Black-necked Stilt, Abaco (Alex Hughes) copy


Got  a spare couple of hours? Reluctant to go birding on the bird-reliable yet ambience-lite town dumps, where careful cropping will be needed to avoid including post-apocalyptic scenery in your hard-won photos of a Little Mulligatawny Owl? Then read on. I have mentioned Gilpin Point before as a great place for birding, and listed many of the species to be found there. It benefits from a large pond, a pristine shoreline, and a coppice environment with some pine forest thrown in. All the makings of an excellent birding location, with suitable habitat for a wide variety of species. Blue-winged Teal, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

On November 21st Reg Patterson, well-known Abaco birder and guide, was up early, and by 07.00 he was at Gilpin Pond where  he spent a couple of hours . He recorded 40 species in that time, from very large to very small. His checklist reveals a great cross-section of the birdlife to be found on Abaco. There might easily have been parrots there too, since Gilpin has become one of their daily chattering spots for a frank exchange of news and views. Sadly it seems that the beautiful and (now) rare SPOONBILL recorded there in early October has moved on.

Willet, Abaco

Here is Reg’s checklist, which I have illustrated with a variety of photos of the species he found, all taken on Abaco and many actually taken at Gilpin Point. There are plenty of other species that might easily have been seen there then – or perhaps later in the day (e.g. snowy egret, yellowlegs, kestrel, turkey vulture, red-legged thrush, cuban emerald, not to mention shorebirds and seabirds if some time was spent on the shore).


Blue-winged Teal (16) (see above)

White-cheeked Pintail (20)

White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)

Green-winged Teal (1)

Great Blue Heron (1)Great_Blue_Heron_Wading_2

Great Egret (1)

Little Blue Heron (2) 

Tricolored Heron (2)

Green Heron (2)Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)05

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (1)

Turkey Vulture (7)

Common Gallinule (1)

Black-necked Stilt (1) (and header)

Black-necked Stilt, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Spotted Sandpiper (1)

Willett (1) (see above)

Common Ground-Dove (1)

Smooth-billed Ani (8)

Bahama Woodstar (1)Bahama Woodstar (m), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Belted Kingfisher (1)

West Indian Woodpecker (7)

Hairy Woodpecker (1)Hairy Woodpecker, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

Peregrine Falcon (1)

Loggerhead Kingbird (4)Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco - Tom Reed

Thick-billed Vireo (7)

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (1)Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Red-legged Thrush (1)

Gray Catbird (4)

Northern Mockingbird (2)Northern Mockingbird, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Ovenbird (1)

Northern Waterthrush (6)

Bahama Yellowthroat (1)

Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Common Yellowthroat (1)

Cape May Warbler (3)

Black-throated Blue Warbler (1)Black-throated Blue Warbler (m), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Palm Warbler (2)

Prairie Warbler (2)

 Bananaquit (1)Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

 Black-faced Grassquit (6)

 Greater Antillean Bullfinch (4)

 Western Spindalis (7)

 Red-winged Blackbird (X)Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Gilpin Map 1 Gilpin Map 2 Gilpin Map 3

Credits: Alex Hughes (1 / header); Keith Salvesen (2, 4, 6, 7, 11, 12, 15 , 16); TBC (3, 5); Bruce Hallett (8, 14); Tony Hepburn (9); Tom Reed (10); Charles Skinner (13)



Canada Goose, Abaco (Peter Mantle)


In normal parlance a ‘wild-goose chase’ is of course a futile search or a useless pursuit**. However, I bring you news of a successful chase after wild geese on Abaco – indeed the bagging of all four of the goose species recorded for Abaco. All are classed as winter residents, with rarity rated from ‘uncommon’ to ‘good grief, that’s a first’.  So I present them in the order of relative excitingness…


Greater White-fronted goose Abaco (Erik Gauger) smThis fine bird caused a bit of a stir. Not only was it a first for Abaco, the species had never before been recorded in the Bahamas. In February 2012, the goose was found at the pond at hole #11 on the Treasure Cay golf course, presumably having been blown off its normal migration route. This range map shows just how far. 


Erik Gauger managed to get the close shot above; Uli Nowlan got a few from further away, including a swimming view. I know of no other photographers of the bird (though Woody Bracey published a report about it). If there are any, I’d be pleased to hear about their photos – indeed to add them!

