Sound of jet engines. “Back in the UK…” (as Macca so nearly sang), and I have the chance to amend the epic fail – or comic fail, anyway, that was the original of this post. And the truth is, Dear , that apart from simple captioned photos, an iPhone does not cut it for more complex posts involving formatting and so on. Or maybe I can’t use it properly (far more likely). Whichever, here is what should have appeared in the first place as a prepared, ‘press-the-go-button’ post for while we were away…
At Rolling Harbour, we are occasionally bold enough to investigate the interstices between wildlife and art. If that’s what one does to an interstice. ArtMagenta is the cyber-name (“ethernym”? Yes, I like it…) of Ulf, a prolific artist whose website ARTMAGENTAprovides an enjoyably eclectic selection of pictures. Birds from around the world. Caricatures. Sketches. ‘Gesture Drawings’. And more. From time to time I will post a small gallery of Ulf’s enjoyable depictions of the birds that may be found on Abaco.
BIRDS OF ABACO (BAHAMAS) IN NEW YORK CITY (& VICE VERSA)
Many moons ago, I wrote about the bird species that a New Yorker might recognise during a trip to South Abaco. It would depend, of course, on the time of year and migration patterns. And whether a resident of the Big was remotely interested in going to Abaco to look at birds. As if! As it happens, Mrs RH is about to go to NYC, and tolerantly offered to take me as ‘trailing spouse’. Naturally, I said no at once [only joking]. So I am resurrecting the earlier material and polishing it up a bit for 2013. There is much good birding to be done in and around the City (Central Park ~ Riverside and Inwood Parks~Prospect Park Brooklyn ~ Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge ~ Staten Island~ shorelines generally) though I shan’t be spending all my time doing that. Or even much of it. But I will see what species I can casually bag in a week.
This photo is of a ring-billed gull, taken a while back in a freezing february (-15°) on the northern end of Roosevelt Island* in the East River. The whole front of the vessel in the background was thickly coated in frozen sea-ice, which covered the entire foredeck. However, you might just as easily catch one of these gulls on a perfect sunny day on the shores of Abaco… [*Optional tourist note: it's a great ride there on the aerial tramway. Visit the quaint clapboard Blackwell Farmhouse, built in 1796 and recently restored - it's the oldest surviving building in the City, nestling shyly amidst a forest of new apartment blocks]
If you happen to live in New York, you may quite possibly spend some spare time birding in Central Park, or checking out the red-tailed hawks of Washington Square. And if you are planning a trip to Abaco, you might suddenly wonder just how different the bird life will be there. Will there be any familiar species at all?
New York City has nearly 200 regularly recorded bird species, most of which will be found in Central Park at some time of the year, if not all through it. South Abaco has around 126 species, excluding extreme rarities and accidentals. Is there much overlap, I wondered? And the answer is that there is plenty, rather more than I expected. 61 species in common, by my reckoning, including the Great Egret below. The the most notable feature is the almost complete coincidence of warblers.
I used the excellent (but not exhaustive)AVIBASEchecklist for South Abaco, now featured on the Delphi Club site in the newBIRDING section, and worked through a comparative list of the NYC species (see the birding website links for NYC / Central Park above). The result is below: a New Yorker using the South Abaco checklist may see any of the birds ringed in red. And it would work vice versa, of course. Why New York? It’s the only other place outside Europe that I have ever ‘birded’ (only extremely casually – no book, no notes, no pishing, a few photos – just for enjoyment). Peaceful bird time in the Ramble in Central Park is time well used… Before we get to the list, here’s a bit of local NYC colour that you won’t find on Abaco – a male Northern Cardinal in the snow in February
NYC BIRD SPECIES THAT APPEAR ON THE SOUTH ABACO BIRDS CHECKLIST
I photographed this red-tailed hawk in Central Park. We’ve seen one on Abaco in the National Park, close enough to get a really good photo of. Typically, it flew off before I could get my camera out of the truck. There’s a lesson there somewhere…
Editorial note (not necessarily a shared opinion): Abaco is so good, they only needed to name it once…
SEABIRDS, SHOREBIRDS & WADERS: 30 WAYS TO DISTINGUISH THEM
I have recently been looking at hundreds of photos of birds, many with aquatic or semi-aquatic lives. These can be broadly categorised as seabirds, shorebirds or wading birds. But with some bird breeds, there can be doubt as to which category applies. There is the strict Linnaean ordering of course, but in practice there is a degree of informal category overlap and some variation in the various bird guides. This is especially so between shorebirds and the smaller, less exotic wading birds. Shorebirds may wade, and wading birds may be found on shores. Then I remembered a past blog post by the estimableBEACH CHAIR SCIENTIST that I thought deserved an outing here. I re-blogged the chart from BCS early last year. In the meantime site followers and site hits have surprisingly increased considerably, but I suspect only the dedicated make time to sift through any blog’s archives… Even if you have no problem distinguishing birds in the 3 categories, there are avian characteristics within each list that are interesting observations in themselves.
