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A poster by Kate Dolamore, available on EtsyShore Birds Kate Dolamore Etsy

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PLOVERS IN PARADISE

November 2013

THE BAHAMAS BLOG – TRIP 1, DAY 1

By Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager and Stephanie Egger, Wildlife Biologist

BahamasFlying

We will hit the ground running tomorrow with a visit to a local school, participation in a round table discussion with stakeholders on tidal flats conservation, a piping plover survey, and filming for an educational video. And that’s just the first day!

So while we still have time to catch our breath, this is a good opportunity to review the purpose of our trip here.  Over the course of the past two decades, considerable resources have been put into the recovery of the Atlantic Coast population of piping plover, a federally threatened species, with most of the effort taking place on the breeding grounds in the U.S and Canada. Recent research has revealed that the vast majority of the population winters in the Bahamas. Furthermore, there is a growing realization that recovery and long-term sustainability will only occur with full life cycle conservation – protection during the breeding, migration, and wintering phases of the piping plover’s life.

Nessie is a piping plover that was banded in Stone Harbor, New Jersey this past summer. She was last seen in NJ on July 2 after her nest failed. On September 29 she was resighted on Abaco, Bahamas.

Nessie (above) is a piping plover that was banded in Stone Harbor, New Jersey this past summer. She was last seen in NJ on July 2 after her nest failed. On September 29 she was resighted on Abaco, Bahamas.

Where does the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey fit into the picture? We participated in the surveys conducted in the Bahamas in 2011 that helped establish the importance of the Bahamas as the major wintering site for piping plovers. We have returned to Abaco (and Grand Bahama) each year since then to conduct follow-up surveys and continue to build local partnerships. And, of course, we play a central role in piping plover monitoring and management at breeding sites in New Jersey, where we are based. Our biologists, Stephanie Egger and Todd Pover, have over 25 years of piping plover experience between them.

Our goal for this project is to significantly increase the awareness of the link between the Bahamas and piping plovers, focusing on the public in the Bahamas, where the piping plover story is just beginning to be known thanks to groundwork done by the Bahamas National Trust. We also hope to help build local capacity to complete future surveys and advance conservation of piping plovers and their habitat. The first phase of the project will be completed on Abaco, where a strong conservation ethic and network of partners exists, but we hope to expand the effort to other islands in the future.

Our primary partner on the project is Friends of the Environment, an Abaco based conservation organization with strong links throughout the island and a great track record, especially with their education work in the schools. We are also partnering with Loggerhead Productions on the development of a video. It is great to be back in the Bahamas to see some old friends and to forge new partnerships in the name of piping plover conservation.

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WILLET OR WON’T IT… GET CLOSE TO YOU?

Willets (Tringa semipalmata) are large sandpipers, familiar as shore birds, foragers on sand bars and mudflats, or out in the mangrove swamps. Some might describe them as quite solid and plain to look at. Until they take flight, when their gorgeous wing patterns are revealed.

willet ©Greg Page @ Cornell Lab

Willets are ground-nesting birds, often breeding in colonies. They use their stout bills to forage on mudflats or in shallow water for insects, crustaceans, marine worms and occasionally plant-life. They tend to keep their distance, and in the past I have only managed this sort of unimpressive snapshot, not least because I normally only take a small basic camera out on the water in case it – or I – should fall in.Willet, Abaco Marls 1

However, we recently fished from the prow of a skiff parked on a sandy spit on the Abaco Marls, as bonefish came past on the tide. It was a productive hour for my boat-partner, though frankly less so for his boat-partner… As we fished, and to our surprise, a willet landed of the point of the spit to feed, and gradually worked its way towards us seemingly unconcerned by the skiff, by us or by the fish action. It started off about 30 feet away, and at close quarters it was far less drab and notably more elegant than expected.Willet, Abaco Marls 4

It foraged slowly towards us, keeping a beady inky-black eye on usWillet, Abaco Marls 2

At one time it came within a very few feet of us, then decided it had come close enough. We watched it stepping delicately away on its semi-palmated feet. The shot isn’t clear enough to show the slight webbing between the toes. However, you can clearly see the barred tail.Willet, Abaco Marls 5

In the c19 and early c20 there was a sharp population decline of these fine birds due to hunting. I’m not sure if it was for feathers, food or fun. All three, probably. Their population has recovered and their IUCN status is currently ‘Least Concern’, but like so many similar species they remain at risk, especially through continued habitat loss.

The Willet call and song are very distinctive, and are reproduced here via the great bird-noise resource Xeno-Canto

CALL


SONG


Willet, Abaco Marls 6All images RH except header (Wikimedia) & in-flight image (Greg Page @ Cornell Lab for Ornithology)

(PS if you think the traditional RH puntastic title is laboured, be grateful I didn’t proceed with the initial idea of working ‘Bruce Willets’ into this post. It didn’t work, on any level…)

“ON STILTS”: THE BLACK-NECKED STILTS OF ABACO

This elegant stilt Himantopus mexicanus was one of a pair nesting in the scrub by a small brackish lake near Crossing Rocks. We had gone there for heron and egret reasons, but for once there were none. Just dozens of BAHAMA (WHITE-CHEEKED) PINTAILS. I had walked to one end of the lake, when suddenly this bird rose from the undergrowth and flew, shrieking, straight at me. It veered off, landing agitatedly in the water, and proceeded to stalk towards me on a zig-zag route, scolding me belligerently. Black-necked Stilt, Abaco 1Black-necked Stilt, Abaco 2Black-necked Stilt, Abaco 3
In the end, it stood facing me squarely, then flew at me before veering away again back to the bushes, where it continued to protest. Presumably close by was a well-concealed nest with the female and her eggs or chicks. Of course I wouldn’t have had any idea about it but for this peevish display of aggression. However, this is such a handsome bird, and the protective display was so effective that I considered myself well warned, and moved away from the area…
BLACK-NECKED STILT ALARM CALL (Xeno-Canto)


Black-necked Stilt, Abaco 4

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Cuban Pewee Abaco 8

CUBAN PEWEE: NATURE’S LEAST SCARY TYRANT

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image.aspxThe CUBAN PEWEE Contopus caribaeus bahamensis, also known as the Crescent-eyed Pewee (see photos for details), is a tyrant. At 6″ long , the smallest tyrant you are likely to encounter in the Bahamas, but undoubtedly a member of the family Tyrranidae. These are the flycatchers, and include the larger LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER and the still larger Loggerhead and Gray Kingbirds. The Cuban Pewee is permanently resident on Abaco, and can be found in both pine woods and coppice. When returning to its perch after a flycatching sortie, this bird gives a characteristic flick of the tail.

The little bird below was in the edge of the coppice bordering the long sandy beach at Casuarina. Bruce Hallett, in his essential book  ‘Birds of the West Indies…’ notes that Cuban Pewees are ‘usually approachable’, so I decided to test this out. I was about 20 feet from the bird when I first saw it. By sliding one foot forward in the sand and pausing before moving the other foot, I got to within 5 feet of the bird, while it watched my approach with apparent indifference. Unlike some creatures, it did not seem discomfited by eye-contact. It responded when I made a faint clicking sound by rather sweetly putting its head on one side.  Then it began to fidget slightly – possibly feeling camera-shy. So I shuffled slowly back so as not to disturb it in its own territory.

The close-ups at the end clearly show the tiny hooked tip at the end of the upper beak – I imagine this somehow relates to the business of catching flies. Like other flycatchers, the Cuban Pewee has very distinctive whiskers around the base of the beak – again I presume this assists with feeding in some way, perhaps helping to sense the approach of an insect. Any expert views welcome via the comment box.

