RED REEF RESIDENTS: A RUFOUS ROUND-UP IN THE BAHAMAS


Squirrelfish (Elvis) ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba copy

Elvis the Squirrelfish

RED REEF RESIDENTS: A RUFOUS ROUND-UP IN THE BAHAMAS

It’s sunny and very hot. Time to take another dive with Melinda to see what is going on under water around the reefs. Here are some residents, a somewhat loose description since some of the denizens featured are not especially active. But they are alive, so they qualify by my wide rules. And please may we not get into a discussion about where precisely red and orange overlap. It’s a grey area. And it’s too hot to argue about it… Let’s start with three types of GROUPER that may be spotted in the northern Bahamas. In fact, they are always spotted. One of my favourite pictures is the Graysby – it’s such a great expression, and he really rocks the spots!

GRAYSBY
Graysby © Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba copy

TIGER GROUPER AT A CLEANING STATION with Peterson Cleaning Shrimps & a GobyGrouper, Tiger with cleaning shrimps and goby ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyRED HINDRed Hind Grouper Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

BLACKBAR SOLDIERFISHBlackbar Soldierfish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

HOGFISHHogfish ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy 2

SQUIRRELFISHSquirrelfish 2 copy

But red fish are not the only red reef residents. Here are some  that won’t swim away from you as you swim towards them to admire them…

A FEATHER DUSTER ON A SPONGEFeather Duster in a Sponge ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba copy

RED SPONGERed Sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copyUNDERWATER GARDEN GROWING IN A RED CONTAINERCoral ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba 2 copy

ANOTHER VARIED REEF GARDENReef Garden ©Melinda Riger@ G B Scuba copy

CORALS WITH (I have just noticed) A LURKING LIONFISH Coral ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba 1 copy

CHRISTMAS TREE WORMS (see more of these amazing creatures HERE)Christmas Tree Worms ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

All photos: Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

“I HEAR YOU KNOCKING”: THE YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO ON ABACO


Coccyzus-americanus_ Factumquintus Wiki

“I HEAR YOU KNOCKING”: THE YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO ON ABACO

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) is the least common of three cuckoo species found on Abaco. All are permanent residents.  It is similar to the more frequently seen Mangrove Cuckoo (post to follow). Both are avid consumers of insects in general and caterpillars in particular. The YBC is shy and you are quite unlikely to see one out in the open, though you may hear its distinctive ‘knocking’ call. The third species classified with the ‘cuculidae’ is the Smooth-billed Ani. Here’s what to listen out for:

Mike Nelson / Xeno-Canto

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley) copy

The YBC has, obviously, a yellow bill. It also has yellow eye-rings and pure white underparts. Photographer Tom Sheley, a major contributor t0 “The Birds of Abaco”, is a very patient man. He managed to capture these two beautiful birds by knowing the right place to be at the right time… and waiting. The results for this little-seen species are spectacular.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

For those whose memories are stirred by the reference to “I hear you knocking” (Rick from Nassau – you!), I include archive material of Dave Edmunds hamming it up. Get a load of the Clothes! The Dancing! The Moves of the guy in the top left corner / centre back, at once rhythmic yet disconcertingly bizarre.

THE OCTOPUS: MARINE BAGPIPES FILLED WITH INK


 THE OCTOPUS: MARINE BAGPIPES FILLED WITH INK

Few people know that, by international law, it is unlawful to fail to be fascinated by Octopuses… Octopi… Octopodes… Octopotomi… Whatever. For a learned dissertation on the correct plural form for these creatures – bear with me, there are strict rules that apply here – you’ll find out the right way at THE PLURAL OF OCTOPUS I won’t go into it all now, because it’s time to showcase some more wonderful underwater photography by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba. Strictly, these are not Abacos Octos, but they share the same reef system and are therefore close cousins. Of such tenuous links are blog posts formed.

My favourite octopus photoOctopus ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

Settling down to a take-awayOctopus + dinner ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

The all-seeing eye…Octopus ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

On the move… so long suckers!Octopus  ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

Octopus InkOctopus Ink ©Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaAll photos: Melinda Riger

The Rare Scottish Tartan Octopus

Bagpipe

SAD POST SCRIPT:  As a Scot out of Norway (did you ever?) my father learnt to play the bagpipes. Indeed had a set. They lived in a cellar I wasn’t allowed into. The bag was allegedly preserved in treacle (don’t ask). I still have the ‘Chanter’ (a single pipe practice instrument), the sound of which is akin to trying to strangle one cat with another cat. I was fobbed off with that. Then one day as a treat the cellar was unlocked and a large wooden box was dragged out. The bagpipes! The lid was opened and… OMG! the bag had rotted away completely, the pipes looked pathetic and very disappointing, and the whole thing stank of nameless dead creatures… I can’t hear the sound of the pipes to this day without finding it (a) stirring yet (b) enough after a short time and (c ) a reminder of a broken dream… The end.

