HUMBLE HOUSE SPARROWS ON ABACO… & EVERYWHERE ELSE!


House Sparrow, Abaco  - Nina Henry

HUMBLE HOUSE SPARROWS ON ABACO… & EVERYWHERE ELSE!

The House Sparrow is one of the most successful, adaptive and prolific species in the world. THE most, in fact. It is found on every continent (except Antarctica… but I bet there are in fact a few of them pecking around the Ross Ice Shelf for crumbs). It is indigenous to Europe and Asia, and has been introduced elsewhere.  So to any birds or people  that say house sparrows are boring and common, I would point out that they are world record-holders… 

People tend not to photograph house sparrows. Their domesticity and familiarity have rather tended to breed contempt. Besides, there are more impressive birds to capture. In compiling BIRDS OF ABACO, it was surprisingly hard to get hold of sparrow images. We had to take some ‘in-house’ photos as back-up. Although the house sparrow comes into the broad birding category ‘LBJ’ (‘Little Brown Job’), it’s really a bit unfair. The males in particular deserve a second look (then you can go and find some painted buntings if you wish…).House Sparrow, Abaco - Nina Henry

One of the strangest birding features in the UK in the last 20 years has been the virtual elimination of the house sparrow from London and its inner suburbs. Until recently, there were loveable ‘Cockerny Sparrers’ everywhere. Then suddenly the population began to decline, and the rate of loss accelerated quickly. I haven’t seen one in London for years – not in our garden, not in the green squares, not in the trees, not in noisy squawking crowds in Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. Suddenly a bird that was so common that its presence was taken completely for granted has now become high on any birder’s ‘get’ list for London, and a joy to see…  To read a short article on the possible reasons for the decline CLICK HERE. The trouble is that most theories could be applied to other major cities where there are still thriving populations – New York, for example.

House Sparrow, Abaco - Peter Mantle

It has to be said that the female house sparrow is undeniably less… er… flamboyant than the male, as is the case with most (all?) avians. But they are still pretty birds, in much the same way that a female black-faced grassquit has subtle coloration if you look closely. I took the photo below at MH Airport while hanging around for a plane. The bird wasn’t perched at a very good angle for a memorable shot, or so I thought until I noticed its little wrinkly feet and sharp claws…

House Sparrow (f), Abaco Keith Salvesen

The delicate patterns of the female house sparrow 
House Sparrow (f), Abaco Bruce Hallett copy

A juvenile. Cute, yes, but I’m sorry, it really is quite dull at this stage…House Sparrow (juv), Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Credits: Nina Henry x 2, Peter Mantle, Moi, Bruce Hallett, Charles Skinner

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!

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD NEST, CHICKS & FLEDGING VIDEO


Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco -  Bruce Hallett

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco – Bruce Hallett

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD NEST, CHICKS & FLEDGING VIDEO

I tend not to reblog other people’s posts wholesale. For a start, there can be compatibility issues that are tiresome to sort out. Often, they will include material – interesting in its own right – that is applicable to that blog but not to this one… Or it might be inappropriate to add other useful info or images. Sometimes, though, a post is perfect. This is one such time. I have recently started to follow Dominique’s blog WANDER IN NATURE, having come across her post about the Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii. The Baha Mocker is on the ‘wants list’ of any birder on Abaco. I have never seen a photo of a nest or chick before, far less seen either in real life. So here they are, not on Abaco but only a mockingbird’s flight away!

Wander in Nature logo

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD TAKES FLIGHT

JUNE 2014 Sometime in the transition between Spring and Summer, I stumbled across a bird’s nest wedged in the top corner of the rose garden.  After a much needed boost, I peered in and discovered the bobbing beaks of three little nestlings, so fragile and still without their feathers.

Bahama Mockingbird Chicks (Wander in Nature)

Over the next few days, I hoped to follow their growth and capture them during feeding time with their two parents that had clearly made their presence known.  One of the young birds appeared to take over the nest for a while, and eventually took flight into the big wide world.

Bahama Mockingbird Fledgling (Wander in Nature)

Bahama Mockingbird Adult & Fledgling (Wander in Nature)

Bahama Mockingbird Fledgling (Wander in Nature)

The whole story is here… there’s a great deal of action at this nest!

Here are two recordings of the beautiful song of this bird that I made 18 months ago a short way down a logging track in the pine forest south of Crossing Rocks (before the Y). Note the repetition of particular phrases before the bird moves on to the next sound in its extensive repertoire.

RELATED POSTS

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD ‘Making a good impression…’

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD ‘Taking off…’ (Mimicry)

Credits: Header image, Bruce Hallett; all other images and video, Dominique @ Wander in Nature

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (22): BLACK GROUPER


Black Grouper ed ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba 2

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (22): BLACK GROUPER

The Black Grouper is a large fish of the reefs found in the western Atlantic, particularly in the waters of Florida, Bahamas, Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. It is a solitary species that mostly prefers the shallow waters around coral reefs.

