ABACO: THE PERFECT PLACE FOR BAHAMAS BIRDING


ABACO: THE PERFECT PLACE FOR BAHAMAS BIRDING

I’ve  fairly very often mentioned the remarkable diversity of the bird species on Abaco. This small island has a wide variety of permanent resident species and the advantage of being on a primary migration route so that it has both winter and summer migratory visitors. Here’s an example of some of the species a visitor might reasonably expect to find during a day’s birding. This isn’t an ‘invented inventory’, easy though that would be to compile. It records a birding outing by Abaco visitor Susan Daughtrey, guided by the legendary Woody Bracey, with sightings of 53 species from A (baco Parrot) to Z (enaida Dove). Here are some of Susan’s photos of the birds she encountered. At the end is the full list of the 34 species she photographed.There’s nothing very rare – most of those shown are permanent residents (PR), breed on Abaco (B) and are commonly found (1). Hence the code* PR B 1. SR is for the 2 summer residents, I is for the introduced collared dove. The best ‘get’ is the Bahama Mockingbird (PR B 3), a bird mainly of the pine forests and not so easy to find.

ADDENDUM Susan has now sent me her complete record for a great day out in which 53 species were seen. The list shows the numbers seen for each species. I have had to reformat the list from the original to make it work in this blog. I have added links for the first bird, the Black-bellied Whistling Duck, which was recorded on Abaco for the first time in early June. Of the six seen at any one time to begin with (including at Delphi), the reported numbers dropped to 2, then 1. The latest news is an unconfirmed sighting of a single bird at Treasure Cay Golf Course.

ABACO (CUBAN) PARROT Amazona leucocephala PR B 1

ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWK Chordeiles gundlachii SR 1Amazon (Cuban) Parrot, Abaco (Susan Daughtrey)Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD (ENDEMIC) Mimus gundlachii PR B 3Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

BAHAMA SWALLOW (ENDEMIC) Tachycineta cyaneoviridis PR B 1Bahama Swallow, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

BAHAMA PINTAIL (WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAIL) Anas bahamensis PR B 1
Bahama (White-cheeked) Pintail, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER Polioptera caerulea PR B 1Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

CUBAN PEWEE Contopus caribaeus PR B 1Cuban Pewee, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE Streptopelia decaocto  I PR B 1Eurasian Collared Dove, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

HAIRY WOODPECKER Picoides villosus PR B 1Hairy Woodpecker, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

LEAST TERN Sternula antillarum SR B 1Least Tern, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD Tyrannus caudifasciatus PR B 1Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD (female)  Fregata magnificens PR B 1Magnificent Frigatebird, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLER Setophaga pityophila PR B 1                                            Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

RED-LEGGED THRUSH  Turdus plumbeus PR B 1Red-legged Thrush, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD Agelaius phoeniceus PR B 1Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

SMOOTH-BILLED ANI Crotophaga ani PR B 1Smooth-billed Ani, Abaco (Susan Daughtrey)

THICK-BILLED VIREO Vireo crassirostris PR B 1
Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

WESTERN SPINDALIS Spindalis zena PR B 1Western Spindalis, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON Patagioenas leucocephala PR B 1White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

SUSAN’S LIST OF BIRDS PHOTOGRAPHED

SUSAN'S SPECIES jpg

SUSAN’S COMPLETE LIST FOR THE DAY – 53 SPECIES

To learn about Abaco’s latest new species the Black-bellied Whistling Duck click HERE & HERE

Susan's fuller list JPG

Credits: all photos, Susan Daughtrey; *the excellent birding code was devised by ornithologist Tony White with Woody Bracey

ELBOW REEF LIGHTHOUSE, HOPE TOWN, ABACO: 150 YEARS OLD TODAY!


