AUDUBON’S ‘PRIORITY BIRDS’ ON ABACO: 21 SPECIES TO TREASURE


Black-necked stilt AH IMG_1462 copy - Version 2

AUDUBON’S ‘PRIORITY BIRDS’

PRIORITY BIRDS ON ABACO

Of the total of 49 species listed by Audubon, an astonishing 31 are recorded for Abaco. Such a statistic underlines the importance of the island and its cays as a major birding location with habitat suitable for these ‘Priority Birds’ . Some of them birds may be rare ‘vagrants’, or occasional ‘transient’ visitors but all are considered threatened or vulnerable. I have marked in red the ones that may easily or with reasonable diligence and luck be found on Abaco. These are either Permanent Resident (PR) species; or Migratory species resident in Winter (WR) or Summer (SR); or TRansients that are seen annually or at least are regularly reported. For all practical bird-spotting purposes, the remainder can be set aside, and with no disrespect to them I have reduced their image & entry sizes… That leaves 21 species selected by Audubon for special protection that may be quite readily found on Abaco – and that will be adversely affected by significant habitat change. Birds to treasure, in fact.

 PR

Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea

Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Black Skimmer Rynchops niger

Black-capped Petrel Pterodroma hasitata

Hudsonian Godwit Limosa haemastica

Redhead Aythya americana

Roseate Spoonbill Platalea ajaja

Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus

Swainson’s Hawk Buteo swainsoni

Swallow-tailed Kite Elanoides forficatus

PR

Wilson’s Plover Charadrius wilsonia

 

WHO WAS THIS AUDUBON GUY, ANYWAY?

FIND OUT HERE including drawings by Audubon of birds he might have seen had he ever visited Abaco (which he didn’t…)

Wilson's Plover & Chick jpg

Credits: Alex Hughes (header), Sandy Walker (above), Audubon Birds

 

IT’S A WARBLER. WITH A YELLOW THROAT. ON ABACO. SIMPLE?


Yellow-throated warbler, Abaco  (Keith Salvesen)

IT’S A WARBLER. WITH A YELLOW THROAT. ON ABACO. SIMPLE?

The Yellow-throated Warbler (Setophaga dominica) is a most helpful warbler, in that what you see is what you get. You needn’t go to embarrassing lengths to determine whether it has a Yellow Rump. It doesn’t make extravagant geographical claims like the Cape May, Kentucky, Tennessee, Nashville or Connecticut warblers. It doesn’t disguise its warblerdom with a confusing name like ‘American Redstart’ or ‘Ovenbird’. Nor with a weird warbler name that is completely obscure like the Prothonotary. It’s a winter resident only, so it won’t try to puzzle you in the summer. The males and females are roughly similar in appearance, unlike so many species. All-in-all, a most agreeable and obliging little bird. Here are a few to enjoy, before I spoil the magic slightly…

Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett) 2Yellow-throated warbler, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

YTWs are quite pose-y birds, and tend to strike attitudes. One is the ‘head-in-the-air’, as below and further above. There’s the ‘butt-in-the-air’ too, immediately above (one of my favourite photos)Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco (Becky Marvil) Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco - Becky MarvilYellow-throated warbler, Abaco  (Keith Salvesen)

This shape is both characteristic and characterful. You might call it the ‘sag-in-the-middle’Yellow-throated warbler, Abaco  (Keith Salvesen)

This year I saw my first YTW in the Delphi Gardens, skulking around in a Gumbo Limbo tree. Having taken a number of rather poor shots – partly due to the intervention of branches, twigs, leaves, berries, shaky hands and so forth – I got some clearer shots at it, the two above and below being the best of an indifferent bunch.Yellow-throated warbler, Abaco  (Keith Salvesen)Yellow-throated warbler, Abaco  (Keith Salvesen)