Cuban Pewee Abaco 1Cuban Pewee Abaco 7Cuban Pewee Abaco 6Cuban Pewee Abaco 5Cuban Pewee Abaco 4Cuban Pewee Abaco 9Cuban Pewee Abaco 10It’s occasionally tempting to anthropomorphise such close encounters in terms of imputed human / creature empathy. Much best to resist that. But as I withdrew, leaving this little  bird undisturbed on its branch, I did experience a strange feeling of… [I must interrupt myself here. I'm a lawyer, so that's quite enough of that sort of nonsense]

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A CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD ON ABACO, BAHAMAS

I took photos of this tiny bird at BPS last month. They were ‘chance’ pics taken when we were photographing parrots in the tree tops. The hummer suddenly appeared some way ahead of me, so I swivelled the camera at it without changing any settings. Frankly, I didn’t expect the results to show more than a small green blur, but they have turned out slightly better than anticipated. I put these images on my subsidiary ‘Gallery’ site and people seem to like them so I’ve decided to add them here too. After all, it’s their true home, I suppose, with the other Abaco wildlife. Apologies to those (both of you) who have seen these already on the other site. The images are exactly as taken – no colour tweaking, no sharpening, no photoshop  - and may not stand enlargement or close scrutiny, because I was several yards away. On the other hand they give a good idea of how this bird feeds. The body postures are very characteristic, and besides, the plants are pretty… Cuban Emerald Hummingbird in flight, Abaco Bahamas 1Cuban Emerald Hummingbird in flight, Abaco Bahamas 2Cuban Emerald Hummingbird in flight, Abaco Bahamas 3Cuban Emerald Hummingbird in flight, Abaco Bahamas 4Cuban Emerald Hummingbird in flight, Abaco Bahamas 5

“GIVE PEEPS A CHANCE”: THREATENED PIPING PLOVERS

Not the feeblest punning title on this blog, but going hard for the avian-related booby prize. As it were. Many months ago I did a short post about these tiny plovers, and had begun to update it. Then I found that both the BNT and the ABACO SCIENTIST are onto them too. Thanks to them, I have some excellent added material further down the page… But first, here’s a quick cut out ‘n’ keep summary

SIZE               Charadrius melodus is a Very Small Shorebird

HABITAT     Rocky shores / sandy beaches; nesting in higher, drier areas of the shoreline where there is cover

Photo courtesy of Caribbean Birds SCSCB

RANGE          From Canada (summer) down to the Gulf of Mexico (winter). They head south in August and return in March

Credit: Xeno-Canto / Google

CALL              A thin whistled peep peeping, whether standing or flying, and a two-note alarm call [There are surprisingly few Piping Plover call samples online. Many sites - Audubon, eNature, Birdwatchers Digest - all seem to have the same one. So I'll credit them all and the originator Lang Elliot and hope I've covered my back...]


BREEDING    The male digs out several scrapes on the high shoreline. The female contemplates these efforts, and (if any meet her ideal domestic criteria) chooses her preferred one, which she then decorates (grass, weed, shells etc). Meanwhile, Mr Peep tries to impress her by chucking pebbles around, dive-bombing her, and strutting around her importantly and “fluffed up” [none of these tactics work in human courtship, in my experience]. If Mrs Peep (a) likes the home she has chosen and furnished and (b) has recovered from her fit of the giggles at all that performance, she permits mating to proceed

NESTING     First nests normally have 4 eggs; later ones fewer. Both share incubation and subsequent parental ‘brooding’ duties

DEFENCE    Plovers have a defensive “broken wing display” used to distract predators and draw attention away from the nest

THREATS    Larger birds, cats, raccoons etc. Human disturbance. Plovers and chicks are vulnerable to storms & abnormal high tides 

ZOOM…!     Capable of running at astonishing speed over short distances. When they stop, they often snap the head back and forward.

STATUS       Depending on area, treated either as Threatened or Endangered; IUCN listing NT

CONSERVATION Historically PP feathers were used as decoration in wealthy women’s hats – no longer a problem. Shoreline development and alterations to natural coastline are now the leading cause of population decline. This has been reversed through field and legislative protection programs, especially at nesting sites; public education; anti-predation measures; and restricting human access in vulnerable areas – including off-roading…

STOP PRESS Nov 18 Sean has just posted a professional / scientific article about piping plovers, with some very useful information specific to Abaco and some helpful links, over at the ABACO SCIENTIST. Clicking through is highly recommended if you want to know more about these little birds

This is the characteristic ‘pigeon-toed’ stance – they run that way too…

RICARDO JOHNSON’S 6 MINUTE VIDEO ‘PIPING PLOVERS’

Ricky is a well-known, infectiously enthusiastic, and compendiously knowledgeable Abaco nature guide  (this guy gets way too much free publicity in this blog…). As I wrote when I originally posted  it “In this video he focusses his binoculars on piping plovers, a threatened species of tiny plover which annually makes a long migration to the Bahamas, including Abaco – and then heads all the way north again.”

If this video doesn’t make you smile at some stage, I suspect a SOH bypass and / or your ‘anti-cute’ setting is jammed on. Even so you’ll see the differences between the piping plover and the more familiar Wilson’s plover.

The BNT / ABSCI material originates from the Audubon Society. If you want to know about the annual journeys of these little birds and where they are in each season, it’s all here. The item was made in conjunction with the ESRI mapping project. I’ve put a screenshot below to give a general idea of what’s involved [click to enlarge] and you can reach the interactive Audubon page if you CLICK PIPING PLOVER

Credits:Wiki (images), Audubon Soc, Xeno-Canto, Lang Elliot & partners, Ricky Johnson

BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO – PRETTY FAMILIAR BIRDS

Both pretty and familiar, in fact. Birds of the pine-woods, coppice, garden… and feeder. They are an unremarkable species, they don’t have off-beat avian habits, they aren’t scarce… but if they weren’t there, you’d probably miss them. Males and females have notably different colouring, with the female having a bright eye-ring. They tend to hang out in pairs or small groups. These little birds are abundant in the north Bahamas, but like many species found there, they are only very rarely found in south Florida.

MALE BFG IN THE COPPICE NEAR THE DELPHI CLUB

A MALE BFG DEEP IN THE PINE FOREST NEAR THE SAWMILL SINK BLUE HOLE

No two books describe their call in the same way. I’m not venturing into the vexed field of avian phonetics of the ‘chip chip chip kerrrrr–ching’ variety… so here’s a very clear recording of the song of Tiaris bicolor from the excellent Xeno-Canto (Paul Driver)


FEMALE BFGs EAGERLY SNACKING ON THE FEEDERS AT THE DELPHI CLUBTHESE TWO PHOTOS SHOW THE DISTINCTIVE EYE RING OF THE FEMALE BFG

BOBOLINKS: MIGRATORY SONGBIRDS OF ABACO & THE BAHAMAS

Occasionally vacation plans disrupt the flow in the smoothest of operations. A smear of suntan cream in the well-oiled machinery of a blog. Or a well-oiled operator over-sampling the local produce – wine, in these parts. So it pays to follow the Blue Peter principle of ‘Here’s one I prepared earlier’. Except regrettably I didn’t do it properly and have been struggling to unpick some html on an iPhone. Don’t ever try it. Luckily the ever-resourceful Mrs RH brought an iPad along. Much less fiddly. So I am now able to feature the BOBOLINK (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), a small New World blackbird

14 ESSENTIAL BOBOLINK FACTS TO ENTERTAIN YOUR FAMILY & FRIENDS

  • Adults weigh about 1 ounce (28 g)
  • The collective name for a group of Bobolinks is a ‘chain’
  • One bird was tracked flying 12,000 miles (19,000 km) in one year
  • A bobolink has been tracked covering 1,100 miles (1,800 km) in one day
  • The birds migrate in flocks, feeding on cultivated grains and rice, which may annoy farmers
  • Despite their flying stamina Bobolinks have rarely been sighted in Europe

  • In South American they are known as “ricebirds”
  • In Jamaica they are sometimes eaten and are called “butterbirds”
  • Bobolinks forage on or near the ground eating seeds and insects.
  • Their breeding habitats are open grassy fields across North America
  • Males are often polygynous, and take their vows shamefully lightly
  • Females lay 5 to 6 eggs in a cup-shaped nest on the ground, hidden in dense vegetation
  • Both parents feed the young, except when the male has some important singing to do (often)
  • Although currently rated “of least concern” their numbers are declining due to loss of habitat

WAYS IN WHICH THE BOBOLINK HAS INSPIRED ARTISTS (despite its unpromising name)

Emily Dickinson wrote several poems about the bird, including “The nicest bird, I always think / Is the tiny Bobolink / To me, it never had occurred / Thus to name a songstrel bird” *

The Bobolink is also mentioned in a song called Evelina, from a musical called “Bloomer Girl” (me neither): “Evelina, won’t ya ever take a shine to that moon? / Evelina, ain’t ya bothered by the Bobolink’s tune?”**

The Bobolink is name-checked by Nabokov; in a poem by Sophia Jewett, An Exile’s Garden (1910); and it has a fly-on part in a film “The Mouse on the Moon”

Finally, a wonderful video showcasing the bubbling song of the bobolink (Credit: Themusicofnature)

and ** I can’t be sure which of these is made up. Maybe neither. Or both.

