MARK’S BONEFISH FLIES (MARK 2): THE ABACO CHALLENGE, ROUND 2


Here's one I caught earlier...

Here’s one I caught earlier… (Photo: Mrs RH)

 MARK’S BONEFISH FLIES (MARK 2): THE ABACO CHALLENGE, ROUND 2

Last March I took 6 bonefish flies specially tied by MARK MINSHULL out to Abaco to test on the Marls. They were lovely flies, tied with great skill by a man who can pull beautiful fly-caught fish out of the Thames. I tried them. Far better fishermen than me tried them. The result was a failure that can only be qualified by the word ‘complete’. Mark took the news very well, and promised to redesign some flies that might be more enticing this year. Here is his design report for the Mark 2 version that I received this morning. The links to the first experiment can be found at the end of this post. 

RH fish on 2013

RH gets lucky with a Delphi Daddy…

JLM BONEFISH SPECIAL MARK 2

Those of you who may have read my previous posts about JLM Specials and Bonefish already know about RH (of Rolling Harbour fame) and his wonderfully generous spirit. He kindly field tested my original pattern with fantastically conclusive results in 2014! The beauty of designing fly patterns is that one can tweak every variable based on feedback received… The basic pattern still holds however the revised editions are a far cry from their predecessors:

The original JLM Specials

The original JLM Specials

This afternoon I completed a set of adapted flies based on RH’s generous report from last time. White and pink, with small flashes of red or orange are my main ingredients and for the streamers, I used varying proportions of elk hair and/or Arctic fox fibres.

"Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement" - Helen Keller (photo - metiefly)

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement” – Helen Keller (photo – metiefly)

Thanks in advance to RH and his March 2015 test team!

Thanks in advance to RH and his March 2015 test team!

I’ll keep you posted of the Outcome in due course. As always – thank you for reading and I look forward to your return.

Here is my own photo of the new Mark 2 flies on a white background to show their subtle differences. I can see at once that I shall have to number them all and remember who is using which, so that the killer variation(s) can be identified… As you will notice, the craftsmanship is terrific. My bet would be on the skinnier ones being the most effective in clear water, but I fancy casting one of the hairier ones across a feeding cloud and dragging it back through the murky water… (which is the only way I’ve ever caught 6+ lb fish – yes, yes, I hear you, that’s pure luck and not skill at all).

Bonefish Flies Mark2

Now I just have to sort out my fly box for next month’s escapades. Some things need to go to make some room – those appalling brown stripy ones for a start, which the guides have chortled at. Or, worse, stared at sadly… Oh, did I mention I also have the little tin with foam in… and that small green ‘Orvisman at Orvis’ fly box from Orvis™… 

The Snowbee Stripping Glove has been thrown to the ground at my feet. The challenge is accepted!

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD NEST, CHICKS & FLEDGING VIDEO


Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco -  Bruce Hallett

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco – Bruce Hallett

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD NEST, CHICKS & FLEDGING VIDEO

I tend not to reblog other people’s posts wholesale. For a start, there can be compatibility issues that are tiresome to sort out. Often, they will include material – interesting in its own right – that is applicable to that blog but not to this one… Or it might be inappropriate to add other useful info or images. Sometimes, though, a post is perfect. This is one such time. I have recently started to follow Dominique’s blog WANDER IN NATURE, having come across her post about the Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii. The Baha Mocker is on the ‘wants list’ of any birder on Abaco. I have never seen a photo of a nest or chick before, far less seen either in real life. So here they are, not on Abaco but only a mockingbird’s flight away!

Wander in Nature logo

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD TAKES FLIGHT

JUNE 2014 Sometime in the transition between Spring and Summer, I stumbled across a bird’s nest wedged in the top corner of the rose garden.  After a much needed boost, I peered in and discovered the bobbing beaks of three little nestlings, so fragile and still without their feathers.

Bahama Mockingbird Chicks (Wander in Nature)

Over the next few days, I hoped to follow their growth and capture them during feeding time with their two parents that had clearly made their presence known.  One of the young birds appeared to take over the nest for a while, and eventually took flight into the big wide world.

Bahama Mockingbird Fledgling (Wander in Nature)

Bahama Mockingbird Adult & Fledgling (Wander in Nature)

Bahama Mockingbird Fledgling (Wander in Nature)

The whole story is here… there’s a great deal of action at this nest!

