‘TYRANTS OF ABACO’: FLYCATCHER ID (1) – LOGGERHEAD vs GRAY KINGBIRD


Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco - Tom Reed

Loggerhead Kingbird with bee. Note dark head, yellowish underside

‘TYRANTS OF ABACO’: FLYCATCHER ID (1)

LOGGERHEAD vs GRAY KINGBIRD

Gray Kingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

Gray Kingbird: note dark eye ‘mask’, lighter head, mainly white underside & notched tail

Abaco has 275 (or so) recorded bird species. Omitting the transients, vagrants and (frankly) oddities – hello, feral peafowl of Casuarina – and concentrating on the residents and the summer / winter migrants brings the checklist down considerably. Maybe to around 200. But there is still an awful lot of scope for species confusion. This is frequently found with the warblers (37 species, mostly yellow), shorebirds and (my particular blind spot) gulls & terns with all their gender, age, season and breeding plumage variations. There is one common confusion that surrounds just 4 birds. I’ve decided to tackle the issue because these are the birds I am most frequently asked by people to identify. They send me their photos or a link, or post them on my FB page, and I am always delighted to help. Except… I get confused myself sometimes. So now I plan to demystify the Tyrant Flycatchers (Tyrannidae) of Abaco once and for all. Or for the time being, anyway.

ABACO’S TYRANT FLYCATCHER SPECIES

Tyrant Flycatcher Checklist jpg

There are 14 tyrant species recorded for Abaco, as listed in the checklist clip above taken from “THE BIRDS OF ABACO” (a FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER was seen recently for the first time on Abaco, and will in due course be added to the checklist). You’ll be relieved to learn that we can at once dispense of 10 of the above for present purposes. In practical terms – i.e. everyday life – the only flycatchers you need to be concerned with are the 4 underlined in red above: Cuban Pewee, Gray Kingbird, La Sagra’s Flycatcher and Loggerhead Kingbird. The underlined codes provide useful information for each bird .

  • PR 3 of the 4 are permanent residents – not the gray kingbird, which is SR a summer resident
  • B    these 4 are the only flycatchers that breed on Abaco
  • 1     all 4 are widespread, commonly and easily found. All other candidates are unusual to very rare
Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

Which is this?

LOGGERHEAD Tyrannus caudifasciatus vs GRAY Tyrannus dominicensis 

DIFFERENCES and SIMILARITIES

TOP TIP ANY KINGBIRD SEEN IN WINTER WILL BE A LOGGERHEAD

  • A kingbird seen between (say) October and March is a Loggerhead. Grays are strictly summer visitors
  • Both are medium size birds and roughly the same size as adults (around 23 cms)
  • Loggerheads have dark brownish heads (some say black), grays have lighter, slate-coloured heads
  • Loggerheads have a ‘squared’ tip to the tail; grays have a notched tip
  • Loggerheads may have a whitish fringe at the tip of the tail; grays not so
  • Loggerheads have yellowish tinges to their white undersides & forewings; grays less so or not at all
  • Grays have a dark or black ‘mask’ through the eyes, often clear but not always easy to see
  • Loggerheads allegedly have inconspicuous orange head crests; grays are red. I’ve never seen either!
  • [*RH opinion alert*] Grays have larger, heavier beaks than loggerheads
  • Grays are territorially aggressive; when they turn up, the loggerheads tend to retreat to the forest

Here is how David Sibley shows the differences

 6323_Sibl_9780307957900_art_r1 3069_Sibl_9780307957900_art_r1-1

Illustrations: David Allen Sibley

Gray or Loggerhead? Note the light head, discernible mask & notched tailGray Kingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

Loggerhead or Gray? Note the darker head and no maskLoggerhead Kingbird.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Mrs RH has very recently taken some photos of a loggerhead in the garden at Delphi that perfectly illustrate another possible difference from the gray kingbird. *Contentious Opinion Alert* I have always believed that the ‘loggerhead’ in some way refers to the ability of the bird to raise a modest head crest to a more prominent extent than the Gray. I stand to be corrected on this – don’t hold back! Anyway, these 2 images show a fine example of a Loggerhead crest.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco (Mrs RH) 1 Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco (Mrs RH) 2

GRAY KINGBIRDS: masked & notch-tailedGray Kingbird, Abaco - Alex Hughes Gray Kingbird (Charlesjsharp Wiki) Gray_Kingbird (Dick Daniels Wiki)

