Piping Plover Tuna, banded in NJ, on Abaco 1 (Rhonda Pearce)


Hello again, readers of Mr Harbour’s blog. My name is Tuna. This is the second part of my diary. Last time HERE he called it an ‘autobiography’, but that was a bit pompous of him, I think. It’s 4 months now since I cracked out and after my long trip from that place [the Holgate Unit of the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey – ed.], I’m having a good time on Abaco – see my picture above. Michelle, who put my 4 cool rings on, would be proud of me I think.

Since my last post (which was also my first post! Ha!) some things have been happening to me. There I was, safely on my nice beach [Winding Bay, Cherokee Sound – map below] when the wind started to get scary and the sea kept coming further up the beach. And a whole lot more splashy. So I just hid at the back of the beach until it got better again. I knew if that nice lady came back to see me it would mean I could come out again. And she did. So I did. I showed her my bands so she’d know it was me. Green on blue; black on gray. That’s me and no other bird.

Piping Plover Tuna, banded in NJ, on Abaco 2 (Rhonda Pearce)

Showing Rhonda my bands so she knows mePiping Plover Tuna, banded in NJ, on Abaco 3 (Rhonda Pearce)

Mr Harbour wrote and told people about how I was ok after a big storm. He said:

“TUNA THE PIPL: UNRUFFLED BY HURRICANE JOAQUIN” Oct 3. Despite big seas & high winds reaching N Baha on the fringes of the hurricane, Tuna has returned safely to Watching Bay. Photos clearly showing bands. π Rhonda Pearce”

A lot of people [c2000] read about this and Michelle said “yay!!! go tuna!!!”, so maybe people had been a bit worried about me. People passed the story round. What ever a ‘Chorlito Valiente’ is, it sounds good and I’m glad to be one. I’m doing just fine, thank you… 

IMG_5013 copy

                                                       piping-plover                     piping-plover                    piping-plover

Since then I had THE BEST NEWS. My mum Paula has been found! She’s gone to a different beach that’s not very close to here [Joulter Cays, Andros]. She got a different leg thing called a “UR Green Flag PE2” and somebody saw her! I’m so excited (and I hope my dad Ross is safe too). She was in a crowd of 32 other birds just like her, and a lot of other birds friends too. 

Joulter Cays, Andros, Sep 28. Thousands of shorebirds including over 100 PIPL. Including Paula.Piping Plovers & other shorebirds, Joulter Cays Andros

Tuna’s mum Paula, one of a group of 32 piping plovers on Joulter CaysPaula

“UR Green Flag PE2”12124591_10156120828430564_2098794849_o - Version 2

Joulter Cays, pinpointing Paula’s exact position 25.304095; -78.126642Joulter Cays, Andros (PIPL Paula)

I hope if I get that feeling again that I need to fly a long way, my mum gets it too. And my dad. Then we might all end up on the same beach where I cracked out! But I’m planning to stay on my own beach for now. More news from me soon. Cheeps from Tuna.

Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco jpg


  • JUN 10      Hatched
  • JUN 11      Banded & measured
  • JUL 05       Fledged
  • AUG 28     First sighted on Abaco – preliminary ID
  • SEP 16       Seen again on the same beach – ID confirmed
  • SEP 22       Last sighting before Hurricane Joaquin
  • SEP 28       Paula re-sighted on Joulter Cays, Andros
  • OCT 03      Tuna safely back on the beach again after Hurricane Joaquin

PIPL Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco. 1 bird. Banded. Rhonda Pearce 2 copy copy

NOTE If you ever wondered why birds are banded and what on earth use it is, the answer is in this story. Banding & tagging enables detailed research at both ends of the migration which in turn enables protection of the species and conservation of threatened habitats. There are only 8000 PIPL left. Degradation of the breeding grounds or the overwintering grounds – let alone both – may result in extinction. This seems to have been a good summer for the piping plover; let’s hope the winter treats them well so that this summer’s chicks like Tuna will be able to breed safely next year.

