CARIBBEAN ENDEMIC BIRD FESTIVAL: NASSAU BIRDERS VISIT ABACO


DSC00298_3

CARIBBEAN ENDEMIC BIRD FESTIVAL: NASSAU BIRDERS VISIT ABACO

THE CARIBBEAN ENDEMIC BIRD FESTIVAL (CEBF) is a Caribbean-wide festival that aims to heighten awareness for birds generally in the region. It is sponsored by the excellent BirdsCaribbean organisation – click the link to see what it is all about. Birds, obviously, but from the points of view both of promoting and of preserving the rich avian variety throughout the Caribbean.

As part of the CEBF celebrations this month, a birding group from New Providence came to Abaco to explore the birdlife. The expedition group included several well-known local bird experts, all the better for locating and identifying species and ensuring a comprehensive checklist could be compiled. Also in the group was photographer Linda Huber, whose photos you will undoubtedly have seen in Bahamas publications, including the recently published small guide BEAUTIFUL BAHAMA BIRDS (click to see my review and further details – highly recommended for any birder from novice up). Here are a few of Linda’s photos of some of the birds seen during the expedition, a gallery that shows the extraordinary diversity of species to found in a short time on Abaco.

Apologies to those who received a ‘false start’ draft of this post. It was lunchtime, I was hungry, I pressed ‘Save Draft’… or thought I had. Why is the ‘Publish’ button so close? Oh. Right. I see. It’s not its fault, it’s mine…

Western Spindalis Spindalis zena                   Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Amazona leucocephala bahamensis  DSC00210_2 DSC00216_2

Bahama Yellowthroat Geothlypis rostrata                   Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachiiDSC00298_3 DSC00317_2

Bahama Warbler Setophaga flavescens                         Black-faced Grassquit Tiaris bicolorDSC00356_3 DSC00381_3

                                                        Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia                                                                DSC00371_2 DSC00378_2

Bahama Swallow Tachycineta cyaneoviridis              Cuban Pewee Contopus caribaeus bahamensis  DSC00399_3 DSC00413_2

Olive-capped Warbler Dendroica pityophila            Pearly-eyed Thrasher Margarops fuscatusDSC00422_2 DSC00501_3

                              West Indian Woodpecker Melanerpes superciliaris                                             DSC00475_2  DSC00278_3

                                                      Canada Goose Branta canadensis                                                                             DSC00566 DSC00642_2

White-cheeked Pintails Anas bahamensis                   Caribbean Coot Fulica caribaea     DSC00612_2 DSC00627_3

Muscovy Duck Cairina moschata                                   European Starling Sturnus vulgaris        DSC00639_2  DSC00524_2

Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor                    La Sagra’s Flycatcher Myiarchus sagrae lucaysiensisDSC00675_2 DSC00694_2_2

Cuban Emerald Chlorostilbon ricordii                        Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea DSC00721_2 DSC09484_2

The gallery above includes a number of specialist birds and others of particular interest. In brief:

  • 3 of the 4 ENDEMIC SPECIES found on Abaco (omitting only the Bahama Woodstar)
  • The famous, incomparable and indeed unique ground-nesting ABACO PARROT
  • 4 ‘local’ subspecies of birds also found beyond the Bahamas
  • 1 of only 5 resident warblers, the Olive-capped (of 37 recorded for Abaco)
  • The most recent addition to the birds recorded for Abaco PEARLY-EYED THRASHER
  • The WEST-INDIAN WOODPECKER, now found only on Abaco and (rarely) San Salvador
  • 2 or 3 introduced or domestic species (if that Muscovy Duck was at Gilpin Point it’s a pet!)
  • The debatable ‘Caribbean Coot’, about which it has been written**  The American Coot is familiar to all, but controversy surrounds the Caribbean Coot with its all-white frontal shield. Some authorities say it is a separate species; others say it is a true subspecies of the American Coot; some claim it is simply a local variant. Bond (1947) treats them as distinct species. The image below shows the two species together. They coexist contentedly and are indifferent to the debate.

