“PELICAN BRIEF”: BROWN PELICANS AT SANDY POINT, ABACO


Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 12

 “PELICAN BRIEF”: BROWN PELICANS AT SANDY POINT, ABACO

The Brief today is to write about Brown Pelicans at Sandy Point. And to shoehorn in the traditional titular pun somehow (job done!). For those unfamiliar with Abaco, SP is the end of the road. Literally. The island has one highway 120 miles long, mostly straight, from north to nearly south where it curves abruptly west for a while, past the airfield, and when it reaches the ocean at Rocky Point there’s a 90º turn. For a couple of miles, you travel north again into Sandy Point… then stop when you see the sea ahead of you. Dead end. Time to park and explore… 

Abaco Road Map

Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 4

The birding at SP can be very rewarding. Depending on the time of year, you may see ospreys, tropicbirds, heron and egrets of various sorts, kestrels, anis and plenty of shorebirds. The last are found on the narrow beaches and at low tide on the sandbars close to the shore. On the more distant sandbars in Spring, you may see a colony of Magnificent Frigatebirds (or Man-0-War birds), the males with their amazing ‘look-at-me’ bright red throat-balloons (‘gular pouches’) inflated to enhance their wooing prospects. This is exactly the time you’ll realise you haven’t brought your binoculars with you…  Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 9 We’d gone to a (very) informal lunch party at the legendary Nancy’s, but there was activity on the nearby dock that caught my eye. A pair of pelicans were fishing from it, then drying in the sun, then having a little fly around. I only had a rather underwhelming camera with me, so I did what I could in a short time before returning to the matter in hand. Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 8Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 6Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 7 Although I watched the birds diving off the dock a few times, I never actually saw them catch anything. Maybe they had already swallowed some hapless little fish before returning to the dock. I was reminded of a poem by a poet called James Montgomery. Here’s his vivid and perhaps overwrought description of pelican feeding habits: Nimbly they seized and secreted their prey, Alive and wriggling in the elastic net, Which Nature hung beneath their grasping beaks; Till, swoln, with captures, the unwieldy burden Clogg’d their slow flight, as heavily to land, These mighty hunters of the deep return’d. There on the cragged cliffs they perch’d at ease, Gorging their hapless victims one by one; Then full and weary, side by side, they slept, Till evening roused them to the chase again. James Montgomery (4 November 1771 – 30 April 1854): Pelican Island, 1828 (canto IV, l. 141)

Watching the water intentlyBrown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 10

Check out that ‘gular pouch’… Pelicans, like frigatebirds, have them – cormorants too.Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 14

After each sortie a certain amount of shaking down, feather fluffing & general drying-off took placeBrown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 13

Although these pelicans look generally rather clumsy and ponderous both in flight and on land, they are surprisingly quick and agile in the dive. Occasionally, however, the take-off was a bit ragged… Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 16 Usually the male took the tallest post from which to survey the scene, but occasionally the female beat him to a good vantage point.Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 17 I’d never seen pelicans so close-to before. At Delphi they can be seen flying lazily past over the bay, quite high. I’ve seen one in Hope Town, but some distance away. So it was a huge thrill to be able to watch these two birds from the dock itself. You’ll see that the female was ringed (banded), but the male was not. Very soon we’ll be back on Abaco. I’m hoping the pelicans will be at Sandy Point again. And the ospreys. And the Frigatebirds.  And that I’ll have remembered the binoculars. And that the Kaliks at Nancy’s will be ice-cold…  All photos, RH

It’s a poor photo, but it illustrates the huge wingspan compared to body length…Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 15

WHAT’S IN A NAME? COMMON GALLINULE aka MOORHEN


Common Gallinule.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

WHAT’S IN A NAME? COMMON GALLINULE aka MOORHEN

Names can be a hassle. My own, when not my alter ego Rolling Harbour (from a long line of Harbours), was a act of Baptismal Folly for which I cannot be held responsible. I could have changed it by Deed Poll were I seriously bothered, but I am aware that there are far worse names out there and at least mine reflects my scandi-scottish origins I suppose.