For details of all this season’s PIPL sightings, check out ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH 




Credits: thanks to bander Michelle Stantial, birder Rhonda Pearce, CWFNJ & cohorts, Matt Jeffery and all other providers of info snippets; Birdorable for the cartoon; and as ever Xeno-Canto for the recording


 Tuna the Piping Plover: from New Jersey to Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)


Hello, readers of Mr Harbour’s blog. My name is Tuna. This is the first part of my autobiography, and I’m only just 3 months old. I’ve already made a 1000-mile journey to Abaco for reasons I don’t quite understand. Maybe because it’s nice and warm here. This is my story so far.

I was born on June 10th in the Holgate Unit of the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey. If I’d known then what was ‘beautiful’ was, this would have been it.


My dad is called Ross. My mum is called Paula. I had a brother but suddenly he stopped being there. We didn’t see him again, I never knew why. Anyway, the day after I was born a very kind lady called Michelle picked me up and sort of cuddled me in her fingers. I was weighed and measured. She also put coloured rings on my top bits of leg. I had blue & green on one leg and black & gray on the other. Very smart. A chic chick. It was very quick and it didn’t hurt at all. After that I never really thought about them again, they just were part of me. As I grew bigger they sort of grew with me.

It made for an exciting first full day of my life, June 11. Here are some pictures of Michelle doing this with other chicks from the same region so you can see how gentle she was. The chicks’ names were Meg, Joe and Nod. Mr Northside Jim watched them every day and took photos of them to record how they grew up. You can read about us and the other shorebirds, Ospreys and Peregrine Falcons  of LBI NJ HERE

Meg being picked up for measuring and bandingpicking-up-piping-plover chick1 π Northside Jim LBI NJ

Banding Meg with a unique colour combo for IDpiping-plover-chick-banding-lbi π Northside Jim LBI NJ

Beak and leg measuringpiping-plover-chick-measurement π Northside Jim LBI NJ

I grew very quickly and my mum and dad showed me how to get food for myself. They looked after me in the nest and kept an eye on me when I went for a wander. Soon I was trying out my wings to see what would happen. Nothing. 

This isn’t me but was taken quite near my bit of beach. Can you see the other chick?Piping Plovers Conserve Wildlife Foundation NJ

It’s fun exploring the big world but it’s dangerous for little birds. I lost several friends along the way. That’s how my brother disappeared I think. As you grow bigger the world seems to get smaller. Which is weird.piping-plover-sit-in-dune π Northside Jim LBI NJmeg-beach-pea PIPL chick π Northside Jim LBI NJ

I got good at finding my own food, going further away from the nest and trying out the water. My wings seemed to be starting to work a bit. Quite soon I felt nearly ready to have a go at flying.Piping Plover (juv) CT (Danny Sauvageau)

On July 5 I managed to fly. Yup, I fledged and I flew. That was only 25 days after I cracked out. Mum and Dad had been talking about making a journey, a long one, and wondering when I would be ready for it. This was puzzling. I liked it where we were. But something was telling me I needed to fly somewhere else for some reason. Then one day I just took off and headed south…

_Piping_Plover_on_the_Fly (USFWS Mountain-Prairie wiki)

After several days of flying and landing in new places to rest and flying again, I reached a place that I knew was exactly right. I don’t know how, but something told me that it would be a good place to stay until I needed to move again. So I landed on a beach called Watching Bay on Abaco. I’d travelled 1000 miles from where I cracked out, and I wasn’t even 3 months old. Cool, huh?

EBF NWR to Cherokee Map jpg

There were some other birds on the beach, including one just like me except she didn’t have any coloured rings. Ha! There were very few humans apart from a few taking a walk. On Aug 28 one lady stopped and pointed something at me. I wonder why? She kept her distance so I wasn’t scared.