American & 'Caribbean' Coot (Tony Hepburn)

The group on a Logging Track in the Abaco National ParkDSC00349

The New Providence Birding Group Expedition to AbacoDSC00706_3

 Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival Flyer

CREDITS All photos Linda Huber (with many thanks for use permission) except the pair of coots (Tony Hepburn) and the singing Bahama Yellowthroat in the BNT Flyer (Bruce Hallett)

** Keith Salvesen, The Birds of Abaco p22

‘BONEFISH CHASE': A SKIFF RIDE FROM CROSSING ROCKS


Shadows on the Flats, Crossing Rocks, Abaco

‘BONEFISH CHASE': A SKIFF RIDE FROM CROSSING ROCKS

Does any ‘fun’ (toxic concept) ever happen around Rolling Harbour? All that detailed business about our little winged friends. All that earnest historic stuff with, like, maps and things. All those fish that are basically just… fish. Ditto the flowers. The prints of Whales (geddit?). But does Rolling Harbour ever truly come alive?

Well here’s a little brief entertainment in a skiff setting off from Crossing Rocks for a day of bonefishing, throwing some shapes along the twisty channel between the jetty and the flats beyond. Anyone who has enjoyed the sometimes exhilarating / sometimes painful (in choppy waves) skiff trips on Abaco to get out to the bonefish grounds will relate to this. You get 2 versions: high definition, with some pretentious music to match the mood. According to me. 

Here’s a smaller version with a more familiar theme (also to be found on the Sidebar of this blog) for those who are allergic to pretentious music… it’s more ‘fun’, in fact.

Dreadits: all stuff, RH; music by Preston Reed and Commander Bond

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, ABACO: A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE (1) THE PAST


Map of Abaco (part) - van Keulen 1728

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, ABACO: A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE (1) THE PAST

I’ve posted several times about the desolate, unpopulated area on the southern tip of Abaco known as Hole-in-the-Wall. It’s a place of history and mystery – indeed arguably the most historically, geographically and nautically important location on the entire island. The material in this post has to an extent been combined from earlier posts a couple of years back, since when a great many more people have been showing an interest in the wildlife and history of Abaco (thanks!) and may be new to the history and significance of HITW…

Although Abaco is identifiably – though not geographically reliably – mapped from as early as 1550 (only 58 years post-Columbus), the earliest map of Abaco showing any actual named place is the van Keulen map of 1728 in the header picture. The importance of HITW (‘Hole Rok’ marked on the east side) is clear. Indeed it is the only settlement shown. Thereafter, the place is mapped variously as Hole-in-the-Rock, Trou dans la Roche and Hole-in-the-Wall, before finally settling on the last name. HITW was clearly a significant nautical landmark from at least the c16. You can read more on this topic at HITW – A SHORT HISTORY IN MAPS

Incidentally, note the early spellings including of the word ‘Cay’ as ‘Kee’ in the bottom right corner – doubtless an explanation for the pronunciation today, when one might otherwise rhyme the word with ‘Bay’.

hole-in-the-wall-print-1803

The print above, dated 1803, is the earliest depiction of HITW that I have traced. For now, note the familiar ‘Hole’ between the two ships; and the outcrop to the right showing that another, larger ‘Hole’ had, by the early c19, collapsed. Remains of the outcrop, now badly eroded, can still be seen. Read more about pictures of HITW in SHIPS, MAPS & HITW , or in HOLE TO GAP, including a more recent print by Winslow Homer (below) which I contend is the proof that his famous painting ‘Glass Window’ in the Brooklyn Museum is of Abaco and not (as claimed elsewhere) the famous Glass Window on Eleuthera. Of which more another time…

Hole-in-the-Wall Picture

The sad fact is that although the name lives on and probably always will, in October 2012 Hurricane Sandy smashed the Hole in the Wall to smithereens, leaving what one can best describe as GAP IN THE WALL.

