Tuna the Piping Plover: from New Jersey to Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)


Hello, readers of Mr Harbour’s blog. My name is Tuna. This is the first part of my autobiography, and I’m only just 3 months old. I’ve already made a 1000-mile journey to Abaco for reasons I don’t quite understand. Maybe because it’s nice and warm here. This is my story so far.

I was born on June 10th in the Holgate Unit of the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey. If I’d known then what was ‘beautiful’ was, this would have been it.


My dad is called Ross. My mum is called Paula. I had a brother but suddenly he stopped being there. We didn’t see him again, I never knew why. Anyway, the day after I was born a very kind lady called Michelle picked me up and sort of cuddled me in her fingers. I was weighed and measured. She also put coloured rings on my top bits of leg. I had blue & green on one leg and black & gray on the other. Very smart. A chic chick. It was very quick and it didn’t hurt at all. After that I never really thought about them again, they just were part of me. As I grew bigger they sort of grew with me.

It made for an exciting first full day of my life, June 11. Here are some pictures of Michelle doing this with other chicks from the same region so you can see how gentle she was. The chicks’ names were Meg, Joe and Nod. Mr Northside Jim watched them every day and took photos of them to record how they grew up. You can read about us and the other shorebirds, Ospreys and Peregrine Falcons  of LBI NJ HERE

Meg being picked up for measuring and bandingpicking-up-piping-plover chick1 π Northside Jim LBI NJ

Banding Meg with a unique colour combo for IDpiping-plover-chick-banding-lbi π Northside Jim LBI NJ

Beak and leg measuringpiping-plover-chick-measurement π Northside Jim LBI NJ

I grew very quickly and my mum and dad showed me how to get food for myself. They looked after me in the nest and kept an eye on me when I went for a wander. Soon I was trying out my wings to see what would happen. Nothing. 

This isn’t me but was taken quite near my bit of beach. Can you see the other chick?Piping Plovers Conserve Wildlife Foundation NJ

It’s fun exploring the big world but it’s dangerous for little birds. I lost several friends along the way. That’s how my brother disappeared I think. As you grow bigger the world seems to get smaller. Which is weird.piping-plover-sit-in-dune π Northside Jim LBI NJmeg-beach-pea PIPL chick π Northside Jim LBI NJ

I got good at finding my own food, going further away from the nest and trying out the water. My wings seemed to be starting to work a bit. Quite soon I felt nearly ready to have a go at flying.Piping Plover (juv) CT (Danny Sauvageau)

On July 5 I managed to fly. Yup, I fledged and I flew. That was only 25 days after I cracked out. Mum and Dad had been talking about making a journey, a long one, and wondering when I would be ready for it. This was puzzling. I liked it where we were. But something was telling me I needed to fly somewhere else for some reason. Then one day I just took off and headed south…

_Piping_Plover_on_the_Fly (USFWS Mountain-Prairie wiki)

After several days of flying and landing in new places to rest and flying again, I reached a place that I knew was exactly right. I don’t know how, but something told me that it would be a good place to stay until I needed to move again. So I landed on a beach called Watching Bay on Abaco. I’d travelled 1000 miles from where I cracked out, and I wasn’t even 3 months old. Cool, huh?

EBF NWR to Cherokee Map jpg

There were some other birds on the beach, including one just like me except she didn’t have any coloured rings. Ha! There were very few humans apart from a few taking a walk. On Aug 28 one lady stopped and pointed something at me. I wonder why? She kept her distance so I wasn’t scared.

August 28 Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco. Rhonda Pearce’s photos led to provisional ID of Tuna
#10 Aug 28. Watching Bay, Cherokee Abaco. 1 bird. Banded. Rhonda Pearce 2#10 Aug 28. Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco. 1 bird. Banded. Rhonda Pearce 1

There was plenty to eat on the beach, and it was quite sheltered from the wind. It seemed safe. I liked it a lot and decided to stay there

Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco jpg

On Sep 16 I saw the same lady again, and she saw me. She was very careful not to get me worried, and she pointed that thing at me again. Then she walked away. I hope she comes back. She seems nice.