August 28 Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco. Rhonda Pearce’s photos led to provisional ID of Tuna
#10 Aug 28. Watching Bay, Cherokee Abaco. 1 bird. Banded. Rhonda Pearce 2#10 Aug 28. Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco. 1 bird. Banded. Rhonda Pearce 1

There was plenty to eat on the beach, and it was quite sheltered from the wind. It seemed safe. I liked it a lot and decided to stay there

Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco jpg

On Sep 16 I saw the same lady again, and she saw me. She was very careful not to get me worried, and she pointed that thing at me again. Then she walked away. I hope she comes back. She seems nice.

Sept 16 Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco. Rhonda’s new photos led to confirmed ID of TunaTuna the Piping Plover: from New Jersey to Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)      Tuna the Piping Plover: from New Jersey to Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)Tuna the Piping Plover: from New Jersey to Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)  #19 PIPL Bands close-up jpg

I’m planning to stay on this beach for now. More news from me soon. Cheeps from Tuna.

PIPL Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco. 1 bird. Banded. Rhonda Pearce 2 copy copy


  • JUN 10      Hatched
  • JUN 11      Banded & measured
  • JUL 05       Fledged
  • AUG 28     First sighted on Abaco – preliminary ID
  • SEP 16       Seen again on the same beach – ID confirmed
  • SEP 22       Last sighting before Hurricane Joaquin
  • OCT 03       Back on the beach again after Hurricane Joaquin

STOP PRESS Tuna’s mother Paula was re-sighted on Sep 28 on Joulter Cays, Andros

NOTE If you ever wondered why birds are banded and what on earth use it is, the answer is in this story. Banding & tagging enables detailed research at both ends of the migration which in turn enables protection of the species and conservation of threatened habitats. There are only 8000 PIPL left. Degradation of the breeding grounds or the overwintering grounds – let alone both – may result in extinction. This seems to have been a good summer for the piping plover; let’s hope the winter treats them well so that this summer’s chicks like Tuna will be able to breed safely next year.

For details of all this season’s PIPL sightings, check out ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH 



Credits: huge thanks for info and fab photos to Michelle Stantial, Northside Jim, Danny Sauvageau and Rhonda Pearce for the strands to weave this (slightly creative) tale; to USFWS Mountain-Prairie for the PIPL in flight; as always Xeno-Canto for bird sound recordings non pareil; oh, and Meg, Joe & Nod


Edwin B Forsythe NWR map


Mangroves, The Marls, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen, Rolling Harbour)


For some time now, there has been understandable concern about the increasing evidence of mangrove die-back in the Abaco Marls and elsewhere in Abaco waters. Scientific investigations are ongoing and you will find some of the survey results so far on the excellent Abaco Scientist interactive map HERE. You’ll find other relevant and authoritative mangrove material if you check out the BLOG menu of the website.
Abaco - The Marls

The ‘200 sq. miles’ in my map is debatable, depending what one includes. Other estimates are of 300 or even 400 sq. miles. Whichever, the Marls cover a massive area of mangroves, islets, flats, channels and wonderfully diverse wildlife. A large proportion of the many species – fish, birds, turtles etc – depend on the complex ecology of the mangroves for food, shelter and breeding. Depletion of the mangroves from whatever cause will have a direct effect on the creatures of the Marls.

Stingrays Abaco Marls 6

Ryann Rossi, a PhD student with North Carolina State University, has been researching the worrying phenomenon of mangrove die-back in the Marls this summer. She has written an interesting and informative  account (conveniently in the RH ‘Facts about…’ style) that was published in Abaco Scientist last week. The blue links will take you to the ABSCI site for further information on each topic. I’m grateful to Ryann and ABSCI for permission to use the material.

Five Things to Know About the Mangrove Die-back in The Marls (at this point, anyway)

1. This die-back appears to be the result of multiple stressors acting together. Think of it in the sense of our own body – when our immune system is down, we are often more susceptible to getting sick. The same thing is likely happening to the mangroves.Mangrove Die-back 1 (Abaco Scientist : Ryann Rossi)

2. It appears as though a fungal disease may be taking advantage of already stressed mangroves and causing die-back. We did preliminary surveys across Abaco and found fungal lesions nearly everywhere. However, the fungus was present in different densities in different areas. In the die-back area nearly all the leaves remaining on trees have lesions. We think that this pathogen capitalized on the mangroves being weakened by other stressors such as hurricanes, which cause extensive leaf drop, change in the movement of water, change in sedimentation and erosion.

