SHARP-EYED & SHARP-BILLED: GREEN HERON ON ABACO


Green Heron.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

SHARP-EYED & SHARP-BILLED: GREEN HERON ON ABACO

Abaco has six ‘true’ heron species (putting aside the various egrets): Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. The Green Heron Butorides virescens is a permanent resident and is easily distinguishable from the other heron species. The header picture by Tom Sheley is one of many wonderful photographs he took for THE BIRDS OF ABACO, and is one of the most striking. This is a bird actively hunting, keeping very low with eyes fixed on the water, waiting for the chance to use that long sharp bill to snaffle its prey – small fish, frogs and aquatic insects.

RANGE MAP

Green Heron Range Map

There are thought to be 5 sub-species of green heron within the range, but this is a matter for anguished debate (not by me). However, the resident variety in the Bahamas has been designated Butorides virescens bahamensis since 1888 (Brewster), so I’m going along with that.

Green Herons are most likely to be seen in or near water – the margins of brackish ponds or amongst the mangroves, for example. Their foraging is mostly done in water, usually at dawn or dusk.Green Heron, Abaco Woody Bracey

You may encounter one on the shoreline or beach…GREEN HERON, Abaco - Nina Henry

…but they don’t always choose the most scenic locationsGreen Heron, Abaco Nina Henry

FASCINATING FACTOID

Green Heron are known to drop food, insects, or small objects such as stones on the water’s surface as bait to attract fish or other tasty creatures. They are thus classified as one of the animal kingdom’s  44 (?) TOOL-USING SPECIES, considered a sign of superior intelligence.

Green Herons may also be found perching in treesGreen Heron Abaco Tom ReedGreen Heron, Abaco Rick LoweGreen Heron, Abaco Peter Mantle

Occasionally they may be seen out at sea – this one from an offshore BMMRO research vesselGreen Heron Abaco BMMRO

The Golf Course at Treasure Cay is an excellent place to go bird-watching. There is always plenty of bird life on the 3 ponds there, the one on hole #11 being the biggest and most abundant. If you are going to bird there, call in first at the Clubhouse and ask for permission:  they are very kind about it, but they do need to know who is out on the course.  And since the pond is alongside the fairway, keep your wits about you – you are a potential target for the sliced drive… (ok, ok left-handers – hooked, then).

Green Heron, Abaco Charlie SkinnerGreen Heron, Abaco Charlie Skinner

The 2 images above are from Charlie Skinner, and show a green heron adult and chick putting the Golf Course drainage pipe to good use. Captions invited for the top  one. Birds often seen at this particular location include green heron, white-cheeked pintail (lots), common gallinule (moorhen), coot, Canada goose, least grebe, neotropic cormorant, and blue-winged teal. You may also see little blue heron and smooth-billed anis. Once I found a least bittern in the background of a teal photo – I didn’t notice it at the time, but when I checked the photos there it was in the reeds behind the ducks. Another good place to bird if you are in the TC area is White Sound.

Credits: Tom Sheley, Woody Bracey, Nina Henry, Tom Reed, Rick Lowe, Peter Mantle, Charlie Skinner, Wiki

POSTSCRIPT I’ve just commented HERE on the supposedly phonetic call-sounds attributed to birds to render them recognisable by man – the “What’s-for-dinner-Martha, what’s-for-dinner” and the “Give-me-a-drink-please…NOW” and so on. So when I was borrowing the range map from Wiki I was amused to see this: “The green heron’s call is a loud and sudden kyow; it also makes a series of more subdued kuk calls. During courtship, the male gives a raah-rahh call with wide-open bill, makes noisy wingbeats and whoom-whoom-whoom calls in flight, and sometimes calls roo-roo to the female before landing again. While sitting, an aaroo-aaroo courtship call is also given”. So there you go.