I said earlier that the magic of the apparently simple ID of a warbler that lives up to its name would have to be spoiled. I’m afraid this little gallery rather undoes the certainties I’d promised… two more species common to Abaco, also named for their yellow throats (yet it’s more extensive than just the throat, anyway) . 
BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT
                                                     20130106_Bahamas-Great Abaco_4846_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy Bahama Yellowthroat (m) Bruce Hallett
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT
800px-Common_Yellowthroat_by_Dan_Pancamo Common Yellowthroat, Gilpin Pond, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)
You’d really think that someone at Audubon Towers or Cornell Castle might have thought of calling these two species ‘Bahama’ and ‘Common’ Masked Warblers, wouldn’t you – after all there’s a Hooded Warbler, which indeed has a hood. No other warbler has a mask like these 2. Then any confusion could be avoided. So remember: the Yellow-throated Warbler has a yellow throat AND is otherwise black and white, with streaks. Erm, just like a…
BLACK AND WHITE WARBLER

Black & White Warbler (Wiki)

RELATED POSTS
 
Credits: RH (1,7,8,9,10); Bruce Hallett (2, 3); Erik Gauger (4); Becky Marvil (5, 6). Thumbnails: Gerlinde Taurer, Bruce Hallett, Dan Pancamo, Tom Sheley, Wiki

“ONE IS CALLED LUCY…”: SWIMMING WITH BAHAMAS SHARKS


Shark, Blacktip ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

“ONE IS CALLED LUCY…”: SWIMMING WITH SHARKS

From time to time I wonder about the naming of animals. I know about the problems that can arise when people name their chickens Henny, Penny, Denny & Lenny, and the time comes to (please look away now). And how a slavering dog coming towards you (not on a lead) that the owner calls ‘Tyson’ or ‘Killer’ is possibly one to cross the street for. And that the owner of a cat called ‘The Reverend Wenceslas Muff’ (Sir Roy Strong, in fact) may not take kindly to you referring to it facetiously as ‘Puddy-tat’. But does it make things any better to know that the shark that is eyeballing you is called Lucy? I don’t know the names of the others, but I am sure they would all like to be introduced… Shark close-up ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyShark with remora ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyShark © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2Shark ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy 2Shark Head ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy 2Shark 2 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2Shark 4 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyShark (pregant female) ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba copy

REMORAS Some of the photos show a strange creature attached to the underside of the shark. For more info about these weird shark passengers, and some great images, click HERE

All the fabulous photographs above were taken by Melinda Riger and Virginia Cooper of Grand Bahama Scuba, on whom I rely entirely for subaqueous material, being a pathetic swimmer, a gnarly ancient, and a certified scaredy-cat (‘highly commended’). My thanks as always to them for use permission

‘TYRANTS OF ABACO': FLYCATCHER ID (1) – LOGGERHEAD vs GRAY KINGBIRD


Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco - Tom Reed

Loggerhead Kingbird with bee. Note dark head, yellowish underside

‘TYRANTS OF ABACO': FLYCATCHER ID (1)

LOGGERHEAD vs GRAY KINGBIRD

Gray Kingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

Gray Kingbird: note dark eye ‘mask’, lighter head, mainly white underside & notched tail

Abaco has 275 (or so) recorded bird species. Omitting the transients, vagrants and (frankly) oddities – hello, feral peafowl of Casuarina – and concentrating on the residents and the summer / winter migrants brings the checklist down considerably. Maybe to around 200. But there is still an awful lot of scope for species confusion. This is frequently found with the warblers (37 species, mostly yellow), shorebirds and (my particular blind spot) gulls & terns with all their gender, age, season and breeding plumage variations. There is one common confusion that surrounds just 4 birds. I’ve decided to tackle the issue because these are the birds I am most frequently asked by people to identify. They send me their photos or a link, or post them on my FB page, and I am always delighted to help. Except… I get confused myself sometimes. So now I plan to demystify the Tyrant Flycatchers (Tyrannidae) of Abaco once and for all. Or for the time being, anyway.