HT Lighthouse 1

HOPE TOWN LIGHTHOUSE ABACO: THE WORKS

ELBOW REEF LIGHTHOUSE, as it is properly called, is 150 years old. It is the stripy icon of Abaco – and quite flashy as well. One of the last remaining kerosene-lit lighthouses in the world, it retains its mechanisms and fresnel lenses in remarkable condition, a tribute to the conservation lovingly devoted to the building. Below is a re-post of an article I wrote some time ago, with photos of some of the internal works and some facts and figures thrown in, There’s a big event in the lighthouse’s honour today – here’s the flyer for it. We’ve donated a signed copy of “The Birds of Abaco” for auction, and I hope it makes a few $$$$ for the cause.

photo copy

Bahamas Lighthouse Pres Soc Logo     Bahamas Lighthouse Pres Soc Logo    Bahamas Lighthouse Pres Soc Logo    Bahamas Lighthouse Pres Soc Logo    Bahamas Lighthouse Pres Soc Logo

Hope Town Lighthouse, Abaco

Our visit to Elbow Cay was one part of our day’s Island Hopping / Reef Snorkelling expedition with Kay Politano. In Hope Town, while most of the party wandered round the streets (and shops…) Mrs RH took the boat across the harbour to the Hope Town Lighthouse. This must be the best known landmark of Abaco – ‘iconic’, perhaps, in the modern sense of the word. The weather on the day was pretty poor, with thick cloud and intermittent rain and drizzle. Which is a pity, because the photos would have looked even better with sunshine and blue sky… 

                                          All photos: Mrs Rolling Harbour


HOPE TOWN LIGHTHOUSE FACTS

(CLICK  on Coordinates below for position and Hope Town info)

Location: Elbow Cay, port of Hope Town
Coordinates 26.539421°N 76.958840°W
Year first constructed: 1862
Year first lit: 1864
Construction: Masonry
Tower shape: Conical
Markings/Pattern: Red and white bands
Focal Height: 37 m (121 ft)
Original lens: First order Fresnel
Range: 23 nmi
Characteristic: Fl(5) 15s
Admiralty number: J4572
NGA number: 11800
ARLHS number: BAH-010

THE HOPE TOWN LIGHTHOUSE is one of only three Manual Lighthouses left in the World. It has a spring mechanism that has to be hand cranked every few hours to maintain the sequence of five white flashes every 15 seconds. The lamp burns kerosene with a wick and mantle. The light is then focused as it passes through the optics of a first order (largest size) Fresnel lens which floats on a bed of mercury.

A FRESNEL LENS (pron. ‘Fray-nel’) is a type of lens originally developed by a French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel specifically for lighthouses.Compared to conventional bulky lenses, the Fresnel lens is much thinner, larger, and flatter, and captures more oblique light from a light source, thus allowing lighthouses to be visible over much greater distances. Fresnel’s lighthouse lenses ordinarily fell into six orders based on their focal length, first order being the largest (wiki-assist)

For some more images of this iconic – or do I mean symbolic (discuss) – building CLICK===>>> ILOVEHOPETOWN You’ll find that around half the images are of the lighthouse, internal and external. Then look at the colourful remainder. Then it’s a short step to the Facebook page and more info about this charming Cay

Logo of the World Lighthouse Society

ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (1)


ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (1)

Hitoshi Miho is a diver and photographer who takes amazing photographs of the underground caves he explores. These include some of the cave systems on Abaco, where he has recently accompanied renowned Abaco diver Brian Kakuk of the Bahamas Caves Research Foundation. In due course I hope to produce a page dedicated to the Caves and Blue Holes of Abaco including maps but that’s a project in the mind for now. Meantime, with Hitoshi’s kind permission, here are a few preliminary examples of his fabulous work that showcases the wondrous crystal palaces that lie deep beneath Abaco. 

Abaco Underwater Caves 1 (©Hitoshi Miho)Abaco Underwater Caves 2 (©Hitoshi Miho)Abaco Underwater Caves 3 (©Hitoshi Miho)Abaco Underwater Caves 4 (©Hitoshi Miho)Abaco Underwater Caves 5 (©Hitoshi Miho)

All images © Hitoshi Miho and displayed by kind permission

PHOTOGENIC ENDEMICS: BAHAMA YELLOWTHROATS ON ABACO


Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 7

PHOTOGENIC ENDEMICS: BAHAMA YELLOWTHROATS ON ABACO

I’ve been keeping this little bird up my capacious avian-friendly sleeve for a while. In June we took a truck and headed for deep backcountry to the edge of the pine forests and beyond to see what we could find in the way of birdlife. Good choice – the answer was ‘plenty’.Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 5