Here are two recordings of the beautiful song of this bird that I made 18 months ago a short way down a logging track in the pine forest south of Crossing Rocks (before the Y). Note the repetition of particular phrases before the bird moves on to the next sound in its extensive repertoire.

RELATED POSTS

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD ‘Making a good impression…’

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD ‘Taking off…’ (Mimicry)

Credits: Header image, Bruce Hallett; all other images and video, Dominique @ Wander in Nature

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (22): BLACK GROUPER


Black Grouper ed ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba 2

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (22): BLACK GROUPER

The Black Grouper is a large fish of the reefs found in the western Atlantic, particularly in the waters of Florida, Bahamas, Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. It is a solitary species that mostly prefers the shallow waters around coral reefs.

Black Grouper ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba

Formerly plentiful, these groupers (like other grouper species) have moved from an IUCN listing of ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Near-Threatened’. They have the twin disadvantages of being fished for sport and fished for food. As demand for grouper on the menu rises, so does its vulnerability. The species is described as a ‘slow breeder’, so a depleting population has less chance of sustaining numbers. 

Black Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

An adult black grouper’s diet consists of small fish and squid. Juveniles feed primarily on crustaceans. However, certain tiny reef fish are important to the species as ‘cleaners’. You can read about their significance by clicking CLEANING STATIONS Here are examples of two black groupers receiving attention at the same cleaning station. Both also seem to be giving a ride to REMORAS.

Grouper at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Note that this fish has an embedded hook and is trailing a line – one that ‘got away’Grouper, Black, at cleaning station (+ hook) ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

Despite the name, black groupers are not all black. They have many shades from dark to olive-coloured to pale. I believe the two photos below are of a grouper known as Arthur, a favourite with divers and definitely off the menu… Black Grouper  ©Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaBlack Grouper 2 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

The tiny bright blue fish in the photo above are Blue Chromis, a regular accompaniment on any snorkel or dive on a reef. I like the colourful little Fairy Basslet in the next photoBlack Grouper © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Now that the NASSAU GROUPER has been awarded a closed season to help maintain numbers, it will be interesting to see if the winter fishing ban is extended to the Black Grouper…

Black Grouper (Arthur) ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba

RELATED POSTS

TIGER GROUPER

NASSAU GROUPER

Credits: all photos Virginia Cooper and Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba 

RARE AMERICAN ROBINS ON ABACO: MORE SIGHTINGS


American Robin, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

In 2012 I wrote a post about the comparative rarity of the American Robin on Abaco, which had surprised me. They overwinter in Florida, and they might conceivably range further more often than they do. It turned out that one or two may be reported one year, none the next. I listed a number of sightings and some comments by Woody Bracey, but I lacked any photos of these birds taken on Abaco. I had to make do with wiki and bad ones taken in the US by me (including stuffed ones in the Natural History Museum, NYC – an act of desperation!). You can see the post HERE

Nina Henry, a photographic contributor to BIRDS OF ABACO, had some good fortune last March 2014 when she found these 3 birds during her trip to Abaco. Maybe March is a good time for them – perhaps a few call in as they start to make their way north for the summer. 

AMERICAN ROBIN, Abaco 1- Nina Henry AMERICAN ROBIN, Abaco 2- Nina Henry AMERICAN ROBIN, Abaco 3- Nina Henry

Many past sightings have been on the Cays rather than the main island.  Here’s a recent photograph taken by Charmaine Albury on Man-o-Way Cay

American Robin Man-o-War Cay Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

Meanwhile I have been able to improve slightly on the tiny distant AMRO I posted before, with one taken more recently – still not on Abaco but in NYC. Closer, but definitely no cigar yet…

American Robin, NYC (Rolling Harbour)

 Credits: Bruce Hallett (header), Nina Henry x 3, Charmaine Albury, RH

‘SEXING THE HUMMER': A GENDER GUIDE TO ABACO’S HUMMINGBIRDS


Cuban Emerald (male) Abaco - Becky Marvil

Cuban Emerald (male) Abaco – Becky Marvil

 ‘SEXING THE HUMMER': A GENDER GUIDE TO ABACO’S HUMMINGBIRDS

The subject matter of this post is not as indelicate as the title might imply; nor is it a ‘hands-on’ practical guide for intimate examinations of tiny birds. In particular it does not publicise some recently discovered louche activity involving unfeasibly large motor vehicles. It’s all about plumage. In my thin disguise as a person with apparent knowledge about the wildlife of a country that is not my own, I get frequent requests for bird ID. Some, I know at once. Some I have to think about, my memory not being quite as…