Sept 16 Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco. Rhonda’s new photos led to confirmed ID of TunaTuna the Piping Plover: from New Jersey to Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)      Tuna the Piping Plover: from New Jersey to Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)Tuna the Piping Plover: from New Jersey to Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)  #19 PIPL Bands close-up jpg

I’m planning to stay on this beach for now. More news from me soon. Cheeps from Tuna.

PIPL Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco. 1 bird. Banded. Rhonda Pearce 2 copy copy


  • JUN 10      Hatched
  • JUN 11      Banded & measured
  • JUL 05       Fledged
  • AUG 28     First sighted on Abaco – preliminary ID
  • SEP 16       Seen again on the same beach – ID confirmed
  • SEP 22       Last sighting before Hurricane Joaquin
  • OCT 03       Back on the beach again after Hurricane Joaquin

STOP PRESS Tuna’s mother Paula was re-sighted on Sep 28 on Joulter Cays, Andros

NOTE If you ever wondered why birds are banded and what on earth use it is, the answer is in this story. Banding & tagging enables detailed research at both ends of the migration which in turn enables protection of the species and conservation of threatened habitats. There are only 8000 PIPL left. Degradation of the breeding grounds or the overwintering grounds – let alone both – may result in extinction. This seems to have been a good summer for the piping plover; let’s hope the winter treats them well so that this summer’s chicks like Tuna will be able to breed safely next year.

For details of all this season’s PIPL sightings, check out ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH 



Credits: huge thanks for info and fab photos to Michelle Stantial, Northside Jim, Danny Sauvageau and Rhonda Pearce for the strands to weave this (slightly creative) tale; to USFWS Mountain-Prairie for the PIPL in flight; as always Xeno-Canto for bird sound recordings non pareil; oh, and Meg, Joe & Nod


Edwin B Forsythe NWR map


Whimbrel (Lip Kee wiki)


It’s been many long years. Many checklists show the whimbrel Numenius phaeopus as a recorded bird for most of the Bahamas islands. On Abaco it is rated as a ‘TR4’ in Tony White’s magisterial checklist, which is to say a transient species in migration that is ‘casual, reported irregularly’. Elsewhere it is described as ‘rare / accidental’. This is only one step better than ‘vanishingly rare’. Prior to this year, the last documented sighting report I have found for Abaco was in 2000. Woody Bracey, renowned and persistent birder, last saw one there in 2002. We found no photos to use for “THE BIRDS OF ABACO”, not even as a snapshot in the supplement.

Frankly it was beginning to look as though the Bahamas whimbrel might be going… might already have gone… the way of the specimen below that I found last year in the Museum of Natural History in Dublin (it’s 109 years old). And the lovely whimbrel header picture is from elsewhere in the world. But suddenly…

Whimbrel (Dublin Natural History Museum) - Keith Salvesen

On August 20th this year, Keith Kemp, a regular birder on Abaco, encountered a whimbrel in the Cherokee Sound area. On the eBird map clip below, it is shown with the red marker, meaning a recent sighting. The blue marker is the 2000 sighting at Crossing Rocks. Keith didn’t get a photo, but he got the kudos of seeing the first Abaco whimbrel for 15 years!Whimbrel sightings Abaco

That was in August. On September 14th, Charmaine Albury went one better – she had her camera with her! Sandy Cay is a small islet to the southwest of Man-o-War Cay. There, in all it’s glory, was another whimbrel. She promptly shot it, luckily not in a Winsconsin dentist / Cecil the lion sense. She even managed to get a good in-flight shot.

Whimbrel, Sandy Cays, Abaco (Charmaine Albury) 2Whimbrel in flight, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)Sandy Cay Abaco jpg

And that might have been that for the Northern Bahamas for another 15 years. Except that the following day at West End, Grand Bahama, Linda Barry-Cooper went one better – she found 2 whimbrels together. Goodness knows how many decades have passed since the last sighting of a pair. Here they are.