OWLS OF ABACO (1): THE BARN OWL


Barn Owl, Abaco2

Barn Owl, Abaco, Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

OWLS OF ABACO (1): THE BARN OWL

Realistically, the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) is the only owl you are likely to see – and hear – on Abaco. The species is permanently resident, which is a good start in that the opportunities for sighting one exist year-round. Although they are not at all common they can be found in particular locations, for example the Treasure Cay area. There are two other owl species recorded for Abaco: the Burrowing Owl, a rare vagrant (post coming soon); and the Northern Saw-whet Owl, a vanishingly rare vagrant recorded a handful of times that I don’t propose to feature unless and until it decides to visit Abaco more frequently…

Barn Owl, Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas (Becky Marvil)

Barn Owl, Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas (Becky Marvil)

The shrill banshee cry of the Barn Owl – known in many places as the ‘screech owl’ (which, strictly, is a different owl species) – is unmistakeable. Mainly nocturnal, they fly noiselessly like white ghosts in the night. If you are lucky enough to see one in daytime, you’ll be struck by the beautiful heart-shaped face and (if close enough) the delicate markings. We are lucky enough to live in barn owl country in the UK. In summer we often hear them at night as they hunt for rodents and other small mammals. Last night, for example, at 2.30 a.m. Barn owls also make an intimidating hissing noise.

Patrik Aberg Xeno-Canto

Both photos above were taken on Abaco. Woody Bracey’s header image is featured inTHE BIRDS OF ABACO“. Becky Marvil’s photo was taken near Treasure Cay. I’ve never seen a barn owl on Abaco, but  I’ve been lucky enough to get close to a couple – last summer in Dorset, and last week in Cornwall. For those who have never seen one, here is a gallery of my own images that show what wonderful birds they are.

Barn Owl (Keith Salvesen)Barn Owl Dorset 3 copy Barn Owl Dorset 2 copyBarn Owl 2 (Keith Salvesen)Barn Owl 4 (Keith Salvesen)

 This close-up of a barn owl shows the typical speckling on its pure white front, and the wing patternsBarn Owl 5 (Keith Salvesen)

This fluffy baby barn owl was recently rescued and is being cared for in a sanctuary before being returned to the wild. Whimsy is rarely permitted  in this blog, but seriously, folks – cute overload!Barn Owl 6 (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: Woody Bracey, Becky Marvil, RH, Xeno-Canto (audio), RSPB (video)

‘LEAST, BUT NOT LAST’: LEAST GREBES ON ABACO


Least Grebe Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley) 1

‘LEAST, BUT NOT LAST’: LEAST GREBES ON ABACO

The Least Grebe Tachybaptus dominicus is an adorable little dabchick that can be very entertaining to watch. These small birds are able to stay underwater for long enough to ensure they always bob up further away from you than you expect. They can easily stay below the surface for 20 seconds, and may dive again only a few seconds after surfacing (their taxonomic name comes from a Greek compound meaning  ‘fast diving’). While underwater, the grebe forages for tiny fish, crustaceans, frogs and aquatic insects. In the breeding season the striped chicks are sometimes carried on a parent’s back.

A GALLERY OF LEAST GREBESLeast Grebe, Abaco (Rolling Harbour)Least Grebe, Abaco  (Peter Mantle) Least Grebe, Abaco (Peter Mantle) Least Grebe, Abaco (Tom Reed)Least Grebe, Abaco (Rolling Harbour) Least Grebe, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

Least Grebe Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley) 2 - Version 2 Least Grebe, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley) 3

For the sake of completeness, there is one other dabchick species found on Abaco, the closely related Pied-billed Grebe. Here’s how to tell them apart:  the Least  has a bright golden eye, while the Pied-billed  is slightly the larger of the two species, and has a dark eye and a  black beak-ring in the breeding season.

PIED-BILLED GREBEPied-billed- Grebe Podilymbus podiceps (Wiki)

 Photo Credits: Tom Sheley (3); Peter Mantle (2); RH (2); Gelinde Taurer (1); Tom Reed (1); Wiki – PBG (1)

‘TAKEN TO THE CLEANERS’: REEF FISH & CLEANING STATIONS


Goby (Cleaning) © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Cleaning Goby (Melinda Riger)

‘TAKEN TO THE CLEANERS’: REEF FISH & CLEANING STATIONS

A cleaning station is a place where fish and and other aquatic life congregate to be cleaned. This involves the removal of parasites both externally and internally, and is be performed by various creatures including, on the coral reefs of the Bahamas, cleaner shrimps and various species of cleaning fish such as wrasses and gobies. The process conveniently benefits both the cleaned and the cleaner.

Tiger Grouper being cleaned by Cleaner ShrimpsGrouper being cleaned ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

Blue Parrotfish being cleaned (or tickled, from its expression) by a Cleaner Shrimp Blue Parrot Fish & Peterson Cleaner Shrimp ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

  Black Grouper being cleaned by gobies – note the ones in its mouth Grouper at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Black Grouper at a Cleaning Station with gobies. Note the hook and line… Grouper, Black, at cleaning station (+ hook) ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

Tiger Grouper being cleaned by GobiesTiger Grouper being cleaned ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba copy

Gobies checking a hand for parasites….Cleaning Gobies copy

When a fish approaches a cleaning station it will open its mouth wide or position its body in such a way as to signal that it needs cleaning. The cleaner fish will then remove and eat the parasites from the skin, even swimming into the mouth and gills of the fish being cleaned.