10 CHARACTERISTICS OF SEABIRDS
(Examples include albatross, auk, booby, frigatebird, fulmar, gannet, penguin, petrel, puffin, shearwater, and tropicbirds)
1. Seabirds are pelagic, spending most of their lives far out at sea. 2. Seabirds move toward to coastal areas to breed or raise young for a minimal amount of time. 3. Seabirds are light on their undersides and dark on top (an adaptation known as countershading). 4. Seabirds have more feathers than other types of birds for more insulation and waterproofing. 5. Seabirds have flexible webbed feet to help gain traction as they take off for flight from the sea. 6. Some seabirds have unusually sharp claws used to help grasp fish under the water. 7. Some larger seabirds (e.g. albatross) have long, slim wings allowing them to soar for long distances without getting tired. 8. Some smaller seabirds have short wings for maneuvering at the surface of the water. 9. Seabirds have specialized glands to be able to drink the saltwater and excrete salts. 10. Some seabirds (e.g. gannets) have a head shape that is usually tapered for more efficiency in plunge diving.
10 CHARACTERISTICS OF SHOREBIRDS
(Examples include avocets, black skimmer, oystercatchers, plover, sandpiper, and stilt)
1. Shorebirds have long legs, pointed beaks, and long pointed wings. 2. Most shorebirds are migratory (Impressively some shorebirds fly non-stop for 3-4 days, equivalent to a human running continuous 4-minute miles for 60 hours). 3. Shorebirds wade close to the shore and poke their bills into the ground in search of food. 4. Shorebirds are small to medium size wading birds. 5. Shorebirds tend to frequent wetlands and marshes and are biological indicators of these environmentally sensitive lands. 6. Shore birds are of the order Charadriiformes. 7. Shorebirds are very well camouflaged for their environment and their appearance may vary from place to place as plumage (feather colors) are gained or lost during breeding. 8. Shorebirds typically range in size from 0.06 to 4.4 pounds. 9. Oystercatchers have a unique triangular bill that is a cross between a knife and a chisel. 10. The black skimmer is the only native bird in North America with its lower mandible larger than the upper mandible, which helps the bird gather fish as it skims the ocean surface.
10 CHARACTERISTICS OF WADING BIRDS
(Examples include crane, egret, flamingo, herons, ibis, rail, spoonbill, and stork)
1. Wading birds are found in freshwater or saltwater on every continent except Antarctica. 2. Wading birds have long, skinny legs and toes which help them keep their balance in wet areas where water currents may be present or muddy ground is unstable. Also, longer legs make it easier for them to search for food (forage) in deeper waters. 3. Wading birds have long bills with pointed or rounded tips (depending on what is more efficient for the types of food the bird consumes). 4. Wading birds have long, flexible necks that can change shape drastically in seconds, an adaptation for proficient hunting. 5. Herons have sophisticated and beautiful plumes during the breeding season, while smaller waders such as rails are much more camouflaged. 6. Wading birds may stand motionless for long periods of time waiting for prey to come within reach. 7. When moving, their steps may be slow and deliberate to not scare prey, and freeze postures are common when these birds feel threatened. 8. Adult wading birds are quiet as an essential tool for hunting. Wading birds may be vocal while nestling or while in flocks together. 9. Many wading birds form communal roosts and breeding rookeries, even mixing flocks of different species of wading birds or waterfowl. 10. Wading birds fully extend their legs to the rear when flying. The neck may be extended or not while in flight, depending on the species.
FOR RICKY JOHNSON, ABACO NATURE GUIDE & ENTHUSIAST 1964-2013
No one who knew Ricky, or even merely met him, could doubt his charisma, his infectious enthusiasm for life, and for Abaco and its natural history. His Abaco Nature Tours were legendary. As non-islanders, we knew that a day out in Ricky’s company would be a hectic and memorable one. He knew where all the birds were to be found – and enticed the shy ones out of the coppice with his trademark calls. He was all-seeing and all-knowing – information about Abaco’s natural history, social history, geology, poisonous plants and bush medicine would stream from him irrepressibly throughout the day. Ask him a question? He’d know the answer. He seemed never so happy as when he spotted something and pulled the truck over, leaping out with the door open so all could hear his running commentary as he explained the properties of some small plant that most would have failed to notice. Accompanied, of course, by a gag and THAT laugh.
In many ways, it is impertinent for occasional blow-ins to become involved in what is the island’s grief over Ricky’s tragically young passing. However in the short time we knew him – far too short – we both came to feel we had known him for many years. That was the Ricky effect. He was a joy to know, and we will remember him with joy as well as with sadness.
TAKING THE PSITTACIDAE: DISTANT COUSINS OF THE ABACO PARROT?
Geographical boundaries are an elastic concept at Rolling Harbour and occasionally extend to other parts of the globe, especially the UK. Sometimes this is for comparative purposes: bonefishing -v- trout fishing, for example (“no contest” – yes, I hear you, Abaconian piscators! BUT…).
