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

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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

‘ELEGANTLY WEIRD’ – SPOTTED DRUMFISH JUVENILES: BAHAMAS REEF FISH 20


‘ELEGANTLY WEIRD’ – SPOTTED DRUMFISH JUVENILES: BAHAMAS REEF FISH 20

I’ve posted before about the rather extraordinary SPOTTED DRUMFISH, one of those reef fish which in juvenile form is very different from the adult. This species was first up in the Bahamas Reef Fish series – click above link. Here are a few recent images, courtesy of Melinda Riger. The first three show the juvenile form (note the piscine photobomb in the first one). The last shows a group of adults hanging out on the reef with (I think) some soldierfish. You can see how the juvenile drumfish becomes the adult, but those little stripy bullet-heads with their two long elegantly trailing appendages differ considerably from the rather solid-looking spotty / stripy adults with their dramatic punko-rockabilly quiffs.

Drumfish (juv) 3 ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba Drumfish (juv) 4 ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama ScubaDrumfish (juv) 2 ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba Drumfish ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

BIRDS OF SAN SALVADOR, BAHAMAS: BOOK REVIEW


Birds of San Salvador (cover) JPG

THE BIRDS OF SAN SALVADOR, BAHAMAS

  • Authors: R. Hays Cummins, Mark R. Boardman, Mark L. McPhail
  • Published 1 Jan 2013, 132pp with 400+ images covering 54 species
  • Available spiral bound for $29.95 on Am@zon; and a steal at $3.16 for Kindle (£5.99 in the UK)
  • STOP PRESS Also available on iTunes for iPhone / iPad, where I imagine it looks great. Once downloaded, author Hays says it can be viewed on a Mac, certainly if you have the latest OS X Mavericks. UK price: a very modest £1.99 (= $3.30)

Within a couple of weeks of the decision to use Tom Sheley’s wonderful Bahama Woodstar as the ‘cover bird’ for “THE BIRDS OF ABACO”, another Bahamas bird book was announced. The same colourful and enchanting endemic bird had also commended itself to the authors for their cover. I wrote to Hays Cummins at once to check whether he would mind another Bahamas bird book encroaching on the territory, especially one using the same cover bird into the bargain. He very charmingly said it would be fine and declared his support for our (luckily) rather different project.

It’s been a while since I added to the section BOOKS, but I thought I’d mention this one for two reasons. First, it is described as ‘A Photo Essay of Common Birds’, which in practical terms means that most if not all of the species featured will be common to the northern Bahamas and therefore familiar on Abaco. Secondly, I very much like the format of the book: there are clear photos; and all necessary general information including notes on individual characteristics and similar species is presented in an easily assimilable way. Were the Delphi book not designed to be the 2 kg bird-showcasing non-field guide doorstop it is, the San Salvador book is one I should liked to have produced! Birds of San Salvador (sample page 1) Birds of San Salvador (sample page 2) DESCRIPTION “This enchanting book addresses a need for an important audience, the budding naturalist, which many of our students are. Without fanfare and pomposity, the book presents beautiful and inspiring photos and lively discussion, but does not indulge in the details of the accomplished birder. The authors present information about the natural history of birds on San Salvador, Bahamas, not through the eyes of a professional or advanced birder, but through the eyes and photographic lenses of inquiring educators and naturalists. This book will help capture and catalyze the interests of aspiring birders and will be an asset for introductions to the birds of the Bahamas and neighboring Caribbean. Over 400 images, representing 54 species, are all original and include a variety of behaviors and highlight recognition characteristics. The authors’ aesthetic photography, printed on high quality paper, will help reinforce identification and enjoyment. Birds are organized by habitat (Coastal, Interior, and Lakes & Ponds), not by taxonomic affinities. A taxonomic index is included.” 