Among the birds we encountered were the endemic Bahama swallows, hairy woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, kingbirds, red-legged thrushes, red-winged blackbirds, western spindalises, tobacco doves, La Sagra’s flycatchers, crescent-eyed pewees with a nest and eggs, a wonderful ‘booming display’ by antillean nighthawks courting during an early evening fly hatch**… and Bahama yellowthroats Geothlypis rostrata.Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 1

The illustrative photos are of poor quality, but rather than blame my camera (as I am only too ready to do), I plead ‘overexcitement’ in mitigation. Of the 4 endemic species on Abaco, this was the only one I’d never seen. There was a tweeting noise on the edge of an abandoned sugar cane field (above), followed by  some rustling… and out fluttered this bird, crossing the track right by us and landing quite close to inspect us. Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 2

This striking bird, with its Zorro mask and bright yellow body, is an endearing mix of shy and inquisitive. Only the males have the mask – the females are less colourful, though naturally equally interesting… Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 8

Yellowthroats are responsive to pishing, and once lured from cover they may happily remain on low-to-medium height branches or on a shrub, watching you watching them.Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 3

Their song is quite easily imitated, and that may also bring them into the open – a source of immense satisfaction to the amateur (me) if it works. Here’s an example, courtesy of my iPH@NE METHOD for bird recording. It’s the call at the start and the end.

The one we watched had plenty to sing about – it’s just a shame that my images are so poor, because in some you can see its tiny tongue. A bit too blurry, though, even by my own moderate standards for inclusion.Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 4

At a formative stage of this blog, I did a short post about the endemic Bahama Yellowthroat and its comparisons with the similar and better-known Common Yellowthroat, which is also found in the Bahamas. You can read it HERE. There’s a female shown, a video, and an unacknowledged debt to Wiki or similar source, I can’t help but notice…Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 6

**ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS AND THE ‘BOOMING DISPLAY’

Common Nighthawk Photo “On summer evenings, keep an eye and an ear out for the male Nighthawk’s dramatic “booming” display flight. Flying at a height slightly above the treetops, he abruptly dives for the ground. As he peels out of his dive (sometimes just a few meters from the ground) he flexes his wings downward, and the air rushing across his wingtips makes a deep booming or whooshing sound, as if a racecar has just passed by. The dives may be directed at females, territorial intruders, and even people.” We found ourselves right in the middle of one of these astounding displays, with maybe 100 birds behaving exactly as described, often whooshing within inches of our heads. I’ll post some more about it in due course. Credits: Philip Simmons; All About Birds (Cornell Lab)

Toyota Truck, Abaco Backcountrygeothlypis_rostrata RANGE MAP

ABACO KAYAK CHALLENGE 2013 ON NOVEMBER 9: BE IN IT TO WIN IT!


ABACO KAYAK CHALLENGE 2013

kayak logo 2013

FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT, ABACO

Friends of the Environment (Abaco) logo

Join Friends in support of the Abaco Cancer Society and Friends of the Environment for Abaco’s third annual Kayak Challenge on November 9th at Pete’s Pub in Little Harbour.

Pete's Pub

“Any craft you can paddle will be welcome, from kayaks, paddle boards and canoes – just no engines!  There will be 3 courses to choose from: 5 miles, 8 miles, or 13 miles that will take paddlers into and through the scenic Bight of Old Robinson, part of the proposed East Abaco Creeks National Park. Paddlers will be welcomed back with a Beach party at Pete’s Pub.” 

Pete’s Pub: “Thirst come, thirst served…”Pete's Pub, Little Harbour, Abaco Bahamas

THE THREE COURSES

5 Mile Course

5 mile paddle2013

8 Mile Course

8 mile2013

13 Mile Course

13 mile paddle2013

SUPPORT FRIENDS & BMMRO INTERN OSCAR WARD AS HE NEGOTIATES THE PERILS OF THE “BIG ONE”; AND FOLLOW HIS INTERN’S BLOG HERE 

“Support boats will be available to assist, but paddlers should plan to bring adequate water and snacks for the trip. Remember, the sun in The Bahamas is hot, so pack your sunscreen, sunglasses, hat and if you burn easily, clothing to cover yourself up with along the way. Kayaking is a water activity, so be aware that anything that goes in the kayak with you will get wet whether it be from a splash from passing boat wake, drops from paddles, or a quick rain storm. Kayaking is a physical activity, remember the further you venture, the further the paddle to return.”

