osprey - back at Jacksonville



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