CLASSIC LOGGERHEAD: squarer tail, yellowish underside, dark head, hint of a crestLoggerhead Kingbird Abaco - Peter Mantle

COMMON TO ALL FLYCATCHERS An Insect ‘Hook’ at the tip of this Loggerhead’s ‘top’ billLoggerhead Kingbird, Abaco (Mrs RH)

MEMORABLE FACT TO DEPLOY IN CONVERSATION

The collective names for a group of kingbirds are: a Court, a Coronation, or a Tyranny

I hope this helps with ID, but it’s fair to say that even the birds shown here don’t conform strictly to the rules. A couple of gray kingbirds have distinctly yellowish undersides. Mrs RH’s loggerhead shows little or no yellow tinge. And the real problem is this: you see a medium-size bird. It is hawking for insects. It is high summer. It’s a kingbird. It is 150 feet away, and against the sun. It’s just a darkish bird. You can’t see a notched tail or yellowish underside, still less a mask. But at least you can be confident that you can restrict the ID to just 2 birds… Just ask me which, and I’ll do my best…

NEXT UP LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER vs CUBAN PEWEE 

Credits: Tom Reed (1), Tom Sheley (2, 4, 5), Gerlinde Taurer (3), Mrs RH (6, 7), Alex Hughes (8), Charles Sharp (9), Dick Daniels (10), Peter Mantle (11), RH (12); Illustrations David Sibley

WEST INDIAN WOODPECKERS ON ABACO: GUEST POST


WEST INDIAN WOODPECKERS ON ABACO: GUEST POST

The WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER Melanerpes superciliaris is a specialist bird of Abaco, where it is common. The only other island in the Bahamas where it is found is San Salvador, where it is uncommon. Formerly found on Grand Bahama, it is now believed to be extirpated from that island, with no recent recorded sightings. In the early days at Delphi, we had to put up 2 nest boxes under the eaves to discourage the woodpeckers from destroying the woodwork – very effective, since they are now used every year by a pair that raises a family in one of the boxes and, even before the chicks have fledged, are busy kitting out the second box for a second family… 

WIW box Delphi

Charmaine Albury is a resident of Man-o-War Cay, Abaco. A photographic contributor to THE BIRDS OF ABACO, she is an enthusiastic birder and very handy with a camera. MOW has had a great winter season for birds, especially warbler species, and Charmaine has been recording her sightings and posting about them regularly. She has now started a photographic Facebook page SEES THE DAY which I commend to anyone wanting an overview of the rich birdlife of Abaco. This post shows some of her excellent recent photographs of West Indian Woodpeckers on Abaco. The male has the striking red crown; the female has a smaller, paler cap.

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PLAYING WITH YOUR FOOD? HOW MUCH FUN CAN YOU HAVE WITH A BERRY?11117259_1625337987698569_7452867222430469765_n10942602_1625337984365236_7839433915910857592_n

and… pop it into the hole. Score!20417_1625338031031898_5316912847301464680_n

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NOW IT’S TIME TO VISIT THE STONE THING THAT HAS WATER IN IT10309181_1625338207698547_743705503764216360_n11080986_1625338147698553_6862424132411400508_n11060458_1625338187698549_1989610138388453679_n

   11035287_1625338024365232_6166437311448663000_n

MY TURN ON THE TREE NOW11133685_1625338034365231_5375400946628441291_n

GETTING A BIT SLEEPY NOW. GOT BED HEAD…11111962_1625338074365227_2479363145688616600_n

All photos Charmaine Albury, with many thanks for use permission. Delphi WIW in nest box & all silly anthropomorphising captions are down to me…

ABACO, HERE WE COME – READY OR NOT…


Pelangi Store, eBay

ABACO, HERE WE COME – READY OR NOT…

The seats are chosen, the online check-in done, the die is cast… Mr and Mrs Harbour are on their way in the BA cattle truck. Laptops are to be abandoned for the duration, but I intend to post occasional things of interest by iPhone – a Kirtland’s warbler sighting, maybe (I wish!) or a fish that has stupidly managed to impale itself on my hook perhaps. Normal blogging service, if there is such a thing round here, will be resumed in due course… 

Fish on! Abaco Marls RH

FISH ON!