Black Grouper ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba

Formerly plentiful, these groupers (like other grouper species) have moved from an IUCN listing of ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Near-Threatened’. They have the twin disadvantages of being fished for sport and fished for food. As demand for grouper on the menu rises, so does its vulnerability. The species is described as a ‘slow breeder’, so a depleting population has less chance of sustaining numbers. 

Black Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

An adult black grouper’s diet consists of small fish and squid. Juveniles feed primarily on crustaceans. However, certain tiny reef fish are important to the species as ‘cleaners’. You can read about their significance by clicking CLEANING STATIONS Here are examples of two black groupers receiving attention at the same cleaning station. Both also seem to be giving a ride to REMORAS.

Grouper at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Note that this fish has an embedded hook and is trailing a line – one that ‘got away’Grouper, Black, at cleaning station (+ hook) ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

Despite the name, black groupers are not all black. They have many shades from dark to olive-coloured to pale. I believe the two photos below are of a grouper known as Arthur, a favourite with divers and definitely off the menu… Black Grouper  ©Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaBlack Grouper 2 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

The tiny bright blue fish in the photo above are Blue Chromis, a regular accompaniment on any snorkel or dive on a reef. I like the colourful little Fairy Basslet in the next photoBlack Grouper © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Now that the NASSAU GROUPER has been awarded a closed season to help maintain numbers, it will be interesting to see if the winter fishing ban is extended to the Black Grouper…

Black Grouper (Arthur) ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba

RELATED POSTS

TIGER GROUPER

NASSAU GROUPER

Credits: all photos Virginia Cooper and Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba 

RARE AMERICAN ROBINS ON ABACO: MORE SIGHTINGS


American Robin, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

In 2012 I wrote a post about the comparative rarity of the American Robin on Abaco, which had surprised me. They overwinter in Florida, and they might conceivably range further more often than they do. It turned out that one or two may be reported one year, none the next. I listed a number of sightings and some comments by Woody Bracey, but I lacked any photos of these birds taken on Abaco. I had to make do with wiki and bad ones taken in the US by me (including stuffed ones in the Natural History Museum, NYC – an act of desperation!). You can see the post HERE

Nina Henry, a photographic contributor to BIRDS OF ABACO, had some good fortune last March 2014 when she found these 3 birds during her trip to Abaco. Maybe March is a good time for them – perhaps a few call in as they start to make their way north for the summer. 

AMERICAN ROBIN, Abaco 1- Nina Henry AMERICAN ROBIN, Abaco 2- Nina Henry AMERICAN ROBIN, Abaco 3- Nina Henry

Many past sightings have been on the Cays rather than the main island.  Here’s a recent photograph taken by Charmaine Albury on Man-o-Way Cay

American Robin Man-o-War Cay Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

Meanwhile I have been able to improve slightly on the tiny distant AMRO I posted before, with one taken more recently – still not on Abaco but in NYC. Closer, but definitely no cigar yet…

American Robin, NYC (Rolling Harbour)

 Credits: Bruce Hallett (header), Nina Henry x 3, Charmaine Albury, RH

‘SEXING THE HUMMER': A GENDER GUIDE TO ABACO’S HUMMINGBIRDS


Cuban Emerald (male) Abaco - Becky Marvil

Cuban Emerald (male) Abaco – Becky Marvil

 ‘SEXING THE HUMMER': A GENDER GUIDE TO ABACO’S HUMMINGBIRDS

The subject matter of this post is not as indelicate as the title might imply; nor is it a ‘hands-on’ practical guide for intimate examinations of tiny birds. In particular it does not publicise some recently discovered louche activity involving unfeasibly large motor vehicles. It’s all about plumage. In my thin disguise as a person with apparent knowledge about the wildlife of a country that is not my own, I get frequent requests for bird ID. Some, I know at once. Some I have to think about, my memory not being quite as…

Where was I? Yes, bird ID. I use BRUCE HALLETT’S book of course, and online the CORNELL LAB and AUDUBON sites. OISEUX-BIRDS is also a good resource and has a large archive of images. And of course dear old Google – they may watch your every keystroke and know more about you than you do yourself, but put a bird’s name into Google Images and you’ll probably see your bird in every static pose or flight you need for ID. They’ll log that too for future use. I have had some queries about Bahama Woodstar gender ID, and more recently, Cuban Emeralds. So here are the adult males and females of each species in all their undoubted glory…

BAHAMA WOODSTAR (Calliphlox evelynae)

Bahama Woodstar (m), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Bahama Woodstar (male), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Bahama Woodstar, Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Abaco (Velma Knowles)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Abaco (Velma Knowles)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco  (Tara Lavallee)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

 WOODSTAR ID MADE EASY

Males have a glorious purple, showy ‘gorget’. Females are less flamboyant, and have grey throats and fronts. Tara’s wonderful photo above vividly demonstrates their more delicate beauty. It’s one of my personal favourites from “BIRDS OF ABACO“, along with Tom Sheley’s above, the bird that graces the jacket. 