Mangrove Die-back 2 (Abaco Scientist : Ryann Rossi) jpg

3. We are still working on identifying the pathogen associated with the lesions we’ve found. We are confident that it is a fungus and are currently growing fungal cultures in the lab to examine defining morphological characteristics in addition to using DNA sequencing to identify the culprit.

4. We have documented the presence of the Robust Bush Cricket (Tafalisca eleuthera) in the die-back areas as well as other areas with high densities of lesions. These crickets are documented to consume Red and White mangrove leaves. As such, we were concerned about their potential role in die-back. We set out a caging experiment to exclude the crickets from certain dwarf Red mangrove trees to see just how much grazing they may be doing in the die-back area. This experiment is ongoing.

Mangrove Die-back 3 (Abaco Scientist : Ryann Rossi) jpg

5. The take home: there is likely more than one causal agent of the die-back in The Marls. Many factors govern mangrove productivity and functioning: nutrient availability, salinity, sedimentation rate, herbivory, and disease are just a few of the factors that contribute to overall mangrove function making it very difficult to pin point which factors may be driving the die-off. On the bright side, we are confident that we have a lead on the causes and we are working hard in the field and laboratory to fully understand what is going on in The Marls.

By Ryann Rossi|August 26th, 2015|Disease, fungus, Insects, Mangroves and Creeks, The Marls
All pics below taken while fishing on the Marls except Melinda’s shark (I’ve never got a good one)
Hawksbill Turtle, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen)Bonefish Abaco Marls 4Shark 4 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyOsprey - Abaco Marls 1 Reddish Egret (White Morph), Abaco MarlsRoyal Tern, Abaco, Bahamas (Marls) 3Willet, The Marls, AbacoSouthern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 4)
FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT has also included an article on die-back by Ryann in its latest Newsletter:

Mangrove Die Off on Abaco by Ryann Rossi, NCSU

This summer Stephanie Archer and I continued research efforts focused on determining the cause of the mangrove die-off in The Marls (work funded by the National Science Foundation). Our efforts were predominantly focused on the fungal pathogen we found associated with the die-off site. We created a small citizen science and outreach project to document the presence or absence of the pathogen across Abaco. This project consisted of short surveys and leaf collections. In total, 92 areas were surveyed including locations from Abaco and San Salvador. We also took this outreach project to the annual Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation (BREEF) teacher training conference.  There we disseminated survey packets to teachers from islands throughout The Bahamas who will help us collect more data on the presence (or absence) of this pathogen on other Islands.

3 men on a skiff, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen : Rolling Harbour)

Three men on a skiff – Abaco Marls

On Abaco, we constructed an experiment to investigate the role of grazing and the presence of fungal lesions on Red mangroves. We simulated grazing using crafting scissors to cut small sections on 600 leaves in 4 different mangrove creeks. We observed the leaves for 28 days to determine if cutting leaves predisposed leaves to fungal infection. At these sites we also trapped for insects to gain an idea of what kind of grazers may be chewing on the leaves. We also did a series of disease incidence surveys that will be routinely monitored for disease progress over the next 2 years. These surveys will allow us to systematically track the progress of the disease. In addition to our field work, we spent many hours in the laboratory isolating fungi from leaves to grow in culture. These cultures were brought back to North Carolina State University and will be sequenced in order to help us identify the fungal pathogen responsible for making the lesions on the mangrove leaves.