“THE BIRDS OF ABACO”

The book was launched at the Delphi Club exactly one year ago. We have been really delighted by the huge interest in it and the enthusiasm for it shown by so many people – residents, migratory residents and transients. There are still copies available*. If anyone would like a signed copy while we are at Delphi, I’m sure that can be arranged. I shall bring my special signing pen (it doesn’t smudge!) just in case…

flyer 2 copy

It’s possible – by which I mean highly likely, of course – that perceived ‘downtime’ on Abaco will in fact be quite busy. Fishing. Birding. Beaching. Pooling. Talking. Drinking. Eating. Sleeping. So apologies in advance if I’m not so responsive to comments, Facebook stuff and general soshul meeja matters. No offence meant and I hope none taken – I’ll try to keep up with it or play catch up in due course. Anyway, for those who kindly stick with Rolling Harbour or drop in occasionally, much appreciated… 

DELPHI SUNDOWNDelphi Club Abaco Portrait FV

*The price shown in the flyer for the book is now $150 to take account of the VAT. The publisher has absorbed the balance

Fishing sign pic: Pelangi Store, eBay. I ‘borrowed’ it, but who knows, they might make a sale as a result…

THE PECKING ORDER: FEEDER GREED ON ABACO


Black-faced Grassquits, Delphi, Abaco 2

THE PECKING ORDER: FEEDER GREED ON ABACO

At Delphi there are several feeders, with seeds for the garden birds in general, and sugar water feeders for the specialist hummingbirds. The seed feeders are the cause of a certain amount of species squabbling, with a pecking order based on size. Smaller birds tend to give way to larger, and either flutter down to the ground to pick up dropped seeds or fly off to the bushes until it’s safe to return.  The hummer feeders are also visited by birds with adaptive beaks to fit the tiny holes, such as bananaquits; and birds with long and probing tongues like the resident West Indian woodpeckers. The hummers tend to flit away until the intruders have flown off again.

BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS

There’s no getting away from it, I’m afraid. BFGs are greedy little birds. Many would also call them dull, but personally I rather like the assertive colouring of the male and the subtle olive shades of the female (but that said I’d trade one in for a painted bunting without a second thought…). They are easily bullied out of the way by GABs (see below), although I have noticed that both species happily coexist on the ground under the feeders, where there is more space for them to pick up fallen seeds.

Black-faced Grassquits, Delphi, Abaco 4Black-faced Grassquits, Delphi, Abaco 3 Black-faced Grassquits, Delphi, Abaco 6

 GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH

These fine birds with their striking livery assume feeder priority. They are just as voracious as the BFGs, and get seriously stuck in. No other birds spoil their feasting. These are alpha seed guzzlers.Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Delphi, AbacoGreater Antillean Bullfinch, Delphi, Abaco

HEY YOU! GRASSQUIT! DON’T YOU DARE COME ANY CLOSER… MINE!Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Delphi, AbacoGreater Antillean Bullfinch, Delphi, Abaco

HUMMINGBIRD FEEDER RIVALS

BANANAQUIT

This bird had been sticking its thin, curved beak in to the tiny holes and drinking until I got a bead on it (with the camera). Annoyingly it then started to sip the spillage, so I missed the shot I really wanted… Meanwhile two Emeralds had retired to the bushed nearby, waiting for their chance at what was after all their own designated feeder.Bananaquit at Hummer feeder, Delphi, Abaco Bananaquit at Hummer feeder, Delphi, Abaco

This is a beak that can easily negotiate a little feeder holeBananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 7

WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER

When Delphi’s resident woodpeckers decide to try out the hummer feeder, everyone keeps clear. Very meanly, the male takes precedence over the female, despite the fact that in the course of each year she rears two families, moving to the second nesting box to rearrange the furniture even before the chicks in the first box have flown. Nevertheless, she has to wait her turn… Note how the male manages to get his long tongue right into the small hole in the yellow flower…West Indian Woodpecker (male) at Hummer Feeder, Delphi, Abaco

Meanwhile, Mrs Woody politely waits her turn…West Indian Woodpecker (female) at Hummer Feeder, Delphi, Abaco

 All photos: RH

ROLLING HARBOUR, ABACO: LIFE’S A BEACH & THEN SOME…


Rolling Harbour Beach, Abaco1b

ROLLING HARBOUR, ABACO: LIFE’S A BEACH & THEN SOME…

Rolling Harbour (the geographical feature) is a gently curving one-mile white sand bay presided over by the Delphi Club, which sits on a 50 foot cliff behind the beach. There are rocks at either end, fish in the sea (including bonefish and, in the right conditions, permit), birds on the shore and shells on the sand. And that’s it… 