Common Gallinule, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

The Moorhen has had a far worse time of it. Over many decades its name has been changed, changed back and changed again. Partly it’s to do with a continuing debate over the New World and Old World subspecies – or as it now stands, separate species. Even that status has changed around over time. It’s enough to give the poor creature an ID crisis.

Bahamas-Great Abaco_7551_Common Gallinule_Gerlinde Taurer copy

The Common Gallinule Gallinula galeata, as it has been known since 2011, is a bird of the rail family. The AOU decreed its divorce from the Common Moorhen after due consideration of the evidence and it is now lumbered with the less familiar and user-friendly Gallinule name.

Common Gallinule, Abaco - Peter Mantle

Note the yellow legs and large feet (unwebbed)

Moorhens (I’m using this as a comfortable nickname, aware that I am flying in the face of progress) are usually seen swimming serenely around ponds or picking their way through marshy ground as they forage. They have an aggressive side, hissing loudly if they feel threatened and fighting to preserve their territory or nest. Nestlings have been observed clinging to a parent as it flies to safety with its offspring as passengers.

Bahamas-Great Abaco_7536_Common Gallinule_Gerlinde Taurer copy

WHAT IS A ‘GALLINULE’ WHEN IT’S AT HOME

I wondered what the word ‘Gallinule’ actually means? What is the derivation? The BINOMIAL NOMENCLATURE (basically = scientific name in Latin) of most species is largely unintelligible unless you have some knowledge of Latin. But most birds end up with a useful, often descriptive, everyday name. Red-tailed Hawk. Least Tern. Yellow Warbler. Painted Bunting. You know what to expect with those. But a ‘Gallinule’ could as easily be a french cooking receptacle or delicious dish. Or a grim and slimy horror from Tolkien. Or maybe something / someone out of Harry Potter. Sleuthing online reveals that the word is a modern Latin construct of the c18, derived from the Latin diminutive word for a ‘hen’. So it’s simply a hen. As in Moorhen.

Common Gallinule, Abaco Woody Bracey

WHAT IS A ‘MOOR’ WHEN IT’S ATTACHED TO A HEN?

This does not refer to a wide swathe of open upland country, often covered in heather and gorse, where in the UK (especially in Scotland) every August 12 thousands of grouse are traditionally shot. It stems from an honest Old English word for a marshy or swampy area, Mor. It was used from early mediaeval times and itself comes from Saxon and Germanic roots. So perhaps calling the Common Gallinule a [Common] Marsh Hen would be more helpful… Or – hey! – why not have American Moorhen and Eurasian Moorhen, a perfectly valid differentiation used quite satisfactorily for other species…?

Common Gallinule (nonbreeding adult).Abaco Bahamas.2.12.Tom Sheley

Adult non-breeding plumage

There’s more on the naming of birds generally and Moorhens specifically in a couple of amusingly-written sources I came across. The first is from NEMESIS BIRD written by Alex Lamoreaux in 2011, called Goodbye Moorhen, Hello Gallinule. The second is from the excellent 10000BIRDS.COM entitled Moorhen Mania – the splitting and renaming of the Common Moorhen

Common Gallinule (Leucistic?) - Tony Hepburn

The bird above with a striking colouring and orange beak was photographed by the late Tony Hepburn. He believed it to be an unusual LEUCISTIC moorhen with reduced pigmentation, a condition that has similarities with ALBINISM

BAHAMAS - Common Gallinule, Abaco, TC GC Hole 11 - Becky Marvil

At some stage I am planning a companion Coot post. I won’t need to go on and on about that name. It may not be descriptive but it is short and simple, and everyone knows where they stand with it. Until they decide to rename it a Cotellinule…

Gallinule © Hans Hillewaert

Credits: Tom Sheley, Bruce Hallett, Peter Mantle, Gerlinde Taurer, Woody Bracey, Tony Hepburn, Becky Marvil, Hans Hillewaert, Nemesis Bird, 10000birds.com

     common-gallinule     common-gallinule     common-gallinule     common-gallinule     common-gallinule     common-gallinule

HUMBLE HOUSE SPARROWS ON ABACO… & EVERYWHERE ELSE!


House Sparrow, Abaco  - Nina Henry

HUMBLE HOUSE SPARROWS ON ABACO… & EVERYWHERE ELSE!