Mangroves, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: Source material Ryann Rossi; Abaco Scientist; all photos © Keith Salvesen @ Rolling Harbour except those by Ryann / ABSCI in the main article and Melinda Riger’s cool shark


Semipalmated Sandpiper, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)


Having recently headlined a post for SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS with a web-related title, I’m repeating it for Abaco’s other part-webbed shorebird, the semipalmated sandpiper. Either it’s so apposite that it doesn’t need changing; or else I lack the imagination to think up something new…

Semipalmated Sandpiper (juv), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)
semipalmateThis attractive little sandpiper Calidris pusilla has the partially webbed feet that give it its name. In spring and fall these ‘peeps’ are the most numerous shorebirds on Abaco but they are just passing through on their migration further south – so-called ‘transients’. Flocks of these birds may be arriving any moment now on a beach near you. The signifiers are black legs, a short, straight dark bill, and a body that is white underneath and brown /gray on top, tinged lighter on the head and neck. 

Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla (MDF) 


Not really, I’m afraid. This species is very easy to confuse with other small shorebirds (with which they happily mingle), especially the less common western sandpiper which has a slightly longer and downturned bill. It takes an experienced birder to tell them apart. The most reliable way – to see the feet to check for the partial webbing between the toes – is far from easy. A photograph of the bird as it picks its way across sand, tide margins or mud may be best, if you can zoom in on the feet. The webbing is just visible in both the images above and the one below. 

 Semipalmated sandpiper (Thomas W. Gorman : Conserve Wildlife NJ


These are birds of the far north – Canada’s tundras and Alaska, close to water – where they breed and lay their eggs in scrapes. Rather sweetly, the male makes several prospective nests for the female to choose her favourite and furnish with grasses etc. Both adults share incubation duties. The chicks are independent almost as soon as they are hatched. Then in early fall they head many miles south to warmer places, of which Abaco is one of the most northerly, principally as a stopover for rest before continuing their journey to the coastal margins of South America. The migrating flocks may contain tens of thousands of birds. Of the many range maps around, this one from the excellent avibirds.com shows the marked contrast between the summer and winter habitats very clearly. 

Semipalmated Sandpiper distribution map (Avibirds.com)

Semipalmated Sandpiper (Dick Daniels Wiki)


The SPSP is one of the smallest shorebirds, the female being slightly larger than the male. This image shows 2 of them in the company of a much larger white-rumped sandpiper (also a transient on Abaco) for comparison.White-rumped Sandpiper + 2 semi-palmated(Woody Bracey)1 copy 2

Time now to get the binoculars out (now where on earth are they?) and patrol the beach to catch the first of these little birds as they begin to arrive in considerable numbers during their fall migration.Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

ADDENDUM a recent SPSP from Bruce Hallett, in which the semipalmation can be seen Semipalmated Sandpiper (Bruce Hallett)

Credits: Bruce Hallett (1, 2), MDF (3), Thomas Gorman / Conserve Wildlife Foundation NJ (4), Avibirds (infographic), Dick Daniels (5), Woody Bracey (6) [& comments – cheers], Alex Hughes (7)


Piping Plover 32 (banded as an adult in 2010 at Manistee, MI Sleeping Bear Dunes N L, MI)

Banded in Michigan in 2010 – in Florida right now!


It’s started already. The autumn migration of piping plovers from up north to down south. It seems only the other day (April in fact) that the last PIPL were seen on Abaco. Since then, they have spent the summer in their breeding grounds, raising families. This seems to have been a successful breeding season, with good reports that included a record number in the tiny Great Lakes population. But the attrition rate to predation is high: for example, of the 4 chicks in one family that was closely observed on Long Beach Island NJ, only one (‘Beth’) has survived.

Piping Plovers - 2 chicks, 2 eggs - CT (Danny Sauvageau)

Piping plovers: 2 chicks & 2 eggs, Connecticut


A recent estimate put the world’s supply of these little birds at 8000. And of these, many spend their winter in the Bahamas, Abaco being one of their favoured destinations. The survival of the species is in the balance. Habitat degradation at either end of their migrations could be disastrous; at both ends, more than doubly so.