   White-fronted Goose, Abaco 2 (Uli Nowlan  White-fronted Goose, Abaco 1 (Uli Nowlan)


Equally rare on Abaco is the Ross’s Goose. Far to the east of its normal migration route,  one found its way to the Goose Magnet of Treasure Cay. The range map shows the very clear routes this species chooses for its migration.Ross's Goose, Abaco 1 (Uli Nowlan) Ross's Goose, Abaco 4 (Uli Nowlan)ross_goose_migration_map Ross's Goose, Abaco 2 (Uli Nowlan)


Another anserine visitor to Abaco – slightly more frequent than the two species above – is the Canada Goose. Again, Treasure Cay golf course exerted its powerful pull to drag this one from its usual route, where it happily took up residence. As you can see from the range map below, these geese have a widespread habitat and spend at least some of the year not that far from northern Bahamas, so it is less surprising that they turn up on Abaco from time to time.

CANADA GOOSE, Abaco (Kasia Reid)

Canada Goose, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)bran_cana_AllAm_map_new


Although a relatively unusual winter visitor to Abaco, and a good ‘get’ for any birder’s checklist, I was surprised to find that the snow goose is classed as more common than the Canada goose. Its usual habitat is further away; and its summer breeding territory is very far north. Again, when a snow goose drifts eastwards, Treasure Cay is its spiritual home… 

Snow Goose (imm), Abaco (Bruce Hallett) Snow Goose, Abaco (Tony Hepburn) sm2 Snow Goose, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Uli Nowlan)chen_caer_AllAm_map

Why geese are not found elsewhere on Abaco other than Treasure Cay is a mystery. The TC golf course water is presumably fresh, whereas other locations – Gilpin Pond on South Abaco for example, or the neglected ponds of the defunct ‘Different of Abaco’ – are distinctly brackish. Perhaps that makes all the difference.

Abaco’s Four Geese SpeciesAbaco's 4 goose species jpg

**WILD-GOOSE CHASE The etymology of the phrase is medieval, referring to a horse race in which pursuers try to follow an erratic ‘wild goose’ leader. Shakespeare used the term in Romeo and Juliet, with Mercutio saying “Nay, if our wits run the wild-goose chase, I am done; for thou hast more of the wild goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five.” Which was quite a good, if cumbersome, insult.

Credits: Photos – Peter Mantle, Erik Gauger, Uli Nowlan, Kasia Reid, Bruce Hallett, Tony Hepburn; Range maps – Cornell Lab for Ornithology


 Sandy Point R.I. to CS


All piping plovers on Abaco are welcome winter visitors. Or I should say, winter residents. They are little different from the many Abaco second-homers who live in North America during the summer. As the chill of autumn and early winter takes hold in their northern habitat, they too fly south to their winter destination in the hope of warm sun, unspoilt sandy beaches and good food bahamian-style. Not worms, though. The humans draw a line at those, though they do pull things out of the sea that plovers would disdain as acceptable sustenance.

Jonesy was first sighted more than month ago on the beach at Winding Bay. This beach, and its neighbours on Cherokee Sound, have proved to be this season’s PIPL hotspot so far. Ali Ball originally reported having seen one bird with a green flag in a group of birds. Eventually, on October 29, she was able to get close enough to get a photo of Green Flag with its friends.SAM_2228 sm copy SAM_2211 sm copy

Tantalisingly, however, no amount of enhancement could reveal the code on the flag. Never mind, there was already enough information to start the process of identification. It was not a returning Bahamas-banded bird, which have bright pink coded flags. ‘Green Flag Upper Left’ indicated a bird banded by, or in conjunction with, the Virginia Tech program. This in turn pointed to the shorelines of Connecticut or Rhode Island. But it was vital to get a clear sight of the expected 3-character alphanumeric code on the flag. PIPL maestro Todd Pover was quickly on the case. 



There are several obstacles for the local ‘civilian’ bird monitor, who may well not be equipped with a powerful camera and tripod, or a digiscope. The birds are very small. They scuttle. They can be nervous and quite difficult to get close to. They may hang out in much larger groups of shorebirds such as sandpipers and turnstones. The light might be poor or the weather unhelpful. Counting the birds is one matter. Seeing bands or flags – let alone reading codes – may be quite another.