BANANAQUITS – MORE DISPATCHES FROM CUTE BIRD CENTRAL

A couple of months back I posted about Bananaquits on Abaco – specifically, at the Delphi Club. I featured images of a recently fledged bird, still with its ‘too big for my face’ orange-based beak. You’ll find other bananaquit information there, including audio of their call. I won’t repeat it all here – to see that post CLICK BANANAQUIT 

The small bird below looks like a slightly older juvenile – an early teen, let’s say, before the troublesome stage. There’s something very sweet about its feathers. It’s still more like fluff. This one is growing into its beak, which has also lost the very bright orange at the base.

This handsome adult was a regular at one of the feeders at Delphi. The base of its beak is red as opposed to orange (I don’t know the technical term  for this bird part. Is ‘mouth’ too simple? Someone tell me, by all means, via the comment  box). Bananaquits enjoy the hummingbird feeders, which their narrow curved beaks seem to manage. There, they are not pestered by the (very greedy) black-faced grassquits and the larger Greater Antillean Bullfinches who enjoy the other types of feeder available and take priority in the pecking order.

Finally, this bird was a distance shot. At the time, it looked  larger than a bananaquit – more Loggerhead Kingbird-sized. Before I had downloaded the image and could see it clearly, I’d wondered about a mangrove cuckoo. Then I saw at once that it didn’t tick the right boxes. So I decided it must just be a huge bananaquit with an orange rather than yellow front. If it’s anything else (a rare hybrid spindalisquit?), please say so!

LAUGHING GULLS ON THE ABACO MARLS

Laughing gulls. Amusingly raucous and raucously amusing. Unless, maybe, you are living right next to a breeding colony during a collective fit of hysterics. These gulls, Leucophaeus atricilla, will be familiar to anyone on the Atlantic coast of North America; in the Caribbean; and further south to the northern coastal areas of South America. In winter, their migration pattern simply involves relocating to the southern parts of their range. They are easily recognisable in the breeding season by their smart black caps, though this fades in winter. And by their unmistakeable call, of course. Immature birds tend to be darker than adults. They breed in large colonies, each female laying 3 – 4 eggs. And like most (all?) gulls, they’ll eat pretty much anything.

Laughing Gull Conservation Status

We saw – and heard – plenty while bonefishing on the Abaco Marls in June. I took some rather grainy distance shots, as they tended to fly off as the skiff was slowly poled towards them. This gull has found a good vantage point for some quality preening among the mangroves.

The pair below stayed put, and watched our gradual approach with suspicion that turned into noisy protest as we poled past them. I presume they were defending their territory – probably a nest site nearby.

I took a very short video just before they flew off as we drifted by. Apologies for the sound of the breeze – I’ve no idea if it’s possible to reduce the background noise while retaining the bird call. Listening to online bird sound clips (e.g. on the excellent Xeno-Canto) I think not. Or not without expensive editing equipment of a complexity I can’t face…

And here (thanks, Don Jones @Xeno-Canto) is what laughing gulls sound like when one of them has told the one about the bonefish and the shrimp…


LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER: A SMALL TYRANT ON ABACO

LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER Myiarchus sagrae is a non-migratory bird quite frequently seen in the Abaco pine forest and scrubland. It  is resident throughout the year on Abaco, as elsewhere within its distribution range (see map below) – also occasionally found as a vagrant in southern Florida. It is a ‘tyrant flycatcher’, a passerine species found throughout the Americas that includes kingbirds, pewees and phoebes.

The conservation status of this flycatcher is ‘Least Concern’

The LSF’s natural habitat is subtropical forest and rough scrubland. It builds its nest in a tree cavity or similar natural hole, and usually lays a clutch of two to four eggs. 

Adult La Sagra’s Flycatchers, unlike many avians, are very similar in appearance in both sexes.

As the name suggests, the species is primarily insectivore, fly-catching in the undergrowth and low scrub. However these birds also eat berries and seeds. Their call is a high pitched single or double noted sound described as ‘wink’. Here’s an example from the Bahamas by Paul Driver @ Xeno-Canto


And who or what the heck was La Sagra? The answer is: multi-talented Spanish botanist Ramón Dionisio José de la Sagra y Peris (1798–1871), who was also a writer, economist, sociologist, politician, anarchist, and founder of the world’s first anarchist journal El Porvenir (“The Future”). At one time he lived in Cuba and became director of Havana’s Botanical Garden; his name lives on arguably more significantly in ornithological than in anarchist circles (actually, an ‘anarchist circle’ must surely be a contradiction in terms…)

I note in passing that La Sagra is a provincial area in Spain, an Italian festive celebration, a chocolatier, or a small comet – all of which meanings may have to be negotiated online before you get to the flycatcher…

Ramón Dionisio José de la Sagra y Peris

Finally, to continue with the recently introduced avian philatelic theme, here are stamps from the Cayman Islands and Cuba featuring the La Sagra’s Flycatcher. The Cuban stamp commemorates the death of Juan Gundlach, the man who chose La Sagra’s name to bestow on this bird

  

THE GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH ON ABACO

This is a well-know bird (Loxigilla violacea) that can be seen on Abaco all year round. With their scarlet bibs and eyebrows, the males are a cheerful sight in coppice or garden. The females are paler brown, with orange accessories.

While still officially rated as a species of ‘Least Concern’, a measurable fall in population in recent years has seen them nudging towards ‘Vulnerable’. 

                                   


Greater Antillean Bullfinch song from Paul Driver at Xeno-Canto

Antillean Bullfinches enjoy garden feeders – and their larger size means that they are higher up in the pecking order than the black-faced grassquits and other small birds 

They are one of the many popular Bahamian bird species to have featured on postage stamps – in fact they scooped the high-value $10 stamp in 1991 and the $5 stamp in 2001

                                                                     

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER Polioptila caerulea

This small bird was quite far back – and high up – in the coppice on the Delphi guest drive. The photos were distance shots, so not the best quality, but they do capture the little bird in full song. BGGs have complete white eye rings; males have a dark ‘monobrow’ which can just about be seen in the photo above. In a word, ‘cute’. They sound like this (you may need to wait for the clip (credit: Cornell Lab / RH) to load – or hurry it along by clicking ‘Play’ as it loads):


They build a cup nest on a horizontal tree branch. It’s a modern family unit – both parents make the nest, tend the eggs, feed the young, and teach them manners. They may raise two broods in a season.

BGGs eat insects and spiders, feeding in trees and shrubs. They can hover very briefly, but mainly they catch insects on the wing (‘hawking’). The tail is often held upright while defending territory. Or sometimes just because they can.

All the information you could want on this species can be found at the excellent OISEAUX-BIRDS.COM

STOP PRESS checking back through my photos, I’ve found a (slightly blurry) distance shot of a BGG. I am adding it because it shows the bird with its characteristically cocked tail, often seen when perching (the bird, I mean) 

A very pretty BGG has recently been published on the superb Cornell Lab website, credited to Laura Frazier. It’s so cute – and such a clear image – that it deserves inclusion here 

BANANAQUITS Coereba flaveola

These small birds are a favourite of mine. They flicker around, cheeping cheerfully, yet are often quite hard to see in the coppice even if you think you are looking exactly where the sound is coming from.

Bananaquits are passerines, with an uncertain species designation. Over the years they have been officially reclassified three times. Some include them loosely with tanagers; others put them in their own family group; others argue that there are 3 distinct species. Basically, there is no universal consensus. There is some satisfaction, in a vastly over-classified world, in one small bird resisting man’s pigeon-holing (so to speak). It’s a tiny taxonomic enigma.

Among the islands of the West Indies there are several subspecies of bananaquit, with marked variations of appearance and size too tedious to relate. The best news is that “…the Bahamas Bananaquit with a whitish throat and upper chest may be a separate species…”.

The Bananaquit’s slender, curved bill is designed for taking nectar from flowers. It can pierce flowers from the side to reach the nectar, or use its bill to puncture fruit. It also eats small insects. The birds are tame, and love feeders, especially hummingbird feeders filled with sugar-water – hence their nickname “sugar bird”. They breed all year round. This is the characteristic chirrup of the Bahamas Bananaquit (credit: Xeno-Canto)


This small juvenile was happily feeding by itself near the Delphi Club, Abaco. Its mother then flew onto a nearby branch, and I’m afraid to say that the child indulged in a shameful charade of “Hungry! Feed Me! Now!” 

