FESTIVE BIRDING ON ABACO WITH GUEST BIRDER VELMA


Abaco Parrot, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

FESTIVE BIRDING ON ABACO WITH GUEST BIRDER VELMA

Velma Knowles is a resident of Nassau but originates from Abaco, where her grandparents lived. She is a keen photographer and birder, and recently spent a few days ‘back home’ on Abaco, staying on Man-o-War Cay during that strange ‘Christmas to New Year’ period that people have begun to refer to uncomfortably as ‘Twixmas’. Which I guess goes well with ‘Winterval’, if that neologism to describe the festive season rocks your sleigh. 

Obviously, Velma had her camera with her; and a bit of quality birding was built into her schedule. Man-o-War has been having a prolific winter season, birdwise, with plenty of interesting migratory species passing through or settling there till Spring. But who would be content with a random warbler from the North, when there are Abaco’s specialist birds to encounter. Many of the birds featured – all are permanent residents – were seen on Man-o-War; others on the main island, though not actually at Delphi. Every bird shown can readily be found at Delphi, except perhaps for the Royal Tern, hence a few mentions. Let’s see how Velma did during her brief visit. (Spoiler Alert: very well indeed!).

ABACO PARROTS

A first ‘get’ for anyone’s Abaco checklist, and hence the header image. Not available on the Cays, so a trip to the ‘mainland’ and the wild pine forest and coppice of South Abaco is called for (they don’t venture north of Marsh Harbour). Rescued from the brink of extinction by careful conservation measures, the newly regenerating population of these unique underground-nesting parrots is gradually spreading, making them easier to find. During the day, Bahamas Palm Shores is a likely spot, as are locations to the south, including Delphi and the area around Crossing Rocks down to Gilpin Point. 

Abaco Parrot, Abaco (Velma Knowles)Abaco Parrot pair, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

BAHAMA WOODSTAR

Abaco’s lovely endemic hummingbird, rather pushed around by the brash incomer Cuban Emerald and therefore tending to avoid  them (though both can be found at Delphi). The MALE CUBAN EMERALD has a striking purple throat aka ‘gorget'; the female (below) encountered by Velma has a more delicate colouring.

Bahama Woodstar, Abaco (Velma Knowles)Bahama Woodstar, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

CUBAN EMERALD

Unlike the Woodstar, these pretty iridescent green hummers are not endemic yet are more frequently encountered. They fly and change direction with astonishing speed, and are feeder-keen! Your sugar-water feeder will also attract Bananquits (pointy curved beak for the little holes) and West Indian Woodpeckers (long tongue) – and possibly Woodstars.Cuban Emerald, Abaco (Velma Knowles)Cuban Emerald, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER   

Splendid and occasionally noisy birds that nest in boxes under the eaves at Delphi. They produce two families a year. Velma writes “It has been a long wait but I finally saw this lifer, the West Indian Woodpecker. This bird is only found in The Bahamas, Cuba and the Cayman Islands. Awesome call!”West-Indian Woodpecker, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

WESTERN SPINDALIS

Velma writes “One of my targeted birds, the Western Spindalis, formerly called the stripe-headed tanager. On the way from the airport we spotted him on the side-of-the-road. Now that’s island-birding!”Western Spindalis, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

 BANANAQUIT

One of my own  favourite small birds. Irresistably cheery, busy and ubiquit(-ous) Bananaquit, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

THICK-BILLED VIREO

Velma writes “Such a beautiful call… the Thick-billed Vireo. We heard a number of these guys on our bird-walks. The Thick-billed Vireo is a Caribbean endemic, being restricted to The Bahamas, the Caymans, the Turks and Caicos, two islands off of Cuba and one off of Haiti (though it has been reported in Florida)”Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH

The adult male’s striking colour patches are orange-red; the female’s are more yellow. They are greedy at the feeder and rank high up in the pecking order, where smaller birds defer to them. One local name for them is ‘Police Bird’: the adult male’s colouring matches that of a Bahamian Police Officer’s uniform.

Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERON (juvenile)  Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

ROYAL TERNRoyal Tern, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

ROYAL TERN SYNCHRONISED DIVING SCHOOL, LONG DOCK, CHEROKEE

At 770 feet, this dock is the longest in the entire BahamasRoyal Terns at Long Dock, Cherokee, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

All photos: Velma Knowles, with thanks for use permission

SANDERLING ON ABACO: A PERFECT PEEP FOR THE NEW YEAR


Sanderling Pair, Abaco (Craig Nash)

SANDERLING ON ABACO: A PERFECT PEEP FOR THE NEW YEAR

Various matters have kept me from the Blogosphere over the last week, so this is the first post for 2015. And what gorgeous little birds to have to hand for it – the Sanderling Calidris alba, a small sandpiper or ‘stint’ that is a common and welcome winter sight on the shorelines of Abaco, as in many other parts of the world. Who can resist these little guys, the ‘wave chasers’ that work along the shoreline, rapidly following the surf as food is exposed on the tide. Sometimes they will actually run into the ripples of an incoming wave to snap up a morsel of food, before scuttling back up the beach. They have been likened to clockwork toys. Amusing and cheering little birds to watch, so here is a gallery of them to enjoy and to welcome in the new year.

Sanderling in the Surf, Abaco (Craig Nash)Sanderling, Abaco (Craig Nash)  Sanderling, Abaco (Alex Hughes)1Classic Sanderling foraging area in the wet sand left by the retreating tideSanderling, Abaco (Alex Hughes)4The birds are small and fly fast: a clear ‘in-flight’ photo is a great achievementSanderling, Abaco (Alex Hughes)2 Sanderling, Abaco (Alex Hughes)3 Sanderling.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley1 Sanderling.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley2

This sandpiper was taken by the late Tony Hepburn on Abaco. It has been ringed in its summer breeding grounds, and feeds in wave-softened sand with the tidal foam still visible all around it.Sanderling, Abaco (Tony Hepburn) copy

This made me chortle… Sanderling Lonelyheart!photo

Credits: Craig Nash (1 – 3); Alex Hughes (4 – 7); Tom Sheley (8 – 9); Tony Hepburn (10)

“A WHALE OF A YEAR”: 12 MONTHS FROM ROLLING HARBOUR ABACO


Whale Tailing, Bahamas (BMMRO)

“A WHALE OF A YEAR”: 12 MONTHS FROM ROLLING HARBOUR ABACO

 JANUARY

Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco

Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco Backcountry

FEBRUARY

French Angelfish (juv)

French Angelfish (juvenile), Bahamas

MARCH

Publication & Launch of “The Birds of Abaco”

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book-launch-1 Author signing copies, with Bahamas birding gurus Tony White, Bruce Hallett & Woody Bracey

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APRIL

20130106_Bahamas-Great Abaco_4846_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy

Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco

MAY

Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 7

Bananaquit, Delphi Club, Abaco, Bahamas

JUNE

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco : WWT - RH 3

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco – first recorded sighting

JULY

Octopus ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

Octopus, Bahamas

AUGUST 

Bobwhite pair 2.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley cr

Bobwhite pair, Abaco, Bahamas

SEPTEMBER

Black-necked stilt Alex Hughes, Abaco

Black-necked Stilt, Abaco

OCTOBER

White-winged Dove, Abaco Bahamas - Tom Sheley

White-winged Dove, Abaco, Bahamas

NOVEMBER

Exploring Dan's Cave, Abaco

Exploring Dan’s Cave, Abaco

DECEMBER

Piping Plover, Abaco - Charmaine Albury

Piping Plover: a precious winter visitor to Man-o-War Cay, Abaco

All the best for 2015 to Rolling Harbour’s regular, occasional and random visitors

Credits: BMMRO, RH, Melinda Riger, Gerlinde Taurer, Tom Sheley, Alex Hughes, Brian Kakuk, Charmaine Albury

“ELEVEN PIPERS PIPING”: CUTE PLOVERS FOR CHRISTMAS…


Piping Plovers Conserve Wildlife Foundation NJ

Yay Mom! Apparently it’s something exciting called Christmas…

ELEVEN PIPERS PIPING“: CUTE PLOVERS FOR CHRISTMAS…

A Gorgeous Gallery of Ringed / Tagged PIPL by Danny Sauvageau

The numbers, positions, colours and numbering of the rings and tags pinpoints the precise origins of each bird. Note that some birds are ringed both above and below the ‘knee’. These markers have no effect on the daily lives of the birds, but are massively helpful in migration research. Danny’s photos are taken at ‘resting points’ in Florida where the birds pause as they migrate south for winter, many to Abaco and other Bahamas islands. Some birds shown below come from Canada, others from along the Eastern Seaboard of North America. Piping Plover, Florida (Danny Sauvageau 1) Piping Plover, Florida (Danny Sauvageau 2) Piping Plover, Florida (Danny Sauvageau 3)  Piping Plover, Florida (Danny Sauvageau 6) Piping Plover, Florida (Danny Sauvageau 5) Piping Plover, Florida (Danny Sauvageau 7) Piping Plover, Florida (Danny Sauvageau 9)