“Clean me!” An amazing view of a Tiger Grouper at a CleaningStation with its gills wide openGrouper, Tiger - gills open at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @GB Scuba copy

Grouper at a cleaning station over a spongeSponge : Fish Cleaning Station ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Remora clinging to a shark. For more on this unusual symbiotic relationship, click HERE383586_510314062323321_1002533913_n copy

 All photos: Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba, with thanks as ever

GRAY CATBIRDS & BIRDBATHS ON ABACO: HANDY FOR A DRINK OR A DIP


Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 6

GRAY CATBIRDS & BIRDBATHS ON ABACO: HANDY FOR A DRINK OR A DIP

The birdbaths at Delphi are not as popular as the feeders, but certain species seem to make the most of them. Among the frequent users are Greater Antillean Bullfinches, Black-faced Grassquits and Gray Catbirds Dumetella carolinensis. The bird above and in the next 2 photos was one of several species using the poolside birdbath on a hot day. It seemed to pause after taking a drink, as if to enjoy the water trickling down their throats (or is that just me and Kalik?).

Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 7Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 8

This Gray Catbird started the day with a good drink at the birdbath near The Shack. There seems to be a certain amount of gargling and dribbling going on, but clearly it is enjoying some fresh cool water. Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 1Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 2

This catbird was tempted to the birdbath at the far side of the pool on a very hot afternoon. Not just to drink from, but actually to get in for a dip. And then a major bout of splashing about…  Note the characteristic russet undertail coverts of this bird, also visible on the header bird. And if you want to know how this species got its name and what it sounds like, this will explain all…

David Bradley Xeno-Canto

Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 5Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 4Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 3

All photos: RH

PRAIRIE WARBLERS ON ABACO: CHIRPY WINTER RESIDENTS


Prairie Warbler Dendroica discolor Wolfgang Wander (Wiki)

PRAIRIE WARBLERS ON ABACO: CHIRPY WINTER RESIDENTS

There are 32 warbler species that migrate south and join ABACO’S 5 PERMANENT RESIDENT WARBLERS for their winter break. Some, like the Prairie Warbler Setophaga discolor, are common; a few are quite rare; and one, the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler, is a ‘bird of a lifetime’ if you manage to see one. Or even hear one.

The Prairie Warbler prefers open areas to coppice and pine forest, though despite its name it does not inhabit prairies in the summer months. Scrubland and backcountry wood margins are a favourite haunt. This is a tail-bobbing warbler species, and is often seen low down in foliage or actually on the ground.

The wonderful photographs below were all taken on Abaco by Gerlinde Taurer, whose collection of bird species photographed on the island was used extensively in theTHE BIRDS OF ABACO, including one of the Prairie Warblers below (awarded a full page).

Prairie Warbler, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

Prairie Warbler, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

Prairie Warbler, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

The overall impression is of a small yellow bird with darker wings and back, and conspicuous black streaking. However there are considerable variations in the colouring and patterning within the species depending on age, sex, season and so on. One indicator of the species is a dark line through the eye. Mostly, there will be a patch of yellow above and / or below the eye. However, all the birds on this page show differences from each other in their markings, and one can only generalise about their appearance.

Prairie Warbler, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

Prairie Warblers forage for insects on tree branches or sometimes on the ground. You may also see them ‘hawking’ for insects. They have two types of songs, sung at different times – for example in the breeding season, or when territorial assertion is called for. Here is one example:

 Mike Nelson Xeno-Canto

These warblers also use a simple chipping calls of the ‘tsip’ or ‘tsk’ kind.

Paul Marvin Xeno-Canto

220px-Status_iucn3.1_LC.svg

Though currently IUCN listed as ‘Least Concern’, numbers of this species are declining. The two main threats to them are mankind (habitat loss); and nest parasitism by, in particular, the Brown-headed Cowbird, a bird which causes problems for many other species.

Prairie Warbler, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)prairie_warbler

 

Credits: All photos Gerlinde Taurer except header Wolfgang Wander; Audio Clips Xeno-Canto; Range map Cornell Lab

AMAZING WHALE, DOLPHIN & MANATEE PHOTOS FROM ABACO


Whale Fluke (BMMRO Abaco Bahamas)AMAZING WHALE, DOLPHIN & MANATEE PHOTOS FROM ABACO

The BMMRO (Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation) had a great June for sightings of cetaceans and sirenians. Here is a sample of their wonderful photos from recent research expeditions (with thanks as ever for use permission).

RANDY THE WEST INDIAN MANATEE

After the recent excitement of Abaco’s manatee GEORGIE having returned to Cherokee after another of her epic journeys, another West Indian manatee has arrived at Sandy Point (conveniently the location of the BMMRO HQ). Sirenians and cetaceans are generally recognised from particular patterns to flukes or fins. The second image shows the notch in Randy’s tail that confirms ID.

Randy the West Indian Manatee, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas Randy the West Indian Manatee (tail), Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINSBottlenose Dolphins - BMMRO, Abaco, BahamasBottlenose Dolphins - BMMRO, Abaco, BahamasBottlenose Dolphins Abaco BMMRO FV

SPOTTED DOLPHINSSpotted Dolphins, BMMRO Abaco, Bahamas

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALESBlainville's Beaked Whales BMMRO Abaco, BahamasBlainville's Beaked Whales BMMRO Abaco, BahamasBlainville's Beaked Whales BMMRO Abaco, Bahamas

TWO COMPLETE FLUKES (THIS IMAGE & HEADER)

(note minor damage to the edges, from which ID of an individual can be made)Whale Fluke (BMMRO Abaco Bahamas)

SPERM WHALE & DIVER

Compare the diver’s fins in the foreground with the (partial) length of a huge sperm whale… Sperm Whale and Diver

RELATED LINKS:

DOLPHINS

WHALES

MANATEES

“WARTS & ALL”: THE TURKEY VULTURE IN ALL HIS GLORY


“WARTS & ALL”: THE TURKEY VULTURE IN ALL HIS GLORY

This wonderful picture taken by Irish photographer Craig Nash appears on page 215 of “The Birds of Abaco”. It was awarded a full page to itself, and a few people have asked about this authorial / editorial decision. The simple answer is that the book is full of lovely pictures of gorgeous birds. Too much perfection can become tedious, and an occasional corrective is called for. The Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura is often described in detail, but only a really good close-up will reveal a bird that only its mother could love unconditionally. 

