GRACE WITH ATTITUDE: SOUTHERN STINGRAYS IN THE BAHAMAS


Southern Stingray 2 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

GRACE WITH ATTITUDE: SOUTHERN STINGRAYS IN THE BAHAMAS

Southern Stingrays are often seen in Abaco waters. In the bay of Rolling Harbour at Delphi, we sometimes watch them admiringly from the balcony or beach as they lazily cruise along the shoreline in the turquoise water. If someone is in the water, they will make a leisurely detour round them – unfrightened in their own element, but unthreatening and disinclined to investigate human intrusion. Diving with them is a wonderful experience (though I have never got very close). Melinda Riger – a scuba expert with great camera skills – takes the most beautiful photos of the stingrays she encounters. Here are a few that I haven’t yet featured.  Notice the little striped CLEANING GOBIES going about their business. 

Stingray, Southern with cleaning gobies ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyStingray, Southern at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba  copySouthern Stingray © Melinda Riger @GB Scuba copy

Southern Stingrays are often encountered when one is bonefishing in the low waters of the Marls. I took the photos below while we were fishing in a channel between areas of mangrove. As the skiff was poled very slowly forward, I saw the stingray coming straight towards us. I wondered how it would react. Very elegantly, was the answer. It turned effortlessly and unperturbed to one side, then resumed its original course leaving a clump of mangrove between it and the skiff. 

Southern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 1)Southern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 2)Southern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 3)Southern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 4)

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SOUTHERN STINGRAYS

RAYS OF SUNSHINE

YELLOW STINGRAYS

Credits: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba; RH

REDDISH EGRET ON ABACO, LOVES FISHING, STILL SEEKS ‘THE ONE’


Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)09

REDDISH EGRET ON ABACO, LOVES FISHING, STILL SEEKS ‘THE ONE’

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a wonderful male reddish egret in his splendid breeding colours. He was hanging out in the brackish ponds opposite the Crossing Rocks jetty, ‘spear fishing’ from a standing position and ‘chase-fishing’ frantically through the water. You can see that post HERE. Unsurprisingly, we decided to take another look down there – easily done, since we had spent the morning out bonefishing on the west side. We’d earlier seen a tri-colored heron in the ponds, and a reddish egret WHITE MORPH, so it was worth having a (different) camera to hand…

Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)11

We were in luck. The RE was still there, looking every bit as handsome as before (though not the entire time – see below) So here are some more shots of this gorgeous bird.

Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)12Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)13Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)01Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)02Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)14Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)05

Mostly, the RE was sleek and elegant. There were times however when the wind ruffled him up a bit, and he lost some of his composure… not the ideal look should a female RE arrive looking for her perfect partner at that very moment. A bit ‘morning after’ rather than ‘evening before’…Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)07

…and does this (unfairly undignified) view reveal a touch of early baldness’?Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)06

This turned out to be our last opportunity to see the RE. Let’s hope he has paired off happily, and that his offspring will be at the ponds next year.

I posted this photo on FB, because the bird strongly reminded me of someone. A very small amount of digging produced the human likeness and inspired a bit of creativity – see below (with apologies to both parties).Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)08

RODDISH EGRET MEETS RED STEWART…

                     Rolling Harbour Abaco's photo.Rolling Harbour Abaco's photo.
To coin a phrase, Every Picture tells a Story! Oh. Someone’s come up with that already, have they? Well here’s a reminder of the original – complete with Sir Roderick’s personal grooming advice near the start: “…standing in front of my mirror… combed my hair in 1000 ways, but it came out looking just the same…”
All photos: RH, with Mrs RH

WOOD DUCK: THE LEAST REALISTIC DUCK EVER


Wood Duck (Keith Salvesen)5

WOOD DUCK: THE LEAST REALISTIC DUCK EVER

I’ve been out shooting duck, camera-wise. Ducks are a bit of a mystery to me, and to be honest I often find it hard to tell one ruddy duck from another. I’ve found a memorable one now, though – the Wood Duck Aix sponsa. With all due respect to the Family Anatidae, these birds are just wooden toys brightly painted. I’ve watched them, and I’m still not convinced they don’t have tiny motors in them that propel them slowly in the water and make the wings twitch from time to time. 

Wood Duck (Keith Salvesen)2

Wood Ducks may be found on Abaco, which I why I mention them. I’m showing some here in case you should be lucky enough to meet one – then you’ll recognise it at once. They are infrequent winter residents on Abaco – not exactly rare, but not commonly seen and therefore irregularly reported. 

Wood Duck (Keith Salvesen)1

If you do happen upon one of these birds you’ll be fortunate, for they are undoubtedly very beautiful. It might be worth clapping your hands to test my theory that they won’t react at all. Their little motors will just keep them chugging through the water…Wood Duck (Keith Salvesen)4

All photos: RH. Idiotic duck-based theory: RH

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)

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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