Where was I? Yes, bird ID. I use BRUCE HALLETT’S book of course, and online the CORNELL LAB and AUDUBON sites. OISEUX-BIRDS is also a good resource and has a large archive of images. And of course dear old Google – they may watch your every keystroke and know more about you than you do yourself, but put a bird’s name into Google Images and you’ll probably see your bird in every static pose or flight you need for ID. They’ll log that too for future use. I have had some queries about Bahama Woodstar gender ID, and more recently, Cuban Emeralds. So here are the adult males and females of each species in all their undoubted glory…

BAHAMA WOODSTAR (Calliphlox evelynae)

Bahama Woodstar (m), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Bahama Woodstar (male), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Bahama Woodstar, Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Abaco (Velma Knowles)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Abaco (Velma Knowles)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco  (Tara Lavallee)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

 WOODSTAR ID MADE EASY

Males have a glorious purple, showy ‘gorget’. Females are less flamboyant, and have grey throats and fronts. Tara’s wonderful photo above vividly demonstrates their more delicate beauty. It’s one of my personal favourites from “BIRDS OF ABACO“, along with Tom Sheley’s above, the bird that graces the jacket. 

 CUBAN EMERALD (Chlorostilbon ricordii)

Cuban Emerald (male), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (male), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (male), Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Cuban Emerald (male), Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Cuban Emerald (female), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (female), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (female) Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (female) Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

EMERALD ID MADE EASY

Male emeralds are basically… er… emerald green all over , apart from the wings. Females have grey throats and fronts, and lack the chestnut frontal band of the female woodstar. I’d say that their iridescent green is a different metallic shade from the male, but that may be just me. I don’t have the palette vocab to describe it, but advice welcome! Perhaps one can simply say it is more subtle.

SO IT’S JUST THE TWO HUMMERS ON ABACO, IS IT?

The answer is ‘No’. But don’t make a special trip to see the third species – they are casual / irregular vagrants only, and a definite sighting will be a rarity. But just in case, here are stock photos of a male and a female, and (taken on Abaco by Bruce Hallett) an immature male of the species…

RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD

MaleRuby-throated hummer (Steve Maslowski, Wiki)

FemaleRuby-throated Hummingbird (Tim Ross Wiki)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (male, immature)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (male, imm), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (male, imm), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

This is an attractive print of the R-tH by MenaboniRuby-throated Hummingbird - Menaboni

To complete this post, I’ll add a brilliant Woodstar photo taken by Tom Sheley, birdman and generous fishing partner, that I reckon spans the boundary between photography and art. 

Bahama Woodstar female.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Bahama Woodstar female.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Credits: In addition to those shown below images, Steve Maslowski and Tim Ross for the RTHs

HOPE TOWN BIRDERS SPOT 44 SPECIES ON SOUTH ABACO


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahama Palm Shores (Keith Salvesen)

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahama Palm Shores (Keith Salvesen)

HOPE TOWN BIRDERS SPOT 44 SPECIES ON SOUTH ABACO

South Abaco – the tract of land south of Marsh Harbour – has some of the richest birding in the Bahamas. Besides 4 of the 5 Bahamas ENDEMIC SPECIES, it contains some of the most interesting speciality birds. The unique ABACO PARROT for a start, with a population that is gradually increasing following a drastic decline and conservation intervention. Rare PIPING PLOVERS on the eastern shores that overwinter, as do the endangered KIRTLAND’S WARBLERS, of which more soon. In the Bahamas the WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER is common on Abaco, but elsewhere it is rare on San Salvador and is no longer found on Grand Bahama (missing, presumed extirpated). If you want to learn more about them and their engaging ways read Caroline Stahala’s fascinating article HERE
Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Olive-capped Warbler, one of 5 permanent resident warblers (of 37 species in all) Bruce Hallett