The text for the book is as follows: “Graceful in flight as they wheel overhead singly or in large groups catching the thermals, these large raptors are rather less attractive at close quarters. The head and neck are completely hairless. They lack a syrinx (the avian equivalent of a larynx) and can only grunt and hiss.These vultures are carrion feeders, with a sense of smell so keen that they can detect rotting flesh from afar.They usefully help to clear up road-kill on the Abaco Highway. Their defence mechanism – and what a good one – is to vomit foul-smelling semi-digested putrified meat onto a perceived threat”. 

Double-click on the image and you will be able to count the hairs on his chin. Go on. Nothing to lose. You can find out plenty more about these fine birds and their somewhat revolting habits including 10 Essential Facts, what they sound like, the statistical percentage photographed from below, and a free yet horrible Metallica song at ‘CARRION SCAVENGING’: TURKEY VULTURES ON ABACO

Turkey Vulture, Abaco - Craig Nash 1

“TOOTHY CRITTERS”: BARRACUDA ON ABACO


3875_aquaimages

“TOOTHY CRITTERS”: BARRACUDA ON ABACO

We’ve had some sharks swimming around the blog, for example HERE. But not a great deal about barracudas. Time to put that right. Melinda Riger’s excellent photographs tell you the basics of what you need to know – they are lean, mean biting machines with wicked teeth. In fact, ‘cuda bites are quite rare (unless you you very stupid or very unlucky) and many of the common sense rules that apply to fraternising with sharks in their own element apply equally with ‘cudas.

Barracuda & Diver ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

Great gnashers – some teeth angle forwards & some backwards for mincing prey effectivelyBarracuda ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba Barracuda ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy 800px-Barracuda_laban

Lobbing a brightly-coloured lure from a skiff using a spinning rod into the general vicinity of a barracuda can result in a heart-stopping few seconds as the fish plunges towards the lure at astonishing speed. If it takes it, there’s even more fun to be had bringing it in. ‘Cuda steaks are delicious, but some care needs to be taken. These fish are known carriers of CIGUATERA fish-poisoning. Click the link to find out about the unpleasantness of the toxin involved. On Abaco, ‘cudas from one side of the island are OK, and from the other side may be suspect… just make sure you know which is which before you cook your supper…

BARRACUDA ©Melida Riger @ G B  ScubaBarracuda ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

‘RAINBOW BIRDS’: GORGEOUS PAINTED BUNTINGS ON ABACO


Painted Bunting male.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

‘RAINBOW BIRDS’: GORGEOUS PAINTED BUNTINGS ON ABACO

The Mnemonic: that little aide memoire that helps you easily remember a fact. A suitable example hereabouts would be one for remembering the order of taxonomy:  Kids Prefer Cheese Over Fried Green Spinach (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species). ‘ROY G BIV’ or ‘VIBGYOR’ were my childhood ones for the colours of the rainbow in order. Now I’d just look at a picture of a Painted Bunting. Who cares about the exact order? The colours are all there! 

Painted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

PAINTED BUNTINGS (Passerina ciris) belong to the Cardinal family (Cardinalidae) native to North America. Some would argue that the male Painted Bunting is one of the most beautiful birds. There are no ID problems with the male – once seen, never forgotten. However, these birds are inclined to skulk a bit, so despite their vivid  colouring they aren’t always easy to see amid foliage. The plumage of female and juvenile Painted Buntings are green or greeny-yellow and may be even harder to see in coppice. The one below is an immature female.

Painted Bunting (female, immature), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

These  buntings are shy birds, but luckily their keenness for seeds outweighs their natural diffidence, and they enjoy feeders. They also eat small invertebrates such as spiders, snails, grasshoppers, and caterpillars, especially in the breeding seasonPainted Bunting, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Male painted buntings are only too well aware how gorgeous they look (‘You’re so vain – I bet you think this post is about you…’). They may go in for ostentatious displays, including flying like a butterfly or all fluffed up or with quivering wings. Or all three. Sometimes this is to upstage another male; mostly it is to impress the laydeez.

Painted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavellee)

Russ Wigh, Xeno-Canto

Unsurprisingly the painted bunting was at one time very popular as a caged bird. Now though, it is illegal to catch or keep one. They are IUCN listed as Near Threatened and are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.

220px-Status_iucn3.1_NT.svg220px-Passerina_ciris_distribution

The photos above all come from the photographic archive amassed for “The Birds of Abaco” project. Credits to Tom Sheley, Tara Lavallee, Bruce Hallett, and Erik Gauger. Below is an omnium gatherum consisting of a gallery of rather good painted bunting photos from Wiki;  a good video of PABUs singing; and for light relief a largely irrelevant yet quite charming 10 minute cartoon ‘The Rainbow Bird’ based on a South American folktale. 