Piping Plover (juv) CT (Danny Sauvageau)

Piping Plover juvenile, Connecticut


A number of organisations and individuals are dedicated to looking out for the PIPL. This includes ensuring preservation of habitat integrity and protection on the beaches where they nest, and banding programs so that birds can be tracked and monitored during their migrations. This is one aspect which people on Abaco (and elsewhere) can help with – looking out for these birds, reporting their location and how many are seen, and if possible describing the bling: colour of bands, which legs, which order,visible numbers etc. Or better still, taking photos!

Piping Plover CT (Danny Sauvageau)


On beaches and shorelines. On the mainland, places where they were reported last year included Long Beach, Crossing Rocks, Schooner Bay, the beach at Delphi, Bahamas Palm Shores, Casuarina and Little Harbour. They also visit the cays, with a number reported on Man-o-War Cay for example.Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 3


Well on their way south. Danny Sauvageau, who combines monitoring beaches in Florida with being a wonderful bird photographer, has just reported the first arrivals. On 23 July he saw 3 unbanded PIPL in Dunedin Fl. – here’s one of them.Piping Plover, Dunedin, FL (Danny Sauvageau)

Then on 29 July Danny found his first banded Piping Plovers of the 2015-16 wintering season at Fort Desoto – 6 birds of which 5 were banded. This enabled him to recognise them as returners, and to identify their origin: “Two were from the Great Lakes (Michigan), two were from the Great Plains (North Dakota and South Dakota) and one was from Nebraska!”.

These 3 examples show the wide variation in banding in the different locations. Which is why a photo of a bird’s legs is particularly helpful for the research into the species.

PPL-106- 2nd year at Ft Desoto - Banded in Nebraska PPL-35 - 3rd year at Ft Desoto - Banded as a chick 2012 Vermillion, MI along Lake Superior PPL-2 - 3rd year at Ft Desoto - Banded as a adult 2013 Whitefish Point, MI along Lake Superior

The CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION OF NJ is involved annually with researching the piping plovers of Abaco. Many will be familiar with the scientists Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger who visit each year to monitor the plovers. For those who do not already have a direct line to them I would be very pleased to receive reports of sightings to collate and pass on. The monitoring work provides exactly the kind of information that will help to ensure the survival of this adorable but vulnerable species. Please email me at rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com or, better still, upload info / pics to the new FB page I have set up, ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH 2015 – 16Piping Plover Charadrius melodus (Ontario, MDF : wiki)

The most helpful information to have is date; time; location; number of birds; whether banded or unbanded; and if banded, as much information as possible or ideally a photo…



The referencing in the title to a famous ‘disc’ from 1966 by a ‘popular beat combo’ does not presage a re-formation. In the past there was acrimony. Some drink ‘n’ drugs hell. Splits and re-formations. Sadly not all former members are still with us. Here’s a memory of them from (arguably) their most satisfyingly inventive era… **EARWORM ALERT** now you won’t be able to get the wretched tune out of your head. It’s given you ‘excitations’. Sorry about that.

Credits: All photos courtesy of Danny Sauvageau except ‘lone chick’ MDF & ‘chick in hand’ CWFNJ; shout outs to Danny, Todd, Stephanie and all PIPL researchers. Plus Bay Soundings. And the Beach Boys…

ADDENDUM AUG 2 A good article about the significance of banding can be found at BAY SOUNDINGS (based around Tampa Bay). It includes contributions from Danny and a useful info box:

Reporting banded birds

Reporting banded birds is one of the most important activities for citizen-scientists, says Wraithmell. “It’s the only way we have to solve the mystery of migration – to learn where they stop and where they winter so we can protect that habitat too.”

Most photographers stumble upon their first banded birds accidentally because they don’t always see the bands until they review their images on a computer screen. After that, they’ll learn to watch for the bands even if they don’t get close enough to see them with their naked eye.

“There’s something very exciting about photographing banded birds, learning where they came from and following their travels if they’ve been seen and reported before,” Sauvageau said.