*Lyrical / Pastoral Mode* Yesterday, the first sunny day for a while, I was ambling round the park at the end of our London street taking a ‘computer break’. It was late afternoon (ie just after lunch, in winter in the UK), and the sun was beginning to sink. Suddenly a terrific row erupted in the trees along the park’s edge. It sounded so like a heated parrot debate in the coppice at Delphi or at BPS that I stopped to look. Not quite so loud, more shrill and, well, insistently nagging. Here is a participant taking a short rest from the discussions
It’s not a great shot, I realise, taken from street level to tree-top with a very small camera. This was one of a flock of 20 or soROSE-RINGED (RINGNECKED) PARAKEETS, coming back to roost. There are many thousands of these birds in the London suburbs forming massive flocks, roosting in their hundreds in parks and green areas. They are the feral offspring of parakeets that escaped into the wild some 30 years ago. The population is gradually spreading round the south of England; they are a hardy breed, well able to withstand the whims and vagaries of the British weather of which we Brits are so proud. And they surely do make a racket. On Abaco, the population density is such that a bit of rawking by parrots may cause some problems, but in fairly limited areas only (I stand to be corrected by people driven nearly mad by the sound). Now imagine all that noise in a city of over 8 million people. Calls for selective culls of these non-indigenous birds are becoming more insistent; some flocks are so huge that besides all the squawking causing a nuisance, car paintwork and so forth takes a bit of a hit, if I may put it like that.
We frequently get the parakeets in the garden, normally singly or in pairs – especially when the feeders are full. They prefer to feed at awkward-seeming angles, upside down being a particular favourite. Until yesterday I’d never really made a connection with the Abaco parrot. I know which species I’d prefer to have in our garden, but I’m not saying, of course. Despite its ill-defined boundaries, this blog is a strictly opinion-neutral and controversy-free territory…
“A word in your ear – don’t trust those two above… they’re, like,soooooooo FERAL”
“PROBABLY THE BEST BAHAMAS WILDLIFE & SCIENCE APP IN THE WORLD…”
Actually, there’s no “probably” about it! This brand new app CLICK242 NATUREis undoubtedly the ‘ne plus ultra’ and ‘canine’s orchids’ of the Bahamas natural history app world. It’s available now on iTunes for iPad, iPhone, iTouch and iWotsit - and it’s totally free, gratis, and owt for nowt. Some of you may have wandered onto my APPS REVIEWpage, perhaps in error, where I have look at various sorts of useful app pertaining to wildlife or the Bahamas (or preferably both). Some are excellent, some a bit ‘ho hum’, and there’s been one shocker where no star rating was possible…
And now this shiny app has arrived just in time for you to give to yourself for Christmas, and at no personal cost. You can even afford to give it to family and friends and bathe in the warm glow of their happy smiling faces…
This app does a great deal – indeed it is a one-stop portal for many of the Abaco, Eleuthera and wider Bahamas organisations, NGOs, science & environmental sites, wildlife blogs etc that many follow. And with a photo section! It is designed to make sharing easy in all familiar formats. The official description will give you a pretty good idea of what is covered, so I will add it in full below.
I can’t help but notice in the image to the left the words “Rolling Har…” in the top menu. And yes, astonishingly this frankly somewhat haphazard blog finds itself in exalted company on the Planet of the Apps. It’s a bit uncomfortable with that, but delighted to have been allowed a small part to play in the venture.
My minor participation in the project (and natural diffidence) inhibits me from giving this excellent resource the 5* rating it so obviously deserves, so I’ll simply say that I think the many people interested in the natural history, the science and the environmental issues of the Bahamas will welcome this new app as a valuable, constantly updated resource.
“The Click242 app is your daily dose of what is going on in the Bahamian environmental field. This FREE app is designed to increase public awareness about the Bahamian environment and the organizations which work to educate the public and manage the country’s natural resources, including protected areas.
It allows resource managers, users, scientists, students, teachers, visitors and interested persons to connect with various environmental groups and stay up to date with the latest blogs, activities, photos, videos and events within the environmental arena”.
EASILY CONNECT WITH FEATURED ORGANIZATIONS
Andros Conservancy and Trust (ANCAT)
Bahamas National Trust (BNT)
Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation (BREEF)
Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO)
Bahamas Sea Turtle Research (BSTR)
Bahamians Educated in Natural and Geographic Sciences (BEINGS)
Community Conch (CC)
Friends of the Environment (FRIENDS)
Gerace Research Centre (GRC)
Leon Levy Preserve (LLP)
Nature’s Hope for South Andros
One Eleuthera (1E)
Young Marine Explorers (YME)
CLICK242: NATURE INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING FEATURES Science Blogs from the Abaco Scientist, Rolling Harbour and the Cape Eleuthera Institute. Featured Content covers projects and new efforts in the environmental arena.
HIGHLIGHTS Photos from across The Bahamas, posted by featured organizations; Current Facebook pages for various environmental organizations and groups; Easily navigate to and watch videos from featured groups and YouTube; Articles, news, blogs, photos and videos can be shared with your friends via facebook, twitter and email.
Christmas time. Holidays. Festive season. Yuletide. ġéohol*. Noel. Winterval. However you describe it, there’s a reassuring ritual each year. To many, the familiar religious carols and rites. To all, the cheerful sound of jingling tills. The exchange of presents happily bought and excitedly received. The groaning table weighted with victuals. Light and laughter. Glasses generously filled and refilled. Sudden growing dizziness and a strange lack of coordination. Wondering what others are saying. Wondering what you are saying. Drowsiness. Overwhelming sleepiness. The passage of time. The groaning hangover as seven West Indian woodpeckers attack your skull with hammer-drills… Time for a soothing image.