GOING CHEEP ON ABACO: THE BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO


Black-whiskered Vireo, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

GOING CHEEP ON ABACO: THE BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO

There are 8 vireo species recorded for Abaco. The most common is the ubiquitous Thick-billed Vireo Vireo crassirostris – the only permanent resident vireo – whose cheery chirp is part of the background of bird song heard daily all over the island.  The only other species you are likely to encounter without going out of your way is the summer resident BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO Vireo altiloquus, which breeds on Abaco. The other 6 are the White-eyed, Yellow-throated, Blue-headed, Warbling, Philadelphia, and Red-eyed Vireo. Of these, the first 2 are quite rare winter residents; and the other 4 are considered to be transients. Black-whiskered Vireo, Abaco

The BWV’s song is similar to the Thick-billed Vireo, but (luckily) identifiably different. I’m not a great one for phonetic attempts at turning a bird call into a human sentence of the ‘Quick!-come-to-pick-up-a-brick’ and the ‘Skin-me-a-nice-bit-of-bonefish’ type. The Black-whiskered Vireo’s song has been described as sounding like ‘Whip, Tom Kelly’. But not to me. See what you make of it…

Brian Cox / Xeno-Canto

Black-whiskered Vireo, Abaco Bahamas 2 (Tom Sheley)

As with other vireo species, the BWV has a stout bill, a feature that helps to distinguish vireos from the many thin-billed warbler species on Abaco. The main signifiers are found on this bird’s head: the dark stripe right through the eye; the long white eyebrows; and the noticeable black lines – the ‘whiskers’ – on the sides of the neck. Other identification pointers are the pale underside with a yellow tinge to the flanks and undertail; and the red eyes (the red-eyed vireo, a very similar bird, lacks the whiskers).Black-whiskered Vireo, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

Black-whiskered vireos feed mostly on insects in trees, bushes and undergrowth. They can sometimes be seen hovering while they forage. They also vary their diet with small quantities of berries. Here are two great shots of a mother BWV feeding a very large chick with a berry, followed by some vile insect.Black-whiskered Vireo, Abaco (Charlie Skinner)Black-whiskered Vireo, Abaco (Charlie Skinner)

Image Credits: Bruce Hallett, Tom Shelley, Charlie Skinner, Charmaine Albury, Erik Gaugerblack-whiskered-vireo, Abaco (Erik Gauger) 1

‘TREAT WITH PATIENCE…’ – NURSE SHARKS IN THE BAHAMAS


Nurse Shark ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

‘TREAT WITH PATIENCE…’ – NURSE SHARKS IN THE BAHAMAS

The scientific name for the nurse shark sounds like something Bilbo Baggins might have said to summon elves to his rescue: Ginglymostoma cirratum. Actually the name is a mix of Greek and Latin and means “curled, hinged mouth” to describe this shark’s somewhat puckered appearance. The origin of the name “nurse shark” is unclear. It may come from the sucking sound they make when hunting for prey in the sand, which vaguely resembles that of a nursing baby. Or it may derive from an archaic word, nusse, meaning cat shark. The most likely theory though is that the name comes from the Old English word for sea-floor shark: hurse.

Shark ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Nurse sharks are slow-moving bottom-dwellers and are, for the most part, harmless to humans. However, they can be huge—up to 14 feet (4.3 meters)—and have very strong jaws filled with thousands of tiny, serrated teeth, and will bite defensively if stepped on or bothered by divers who assume they’re docile. [There are recorded instances of injuries caused to divers who have tried to pull nurse sharks by the tail. And serve them right, I say. Treat them with patience - and respect!] 

Nurse_shark_with_remoras Duncan Wright (Sabine's Sunbird)

Notice that the nurse shark in the above photo, and in the header image, is being attended by REMORAS. Click the link to find out more about the strange relationship these ‘weird suckers’ have with larger marine creatures.

Nurse Shark ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

They use their strong jaws to crush and eat shellfish and even coral, but prefer to dine on fish, shrimp, and squid. [And also stingrays, apparently. They have been observed resting on the bottom with their bodies supported on their fins, possibly providing a false shelter for crustaceans which they then ambush and eat.] They are gray-brown and have distinctive tail fins that can be up to one-fourth their total length. Unlike most other sharks, nurses are smooth to the touch. 