WARBLER IDENTIFICATION – A LIGHT-HEARTED CHALLENGE

SPECIES ID NOW SOLVED! CUT TO THE CHASE BENEATH THE PHOTOS FOR DETAILS. A LATE ENTRY NOW DISPUTES THE GENDER ID, SO THE SEX CHALLENGE IS REOPENED, SO TO SPEAK

I have previously posted aids to WARBLER ID (1)WARBLER ID (2), a pitfall-fraught area that continues to baffle me despite books, online resources, futile stabs in the dark etc. For each species the male differs from the female, and both differ from juvenile / maturing birds. And this all depends to some extent on the season. Here’s a speckled warbler photographed recently at the Delphi Club, Abaco, for which there are various candidates ranging from the distinctly possible to the frankly completely-unlikely-but-astounding-if-it-turned-out-to-be-true Kirtland’s Warbler. These are seen and positively identified vanishingly rarely on Abaco – maybe one or two a year, and invariably in winter. But what if one decided to stay behind for the summer… And to those who say “Prairie, dimwit”, I reply “…but their speckles don’t cover their entire fronts”.

I’m throwing this open, because although I have a view I’d like to see what others come up with. Craig? Avian101? Avian3? Margaret H? Other birding followers? Are you out there? Leave a comment (see small-print blurb at the bottom of the post) or email me at rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com The bird was a bit reluctant to be photographed, but I managed to get a side view, a ‘full-frontal’ and a head shot. Any ideas?

UPDATE Thanks to all who came up with suggestions – it’s interesting how opinion on warbler species varies, even with quite clear close-ups to judge from. The first past the post is… Dr Elwood D Bracey (Fl), to whom many thanks. It’s a female CAPE MAY WARBLER Dendroica tigrina. The runner-up is (amazingly) myself – I had it down for a Cape May juvenile, because I thought it looked a bit on the fluffy side… Also, its eye-patches (photo 3) are grey rather than brown, and I took their colouring to be a work in progress. There’ll be some more ID queries from our recent batch of Abaco photos – not just birds, but flowers & shells as well. All contributions will be welcome…

Oh no! What’s happening here? A late challenge has come in from Margaret H (see comments), who contends that the clearly shown patch on the bird’s cheek indicates that it is a male, not a female, Cape May. So the challenge was ended and the award given prematurely… The species is now definite, but the gender ID remains unresolved…

I’ve now heard from Alex Hughes, who writes “[I am] one of Caroline Stahala’s field techs on the parrot project this summer.  She forwarded me the photos of the warbler taken recently on Abaco.  The photos I saw are of a female Cape May Warbler, which is a great find in June!  She is certainly not going to make it to her breeding grounds, unfortunately, but still fascinating to see a boreal forest bird in the Bahamas during summer.

In a follow-up, Alex adds “I’d be very surprised if this was a male bird, due to the plumage lined up with the time of year.  This year’s juvenile birds are not big enough to make the flight south from breeding grounds yet, and wouldn’t anyways if they could.  Therefore, it would have to be adult non-breeding plumage if it were a male, also meaning this bird already molted from alternate plumage from spring, and flew south.  This seems far more unlikely to me than a female who simply didn’t make the flight, probably due to some handicap.  Either way, very cool!”

So I think that wraps it up. A female Cape May, in the right place at the wrong time. How lucky to have got close to one in the off-season. It just goes to show, eager Kirtland hunters, that any of the migratory warbler species might choose to stay behind for the summer…

CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY IMAGE & BLURB

“The Cape May Warbler breeds across the boreal forest of Canada and the northern United States, where the fortunes of its populations are largely tied to the availability of spruce budworms, its preferred food. Striking in appearance but poorly understood, the species spends its winters in the West Indies, collecting nectar with its unique curled, semitubular tongue”.

It is presumably using its ‘unique… tongue’ in Photo 2, inconveniently concealed by foliage so we will never know

(RH COMMENT My one obviously liked the Delphi Club – and its feeders – so much that it decided to stay for the summer…)


(Credit: Steve Pelikan for Xeno-Canto)

CAPE MAY WARBLER RANGE MAP (Wiki) (left)

As a warbler-muddler, I am interested to see how extremely selective this species is in its preferred summer and winter latitudes. The banding is very distinct. Are they never tempted by New York? Have they never tried Disneyland?

CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY RANGE MAP (below)

The more sophisticated range map below shows the migration areas between the summer breeding and winter non-breeding areas. It looks as though a Cape May warbler on Abaco in June is an unexpected sighting.

THE RED-LEGGED THRUSH - A WELCOME GUEST AT THE DELPHI CLUB, ABACO

They are everywhere in May and June, with their eponymous limbs and their remarkable red eyes. In fact, ‘red-eyed thrush’ would be as apt a name, if somewhat lachrymose-sounding. This was our first Summer visit to Abaco and the difference in sightings was marked. Now, the thrushes tended to choose a high tree-perch to sing from, when not hopping around feeding on the ground. In March they seem more furtive, lurking in the coppice – presumably eyeing up the talent (or sizing up the opposition) with mating in mind.

There are 6 distinct regional variations on the species, which are found in the Bahamas, Caymans, Cuba, Dominica, Haiti and Puerto Rico. TURDUS PLUMBEUS is the subspecies specific to the Bahamas. Some view them as the Caribbean counterpart to the AMERICAN ROBINThey eat fruit, insects and small creatures such as snails, lizards and caterpillars. Their song sounds like this (courtesy of Paul Driver at Xeno-Canto)


LOGO BIRD

In a departure from the normal use of an ‘in-house’ logo, I’ve posted a silhouette of a Delphi RLT in the coppice close to the Club. The photo itself was dull, but I liked the pose and decided to turn it into logo-thrush

BIRDS IN THE DELPHI GOUNDS OR IN THE COPPICE NEARBY

1. This bird was at the top of a tree on the Delphi front drive close to the Club. It is singing cheerfully, and you can clearly see its tongue

2. This bird also chose a high vantage point near the front entrance gate. I managed to get gradually closer to it. Its feathers are quite fluffy and I wonder if it a juvenile / late teen?

3. Strike the pose! Two very characteristic poses by a bird on the guest drive. In the first image, you can also (just) see its tongue as it sings

4. Another high perch above the coppice alongside the drive

GROUND-FEEDING IN THE GARDEN ROUND THE POOL

Two very productive areas for thrush-fodder. The newly cut grass exposes insects, in particular ants. And the border beside the lawn has plenty of insect-life to feed on (Photo quality suspect – half-asleep  by pool, grabbed camera)

A PRETTY EXAMPLE OF THE THRUSH TAKEN AT BAHAMA PALM SHORES

Checking out the precarious electricity infrastructure, Marsh Harbour, dusk

COMPARISON CHART FOR SEA BIRDS, SHORE BIRDS & WADING BIRDS

(Credit: The Beach Chair Scientist)

BRIGHT & BEAUTIFUL: SUMMER BIRDS AT THE DELPHI CLUB, ABACO

Peter Mantle reports that some colourful birds have arrived at Delphi to take advantage of the feeders and fresh water provided. Indigo Buntings have been around for a while, as they have been a little further north at BAHAMA PALM SHORES; and Rose-fronted / Red-breasted Grosbeaks (I’m not sure which is correct – the terms seem to be used interchangeably) have been seen all round the Club grounds for a week or more. They haven’t been recorded at Delphi before, so they have now been added to the ever-growing official list of the ‘Birds of Delphi’. How long before an elusive Kirtland’s Warbler puts in an appearance? And will anyone recognise it if it does..?