I’m pleased to see the decision to depart from the usual taxonomic ordering of species, though I recognise that for a serious field guide that tradition is pretty much sacrosanct. We played around with categories and sub-categories a bit (sea birds, water birds, land birds; big, medium, small; cute, splendid, dull, plug-ugly) before settling on Peter Mantle’s excellent idea of straight alphabetical organisation. For a mainly photographic book this gives an element of surprise to turning the pages, and avoids  e.g. 37 pages of warblers species, mostly yellow, all huddled together.  Birds of San Salvador (sample page 4) Birds of San Salvador (sample page 5) I notice that there is a single Amazon review, a good one, that says “This guide to one of the lesser known islands in the Bahamas is a nice one. While not exhaustive, it covers most of the species likely to be seen on San Salvador. The style is unorthodox for a field guide (elements of humor, gives brief description of species, but no real key field marks), the descriptions, locations on the island, and behaviors make this guide useful for those visiting San Salvador. The photographs are excellent.” Birds of San Salvador (sample page 3)For anyone interested in a useful reference guide to the common birds of Abaco, and in possession of a Kindle, this book is easily worth getting electronically.  ‘To be brutally honest’ (™ Sandy Walker), I’d like in due course to produce a small book very like this for Abaco, but it would obviously be naked plagiarism to do that, so of course I won’t. Still, all the same…

“FAIR GAME” ON ABACO: THE ATTRACTIVE BUT SADLY DELICIOUS WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON


White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)

 “FAIR GAME” ON ABACO: THE ATTRACTIVE BUT SADLY DELICIOUS WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON

Fishing is the mainstay of Abaco’s sporting life, but hunting runs it a close second. Whether it’s the hog hunters plunging down remote backcountry tracks with their dogs or the shooters plying their trade, there is plenty on the hunter’s menu. The WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON Patagioenas leucocephala is one of the species that’s fair game in season. The bright white of its crown rather gives away its position. A permanent resident on Abaco, this pigeon is quite commonly found.

White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

The Bahamas hunting season for this species is between the end of September and March. Here is the relevant extract from the excellent BNT HUNTERS GUIDE, a very useful publication packed with information that is well worth a look at. WCP BNT Hunters Guide

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Unfortunately, this pigeon is no longer as prolific as it once was, and is now IUCN-listed ‘near-threatened’. Hunting is one reason. Habitat loss is another. And apparently in Florida (the only US State that has these birds), car-strike is a major cause of population decline (with time, they may learn to fly higher. Unless it’s too late for the species by then…).

White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

The balance of species preservation and the perceived need of humans to encroach on habitat or their wish to shoot for the pot, is a always a hard one to judge. ‘Near-threatened’ sounds bad, but it’s probably not until the next stage is reached – ‘vulnerable’ or ‘endangered’ – that there is real cause for concern. But as the title says (props to Peter Mantle for this pithy observation, duly incorporated into the WCP entry in THE BIRDS OF ABACO) these inoffensive pigeons are indeed ‘sadly delicious…’

White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)Photo credits: Gerlinde Taurer, Alex Hughes, Tony Hepburn plus BNT for the hunters guide

 

CETACEAN SENSATION: SPERM WHALES & DOLPHINS ON ABACO


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CETACEAN SENSATION: SPERM WHALES & DOLPHINS ON ABACO

July has been ‘Whale Camp’ month for the BMMRO, when a small group of lucky youngsters get to spend time out at sea searching for whales and dolphins, and learning the intricacies of data recording and research. One target was the sperm whale, a species that may be found off the coasts of South Abaco. This is a favoured place because the deep trench of the Great Bahama Canyon throws up the food these whales need (see map below).

After some time spent searching, the BMMRO reported  “the sperm whales are back! We found a single animal yesterday, and finally in the evening found the rest of the group, 10+ animals including 3 mother-calf pairs, and dolphins at Rocky Point!” Here are some of the photos from the trip.

Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) Sperm Whale, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) Sperm Whale, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)

This map of the northern Bahamas shows the V-shaped tails of the Great Bahama Canyon, and explains why the east coast and (in particular) the shallower south-west coast between Hole-in-the-Wall and Rocky Point is so attractive to feeding whale species.

Great Bahama Canyon

The dolphins were quite prolific in July, in particular bottlenose and spotted dolphins. These photos were mostly taken while the search for sperm whales was going on: the BMMRO posted “lots of dolphins up at Gorda Cay yesterday… still not hearing any sperm whales in the area, has been a couple of weeks without sign of them so they should be showing up again soon…” As they obligingly did!