Whimbrel, West End, Grand Bahama 1 Sep 2015 (Linda Barry Cooper) Whimbrel, West End, Grand Bahama 2 Sep 2015 (Linda Barry Cooper)     Whimbrel, West End, Grand Bahama 3 Sep 2015 (Linda Barry Cooper)

So that’s a massive influx of 4 whimbrels in the Northern Bahamas within one month. And who knows, maybe more to come. As for other Bahamas islands, a quick check on eBird for the last 10 years shows 3 on GB apart from Linda’s; a handful in the TCI; a couple on Inagua. And that’s it. Matt Jeffery says that on Andros one or two are seen every year as they pass through. And Eleuthera had a famous Whimbrel in 2011 called Chinquapin that had been fitted with a tracking device. It started its migration south, only to run slap into Hurricane Irene. After a doubtless severe buffeting it found safety on Eleuthera, where it was recaptured and cared for.  I think this goes beyond the usual concept of  ‘transient’ though it was undoubtedly ‘accidental’…

“…a shorebird, tracked using a satellite transmitter, flew through Hurricane Irene and survived. The bird, a whimbrel, left Southampton Island in northern Canada and reached the outer band of the huge storm as hurricane-force winds began pounding the Bahamas. The next day the whimbrel, nicknamed Chinquapin, migrated into the eye of the hurricane and landed on Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas” (π Repeating Islands). You can read more about Chinquapin’s epic adventure HERE


If you are wandering on your favourite stretch of sand, idly beachcombing and keeping an eye out for Piping Plovers, here are the sounds that should make you stop in your tracks: the song and the extraordinary call of the new wave (hopefully) of whimbrels in the Bahamas…

SONG π Guillermo Funes Xeno-Canto

CALL π Stein Ø. Nilsen Xeno-Canto

Finally, having nothing to contribute personally to the great whimbrel comeback by way of Bahamas-made photos or sound recordings, I find I have actually photographed one in the UK. It was probably by mistake. The bird is certainly retreating rapidly. This is the only chance I shall ever have to fit it into a relevant post, so I claim writer’s prerogative to show it…

Whimbrel Pensthorpe 2010 copy

Credits: Charmaine Albury, Linda Barry-Cooper, Lip Kee (header), Lisa Paravisini (Chinquapin) and RH (the other pics); Xeno-Canto (recordings)


Delphi Club, Rolling Harbour, Abaco aerial


The compilation of The Delphi Club Guide to THE BIRDS OF ABACO involved making a few rules and sticking to them. For example, the avian images in the book – and there are a great many –  had to be of birds actually photographed on Abaco or in Abaco waters. Gorgeous pictures from Grand Bahama or New Providence were ruthlessly excluded, however painful it was to do. Some wonderful spoonbill photos taken in Nassau stayed in the ‘Not Use’ folder. The temptation to slip in an non-Abaco whimbrel to fill a whimbrel-shaped space among the shorebirds had to be resisted – even though at the time the last recorded sighting of one on Abaco (no photo) was in 2000…

Bananaquit 2, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Another important restriction was the stipulation that we would only use birds that had been photographed in their natural surroundings, defined as being a place where a particular species might naturally be found. Coppice and shoreline, obviously, but this included utility wires, posts and docks etc for species that habitually use them to perch on or hunt from. However, the rule meant a complete embargo on feeder photos, however winsome a hummingbird might look as it sips sugar water. We extended the principle to include a ban on luring birds into camera-shot with seed or corn trails; and similar ruses beyond the simple whistles and pishes that anyone might use to tempt a bird out of deep cover.