Rolling Harbour Beach, Abaco2bRolling Harbour Beach, Abaco3bRolling Harbour Beach, Abaco4bRolling Harbour Beach, Abaco5bRolling Harbour Beach, Abaco6bRolling Harbour Beach, Abaco7bRolling Harbour Beach, Abaco8b

And if anyone can explain the strange ribbed sky effect that seems to have appeared from nowhere when I posted these photos that I took last year (300dpi), then I’d be very grateful…

SAW FISH IN THE ABACO MARLS? NO SURPRISE. SAW A SAWFISH? AWESOME!


Pristis_pectinata _Georgia_Aquarium_ Diliff Wiki

SAW FISH IN THE ABACO MARLS? NO SURPRISE. SAW A SAWFISH? AWESOME!

Exactly a year ago, an extraordinary find was made out on the Abaco Marls. Almost disguised against the pale mud under the low water was the first sawfish reported for the Marls. This fish is not merely a rarity in the Northern Bahamas: all species of sawfishes worldwide are IUCN listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered.

Sawfish, Abaco Marls Feb 2014 (Photo: Jacque Cannon)

Sawfish, Abaco Marls Feb 2014 (Photo: Jacque Cannon)

Here is an account of the discovery reported by FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT: “On a recent fishing trip in the Marls with local guide Justin Sands, Sam and Jacque Cannon had an exciting encounter. As Justin was poling the flats, with Sam on the bow searching for bonefish, Jacque spotted a Sawfish! Jacque and Justin quickly forgot about Sam and his efforts to catch a bonefish and turned their focus to the Sawfish. This is a very rare sighting and one we are happy there was a camera available to document it…” A couple of weeks later I was lucky enough to sit next to Jacque at dinner at the Delphi Club, so I was able to hear at first hand the story of this amazing find. It also turned out to be the perfect time to sign an early copy of “The Birds of Abaco” for Jacque and Sam… 1900063_10152069487394482_984358031_n

Sawfish Book Plate (1884)

Sawfish Book Plate (1884)

 10 ESSENTIAL SAWFISH FACTS

  • Sawfishes are also known as Carpenter Sharks; their ‘saw’ is called a ROSTRUM
  • There are 7 species in oceans and seas worldwide, including the Mediterranean
  • All populations have declined drastically due to habitat loss, overfishing & pollution
  • The rostrum is used to feel, to dig, to slash & impale or stun its prey, and for defence
  • Sawfishes are nocturnal creatures and spend a lot of time face down on the sea floor
  • Like sharks, their skeleton is made of cartilage and not bone.
  • Some species can grow up to 7m long
  • They are generally unaggressive unless provoked but fight strongly when caught
  • Sawfishes are slow breeders, making population recovery more difficult
  • Babies are called ‘pups’. Their rostrum is flexible and sheathed until after birth
Sawfish seen from Underwater Tunnel - Atlantis, Nassau Bahamas (Fred Hsu)

Sawfish seen from below – Atlantis, Nassau, Bahamas (Fred Hsu)

Other sawfish have been seen recently in the Northern Bahamas, though not in Abaco waters. Last summer the Bahamas National Trust posted 2 great images of a Smalltooth Sawfish, saying “BNT was excited to receive these photographs of a Smalltooth Sawfish photographed in the proposed East Grand Bahama National Park – Bersus Cay Area. The sawfish was 12 to 13 feet long and was seen in water that was 2 -3 feet deep. Thank you to Buzz Cox, Island Manager at Deep water Cay for sending us these photos”. Sawfish, Grand Bahama Sawfish, Grand Bahama

CONSERVATION ISSUES

POPULATION DECLINE As noted above, Sawfish populations have declined to less than 10% of historical levels. The Smalltooth Sawfish – seen above – was once prolific in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Mediterranean, Black Sea and Indo-Pacific. Population numbers of this species are now estimated at less than 5% to perhaps as low as 1% of their historic levels.

THREAT TO SURVIVAL The threats to their existence are many: habitat loss, overfishing, accidental bycatch, rostrum souvenir hunters (good prices can be obtained), taking them for fins (as a delicacy) or oil from their liver (medicinal).