YELLOW WARBLER ©Cornell Lab

BANISH “WHAT WARBLER???” MISERY NOW WITH CORNELL LAB

I’ve written before about the problems of ID of the multitude of small yellow birds on Abaco. They are mostly (but not all) warblers. The issue is further confused by the differences in each species between males, females and juveniles; and also, I expect, by colour variations during the season. YW song courtesy of Xeno-Canto


The CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY has again come to the rescue with a helpful article. The link below takes as the starting point Yellow Warblers. Here is a grab of the page so you can see the well-thought-out format. You get

  • Keys to ID – size, shape, colour pattern, behaviour and habitat
  • Range Map
  • Audio clip of Call
  • Field marks (zoomable) including M & F
  • Similar species for comparison
  • Further down the page, other similar species and their details (e.g. American Goldfinch, Yellowthroats)

CLICK LINK===>>>  CORNELL LAB WARBLER ID

PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS

Janene Roessler has kindly sent news of a sighting yesterday of a prothonotary warbler on a feeder at Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco. [Later addition] Now, with thanks to Ann Capling, here is that very warbler on the feeder –  a fine photo considering it was taken indoors through glassApparently there hasn’t been one recorded there since 2007. I know of one seen further south on the island near the Delphi Club in April 2010 (see photo and caption below). I’ve never seen one myself. It seems fitting to celebrate the news with a post about these little birds…

This very pretty species of warbler Protonotaria citrea is the only member of its genus. The male birds are very colourful, with the females and juveniles being a bit duller. In flight, the underside of their tails are white at the base, and dark at the tipPhoto Credit Craig Nash (Peregrine’s Blog) This fantastic photo was taken on the main drive of the Delphi Club, Abaco

These warblers are native to the eastern US where they breed, wintering further south in the West Indies and Central & South America. Their nesting arrangements are unusual: “It is the only eastern warbler that nests in natural or artificial cavities, sometimes using old downy woodpecker holes. The male often builds several incomplete, unused nests in his territory; the female builds the real nest” where she lays 3 – 7 eggs. So either the male is cleverly creating decoy nests away from the real nest; or maybe he is showing typically male behaviour in starting several home DIY projects and not getting round to finishing any of them…

Female Prothonotary Warbler (wiki)

I can never cope with those phonetic descriptions of bird calls… So many small birds are described as going ‘tseep’ or ‘tweep’ or ‘seeep’, yet in practice sound different from each other. So here, courtesy of the admirable Xeno-Canto and recordist Don Jones, is how they sound in real life


Listed as of ‘Least Concern’ (except in Canada, where they are ‘endangered’), the sad fact is that like so many species PNs are declining in numbers due to habitat loss. They are also bullied by other birds, in particular the brown-headed cowbird; and the house wren with which they compete for nest sites.

And the cumbersome name? Although at one time known by the helpful name ‘Golden Swamp Warbler’, the bird was renamed after senior Roman Catholic church officials called PROTONOTARII whose robes were (are?) supposedly golden. For full but quite dull details click on the green word back there. Bizarrely, the wiki-link doesn’t seem to confirm the goldenness of the robes at all. I think I’ll vote for a return to the simpler description…

Male Prothonotary Warbler (wiki)

POST SCRIPT: By complete coincidence, the National Audubon Society posted this lovely PN picture on its Facebook page this very day, with the caption Start your Monday morning off right with this cute Prothonotary Warbler peeking out of a heart shaped tree hole! Have you seen any of these birds yet? Photo by Mark Musselman” 

I am prompted to write this post after Brigitte Carey, commenting on a photograph of mine of a European robin, commented  “We actually have reports of one single robin on Elbow Cay. We think he was blown off course by the very strong winds we had a few weeks ago. He has been sighted in separate spots on Elbow Cay in the last couple of weeks. Poor guy…he’ll have a lonely life here!”

 I wondered what other evidence exists of their presence on Abaco as occasional visitors – the northern Bahamas are not within their usual migratory range – so I did a bit of research

 AMERICAN ROBIN DISTRIBUTION MAP

YELLOW – summer-only range

GREEN – all year-round

BLUE – winter-only migration range

 I’ve checked various online databases – Avibase, e-bird for example –  for reported sightings. The evidence is that reports are very scarce indeed. Of course that does not necessarily reflect actual sightings, which are presumably more numerous. Overall however, American Robins certainly seem rare enough on Abaco, even though their full range includes nearby Florida. Which is why the recent reports Brigitte refers to are so significant.Fortunately the spotter Michele S put her brief Elbow Cay / Hope Town sighting report onto e-bird: “After a gale, saw two on the lawn in front of the Lighthouse” This was on Sunday 4 March 2012 at 9.30 a.m, and it would seem they were blown over to Abaco during the high winds. Brigitte will be pleased to hear that there were in fact two of them, so loneliness won’t be a problem… Apart from that very recent sighting, there is a recorded sighting on Man-o-War Cay in 1983; and one on Green Turtle Cay in 2008. Avibase suggests no sightings on South Abaco [except perhaps Marsh Harbour]. The species is however included in the checklist for Little Abaco. If any reader has seen an American robin on Abaco, it would be great to know when and where (using the COMMENT box below), and I will add the details to this post.

NEW – 2012 sightings at TC! Thanks to Elwood D. Bracey MD of Treasure Cay for his comments – and please contact him (or use the COMMENT box) if you can help with his valiant quest to reach the magic 200 species seen – he’s on 170 now: 

“As a birder living on Abaco for the past 20 years I’ve seen over 20 robins here, sometimes as many as 6 in North Abaco at once. This year I had 2 in Treasure Cay and 3 in Crown Haven. They appear on average once every other year. While notable I feel they are almost annual… why some years and not others I’m not sure.
Cedar Waxwings, Dickcissels, and Ruby-crowned kinglets are similar. This year we had our first Swainson’s Hawk for the Caribbean at the organic vegetable farm in North Abaco. It’s still here as is the Canada Goose on the #11 hole at TC Golf Course. It’s nice we have these vagrants and makes for interesting birding. I’m trying for a big year in the Bahamas (no one has ever had over 200 species in 1 year and I’m at 170 so far so if anyone has any unusual sightiongs please call me at 365-8305) [RH note: with only 196 recorded Abaco species on Avibase, this may be difficult to achieve...]. There was a pair of Wood Ducks on the TC GC which I missed. I did find Kirtland’s Warblers [RH note: red-listed as 'near-threatened', and only 'rare / accidental' on Abaco]  near Hole-in-the- Wall in January. Clean lenses and fast focusing!”

Photo Credits for the above images to good old Wiki

Here’s my own photo of an American Robin in Central Park NYC – I didn’t get very close…

These ARs are exhibited in the Museum of Natural History, NYC

Finally, here are 2 European robins for comparison. They are far smaller than the American version, roughly the size of a vireo

This is the photograph that Brigitte commented on – a robin’s Spring song – that I took a few days ago

THE BAHAMA SWALLOW: A SMALL ENDEMIC BIRD WITH BIG SURVIVAL PROBLEMS

The Red List status of the endemic Bahama Swallow Tachycineta cyaneoviridis has been upgraded from ‘Threatened’ to ‘Endangered’ because its small declining population faces a number of threats that are likely to worsen in the future. In particular, renewed logging activity and widespread property development could result in a further decline in breeding habitat.

The excellent photo above is the ‘Wikimedia poster bird’, but was in fact taken by prolific bird photographer Craig Nash in the main driveway of the Delphi Club, Abaco in 2010. He blogs as Peregrine’s Blog – see RECOMMENDED LINKS in right sidebar

This swallow species breeds only on 4 Bahamas islands: Grand Bahama, Abaco and Andros; and on New Providence, where a few birds are seen each breeding season, suggesting a ‘relict’ population there

 The Bahama Swallow winters throughout the Bahamas and has been recorded as far as eastern Cuba, but in general the full wintering range is little known. It is a rare vagrant elsewhere during migration, including Florida. The preferred habitat is in the pine forests, where they nest in old woodpecker holes in Caribbean Pines using pine needles, Casuarina twigs, and grass to make the nest which they line with feathers. They typically lay 3 eggs. Incubation is 15 days and the fledging period is around 22 days.

Besides loss of habitat due to human intervention, other factors in population decline are thought to relate to hurricanes and forest fires. The Red List proposals for conservation of the Bahamas Swallow state: “Survey all suitable breeding habitat and assess the status of the species and its habitat; Gather empirical evidence to clarify population trends as a priority; Assess winter distribution and habitat requirements; Study the impacts of fire suppression on the species; Maintain natural nest-sites through a pine snag management programme, and potentially fire management; Assess and monitor the success of the nest box scheme; Protect remaining forest in the Bahamas and minimise the area lost to housing development and logging; Assess the impact of starling and house sparrows on the population and develop appropriate measures to reduce the threat”

The Bahama Swallow has joined other notable bahamian wildlife species in receiving the accolade of a stamp and a coin:

ABACO FAVOURITE BIRD POLL RESULTS

RESULTS Here are the results of the recent Abaco Favourite Bird Poll, with apologies for an intermission in activity around here. We were away for a few days somewhere that turned out to be sunny, returning late last night to near-zero temperatures…

THE POLL started with five birds, but the Tropicbird was removed after a week having failed to chart. To begin with, it looked as though the parrots would stay way out in front, but the smallest rival gained ground, flew past and won the title. 

