Leucistic Turkey Vulture, Florida Keys 2 (Amy at PoweredbyBirds

Leucistic Turkey Vulture (Amy Evenstad, PoweredByBirds.com)


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, PoweredByBirds.com)


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 (PoweredByBirds.com) 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


Bahama Swallowtail, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Uli Nowlan) copy


I’ve mentioned the swallowtail butterflies of Abaco before, but I have never shown the 3 main species together. They are such handsome creatures that’s it time to give them a place in the sun. These are my favourite butterflies. Ah yes – equally with the wonderful ATALA HAIRSTREAK

Bahama Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) 2 copy


This fine swallowtail Papilio andraemon has a range beyond the islands of the Bahamas. It is also found on Cuba and Jamaica. Occasionally they are found as strays on the Florida Keys or on the mainland in the Miami region. 

Bahama Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) 1 copyBahama Swallowtail, Abaco (Uli Nowlan)


This is the species you are most likely to encounter as they cruise rapidly from flower to flower, constantly on the move, with wings fluttering even as they feed. Hard to get good photos of them, therefore. But some (though sadly not me) manage it somehow… Polydamus Swallowtail, Abaco (Nina Henry)Polydamus Swallowtail, Abaco (Char Albury) Polydamus Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) copy


I suspect this species – common in the eastern USA – is quite rare on Abaco. I have never seen one, and these ones photographed by Uli Nowlan at Treasure Cay are the only pictures I have seen. And what lovely creatures they are. Tiger Swallowtail, Abaco (Uli Nowlan) Tiger Swallowtail, Abaco (Uli Nowlan)2





RIGHT EVERYTHING, HOPELESS PHOTO (how they usually behave for me…)Polydamus (Gold Rim) Swallowtail Butterfly, Abaco (but6)







Polydamus Swallowtail abaco (Char Albury)

Credits: Uli Nowlan, Rhonda Pearce, Nina Henry, Charmaine Albury, plus disappointments for RH




Black and orange seem to have become – perhaps always have been – the colours most associated with Halloween (“Holy Evening” at one time in its history). Black, I suppose, for witches and their cats; orange for pumpkins and fire. In nature, surprisingly few creatures and plants have an exclusively black and orange livery. Some birds. A salamander of two. A few fish and butterflies. The odd flower. 

I decided for no reason at all to spend (waste?) a small amount of time discovering which birds found on Abaco are true Halloween species. I had to allow for some white markings, on the spurious basis that white is not a colour but rather an absence of colour… That left 3 species (and even then some troublemakers might argue that the precise borderline between yellow and orange is debatable…). 


The Redstart Setophaga ruticilla is a species of warbler and a common winter resident on Abaco. They are mostly seen in the coppice and in gardens. The male is black with orange markings; the female has yellow markings instead of orange.

American Redstart (m) Abaco (Craig Nash) American Redstart (m) Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer) American Redstart (m) Abaco (Tom Sheley)


These Orioles Icterus galbula are rather less common winter visitors. Many are completely black and orange apart from white wing bars. However, there’s no doubt that others are more of a yellowy-orange.

Baltimore Oriole (pinterest) copyBaltimore Oriole (mdf-wiki)Baltimore Oriole (Brezinski-wiki)


The handsome, colourful Spindalis zena is one of my favourite birds. The Spindalis is a common permanent resident, and I am determined to make it qualify as a Halloween bird even though (arguably) plenty of its surface area is neither black not orange. Apologies to purists.

Western Spindalis, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Western Spindalis (m) Abaco (Craig Nash) Western Spindalis (m) Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)

Credits: Craig Nash, Gerlinde Taurer, Tom Sheley, Keith Salvesen, pinterest, wiki & an unknown Angry Bird pumpkin carver


Abaco Parrot, Abaco Bahamas (Peter Mantle)


A new season – the seventh – of the Delphi Club is now underway. There are fish to be caught, poolside inactivities to relish, chef-prepared meals to eat and a capacious wine cellar to be explored. To which, add birds to be spotted. Delphi has turned out to be a superb place for birding – not a feature given prominence in the original prospectus… The Club’s remoteness and its rich mix of pine forest, coppice, gardens and a pristine one-mile beach ensure the prefect protected habitat for a vast number of bird species common, uncommon and rare.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher vocalizing.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley a

Eighteen months ago, “The Delphi Club Guide to THE BIRDS OF ABACOwas published. The originator of the idea – as with the entire Delphi project – was of course Peter Mantle, the publisher. The book took 16 months from conception to the arrival of three pallets of printed books on the dockside in Marsh Harbour, having travelled by a tortuous route from specialist printers in Italy. Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The book was launched at the Delphi Club in March 2014, to generous enthusiasm and support both on Abaco and beyond. 75% of the edition has been sold already. In addition, Abaco schools, libraries and wildlife organisations have been given copies for educational purposes. A percentage of profits is to be given to local wildlife causes. We couldn’t be more pleased with the response to this lavish book, a unique publication in the Bahamas. 

Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco (Jacket)

The incremental growth of social media is rapid. Blogs gain readers. Facebook and Twitter pages gain new friends and followers. The start of this new Delphi season is therefore a good moment to post a reminder about the book, illustrated with a few of the wonderful bird species featured. And… ahem… there are only 57 more ‘sleeps’ until Christmas. 

Short-billed Dowitcher, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

The Guide showcases the rich and varied bird life of Abaco, Bahamas and features both resident and migratory species including rarities and unusual sightings. The main features are as follows:

  • 272 pages with more than 350 photographs
  • 163 species shown in vivid colour – nearly two-thirds of all the bird species ever recorded for Abaco
  • Every single photograph was taken on Abaco or in Abaco waters
  • All birds are shown in their natural surroundings – no feeders or trails of seed were used
  • Several birds featured are the first ones ever recorded for Abaco or even for the entire Bahamas

Clapper Rail Abaco Bahamas Tom Sheley

  • A total of 30 photographers, both experienced and amateur, contributed to the project
  • The book has had the generous support of many well-known names of Abaco and Bahamas birding
  • A complete checklist of every bird recorded for Abaco since 1950 up to the date of publication was compiled specially for the book.
  • A neat code was devised to show at a glance when you may see a particular bird, and the likelihood of doing so. Birds found at Delphi are also marked.
  • Specially commissioned cartographer’s Map of Abaco showing places named in the book

Least Tern_ACH3672 copy

  • Informative captions intentionally depart from the standard field guide approach…
  • …as does the listing of the birds in alphabetical rather than scientific order
  • Say goodbye to ’37 warbler species on consecutive pages’ misery
  • Say hello to astonishing and unexpected juxtapositions of species

Abaco_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy

  • The book was printed in Florence, Italy by specialist printers on Grade-1 quality paper
  • Printing took pairs of printers working in 6 hour shifts 33 hours over 3 days to complete
  • The project manager and the author personally oversaw the printing

Smooth-billed Ani pair GT

  • The book is dedicated to the wildlife organisations of Abaco
  • A percentage of the proceeds of sale will be donated for the support of local wildlife organisations
  • A copy of the book has been presented to every school and library on Abaco

Piping Plover BH IMG_1919

The book is published by the Delphi Club (contact details below). The project was managed by a publishing specialist in art books. The author is the wildlife blogger more widely known on Abaco and (possibly) beyond as ‘Rolling Harbour’. Oh! So that would in fact be Mrs Harbour and myself. Well well! What are the chances? Painted Bunting male.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

The Delphi Club at Rolling Harbour
PO Box AB-20006, Marsh Harbour, Abaco, Bahamas
Tel: +1-242-366-2222
General Manager – Max Woolnough: +1-242-577-1698

Or email rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com with any queries or commentsAmerican Oystercatchers BH IMG_2000 copy 2

Images by Tom Sheley,  Bruce Hallett, Gerlinde Taurer, Tony Hepburn, Peter Mantle, RH

Cuban (Crescent-eyed) Pewee, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)"Birds of Abaco" flyer


Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Oct 10. Rhonda Pearce


Hi again, readers of Mr Harbour’s blog. Tuna here. This is part 3 of my diary.  I’m 4½ months old now, and getting on famously here on Abaco. Especially now the big wind and waves have gone away [Hurricane Joaquin – ed]. Someone called me ‘Abaco’s favourite plover’, which really fluffed up my feathers. I’ve started to explore a bit and meet more birds just like me*. Turns out they are all Travellers from the North too – what are the chances? [100% – ed]

Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda Pearce 1

*How do I know what I look like? Well it’s easy. When I am chomping meat strings in the sunshine on the edge of the water, there’s a picture of me in the water doing the exactly same thing at the same time only upside down. Like these two friends of mine here.