 CUBAN EMERALD (Chlorostilbon ricordii)

Cuban Emerald (male), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (male), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (male), Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Cuban Emerald (male), Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Cuban Emerald (female), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (female), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (female) Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (female) Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

EMERALD ID MADE EASY

Male emeralds are basically… er… emerald green all over , apart from the wings. Females have grey throats and fronts, and lack the chestnut frontal band of the female woodstar. I’d say that their iridescent green is a different metallic shade from the male, but that may be just me. I don’t have the palette vocab to describe it, but advice welcome! Perhaps one can simply say it is more subtle.

SO IT’S JUST THE TWO HUMMERS ON ABACO, IS IT?

The answer is ‘No’. But don’t make a special trip to see the third species – they are casual / irregular vagrants only, and a definite sighting will be a rarity. But just in case, here are stock photos of a male and a female, and (taken on Abaco by Bruce Hallett) an immature male of the species…

RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD

MaleRuby-throated hummer (Steve Maslowski, Wiki)

FemaleRuby-throated Hummingbird (Tim Ross Wiki)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (male, immature)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (male, imm), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (male, imm), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

This is an attractive print of the R-tH by MenaboniRuby-throated Hummingbird - Menaboni

To complete this post, I’ll add a brilliant Woodstar photo taken by Tom Sheley, birdman and generous fishing partner, that I reckon spans the boundary between photography and art. 

Bahama Woodstar female.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Bahama Woodstar female.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Credits: In addition to those shown below images, Steve Maslowski and Tim Ross for the RTHs

EGRETS GREAT & SNOWY FOR SUNNY GREAT ABACO & SNOWY ELSEWHERE!


Snowy Egret, Bahamas - Tony Hepburn

EGRETS GREAT & SNOWY FOR SUNNY GREAT ABACO & SNOWY ELSEWHERE!

There’s nothing to beat a superlative sequence of narrative photos taken by someone with great skill, a very good eye and an excellent camera (that’s me out of it, on all 3 counts). The two sequences below are from PHIL LANOUE, a highly experienced wildlife photographer who specialises in birds and… alligators (I’ll do the ‘taking snaps’ joke, thank you). He posts almost daily, and it’s a morning treat to see what he has captured on his salt marshes. Very often it is a compelling wildlife action sequence showing the trials and tribulations of bird territory sharing; or the joys and disappointments of fishing… the ones that get away!

GREAT EGRETS

You’ll soon see why the egret is taking flight – a rival is fiercely seeing him off, including an attempted leg or foot grab. That may not have succeeded, but I think he made his point…

egret-fight-in-the-salt-marsh-01 (Phil Lanoue) egret-fight-in-the-salt-marsh-02 - (Phil Lanoue) egret-fight-in-the-salt-marsh-03 (Phil Lanoue) egret-fight-in-the-salt-marsh-04 (Phil Lanoue) egret-fight-in-the-salt-marsh-05 (Phil Lanoue)

 

SNOWY EGRET FISHING

You can tell that this bird is motionless while hunting – there are no ripples at all round its legs. That sharp beak is poised for the sudden, rapid strike. As it stabs down, it shows its distinctive yellow feet and leg markings. The fish emerges firmly gripped sideways, and is effortlessly flipped round for immediate consumption,

snowy-fishing-in-the-salt-marsh-01 (Phil Lanoue) snowy-fishing-in-the-salt-marsh-02 (Phil Lanoue) snowy-fishing-in-the-salt-marsh-03 (Phil Lanoue) snowy-fishing-in-the-salt-marsh-04 (Phil Lanoue)

These are the sorts of pictures I would love to be able to take. Anyone would. But I am going to have to graduate to something a great deal more sophisticated than my trusty Lumix bridge camera and its fixed zoom extension. It has a Leica lens, which counts for a lot, but an upgrade to SLR is on the horizon. First I need to get stuck into some serious work on manual settings. I have a mountain to climb – I’m still hanging around Base Camp!

RELATED EGRET POSTS

EGRETS? I’ VE SEEN A FEW… (BUT THEN AGAIN…) (Great Egrets)

IT’S ALL WHITE… IT’S A REDDISH EGRET (Reddish Egrets, White Morph)

MANGROVES, MUD & (REALLY) GREAT EGRETS (Great Egrets, Treasure Cay)

REMARKABLE FEET’ – SNOWY EGRETS ON ABACO (Snowy Egrets)

‘ELEGANT COOT CABARETS’ (6,6,2,5 anag.)  (Cattle Egrets)

 Credits: Header image, Tony Hepburn; all others Phil Lanoue with many thanks for use permission