PaintedBunting23 Painted Bunting Passerina ciris Doug Janson Wiki 800px-Painted_Bunting_Female_by_Dan_Pancamo

 

BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS ON ABACO: MORE SIGHTINGS & IMAGES


Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco - Liann Key Kaighin

BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS ON ABACO: MORE SIGHTINGS & IMAGES

I have only just posted about this new duck species for Abaco HERE. Yesterday Liann Key Kaighin encountered a pair of these ducks at Marsh Harbour Airport. She took some great shots of them. They certainly look very appealing little birds. Her first report was Thursday June 12, 2014, around 9am, this pair flew in together to hang out in the water puddle. They were very unafraid. AZigZag Airways, MH Airfield, Abaco”. Since previous sightings have been of 6 birds together, either the original group has split up as they have travelled north over the week; or another pair have chosen to inaugurate the new airport with a new bird species by landing there. I asked Liann about the numbers and she says that this could be the case: “These two came in on the wing from south and I watched them for half an hour. No more showed up”.

There have been a few other reports from the same general area, and I expect there’ll be quite an archive of photos building up. Woody Bracey is the person to report sightings to. That way, he can build the picture of how many of these visitors there are, and how they are moving around the island. Contact him at edb64 [at] hotmail.com

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco - Liann Key KaighinBlack-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco - Liann Key Kaighin Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco - Liann Key KaighinBlack-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco - Liann Key Kaighin

CHART OF REPORTS OVER THE WEEK SINCE THE DUCKS WERE FIRST SPOTTED

Map for desktop jpg

Photo Credit: Liann; Map by cartographer Martin Brown drawn specially for “The Birds of Abaco”

A STRANGE COINCIDENCE

In my last BBWD post I added a photo from Wiki and saw it was actually taken at the WWT Wetland Centre, Barnes in West London UK. I am briefly back in London (quite close to Barnes), though without my camera. Any camera at all. Except on my phone. So today I paid a quick visit to see if the BBWDs were in residence. They were, and I took a few shots of them and various other species. Frankly the ones I took when the sun was behind the clouds are useless; the ones in the sun are OK. So here are a few. But they are NOT the Abaco ducks, just cousins. And I’ll definitely be going back at the end of the month, with a proper camera!

I made a couple of sound recordings but one is ruined by an emergency vehicle siren that started up; and the other by a low-flying aeroplane making its descent to Heathrow Airport. The Wetlands Centre is a rural oasis ingeniously built round huge disused gravel pits by the Thames; but it has the drawback of being right on the flight path…  Not sure if they are usable, thought the whistles are clear!

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco : WWT - RH 2NOTE EPONYMOUS BLACK BELLY…Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco : WWT - RH 3 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco : WWT - RH 4 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco : WWT - RH 5 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco : WWT - RH

I took a brief (20 secs of your time…) phone video of the pond with a number of different waterbirds in and around it. The BBWDs are in the foreground. The interaction between the species was quite amusing. The moorhen was clearly in charge of them all…  You’ll hear a bit of whistling – more a feeble squeak, really (and an aeroplane passing overhead). You’ll see that when the moorhen starts its casual harassment, the underside of the wing of the startled duck is completely black.

DOLPHINS OF ABACO: WONDERFUL PHOTOS FROM THE BMMRO


Dolphin, Abaco - BMMRO

DOLPHINS OF ABACO: WONDERFUL PHOTOS FROM THE BMMRO

The BMMRO (Bahamas Marine Research Organisation) is based at Sandy Point, Abaco. It is dedicated to researching, monitoring, and protecting the marine mammals of a very large area. Not just cetaceans – the dolphins and whales. Recently, a small number of West Indian manatees (sirenians) have been making the northern Bahamas their home. I’ve written plenty about Georgie the adventurous manatee in the past – and in April she returned to her favourite place, Cherokee, after a bit of time away from Abaco.

Recently, photographer Shane Gross spent some time with the BMMRO and took stunning photos of dolphins. It’s impossible to say, or think, anything unpleasant about these lovely, intelligent, playful creatures. Say you ‘don’t much care for dolphins’, and you’d be more than halfway to having a down on kittens. Here are some magnificent images that deserve a wide audience.

Dolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) - Shane GrossDolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) - Shane GrossDolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) - Shane GrossDolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) - Shane GrossDolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) - Shane Gross

WHALES & DOLPHINS  PAGE

MANATEES PAGE

BMMRO WEBSITE

BMMRO FACEBOOK

SHANE GROSS PHOTOGRAPHIC

Thanks as ever to Charlotte & Diane at the BMMRO for ongoing use permission of material including the header pic; and to Shane for his outstanding photos

SAW A SORA? SURE? RAIL TRACK ON ABACO


BAHAMAS - Sora 2 - Oct 2010 copy 2

SAW A SORA? SURE? RAIL TRACK ON ABACO

‘Furtive’. ‘Secretive’. ‘Skulking’. These are harsh epithets to chuck at a small inoffensive bird that just goes about its daily routine in watery places. And look at it from the Sora’s point of view: ‘intrusive’; ‘prying’; invasive’; ‘nosy’… That’s you with your camera, disturbing its quiet life in the reeds and on the margins of marsh and lake. And for that matter your careful attempts to get close to the shy sora without startling it could also be described as furtive, secretive and skulking. See how it feels?