Luckily, within a couple of days, Keith Kemp was able to visit the beach, and managed to get a couple of definitive shots of the bird. As you can see below, it turned out to have a blue band upper right as well as the flag, a fact that would narrow down the search for its summer habitat. The first task was to check out the code on the flag, a process of cropping, enhancing and magnifying… to get, finally, to Bird 09C

PiPl 09C (L leg - Blue R leg) 2 WB 30.10 (1) min copyPiPl 09C (L leg - Blue R leg) 2 WB 30.10 (2) min copy

09C 1 crop copy 09C Mag2 copy 09C 2 crop copy  09C mag1 copy

I posted Ali’s Oct 29 sighting as a provisional ID. Within a very short time of Keith’s nailing of the alphanumeric code, Todd Pover had located the bird’s origin and obtained some information which I then posted to my page ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH:

#44 OCT 30. 08.30. **NEW ID** Winding Bay. Mid-tide. 17 foraging PIPL inc. ‘JONESY’ (see #43) at the cabanas end. 2 photos. Green Flag code 09C. π Ali Ball (original spotter & monitor); Keith Kemp (follow-up). ID CONFIRMED: SY male, unsuccessful nester this summer at Sandy Point, Rhode Island. Last sighted there July 16. COMMENT Jonesy gets an upgrade from green to red marker. Most of these birds will have been counted already, but 17 suggests a handful of new arrivals. on that end of the beach. More details about Jonesy soon.


To give an idea of how accurate the professional conservation teams are, the red flag on the map above marks the exact location of the last sighting of Jonesy, on July 16th. Sandy Point is a narrow sand spit on the boundary of Rhode Island and Connecticut; and of the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge and the Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Jonesy seems to have spent the breeding season there scuttling backwards and forwards between RI and CT. He apparently paired off, but the reason for being ‘an unsuccessful nester’ is unknown at the moment. I haven’t yet been able to obtain any further information; I am hoping to be able to identify the bander, as with TUNA


Originally Jonesy was called ‘Mrs Jones’. On Ali’s visits to the beach at Winding Bay, this little plover was regularly in “the same place, the same time”, as in the Billy Paul song “Me and Mrs Jones”. The only drawback being that it then emerged that Mrs Jones was a male. To change his name to Mr Jones seemed rather formal, and the suggestion that ‘Jonesy’ would cover the awkward situation was approved…

Credits: Ali Ball, Keith Kemp, Todd Pover, mapping things, Jonesy for choosing Abaco


Osprey, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)


As the result of my keeping an eye on eBird reports for piping plover sightings for ABACO PIPL WATCH, I have strayed from Abaco from time to time to check out the bird life elsewhere in the Northern Bahamas. Healthy, seems to be the answer, with a busy migration season in progress and some unusual and exciting visitors.

WHIMBRELWhimbrel, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

On Grand Bahama, Linda Barry-Cooper, Director West End Ecology and Linda Bird Tours, has been kept busy, in particular at West End, the nearest point of the Bahamas to Florida (a mere 66 miles to West Palm Beach). So I asked if she would kindly write a guest post, to be illustrated with some of her recent photographs. To which, I’m pleased to say, she said ‘yes’.  The first thing I learned from her is that West End is in fact the capital of Grand Bahama and the oldest settlement, and not Freeport as I, and I suspect many other people, have always assumed.

MERLINMerlin, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)


Fall is captivating for Birders and Bird enthusiasts that visit West End, Grand Bahama Island this time of year. West End (also referred to as “Settlement Point” is the oldest town and westernmost settlement on the Bahamian island of Grand Bahama. It is the current capital of Grand Bahama and is also the third largest settlement in the Bahamas. There is one airport in West End, West End Airport, which serves mostly private aircraft. Since the 1950s, the settlement of West End has fluctuated with the rise and fall of the adjacent resort developments.

                                                        UPLAND & BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS                                                          Upland Sandpiper, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper) Buff-breasted Sandpiper, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

Birds just like people have to adapt to new and existing change in their environment. Unfortunately with the rise and fall of the Jack Tar Resort & Hotel and now the former Bobby Ginn land development project, the habitat for birds had been gravely impacted with the loss of many prominent trees that birds rely on as a primary food source. 

                  CATTLE EGRETS & BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER                     Cattle Egrets, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper) Black-bellied Plover, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

The way to restore settlements that have lost many of their native trees & palms due to developments is to plant new fruit-bearing trees and shrubs that birds love i.e. (seagrape, Cocoplum, fig trees, cherry, oleander, pink and gold poui, frangipani, coral trees, etc.) Hummingbirds especially love the Firecracker plant and are primarily attracted to red and yellow. 

