Northern Waterthrush.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco.3.Tom Sheley


The pretty thrush-like warbler Northern Waterthrush Parkesia noveboracensis is a common winter resident on Abaco. Despite the name it’s not a real thrush, but it is larger than most of the compact winter warblers that heed the the migratory instinct that “It’s Better in the Bahamas” and make Abaco their overwintering habitat.

Northern Waterthrush.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco.1.Tom Sheley


The simplest rule of thumb is that true thrushes have spotted or speckled chests; whereas waterthrushes have streaked chests. That, and the fact that similar thrush species are generally larger. A number of true thrushes are recorded for Abaco, many quite similar to the waterthrush; but the speckled vs spotted distinction should be your guide. If a sighting is momentary or in bad light, it’s anyone’s guess…

Northern Waterthrush, Abaco (Becky Marvil)



There’s another far less commonly found waterthrush that also overwinters on Abaco – the closely-related Louisiana waterthrush Parkesia motacilla. I have no Abaco photos of one – it really is quite rare – so I’ve had to borrow an open source one. The Cornell Lab explains the differences between the two waterthrushes thus: “Northern usually has stripes on throat, a slightly smaller bill, a thinner and off-white or cream eyestripe that does not extend as far onto the nape, less pink legs, and a more yellowish wash on the underparts”. Maybe one can generalise that the northern is overall a yellower bird, and its legs are more brown than pink.

Lousiana waterthrush – rarer on Abaco than the northern but a potential source of confusionLouisiana_Waterthrush_(Parkesia_motacilla) Magnus Manske : Wiki


The Mr Parkes in question was Kenneth Carroll Parkes (1922 – 2007), an American ornithologist and Chief Curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh. The noveboracencis part simply means ‘from New York’ in Latin (novum – new; Eboracum – York); and the -ensis is a common suffix meaning ‘from’. Mr Parkes’s bird from New York.

Kenneth Carrol ParkesMr Parkes

Northern Waterthrush, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)
Both species have similar habits. For example, on the ground, they tend to walk rather than hop, ‘bobbing’ their butts (technical term) as they go. They forage on the ground for insects, snails and small mollusks etc.
Northern Waterthrush, Abaco 1 (Gerlinde Taurer)
I’m not a huge fan of attempts at phonetic renditions of bird calls – the ‘Did you have a nice day today dear?’ and the ‘I’d like a very big Kalik please’ and so on. But for what it is worth, the song of the northern waterthrush has been interpreted as “a loud swee swee chit chit weedleoo”.  This is what is sounds like in real life. Go figure.
Northern Waterthrush, Abaco 2 (Gerlinde Taurer).jpg

Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 2, 8); Becky Marvil (3); Magnus Manske (4); Bruce Hallett (5); Gerlinde Taurer (6, 7); Richard E Webster at Xeno-Canto for the song clip

Northern Waterthrush.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco.2.Tom Sheley


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)


Bad day. I know about random outage outrage and so on, but really… The router died, unmourned. Bought another. Wasted 2 hours trying to make it work. Turns out to be ‘defective’, which is to say broken. Or another B word. Bought another. Almost lost the will to live. I have the briefest window in which to check emails etc before it, too, checks out of the Mac Hotel. The ONLY SOLUTION (apart from Kalik in copious quantities, sadly not available where I am right now), is to look at some pretty birds taken in the gardens round the Delphi Club. Mmmmm. Feeling better now. Deep breaths… and… relax…

Bananaquit, Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)La Sagra flycatcher, Abaco 1 (RH)Cuban Emerald, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco (RH)

All pics by a rather stroppy RH

STOP PRESS Exactly 24 hours after excitedly unwrapping the (second) new router, after a convoluted and Kafkaesque series of phone calls to various techie centres, headily mixed with wine, beer, tears and tantrums, I combined some of the info from each and miraculously the recalcitrant beast sprang to life. For how long, though? Router advice given: $100 ph + exes


Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 01


The gull-billed tern Gelochelidon nilotica had a name upgrade from Sterna nilotica some years ago, and was awarded the honour of its own genus. Let’s be clear at the outset: there’s no such thing as a tern-billed gull. Which slightly lessens the scope for species confusion. 