Nurse Shark ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

Nurse sharks are found in the warm, shallow waters of the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific oceans. They are abundant throughout their range and have no special conservation status, although the closeness of their habit to human activities is putting pressure on the species.

map-nurse-shark-160-20135-cb1321035858

Nurse sharks are nocturnal and will often rest on the sea floor during the day in groups of up to 40 sharks, sometimes piled on top of each other.

Shark, Nurse (young) ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

FAST FACTS

  • Type: Fish 
  • Diet:  Carnivore
  • Size: 7.5 to 9.75 ft (2.2 to 3 m)
  • Weight: 200 to 330 lbs (90 to 150 kg)
  • Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Shark compared with adult manNurse Shark ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Credits: All photos Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba; range map and text mostly  NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC  filled out with other pickings

FAST FOOD ON THE WING: ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS ON ABACO


Antillean Nighthawk in flight 2. Abaco bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

FAST FOOD ON THE WING: ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS ON ABACO

A bird ID query was recently posted on my FB page by Abaco resident Maria Bethel Flore, who said “I saw a flock of birds I’ve never seen before. All black except for a white stripe underneath the wing. I didn’t get one good picture they were flying so fast”. There were a couple of clues there: a fast-flying flock; and the white underwing bars. Maria’s distant image confirmed the ID as an Antillean Nighthawk Chordeiles gundlachii. These birds have local names such as ‘killakadick’ and ‘pi-di-mi-dix’, or variations on the theme – presumably onomatopoeic.

Paul Marvin / Xeno-Canto

I thought a post illustrating these wonderful birds in flight and on the ground would be timely. 

Antillean Nighthawk in flight 3. Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom SheleyAntillean Nighthawk, Abaco  (Sandy Walker)

The photos above were taken during a trip into deep South Abaco backcountry to the west of the Highway to photograph birds for BIRDS OF ABACO. We reached an open area late in the afternoon to find ourselves in the middle of dozens of nighthawks swooping and diving as they hawked for flies. We leapt out of the truck (we stopped it first) with eager eyes and cameras and watched the performance in amazement. The birds were quite unperturbed by our presence, and from time to time would zoom past within inches of our heads, making a swooshing noise as they did so.

Truck Backcountry

The speed of flight and the jagging paths made it extremely hard to take photos. Photographer Tom Sheley (below) was able to nail them (see top 2 images); I could barely catch a bird in my jiggling viewfinder, but Sandy Walker got a good clear shot (photo 3).Tom Sheley with Antillean Nighthawks, Abaco

Apart from the exuberant aerial displays such as I have described, nighthawks may also be seen on the ground, where they nest. Their colouring enables them tend to blend in with the surroundings. Woody Bracey took the first 2 pictures; the next is from the excellent BIRDS CARIBBEAN, which anyone with an interest in birds would enjoy; and the final one was scooped by Susan Daughtrey on a recent visit to Abaco – another very good example of the bird’s camouflage in natural surroundings.

Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco Woody Bracey Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco (Woody Bracey)Antillean Nighthawk chick (aka %22pi-di-mi-dix%22) BahamasAntillean Nighthawk, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

Credits: Tom Sheley, Sandy Walker, RH, Woody Bracey, Birds Caribbean, Susan Daughtrey, Xeno-Canto

RARE GEMS: PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO (1)


Piping Plover (non-breeding), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Piping-Plover Artmagenta  RARE GEMS: PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO (1) Piping-Plover Artmagenta

8000 

That’s the total number of all the piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) left in the world. Like many other rare and vulnerable species (e.g. the Kirtland’s Warbler), the habitat at both ends of their migration routes is under threat. And, as with the Kirtland’s, vigorous conservation campaigns are underway. Problems such as habitat loss at one end are bad enough – if at both ends, population decline is a certainty and extinction looms. The summer breeding range of PIPLs takes in Canada, central US and the eastern seaboard. In winter they join the mass migration of other birds south to warmer climes. Abaco is lucky enough to receive these little winter visitors; and at Delphi we are fortunate that every year some choose the beach for their winter retreat.

char_melo_AllAm_map

Piping Plover, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

This is the first of a planned Piping Plover series that I have been working on. The reason for beginning now is because the autumn migrations are starting, and before long a few of this precious species will be on a beach near you on Abaco. Many of them will be ringed as part of the ongoing conservation projects. One of the best ways to monitor success is to follow the migratory lives of these birds; and this can very easily be done by taking photographs of a piping plover that show its rings. The number and colours of the rings on each leg tell the conservationists a great deal about an individual bird. Here is a photo by Don Freiday that shows what to look out for – these 4 items of plover-bling are an integral part of the preservation efforts for this species.