ABACO’S TYRANT FLYCATCHER SPECIES

Tyrant Flycatcher Checklist jpg

There are 14 tyrant species recorded for Abaco, as listed in the checklist clip above taken from “THE BIRDS OF ABACO” (a FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER was seen recently for the first time on Abaco, and will in due course be added to the checklist). You’ll be relieved to learn that we can at once dispense of 10 of the above for present purposes. In practical terms – i.e. everyday life – the only flycatchers you need to be concerned with are the 4 underlined in red above: Cuban Pewee, Gray Kingbird, La Sagra’s Flycatcher and Loggerhead Kingbird. The underlined codes provide useful information for each bird .

  • PR 3 of the 4 are permanent residents – not the gray kingbird, which is SR a summer resident
  • B    these 4 are the only flycatchers that breed on Abaco
  • 1     all 4 are widespread, commonly and easily found. All other candidates are unusual to very rare
Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

Which is this?

LOGGERHEAD Tyrannus caudifasciatus vs GRAY Tyrannus dominicensis 

DIFFERENCES and SIMILARITIES

TOP TIP ANY KINGBIRD SEEN IN WINTER WILL BE A LOGGERHEAD

  • A kingbird seen between (say) October and March is a Loggerhead. Grays are strictly summer visitors
  • Both are medium size birds and roughly the same size as adults (around 23 cms)
  • Loggerheads have dark brownish heads (some say black), grays have lighter, slate-coloured heads
  • Loggerheads have a ‘squared’ tip to the tail; grays have a notched tip
  • Loggerheads may have a whitish fringe at the tip of the tail; grays not so
  • Loggerheads have yellowish tinges to their white undersides & forewings; grays less so or not at all
  • Grays have a dark or black ‘mask’ through the eyes, often clear but not always easy to see
  • Loggerheads allegedly have inconspicuous orange head crests; grays are red. I’ve never seen either!
  • [*RH opinion alert*] Grays have larger, heavier beaks than loggerheads
  • Grays are territorially aggressive; when they turn up, the loggerheads tend to retreat to the forest

Here is how David Sibley shows the differences

 6323_Sibl_9780307957900_art_r1 3069_Sibl_9780307957900_art_r1-1

Illustrations: David Allen Sibley

Gray or Loggerhead? Note the light head, discernible mask & notched tailGray Kingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

Loggerhead or Gray? Note the darker head and no maskLoggerhead Kingbird.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Mrs RH has very recently taken some photos of a loggerhead in the garden at Delphi that perfectly illustrate another possible difference from the gray kingbird. *Contentious Opinion Alert* I have always believed that the ‘loggerhead’ in some way refers to the ability of the bird to raise a modest head crest to a more prominent extent than the Gray. I stand to be corrected on this – don’t hold back! Anyway, these 2 images show a fine example of a Loggerhead crest.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco (Mrs RH) 1 Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco (Mrs RH) 2

GRAY KINGBIRDS: masked & notch-tailedGray Kingbird, Abaco - Alex Hughes Gray Kingbird (Charlesjsharp Wiki) Gray_Kingbird (Dick Daniels Wiki)

CLASSIC LOGGERHEAD: squarer tail, yellowish underside, dark head, hint of a crestLoggerhead Kingbird Abaco - Peter Mantle

COMMON TO ALL FLYCATCHERS An Insect ‘Hook’ at the tip of this Loggerhead’s ‘top’ billLoggerhead Kingbird, Abaco (Mrs RH)

MEMORABLE FACT TO DEPLOY IN CONVERSATION

The collective names for a group of kingbirds are: a Court, a Coronation, or a Tyranny