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 04

For those (me) who need a reminder about the whole family / genus / species taxonomic maze, here is a reminder. The example used is man. Or stickman, anyway.3958555126_4f85d9fa5b

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 05

There are 12 species of tern recorded for Abaco. Only one, the royal tern, is a permanent resident. There is one winter resident, the Forster’s tern and there a 6 summer resident terns of varying degrees of commonness. The other four are transient or vagrant, and probably not worth making a special trip to Abaco to find. The GBT is designated SB3, a summer breeding resident that is generally uncommon, though might be more common in particular areas.

TERN TABLE**Tern Species Abaco**I know! Too tempting…


Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 11

The bird gets its name from it short, thick gull-like bill. It’s quite large in tern terms, with a wingspan that may reach 3 foot. They lose their smart black caps in winter.

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 03

There are 6 species of GBT worldwide, and it is found in every continent. While many terns plunge-dive for fish, the GBT mostly feeds on insects in flight, and will also go after birds eggs and chicks. Small mammals and amphibians are also on the menu. The header image shows a GBT with a small crab. I imagine they must eat fish. Surely they do? But I have looked at dozens of images online to find one noshing on a fish, with no success. Does anyone have a ‘caught-in-the-act’ photo?

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 06Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 02

All photos were taken by Alex Hughes, a contributor to “THE BIRDS OF ABACO”, when he spent some time on Abaco a while back in connection with the conservation of the Abaco Parrot and the preservation of the habitat integrity of their nesting area in the Abaco National Park

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 12


Northern Shoveler male. Abaco Bahamas. 2.12.Tom Sheley copy 2


I’m broadly in favour of self-identifying bird names. You know where you are with a Spoonbill. If its bill is spoon-shaped, it is one. Conversely if it isn’t, it isn’t. True, you might waste a lot of time looking for a brownish duck gadding about near a wall, but the general principle of WYCIIWYG (what you call it is what you get) is a useful one.

Northern Shoveler 2.Abaco Bahamas.2.12.Tom Sheley

Thus with shovelers. Their beaks are shovel-shaped. They shovel about in the water to feed. It’s that simple. Being dabbling ducks, they are dab hands (wings?) at upending themselves to get that sturdy beak down in the water. These are highly specialist gadgets too, edged with ‘combs’ (lamellae) that strain out the water from a diet that includes aquatic vegetation and invertebrates.  You can see this arrangement in the male shoveler in the header image.

Northern Shoveler.Abaco Bahamas.2.12.Tom Sheley

The male shoveler has striking plumage, with one of those ‘mallard drake’-coloured heads that is green except when the light catches it and it looks blue. I say ‘looks’, because the blue shades apparent in bird plumage do not result from pigments (which absorb most colours but reflect the visible colours) but from so-called ‘structural colouration’ resulting from scattered light, with the blue wavelength dominant. So even the bluest of blue birds – a bluebird, say, or an indigo bunting – is not blue but appears blue. But the bright red pigmentation of a male Northern cardinal is ‘real’ colour. 

This male shoveler does not have a blue head…Northen Shovelers Foraging (Keith Salvesen) 5

Northern Shoveler (m & f) Abaco (Tony Hepburn) Northern Shoveler, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

The shovelers shown above (except for the ‘blue’-headed one which comes from the set below) were all photographed on Abaco. I mentioned the familiar dabbling method of feeding earlier. However a few days ago in Central Park NYC on The Lake near Bow Bridge, I witnessed shoveler feeding behaviour that was new to me. It’s probably perfectly well-known and documented, but that’s amateurs for you**. A flock of about 30 male and female shovelers had split into smaller groups of between 2 and 10. They formed circles – sometimes very tight – and swam round each other with their heads underwater, stirring up the water as they paddled round, so that their bills were always immersed in freshly disturbed food possibilities. The effect was hypnotic, as you can see from the 15 sec video I took. Although in the clip it looks as though the birds are rapidly progressing to the right, they in fact stayed in much the same place. They were not very close to me, so these are illustrative images rather than ‘Audubon shots’.