                             BLACK SKIMMER & BROWN NODDY                                   Black Skimmer, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)  Brown Noddy, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

Within the local community and in backyards residents can aid birds this fall during migration with setting out bird feeders now filled with wild bird food supplied by Crosstown or Dolly Madison/Kelly’s. Residents can do well to attract birds right in their backyards by planting tropical flowers, bougainvillea, desert rose, Ixora flame of the woods, Hibiscus, Peregrina a.k.a. Star of Bethlehem.

              PIED-BILLED GREBE & LESSER YELLOWLEGS             Pied-billed Grebe, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper) Greater Yellowlegs, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

In 2015, West End is now considered the top birding Hot Spot in The Bahamas according to E-Bird Caribbean.   Linda Barry-Cooper attributes this to her and her many peers and birding supporters to include her mentor and friend Erika Gates, Bruce Purdy, Bruce Hallett, Dr. Elwood Bracey as well as international birders recorded observations and field work in West End.

               AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER & EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE        American Oystercatcher, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper) Eastern Wood-Pewee, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

         VESPER SPARROW & BELTED KINGFISHER                   Vesper Sparrow, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)- Belted Kingfisher 1Upland Sandpiper, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

This fall, rare birds such as the Whimbrel, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Upland Sandpiper, Fish Crow, American Oystercatcher, and Eastern Wood Pewee have made landfall in West End. Keep Watching West End! There are more rarities to come. Our main goal however in the future is to increase the presence of our own endemic Bahamian species. These in particular are the birds that the world would want to see. Together, the future developers and community at large can take part in restoring the bird habitat that West End once embraced.

PIPING PLOVERPiping Plover 1, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

                                        FISH CROW & BROWN PELICAN                Fish Crow, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)    Brown Pelican, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

AMERICAN KESTRELAmerican Kestrel, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

11401006_10206870807314866_6842602513908864802_n copy

Many thanks to Linda for her glimpse of the avian life on the western tip of Grand Bahama. It’s worth noting that some of these birds e.g. the fish crow, wood-pewee, and the 2 sandpipers are extremely rare on Abaco; and one, the vesper sparrow, is unrecorded for Abaco. Whimbrels are a good find on both islands – luckily this seems to be the year of the whimbrel.


Linda is welcoming visitors to West End who would love up close encounters with Birds, as well as photographing birds in their natural habitat. Photographers grab their super zoom lens and head on down to West End to explore the Cays and the vast eco-systems West End has to offer. Her website and tour pricing can be found at and on Facebook under Linda Bird Tours.

If you swam due west from West End you’d arrive in West Palm Beach…West End Map


Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)12

Reddish Egret male in breeding plumage, Crossing Rocks, Abaco


This weekend is Wader Conservation World Watch weekend, promoted by WADER QUEST. This is the perfect moment to help with the vexed question: “See that bird? Over there. No, THERE! Is it a seabird, shorebird or a wader?” 


There is plenty of scope for confusion, since in practice there is a degree of informal category overlap and even some variation between the various bird guides. And after all, shorebirds may wade. And wading birds may be found on the shore*. Here is a reminder of 30 infallible rules to sort out which is which, courtesy of the estimable BEACH CHAIR SCIENTIST blog. 

*STOP PRESS Rick Simpson of Wader Quest has kindly added a comment pointing out the marked difference in the categorisation on either side of the Atlantic: “What you in the USA call shorebirds we here in the UK call waders (peeps, sandpipers, plovers oystercatchers etc – but not skimmers). Shorebirds to us can be any bird that lives on a shore, ie egret, herons, gulls. To add more confusion some seabirds such as Gulls, Skuas (Jaegers) Terns and Auks are also all in the group called Charadriiformes, not just the waders… er I mean shorebirds, or do I? [So] should any of you decide to participate in our world watch it is your shorebirds (but not skimmers) that we are interested in and we call them waders. Anyone want to know the rules of cricket? It is easier to explain!”