THANKS to all who took part by voting and or commenting – a gratifying number, enough to make for a reasonably accurate result. It would be nice to know what bird the voters in the last category would have chosen instead of the candidates on offer… 

THE OTHER POLL was designed to find out if people were finding that the ongoing woodpecker saga is becoming (has become?) tedious  or is providing a modicum of entertainment. Of relatively few responses (nb I did not vote), the result speaks for itself. I will take voting abstention / inertia to indicate either indifference or tolerance, and continue as and when a new drama occurs. 

Best outcome? Chicks!  

 

‘MERLIN”: A NEW ONLINE BIRD ID TOOL FROM THE CORNELL LABORATORY OF ORNITHOLOGY

 has produced a new proactive bird identification gizmo called MERLIN (CLICK for direct link). They are trying to build up a user-friendly ID ‘wizard’ using the sort of variable descriptions that people like me use to describe birds they don’t recognise. Perhaps we’ve all been there – “well, it was a medium-size greyish bird, but I think it had white under the wings. Or maybe a lighter grey. And a sort of white streak on its head. Actually the bird was more bluey-grey…”etc. Merlin seeks to iron out the variations using AI, by showing a bird and asking a number of questions to get users to describe the colouring  they are looking at. I tried it with a teal, and it worked first time.

 

Gradually, the input of descriptions for each bird will be analysed, so that future users are more like to get a correct ID based on their description, even if others might describe the bird differently. With any luck it will also improve the chance to ID that pretty bird seen fleetingly at a distance. It’s worth trying this out even if you are a serious birder, because each ‘attempt’ adds to the picture. And anyway, there’s a very slight element of a game here – will the computer get it right?

THE ROSETTA STONE FOR WARBLERS: CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY RESEARCH INTO THE FLIGHT CALLS OF MIGRATING WARBLERS

  has found a way to investigate the nocturnal migrations of warblers using spectrograms. Many of the warblers featured in the project are found on Abaco and will be familiar to the more discerning birder – though I admit that ID of  members of this large family of little yellowy birds, even in broad daylight, remains a blind spot for me (and I suspect I am not the only one). Click the chart below for a clearer view. A downloadable / printable version is available via the link given below. It is also worth visiting  the page to compare the brief audio cheeps of the Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler and Black-throated Green Warbler and their respective spectrograms

“These spectrograms are a visual representation of the very brief flight calls made by North American warblers during their nocturnal migrations. Some of these call notes sound almost identical to our ears, but spectrograms show minute differences between them. Scientists can compare spectrograms of night recordings to spectrograms of known species to identify nocturnal migrants in total darkness. Andrew Farnsworth, a scientist in the Cornell Lab’s Conservation Science program, developed this “Rosetta Stone” in 2006 in collaboration with Michael Lanzone, Cellular Tracking Technologies, William R. Evans, and Michael O’Brien. It covers all 48 warbler species of the U.S. and Canada (including Grace’s and Red-faced warblers, not shown), and is a major tool in our Acoustic Monitoring Project”

CLICK CHART to enlarge

Putting Sound to Work for Conservation: “Our staff will use results from the Rosetta Stone… to “train” computers to identify the sounds of warblers and other nocturnally migrating birds, as well as other species including whales and forest elephants”

Working Toward a Bird Migration Forecast: “A new grant from the National Science Foundation will fund BirdCast, a project that will combine bird observations (both sightings and sound recordings) with weather models and terrain data to forecast migrations. The results of the predictions will help scientists understand migratory behavior and may aid decisions about wind turbine placement and other questions about environmental hazards to birds”

To see the complete article CLICK LOGO===>>> 

To learn more about BirdCast and the Acoustic Monitoring Project from the original article CLICK LINK===>>>  Cornell Chronicle 

Prairie Warbler on the Delphi Club guest drive, Abaco

SOUTH ABACO CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT 2011

Here is a clip taken from the excellent website THE ABACO SCIENTIST, with the kind permission of Dr Craig Layman of FIU. The brief summary of the South Abaco Bird Count 2011 by Elwood D. Bracey is of great interest, not least for the Delphi Club, from where guided Nature Tours take place and where there is a lot of enthusiasm for the birdlife of the island. 75 separate species were recorded this year, including all the known Abaconian endemics.

It is also a very fine photo of a male Bahama Woodstar courtesy of BIRD FORUM

CORNELL LABORATORY OF ORNITHOLOGY                    ANNUAL REPORT 2011

The Annual Report 2011 contains a huge variety of reports, project news, images, and references. The direct link to the specific Bahamas Birding page can be found under BLOGROLL links on the SIDEBAR. The Report is far wider-ranging. I post it in pdf form because anyone with an interest in birdlife is bound to find something worth following up, and  you should be able to download it (if you try & it doesn’t work, can you let me know – comment box or email – and I’ll change the format)

CLICK CORNELL LABORATORY OF ORNITHOLOGY ANNUAL REPORT 2011

ABACO BIRD I.D: A SMALL GALLERY

At an early stage of this blog I set out one of its aims – to help answer the question “What the heck is that small yellow bird over there…?” Since then, images have been posted. Lists and links have been given. Bird books have been reviewed. Every little prompt with ID helps the interested amateur (e.g. rh) and not just with the little yellow birds… I have seen all these birds at or very close to Delphi except the common yellowthroat (which I may well have seen but not “seen” as in recognised); and the red-tailed hawk, which we have spotted in the National Park (see TO THE LIGHTHOUSE, a rugged (ha!) account of the frankly unnerving trip through the National Park to Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse)

Here is a small gallery posted with permission of Friends of the Environment, Abaco (thanks Olivia), taken from their website, where you will find these images and a great deal more excellent material besides. Click anywhere on the gallery to get a better view. All images © A.C. Hepburn  

Friends of the Environment website CLICK LOGO=>  

Peter Mantle reports that a recent ferocious 4-day storm caused further havoc in the gardens, which had just about recovered from the depredations of Hurricane Irene. Even fishing was impossible. Yes, it really was that bad. However, the birds seem remarkably resilient to everything the weather gods throw at them. Parrots are plentiful around the club and are seen and / or heard almost daily. Peter also says  “We had a spectacular exhibition yesterday of a peregrine repeatedly dive-bombing (for fun, we think) several turkey vultures in high wind, with another peregrine cruising nearby.”

Caroline Stahala has given me a West Indian Woodpecker update. These charming if noisy birds have been a bit of a leitmotif of this blog. We met their early reluctance to use the perfectly nice nesting box provided for them; their eventual moving in; their use of the club vehicles’ wing-mirrors for vanity purposes; their attempts to raise 2 broods of chicks with varied success (that’s a deliberate euphemism); and stoutly resisting the force of Irene. The male woodpecker is still using the nesting box for roosting. The breeding season is long over, but perhaps next season his home in the eaves of the verandah will be tempting for a mate… And finally, the hummingbirds are plentiful – so as Caroline says, “now is a good time to be birdwatching…” 

     Photo credit: Peter Wesley Brown

‘HUMMER WATCH’

This might be entertaining. Possibly. I’ve stumbled into a way to make and embed a customisable Abaco map. The bright idea is to record sightings of hummingbirds on the main island and the Cays – both Cuban Emeralds and especiallyBahama Woodstars. See SIDEBAR, right-hand side, down at the bottom for the map, which is enlargeable and moveable.

Data entry I am the only person who can do this, because I had to make the map using my own G**gle account. So if you’ve got sightings  to add, that would be excellent. The most helpful thing would be to add a comment to this page or else to email me at rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com and I’ll do the pin-sticking. 

A useful format would be ‘BW (or CE) – Location (as precisely as possible, for sticking in the pin) – Date (MM/YY) – Initials – Comment (if any)’ 

THE WESTERN SPINDALIS  / STRIPE-HEADED TANAGER

The western spindalis (or stripe-headed tanager)  is my favourite bird on Abaco. These 3 birds were all at Bahama Palm Shores. Although this species has featured in at least one earlier post, it’s time for another showing – this time with added sound (credit Xeno-canto.org) 





THE DELPHI CLUB DRIVE CIRCUIT

This very pleasant walk somehow seems more satisfactory taken clockwise, turning left at the front gateway and wandering along the guest drive. The straight service drive is less interesting and feels less ‘in the coppice’. The distance is about 2 miles. You can walk the circuit briskly in about half an hour. The birds will see you, but you won’t see them… So preferably take it easy. Here is a fantastic aerial view of the drives, courtesy of DCB

The start of the route – trees as far as the eye can see

From a birding point of view, as you walk down to the gateway, keep an eye out on both sides. There are plenty of birds in the bushes and trees, though they are not always easy to see. You might see a western spindalis, bananaquits, black-faced grassquits, warblers, northern parulas, loggerhead kingbirds, vireos, cuban emerald hummingbirds or a bahama woodstar if you are lucky, amongst many others. When you get to the main drives, have a look straight ahead into the coppice – in fact anywhere along the guest drive is worth pausing to investigate.