The House Sparrow is one of the most successful, adaptive and prolific species in the world. THE most, in fact. It is found on every continent (except Antarctica… but I bet there are in fact a few of them pecking around the Ross Ice Shelf for crumbs). It is indigenous to Europe and Asia, and has been introduced elsewhere.  So to any birds or people  that say house sparrows are boring and common, I would point out that they are world record-holders… 

People tend not to photograph house sparrows. Their domesticity and familiarity have rather tended to breed contempt. Besides, there are more impressive birds to capture. In compiling BIRDS OF ABACO, it was surprisingly hard to get hold of sparrow images. We had to take some ‘in-house’ photos as back-up. Although the house sparrow comes into the broad birding category ‘LBJ’ (‘Little Brown Job’), it’s really a bit unfair. The males in particular deserve a second look (then you can go and find some painted buntings if you wish…).House Sparrow, Abaco - Nina Henry

One of the strangest birding features in the UK in the last 20 years has been the virtual elimination of the house sparrow from London and its inner suburbs. Until recently, there were loveable ‘Cockerny Sparrers’ everywhere. Then suddenly the population began to decline, and the rate of loss accelerated quickly. I haven’t seen one in London for years – not in our garden, not in the green squares, not in the trees, not in noisy squawking crowds in Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. Suddenly a bird that was so common that its presence was taken completely for granted has now become high on any birder’s ‘get’ list for London, and a joy to see…  To read a short article on the possible reasons for the decline CLICK HERE. The trouble is that most theories could be applied to other major cities where there are still thriving populations – New York, for example.

House Sparrow, Abaco - Peter Mantle

It has to be said that the female house sparrow is undeniably less… er… flamboyant than the male, as is the case with most (all?) avians. But they are still pretty birds, in much the same way that a female black-faced grassquit has subtle coloration if you look closely. I took the photo below at MH Airport while hanging around for a plane. The bird wasn’t perched at a very good angle for a memorable shot, or so I thought until I noticed its little wrinkly feet and sharp claws…

House Sparrow (f), Abaco Keith Salvesen

The delicate patterns of the female house sparrow 
House Sparrow (f), Abaco Bruce Hallett copy

A juvenile. Cute, yes, but I’m sorry, it really is quite dull at this stage…House Sparrow (juv), Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Credits: Nina Henry x 2, Peter Mantle, Moi, Bruce Hallett, Charles Skinner

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD NEST, CHICKS & FLEDGING VIDEO


Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco -  Bruce Hallett

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco – Bruce Hallett

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD NEST, CHICKS & FLEDGING VIDEO

I tend not to reblog other people’s posts wholesale. For a start, there can be compatibility issues that are tiresome to sort out. Often, they will include material – interesting in its own right – that is applicable to that blog but not to this one… Or it might be inappropriate to add other useful info or images. Sometimes, though, a post is perfect. This is one such time. I have recently started to follow Dominique’s blog WANDER IN NATURE, having come across her post about the Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii. The Baha Mocker is on the ‘wants list’ of any birder on Abaco. I have never seen a photo of a nest or chick before, far less seen either in real life. So here they are, not on Abaco but only a mockingbird’s flight away!

Wander in Nature logo

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD TAKES FLIGHT

JUNE 2014 Sometime in the transition between Spring and Summer, I stumbled across a bird’s nest wedged in the top corner of the rose garden.  After a much needed boost, I peered in and discovered the bobbing beaks of three little nestlings, so fragile and still without their feathers.

Bahama Mockingbird Chicks (Wander in Nature)

Over the next few days, I hoped to follow their growth and capture them during feeding time with their two parents that had clearly made their presence known.  One of the young birds appeared to take over the nest for a while, and eventually took flight into the big wide world.

Bahama Mockingbird Fledgling (Wander in Nature)

Bahama Mockingbird Adult & Fledgling (Wander in Nature)

Bahama Mockingbird Fledgling (Wander in Nature)

The whole story is here… there’s a great deal of action at this nest!

Here are two recordings of the beautiful song of this bird that I made 18 months ago a short way down a logging track in the pine forest south of Crossing Rocks (before the Y). Note the repetition of particular phrases before the bird moves on to the next sound in its extensive repertoire.