Northen Shovelers Foraging (Keith Salvesen) 7Northen Shovelers Foraging (Keith Salvesen) 1Northen Shovelers Foraging (Keith Salvesen) 3

** Of course as soon as I looked I discovered that “Large groups of northern shovelers swim rapidly in circles to collect food from the surface by creating a funnel effect” (cheers to Wiki)Spinus-northern-shoveler-2015-01-n025006-w

Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 2, 3); Tony Hepburn (4); Woody Bracey (5); Keith Salvesen (the rest)


Tri-colored Heron with fish (Phil Lanoue)


There’s something enjoyable about watching a wild creature having a good meal, even if the meal consists of an item that, all things considered, you personally would prefer not to eat. While I am temporarily parted from my computer for a few days, I am able to publish blog posts from my phone. I could write one too, but that’s a bothersome and fiddly process, best avoided. So I thought you might enjoy a gallery of gorgeous birds doing what they like to do best – eat fish. Many thanks as ever to Phil Lanoue and Danny Sauvageau for use permission for their truly exceptional photos.

Great Blue Heron & Fish (Phil Lanoue)Cormorant with fish (Phil Lanoue)Anhingha with fish (Phil Lanoue)White Egret with fish (Phil Lanoue)Green Heron with fish (Phil Lanoue)Osprey with fish (Phil Lanoue)Tern with fishReddish Egret (white morph) with fish (Phil Lanoue)green-heron-gilpin-point-abaco-keith-salvesenOsprey, Florida (Danny Sauvageau)

Birds featured are tri-colored heron in breeding plumage, great blue heron, cormorant, anhinga, white egret, green heron, osprey, tern and reddish egret (white morph).

All photos by Phil Lanoue except penultimate (Keith Salvesen) and last (Danny Sauvageau)


Red-tailed Hawk Central Park NYC


Big Apple, here we come! Mrs RH has business there next week. Sometimes, if I have behaved particularly well for an extended period – 2 years on average – I am invited to go along on her US trips. Providing I can grab a cheap fare as well. Well, sorted! NYC is my absolutely favourite capital city. Along with Marsh Harbour, obvs. And maybe Paris. Not London, we live there. Too close to home. 

Northern Mockingbird, High Line, NYCNorthern Mockingbird NYC High Line

I never go shopping, but I have specific must-dos. Route 66 on 9th for the best breakfast ever. Walking the wonderful new High Line park, extended since we were last there. The Staten Island Ferry out and straight back for the best free ‘Manhattan view plus water ride’ experience. The Tramway cable car to Roosevelt Island to visit the beautifully restored Blackwell Farmhouse which dates from 1796 and is arguably NYC’s oldest surviving residential building (not many people know this). Then a brisk walk to Lighthouse Point for a winter picnic. This is where, one day, I plan to catch a fish – any fish – on the fly in the East River. I’ve debated packing a small travel rod & reel this time but it is not an ideal time of year, frankly, and I don’t want to set myself up for failure in what will anyway be a hard task…

A Herring Gull provides irrefutable proof that there is piscine life in the East River even in winter
Life in the East River NY

Mallards in Central park: a male and a LEUCISTIC femaleMallard (m) NYC Central Park Mallard (f) - leucistic NYC Central Park

And to people’s complete bemusement (sample comment: “Are you quite mad?”) I go birding. NYC is a great place for it, being on a major migration flyway. Central Park is fantastic, especially the Ramble, the Reservoir, and the lesser known wild areas at the top end – the Loch, the Ravine, Harlem Meer. Prospect Park Brooklyn is another great place, with wild woodland and lakes for many water bird species. There’s a wildlife refuge at Jamaica Bay which looks worth exploring too, though it’s a bit of a trek. Anyway, here are a few Big Apple birds that are found on – or at least recorded for – Abaco (some very rarely, it has to be said).