Cuban Emerald coming in to land… and feedingCuban Emerald, Delphi, Abaco (Peter Mantle) 1 Cuban Emerald, Delphi, Abaco (Peter Mantle) 2

The Delphi club is the perfect location for an enviably varied number of species. Its remoteness down a one-mile drive from the Highway, with pine forest giving way to luxuriant coppice, ensures minimal disturbance for the birds including a number of rarer species.  Delphi Club Rolling Harbour Abaco Aerial view

The one-mile white sand curve of the beach sees many shorebirds and seabirds in all seasons. The gardens attract both the usual suspects and less common birds. The building, too, has its resident West Indian Woodpeckers in two nesting boxes under the eaves, thoughtfully provided to discourage the Club’s woodwork from exploratory drilling.

Mr and Mrs Black-faced GrassquitBlack-faced Grassquit (m) Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) Black-faced Grassquit (f) Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

There are a number of seed and sugar water feeders around the place, and bird baths too. It’s a long time since I featured a collection of ‘tame’ birds. This post shows a few of the species that have made Delphi their home.

Mr and Mrs Greater Antillean BullfinchGreater Antillean Bullfinch (m), Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Great Antillean Bullfinch. Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Mr and Mrs Painted BuntingPainted Bunting, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Bananaquit: the curved beak makes it easy to use the hummer feeder (see above)Bananaquit (f) Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

A Gray Catbird takes a drink… and a bathGray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Adaptive behaviour from a W I Woodpecker – that long tongue is perfect for the jobWest Indian Woodpecker, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The turkey vulture takes priority over all smaller birds…Turkey Vulture, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

A red-legged thrush enjoys picking up the seed shrapnel off the ground…Red-legged Thrush Abaco 7

As do rose-breasted grosbeaks and indigo buntingsIndigo Bunting & Grosbeaks, Delphi, Abaco ©C StahalaRose-breasted Grosbeak

Meanwhile, a yellow-crowned night heron takes a drink from the poolYellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 9

Credits: all photos RH except aerial shot of Delphi, Peter Brown; the hummers, Peter Mantle; and the buntings / grosbeaks, PM and Caroline Stahala…



Creole Wrasse ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 4


The creole wrasse is a small wrasse species, with adult males reaching about 12 inches long. During its life, a creole wrasse changes colour significantly.  A juvenile is almost completely violet-purple. As it matures, it develops patches of yellow on the rear part of its body.

Creole Wrasse ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 7

Creole wrasse are found throughout the tropical and subtropical waters of the western Atlantic from Florida south to Brazil. The habitat includes Bermuda, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico.

Creole Wrasse ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 5Creole Wrasse ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 6

Creole wrasse are social fish that live in groups around coral reefs. They are found in shallow water, but may also be seen as deep as 100m. 

Creole Wrasse at a cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

The groups of wrasse feed on plankton, small jellyfish, pelagic TUNICATES, and invertebrate larvae. These fish are active in groups by day. At night each fish finds its own safe crevice in the reef to sleep.

Creole Wrasse School ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba copy


Yes indeed. Their intriguing breeding regime – how unlike our own dear species. The creole wrasse is a protogynous hermaphrodite.  The largest fish in a group is a dominant breeding male, while smaller fish remain female. If the dominant male dies, the largest female changes sex. The mature males congregate at leks to breed, at which they display and are approached by females before mating with them. [note: these leks are reminiscent of certain clubs in the less reputable parts of some towns and cities. Or so I am told]

Creole Wrasse Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

It’s been a while since the last Rolling Harbour musical diversion, but the colour of this wrasse nudged my memory back to 1968 and DP’s first album (line-up Mk 1 of several hundred, or so it seems). Hence the post title. Anyone who remembers this ‘wasn’t there’. Anyone who doesn’t obviously wasn’t there either…


I don’t think this guy thinks much of that. And quite right tooCreole Wrasse ©Melinda Riger @GBS copy

All phish photos by Melinda; DP cover borrowed from Am@z@n; MP3 moi


Wood stork in flight (Huhnra, Wiki)


I very rarely write about birds that you can’t find on Abaco, especially ones that have never been recorded there. In fact, I don’t think I have ever done so. The nearest was the critically endangered endemic BAHAMA ORIOLE, until quite recently available on Abaco. For the familiar and depressing reasons it was deemed extirpated in the 1990s and is found now only in very specific area of Andros. Its future is very uncertain: another species a feather’s width from extinction.