January was an excellent time for the Hope Town Birding Group to take the ferry over for a quality day of birding on south Abaco. In all, 44 species were identified, ranging from expected feathery denizens to what are sometimes described as ‘Good Gets’. The group was led by Bruce Wolck. Jan Metcalf contacted me to arrange for Delphi – a notable birding hotspot – to be on the itinerary. And as she wrote to me afterwards in summing up the day:
“Amazing birds, amazing day, amazing Delphi (where we saw the Bullfinch)”
Sally Chisholm has since emailed that among places visited were the “[town] dump, locations along the highway south to the Y, Sandy Point, the south ferry dock, Gilpin Point, Bahama Palm Shores and Delphi” I’ve never been to the dock, so that’s one for us to try out in March…
Here is the group’s checklist of the 44 species. I have added thumbnail images, almost all taken on Abaco by contributors to THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO, including some used in the book. “Good Gets” include the Pied-billed Grebe, a permanent resident but quite scarce; the Bonaparte’s Gull; the Great Black-backed Gull; and the White Ibis. The last 3 are what are termed ‘casual’ winter residents – rarely seen and so irregularly reported.
HOPE TOWN BIRDING GROUP CHECKLIST – JANUARY 2015
CLICK on a thumbnail to enlarge it. That’s the idea anyway, but I’m a bit ‘casual’ myself in checking links. The ones I spot-checked worked so I am hoping for the best with the remainder…
Pied-billed- Grebe Podilymbus podiceps (Wiki)Pied-billed Grebe
Pelican Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Brown Pelican
Magnificent Frigate male wikipicsMagnificent Frigatebird
Great_Blue_Heron_Wading_2Great Blue Heron 
Great Egret Abaco - Treasure Cay Ponds (Keith Salvesen)Great Egret
Little Blue Heron, Abaco - Bruce HallettLittle Blue Heron
Cattle Egret, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith SalvesenCattle Egret
Green Heron, Abaco - Treasure Cay GC - Charlie SkinnerGreen Heron
White Ibis, Treasure Cay Abaco - Kasia ReidWhite Ibis
White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco - Gilpin Pond - Keith SalvesenWhite-cheeked Pintail
Turkey Vulture Abaco - Delphi  (Keith Salvesen)Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk Abaco - Bruce HallettRed-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel Abaco - Sandy Point - Keith SalvesenAmerican Kestrel
1009BlackBelliedPloverBlack-bellied Plover
American Oystercatcher Abaco -  Jim ToddAmerican Oystercatcher
Willet.Abaco Bahamas.2.13.Tom Sheley smallWillet
Ruddy Turnstone winter plumage.Abaco Bahamas.2.13.Tom Sheley eRuddy Turnstone
Laughing Gull, Abaco - Nina HenryLaughing Gull
Bonaparte's Gull (Ad NB), Abaco - Bruce HallettBonaparte’s Gull
Ring-billed Gull, Abaco (Nina Henry : DCB)Ring-billed Gull
800px-Great_Black-backed_Gull_Larus_marinusGreat Black-backed Gull
Rock_Dove_close-upRock Dove
Eurasian Collared Dove, Abaco - Bruce HallettEurasian Collard Dove
Ground Dove, Abaco -Nina Henry Common Ground Dove
ABACO (CUBAN) PARROT, Abaco (Caroline Stahala)Cuban Parrot
Smooth-billed Ani, Abaco - Roselyn PierceSmooth-billed Ani
Cuban Emerald, Delphi, Abaco - Keith SalvesenCuban Emerald
800px-Belted_Kingfisher_with_preyBelted Kingfisher
800px-West_Indian_Woodpecker_(Melanerpes_superciliaris)West Indian Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Abaco Bahamas 2.12.Tom SheleyYellow-bellied Sapsucker
Cuban Pewee Abaco - Casuarina - Keith SalvesenCuban Peewee
La Sagra's Flycatcher - Delphi,  Abaco - Keith SalvesenLa Sagra’s Flycatcher
Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco - Peter Mantle Loggerhead Kingbird
Bahama Swallow, Abaco - Craig NashBahama Swallow
Red-legged Thrush, Delphi,  Abaco - Keith SalvesenRed-legged Thrush
Northern Mockingbird, Delph, Abaco  - Keith SalvesenNorthern Mockingbird
Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Craig Nash)Thick-billed Vireo
Northern Parula, Abaco - Craig NashNorthern Parula
Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco - Bruce HallettYellow-throated Warbler
Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco - Bruce HallettOlive-capped Warbler
Pine Warbler, AbacoPine Warbler
Western Spindalis, Abaco - Bruce HallettStripe-headed Tanager

Black-faced Grassquit (m), Abaco - Bruce HallettBlack-faced Grassquit
Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco - Tony HepburnGreater Antillian Bullfinch
If any Birding Groups are interested in birding the one-mile drives (wonderful pine and coppice habitats), gardens and one-mile white sand beach at Delphi, let me know. It can easily be arranged, but there are times when it is not convenient or that some areas are not open for access. Email me as first contact at rollingharbour.delphi[AT]gmail.com
Western Spindalis Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Western Spindalis, Abaco -Delphi Club Drive (Keith Salvesen)