Here is the position of the Hole, shown before Sandy struck. Note the outcrop at the tip (bottom right corner), as seen in the old print above hole-in-the-wall-rock-abaco-location

One of very few photos taken from the sea that I have come across. There’ll be more, and much closer, in the next post Hole-in-the-Wall distance shot

The view from the lighthouse down to the ‘Land’s End’ promontory (RH)Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

An aerial view of ‘Land’s End’ (with thanks to marinas.com for free use permission)Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse, Abaco annotated

The Hole, very shortly before Hurricane Sandy blasted away the bridge – the perfect place for a picnic…Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco ©Jessica Arrington

Or, as the storm approaches, maybe not…. Jack Bowers took this wonderful (and dangerous to acquire) sea-level shot – possibly the last photo ever of the intact arch427937_4820129308023_1041770732_n

Photos of the ‘Ex-Hole Now Gap’ taken within a very few days of the storm. Note the pale fresh stone HOLE-IN-THE-WALL ABACO post Sandy 1 Luc LavalleeHOLE-IN-THE-WALL ABACO post Sandy 2 Luc LavalleeHOLE-IN-THE-WALL ABACO post Sandy 3 Tara Lavallee

This post covers the history of Hole-in-the-Wall over the last 400 years or so, with links to earlier posts from a couple of years back. Then there’s a bit of a gap, I’m afraid, back to the LATE PLEISTOCENE EPOCH roughly 125,000 years ago when the landmass was formed… 

PART 2 will show how the ‘Hole’, the promontory and the lighthouse now look in 2015 from the ocean. During a recent highly successful whale-watching expedition with Charlotte & Diane from the BMMRO, we took the RHIB close to the point and took a seaward look at it from both sides, the first time I had done so. A few days before we’d been to Hole-in-the-Wall for birdwatching purposes by conventional means – the thirty mile round trip by truck along the track from the ‘Y’ of the Highway (NB no hire cars allowed). You can read an early post about this perilous adventure in TO THE LIGHTHOUSE…

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL LIGHTHOUSE: THE LANTERN ROOMHole-in-the-Wall, Abaco - Lantern Room (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: S. Wright, RH, marinas.com, Jessica Arrington, Jack Bowers, Luc Lavallee, Tara Lavallee, open source images

BAHAMAS WHALES & DOLPHINS IN ABACO & ANDROS WATERS


Melon-headed Whale breaching - BMMRO copy

Melon-headed Whale breaching – BMMRO

BAHAMAS WHALES & DOLPHINS IN ABACO & ANDROS WATERS

The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO)  has its HQ at Sandy Point, Abaco. We recently went out in their research boat, a RHIB, to spend an unforgettable day with Blainville’s beaked whales and bottlenose dolphins. I posted some of the dolphins HERE; and a two-part beaked whale post is a work in progress.

Male Blainville’s beaked whale with its extraordinary barnacle-encrusted teeth that protrude upwards from its lower jaw. The prominent beak is plainly visible. Sighted off the south-west point of Abaco during our second encounter with a group of these whales – the only male we saw that dayBlainville's Beaked Whale KS 1

Abaco waters are ideal for marine mammals, especially off the southern shores where the walls of the Great Bahama Canyon drop vertiginously down from the shallow coastal waters to depths of up to 3 miles below. This is one of the deepest ocean canyons in the world.  The area provides a rich source of food and nutrients for the whales and dolphins and many different species are regularly sighted there, from huge sperm whales to small pilot whales (including plenty of species I had never heard of before). 

Great Bahama Canyon Map edit

As the name suggests, the BMMRO’s remit extends far beyond Abaco. The researchers often spend time exploring and recording cetaceans in other Bahamian waters. For the last few weeks the team have been off Andros and have encountered quite a few target species. I have included a selection below taken within the last month to illustrate the importance of the area for a remarkable assortment of wonderful whales and dolphins.