Ring-billed gull, AbacoRing-billed Gull (Nina Henry : DCB)

Examples include frigatebirds, petrels, shearwaters, gulls, terns and tropicbirds

1. Seabirds are pelagic, spending most of their lives far out at sea.
2. Seabirds move toward to coastal areas to breed or raise young for a minimal amount of time.
3. Seabirds are light on their undersides and dark on top (an adaptation known as countershading).
4. Seabirds have more feathers than other types of birds for more insulation and waterproofing.
5. Seabirds have flexible webbed feet to help gain traction as they take off for flight from the sea.
6. Some seabirds have unusually sharp claws used to help grasp fish under the water.
7. Some larger seabirds (e.g. albatross) have long, slim wings allowing them to soar for long distances without getting tired.
8. Some smaller seabirds have short wings for manoeuvering at the surface of the water.
9. Seabirds have specialized glands to be able to drink the saltwater and excrete salts.
10. Some seabirds (e.g. gannets) have a head shape that is usually tapered for more efficiency in plunge diving.



Ruddy Turnstone, AbacoRuddy Turnstone Abaco Bahamas. 2.12.Tom Sheley copy 2

Examples include oystercatchers, turnstones, knots, plovers and sandpipers

1. Shorebirds have long legs, pointed beaks, and long pointed wings.
2. Most shorebirds are migratory (impressively some shorebirds fly non-stop for 3-4 days, equivalent to a human running continuous 4-minute miles for 60 hours).
3. Shorebirds wade close to the shore and poke their bills into the ground in search of food.
4. Shorebirds are small to medium size wading birds.
5. Shorebirds tend to frequent wetlands and marshes and are biological indicators of these environmentally sensitive lands.
6. Shore birds are of the order Charadriiformes.
7. Shorebirds are very well camouflaged for their environment and their appearance may vary from place to place as plumage (feather colors) are gained or lost during breeding.
8. Shorebirds typically range in size from 0.06 to 4.4 pounds.
9. Oystercatchers have a unique triangular bill that is a cross between a knife and a chisel.
10. The black skimmer is the only native bird in North America with its lower mandible larger than the upper mandible, which helps the bird gather fish as it skims the ocean surface.



Snowy Egret, Abaco
Snowy Egret ?NP_ACH1409 copy

Examples include egrets, herons, flamingos, ibis, rails, and spoonbills

1. Wading birds are found in freshwater or saltwater on every continent except Antarctica.
2. Wading birds have long, skinny legs and toes which help them keep their balance in wet areas where water currents may be present or muddy ground is unstable. Also, longer legs make it easier for them to search for food (forage) in deeper waters.
3. Wading birds have long bills with pointed or rounded tips (depending on what is more efficient for the types of food the bird consumes).
4. Wading birds have long, flexible necks that can change shape drastically in seconds, an adaptation for proficient hunting.
5. Herons have sophisticated and beautiful plumes (‘bridal plumage’) during the breeding season, while smaller waders such as rails are much more camouflaged.
6. Wading birds may stand motionless for long periods of time waiting for prey to come within reach.
7. When moving, their steps may be slow and deliberate to not scare prey, and freeze postures are common when these birds feel threatened.
8. Adult wading birds are quiet as an essential tool for hunting. Wading birds may be vocal while nestling or while in flocks together.
9. Many wading birds form communal roosts and breeding rookeries, even mixing flocks of different species of wading birds or waterfowl.
10. Wading birds fully extend their legs to the rear when flying. The neck may be extended or not while in flight, depending on the species.

Green Heron, AbacoGreen Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)11

These lists were handily put together in useful chart formseabird shorebird wading bird chart ©beachchairscientist

Credits: Table – ©Beach Chair Scientist; Pics – Nina Henry (RBG), Tom Sheley (RUTU), Tony Hepburn (SNEG), Keith Salvesen (REEG & GRHE) ; Cartoons – Birdorable


Leucistic Turkey Vulture, Florida Keys 2 (Amy at PoweredbyBirds

Leucistic Turkey Vulture (Amy Evenstad,


And not just the tail*. Other parts of a bird. Sometimes most of a bird. More rarely, an entire bird. Whichever, a bird affected by leucism stands out from the crowd – out of the ordinary and therefore startling to the eye. I’d be very surprised if the fine turkey vulture in the header image didn’t make you look twice – maybe even to check if some devious Rolling Harbour P/shop trickery had been at work. Yet it’s just a TV / TUVU in the Florida Keys, living a normal vulturine life.