This cuban emerald was just opposite the drive gateway


The gumbo limbo trees are very popular with many birds, including the Abaco Parrots, so it’s good to check them out as you pass by (and if you have unfortunately touched a poison-wood tree, they provide the antidote – conveniently the two trees tend to grow next to each other). Here are a couple of Thick-billed Vireos proving the point. And their song, which you will hear a lot around the Club itself. 


Hairy Woodpeckers seem to favour dead trees for drilling practice – and perhaps for feeding on the sort of bugs attracted to dead wood. Here’s what they sound like (a call and response with 2 birds)  (credit Xeno-canto.org) 



There are plenty of small birds all along the way, some more vivid than others…Black-faced grassquit (not a warbler, as earlier suggested. Thanks CN)

Prairie Warbler

Antillean Bullfinch  (not, as previously alleged an American Redstart – thanks CN)

If you look at the base of the trees in certain places, especially on the the left hand side of the guest drive (facing the highway), there are some small but deep holes in the limestone. If you drop a stone in, you can hear it splash in water – and the ferns growing inside them suggest a continuously moist environment.

As you progress, you move from the hardwood coppice to the pine forest.This photograph was taken just as the forest fires in March were petering out. The theory was that the fires that raged through the pine forest would stop where the coppice began, and not sweep on to engulf Delphi… and so this photo shows. The thick pine forest with its flammable vegetation and undergrowth gives way here to damper and less combustible coppice-wood which has halted the progress of the flames. The pines you can see are the last few outliers of the pine forest.

Here is an example of the drive having acted as a partial firebreak.

The pines, even burnt ones, are a good place to see West Indian Woodpeckers

When you reach the top of the guest drive it is worth carrying on to the highway. For a start you can admire Sandy’s gardening effort on the south side of the ‘white rock’, and maybe do some weeding. 
You are quite likely to see Turkey Vultures on the telegraph posts and wires, as here. You may also see Bahama Swallows on the wires, and perhaps an American Kestrel on a post.

20110727-064435.jpg Smooth-Billed Ani (wiki-ani)

I have seen a raucous flock of Smooth-billed Anis in this area, but it is hard to get close to them. Listen out for this unmistakable noise (credit Xeno-canto.org)


Returning from the road to the fork, to your right is the way you have come – seen here as the fires burnt out. There had been thick, indeed impenetrable, bright green undergrowth all along only 3 or 4 days earlier.

To the left is the service drive and your route home

Because this route is more open, there seem to be fewer birds. Again, you may see kestrels on the posts. Halfway along we heard  the loud and very melodious singing of a Northern Mockingbird some distance away. CLICK on image (as you can with all, or most, of these photos) and you can see it singing!

CLICK BUTTON to hear song of a Northern Mockingbird (credit www.bird-friends.com) 


On either drive you will see butterflies. They seem to like the vegetation around the piles of stone and rubble.
GULF FRITILLARY Agraulis vanillae

It is also worth looking out on either drive for epiphytes, or air-plants, growing on their host trees. They are so-called because unlike say, mistletoe, they are non-parasitic and do not feed off their hosts.

And so back to Delphi, a well-earned swim and an ice-cold Kalik in the hammock…

For another angle on the circuit walk, have a look at a proper professional-looking blog by Craig Nash, already trailed in theBLOGROLL. This link will take you specifically to his fourth Delphi post, featuring this stroll. At the risk of stitching myself up here, I should say that you’ll get plenty of seriously good photos..PEREGRINE’S BLOG 4

THE HUMMINGBIRDS OF ABACO

At last I have got round to the hummingbirds. It’s quite simple. There are only two species of hummingbird on Abaco. The endemic variety is the Bahama Woodstar, one of only 3 endemic bird species on Abaco (the others are the Bahama Yellowthroat and the Bahama Swallow). The settled migrant is the Cuban Emerald.

BAHAMA WOODSTAR Calliphlox evelynae


Male and female Bahama Woodstars  (Photo Credit: Phil Brown – and VG too) These hummingbirds are found throughout the Bahamas. They do not migrate, although are occasional vagrants in SE Florida

They breed all year round, the main season being in April. The female lays 2 elliptical white eggs, which she incubates for 15-18 days. As with humans, the female is mainly responsible for childcare while males go drinking at the nectar bar and hang out with their mates

This BW was one of a small group at Hole-in-the-Wall. They were completely unconcerned by our presence, and we could get within arms length of them Woodstars, though tame in human terms, can be aggressive and territorial. They are plentiful throughout the Bahamas except on Grand Bahama, Abaco and Andros. Significantly those are the only islands where the Cuban Emerald is found in any numbers. Like the red and grey squirrel problem in the UK, the migrant emerald is aggressive towards the woodstar, which is consequently rare where emeralds are abundant. This is their call (credit Jesse Fagan Xeno-canto) 


Addition April 2012 Here is a seriously cute female Woodstar photographed by Ann Capling at Bahama Palm Shores, close to Ocean Drive – a really pretty little bird 

At Delphi, you’ll frequently see emeralds, especially now that feeders with sugar water have been hung up for them. The pool area is a very good place to watch them. But there are occasional woodstars to be seen as well – in the coppice on the drives for example, and even on the feeders. The vague blur to the left of the feeder below is a woodstar in the millisecond between me pointing the camera and it flying away… Don’t bother to click to enlarge it – it’s a useless photo, I know, but it is evidence even at the lowest level

CUBAN EMERALD Chlorostilbon ricordii

There’s probably a great deal to be written about the emeralds, but not by me. Or not now, anyway.  The little you need to know from me is already covered above, and I haven’t yet discovered whether their childcare arrangements differ significantly from the woodstars. Probably not. So I’ll put in a selection of photos, and remark that it is strange how quickly they can change from sleek and slender birds to small rather cold and dispirited looking bundles of feathers. Both states are depicted below. And here’s what to listen for: (credit Xeno-canto.org) 


                  Delphi – Pool Feeder

                  Delphi – far side of pool

                 Delphi – near pool

                  Delphi – front of Club
                 
Delphi – front of Club

                 Delphi – front drive


All the above birds were photographed at Delphi. We saw emeralds elsewhere, of course – in the pine forest, flicking across the logging tracks; on other Cays. The best sighting was during our day trip reef-snorkelling and island-hopping with Kay Politano, when we had an excellent lunch for 14 at Cracker P’s on Lubbers Cay (see future post about this and the island-hops). There was a bird feeder by our table, to which emeralds came and went throughout the meal. Here are some photos – I wanted to get them hovering, and kind of succeeded. More or less.




This link may or may not result in you hearing an emerald’s call. Let’s see if I can make it work… 


HUMMER FACTS

  • The colourful throat of a (male) bird is known as a ‘gorget’
  • Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards
  • There are 320 species of hummingbird worldwide
  • The smallest is the bee hummingbird of Cuba, at 2″ for an adult
  • John Gould, the c19 ornithologist and artist, invented many of the names to reflect the varied and iridescent colours of the birds.
  • Hummingbird wings beat as much as 75 times per second
  • Hummingbirds have the highest metabolic rate of any warm-blooded creature; also the largest hearts (proportionately, obviously…)
  • There are many collective nouns, including a “bouquet”, “glittering”, “hover”, “shimmer”, and “tune” of hummingbirds
  • On the TCI, the Bahama Woodstar is known as ‘The God Bird’ 

  •                                                 

BIRDS ON THE BEACH: ROLLING HARBOUR, ABACO

By which I mean, of course, Plovers and Ruddy Turnstones on the Delphi beach, but let’s just keep an eye on the individual ‘hits’ tally for this provocatively titled post…

A single Wilson’s Plover – February 2010

Four Ruddy Turnstones at the north end of the beach, on the lethal coral –   March 2011 (thanks for the ID correction, Margaret)

Two Ruddy Turnstones – March 2011

An inviting track to be followed (quite some distance, as it turned out)

                       The end of the track – a crab’s home

Finally, his ‘n’ hers rods – evidence of a perfect Rolling Harbour afternoon


BIRD CHECKLIST FOR RICKY JOHNSON’S ECO TOUR (March 2011)     (Note impressive number of boxes ticked in one day, and how very effective he is as a guide!…)            

A BIRDING EXPEDITION WITH RICKY JOHNSON (PART DEUX)

During our parrot observations, we had plenty of opportunity to see other birdlife. We were especially fortunate to be able to visit a large and very beautiful private garden on the shoreline at Bahama Palm Shores which Ricky showed us round; and to meet the benevolent owner who permits this intrusion. We saw between us a wide variety of birds in or near the garden, of which these are a small sample – starting with my favourite bird of all

WESTERN SPINDALIS (STRIPE-HEADED TANAGER)

POINTING AND SHOOTING                                       THE TEAM PHOTO

        

BLACK-HEADED GRASSQUIT

RED-LEGGED BLACKBIRD

WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER

UM – NOT SURE ABOUT THIS ONE… ANY IDEAS?