There will be a beach barbeque & party for spectators to cheer the paddlers on as they come in from their journey.

For more information call the FRIENDS office at 367-2721 or email info@friendsoftheenvironment.org

Bring your own Tee…Pete's Pub, Little Harbour, Abaco Bahamas

 Registration form, sponsorship form and waiver 

 Sponsorship donations can be made on-line

 Kayak Challenge event page on Facebook

Kayak Challenge Sponsors Cherokee AirHope Town Harbour LodgeThe Paint PlaceLightbourne MarinePete’s Pub and GalleryShirley Enterprises, Bon Secours Medical Group, Sands Marine Surveying & Consulting, Marsh Exporters and Importers, Ltd, Abaco Petroleum Company Ltd, Abaco Family Medicine, Abaco Tourist Office

Non-participatory support from a respectful distance (4250 miles) from

Delphi Bonefish LogoHighly competitive and vigorous kayak practice off the Delphi Club beach, Rolling HarbourKayak, Delphi Club, Abaco Bahamas

MOUNT ABACO: THE ISLAND’S MAJESTIC SUMMIT (134 feet)


Matterhorn from Domhütte - 2.jpg

MOUNT ABACO: THE ISLAND’S MAJESTIC SUMMIT (134 feet)

The header photograph is not in fact anything to do with Abaco. Apologies for any confusion. It’s the Matterhorn, towering over the border of Switzerland and Italy, complete with high altitude, year-round snow and sub-zero temperatures. Abaco has its own excellent skiing, of course, but solely of the watery sort. However, recently the question arose as to exactly where the highest point on Abaco is situated. All sources agree that the altitude is a dizzying 134 feet, with some equating that with 40 meters and others with 41. It would be nit-picking to use the straight conversion of 40.8432 meters.

I once did a post comparing the altitude of Abaco with Mount Everest – if you have the patience, you’ll find it HERE. A check on G@@gle throws up a fascinating site called PEAKBAGGER. Click on the link and it takes you to the Abaco entry; but elsewhere on the site there is a mass of remarkable worldwide altitude information that you could easily spend an hour or 2 investigating. The essential info for Abaco is this:

  • Elevation: 41 meters, 134 feet
  • Name: “Unnamed High Point”
  • Latitude/Longitude: 26° 34′ 6” N; 77° 8′ 14” W 26.568399, -77.137319
  • 3rd highest point in the Bahamas
  • 54th highest point in the Caribbean
  • 1014th highest island point in the world (which seems very unlikely, somehow)
  • Nearest high point is on Eleuthera
  • No ‘ascents’ by registered ‘Peakbaggers’ (this is now on my bucket-list for easy personal achievements)

Peakbagger’s map places the high point close to the Highway north of Marsh Harbour. This puzzled me, partly because I remember Ricky Johnson showing us a significant rocky outcrop deep in the pine forest of south Abaco. Also, the land relief shown on the Peakbagger map suggests a higher ridge to the north-west of the red circle.Abaco High Point Map 1

So I did what any Abaco researcher would do – I contacted Sandy Estabrook, éminence grise behind the wonderful ABACO ESCAPE website. Within a very short time he got back to me with a clipping from a nautical map, confirming the high point’s location as the one given by Peakbagger. Abaco Nautical Chart

Far more importantly, it turned out that Sandy actually ascended the summit in 2009 with a friend and without oxygen. His expedition journal states simply “Heading South along Queens Hwy, Frank pointed out a hill on the Sea of Abaco side of the road. It had quite some elevation of over a hundred feet or more it seemed. (I have not seen a higher place in all of Abaco). And atop the hill was a tower that I was told was built by real estate interests some years ago for prospective clients to view the surroundings. We climbed the tower and I took a couple picts”

The tower will be familiar to travellers passing by on the Highway. I had read that this was a good place to look out for birds, and had assumed it was some sort of fire-watching tower. The use of a tower to scope out land for development is an ingenious one, but the landscape is mercifully still undeveloped. Here are some photos from the vantage point.