A leucistic Western Spindalis found within the past week on Abaco by Keith KempWestern Spindalis (leucistic) Abaco 2 (Keith Kemp)Western Spindalis (leucistic) Abaco 1 (Keith Kemp)

For comparison – the real dealWestern Spindalis BH IMG_1711 copy


First, what it is not. It is not albinism, which results from diminished or lost melanin production that affects pigmentation. One characteristic of the condition is the tendency to pink eyes, which of course is seen in humans as well as animals and birds. Here’s an obvious yet totes adorbs illustration:

Albino Rabbit (pinterest)

Albino Fwuffy Bwunny Wabbit


Put simply, melanin is only one of many ingredients of pigmentation. Leucism is caused through pigment loss involving many types of pigment, not just melanin. In birds this results in unnaturally light or white colouring of feathers that may be partial or entire. The eyes of a bird with leucism are unaffected. At one extreme, if all pigment cells fail, a white bird will result; at the other extreme, pigment defects cause patches and blotches of pale or white on the bird, often called a ‘pied’ effect. The condition can be inherited.

A mallard on Abaco. The species is known for its wide colour variations in both sexes. Sometimes the variations go beyond the usual range. This is a leucistic bird – though not, as it appears, one-legged.Leucistic Mallard, Abaco (Nina Henry)

A leucistic common gallinule (moorhen) on AbacoLeucistic Common Gallinule (Moorhen) Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

Leucistic rock pigeon800px-Leucistic_Rock_Pigeon


I have found more examples of leucism in the ‘Bahama Duck’ than any other local species. But there is also scope for confusion. First, here’s a pintail that is undoubtedly leucistic – note that the eyes and beak are unaffected by pigmentation deficiency:

Leucistic Bahama Pintail (Jim Edmonson)

But not all pale variants can be so confidently labelled. Here are two photos I took at the well-known birding pond on the Treasure Cay golf course [ask for permission at the club house first – it may, for example, be a match day]. In the first, bottom right, there is plainly an ‘odd’ pintail, silvery rather than ruddy brown (yes, I do see the coot in the pack as well). The second photo shows the same bird on dry land.

White-cheeked (Bahama) Pintail, Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen) White-cheeked (Bahama) Pintail, Abaco 2 (Keith Salvesen)

This is known as a ‘silver pintail’. These are said to be a leuchistic variant, and they are stocked by poultry dealers as ornamental ducks at a higher price than the standard brown (and much-loved) version. However this bird clearly retains the essential markings of a normal pintail that you might expect to be absent (at least in patches) in the ‘true’ leucistic bird. I’ve seen it describes as a ‘gray morph’. I wonder where the line is drawn between a marked colour variant or morph in a bird; and an obviously pigment-abnormal, leucistic bird where incidence and extent of the condition seems to be random.

A fine example of a ‘pied’ American Robin, an occasional visiting species on Abaco

Leucistic American Robin (Amy @ PoweredbyBirds)

Leucistic American Robin (Amy Evenstad,


PIPL are my current bird preoccupation, but until I checked them out, I hadn’t imagined what a leucistic one would look like. I now have the answer… Leucistic Piping Plover (Audubon Alliance)leucistic plover 2leucistic plover 3

These photos of a leucistic female were featured by Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds, Audubon Connecticut. They were taken by Jim Panaccione, a Biological Science Technician at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Newburyport, Massachusetts in 2012. I hope he won’t mind their illustrative use here… Despite the theory that leucistic birds may find it hard to find a mate – and might even be attacked by its own species – this pair successfully nested in 2012.

I’d be interested to hear about other leucistic birds found on Abaco. Please add a comment or email me. Or upload a photo to the Rolling Harbour FB page if you like.



*Obviously, it had to be ‘tail’ in the title to justify one of my clunky ‘jokes’ and an accompanying musical diversion. That’s just the way it is, I’m afraid. Bach’s well-known descending chord sequence of was of course shamelessly ripped off by ingeniously adapted by Procol Harum for ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, their first single in 1967. Relive a Summer of Love right here and now. Or for a change try a different version by Annie Lennox

Any fret-tweakers might like to see the sheet music of Bach’s Air for guitar – you could even play it on Air Guitar – which is relatively easy, being in C major. 