Where was I? Oh yes. This is a very good time to draw attention to the various wildlife organisations based on Abaco and in the wider Bahamas. During the year they look after the birds, the marine mammals and so forth that help make Abaco such a very special place to be. I am simply going take the opportunity to post the link to my updated page forABACO WILDLIFE CHARITIES. Oh. I just have. Well, is there one that appeals to you, I wonder? Just asking… Meanwhile, here’s the music of the heading to get you in the mood
Time to write some more about Abaco’s most famous bird, the unique ground-nesting Amazon / Cuban parrot sub-species that makes Abaco its home, and breeds in the pine forests of the Abaco National Park in the south of the island. You’ll find lots of information and photos on the dedicated page ABACO PARROTS.
This post covers the 2012 breeding season, and highlights the success of scientist Caroline Stahala and her team in helping to secure the future of these rare endangered birds. The population had shrunk to around 2500 (or fewer) some years ago. More recently it had risen to 3000. An intensive conservation program, including anti-predation measures, has proved effective; and a systematic ringing program has enabled the team to keep a close eye on recovering parrot numbers. Caroline says that the population is now in the region of 4000, confirming an encouraging reversal of a dismal decline towards extinction for these beautiful birds.
ABACO PARROTS IN THE PINE FOREST
The parrots breed only in the pine forest, where they nest in quite deep holes in the limestone rock. This makes the nests and the areas round them vulnerable to predation from feral cats and rodents etc; but conversely it offers protection from the forest fires that would destroy tree nests.
The holes are often well concealed in the undergrowth and take some searching for…
Both parents are involved in the nesting and later chick care. The female lays 2 – 4 eggs.
The chicks hatch after an incubation period of around 26 days
Some of the nest holes are remarkably deep: the parent parrots clamber up and down the sides
The chicks grow the beginnings of feathers, remaining quite unattractive except to their parents
By coincidence, as I was producing the post above, Craig Layman at THE ABACO SCIENTIST was also ruminating on the topic of Abaco parrot breeding. He posted the comments below, which raise the very interesting question whether the Abaco parrots, with their increased population, may be starting to breed outside the National park. Caroline can probably answer this (see COMMENTS), but does anyone have any direct evidence to suggest a wider breeding habitat? I guess there would need to be a suitably pitted rock structure for the nests, and an absence of the usual cat- and rat-type predators that one might find nearer human populations. Answers welcomed via the comment box…
(Sort of) A Bahama Parrot Study
Posted by laymanc 26 Nov 2012
It isn’t really much of a study, but the only “science” I have been able to do over the last week with the continued turbidity of nearshore waters.
The Bahama parrot (more informationHERE andHERE)is one of the iconic Bahamas animals, and the main factor behind the establishment of theABACO NATIONAL PARKin southern Abaco. But my study has been conducted instead from my desk in Little Harbour. My main finding is simple: the range of the parrot has clearly expanded; it has now been a full calendar in which parrots have been in the area. Just a few days ago two dozen were squawking around the harbour. The key will be whether they begin nesting here as well – I havent heard reports of that yet. But if they do, the expanding nesting range will substantially increase long term viability of the parrot on Abaco. That ends my first ever Bahama parrot study (I really need more time in the water when I come back).
Not the feeblest punning title on this blog, but going hard for the avian-related booby prize. As it were. Many months ago I did a short post about these tiny plovers, and had begun to update it. Then I found that both the BNTand theABACO SCIENTIST are onto them too. Thanks to them, I have some excellent added material further down the page… But first, here’s a quick cut out ‘n’ keep summary
SIZECharadrius melodusis a Very Small Shorebird
HABITAT Rocky shores / sandy beaches; nesting in higher, drier areas of the shoreline where there is cover
RANGE From Canada (summer) down to the Gulf of Mexico (winter). They head south in August and return in March
Credit: Xeno-Canto / Google
CALLA thin whistled peep peeping, whether standing or flying, and a two-note alarm call [There are surprisingly few Piping Plover call samples online. Many sites - Audubon, eNature, Birdwatchers Digest - all seem to have the same one. So I'll credit them all and the originator Lang Elliot and hope I've covered my back...]
BREEDING The male digs out several scrapes on the high shoreline. The female contemplates these efforts, and (if any meet her ideal domestic criteria) chooses her preferred one, which she then decorates (grass, weed, shells etc). Meanwhile, Mr Peep tries to impress her by chucking pebbles around, dive-bombing her, and strutting around her importantly and “fluffed up” [none of these tactics work in human courtship, in my experience]. If Mrs Peep (a) likes the home she has chosen and furnished and (b) has recovered from her fit of the giggles at all that performance, she permits mating to proceed
NESTING First nests normally have 4 eggs; later ones fewer. Both share incubation and subsequent parental ‘brooding’ duties
DEFENCE Plovers have a defensive “broken wing display” used to distract predators and draw attention away from the nest
THREATS Larger birds, cats, raccoons etc. Human disturbance. Plovers and chicks are vulnerable to storms & abnormal high tides
ZOOM…! Capable of running at astonishing speed over short distances. When they stop, they often snap the head back and forward.