Sora.Marsh Harbour.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy

The Sora Porzana carolina is a species of rail, a winter resident on Abaco. The island also has the CLAPPER RAIL, Virginia Rail and the Black Rail. There are no recorded sightings of this last one, and certainly no photographs. But their distinctive call has been heard in several locations over the last few years -  for example, by two people in different places last June when we were in full bird mode for “THE BIRDS OF ABACO”.

Sora, Gilpin Point Abaco RH 1

Although not uncommon, the sora is relatively hard to find; and if found, to photograph. As I wrote in the book, ‘these are most inconspicuous birds, so it is quite a coup if you manage to locate one. Their creamy beak and upturned tail may give their presence away as they work their way along the water’s edge, feeding intently’. Tom Sheley took the magnificent photo above of a sora peering out from cover – he’s a very patient man. Often, the best sight you’ll get is of the bird half-hidden in the reeds at a distance, as in my feeble effort above. Spot the Sora… I tracked the same bird, and later got a more open shot as the sora picked its way along the edge of a pond before disappearing again into the reeds. The bird was moving away from me. I was crouched on a small jetty, with a little blue heron nearby looking at me in puzzlement. Or sympathy. My best (ha!) shot below (beak and tail both visible? Check!) is followed by much the most usual view of a sora in my experience, the less photogenic end with the white… stern.

Sora, Gilpin Point Abaco RH 3Sora, Gilpin Point Abaco RH 4

I can’t improve on good old Wiki in summarising the diet of this little rail: “Soras are omnivores, eating seeds, insects and snails. Animals that are commonly reported as sora food items include snails, crustaceans, spiders, and insects – mainly beetles, grasshoppers, flies, and dragonflies. Soras often eat plant seeds. Plants in the sora’s diet include duckweed, pondweeds, and grasses.” Wiki’s own image is shown next.

Sora, Birding Center, Port Aransas, Texas

We were with our friend the ornithological scientist Caroline Stahala* when we – I should say she – saw my first sora at the pond at Gilpin Point near Crossing Rocks. She grabbed my camera and plunged into the rather thick undergrowth at the water’s edge. Actually, she had to plunge into the water itself at one stage. Here are 2 shots that further demonstrate how hard it can be to photograph these wretched creatures. They don’t pose prettily on a branch in the sunshine like a Spindalis, for example. They forage about in places where low light and thick vegetation combine to make focus and clarity difficult to achieve. *’The Parrot Lady’  Sora, Gilpin Point Abaco - Caroline Stahala 1 Sora, Gilpin Point Abaco - Caroline Stahala 2 The remarkable calls of the sora can be heard in the very short clips below, from the invaluable Xeno-Canto archive. They make three distinct types of sound, one described as “a descending whinny”. Apparently the use of ‘call broadcasts’ greatly increases the chances of hearing a sora. They also increase the chances of seeing a sora, as the bird will often investigate the source of the call. The propriety of using a recording to attract a bird is open to debate, but there’s no doubt that it can be far more effective than simply going ‘pish-wish’ repeatedly… CALL Ted Floyd ‘WHINNY’ CALL   Micah Riegner ‘WEEP CALL’  Todd Wilson This is a second Wiki image of a sora foraging in water. I like the fact that, as with Tom’s photo, you can see the feet.1024px-Porzana_carolina “SORA”. Where does the word come from? What does it mean? It sounds like some uninviting butter-style spread. Or is that ‘Flora’? I did some research and for a start it means ‘Sky’ in Japanese and ‘Seashell’ in Korean – both used as names. Six countries worldwide have places called Sora. There are various obscure usages (e.g. a little-known video game). Disappointingly, however, the best etymology I can find in a birding context is that the origin is ‘unknown’. I was too disheartened to explore the derivation of ‘Porzana’. Could so easily be a second-tier female character in a Shakespeare comedy: “Haply, Porzana, hast seen the Sora of the Prince, withal?”. Having started this post with a header shot by Becky Marvil, I’ll end with the etymological mystery and another photo by Becky of the same bird going for some underwater delicacy. Sora, Abaco - Becky Marvil 2.1

STOP PRESS Uli Nowlan has kindly sent a photo of a Sora taken at ponds north of Treasure Cay (below). It’s a timely reminder to me that this blog is somewhat South Abaco oriented. More than somewhat, in fact. That’s inevitable I’m afraid, owing to my base camp being south of MH. Also, I think it’s generally accepted that South Abaco is the place to find the best birding. I do include birds from the TC area – the golf course ponds and the creeks – but perhaps not enough. Contributions welcome!

Sora, Abaco (Treasure Cay area) - Uli Nowlan

Credits: Header and last image – Becky Marvil; Tom Sheley, RH, Wiki, Caroline Stahala; Uli Nowlan. Wiki-nod for some info also.

PUFFER FISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (19)


Sharpnose Puffer Fish

Sharpnose Puffer Fish

PUFFER FISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (19)

10 PUFFER FISH FACTS TO ASTONISH YOUR FAMILY & FRIENDS

1. Puffers can inflate their bodies in an instant by ingesting huge amounts of water and becoming water-filled balloons.

2. They need a startling form of defence like this (or ‘piscatorial superpower’) because they can’t swim very well.

3. However, a persistent predator will find that they contain a toxin (tetrodotoxin TTX) that is a hundred times stronger than cyanide. One puffer fish has enough toxin to kill quite a few humans.  Agatha Christie was unaware of this – had she been, we might have had a classic  multiple murder mystery based on the contents of a fish tank… “Poirot and a Fishy Tale of the Caribbean”

Sharp Nose Puffer Fish ©Melinda Riger @GB Scuba

Sharpnose Puffer Fish

4. Selected parts of a puffer fish are a delicacy in some cultures (‘fugu’, in Japan). Trained chefs are used to avoid mass deaths among diners.