View roughly south-east from the tower to Hope Town. The lighthouse is just visible to the right.Frank View from Tower 84 copy

Looking north-east, with Great Guana Cay just visible on the horizonFrank View from Tower 82 copy

The view north(ish) along the ridge, with the Highway snaking up to Treasure CayFrank View from Tower 83 copy

AERIAL VIEWSMount Abaco 5 copyMount Abaco 3 copy

Normally, high points acquire a name at some time. Even quite low ones. Perhaps Abaco’s high point deserves one. In which case, Parrot Peak? (But the parrots, while symbolic of the island, don’t frequent the area). Hummingbird Hill? (Tiny and perfectly formed). A134? (Uninspiring). All suggestions welcome…

STOP PRESS Within 24 hours, John Bethel has kindly to say “I have always known this hill to be called Pidgeon Hill”. So, it has a name already. I’ll try to find out some more about this – for example whether the name is historic or recent. Can anyone add anything to this?

Thanks to Sandy Estabrook and to Peakbagger

 Abaco Escape logoPeakbagger Logo

THE CROSS LITTLE WOODPECKER: A TRUE HAIRY TALE FROM ABACO


Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco Header

THE CROSS LITTLE WOODPECKER: A TRUE HAIRY TALE FROM ABACO

ONCE UPON A TIME, on a magical far away island called Abaco, where the sun always shone and the people were always friendly and smiling, there lived a little woodpecker. It was a beautiful little woodpecker with long shiny golden locks and its name was Hairy… oh look, I can’t go on with this drivel and neither can you, I’m sure. Sorry about that. Let’s take it from the top…

    ♦      ♦      ♦      ♦

I have mentioned before the excellent birding opportunities that a wander round the Delphi drive circuit has to offer. It’s the best part of 2 miles. I am working on a list of all species encountered on the route from the Lodge, along the guest drive to the white rock on the road, and back down the service drive. It is turning out to be a gratifyingly long one.

During your stroll, it’s worth checking out the dead trees, especially the upper trunk and branches, as you go. For a start, these provide excellent places for birds to pause and scope out the territory below. They also have a good chance of finding insects there. And for some species, like the Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus, it is home. Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 16

The Hairy Woodpecker is very similar to the Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens, the smallest woodpecker of North America. Male HWs have a prominent red patch on the back of the head.  You can find an earlier post about a male HW and its nest in the Delphi coppice, with some HW species facts, HERE

220px-Picoides-villosus-001

Last June Tom Sheley, a birding expert and photographer from Ohio with serious (by which I mean huge camo-covered camera and tripod) equipment, was staying at Delphi. He tipped me off about a woodpecker nest he’d found 1/3 of the way along the guest drive, just before the first bend. So I grabbed a camera –  the wrong one, as it turned out, but my main camera battery was charging – and headed out. I found the nest at the top of a dead tree near the edge of the drive (shown above) and a female HW close to it. Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 1

She watched my approach carefully, and as soon as I paused close to the nest tree, she went into a fascinating ‘diversionary tactic’ routine to distract me from the nest. She flew across the track close in front of me, and settled on a tree on the other side of the drive, about 1/3 of the way up its trunk. There, she proceeded to scold me loudly as I fiddled about with the camera… Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 3

Still scolding, she then started to climb the tree quite slowly, pausing occasionally to fire off some more angry woodpecker abuse at me. Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 6

From time to time, she would change tack, closing her eyes gradually and hugging the trunk. This was presumably to make herself appear vulnerable to a predator (me), and therefore retain its (my) interest. If anyone is familiar with this behaviour, please leave a comment.Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 5

The woodpecker carried on up the tree, chattering as she went…Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 7

…before performing the closed eye / sleepy routine againHairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 11Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 12

By now she was nearing the top of the tree, and I was thinking of giving in… Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 13 Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 14 Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 15

Once she had reached the very top, I made the decision to move on, marvelling at her persistence in taking on a two-legged predator 6ft 5″ high and… not exactly a bantam-weight. Then I realised that, in all of this, I hadn’t thought of the nest behind me a single time. She and her distraction technique had won, and so I made my apologies for disturbing her and left. HW 1, Human 0. At least I knew that on a hot cloudless day I had something to look forward to back at the ranch… 

coasters