STATUS Depending on area, treated either as Threatened or Endangered; IUCN listing NT
CONSERVATION Historically PP feathers were used as decoration in wealthy women’s hats – no longer a problem. Shoreline development and alterations to natural coastline are now the leading cause of population decline. This has been reversed through field and legislative protection programs, especially at nesting sites; public education; anti-predation measures; and restricting human access in vulnerable areas – including off-roading…
STOP PRESS Nov 18Sean has just posted a professional / scientific article about piping plovers, with some very useful information specific to Abaco and some helpful links, over at theABACO SCIENTIST. Clicking through is highly recommended if you want to know more about these little birds
This is the characteristic ‘pigeon-toed’ stance – they run that way too…
RICARDO JOHNSON’S 6 MINUTE VIDEO ‘PIPING PLOVERS’
Ricky is a well-known, infectiously enthusiastic, and compendiously knowledgeable Abaco nature guide (this guy gets way too much free publicity in this blog…). As I wrote when I originally posted it “In this video he focusses his binoculars on piping plovers, a threatened species of tiny plover which annually makes a long migration to the Bahamas, including Abaco – and then heads all the way north again.”
If this video doesn’t make you smile at some stage, I suspect a SOH bypass and / or your ‘anti-cute’ setting is jammed on. Even so you’ll see the differences between the piping plover and the more familiar Wilson’s plover.
The BNT / ABSCI material originates from the Audubon Society. If you want to know about the annual journeys of these little birds and where they are in each season, it’s all here. The item was made in conjunction with theESRI mapping project. I’ve put a screenshot below to give a general idea of what’s involved [click to enlarge] and you can reach the interactive Audubon page if you CLICKPIPING PLOVER
Credits:Wiki (images), Audubon Soc, Xeno-Canto, Lang Elliot & partners, Ricky Johnson
BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO – PRETTY FAMILIAR BIRDS
Both pretty and familiar, in fact. Birds of the pine-woods, coppice, garden… and feeder. They are an unremarkable species, they don’t have off-beat avian habits, they aren’t scarce… but if they weren’t there, you’d probably miss them. Males and females have notably different colouring, with the female having a bright eye-ring. They tend to hang out in pairs or small groups. These little birds are abundant in the north Bahamas, but like many species found there, they are only very rarely found in south Florida.
MALE BFG IN THE COPPICE NEAR THE DELPHI CLUB
A MALE BFG DEEP IN THE PINE FOREST NEAR THE SAWMILL SINK BLUE HOLE
No two books describe their call in the same way. I’m not venturing into the vexed field of avian phonetics of the ‘chip chip chip kerrrrr–ching’ variety… so here’s a very clear recording of the song of Tiaris bicolor from the excellent Xeno-Canto (Paul Driver)
FEMALE BFGs EAGERLY SNACKING ON THE FEEDERS AT THE DELPHI CLUBTHESE TWO PHOTOS SHOW THE DISTINCTIVE EYE RING OF THE FEMALE BFG
This post is a slight, alright huge, cheat. It’s been a Hurricane Sandy-dominated week. I have been posting / updating daily about the storm: the before, during and after for Abaco. Weather predictions. Trackers. Pics. Views from space. Several thousand hits later, and I realise that, as for Irene last year, the world is thirsty for information about cyclones and the communities affected by extreme weather. The power and communication problems faced by Abaco (as elsewhere) at these times increases the global concern. There have been emails asking for information about damage at Green Turtle Cay; if I know how uncle Fred on Elbow Cay is faring; and what of Saucy Sue in Marsh Harbour (the boat, not the person)…
Now that the storm has passed, power and comms are mostly restored, and the clean-up underway on Abaco it’s thankfully back to wildlife. Some interesting birds are called for to spread some cheer.These two species will be familiar but not in the setting shown…
PINK FLAMINGOS (Phoenicopterus)
Cheat 1: These birds were photographed… in captivity. Not quite the same as the real wild thing, I agree. To see wild ones on Inagua during the past breeding season, check out my earlier post with wonderful photographs by Melissa Maura CLICKHERE
Cheat 2: They are not in fact the Bahamas / Caribbean species, now I come to think of it. But they are undeniably pretty and cheering.
WHITE PELICANS (Pelicanus)
The birds below are American White Pelicans, not the Brown Caribbean Pelican familiar in the Bahamas. This isn’t a real cheat, however, since these birds are listed (in some sources at least) as ‘accidentals’ in the Bahamas. These’s always the chance that you might see a stray one. And if anyone has – especially if they have a photo – I’d be most interested to know.
A SERIES OF ABACO PARROT PAINTINGS BY ANTONIUS ROBERTS
The wonderful parrots of Abaco are often featured hereabouts, and with good reason. They are the only subspecies of cuban parrot to nest underground, a unique species adaptation that protects them from fires in the pine forest of the ABACO NATIONAL PARK where they breed. However this in turn makes them vulnerable to predation. An intensive long-term conservation and predation-reduction program headed by scientist Caroline Stahala has reversed the decline of this iconic bird. Numbers have increased from fewer than 2500 some years ago to an estimated 4000.
There are places on Abaco – south Abaco in particular – where the parrots congregate in noisy groups during the day. Many people manage to take photographs of them. Good photographers with a decent lens can get outstanding results. Even the camera-incompetent (I hear my name!) can manage the occasional first-class photo, given time and plenty of spare space on the camera card… But very few can do justice to these colourful birds in paint.