5. Sharks are the only species immune to the puffer fish and are not much bothered by a small fish that can blow itself up.

6. Puffers have skin, not scales; most have toxic spines of some sort. Bright coloured ones are probably more toxic than their duller cousins.

Sharp-nosed Puffer Fish ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

Sharpnose Puffer Fish

7. It’s worth knowing what an uninflated puffer looks like before you try to pet a passing fish and have a toxic encounter.

8. There are more than a hundred puffer species in the world, found where there are warm shallow waters.

9. No all puffers are toxic; and some are more toxic than others.

10. I have no idea of the relative toxicity of the 2 puffer species featured here. Sorry about that. Take care!

Animal-Fish-Photo-Canthigaster-rostrata-Caribbean-Sharp-Nose-Puffer-1000x401 Animal-Fish-Photo-Canthigaster-rostrata-Inflated-Caribbean-Sharp-Nose-Puffer-1000x590

The fish above are all Sharpnose Puffer Fish taken by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; the rather nice drawings of the species are courtesy of the Smithsonian via ‘Vintage Printables’.  

CHECKERED PUFFER FISH

I photographed some Checkered Puffers at Sandy Point, Abaco last summer. None was puffed up, and I wasn’t about to upset them. The following photos of a small group of puffers were taken from above and not underwater (“no fear”). 

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Checkered Puffer Fish, Sandy Point, Abaco

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Checkered Puffer Fish, Sandy Point, Abaco

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Checkered Puffer Fish, Sandy Point, Abaco

I don’t know what species of puffer the one below may be, but I do know I don’t want it in the palm of my hand. I include it from an ‘info for kids’ site to illustrate what the full balloon looks like. I’m wondering if all one needs to deal with them is a pin on the end of a long stick…

puffer-fish-facts-for-kids

Puffer Fish at Full Puff

FURTHER READING about dodgy creatures you may encounter:

5 CREATURES ON ABACO THAT YOU MAY WISH TO AVOID

SPIDER WASPS & TARANTULA HAWKS: DON’T MESS WITH THESE GUYS

ABACO’S 5 ‘PERMANENT RESIDENT’ WARBLERS & A NEW WARBLER ID GUIDE


Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco

ABACO’S 5 ‘PERMANENT RESIDENT’ WARBLERS & A NEW WARBLER ID GUIDE

There are 37 Warbler species (Parulidae) recorded for Abaco. There is considerable scope for confusion between many of them. For a start, by no means all have the helpful word ‘warbler’ in their name. Secondly a great many of the species are to a greater or lesser extent yellow, with sub-variables for gender, age and season. It’s easy to get in muddle. A good place to start ID is with the warblers that are on Abaco all year round. Only 5 species are permanent residents on Abaco and the Cays: Bahama Warbler, Bahama Yellowthroat, Olive-capped Warbler, Pine warbler and Yellow Warbler. I have used images of these to illustrate this post.

Yellow Warbler (f) Abaco

Yellow Warbler (f) Abaco

The rest are mostly winter residents, with some being transient visitors passing through on their migration routes. Some are ‘everyday’ birds; some are unusual; and a few are extremely hard to find, the Kirtland’s warbler being the rarest and therefore the most prized sighting of all. I will be returning to the Kirtland’s in more detail in due course.

Pine Warbler, Abaco

Pine Warbler, Abaco

At the bottom of this post is a complete list of the Abaco warbler species, with Bahamas bird authority Tony White’s excellent codes indicating (a) when they may be seen; and (b) the likelihood of seeing a particular species (from 1 – 5). First however, news of a great resource for aiding warbler ID, produced by The Warbler Guide. Click on the blue link below to open a pdf with illustrative views of warbler species from several angles, spread of 8 pages. These are the warblers of North America, but you’ll find that almost all the Abaco warblers are featured.