Bottlenose Dolphin, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) Bottlenose Dolphin, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)Spotted Dolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)

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Today is the first day of the crawfish season and Facebook Abaco has been crawling with crawfish for a couple of days in feverish anticipation. So I decided to stick with whales and dolphins instead because there are enough crawfish images out there to keep anyone happy. However I did particularly like this offering today from Albury’s Ferry Services, always a byword for tastefulness and decorum. I’ve borrowed their picture (they borrow mine sometimes) – I wondered if it need a little more exposure, then decided there was probably quite enough already….

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Photo credits: all cetaceans, BMMRO; Crawfish Ladies, Albury’s Ferries; ‘Keep Calm’, Mariah Sawyer

BAHAMAS STAMPS & ABACO BIRDS: ‘IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF PHILATELY’


BAHAMAS STAMPS & ABACO BIRDS: ‘IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF PHILATELY’ 

The Bahamas produces frequent issues of wildlife stamps. Mostly birds, but also reef fish and sea creatures, animals, butterflies and flowers. I am gradually collecting an album of Bahamas wildlife stamps on a PHILATELY page. I’ve been having a look at a 16-bird issue from 1991 which reflects the wide diversity of species extremely well. Here is the set, with comparative photos of each bird. All but one were taken on Abaco, the rare Burrowing Owl being the exception. All the other 15 birds may be found on Abaco as permanent residents, either easily or with a bit of a look and some luck. I personally have not seen the Clapper Rail (though I saw a SORA) or the rarer Key West Quail-Dove.

bah199101l                       GREEN HERON, Abaco (Nina Henry)

 

bah199102l                       Turkey Vulture Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

bah199103l                      Osprey - Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen)

bah199104l                      Clapper Rail, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

bah199105l                     Royal Tern Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

bah199106l                     BAHAMAS - Key West Quail-dove (Becky Marvil)

bah199107l                    Smooth-biled Ani, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

bah199108l                    Burrowing Owl (Keith Salvesen)

bah199109l                  Hairy Woodpecker, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

bah199110l                   Mangrove Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn) copy

bah199111l                   Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

bah199112l                 Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

bah199113l                 Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Susan Daughtrey)

bah199114l                 Bahama Yellowthroat vocalizing.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

bah199115l                 Western Spindalis Abaco (Janene Roessler)

bah199116l                  Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

 The bird list and image credits

 Green Heron                     Butorides virescens               Nina Henry

Turkey Vulture                   Cathartes aura                        RH (Delphi)

Western Osprey                Pandion haliaetus                   RH (Marls)

Clapper Rail                      Rallus longirostris                  Erik Gauger

Royal Tern                         Thalasseus maximus              RH (Marls)

Key West Quail-Dove      Geotrygon chrysia                 Becky Marvil

Smooth-billed Ani            Crotophaga ani                      Bruce Hallett

Burrowing Owl                  Athene cunicularia                RH (UK)

Hairy Woodpecker             Picoides villosus                   Tony Hepburn

Mangrove Cuckoo             Coccyzus minor                     Tony Hepburn

*Bahama Mockingbird     Mimus gundlachii                 RH (National Park)

Red-winged Blackbird      Agelaius phoeniceus            RH (Backcountry, South Abaco)

Thick-billed Vireo              Vireo crassirostris               Susan Daughtrey

*Bahama Yellowthroat       Geothlypis rostrata            Tom Sheley

Western Spindalis              Spindalis zena                       Janene Roessler

Greater Antillean Bullfinch  Loxigilla violacea            Bruce Hallett

* Endemic species for Bahamas

STAMPS            http://freestampcatalogue.com            Tony Bray

THE ABACO PARROT: BEAUTIFUL, NOISY AND UNIQUE [Video]


 Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 (Keith Salvesen)

THE ABACO PARROT: BEAUTIFUL, NOISY AND UNIQUE [Video]

I’ve posted quite often about Abaco’s unique ground-nesting parrots. They have their own page at ABACO PARROTS; and there’s a link in the right sidebar to a small illustrated booklet about them wot I writ in conjunction with Caroline Stahala. I have just found a very short bit of video footage that’s ideal for anyone who is extremely busy and /or has a short attention span. Spend a happy 10 seconds to  (a) admire the bright colours and (b) listen to the raucous cries of a flock of Abaco parrots. 

Abaco Parrots (Melissa Maura)Credits: Header photo & video RH; 2-parrot pic Melissa Maura with thanks