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALEBlainville's Beaked Whale copy

DWARF SPERM WHALESDwarf Sperm Whales - BMMRO copy

PANTROPICAL SPOTTED DOLPHINSPantropical Spotted Dolphin - BMMRO Pantropical Spotted Dolphin leap - BMMRO copy

On board the research vessel, every sighting is recorded in detail – where possible by species, numbers, ages, sexes, and individual identifying characteristics. Thus ‘SW34′ may have a damaged fluke, whereas ‘RD49′ may have a long scar on its back. 

PILOT WHALESPilot Whale - BMMROPilot Whales - BMMRO copyPilot Whales 2 - BMMRO

The research boat is equipped with sound devices which, when the microphone is immersed, are capable of picking up whale or dolphin sounds from a considerable distance. It’s astounding to be able to listen in ‘live’ to the wide assortment of clicks and whistles produced as the creatures communicate with each other. The recorded sound patterns are studied and can often be matched to enable an individual animal to be identified. 

MELON-HEADED WHALESMelon-headed Whales - BMMRO Melon-headed Whale - BMMRO

RISSO’S DOLPHINRisso's Dolphin - BMMRO copy

Other work, including photography, is done underwater. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect is the collection of poop specimens, from which a great deal can be ascertained about the diet and health of an individual animal. I wrote about this task and the methods used a while ago inFAMILIAR FECES‘.

I’ll be writing more about whales soon. Meanwhile, here’s a short BMMRO video of a large group of melon-headed males. At the start, you can clearly hear communication sounds between them.

Credits: Charlotte & Diane of the BMMRO for taking us out with them and for all the photos except the male Blainville’s beaked whale (mine, for once!)

“THE ABACO BACKCOUNTRY – AN APPRECIATION” by JIM TODD


Click to preview The Abaco Backcountry photo book

Jim Todd has produced an attractive self-published book, available in 3 formats, showcasing some of the outstanding features of the less-frequented areas of Abaco and its waters. It contains many excellent photographs, with interesting notes and observations. There are places and facts in the book that may not be known even to locals! Below are some sample pages. 

Abaco Backcountry Grab 2 Abaco Backcountry Grab 3 Abaco Backcountry Grab 4 Abaco Backcountry Grab 5Abaco Backcountry Grab 7 Abaco Backcountry Grab 6Abaco Backcountry Grab 1

Anyone who loves Abaco, its natural surroundings, its ecology and its wildlife will love this book. If this post has whetted your appetite, here are some further details:

Available exclusively on BLURB (this is the direct link)

“The Abaco Backcountry draws on the author’s extensive exploration of the area to describe a hypothetical traverse of its length in words and pictures. It is not a guidebook but an appreciation of a unique Bahamian marine ecosystem”

56 pp, available softcover ($35), Hardcover, Dustjacket ($38.99) and Hardcover, Image Wrap ($40.99)

STOP PRESS In answer to a UK query, the Blurb price is shown in $$$. When you go to the checkout, the shipping is added e.g. $10.99 to ship the PB version to the UK. You can pay by CC or Paypal. The conversion to sterling (or presumably euros) happens… by magic

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD: NEW SUBSPECIES FOR ABACO?


Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 14

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD: NEW SUBSPECIES FOR ABACO?

[Camera. Lights. ACTION] Attenborough, D (for it is he), off-screen, in familiar breathy tones…

“Here, deep in the impenetrable pine forests of the Abaco National Park, lives an incredible bird discovery until recently known only to four people in the world. For here, where the unique Abaco Parrots nest in their underground holes and the rare Kirtland’s Warbler continues its brave stand against extinction… here is a completely new bird subspecies that is destined to take the avian world by storm… the Red-faced Bahama Mockingbird Mimus bahamensis volvensharborii…”

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 06

I can’t keep that nonsense up for any longer, you’ll be relieved to hear… But here is the story. Woody Bracey was taking us, with his friend Bill, in search of the rare and elusive Kirtland’s Warbler, about which more soon (*Spoiler Alert* Yes, we did. Four). We had stopped the truck in a remote area of the National Park to listen for and indeed watch parrots. I was in the front of the truck, window down, listening hard when suddenly, right by us, I suddenly heard the beautiful song of a Bahama Mockingbird. Here are two recordings I made the previous year – the first is over 1 min long, the second is only 17 secs.