Ring-billed and Herring Gulls on the Staten Island FerryRing-billed Gull NYC Staten Island Ferry Ring-billed Gull NYC 2 Staten Island FerryHerring Gull NYC 2 Staten Island FerryHerring Gull NYC Staten Island Ferry

Male & female Hooded Mergansers on the JKO Reservoir, Central ParkHooded Merganser (m) NYC JKO Reservoir Hooded Merganser (f) 2 NYC JKO Reservoir

Male House Sparrow (Central Park) & female (Prospect Park, Brooklyn)House Sparrow NYC Central Park House Sparrow (f) NYC Prospect Park

Rock Pigeon, Central ParkRock Pigeon NYC

Eurasian Starling (High Line Park)Starling NYC High Line Park

Canada Goose on ice (Prospect Park, Brooklyn)Canada Goose NYC Prospect Park

American Robin (Prospect Park, Brooklyn)American Robin NYC Prospect Park

Poor photo of a Coot (Harlem Meer, Central park)Coot NYC Central Park Harlem Meer

Ultra-shy Red-winged Blackbird (Prospect Park, Brooklyn)Red-winged Blackbird NYC Prospect ParkI can only get away with crap photos like this because it’s my blog & your decision to put up with it

Bufflehead, JKO Reservoir Central ParkBufflehead NYC JKO Reservoir Central ParkA bird recorded once or perhaps twice for Abaco in the last 60 years. I have better photos than this, but this one best illustrates your chance of seeing one on Abaco – vanishing…

Hairy** Red-bellied Woodpecker (The Ramble, Central Park)Hairy Woodpecker NYC The Ramble Central Park

Red-tailed Hawk NYC (Prospect Park Brooklyn)Red-tailed Hawk NYC Prospect Park BrooklynThe RTH header image was taken in the Ramble, Central Park

** As Woody Bracey has been quick to point out, this is in fact a Red-bellied Woodpecker, not a Hairy Woodpecker. Unlike the HWP, the RBW is not recorded for Abaco. HOWEVER I do have a HWP photo from Central Park somewhere, and if I can find it I’ll substitute it and make it right!

All photos, good, bad and indifferent: The Author



And it came to pass that on the first day of December in the Year of Our Lord 2015, the time came upon a mother hummingbird; and she laid her tiny egg in a small nest in the place that is called Man-o-war, which is to say ‘The Island of Pretty Birds”. And on the next day, she laid a second tiny egg in that nest also. For this was in the time of the first Woodstar nesting of the season.

Bahama Woodstar nest with eggs, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

And the days passed, even as the mother hummingbird sat upon the nest whereat she had laid her eggs. And verily was she patient, for it was known to her that the eggs would not hatch until certain days were past

Bahama Woodstar nest with eggs, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

Yet still the eggs hatched not, though their colour became paler…Bahama Woodstar nest with eggs, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

But on the 19th day hatched the first egg; and likewise the second egg upon the 21st day. And two (mostly) naked hatchlings were made visible.Bahama Woodstar nest with hatchlings, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

On the 25th day, which is to say the day of Christ’s Mass, the hatchlings had grown; and their raiment of feathers was coming upon them to clothe their nakednessBahama Woodstar nest with hatchlings, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

And as they grew the chicks (for thus were they named) were snug and safe in their small nest, even as their mother and their father, who did build it together and furnish it with soft materials, had ordained


By the 31st and final day of the old year, which is to say the day before Earth’s renewal in another year, the chicks had greatly grown; and feathers were about their persons. And their appearance was of small birds which would soon fly from that place and live happily in a New Year at Man-o-warBahama Woodstar nest with chicks, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)-1

Thanks for all fabulous photos to Charmaine Albury, who is lucky enough to be a Woodstar magnet on Man-o-War Cay. With her family, she watches these events unfold every year at her house, and manages to record them without ever disturbing these wonderful little birds