PIPLfledge_banded_Meb_DF

The Audubon Society has produced a wonderful interactive demonstration of the PIPL’s year-round life  that can be found at BEATING THE ODDS. For anyone interested in these fascinating little birds, I highly recommend a click on the link. Some clips are shown below.

A good example of one of the organisations involved in the conservation of PIPLs is CONSERVE WILDLIFE NEW JERSEY, of which Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger are also directly involved on both Abaco and with the CAPE ELEUTHERA INSTITUTE.

With due acknowledgement to Audubon, here are a couple of outstanding photos by Shawn Carey from the site; and below them, details of the range of the Piping Plovers and their 4000-odd mile two-way trip made in the course of each year.

TWO LEGS                                                                SIX LEGS

ShawnCarey[3] ShawnCarey.crop[1}

SUMMER                                                                      FALL

PIPL range Summer jpgPIPL range Fall jpg

WINTER                                                                         SPRING

PIPL range Winter jpgPIPL range Spring jpg

THE PIPING OF THE PLOVER Originator Lang Elliot, as featured by Audubon, eNature, Birdwatchers Digest etc

That’s enough to begin with. I will return to PIPLs soon, with more photos, information and links. Meanwhile, here is a great 4-minute video from Plymouth Beach MA. And if you see a Piping Plover on Abaco this autumn and are not part of the ‘bird count community’, please let me know the location; if you can, describe the rings – how many, which legs, what colour; if possible, photograph the bird (and – a big ask – try to include the legs). Whether ringed or not, all data is invaluable and I’ll pass it on.

 Migration ProductionsMigration Productions

Piping Plover Chick (Beaun -Wiki)

Credits with thanks: Bruce Hallett, Cornell Lab, Tony Hepburn, Don Freiday, Shawn Carey, Audubon, Beaun/wiki, Lang Elliott (audio) Migration Productions (video), Artmagenta (mini drawings)

Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta

ABACO: THE PERFECT PLACE FOR BAHAMAS BIRDING


ABACO: THE PERFECT PLACE FOR BAHAMAS BIRDING

I’ve  fairly very often mentioned the remarkable diversity of the bird species on Abaco. This small island has a wide variety of permanent resident species and the advantage of being on a primary migration route so that it has both winter and summer migratory visitors. Here’s an example of some of the species a visitor might reasonably expect to find during a day’s birding. This isn’t an ‘invented inventory’, easy though that would be to compile. It records a birding outing by Abaco visitor Susan Daughtrey, guided by the legendary Woody Bracey, with sightings of 53 species from A (baco Parrot) to Z (enaida Dove). Here are some of Susan’s photos of the birds she encountered. At the end is the full list of the 34 species she photographed.There’s nothing very rare – most of those shown are permanent residents (PR), breed on Abaco (B) and are commonly found (1). Hence the code* PR B 1. SR is for the 2 summer residents, I is for the introduced collared dove. The best ‘get’ is the Bahama Mockingbird (PR B 3), a bird mainly of the pine forests and not so easy to find.

ADDENDUM Susan has now sent me her complete record for a great day out in which 53 species were seen. The list shows the numbers seen for each species. I have had to reformat the list from the original to make it work in this blog. I have added links for the first bird, the Black-bellied Whistling Duck, which was recorded on Abaco for the first time in early June. Of the six seen at any one time to begin with (including at Delphi), the reported numbers dropped to 2, then 1. The latest news is an unconfirmed sighting of a single bird at Treasure Cay Golf Course.