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 07

I grabbed my camera and started to fire away at the bird, which was perched on a dead branch just a few feet away near the edge of the track. I had no time to think about depth of field, light balance, or refrangible focus indices, I just went for it. It was Woody who first noticed the remarkable feature of this bird – its red face. It first, I thought it was just on the chin, but later I saw that the red colouring is above the beak as well.

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 09

Woody is one of the most experienced birders in the Bahamas, and he had never come across this variant before. Sometimes a bird may have white patches or some other LEUCISTIC colour variation. But red is something very different. Once we had ruled out blood (no evidence of injury) and strawberry jam (no likelihood of a propensity for sticking face in same), an altogether more exciting possibility began to emerge…

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 10

The Bahamas Birding Triumvirate will be debating this find, no doubt. Is this sort of red-faced variant found in any other bird species? Is it a one-off? Or is it perhaps one example of a small subspecies confined to Abaco or the wider Bahamas? Or does it just come from eating red berries, as in photo #3? Has anyone come across a BM like this one? Any comment welcome via the comment box or email. 

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 11

This is my personal favourite pic, taken while the bird was in mid-song. I’d have liked an ‘open mouth’ shot, but frankly when you find an apparently new bird in the middle of nowhere, you can’t have everything….Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 13

Finally, you may well ask “So that’s all very well, but what does a ‘normal’ Bahama Mockingbird look like close-to?” Here’s an example for comparison 

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco 2

 

STOP PRESS (MAY 2015) The jury is back, the verdict unexciting (as I suppose was inevitable). The Bahamas Birding Sages have concluded that the red markings are simply staining from berries, as seen in #3 above. This is the obvious solution, but I am grateful to those (culminicola in the comments below, and a birding forum where this post has been discussed) who suggested the possibility of red pollen. The pine forest in which we saw this bird doesn’t in fact have flowers – or anyway red-pollened flowers – so berries must be the answer. In short, no Mimus bahamensis volvensharborii

All photos RH, cheers to Woody for leading the trip and for spotting the unusual features of this bird PDQ

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS IN ABACO WATERS (2): MOTHER & CALF


Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas 12

Sometimes things happen that completely take my breath away. Here is one of those moments, from our recent trip with Charlotte and Diane in the BMMRO research boat. As we returned from whale-watching to base in Sandy Point and moved from the deep dark ocean to the bright blue shallows, we encountered a group of bottlenose dolphins. You can see my recent post featuring some of the adults HERE. That was exciting enough, as they played around the boat. Then another participant appeared… 

 Notice the dark area behind the adult dolphin… Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

…which soon separated into a small dark splashing creature with its own fin cutting the waves…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

…and next seen keeping pace with its parentDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

The sharp line between the light and the dark sea is where the sandy shallows abruptly give way to the deep waters of the Grand Bahama Canyon, a massive trench up to 2.5 miles deep with almost vertical cliff walls to the depths in some places

Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

There were less active and splashy moments as the pair swam around togetherDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, BahamasDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Then it was back to doing what they like best…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, BahamasDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Then some more restful moments…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

And finally the pair moved away. On the far horizon, the Massive Mickey Mouse Cruise ship moored at ‘Disney’s Castaway Cay’ (formerly the sober-sounding Gorda Cay), where you can be a Pirate of the Caribbean. Or anyway a very happy Tourist. The choice is yours. Would you like fries with that?Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

And looking out to sea from the cheerful place that is Castaway Cay, I wonder if a small child was wondering “Ok, love Mickey and his Friends – but I’d also really love to see a wild dolphin swimming free… 

Disney Magic docked next to the Castaway Cay Family Beach copy

All photos RH (except Castaway, Wiki). Huge thanks to Charlotte, Diane and Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO for a truly wonderful day photo 2

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