I have quite a few bird (and other) photos from our trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands, and am just starting to go through and process them. From a birding standpoint, it was certainly a blast to see a number of new species! However, as a rule, the smaller the island, the fewer the number of species are found, and St. John’s isn’t a very big island. Over 430 bird species have been found in South Dakota, quite a few for a location over 1,000 miles from the nearest ocean. St. John’s, on the other hand, hasn’t had many more than 150 species.
While the number of “new” species for me wasn’t high, there were certainly some very cool birds that you’re not going to find in South Dakota! A highlight for me as a birder is finding and photographing new hummingbird species (one reason why I love Arizona so much!). While other species have visited one or more of the islands on rare occasions, but the U.S. Virgin Islands only have two regular hummingbird species, the Green-throated Carib and the Antillean Crested Hummingbird. I’ve never been in the Caribbean, and neither is found in the United States, so both were new for me!
The U.S. Virgin Islands are experiencing quite the drought right now, and one thing that shocked me upon arriving was just how dry and brown much of St. John’s was. Most of the island is a dry scrubland forest anyway, but from what the locals told us, it was quite unusual to see things as dry as they were on our visit. Despite the drought, however, there were a few species of trees and plants that were blooming profusely, including on the property of the beach house. It didn’t take long to see both species. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon, and within an hour of arriving at our beach house, I had seen both species.
I don’t know the name of the tree, but there were a number of large trees with tubular pink blossoms that both hummingbirds seemed to really love. The first hummingbird I saw and photographed was a Green-throated Carib feeding on nectar from blossoms in this tree. In sunny St. John’s, it’s hard to miss the brilliant flash of green when you see a Green-throated Carib! They’re also a relatively large hummingbird species, making them even more noticeable. Unlikely pretty much every hummingbird species I’ve seen in the United States, they also have a very strongly decurved bill that’s quite noticeable. I also came across a few other Green-throated Caribs on other locations on the island, but every time I saw one, it was hanging around one of these pink-blossomed trees.
The Antillean Crested Hummingbird is the more highly sought species from what I was told by birders familiar with the area. They’re not hard to find on St. John’s, but they do have a pretty small range overall in the Caribbean, making them a nice addition to a birder’s checklist. The Antillean Crested Hummingbird is quite small hummingbird, very noticeably smaller than the Green-throated Carib. Perhaps it’s because of the size difference, but there were obvious behavioral differences between the two species. While the Green-throated Caribs around the beach house were seemingly quite aggressive, attempting to chase away Bananaquits, Lesser Antillean Bullfinches, and other birds using their favorite flowering trees, the Antillean Crested Hummingbirds seemed to stay closer to the ground in more hidden locations. They too really liked the pink-flowered tree, but would only use it if the Green-throated Caribs weren’t using it at the time. They also seemed to stay closer to the ground, visiting blooms lower in the tree canopy and generally staying closer to thicker cover. There were a number of times when I would walk around the pink-flowering trees and I would see an Antillean Crested Hummingbird perched in a thicket nearby. They tended to stay there most of the time, flying out on occasion to feed, but immediately returning to thicker cover once they were done feeding.
That first day I was just THRILLED to see both species at very close range, and didn’t even try to photograph them. At one point, while standing next to another tree with gorgeous orange flowers, an Antillean Crested Hummingbird began feeding on blooms a mere 3 feet away! It was such a thrill to watch this gorgeous male Antillean Crested Hummingbird at such an extremely close range. Given how easy they were to see that first day and how close they would feed to my position, I was quite excited for the rest of the week, anticipating many good photo opportunities! However, as it often works with bird photography, things didn’t exactly work out as planned! I continued to see both species throughout the week, but frustratingly, I couldn’t get nearly as close as I did that first day! I’m not complaining much however, as I continued to get great looks through my binoculars, and did manage to get enough decent photos of both species to keep me satisfied.
One aspect of the trip that did NOT work out as planned…I had brought along a small hummingbird feeder in my bags, anticipating setting it up and enjoying close range action not only from the hummingbirds, but from Bananaquits and other species that feed on nectar on the islands. I set up the hummingbird feeder near one of the pink-flowering trees that first day, and waited for the heavy hummingbird action! I waited…and waited…and waited…and not ONCE did I see a hummingbird even approach the feeder, much less start feeding on the sugar water I had put within it. Very strange, given that both species are known to visit feeders. The Bananaquits (an ever present species on the island!) also showed no interest. The only species that visited the hummingbird feeder? Interestingly, it was “Swabby and Captain”, the pair of Pearly-eyed Thrashers I had discussed in a previous post.
A real treat seeing both hummingbird species at close range and getting some decent photos! I’ll post more photos of other species from the trip as I get them processed.