A recent reception was held in Nassau to showcase this series of paintings. You will find more about them by clicking the link to open a pdf of the reception brochureABACO PARROT PAINTINGSCaroline Stahala contributed an excellent one-page article about the Abaco Parrots and their conservation – click on it to enlarge to legible size
The hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus) inhabits forest, woodland or coppice over a wide area of the North American continent and the islands to the east, including the Bahamas. They are mostly permanent residents, though there is a degree of migration within their territorial area.
They are a very familiar sight on Abaco, along with their larger cousins the West Indian Woodpecker. These birds forage on trees for insects, turning over bark or excavating deeper. They also feed on fruits, berries and nuts. It’s not unusual for them to attack the woodwork on houses in a search for bugs…
This male hairy woodpecker is prospecting a promising hole near the Delphi Club guest driveThe marks at the bottom of the hole suggest this may be a nesting hole – past, present or futureIt’s certainly deemed worth further investigation… if only he had someone to share it with
He may be in luck! This female hairy woodpecker was in the coppice not far away… A female HW is smaller than the male and lacks the male’s distinctive red head marking. They nest in a tree hole like the one above, where the female usually produces four white eggs.
BEDRAGGLED ABACO PARROTS, & AN AMERICAN KESTREL TAKES OFF…
It’s a fine June day. Perfect for a morning out with Ricky Johnson, the omniscient leader of ABACO NATURE TOURS. Want parrots? He’ll take you to them. Want a Bahama Woodstar ‘pished’ from its deep cover into the open? He’s your man. And as for wrassling land crabs – see LANDCRAB andLANDCRAB: THE SEQUELWe set off from the Delphi Club in sunshine and hope…
Sure enough, we found the parrots at Bahama Palm Shores, so often a good bet. This was (Ricky said) a non-breeding flock, the breeders all being otherwise detained in the National Park with their nests and eggs. Out of nowhere, a sudden short, sharp downpour arrived, and 5 minutes later, everything – everyone – was soaked. And so, of course, were the parrots. At first I discounted the resulting photos for use. These lovely, rare birds are made to be seen in their bright cheerful livery of green, red and blue. These wet ones looked… black. I usually try to avoid doing much (or any) ‘work’ on my photos, but for these I tried changing the contrast a bit and realised that they looked rather appealing with their dark, damp feathers and unkempt appearance. So I’ve decided to use a few images. Here they are, then: some sodden parrots!
While we were damply watching the parrots, Ricky spotted an American Kestrel near the top of a tree. Heads swivelled. It was some way away, but we could see it looking a bit dejected, huddled in the palm fronds. Then suddenly, just as I pressed the camera button, the kestrel stretched itself upright, raised its wings, and launched itself into the sky. The two photos below are frankly of marginal quality (on a high “blur setting”, as you might say) but the second one has caught the rain-drenched kestrel’s take-off about as well as a point ‘n’ shoot at that distance could…
ABACO BIRDWALK WITH THE BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST – OCTOBER 20th
This sounds a lot of fun, and I wish I could be taking part. I’ve never been on Abaco in the autumn when the winter migrants start to arrive as the weather cools in their summer breeding grounds. It must be exciting to see the various species gradually reappear after their summer break, presumably with all the young birds born this year that will see Abaco (and the feeders!) for the first time. If any blog-follower goes on the expedition and happens to keeps a birding record, I would love to know which species you have seen . And if anyone gets some good pics, likewise…
ABACO BIRD ID CHALLENGE (FOR NON-EXPERTS ONLY): THE SOLUTION
This small bird (Oh. I’ve given away the size already) was photographed in June. I was looking through a batch of downloaded photos recently. When I saw it again, I knew at once which bird species it belonged to – but not the specific make. I did some research and came up with the answer. I’d nailed the ID – or thought I had. The photo was a long shot which I had to enlarge to see the markings more clearly, hence a lower overall quality. I sent the jpeg to an officially avian-knowledgeable person for confirmation (hi, Alex!). The reply was swift. No, not the bird ‘swift’, I mean it was quick. It turns out that I was, as so often, completely wrong. Barking up the wrong tree. Chirping in the wrong nest. Perched on the wrong branch…
I’d say there are two definitely plausible candidates, and you may even think of others. So what bird is it? You can click on it to enlarge it. Please join in and give your answer using ‘leave a comment’ (tiny letters at the end of this post) or email firstname.lastname@example.org Or, if you are seeing this on Facebook, please reply on that.
UPDATE Thanks for emails. Opinion is divided, but one of the 2 candidates is definitely ahead… I’ll leave this over the weekend
SOLUTION Of the few replies, most were right. One or 2 were (wrongly) with me – I reckoned it was a SWAINSON’S WARBLER. No one suggested turkey vulture. The correct ID, and the reasons for it, were provided by Alex Hughes, to whom thanks: “The first bird is aBLACK-WHISKERED VIREO. The black supercilium going through the eye and the heavy bill are good marks, which can resemble a Swainson’s Warbler, but a clinching mark here is the yellow wash underneath the tail at the rear of the bird”.