PiPl 5x WB 23.10.15 min

I do a lot of running about on the beach. Back and forth. Up and down. Into the water and out again. It’s a busy life. And I’ve only got little legs. In case anyone worries that Michelle’s 4 smart rings hurt me or get in the way, I never feel them. They are just a part of who I have always been since she picked me up the day after I cracked out. Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda Pearce 2

I’ve met lots of birds that are different from me, too. Some live here all the time, others are Travellers from the North too. I’m relying on Mr H here to show you some of the guys I hang out with these days. We all kind of mix up and if you don’t try to find meat strings where the bigger birds want to find them, it’s very friendly. Actually they are all bigger than me!

Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Wilson’s Plover (all on Abaco)Sanderling, Abaco (Craig Nash) Semi-palmated Plover, Abaco (Tony Hepburn) Ruddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)  Wilson's Plover, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

I’ve made my first trip to a different beach. I decided to fly round and explore, and I saw lots more sand so I flew there and stayed a couple of days. Like a little holiday. A nice man [Keith Kemp] saw me there and told Mr H about my coloured bands. That’s how he knew I’d moved and he told my watcher Rhonda so she didn’t go looking for me on my home beach and get worried that I wasn’t there. Then I flew back there after a couple of days and Rhonda found me there again yesterday.

Tuna on his vacation from Watching Bay to Winding Bay. Note meat string in #1PiPl l band wb 22.10.15 b - V2 copy PiPl r band wb 22.10.15 b V2 copyWatching Bay : Winding Bay Map

                                                     piping-plover                   piping-plover                  piping-plover

I’ve got a new game I’ve been playing when Rhonda comes to see me. She sits down on the beach and puts shells all round her in the sand. So I come over and have a look at them (once I pecked the cloth thing she sits on. Urrch! It wasn’t food). Then she uses that thing that makes a plover noise [the focus sound on her camera – ed] and I put my head on one side to listen. Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda PearcePiping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda Pearce 1Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda Pearce 1

There’s another reason I put my head on one side. Sometimes really really big birds fly over the beach. Huge dark ones. I like to keep an eye on them. I think they may be trouble. So I put my head on one side so I know exactly where they are in the sky until I feel safe.

This is me back on my beach after my trip. Green on Blue (L); Black on Grey (R) = TUNAPiping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda Pearce 1

This is a New Friend on my beach, one of 3. They don’t have any bands but they are Travellers from the North like me. In this game I lie low in a hole in the sand and my NF rushes at me kicking sand up like a crazy bird. Fun, huh?Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda Pearce 1

More news from me soon. Cheeps from Tuna.

Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco jpg


  • JUN 10        Hatched Edwin B. Forsythe NWR (Holgate Center), New Jersey
  • JUN 11         Banded & measured by Michelle Stantial
  • 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
  • SEP 28         Paula (Tuna’s mother) re-sighted on Joulter Cays, Andros
  • OCT 03        Tuna safely back on the beach again after Hurricane Joaquin
  • OCT 20-23  Expedition to Winding Bay (ID there on Oct 22)
  • OCT 24        Found back on Watching Bay beach

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

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.

This Diary extract shows how an individual banded bird’s movements can be monitored within its chosen area, so that a picture can be formed of its habitat choices and range.

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





Credits: photos Rhonda Pearce, Keith Kemp, Craig Nash, Tony Hallett, Keith Salvesen; thanks to bander Michelle Stantial, birder & ‘Tuna Watcher’ Rhonda Pearce, CWFNJ & cohorts, Matt Jeffery and all other providers of info snippets; Birdorable for the cartoon; and Xeno-Canto for the recording


Indigo Hamlet ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba


It’s a couple of years since I originally posted about the various species of HAMLET that inhabit the reefs of the Bahamas. I feel you are (geddit?) ready to see some more of these colourful little fish. Last time out, I worked over the Shakespearean possibilities quite thoroughly so I’ll spare you a repeat (apart from the inevitable title pun). If you really want to revisit the famous Hamlet Cigar ad or hear the theme music (Bach’s Air on a G String, shamelessly ‘borrowed’ by Procol Harum for ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale), you’ll find them HERE. Or just move straight on to 5 related but very different looking Hamlets cruising the Bahamas coral reefs.

INDIGO HAMLETIndigo Hamlet ©Melinda Riger@ G B Scuba

BARRED HAMLETBarred Hamlet ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba Barred Hamlet ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

BLACK HAMLETBlack Hamlet ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

SHY HAMLETShy Hamlet ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

BUTTER HAMLETButter Hamlet ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

Credits: all photos Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba