BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS: A NEW BIRD SPECIES FOR ABACO


Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS: A NEW BIRD SPECIES FOR ABACO

In March 2014 “The Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco” was published. It contains a checklist of every species recorded for Abaco that was accurate on the day of publication. So it was with a mix of excitement (new species!) tinged slight disappointment (the book is already out of date by June!) that I heard reports of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks Dendrocygna autumnalis being seen on Abaco. Followed by photographs to prove it.

The first report came from Woody Bracey in his account of a day in the field on June 9th in which 40 bird species were seen. He concluded the report: “Most remarkable of these sighting were the 5 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. This species has been reported before on Andros and Grand Bahama but never on Abaco. 5 were seen clearly in flight with their bright white central upper wing patches, dark underbelly, red legs and bill and long neck. A Yellow-crowned Night Heron spooked 8 Parrots feeding in a Gumbo Limbo Tree when this small flock of whistling ducks flew by affording a good look coming, overhead and going. Unfortunately I did not get a photo even with camera in hand. They have bred in Cuba but not in the Bahamas”.

So, a clear sighting but no photographic evidence. Until the following morning, yesterday June 10 around breakfast time, when at the Delphi Club Lucy Mantle happened to notice some strange ducks right in front of the Club. She grabbed a camera (possibly her phone?) and took a couple of quick shots. Peter Mantle checked Hallett, the go-to field guide, and saw at once that these were not West Indian Whistling Ducks (a species found on Abaco). So he put the word about, adding Lucy’s photos. Hers are almost certainly the first ever images of this species on Abaco.

STOP PRESS 12 JUNE I’ve had an email from Woody Bracey saying that he first photos documenting the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were in fact taken Saturday June 7 on the Schooner Bay Dock by Glen Kelly. These photos are the ‘official documenting ones’ so I’m afraid that as things stand, Lucy moves to silver medal position and Tara to bronze…

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Delphi Club (Lucy Mantle) – first second species photo on Abaco?Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Delphi, Abaco (Lucy Mantle) v2

Tony White, compiler of the checklist, responded to Peter: “Congratulations! you are the first to document a new species on Abaco since the book and checklist came out. These are Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, casual visitors to the Bahamas. They are increasing rapidly in Florida and I think we can expect them to be breeding somewhere in the Bahamas in the next few years.There are two subspecies and they both have been seen in the Bahamas. I’ll let Woody try to figure out which these are. Thanks for being so alert and getting these photos”.

The birds must have moved gradually north during the day, and further sightings were reported online. Tara Lavallee took some photos of them in her yard a few miles north of Delphi and posted them on FB asking “Six of these beauties visiting my yard. Anyone know what they are?” 12-year old birder Chris Johnson was very quick off the mark with the correct ID as Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. Hector Morales had seen them flying over his house the previous day. I’ve seen no further reports, but I am really pleased to be able to feature Tara’s photos, which she kindly emailed earlier today. Her bird photography credentials are high – her wonderful photo of a Bahama Woodstar feeding from a flower takes up the whole of p43 of “The Birds of Abaco”.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco (Tara Lavallee) 2Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco (Tara Lavallee) 4Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco (Tara Lavallee) 3Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco (Tara Lavallee) 5

This is what they sound like. If you hear this call – grab a camera!

Paul Marvin @ Xeno-Canto

The present range of this species is shown in the Cornell Lab graphic below.It seems that the range is starting to expand, and that these ones are most likely to be visitors from Florida. It remains to be seen whether these ducks will remain vagrant curiosities, or settle down and begin to breed on Abaco. There are plenty of them, and they are IUCN listed as ‘Least Concern’. It’s a gregarious species, so perhaps that increases the chances of having a breeding population on Abaco.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck Range Map

I’ll end with two excellent photos of the BBWD, taken by people who plainly had plenty of time to sort out and set up their equipment at their own pace, and not as the result of a totally unexpected and random arrival in the front yard!

Black-bellied Whistling Duck Alan D. Wilson, www.naturespicsonline.com Black-bellied Whistling Duck – Alan D. Wilson, http://www.naturespicsonline.com (Wiki)

Black-bellied Whistling Duck Dendrocygna autumnalis London_Wetland_Centre,_UK_-_Diliff Black-bellied Whistling Duck, London Wetland Centre, UK by Diliff  (Wiki)

Photo credits as shown, with special thanks to Lucy Mantle for her exclusive  ‘first'; to Tara for use permission and sending her originals; and an honourable mention to Chris Thomas for his powers of ID!

 

BANANAQUITS ARE UBIQUITS ON ABACO – AND ÜBERCUTE TOO


Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 7

BANANAQUITS ARE UBIQUITS ON ABACO – AND ÜBERCUTE TOO

The Bananaquit Coereba flaveola. Permanently resident on Abaco, at the Delphi Club, and in my top ten favourite birds. And everyone else’s, I shouldn’t wonder. With their handsome livery and their cheeky chirping, they can be found almost anywhere. They could equally well be called ubiquits. I had been going to post some recent images of one feasting at a hummingbird feeder, but I found this thirsty palm-forager in my photo folder first, so here he is in all his glory…

Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 1 Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 2 Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 5Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 6Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 4

Here’s the song of a bananaquit from Xeno-Canto (Paul Driver, Andros) (and there’s a thick-billed vireo in the background)

And here is the ‘whole picture’ without the zooming, showing what a relatively small and cute bird the bananaquit isBananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 3

All images: RH; sound recording Paul Driver, Xeno-Canto

ABACO WARBLERS: IN SEARCH OF A YELLOW RUMP…


Yellow-rumped_Warbler Dan Pancamo (Wiki)

ABACO WARBLERS: IN SEARCH OF A YELLOW RUMP…

I haven’t been very lucky with yellow rumps in the past. This is not normally something one likes to talk about in a public forum… but to be honest I have been longing to get hold of a yellow rump of my own. The warbler Setophaga coronata, that is, a fairly common winter resident on Abaco. I’ve seen them of course. I’ve glimpsed a passing flash of yellow rump. But no YRW has stayed parked in tree with its backside towards me for long enough to permit me to photograph its posterior glory. Ideally I’d have liked a clear, attractive shot like the header image (Dan Pancamo, Wiki). But desperation leads to lowered expectations and plummeting standards. Frankly, this year I’d have been satisfied with any yellow rump. Abandoning my initial plan to apply a yellow highlighter pen to a compliant female grassquit, I bided my time. And suddenly there, at the very top of a tree near the swimming pool at Delphi, was my chance… A pair of YRWs were in evidence.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco 5Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco 6Yellow-rumped Warbler Abaco 1Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco 2

The tree wasn’t very close to me, and the birds stayed near the very top. My photos were never going to be great. Especially since each bird was meticulous in keeping its rear end out of sight. Then they flew away! However quite soon one was back. This time there were twigs in the way, one of the those little variables that makes camera focussing so enjoyable. But this time I managed to ‘pap’ its derrière…  Feeble shots but mine own. As an avian ‘Holy Grail’, a mere yellow rump leaves quite a lot to be desired, I can quite see. It’s on no one’s ‘bucket list’ of birding musts. But now I can move on, release that poor female grassquit and chuck out the highlighter pen.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco 3Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco 4

A BONEFISHING CHALLENGE ON ABACO: THE ‘WHICH?’ REPORT


_MG_4668_1280x853_

A BONEFISHING CHALLENGE ON ABACO

In January I posted an article called BONEFISHING ON ABACO: A CHALLENGE IS ACCEPTED. This stemmed from contact online with fisherman and fly tyer Mark Minshull, who kindly tied some flies for me to try on the Marls. In the post I showed pictures of my manky flybox and his immaculate flies. We agreed to see how things turned out while I was on Abaco in March, and  that I would report back…   

image24

Mark 1 Specimen Bonefish Flies

THE ‘WHICH?’ REPORT ON MARK 1 BONEFISHING FLIES

We set out to test the efficacy of  prototype ‘Mark 1′ bonefishing flies in the waters of the Abaco Marls. Our testers came from the US (TC & AH), Northern Ireland (AB), and England (RH). All are proficient fly fishermen with experience of several prime bonefishing destinations between them, except for the Englishman RH who was included to add balance to the trials by adding the element of incompetence. His fly box remained an object of ridicule throughout the tests, until he resorted to using a more carefully chosen small fly box containing his most successful flies, some ‘Delphi Club Approved’ flies and the test flies. 