While I am dealing with mystery birds, I posted photos of a very sweet littleJUVENILE BANANAQUIT about a month ago. At the end I added a photo, which again has since been positively identified (thanks again, Alex)
“Finally, this bird was a distance shot. At the time, it looked larger than a bananaquit – more Loggerhead Kingbird-sized. Before I had downloaded the image and could see it clearly [rather than on the screen on the back of the camera], I’d wondered about a mangrove cuckoo. Then I saw at once that it didn’t tick the right boxes. So I decided it must just be a huge bananaquit with an orange rather than yellow front. If it’s anything else (a rare hybrid spindalisquit?), please say so!” It is a indeed bananaquit, but in my limited experience I have never seen one with a spindalis-orange front. Can anyone say if that is a common colouring on Abaco, or unusual?
FLAMINGO BREEDING SEASON ON INAGUA, BAHAMAS with MELISSA MAURA
Flamingos. The national bird of the Bahamas, featured in the nation’s Coat of Arms. But sadly no longer available to view on Abaco**, despite sporadic attempts to reintroduce them as breeding birds on the island (the last, I believe, about 15 years ago). By the end of the c19, numbers were already small. During his field trip in 1886, naturalist F.H.Herrick noted“The rare flamingo is now reduced to a colony of a few hundred on Abaco, where, as I was informed by an old settler, they numbered thousands several years ago, and similarly the beautiful tropic bird, which is hunted chiefly for food, is being gradually exterminated”.
Ornithologist Charles Cory noted none on his visit to Abaco in 1891 (though he does seem to have been concentrating on smaller birds). In 1905, naturalist Glover M. Allen reported his Abaco findings in THE AUK Magazine, which I have summarised elsewhere: “Of particular interest is… the apparently imminent loss of the flamingo (“fillymingo”) from the Northern Bahamas – a single colony only still surviving on the Abaco Marls by 1905″. There remained a breeding population on the Abaco Marls until the mid-c20, but they then appear simply to have died out there (and more generally in the northern Bahamas).
** For the second time this week, nature has outshone mere bloggery. First, I wondered when a manatee might visit Abaco. Answer: right now! Georgie has taken her first long trip from her new home on the Berry Is to visit Abaco – see HERE. And now Sean Giery has responded to a link to this flamingo post on the excellent ABACO SCIENTIST website to say“I just saw my first flamingo last week flying over the beach at Crossing Rocks. It would be great to see them make a comeback on Abaco”. That’s a wonderful prospect.
WEST INDIAN FLAMINGO Phoenicopterus ruber (BNT Article)
The West Indian Flamingo is hardly one to get confused with other birds. Its long legs, long neck and characteristic pink colour make these birds like no other. The West Indian Flamingo has a large, heavy, down curved bill that is most often described by the layperson as “strange”. Adults can reach up to five feet in height.
Even though the Flamingo is a strong flier, it is really quite shy and prefers to live in remote and lonely places. Usually these are rather desert-like spots, dry islands and shorelines where salt is made, and where few other creatures can survive. The island of Great Inagua fits that portfolio perfectly. This is where the majority of West Indian Flamingos are found in The Bahamas. The flock breeds around Lake Windsor (Rosa) which lies within the boundaries of Inagua National Park.
The West Indian Flamingo which once roamed the entire neo-tropical region (tropical Americas) was hunted to a near extinction. Today the West Indian Flamingo is mostly found on the island of Great Inagua in the Bahamas but has also recolonized islands in the Bahamas such as Mayaguana, Crooked and Acklin islands, Exumas, Long Island and Andros.The West Indian Flamingo has also recolonized other countries such as Aruba; Brazil; Colombia; Cuba; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; French Guiana; Guyana; Haiti; Jamaica; Mexico; Netherlands Antilles; Suriname; Trinidad and Tobago; Turks and Caicos Islands; United States and Venezuela.
Flamingos are filter feeders and feed on the microscopic plants and animals found in ponds and mud. The larvae of the salt marsh fly is one of the major constituents of the diet of West Indian Flamingos. They also eat brine shrimp, small snails as well as other forms of animal and vegetable life so small that they can scarcely be seen without the aid of a microscope! Although small in size, this food is rich in a protein called beta-carotene which gives Flamingos their characteristic colour. Flamingos stir up their food from shallow water and separate it from the mud and water by pumping and straining it through their bill. They are the only birds which feed with their bill upside down!
Flamingo breeding activity usually begins in early March when huge flocks gather and engage in elaborate and loud courtship displays. This is almost like a very large dance – the massed birds parade together shoulder to shoulder, preforming head flagging (waving the head from side to side), wing salutes (opening the wings to expose the black flight feathers) and the twist preen (twisting the neck over the back and pretending to preen itself whilst stretching out on of its wings. The chorus of courting birds can be heard miles away. This synchronized courtship dance stimulates the birds to breed at the same time, ensuring that the chicks are hatched around the same time.
When the courtship displays are all over the pairs are formed and the building of the nest mounds begins usually around April. Nests are built on the ground out of mud and are baked hard by the sun. The nest which resembles small volcanoes, can be from a few inches high to sometimes over two feet high a shallow crater at the top. This is where the single egg is deposited. Flamingos lay one white egg that is about twice the size of a hen’s egg. Both parents share in incubation which takes exactly 28 days to hatch.