But capturing an image shouldn’t outweigh allowing the bird to rest or feed in peace, Wraithmell said. “One thing that’s really important is not disturbing the birds, whether they’re nesting or just resting,” she said. If nesting birds are disturbed, they fly off and leave their eggs or babies in broiling sun and defenseless against predators. Wintering birds need to rest and pack on the pounds before they fly back to their summer breeding grounds.

“Some birds, like piping plovers, actually spend more time here than they do nesting,” she said. “Their main job over the winter is eating and resting so they can nest successfully. And breeding is hard work – it takes a lot of energy to make an egg and then to feed and defend a chick until it’s old enough to take care of itself.”

For the scientists who band birds, “it’s like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it in the sea,” Wraithmell said. “Every resighting is valuable because we learn something new.”



I return reluctantly to the “Great Shearwater” phenomenon to give, I hope, closure to the topic for this season and with luck for several years to come. A great many people have engaged with the debate about the large number unfortunate birds found either dead or dying in the water or (especially) on the beaches of Abaco and beyond. You can see the original post, a tabulation and map based on the reports I received or came across, and the views of the experts HERE

This occurrence appears to have declined considerably from its peak last week, presumably because the migration has moved rapidly northwards. Already, reports from the eastern US Atlantic coast (e.g. Cape May) of a great shearwater influx are coming in, so we must hope that the attrition rate in the Northern Bahamas has stopped, or will stop within the next few days. This is evidenced by this FB clip from Tom Reed, a photographic contributor to THE BIRDS OF ABACO

TR clip

The ABA (American Birding Association) has taken an interest in the problem on Abaco, and reported the incidence of shearwater die-off HERE. For the sake of completeness, I have updated reports I have received or found over the last few days below, together with an updated distribution map. More sad images are included because, pitiful though they are, photographs are of real assistance in the study of migratory die-off. For example, it is likely that juvenile birds are more likely to be affected by exhaustion in the course of their 10,000 mile journey than adults. Photos enable an assessment of the age of the birds to be made.

Exhausted shearwater, Delphi beach. Is this a juvenile, less able to make a huge journey than an adult?Great Shearwater, Delphi, Abaco (Sharon Elliott)The yellow tip to this bird’s beak shows that it is a different species of shearwater, the Cory’s.  Like the Greats, these birds are also rare transients on Abaco, and also make long-distance migrations. A Cory’s was photographed a couple of weeks ago swimming happily off the Delphi beach. This one has obviously run out of stamina. It has the chance to recover, but it is vulnerable in this state; and turkey vultures are quick to move in on fatalities…

  • Delphi Club Beach – 20 plus + 1
  • Schooner Bay – 5
  • Bahama Palm Shores – ‘many many’ dead birds washed up on the shore
  • Casuarina Beach – 1
  • Cherokee (Watching Bay) – 3 or 4
  • Cherokee (Winding Bay) – 4
  • Little Harbour – 3
  • Marsh Harbour area – about 5
  • Great Guana Cay, southern end   – 1 (possibly a gull)
  • Tilloo Cay – 13 at least on Junk Beach, more than ever seen (see photos below)
  • Elbow Cay – 2 + 1 Atlantic side beach near Abaco Inn
  • Elbow Cay – 2, North End
  • Green Turtle Cay beach – 2
  • Green Turtle Cay, offshore – “a lot in the water”
  • Man-o-War Cay – 1 by the roadside
  • Ocean 20m from HT Lighthouse – 2 in the sea

also Exuma Sound (5 birds), Shroud Cay Exuma (gull?”), Briland Beach,Harbour Island Eleuthera (“some” + 4) , and Church Bay, South Eleuthera – 10 + 2

Ellen Bentz, who reported the Church Bay birds, has frozen 3 of them for research purposes; it will be extremely interesting to see what results from their examination, from the ages of the birds to condition to likely cause of death. She also took photographs to aid species identification and diagnostic efforts.

unnamed unnamed-4 unnamed-2  unnamed-1unnamed-3

Abaco distribution map. Earlier reports marked in green, two new sites in blue
Shearwater Map, Abaco update