I hope this helps with ID, but it’s fair to say that even the birds shown here don’t conform strictly to the rules. A couple of gray kingbirds have distinctly yellowish undersides. Mrs RH’s loggerhead shows little or no yellow tinge. And the real problem is this: you see a medium-size bird. It is hawking for insects. It is high summer. It’s a kingbird. It is 150 feet away, and against the sun. It’s just a darkish bird. You can’t see a notched tail or yellowish underside, still less a mask. But at least you can be confident that you can restrict the ID to just 2 birds… Just ask me which, and I’ll do my best…

NEXT UP LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER vs CUBAN PEWEE 

Credits: Tom Reed (1), Tom Sheley (2, 4, 5), Gerlinde Taurer (3), Mrs RH (6, 7), Alex Hughes (8), Charles Sharp (9), Dick Daniels (10), Peter Mantle (11), RH (12); Illustrations David Sibley

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD: NEW SUBSPECIES FOR ABACO?


Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 14

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD: NEW SUBSPECIES FOR ABACO?

[Camera. Lights. ACTION] Attenborough, D (for it is he), off-screen, in familiar breathy tones…

“Here, deep in the impenetrable pine forests of the Abaco National Park, lives an incredible bird discovery until recently known only to four people in the world. For here, where the unique Abaco Parrots nest in their underground holes and the rare Kirtland’s Warbler continues its brave stand against extinction… here is a completely new bird subspecies that is destined to take the avian world by storm… the Red-faced Bahama Mockingbird Mimus bahamensis volvensharborii…”

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 06

I can’t keep that nonsense up for any longer, you’ll be relieved to hear… But here is the story. Woody Bracey was taking us, with his friend Bill, in search of the rare and elusive Kirtland’s Warbler, about which more soon (*Spoiler Alert* Yes, we did. Four). We had stopped the truck in a remote area of the National Park to listen for and indeed watch parrots. I was in the front of the truck, window down, listening hard when suddenly, right by us, I suddenly heard the beautiful song of a Bahama Mockingbird. Here are two recordings I made the previous year – the first is over 1 min long, the second is only 17 secs.

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 07

I grabbed my camera and started to fire away at the bird, which was perched on a dead branch just a few feet away near the edge of the track. I had no time to think about depth of field, light balance, or refrangible focus indices, I just went for it. It was Woody who first noticed the remarkable feature of this bird – its red face. It first, I thought it was just on the chin, but later I saw that the red colouring is above the beak as well.

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 09

Woody is one of the most experienced birders in the Bahamas, and he had never come across this variant before. Sometimes a bird may have white patches or some other LEUCISTIC colour variation. But red is something very different. Once we had ruled out blood (no evidence of injury) and strawberry jam (no likelihood of a propensity for sticking face in same), an altogether more exciting possibility began to emerge…

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 10

The Bahamas Birding Triumvirate will be debating this find, no doubt. Is this sort of red-faced variant found in any other bird species? Is it a one-off? Or is it perhaps one example of a small subspecies confined to Abaco or the wider Bahamas? Or does it just come from eating red berries, as in photo #3? Has anyone come across a BM like this one? Any comment welcome via the comment box or email. 

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 11

This is my personal favourite pic, taken while the bird was in mid-song. I’d have liked an ‘open mouth’ shot, but frankly when you find an apparently new bird in the middle of nowhere, you can’t have everything….Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 13

Finally, you may well ask “So that’s all very well, but what does a ‘normal’ Bahama Mockingbird look like close-to?” Here’s an example for comparison 

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco 2

All photos RH, cheers to Woody for leading the trip and for spotting the unusual features of this bird PDQ

“HANDSOME BIRD, BLUE EYES, LIKES FISH, SEEKS MATE…” REDDISH EGRET ON ABACO (1)


Reddish Egret,  Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

“HANDSOME BIRD, BLUE EYES, LIKES FISH, SEEKS MATE…”

REDDISH EGRET ON ABACO (1)