RELATED POSTS

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD ‘Making a good impression…’

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD ‘Taking off…’ (Mimicry)

Credits: Header image, Bruce Hallett; all other images and video, Dominique @ Wander in Nature

RARE AMERICAN ROBINS ON ABACO: MORE SIGHTINGS


American Robin, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

In 2012 I wrote a post about the comparative rarity of the American Robin on Abaco, which had surprised me. They overwinter in Florida, and they might conceivably range further more often than they do. It turned out that one or two may be reported one year, none the next. I listed a number of sightings and some comments by Woody Bracey, but I lacked any photos of these birds taken on Abaco. I had to make do with wiki and bad ones taken in the US by me (including stuffed ones in the Natural History Museum, NYC – an act of desperation!). You can see the post HERE

Nina Henry, a photographic contributor to BIRDS OF ABACO, had some good fortune last March 2014 when she found these 3 birds during her trip to Abaco. Maybe March is a good time for them – perhaps a few call in as they start to make their way north for the summer. 

AMERICAN ROBIN, Abaco 1- Nina Henry AMERICAN ROBIN, Abaco 2- Nina Henry AMERICAN ROBIN, Abaco 3- Nina Henry

Many past sightings have been on the Cays rather than the main island.  Here’s a recent photograph taken by Charmaine Albury on Man-o-Way Cay

American Robin Man-o-War Cay Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

Meanwhile I have been able to improve slightly on the tiny distant AMRO I posted before, with one taken more recently – still not on Abaco but in NYC. Closer, but definitely no cigar yet…

American Robin, NYC (Rolling Harbour)

 Credits: Bruce Hallett (header), Nina Henry x 3, Charmaine Albury, RH

‘SEXING THE HUMMER': A GENDER GUIDE TO ABACO’S HUMMINGBIRDS


Cuban Emerald (male) Abaco - Becky Marvil

Cuban Emerald (male) Abaco – Becky Marvil

 ‘SEXING THE HUMMER': A GENDER GUIDE TO ABACO’S HUMMINGBIRDS

The subject matter of this post is not as indelicate as the title might imply; nor is it a ‘hands-on’ practical guide for intimate examinations of tiny birds. In particular it does not publicise some recently discovered louche activity involving unfeasibly large motor vehicles. It’s all about plumage. In my thin disguise as a person with apparent knowledge about the wildlife of a country that is not my own, I get frequent requests for bird ID. Some, I know at once. Some I have to think about, my memory not being quite as…

Where was I? Yes, bird ID. I use BRUCE HALLETT’S book of course, and online the CORNELL LAB and AUDUBON sites. OISEUX-BIRDS is also a good resource and has a large archive of images. And of course dear old Google – they may watch your every keystroke and know more about you than you do yourself, but put a bird’s name into Google Images and you’ll probably see your bird in every static pose or flight you need for ID. They’ll log that too for future use. I have had some queries about Bahama Woodstar gender ID, and more recently, Cuban Emeralds. So here are the adult males and females of each species in all their undoubted glory…

BAHAMA WOODSTAR (Calliphlox evelynae)

Bahama Woodstar (m), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Bahama Woodstar (male), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Bahama Woodstar, Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Abaco (Velma Knowles)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Abaco (Velma Knowles)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco  (Tara Lavallee)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

 WOODSTAR ID MADE EASY

Males have a glorious purple, showy ‘gorget’. Females are less flamboyant, and have grey throats and fronts. Tara’s wonderful photo above vividly demonstrates their more delicate beauty. It’s one of my personal favourites from “BIRDS OF ABACO“, along with Tom Sheley’s above, the bird that graces the jacket. 

 CUBAN EMERALD (Chlorostilbon ricordii)

Cuban Emerald (male), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (male), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (male), Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Cuban Emerald (male), Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Cuban Emerald (female), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (female), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (female) Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (female) Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

EMERALD ID MADE EASY

Male emeralds are basically… er… emerald green all over , apart from the wings. Females have grey throats and fronts, and lack the chestnut frontal band of the female woodstar. I’d say that their iridescent green is a different metallic shade from the male, but that may be just me. I don’t have the palette vocab to describe it, but advice welcome! Perhaps one can simply say it is more subtle.