THE WARBLER GUIDE QUICK-FINDERS

SAMPLE PAGE

Warbler Guide Sample Page

Bahama Warbler, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

Bahama Warbler, Abaco

THE 37 WARBLER SPECIES RECORDED FOR ABACO

WOOD-WARBLERS  PARULIDAE CODE
Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapilla WR 1
Worm-eating Warbler Helmitheros vermivorum WR 2
Louisiana Waterthrush Parkesia motacilla WR 3
Northern Waterthrush Parkesia noveboracensis WR 1
Blue-winged Warbler Vermivora cyanoptera WR 3
Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia WR 2
Prothonotary Warbler Protonotaria citrea TR 3
Swainson’s Warbler Limnothlypis swainsonii WR 4
Tennessee Warbler Oreothlypis peregrina TR 4
Orange-crowned Warbler Oreothlypis celata TR 4
Nashville Warbler Oreothlypis ruficapilla WR 4
Connecticut Warbler Oporonis agilis TR 4
Kentucky Warbler Geothlypis formosa TR 4
Bahama Yellowthroat Geothlypis rostrata PR B 1
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas WR 1
Hooded Warbler Setophaga citrina WR 3
American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla WR 1
Kirtland’s Warbler Setophaga kirtlandii WR 4
Cape May Warbler Setophaga tigrina WR 1
Northern Parula Setophaga americana WR 1
Magnolia Warbler Setophaga magnolia WR 3
Bay-breasted Warbler Setophaga castanea TR 4
Blackburnian Warbler Setophaga fusca TR 4
Yellow Warbler Setophaga petechia PR B 1
Chestnut-sided Warbler Setophaga pensylvanica TR 4
Blackpoll Warbler Setophaga striata TR 3
Black-throated Blue Warbler Setophaga caerulescens WR 2
Palm Warbler Setophaga palmarum WR 1
Olive-capped Warbler Setophaga pityophila PR B 1
Pine Warbler Setophaga pinus PR B 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata WR 2
Yellow-throated Warbler Setophaga dominica WR 1
Bahama Warbler Setophaga flavescens PR B 1
Prairie Warbler Setophaga discolor WR 1
Black-throated Green Warbler Setophaga virens WR 3
Wilson’s Warbler Cardellina pusilla TR 4
Yellow-breasted Chat Icteria virens TR 4
Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco

Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco

Warbler_Guide

Image credits: Bruce Hallett, Tom Reed, Woody Bracey, Charlie Skinner; PDF from ‘The Warbler Guide”

ABACO’S ENDEMIC BIRDS: MAKING A CASE FOR PROTECTION


Bahama Yellowthroat on Abaco - Tom Reed

Bahama Yellowthroat on Abaco – Tom Reed

 ABACO’S ENDEMIC BIRDS: MAKING A CASE FOR PROTECTION

I recently wrote a post showcasing the 4 Bahamas endemic bird species found on Abaco: swallow, warbler, woodstar hummingbird, and yellowthroat. You can read it and see some great photos HERE. Sadly, the magnificent oriole, extant on Abaco for centuries, was extirpated in the 1990s. You can still see them but only on Andros; and the population there is barely sustainable – there are only 260 remaining. Still, on Abaco there remain four of the endemic species to conserve and care for.

The Bahamas National Trust BNT has produced 6 brief but informative illustrated ‘cards’ about the Bahamas endemics. They deserve a wide audience, especially in view of the threats to some species for reasons that include habitat loss and increasing development. New Providence lost its subspecies of Bahama Yellowthroat within the last 20 years. Let’s hope that Abaco can hold onto its speciality birds for the future. 

IMG_1613IMG_1618IMG_1801IMG_1617IMG_1713IMG_1707

BANANAQUITS ARE UBIQUITS ON ABACO – AND ÜBERCUTE TOO


Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 7

BANANAQUITS ARE UBIQUITS ON ABACO – AND ÜBERCUTE TOO

The Bananaquit Coereba flaveola. Permanently resident on Abaco, at the Delphi Club, and in my top ten favourite birds. And everyone else’s, I shouldn’t wonder. With their handsome livery and their cheeky chirping, they can be found almost anywhere. They could equally well be called ubiquits. I had been going to post some recent images of one feasting at a hummingbird feeder, but I found this thirsty palm-forager in my photo folder first, so here he is in all his glory…

Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 1 Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 2 Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 5Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 6Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 4

Here’s the song of a bananaquit from Xeno-Canto (Paul Driver, Andros) (and there’s a thick-billed vireo in the background)

And here is the ‘whole picture’ without the zooming, showing what a relatively small and cute bird the bananaquit isBananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 3

All images: RH; sound recording Paul Driver, Xeno-Canto

ABACO WARBLERS: IN SEARCH OF A YELLOW RUMP…


Yellow-rumped_Warbler Dan Pancamo (Wiki)

ABACO WARBLERS: IN SEARCH OF A YELLOW RUMP…

I haven’t been very lucky with yellow rumps in the past. This is not normally something one likes to talk about in a public forum… but to be honest I have been longing to get hold of a yellow rump of my own. The warbler Setophaga coronata, that is, a fairly common winter resident on Abaco. I’ve seen them of course. I’ve glimpsed a passing flash of yellow rump. But no YRW has stayed parked in tree with its backside towards me for long enough to permit me to photograph its posterior glory. Ideally I’d have liked a clear, attractive shot like the header image (Dan Pancamo, Wiki). But desperation leads to lowered expectations and plummeting standards. Frankly, this year I’d have been satisfied with any yellow rump. Abandoning my initial plan to apply a yellow highlighter pen to a compliant female grassquit, I bided my time. And suddenly there, at the very top of a tree near the swimming pool at Delphi, was my chance… A pair of YRWs were in evidence.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco 5Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco 6Yellow-rumped Warbler Abaco 1Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco 2

The tree wasn’t very close to me, and the birds stayed near the very top. My photos were never going to be great. Especially since each bird was meticulous in keeping its rear end out of sight. Then they flew away! However quite soon one was back. This time there were twigs in the way, one of the those little variables that makes camera focussing so enjoyable. But this time I managed to ‘pap’ its derrière…  Feeble shots but mine own. As an avian ‘Holy Grail’, a mere yellow rump leaves quite a lot to be desired, I can quite see. It’s on no one’s ‘bucket list’ of birding musts. But now I can move on, release that poor female grassquit and chuck out the highlighter pen.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco 3Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco 4