Reddish Egrets come in two colour schemes, reddish and pure white; and both are available on Abaco. ID hint – among the 10 heron and egret species found on Abaco, these are the only ones with a black tip to the beak. In March, these birds are thinking about fish. They do that every day of the year. But they are also thinking about finding a mate. The colouring of the males intensifies, and in particular the greyish-pinkish base of its beak turns a bright ‘hi babe, how are you doing’ pink. The male RE in this post is resplendent in his breeding plumage. We encountered this RE at Crossing Rocks in the brackish pond area on the opposite side of the highway to the bonefishing jetty. This in an excellent place to check out for herons, egrets and other wading birds such as yellowlegs. The island is at its thinnest point here, with the hard dry land over which the highway passes just a few yards across. On either side it’s basically water, mangroves, and other wetland plants. Reddish Egret,  Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) The RE noticed us at the edge of the pond and put on a little display. This is unlikely to have been a ‘come on’… Conceivably, he wanted to show off his distinctive ‘bad hair day’ styling. More plausibly, he was probably put out by having his fishing disturbed. Reddish Egret,  Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) Reddish Egret,  Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) He wasn’t diverted for long, though, and soon got back to business hunting fish. Sometimes he would stand stock still, poised for a rapid strike into the water with that lethal beak. This is the RE’s classic fishing method, the static hunt. Reddish Egret,  Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) However, there are times for being proactive and chasing down the prey. While bonefishing out on the Marls, I have seen this done from a distance, especially by the white RE morphs. They splash about near the edge of the mangroves, moving back and forth, lifting their long legs high in the vegetation as they hunt down their small silver snacks. Our Crossing Rocks RE was suddenly on a mission…Reddish Egret,  Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) Reddish Egret,  Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) Reddish Egret,  Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) We had to tear ourselves away from this performance, grateful to have seen it at such close quarters. However we went back a few days later while on a birding trip to the pond at Gilpin Point. But that’s a post for another time…

RELATED POSTS

REDDISH EGRETS (WHITE MORPH)

GREAT EGRETS 

SNOWY EGRETS

GREAT BLUE HERON

GREEN HERON

CATTLE EGRET

All photos RH; cheers to Woody Bracey for stopping the truck here during our warbler expedition!

RED HIND GROUPER: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (25)


Red Hind Grouper Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

RED HIND GROUPER: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (25)

The Red Hind is one of several grouper species commonly found in  Bahamas waters. Commonly for now, anyway. There is less information available about this species compared with other groupers, but sources seem agreed that it is (a) abundant and (b) IUCN listed ‘least concern’ but (c) heavily fished and (d) delicious.

Red Hind, attended by Cleaner FishRed Hind Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

Red Hind Grouper ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba copy

One problem arises from the fact that Red Hinds form spawning aggregations in particular areas, making them vulnerable to fishing exploitation in those locations, and consequent population decline. Already, some of their spawning areas are protected.

Another threat comes from the degradation of coastal habitats coupled with increasing commercial and recreational fishing.  Red Hinds are targeted with speargun, hook and line, fish traps and nets. They may also be by-catch of other fishing operations. Fortunately Marine Protected Areas such as the ones in Abaco waters provide localised protection but these are not found throughout the Red Hind’s range. Closed seasons have been imposed in a few areas, another conservation method that has recently been introduced in the Bahamas for the Nassau grouper. 

Female spawning Red Hind Grouper (Univ of Puerto Rico:NOAA)

Getting the right balance between traditional fishing for food, and stock conservation is inevitably a tricky calculation. For the Red Hind, the factors that may result in the population decline of a plentiful species are in plain sight and will continue to be monitored by the various scientific research organisations involved…

OTHER GROUPERS YOU MAY ENJOY…

NASSAU GROUPER

TIGER GROUPER

BLACK GROUPER

Red Hind Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 3

Credits: All images Melinda Riger at Grand Bahama Scuba except (4) NOAA / Puerto Rico Univ; research from several sources, tip of the hat to SCRFA