SO IT’S JUST THE TWO HUMMERS ON ABACO, IS IT?

The answer is ‘No’. But don’t make a special trip to see the third species – they are casual / irregular vagrants only, and a definite sighting will be a rarity. But just in case, here are stock photos of a male and a female, and (taken on Abaco by Bruce Hallett) an immature male of the species…

RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD

MaleRuby-throated hummer (Steve Maslowski, Wiki)

FemaleRuby-throated Hummingbird (Tim Ross Wiki)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (male, immature)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (male, imm), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (male, imm), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

This is an attractive print of the R-tH by MenaboniRuby-throated Hummingbird - Menaboni

To complete this post, I’ll add a brilliant Woodstar photo taken by Tom Sheley, birdman and generous fishing partner, that I reckon spans the boundary between photography and art. 

Bahama Woodstar female.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Bahama Woodstar female.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Credits: In addition to those shown below images, Steve Maslowski and Tim Ross for the RTHs

EGRETS GREAT & SNOWY FOR SUNNY GREAT ABACO & SNOWY ELSEWHERE!


Snowy Egret, Bahamas - Tony Hepburn

EGRETS GREAT & SNOWY FOR SUNNY GREAT ABACO & SNOWY ELSEWHERE!

There’s nothing to beat a superlative sequence of narrative photos taken by someone with great skill, a very good eye and an excellent camera (that’s me out of it, on all 3 counts). The two sequences below are from PHIL LANOUE, a highly experienced wildlife photographer who specialises in birds and… alligators (I’ll do the ‘taking snaps’ joke, thank you). He posts almost daily, and it’s a morning treat to see what he has captured on his salt marshes. Very often it is a compelling wildlife action sequence showing the trials and tribulations of bird territory sharing; or the joys and disappointments of fishing… the ones that get away!

GREAT EGRETS

You’ll soon see why the egret is taking flight – a rival is fiercely seeing him off, including an attempted leg or foot grab. That may not have succeeded, but I think he made his point…

egret-fight-in-the-salt-marsh-01 (Phil Lanoue) egret-fight-in-the-salt-marsh-02 - (Phil Lanoue) egret-fight-in-the-salt-marsh-03 (Phil Lanoue) egret-fight-in-the-salt-marsh-04 (Phil Lanoue) egret-fight-in-the-salt-marsh-05 (Phil Lanoue)

 

SNOWY EGRET FISHING

You can tell that this bird is motionless while hunting – there are no ripples at all round its legs. That sharp beak is poised for the sudden, rapid strike. As it stabs down, it shows its distinctive yellow feet and leg markings. The fish emerges firmly gripped sideways, and is effortlessly flipped round for immediate consumption,

snowy-fishing-in-the-salt-marsh-01 (Phil Lanoue) snowy-fishing-in-the-salt-marsh-02 (Phil Lanoue) snowy-fishing-in-the-salt-marsh-03 (Phil Lanoue) snowy-fishing-in-the-salt-marsh-04 (Phil Lanoue)

These are the sorts of pictures I would love to be able to take. Anyone would. But I am going to have to graduate to something a great deal more sophisticated than my trusty Lumix bridge camera and its fixed zoom extension. It has a Leica lens, which counts for a lot, but an upgrade to SLR is on the horizon. First I need to get stuck into some serious work on manual settings. I have a mountain to climb – I’m still hanging around Base Camp!

RELATED EGRET POSTS

EGRETS? I’ VE SEEN A FEW… (BUT THEN AGAIN…) (Great Egrets)

IT’S ALL WHITE… IT’S A REDDISH EGRET (Reddish Egrets, White Morph)

MANGROVES, MUD & (REALLY) GREAT EGRETS (Great Egrets, Treasure Cay)

REMARKABLE FEET’ – SNOWY EGRETS ON ABACO (Snowy Egrets)

‘ELEGANT COOT CABARETS’ (6,6,2,5 anag.)  (Cattle Egrets)

 Credits: Header image, Tony Hepburn; all others Phil Lanoue with many thanks for use permission