LEGAL PROTECTION Capturing a sawfish is illegal in certain countries, including the United States. The sale of smalltooth sawfish rostra is prohibited in the United States under the Endangered Species Act.  The import for sale of that of any sawfish species is also prohibited. The international trade of sawfish was banned by the CITES convention in June 2007.
For those that want to find out  a bit more detail about these issues, there’s plenty on interesting information in a scientific (but readable) paper from NOAA – click the link below

A very recent Bahamas smalltooth sawfish sighting on Bimini – Jan 2015Pristis_pectinata_(smalltooth_sawfish)_(Bimini,_western_Bahamas) Lee & Mary Ellen St John Jan 2015 Wiki

Smalltooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata) Bimini, Bahamas – Lee & Mary Ellen St John Jan 2015

Time for some footage of these rare and wonderful creatures in the Bahamas. The first is from John Flanagan and was taken during a dive off Bimini in early 2014. He was so surprised by the sight that he nearly forgot to turn on his camera to take a short video… The second is a longer 5 min video taken off Andros by Grant Johnson of “wild footage of the critically endangered Smalltooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata). The west side of Andros, Bahamas is one of the last places on Earth that still provides vast refuge for this incredible animal”.

Finally, you may be wondering how exactly the sawfish uses its rostrum to stun fish, as mentioned earlier. Watch this short video – see how quickly it moves, for such an apparently cumbersome and dozy creature…
Credits as shown above, with particular mention of Jacque Cannon for probably the first known sighting and anyway photo of an Abaco sawfish…; header pic in aquarium Diliff (Wiki)

MARK’S BONEFISH FLIES (MARK 2): THE ABACO CHALLENGE, ROUND 2


Here's one I caught earlier...

Here’s one I caught earlier… (Photo: Mrs RH)

 MARK’S BONEFISH FLIES (MARK 2): THE ABACO CHALLENGE, ROUND 2

Last March I took 6 bonefish flies specially tied by MARK MINSHULL out to Abaco to test on the Marls. They were lovely flies, tied with great skill by a man who can pull beautiful fly-caught fish out of the Thames. I tried them. Far better fishermen than me tried them. The result was a failure that can only be qualified by the word ‘complete’. Mark took the news very well, and promised to redesign some flies that might be more enticing this year. Here is his design report for the Mark 2 version that I received this morning. The links to the first experiment can be found at the end of this post. 

RH fish on 2013

RH gets lucky with a Delphi Daddy…

JLM BONEFISH SPECIAL MARK 2

Those of you who may have read my previous posts about JLM Specials and Bonefish already know about RH (of Rolling Harbour fame) and his wonderfully generous spirit. He kindly field tested my original pattern with fantastically conclusive results in 2014! The beauty of designing fly patterns is that one can tweak every variable based on feedback received… The basic pattern still holds however the revised editions are a far cry from their predecessors:

The original JLM Specials

The original JLM Specials

This afternoon I completed a set of adapted flies based on RH’s generous report from last time. White and pink, with small flashes of red or orange are my main ingredients and for the streamers, I used varying proportions of elk hair and/or Arctic fox fibres.

"Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement" - Helen Keller (photo - metiefly)

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement” – Helen Keller (photo – metiefly)

Thanks in advance to RH and his March 2015 test team!

Thanks in advance to RH and his March 2015 test team!

I’ll keep you posted of the Outcome in due course. As always – thank you for reading and I look forward to your return.

Here is my own photo of the new Mark 2 flies on a white background to show their subtle differences. I can see at once that I shall have to number them all and remember who is using which, so that the killer variation(s) can be identified… As you will notice, the craftsmanship is terrific. My bet would be on the skinnier ones being the most effective in clear water, but I fancy casting one of the hairier ones across a feeding cloud and dragging it back through the murky water… (which is the only way I’ve ever caught 6+ lb fish – yes, yes, I hear you, that’s pure luck and not skill at all).

Bonefish Flies Mark2

Now I just have to sort out my fly box for next month’s escapades. Some things need to go to make some room – those appalling brown stripy ones for a start, which the guides have chortled at. Or, worse, stared at sadly… Oh, did I mention I also have the little tin with foam in… and that small green ‘Orvisman at Orvis’ fly box from Orvis™… 

The Snowbee Stripping Glove has been thrown to the ground at my feet. The challenge is accepted!