ABACO (CUBAN) PARROT Amazona leucocephala PR B 1

ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWK Chordeiles gundlachii SR 1Amazon (Cuban) Parrot, Abaco (Susan Daughtrey)Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD (ENDEMIC) Mimus gundlachii PR B 3Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

BAHAMA SWALLOW (ENDEMIC) Tachycineta cyaneoviridis PR B 1Bahama Swallow, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

BAHAMA PINTAIL (WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAIL) Anas bahamensis PR B 1
Bahama (White-cheeked) Pintail, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER Polioptera caerulea PR B 1Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

CUBAN PEWEE Contopus caribaeus PR B 1Cuban Pewee, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE Streptopelia decaocto  I PR B 1Eurasian Collared Dove, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

HAIRY WOODPECKER Picoides villosus PR B 1Hairy Woodpecker, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

LEAST TERN Sternula antillarum SR B 1Least Tern, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD Tyrannus caudifasciatus PR B 1Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD (female)  Fregata magnificens PR B 1Magnificent Frigatebird, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLER Setophaga pityophila PR B 1                                            Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

RED-LEGGED THRUSH  Turdus plumbeus PR B 1Red-legged Thrush, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD Agelaius phoeniceus PR B 1Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

SMOOTH-BILLED ANI Crotophaga ani PR B 1Smooth-billed Ani, Abaco (Susan Daughtrey)

THICK-BILLED VIREO Vireo crassirostris PR B 1
Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

WESTERN SPINDALIS Spindalis zena PR B 1Western Spindalis, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON Patagioenas leucocephala PR B 1White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

SUSAN’S LIST OF BIRDS PHOTOGRAPHED

SUSAN'S SPECIES jpg

SUSAN’S COMPLETE LIST FOR THE DAY – 53 SPECIES

To learn about Abaco’s latest new species the Black-bellied Whistling Duck click HERE & HERE

Susan's fuller list JPG

Credits: all photos, Susan Daughtrey; *the excellent birding code was devised by ornithologist Tony White with Woody Bracey

WHAT’S IN A NAME? NORTHERN BOBWHITE ON ABACO


Northern Bobwhite female 2.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

WHAT’S IN A NAME? NORTHERN BOBWHITE ON ABACO

220px-Status_iucn3.1_NT.svg

A part of me would like Bob White to have been a legendary hero – perhaps holding his post against impossible odds; or a courageously reforming politician; or scoring a stupendous winning goal in the dying seconds of a famous tournament. Or maybe just a nice guy, popular in the local bar. Instead, the bobwhite Colinus virginianus is a small plump game bird of the quail family, named for its call which (as I have written elsewhere) “does indeed sound something like ‘bob…white?’ played on a slide-whistle”. This bird is an introduced species on Abaco where it breeds and is quite common. It is more often heard than seen, since it is a shy creature and not so easy to find. If they see you first, you’ll glimpse them scurrying away at best and you may well not see them at all. At Delphi, some set up home at the highway end of the drive where they can be heard and, from time to time, seen. Photographer Tom Sheley bided his time in order to capture these wonderful shots of a pair.

Bobwhite pair.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley crBobwhite pair 2.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley cr

I recently wrote about another game bird, the WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON. The bobwhite also appears in the excellent Bahamas National Trust’s BNT HUNTERS GUIDE 

Northern Bobwhite BNT Hunters Guide

Unfortunately one of the consequences of enjoying game bird status – coupled with other factors such as habitat loss – is that the species is IUCN-listed ‘near threatened’. That’s not a cause for immediate concern, but the next stage may be…

The northern bobwhite can be found year-round in fields, grassland, open woodland areas, roadsides and wood edges. Sightings of bobwhites are most usually made when they are in cover such as long grass or undergrowth, as in the header photo and the one below.Bobwhite male in habitat.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy

When we went out searching for bobwhites last year to photograph for the book, we drove along tracks in open farmland and remote backcountry. We could hear them but we only saw a few, mostly too briefly to photograph. My own attempts were abject failures, small brown blurs of backside as the birds scuttled away. Tom Sheley fortunately had what it took to get results – patience, skill and a great camera.

Photo credits: Tom Sheley