Flamingo chicks look nothing like their parents. They are covered with a thick coat of white down and have pink bills and feet. Both parents feed the chick a secretion from the crop gland in the neck known as “flamingo milk” or “crop milk”. This “milk” is a concentration of fats and proteins (similar to mammals milk) and has a very high amount of beta-carotene making it a bright red colour. When they are about 30 days old the chicks have changed to a dark gray down and start to feed themselves but still eat from their parents if they can. By three months the chicks are fully grown and become a bright pink colour signalling that they are sexually mature to the rest of the colony.
In the 1950′s it was thought that was hunted down to a small population of about 5,000 only on the island of Inagua, Bahamas. With the help of the National Audubon Society in the United States, the creation of the Bahamas National Trust and the appointment of park wardens, the Inagua population grew to approximately 60,000 – a true conservation success story. It also became illegal to harm or capture this bird under the Bahamas Wild Bird (Protection) Act. The IUCN redlist of threatened species lists the West Indian Flamingo as a species of Least Concern due to the fact that the population is currently expanding and increasing its range. However, The Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) lists the West Indian Flamingo in Appendix II which limits the exportation of the species as it can cause the species to become endangered.
Natural threats: Building nests directly on the ground make Flamingos vulnerable to a number of predators. The eggs can be trampled by wild donkeys and boar that roam freely in the same area where Flamingos live and nest.
Hunting: As flamingos only bare one chick a year, it makes them vulnerable to over exploitation. Although Flamingo meat is eaten in other Caribbean countries, it is illegal to harm, capture or kill the Flamingo in The Bahamas.
Historical Threats: The Flamingo was hunted for its big, pink feathers that were used to decorate hats and other nonessential items. Low flying planes of World War II over Andros wreaked havoc on the Flamingo population. This noisy disturbance drove these shy birds away- so much so that their return was doubtful.
The Flamingo is the national bird of The Bahamas. The West Indian Flamingo is also refered to as the American, Caribbean or Rosey Flamingo. There are a total of 6 species of flamingos in the world. The other species are Andean Flamingo (Phoenicoparrus andinus), Chilean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis), Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus), Lesser Flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor), Puna (James’s) Flamingo (Phoenicoparrus jamesi). The Greater Flamingo is closest related to the West Indian Flamingo. Despite the Greater Flamingo being a larger size and considerably less brightly coloured, some authorities consider them the same species but different sub-species.
BOBOLINKS: MIGRATORY SONGBIRDS OF ABACO & THE BAHAMAS
Occasionally vacation plans disrupt the flow in the smoothest of operations. A smear of suntan cream in the well-oiled machinery of a blog. Or a well-oiled operator over-sampling the local produce – wine, in these parts. So it pays to follow the Blue Peter principle of ‘Here’s one I prepared earlier’. Except regrettably I didn’t do it properly and have been struggling to unpick some html on an iPhone. Don’t ever try it. Luckily the ever-resourceful Mrs RH brought an iPad along. Much less fiddly. So I am now able to feature the BOBOLINK (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), a small New World blackbird
14 ESSENTIAL BOBOLINK FACTS TO ENTERTAIN YOUR FAMILY & FRIENDS
Adults weigh about 1 ounce (28 g)
The collective name for a group of Bobolinks is a ‘chain’
One bird was tracked flying 12,000 miles (19,000 km) in one year
A bobolink has been tracked covering 1,100 miles (1,800 km) in one day
The birds migrate in flocks, feeding on cultivated grains and rice, which may annoy farmers
Despite their flying stamina Bobolinks have rarely been sighted in Europe
In South American they are known as “ricebirds”
In Jamaica they are sometimes eaten and are called “butterbirds”
Bobolinks forage on or near the ground eating seeds and insects.
Their breeding habitats are open grassy fields across North America
Males are often polygynous, and take their vows shamefully lightly
Females lay 5 to 6 eggs in a cup-shaped nest on the ground, hidden in dense vegetation
Both parents feed the young, except when the male has some important singing to do (often)
Although currently rated “of least concern” their numbers are declining due to loss of habitat
WAYS IN WHICH THE BOBOLINK HAS INSPIRED ARTISTS (despite its unpromising name)
Emily Dickinson wrote several poems about the bird, including “The nicest bird, I always think / Is the tiny Bobolink / To me, it never had occurred / Thus to name a songstrel bird”*
The Bobolink is also mentioned in a song called Evelina, from a musical called “Bloomer Girl” (me neither): “Evelina, won’t ya ever take a shine to that moon? / Evelina, ain’t ya bothered by the Bobolink’s tune?”**
The Bobolink is name-checked by Nabokov; in a poem by Sophia Jewett, An Exile’s Garden (1910); and it has a fly-on part in a film “The Mouse on the Moon”
Finally, a wonderful video showcasing the bubbling song of the bobolink(Credit: Themusicofnature)
* and ** I can’t be sure which of these is made up. Maybe neither. Or both.
I have been planning a Parrot Post for a while, but I’d like to be able to include a report on the breeding season – the eggs, the chicks, the fledging, the ringing, and the overall picture. It will be interesting to see if the recent trend of improvement in the population of these rare ground-nesting parrots has continued this year. Parrot expert Caroline Stahala, who leads the research and field work, is completing the season’s review, so there will be news, photos and perhaps short videos soon.