DOWITCHERS FOR ABACO TWITCHERS


Short-billed Dowitcher, Abaco (Bruce Hallett) DOWITCHERS FOR ABACO TWITCHERS

(THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT…)

Long-billed (Limnodromus scolopaceus)? Or Short-billed (Limnodromus griseus)? Which one is that over there? No, not there. There! For Abaco, the answer is very easy. The SBD is a common winter resident, whereas the LBD is an occasional casual visitor, recorded rarely and irregularly in the Northern Bahamas. So if you are looking at a Dowitcher, it’s 98% certain that’s it’s an SBD. Which is lucky – they are so similar that telling them apart is a complex ID challenge, even if seen together! Until 60 years ago they happily existed as one species until the avian powers-that-be decided to prise them apart and award them separate species status. All the birds featured here are Abaco SDBs, with one exception… More on the comparisons and differences below.

The Dowitcher’s bill is an extremely effective instrument for probing deep into low water and mud. The rapid stabbing for concealed invertebrates has been vividly described as being ‘like a sewing-machine’. A ‘Dowitcher Stitcher’. So to speak.Short-billed Dowitcher, Abaco 2 (Bruce Hallett)

 HOW DID THE DOWITCHER GET ITS NAME?

I had assumed that the strange name for these birds was onomatopoeic, in the same way that a Killdeer is supposed to call “Kill…Deer”. And a Bobwhite, an interrogative “Bob…White?”. When I tried to check this online, I found that the usually valuable primary sources for bird info were silent on the topic. In the end, I tracked down a Merriam Webster entry that simply said “probably of Iroquoian origin; akin to Oneida tawístawis. First Known Use: 1841″. Which left me better informed, but no wiser…

Short-billed Dowitcher2.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

THERE’S A BUNCH OF SHOREBIRDS OVER THERE – WHAT DO SBDs SOUND LIKE?

 Phoenix Birder / Xeno Canto

In the header image, the bird is foraging in shallow water. In deeper water or with softer mud, SBDs will plunge their bills in to the hilt

Short-billed Dowitchers, Abaco -  Bruce Hallett

SHORT OR LONG – HOW ON EARTH DO I TELL? 

1. HELPFUL(ISH) WAYS

  • On Abaco, if you see a Dowitcher the overwhelming likelihood is that it’s a SBD
  • The species prefer different habitats, with the LBS preferring freshwater even in coastal regions
  • The SBD prefers coastal areas, shorelines and brackish / muddy ponds
  • The SBD’s call is said to be “mellower” than the LDB – though unless you have heard both for comparison, that’s not a very useful identifier.
  • The body shapes are apparently subtly different, in ways I personally can only begin to guess
  • In breeding plumage, the species have perceptible colour / pattern differences. (If you have binoculars?)
 2. CONFUSING FACTORS
  • LBDs may occasionally join SBDs that are foraging on open tidal flats
  • Actual bill length may not help, there’s an overlap – some SBDs may have longer bills and vice versa.
  • There are theories about bill-length / head size comparison as a field ID method. Do they work? As if!
  • Winter plumage of both species is very similar (grey). Both are only on Abaco in winter. Go figure.

Short-billed Dowitcher, Abaco 1 Bruce Hallett

DOES THE DOWITCHER HAVE ANY PRACTICAL APPLICATION?

Yes! In Scrabble you can form a stonking 315 words from those 9 letters, all permitted under Scrabble rules (though not my own house rules, which forbid ridiculous 2 and 3 letter words that sound invented for the purpose of winning Scrabble). Apart from the full 9 letter original, there’s one 8 letter word – ‘witherod’, a type of viburnum plant; and 13 words of 7 letters, of which I’d say 8 are in common though not everyday usage. I’ll leave you to work out the remaining 301 words…

Short-billed Dowitcher.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

DO YOU HAVE ANY LBD PHOTOS TAKEN ON ABACO?

I surely do. Woody Bracey photographed a pair of dowitchers together on Abaco, one SBD and one LBD. But even though this looks a pretty straightforward comparison of bill length, colouring and marking, by now I’m now so confused that I’m beginning to wish the two species could be happily reunited into one…Long & Short Billed Dowitchers, Abaco Woody Bracey

 Credits: Bruce Hallett, Tom Sheley, Woody Bracey, past researches, the usual bird info suspects