THAT EXTINCT BIRD!!!
IN SEARCH OF THE ST. KITTS BULLFINCH
By Michael Ryan
February 19, 2022
Waiting to be rediscovered if it still exists, the St. Kitts Bullfinch (SKBB) remains the only endemic bird of St. Kitts. It is currently believed to be extinct, the last confirmed sighting being almost 100 years ago, in 1929. However, in 1993, there was a possible sighting, by two persons. Then followed a series of Hurricane strikes on the island! Not good for survival! In 2012, it’s call was apparently heard by a visiting Puerto Rican naturalist, who is very familiar with the closely related Puerto Rican Bullfinch, and in 2019 there was a Bullfinch call recorded during a scientific experiment high up in the rainforests of Mt. Liamuiga, undertaken by the Department of the Environment, but after analysis, was ruled inconclusive!
It would be remiss of me not to make a concerted effort to look for the SKBB while I am still healthy. The years seem to go by at a much faster rate as you get older! My clock is ticking!
A wonderful opportunity arose when coincidentally, last year, 2022, I became — unhealthy – I had hurt my back!! No more golf! Oh no! So on most Sunday mornings for a couple of months I packed up the vehicle as this was a great chance to begin a dedicated search. I gave myself a timeline from the start of November 2022 to early February 2023.
But where should I go? Not wanting to walk too far and too deep into the rainforest alone, I decided on Wingfield level, over 1,000 feet above sea level, high above the Zipline and the Carribelle Batik. There is an old military road, and using four-wheel drive you can access deep and high up into the rainforest, and then park in a natural clearing at the area known as Wingfield Level. The old military road continues onwards for some way, but parking here and then walking about 300 yards up the road and back gives ample bird viewing opportunities.
To be honest, I am really looking as much for Warblers as for the SKBB, as during the migratory season October/November and April/May, Wingfield level is a magnet for warblers. The intervening period of December to March, (like now), Warblers can still be spotted, as some Warblers will spend the whole migratory winter season in the Caribbean, but in much smaller numbers.
So up I went on 8 different Sundays, from November 6, 2022, throughout December and once on February 12, 2023, to complete this phase of the search, looking and hoping. Additionally, I also have Bluetooth access in my new pick-up vehicle, so technology was used by playing recordings of the Puerto Rican Bullfinch (similar) which I had on my phone, through the vehicle speakers. A lot more volume and hence a lot more range!
When I first played the recording, the initial response was astounding! Every few minutes a Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (a similar looking bird — a cousin of sorts) would appear, and as they are quite like the SKBB, they caused me quite a bit of false excitement! One was somewhat larger than the average Lesser Antillean Bullfinches, and its appearance was cause for even greater momentary excitement, but alas, it was another false alarm. Nonetheless, a great start! Certainly, the Lesser Antillean Bullfinch is attracted to the recordings, so presumably, if a SKBB was ever in the neighborhood, it too, should get excited!
Every time I visited Wingfield Level, I enjoyed the peace and quite of nature, birdwatching, relatively far from civilization. Up and down the dirt road I went, seeing this specie and spotting that specie, finally spotting around 28 different bird species!
My final trip on this expedition was on Sunday, February 12th, waking up very early and arriving there at around 6:30 am. It was severely overcast, and a touch rainy. And it was absolutely FREEZING! In all of my life living on this island, I have never, ever, experienced such a cold temperature as that morning. I mean, real cold! The number of birds seen on that day were very, very, few, the least ever! No doubt they traveled to the Eastern side of the island to get some warmth! When the Bullfinch tapes were played that morning, there was no excitement, save one small Black-faced Grassquit who braved the cold to investigate what all of this bird noise was about!
To date, regretfully, no St. Kitts Bullfinch was spotted! Several Warblers were sighted, including lots of American Redstarts (male and female), many Northern Parulas, and two black & white Warblers.
While I have been unsuccessful so far and indeed may never be successful, it gives me great satisfaction in making the effort, in case this elusive, St. Kitts National treasure can be rediscovered, and is precariously holding on to life. If you don’t look, you will never find!
Phase 1 of the search is over. Later this year I will start Phase 2! Wish me luck!
The search continues!