writer traveler photographer

Tales from Tortola … boids

Pelicans at rest after a dive

Eleven year ago when we were in Tortola, I took part in the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Mind you, at the time, I didn’t know much about birds. Still don’t. But before I relate my tale,  here’s a bit of information about this annual event. Between December 14 and January 5, over 65,000 birders from every Canadian Province, American State, Central and South America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands take part in a one-day exercise and record every bird they see.

Brainchild of Frank Chapman, leading US ornithologist and editor of Bird-Lore, the bird count originated in 1900 as a protest to a holiday tradition called the Christmas “side hunt” where prizes were given to teams shooting the greatest amount and types of birds.  From his home in New Jersey, Chapman invited friends in 25 locations in the US sand Canada to count birds instead of shooting them.

Ready to strike!

The Christmas Bird Count is a prime example of citizen science in action. There’s no government agency on this planet that could possibly come up with that amount of data in such a short period of time.  The data is used by scientists, government departments, environmentalists and hobbyists around the world to spot global patterns, detect invasive bird species, study migration patterns—ad infinitum.

Now, back to Tortola. My host did the sightings and I recorded what we saw. Although my memory is dim, I remember names like the Frigate bird, American Oyster Catcher and Eurasian Collared Dove. (The doves are an invasive species here.)

After the bird count, I returned to Michael’s place overlooking Smugglers Cove and something caught my eye way out on the ocean. It was white but seemed to have a black streak on its upper sides. I grabbed the bird book and looked through the section on ocean types of birds and couldn’t find  any matching specimen. Then I thought, “Aha! This is a rare bird and how lucky am I to see something that’s not even in the Caribbean Bird Book!”

Roosters rule in Tortola

So I reached for Michael’s powerful binoculars, zoomed in on the bird to get some details to send the bird count folks and my heart sank. It was a buoy! I had discovered a buoy bird.

And the family have not let me forget it.

This year, I didn’t get to go on the bird count but I did manage to see around 30 pelicans. They are quite comical. They actually dive into the water on a slightly backward slant (totally weird) and when they fly, if they get caught in an air current they waver and wobble as if they are tipsy. Oh yes, I saw lots of chickens. They run wild here. They actually roost in the trees at night. Alas, they are not part of the bird count.

I’m wondering how many of you have been on bird counts or have birding stories to tell? Would love to hear about them.


  1. March 4, 2011    

    Haven’t been on a bird count, Sandra. But I LOVE pelicans! (And birds in general.)

    We have white pelicans here in Manitoba, Canada, where I live. They are abundant and beautiful. My favourite large bird. Chickadees are my favourite small bird (which we also have lots of here in MB.)

    But I enjoy going south and seeing the brown pelicans (as you have pictured.) In Mexico, they jokingly call them the “Mexican Army.” In St.Petersberg, FLA, they feed the brown pelicans daily at around 4 pm on the beach by “The Pier.” That was one of the most memorable nature moments I have had in FLA. There are so many pelicans on the beach, just waiting for their share of herring. And you can get close enough to them to touch. The youngsters with their yellow heads are especially entertaining.

    I think that’s why I’m always so drawn to oceans and beaches. I love the seabirds.

  2. March 4, 2011    

    Doreen that’s so funny the bit about “Mexican Army.” And it’s also interesting that you have them in Manitoba, especially white ones. I always associated Pelicans with ocean going birds and keep forgetting several species are fount inland, including seagulls!

    And, yes, I’m with you liking the chickadees. They are so much fun.

    Thanks for dropping in!

  3. Barb Parker Barb Parker
    March 4, 2011    

    Hi Sandra
    Thanks for Sharing. Have you ever been to Grand Manan for Bird Watching. I am not a bird watcher myself (although I enjoy them) Many people come here for bird watching. Love your site.

  4. March 4, 2011    

    Hello Barb,

    Thanks for popping in! I’ve been to Grand Manan many times. Have very close friends there: Ron and Martha Sullivan. But I’ve not done any birdwatching from there. Mainly walking/hiking and meeting people. Very fond of that part of the world.

  5. Sharon Sharon
    March 5, 2011    

    Ahhhh… I loved the buoy bird… perhaps because I’ve done (spotted, commented on..) things like that myself… lol… The worst (funniest, scariest?) was how bright two planets were in the western sky. The comment back to me was ‘Crowell, if those are planets, they’re on poles’. Apparently, I was looking at street lights in a new subdivision up on a hill in the distance….

    Thanks for the giggle on a Saturday afternoon…. Can’t wait for more stories! 🙂

  6. March 6, 2011    

    Love your tale about planets a.k.a. street lights. Years ago I also remember seeing a UFO hovering in Deerfield in the fog. It was a new relay tower. haha.

  7. Barb Parker Barb Parker
    October 8, 2013    

    Hi Sandra
    Just wanted to share some good news. My second book, “The Choice, My Path, My Destiny” published by Essence Publishing was launched Sept 6, 2013. I will be doing a book presentation at McAdam Public Library on October 11,2013 and a book signing at Lighthouse Bookstore, Fredericton, N.B. on October 12, 2013.

    Next time you are on Grand Manan, I would love to meet you. I work at Scotiabank, drop in.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Welcome! This is where I occasionally post a story that's not filed under My Work ... or give a behind-the-scenes commentary (when fit to publish.) You'll also find notices about upcoming workshops, such as memoir or travel writing. Enjoy your visit and come back often. Better yet, subscribe!

EDITORS, please click on My Work and Photo Gallery in the menu bar to get the big picture of what I do.


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.