RICKY JOHNSON

A BIRDING EXPEDITION WITH RICKY JOHNSON – PARROTS

Ricky ushers us into his spacious, comfortable truck: 6 denizens of Delphi eager for adventure. Most have already been on a morning trip to see the Abaco Barbs (wild horses) of which more in a separate post. rollingharbour suffers from an unfortunate but mild form of equine indifference disorder, so gave it a miss.

We set off north on the highway, checking cameras, binoculars and other essential expeditionary impedimenta. Meanwhile, Ricky reveals his knowledge, experience and huge enthusiasm… this extends way, way beyond mere birds to the trees and plants, to poisons and herbal remedies, to geology and speleology, to geography and history. Soon we reach our destination, confident in Ricky’s renowned ability to know where the parrots (and many more birds besides) are to be found. We don’t have to wait very long – about two minutes after we turn off the highway, in fact… The parrots favour the Gumbo Limbo Tree (Bursera simaruba) as pictured, which invariably and most conveniently grows next to the Poisonwood tree (Metopium Toxiferum) and is its antidote. That’s the first place to look.

ABACO PARROTS (Amazona leucocephala bahamensis) Here is a selection of our photos of these fantastic birds. I hadn’t expected to see so many, for so long, and at such close quarters. Their colouring was extraordinarily vivid, with a slash of blue on the wings. This was especially dramatic in flight. One parrot, shown below, had red frontal markings that extended almost to its tail. Ricky hadn’t seen one like it before.

CLICK on the images to enlarge them significantly [Mrs rollingharbour reports that this is as yet a theory and may not work in practice]

CAPTION COMPETITION (NON-COMPETITIVE): 3rd image down – what did parrot (a) say to parrot (b)? 

To be continued… (I’m going to do this post piecemeal – other birds, flowers etc to follow)

A  STROLL ROUND THE DELPHI GARDENS

There is a wealth of birdlife on the Delphi doorstep. You don’t even have to go out of the front gateway to find it. You’ll hear a great many more birds than you ever see – many are small and very hard to spot in the bushes, even when you can hear loud chirrups. Here are a few examples of what you might see, all taken within the Club precincts

TURKEY VULTURES, ever present, wheeling above the bay, sometimes in flocks of 20 or more. Their grace in flight is slightly spoiled by the knowledge that their heads are red, wrinkled, bald and… frankly unattractive. You may also see them hunched on a dead branch along the drive (second photo)

LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRDS, one of several types of ‘Tyrant Flycatcher’, so-called because of their robust attitude to defending their territory. The first one is on the far side of the pool; the second is taken from the verandah

WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER, resident initially under the verandah eaves before moving to the upscale nesting box further along. Often seen during the day in the gardens, sometimes shouting raucously: the second photo is near the pool

ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH (previously wrongly ID’d as American Redstart – thanks Craig) I’d never seen one of these before, nor indeed heard of them. This one was photographed in the trees along the drive while I was in fact looking for another bird altogether…

THICK-BILLED VIREO, one of several vireo species. Believe me, they are much less blurry in real life than here… They chirp a lot and seem quite tame

BANANAQUIT My second favourite bird (after the western spindalis). Smart black and white heads, yellow underparts, and a sharply curved beak used to pierce the base of flowers for nectar. They aren’t choosy though, and eat insects and fruit too. Very chirpy, and VERY hard to see in the bushes, even when you can clearly hear exactly where you think it must be… Look for moving foliage. This one was in the shrubs by the main staircase

NORTHERN MOCKING BIRD at a distance… above the skiff park. We heard it singing melodiously. ID (in close up – click on image for a marginally better view) from cocked and slightly spread tail, and (you won’t see this) white wing markings. This species is beginning to displace the larger but unaggressive Bahama Mockingbird

NORTHERN PARULA Small yellow warbler, of which there are many types. This is the one that unwisely tried to fly into the Great Room through the plate glass, and had to be revived by Sandy. It perked up quite quickly, and flew off none the worse for its encounter either with the glass or Sandy…

HUMMINGBIRDS are a fascinating topic in themselves, and I’ll post about them separately. There is the Cuban Emerald and the endemic Bahama Woodstar, both of which can be seen at Delphi (though the latter are rare where the former predominate). There is a 3rd type of hummer on Abaco, which I will leave you with for now: 

 

THE ULTIMATE LIST OF THE BIRDS OF THE BAHAMAS

Say what you like about Wikipedia - no, not that, please – but in many fields it is very hard to beat. CLICK LINK IN RECOMMENDED LINKS IN SIDEBAR–––>>>>‘ULTIMATE LIST OF BIRDS…’ for as comprehensive a list in accessible form as you could wish to find. Even allowing for a few ‘wiki-errors’ (is “Elton John” really a species of Gnatcatcher?), it’s an awesome basic resource a mere click away. There are click-throughs to individual birds, where you will find photos and all the other types of species information you need. Well worth a quick look, and you may find it extremely helpful to give it more attention.

 DELPHI CLUB, PARROT RESEARCH AND CONSERVATION

Caroline Stahala, a scientist from Florida, has spent some years studying the endemic parrots of Abaco. The Club is a convenient place from which to carry out some of her research. Evidence is growing that these protected parrots may not be a variant subspecies of the Cuban parrot, as previously believed, but are actually a species in their own right deserving their own distinct classification. Such a finding would be of major ornithological importance, and would further secure the protection of these beautiful birds and their habitat. This in turn will help to prevent the decline in their already small numbers. I hope to post news of Caroline’s research into this year’s parrot breeding season which begins next month

CLICK LINK in RECOMMENDED LINKS in SIDEBAR  -—››› PARROTS INTERNATIONAL for Caroline’s Thesis

CLICK LINK  for Article (Abaconian March 3 2011): Parrot Adventure with Caroline Stahala (BNT)

Abaco Parrot

 SANDY: GOOD WITH BIRDS

This Spring has seen a number of birds – possibly tempted by Gareth’s cuisine – flying hard into the windows / doors of the Great Room and falling stunned onto the verandah. Luckily, Sandy has sometimes been on hand to scoop them up and gently let them come to their senses before releasing them.

Western Spindalis (Spindalis Zena) or Stripe-Headed Tanager

   

Northern Parula: one of a large number of yellowy warbler types around Delphi

    

The Parula ID was confirmed by Craig Nash (see side-bar RECOMMENDED LINKS for his Delphi birding links). He has supplied his own much better photo of one, photographed in one of the drives – see CONTRIBUTIONS / PHOTOGRAPHS

 
THE RELUCTANT WOODPECKER
 
“West Indian woodpeckers have now occupied the nesting boxes on the Club’s verandah” - main DCB blog 7.04.11
 But a few weeks before, one West Indian Woodpecker hadn’t quite got the idea… 

The thoughtfully provided woodpecker accommodation
The chosen roost (at the opposite end of the verandah)
 

**UPDATE  see now CONTRIBUTIONS / PHOTOGRAPHS for the happy ending

THE GOOD BIRD GUIDE 2010

This guide was compiled after our visit to Delphi in February 2o10. It was originally intended purely for domestic consumption, as a light-hearted personal record and aide memoire. However, others suggested it might be useful for people wanting to make a quick identification of a bird they have seen around the Club or further afield. I was persuaded to put a copy on the desktop of the computer in the Club Library, and there’s now a hard copy around as well. I am currently revising it to include our 2011 visit. And now here it is in blog format. I.T. progress.

CLICK LINK —››› DELPHI CLUB GOOD BIRD GUIDE 2010

Some of the images are my own; others are from freely-available resources – due thanks are given to those too numerous to mention individually (never mind being completely unidentifiable) whose images are featured…

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