Which brings me to the Wood Stork Mycteria americana, a fine bird with a breeding population in Florida. Yet the last one recorded for the Bahamas was 51 years ago – and not on Abaco. It’s surprising that the species is not driven across the stretch of sea to the northern Bahamas by curiosity or more plausibly by storms (as with other vagrant species).

Wood Stork Fl. (Mehmet Karatay, Wiki)

The first Bahamas sighting of a Wood Stork since 1964 occurred on September 4th at the unromantic-sounding ‘Freeport Dump’ on Grand Bahama, when naturalist and birding guide Erika Gates found one. The bird was still there on September 7th when Woody Bracey flew over from Abaco and joined Erika to check. Here it is.

Wood Stork, Grand Bahama (Erika Gates) copy

Woody took a date-stamped shot for future reference


The distance from Freeport to Marsh Harbour, Abaco is about 100 miles as the stork flies. But from the eastern end of Grand Bahama to the nearest point on Abaco is much closer – 35 miles or so. So with a following wind perhaps it won’t be another 51 years until the next Wood Stork is seen in the Bahamas. And maybe next time it will fly as far as Abaco…

Wood Stork, Florida (Googie Man, Wiki)

I sometimes feature photos by Florida photographer PHIL LANOUE, whose website is a must for anyone with an interest in birds. Among his specialities are the wood storks in his area, and I have chosen 4 outstanding WS images to end with (thanks as always to Phil for use permission).

Wood Stork in Flight, Florida (Phil Lanoue)Wood Stork landing, Florida (Phil Lanoue)Wood Stork in Flight, Florida (Phil Lanoue)Wood Stork in water, Florida (Phil Lanoue)

Credits: Erika Gates, Woody Bracey, Phil Lanoue, ‘Huhnra’, Mehmet Karatay, ‘Googie Man’


American Oystercatcher, Abaco (Tom Sheley)


Abaco is home to 33 shorebird species. For a few, the islands are a permanent residence; for many others they are winter quarters; and some species are visitors transient in their migrations, or rare vagrants. Last year I produced 3 posts with plenty of photos showcasing 26 of the species, the remaining 7 all being transients or vagrants. 

Willet in flight.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley small2

I divided the species into 3 categories: sandpipers & kin; plovers; and a catch-all ‘large shorebird’ group that included one or two sandpipers. Of the 26 birds featured and shown in the main checklist below, 23 are ones you might reasonably hope or expect to encounter on Abaco, though some only if you are lucky or your field-craft is excellent. The others are the long-billed dowitcher, American avocet and Wilson’s phalarope (of which only one has ever been seen on Abaco, with a photo to prove it)

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





Wilson's Plover chick.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley JPG copy


The codes tell you, for any particular bird, when you may see it (P = permanent, WR = winter resident, TR = transient, V = vagrant); whether it breeds (B) on Abaco; and your chance of seeing it, graded from easy (1) to vanishingly unlikely (5). 

