Cheryl Kimball's Nature Talks: The sounds of Bermuda rival the sights

By CHERYL KIMBALL November 10. 2017 9:53PM

Kiskadee Flycatchers were everywhere — in the city, the towns, on the beach, the sides of the roads — in Bermuda. (Courtesy of Cheryl Kimball)

Bermuda is a mere 90-minute or so flight from Boston, which made me wonder why a recent extra-long weekend trip there was the first time I had ever been. I knew it was tropical and looked forward to walking its beaches. What I hadn’t thought about, also surprisingly, was the chance to see some different birds and wildlife.

The first wildlife encounter was at our Airbnb. Our host warned us that if we were coming back after dark we should either turn the porch light on before we left or use flashlights to walk from the driveway across the small patch of grass to the door. “Whistling frogs” (a type of tree frog) would be out and she used both hands to describe the size of Bermuda toads, which according to bermuda-online.org can get up to nine inches long.

Upon our return from dinner, we got out our smartphone flashlights to light our way to the back door. We saw one little frog the whole time we were there, although I was ever hopeful to see one of the salad-plate-sized toads our host had mentioned. However elusive those were, the sound of the whistling frogs was omnipresent the minute the sky began to darken.

The whistle of these frogs is sort of an exaggerated peeper sound but with a crisp ring to it, like the frog is blowing across the top of a tin cup. So crisp that their whistling never seemed to overlap; when one frog stopped another picked up in a chain of whistling throughout the night. I found it amusing that I thoroughly enjoyed it considering my grandmother so hated the sound of the bullfrogs that croaked under the main bedroom of our camp that she would send my grandfather out in the middle of the night with a baseball bat to get them to stop — permanently. Funny how my grandfather never seemed to be able to aim well enough to get one.

Although not indigenous to Bermuda, the whistling frogs were everywhere — in downtown Hamilton as well as in the more rural areas around the city. And likewise were the Kiskadee flycatchers. These robust birds of the “tyrant flycatcher” family Tyrannidae Passeriformes — “Passeriformes” meaning “songbird” — are described in “The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior” as the only one of the New World Passeriforme group that extends into North America. The Kiskadee is not only in Bermuda but can be found in Texas and along the lower mid-Atlantic states. I had never seen one and was delighted to add them to my bird life list.

Despite their size — larger than a robin, smaller than a bluejay — the Kiskadees were at first hard to locate in the trees. Their distinct song was a constant as we walked into Hamilton the first afternoon. I spend a lot of time looking up wherever I am and had to remind myself to be ever-vigilant crossing the roads as Bermuda is British and they drive on the opposite side from the U.S. Finally I began to spot them and on a visit to the Bermuda Aquarium and Zoo found out more about the Kiskadee.

One thing I learned is that they, too, are not native to Bermuda but were introduced in order to control the population of Anole lizards which are threatening the native Bermuda skink, a protected endangered species. What happens next if the population of Kiskadees is deemed in need of control I am not sure — some large bird of prey or feline predator I suppose.

Another invasive of Bermuda, and many other places, is the lionfish, thought to be introduced in Atlantic waters by fish hobbyists and aquariums in Florida (Bermuda-online.org). These fish have incredible breeding capacity with a single female spawning over 2 million eggs per year. Lionfish have a venomous, painful sting but apparently are delicious to eat after removing all their stinging spines. Bermuda is trying to curb the invasion with an “Eat ‘em to Beat ‘em!” campaign.

The bird I didn’t see but is on my life list since my husband told me about seeing them while sailing is the Bermuda longtail. These remarkable birds, according to the Bermuda-online.org site, are threatened by severe hurricanes eroding habitat and by invasive species such as my beloved pigeons who occupy the same nesting sites. Longtails are well represented in white relief figures on the sides of the brightly colored Bermuda homes, but I did not see them from shore.

While I enjoyed seeing the creatures of Bermuda, the thing that I will remember more are the sounds of the creatures of Bermuda — and that the native wildlife sounds are able to out-perform the constant whizzing of scooters that are a prime mode of transportation on the island.

Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. Email her at naturetalksck@gmail.com.


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