Birding on Vacation

I always recommend bringing binoculars on a vacation.  Maybe birdwatching isn’t your “main” activity but it sure is fun to see birds not seen in your own backyard.  It just adds another element of fun and discovery that can round out your vacation activities. 

I recently vacationed in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands and snorkeling in the beautiful clear blue waters was the dominant activity, and it was fascinating.  There are so many beautiful fish and other aquatic life to see.  Snorkeling and exploring the underwater world and identifying the aquatic life could easily become a new obsession, but living in TN will prohibit me from “diving” into a new hobby.

I did want to share some of the bird life encountered, though, and interestingly enough there was not a lot seen while on land.We only saw one species of hummingbird, the Green-throated Carib. Of the 5 types of hummingbirds seen on the island only two are considered common while 3 of them are considered rare or accidental. I did not actually get to go out with the intention of “birding” as I was with a group and a lot was planned.While on a catamaran excursion, though, my binos came in quite handy.

Non breeding male Frigatebird

Breeding male Frigatebird

So, mostly we were treated to sightings of ocean birds. Highlights include the Magnificent Frigatebird, a bird generally seen along coasts and over open water. These large, dark seabirds have the longest wingspan, in proportion to weight, of all birds. Seafarers named these aerial predators for a swift warship. Frigatebirds skim the sea snatching surfacing fish, but have also been known to harass other birds in flight forcing them to drop their catch then promptly swooping to catch the falling meal. The male is glossy black and known for the orange throat pouch that becomes bright red when inflated in a courtship display. They measure around 40” in length and have a wingspan of 90”, or roughly 7.5 feet.

Brown Pelican

Laughing Gull

Brown Boobie

Royal Tern

Also seen were Brown Booby, Elegant and Royal Tern, Brown Pelican, and Laughing Gull. All of these birds were regularly seen hunting the water for schools of fish near the surface.

The Elegant Terns would hunt in small flocks, hovering and suddenly folding their sharp wings diving with great speed into the water emerging effortlessly with their prey. The Elegant Tern is named appropriately.  They are a very elegant bird in appearance.  They have a white and gray body with a black crest and bright orange beak.

The Brown Pelicans are always fun to watch as they skim the surface of the water together.  Pelicans are such a large awkward looking bird but in flight they are a wonder.  As Pelicans would dive into the water for a meal the Laughing Gulls would hover just over them and actually land on their heads hoping to steal the catch away. It was very entertaining.