QUALITY All our testers agreed that the Mark 1 flies were beautifully designed and tied. As flies, their quality was rated ‘superb'; ‘bloody good'; and ‘very impressive’. As potential winners for the waters of Abaco, however, there was considerable doubt about the suitability of the pattern for colouring, shape and size.

THE TEST AREA We used the huge area of prime bonefishing territory of the mangrove swamps and sand banks on the west side of Abaco known as the Marls. Our testers were familiar with the waters and all had fished them numerous times. The sea depth, depending on tide, is a few feet at most. The consistency of the bottom is of lightweight, pale coloured mud.

Bonefishing, Abaco Marls Abaco  1

It is usually easier to look out for the shadows of the fish on the light bottom than for the fish themselves, which are often difficult to see in the water. Half-close your eyes and look at this image – the fish almost disappears, but the shadow is clearly visible. It is hard to believe the wonderful colouring of the fish until it is out of the water.Bonefish, Abaco Marls Abaco 2

THE TESTS The initial reservations of the testers unfortunately proved justified in the field. The testers all found that the fish tended not to follow the flies at all, and mostly behaved as if they had not seen them, even with the most accurate casts. The few ‘follows’ observed produced refusals of the fly at the end. Disappointingly, no fly was taken by a single fish throughout the trials.

OBSERVATIONS Our testers had some useful comments. Above all, the Mark 1 flies were undoubtedly of excellent quality and design. They simply were not suited to the waters – or the bonefish – of Abaco. TC thought they might work in Belize. It was thought that larger versions might attract permit. Overall, the Mark 1s were so radically different from the tried and tested fly patterns used successfully on Abaco that the 3 competent fishermen soon forsook the experiment and caught fish using more familiar flies. The 4th tester, lacking any finesse, might have fluked a take against the odds , but even he drew a blank.

THE PROFESSIONALS The Guides in each case had been fishing the Marls since they could walk and hold a rod. They each examined the flies, shook their heads and kept their thoughts to themselves. We interpret this as indicating a tendency for the local guides to doubt the effectiveness of the Mark 1 flies.

IMG_1169

RH’s ‘Selected Specimen’ Fly Box

RESULTS ANALYSIS  The flies above show (front row) the 3 versions of the Mark 1 fly; (middle row) the highly effective Delphi Daddy and Delphi Diva patterns, with one random silver concoction of unknown origin; (back row) ; 2 browny / pale patterns plus a shocking pink one that the guides wisely forbade and, below, 3 roughly matching flies that brought great success even for RH this year (including 12 boated and 5 lost in one day), sourced from renowned tackle specialist E. Bay.

CONCLUSION The flies that catch the bones on Abaco tend to be pale and to have ‘streamer’ tails and / or a fair amount of sparkle. A touch of pink seems to be good. Too much pink, not so. Rubbery legs can be very effective (except in the fisherman after lunch). But lovely lifelike dark shrimp imitations are of no interest to the fish of the Marls.

‘WHICH?’ RATINGS FOR THE MARK 1 FLY 

  • Design and construction *****
  • Ease of use *****
  • Effectiveness for Abaco waters *

All photos RH. Thanks to Mark for creating the challenge and for being a great sport

A Box of Bonefish Flies (Abaco)

The largely ridiculous fly box of RH (most good ones removed)

 

ROLLING HARBOUR, ABACO – THE GEOGRAPHICAL FEATURE


DCB for Vista

ROLLING HARBOUR, ABACO – THE GEOGRAPHICAL FEATURE

Rolling Harbour, location of the Delphi Club, is a mile-long curving sandy bay on the east side of South Abaco, half an hour’s drive south of Marsh Harbour. It is marked on a handful of old maps and a couple of more recent ones. Other than that, it keeps itself pretty much to itself. Here’s a 30-second, 180º panoramic movie from the beach. Blue skies. Blue water. Turquoise water. White sand. 4250 miles from where I am right now…

Abaco Map showing Rolling HabourAbaco Map showing Rolling Habour ('The Johnson Map')

 

 

ADMIRABLE ADMIRAL BOUGAINVILLE & HIS EPONYMOUS FLOWERS ON ABACO


Bougainvillea, Delphi, Abaco Bahamas 5

ADMIRABLE ADMIRAL BOUGAINVILLE & HIS EPONYMOUS FLOWERS ON ABACO

By the second half of the c18th, no respectable nautical expedition was complete without at least one naturalist or geologist on board. Within a few decades, that intentionally sweeping generalisation would include Charles Darwin himself. Louis Antoine, Comte de Bougainville (1729 – 1811) was a French admiral and explorer, and a contemporary of Captain James Cook. However the well-known ornamental vine  to which Bougainville lent his name might more properly be called Commerconia… or indeed an even more obscure name. Bougainvillea, Delphi, Abaco Bahamas 1

When Bougainville set off on a voyage of circumnavigation in the 1760s, he took with him a botanist, Philibert Commerçon. He was the first European to examine and ‘write up’ these plants, his findings being published in France in 1789. One attractive theory is that the first European actually to observe these plants was a woman called Jeanne Baré who was Commerçon’s assistant, and indeed his lover. He is said to have sneaked her on board, despite regulations, disguised as a man. If this is right, this would make Jeanne Baré the first woman (let alone cross-dressing woman) to circumnavigate the globe. And perhaps make her entitled to be immortalised by having the plant ‘Bareia’ named after her. But I guess Admirals had more clout in plant-naming circles than female stowaways – or indeed botanists on board their ships.Bougainvillea, Delphi, Abaco Bahamas 3 Bougainvillea, Delphi, Abaco Bahamas 4

As first printed in 1789, the plant was spelled ‘Buginvillæa’, an unexplained variation from the Admiral’s true name. The ‘correct’ spelling for this plant did not finally settle down until the 1930s, when a botanical consensus was reached. Nonetheless, many variations still persist (most usually with the addition of an e after the n). I myself spell it any-old-how and let the spell-checker take care of it…Bougainvillea, Delphi, Abaco Bahamas 2 Bougainvillea, Delphi, Abaco Bahamas 7

STOP PRESS Further research suggests that the name of the plant was ‘gifted’ by Commerçon to the Admiral, a self-effacing tribute or possibly a rampant piece of sycophancy – or (my own theory) to avoid being keelhauled when his ‘valet’s’ gender was apparently unmasked by the ship’s surgeon. In what precise circumstances, one longs to know…

Bougainevillea 2, Abaco Bougainevillea 1, Abaco

Credits: Delphi plants courtesy of Willie the Gardener; photos RH; text-assists by ‘Magpie-Pickings’ 

IDENTITY CRISIS ON ABACO:WEST INDIAN WOODPECKERS OR HUMMINGBIRDS?


800px-West_Indian_Woodpecker_(Melanerpes_superciliaris)IDENTITY CRISIS ON ABACO:WEST INDIAN WOODPECKERS OR HUMMINGBIRDS?

The hummingbirds round here – Cuban Emeralds and occasional Bahama Woodstars – have feeders full of sugar water to keep them sweet. These are also enjoyed by other birds with suitable beaks or tongues able to get to the liquid through tiny holes.  Bananaquits, for example. Now the resident woodpeckers have got in on the act. Our arrival at Delphi coincides with the start of insistent tapping noises from inside the 2 nesting boxes that were put up to divert the woodpeckers from wrecking the wooden roof eaves. They are carrying out annual routine maintenance, putting up new bookshelves etc before settling down to produce their first brood of the year. And they have now discovered how to get a sugar-rush to keep up their energies. 

TRYING TO INSERT THE BEAK IS NOT A GOOD METHODWest Indian Woodpecker Abaco 4West Indian Woodpecker Abaco 2

USING A LONG TONGUE IS IDEALWest Indian Woodpecker Abaco 5West Indian Woodpecker Abaco 1

MEANWHILE THE FEMALE HAS TO WAIT FOR HER TURN…West Indian Woodpecker Abaco 3