Here is the wonderful Crossley ID guide tableau of great shearwaters, showing every facet of the birdGreat_Shearwater_from_the_Crossley_ID_Guide_Britain_and_Ireland
Sean Giery of the excellent ABACO SCIENTIST has also commented on the recent phenomenon, concluding “…if you haven’t looked up Gough Island, the probable origin of these Greater Shearwaters, do. Use Google Maps to get an impression of how far these amazing birds travel. It’s truly amazing.” By great good fortune, I’ve done the legwork for you… Let’s take a closer look.
Great shearwaters breed almost exclusively the small area of the globe that includes the Gough Islands, Tristan da Cunha and a few lesser-known islands in that area. There is also a small breeding population in the Falklands. Whichever, they are not so very far from Antarctica. Their range, however, is massive and involves long migrations over the Atlantic ocean to the far north – as far as the Arctic – and back each year.
 And, as the shearwater flies, this is the distance from the breeding grounds to Abaco; 2/3 of their total journey. Now, factor in a first-season juvenile shearwater facing the vagaries of food supply, weather conditions and stamina… The fact that some die-off occurs every few years at some stage of the migration becomes less surprising.
Gough Island to Abaco 6300 milesGough Island to Abaco jpg
I’ll conclude with a photo of a great shearwater flying ‘at the shear’, which I am certain is how best we’d like to think of these wonderful seabirds…
Great_Shearwater_RWD3b Dick Daniels
Credits: to the 30 or so people credited in the original post I add with thanks Molly Kemmer Roberts, Susan Drwal, Sharon Elliott, Ellen Bentz, Dick Daniels and open source maps chaps.


Piping Plover Charadrius melodus (Ontario, MDF / wiki)


No apologies for writing again about Piping Plovers. This rare bird – only 8000 left in the world – overwinters in Florida, on the Gulf Coast, and to a notable extent in the Bahamas, very possibly on a beach near you. The peacefulness and cleanliness of Abaco’s pristine beaches provide the ideal habitat for the little PIPL to live safe and healthy lives during the winter, in preparation for their return to their summer breeding grounds. And breeding is what they are doing right now, up north. There are breeding populations on the Atlantic Coast, the Great Plains, and the Great Lakes. So I thought I’d feature a few images of what appears to be a rather successful season so far…

One of the best bird blogs around, one that I have recommended before, is called READINGS FROM THE NORTHSIDE. It is written in an informative yet witty style illustrated with excellent photos, and chronicles the daily avian goings-on on Long Beach Island NJ, an important nesting area for piping plovers. There are links with Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger, two scientists from the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ who will be familiar to many Abaconians for the winter work they do with the plovers on Abaco. The photos below have almost all been taken this month as the PIPL chicks hatch and begin to find their feet in a big world.

Piping Plover LBI 1   Piping Plover LBI 2 piping-plover-chick-sneaking-through-dune piping-plover-sit-in-dune

NEWLY HATCHED (TUFTERS’ & TACEY’S 4th CHICK, AMY) piping-plover-wet-chick1

TIDYING THE EGGSHELLpiping-plover-with-eggshell

EGGSHELL REMOVALpiping-plover-remove-eggshell-nest

HAPPY FAMILIES…piping-plover-chick-leaves-nest



Most regrettably, you’ll never see a Piping Plover chick on Abaco. The adult birds have left the Bahamian beaches and flown north before their breeding season begins. These little creatures are both rare and special at both ends of their migration range, so I’ll end with a video from the most excellent CONCH SALAD TV that is dedicated to these tiny wave-chasers. Abaco is one of the main areas for winter research into the piping plover population. Scientists visit the island to find the birds, count them, collect reports of sightings, check and identify tagged birds to determine their origin, and ensure the continuing good health of their habitat, without which the PIPL will be lost. You can find out more about this vital work carried out out by the CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION OF NEW JERSEY HERE.


Credits: MLF/ Ontario; Exit63 ‘Mr Norfside’ to whom a major tip o’ the hat; Conch Salad TV


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