Air on a G String - J S Bach - Guitar Tab JPG

The best known commercial use of the tune was in the famed series of adverts that  equated a mild cigar called Hamlet with happiness, accompanied by an excerpt from a jazzy version of Bach’s ‘Air on the G String’. Here is one of the best – and possibly the only advert to my knowledge to feature not one, but two excellent Sir Walter Raleigh jokes. But the music never gets past the first familiar chord…

Credits: thanks to Amy Evenstad ( for use permission for her wonderful TUVU & AMRO photos; other photos by Keith Kemp & Bruce Hallett (Spindalis); Pinterest (rabbit); Nina Henry (mallard); Tony Hepburn (moorhen); Wiki (pigeon); Jim Edmonson (leucistic pintail); RH (silver pintail); Jim Panaccione / Audubon (piping plovers); Tip o’ the Hat to Birdorable (TV inset in my ‘keep calm’ mock-up): Procol Harum, esp. Robin Trower for building a great career ‘reminiscent’ of Hendrix; J.S. Bach for a nagging tune; Hamlet cigars for ingenuity & making me laugh


Greater Yellowlegs, FL (©Danny Sauvageau)


I’ve shied away from the whole ‘yellowlegs dimension question’ for long enough. Now that I have some brilliant photos for you, I feel I am obliged to address the issue. I was last forced into this slightly uncomfortable position while writing the captions for THE BIRD OF ABACO. We had GY photos. We had LY photos. We had none of the 2 species together, or at comparable distances from the camera. Frankly unless you are very knowledgeable and / or a regular birder where both species hang out, they are very hard to tell apart. 

Both yellowlegs species are winter residents on Abaco, and neither is particularly common (though Gilpin Pond is always a good place to check for LYs). Both are very similar in almost all respects. The broad principle is that the GY is the larger, heavier bird, while the LY is more delicate and with a shorter bill in proportion to its head size.

In a more refined version, Cornell suggests: “GY’s bill appears slightly upturned and blunt-tipped, while LY’s bill is straight and sharp-pointed. LY’s bill is always dark, while GY’s bill is grayish at the base in non-breeding season. Voice is best distinguishing character: GY gives three or four piercing notes, LY two rapid, softer short whistles (sometimes three)”. But even this help depends on (a) light conditions (b) season and (c) whether the bird you are looking at is ‘vocalising’ or not…

TWO TYPES OF YELLOWLEGS ON ABACO – BUT WHICH IS WHICH?Greater Yellowlegs LR. Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley.2.12 copy 2Lesser Yellowlegs.Marls.Abaco Bahamas.2.13.Tom Sheley small 3

If you saw the two birds above on separate days in different places at different distances, could you say with confidence which is which? Or maybe they are the same? Experts will probably know at once that the top bird is a GY in a ‘slimline’ stance; and the other is a LY in a ‘plump’ stance. But going simply on the ‘larger heavier bird’ and ‘bill-length principle’, I’d have said the opposite. And I’d be wrong. As usual. I suspect that the only way an amateur (e.g. me) can hope to be confident in distinguishing the two species is by seeing them frequently and preferably together.

Which takes us from Abaco, where the above birds were photographed by Tom Sheley, to Pinellas County, FL and the wonderful photos of Danny Sauvageau, an expert with the birds and also the camera. Here are some of his recent Greater Yellowlegs photographs that show the bird at its absolute best. They also demonstrate the ‘plump’ and the ‘slim’ looks of the same bird.

If anyone has any other reliable method for telling the species apart, please post a comment and I will gladly incorporate it as a STOP PRESS…

Greater Yellowlegs, FL (©Danny Sauvageau)Greater Yellowlegs, FL (©Danny Sauvageau) Greater Yellowlegs, FL (©Danny Sauvageau) Greater Yellowlegs, FL (©Danny Sauvageau) Greater Yellowlegs, FL (©Danny Sauvageau) Greater Yellowlegs, FL (©Danny Sauvageau) Greater Yellowlegs, FL (©Danny Sauvageau)

STOP PRESS 1 My thanks to blogging friend DEAR KITTY for reminding me of a video she posted that very conveniently shows a GY and a LY together, in circumstances where it is impossible not to notice that one bird is larger than the other. It’s an all-round helpful video, so thanks for this, DK.

STOP PRESS 2 Thanks again to DK for drawing my attention to a great photo by Matt Scott posted on twitter. Here are both types of yellowlegs together, in similar poses and the same distance from the camera – and the behold the difference. The very illustrative image I had been looking for, handed to me on a plate…Yellowlegs G & L, Aruba - Matt Scott @matttockington

Credits: GY and LY on Abaco, Tom Sheley; all other photos Danny Sauvageau. Thanks to both for use permission. Also, Cornell Lab of Ornithology… And Matt Scott