  • Black-necked Stilt                             Himantopus mexicanus                PR B 3
  • American Avocet                               Recurvirostra americana             WR 4
  • American Oystercatcher                  Haematopus palliatus                   PR B 2
  • Black-bellied Plover                         Pluvialis squatarola                       WR 1
  • American Golden-Plover                Pluvialis dominica                           TR 4
  • Wilson’s Plover                                 Ochthodromus wilsonia                 PR B 2
  • Semipalmated Plover                      Charadrius semipalmatus             WR 2
  • Piping Plover                                     Charadrius melodus                       WR 3
  • Killdeer                                               Charadrius vociferus                     WR 2
  • Spotted Sandpiper                            Actitis macularius                          WR 1
  • Solitary Sandpiper                            Tringa solitaria                              WR 2
  • Greater Yellowlegs                            Tringa melanoleuca                      WR 2
  • Willet                                                   Tringa semipalmata                     PR B 2
  • Lesser Yellowlegs                              Tringa flavipes                               WR 3
  • Ruddy Turnstone                              Arenaria interpres                        PR 2
  • Red Knot                                             Calidris canutus                            WR 3
  • Sanderling                                          Calidris alba                                   WR 1
  • Dunlin                                                 Calidris alpina                               WR 2
  • Least Sandpiper                                Calidris minutilla                          WR 2
  • White-rumped Sandpiper               Calidris fuscicollis                          TR 3
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper                Calidris pusilla                               TR 2
  • Western Sandpiper                           Calidris Mauri                                TR 2
  • Short-billed Dowitcher                    Limnodromus griseus                    WR 1
  • Long-billed Dowitcher                     Limnodromus scolopaceus           WR 4
  • Wilson’s Snipe                                   Gallinago delicata                          WR 3
  • Wilson’s Phalarope                           Phalaropus tricolor                        V 4

Semipalmated Sandpiper (juv), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

For the sake of completeness, the other 7 species of shorebird recorded for Abaco – all transients or vagrants – are:

  • Upland Sandpiper                     Bartramia longicauda             TR 4
  • Whimbrel                                    Numenius phaeopus                 TR 4
  • Hudsonian Godwit                   Limosa haemastica                    V5
  • Marbled Godwit                         Limosa fedoa                              V5
  • Buff-breasted Sandpiper          Tryngites subruficollis             V5
  • Pectoral Sandpiper                   Calidris melanotos                    TR 3
  • Stilt Sandpiper                           Calidris himantopus                 TR 3

Please excuse the wonky column formatting, an aspect of listing that WordPress doesn’t seem to cater for…

Ruddy Turnstone Abaco Bahamas. 2.12.Tom Sheley copy 2

Photo Credits: Tom Sheley, Bruce Hallett, Keith Salvesen


Turkey Vulture, Abaco (Craig Nash) 2


Majestic. Soaring. Graceful. Revolting. That’s the Turkey Vulture. It’s quite a while since I posted about them: you can read all about them and their disgusting habits in the post CARRION SCAVENGING. You’ll discover 10 essential facts, their unpleasant little ways with urine and puke, the sound they make, some sex-tips and a Metallica video. 


Are you unaware of vultures? Well, today is their day. These dedicated bird days come thick and fast at certain times of year. Tomorrow we celebrate World Shorebirds Day, so I’m giving the vultures their time in the sun today. On Abaco you could hardly fail to be aware of the ubiquitous TVs, and I have chosen a selection of photos, all taken on Abaco, to make a gallery for their day. 

Let’s start with some of the more glamourous ‘in-flight’ shots. This is when TVs look their best, as they wheel round floating and swooping on the thermals – singly, in pairs or in flocks. 

Turkey Vulture, Abaco (Nina Henry)Turkey Vulture, Abaco (Nina Henry)Turkey Vulture, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Turkey Vulture, Abaco (Charlie Skinnner)

At closer quarters TVs are till impressive, though arguably less attractive… TVs often use utility wires (header image) or posts to perch on, scope out the territory, or simply to dry their wings

Turkey Vulture, Spread Wings, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

TVs will never be truly adorable. The final image (by Irish photographer Craig Nash) is truly ‘warts and all’… Ah, but look at the sweet little hairs on its head!

Turkey Vulture, Abaco (Craig Nash)

Talking of adorable, this is the perfect place for a shout-out for the wonderful BIRDORABLE site. For this special day they have put all their vultures together in one helpful chart. They have a load of fun at Birdorable HQ. You can download birds for children to colour in. Or even get a T-shirt with your favourite bird on it (mine’s a PIPL).

photo 1

Credits: Craig Nash (1, 7); Nina Henry (2, 3); Bruce Hallett (4); Charlie Skinner (5); Keith Salvesen (6); the incomparable Birdorable