One Piper Piping…

Jerome Fischer / Xeno Canto

A Piper from Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ

This New Jersey conservation organisation is very closely involved with research into PIPL migration to their winter grounds. Two scientists, Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger, recently made their annual visit to Abaco to count the plovers and check for ID markers. At one remote location they found an amazing 88 birds. However, by the time they got to Delphi, the four Pipers that had been playing on the beach for a couple of weeks had moved off, unsettled by windy conditions. Piping Plover Conserve Wildlife Foundation NJ.JPG

An unringed Piper taken recently by Charmaine Albury on Man-o-War CayPiping Plover, Abaco - Charmaine Albury

The Epitome of Cute
Piping Plover chick (ex-FB, original lource unknown)

AND ONE EXTRA FOR LUCK!

Eco-friendly PIPL plush ‘stuffies’ from the fabulous UNREAL BIRDS. Check out their other species – the American Oystercatcher is irresistible. NB 20% of every sale goes to the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ (see link above).

Piping Plover Plush Stuffies - Unreal Birds

Credits: Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ / ‘BirdsbyKim'; Danny Sauvageau; Char Albury; Unreal Birds; Cute chick from FB, unattributed – thanks, photographer!

COLOURFUL BUNTING FOR CHRISTMAS ON ABACO


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Painted Bunting, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

COLOURFUL BUNTING FOR CHRISTMAS ON ABACO

BUNTING  /ˈbʌntɪŋ/  (Noun)
[Yay! A Christmas gift of a puntastic avian / festive double-meaning]
  1. A small New World songbird of the cardinal subfamily
  2. Flags and other colourful festive decorations

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PAINTED BUNTINGPainted Bunting, Abaco Tara Lavallee

It’s hard to imagine a more Christmasy little bird than the Painted Bunting. Bright blue, red, green primary colours make for a spectacular small bird to grace any garden or feeder. The 2 birds above were featured in a detailed post on the species several months ago, with plenty of other great photos, HERE But there are other bunting species and close relations on Abaco that haven’t yet had a look-in on these pages. A common factor is the little fat beak and a great liking for seeds…

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INDIGO BUNTINGIndigo Bunting.BPS.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Indigo Bunting male with 2 females going for the seeds, Bahama Palm ShoresIndigo Bunting, BPS, Abaco Ann Capling

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ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKRose-breasted Grosbeak PMRose-breasted Grosbeak, Delphi, Abaco (Caroline Stahala)

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SUMMER TANAGERSummer Tanager (m), Abaco Bruce Hallett

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SCARLET TANAGERScarlet Tanager, Abaco Woody Bracey

The birds above are all buntings or part of the wider bunting family. The definition is somewhat flexible and includes piranga and tanager species (and in the past the Western Spindalis, formerly the Stripe-headed Tanager). All were photographed on Abaco, mostly at the Delphi Club or Bahama Palm Shores. The photos below are a flagrant cheat. You’ll never see one of these on Abaco. They were taken by me a couple of years back in Central Park, NYC, made magic with snow and freezing air. Have a very happy and colourful Christmas!

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NORTHERN CARDINALRed Cardinal CP NYC 2Red Cardinal CP NYC 3

Credits: Erik Gauger, Tara Lavallee, Tom Sheley, Ann Capling, Caroline Stahala, Bruce Hallett, Woody Bracey, RH

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‘ANOTHER GOOD ONE': BRIDLED TERN ON ABACO


Bridled Tern, Abaco Bruce Hallett 2

 ‘ANOTHER GOOD ONE': BRIDLED TERN ON ABACO

Well, with a bit of digging into the naming of this tern species, I have discovered that the ‘bridled’ part of it apparently refers to the white band / collar at the back of its neck. This is puzzling because one would expect a ‘bridle’ to start at the mouth / beak and angle backwards. Like a horse. Like the conspicuous black line from the base of this tern’s beak sweeping back past its eyes and joining its black cap at the back. How wrong that assumption would be…

Far more exciting than the ‘bridle’ question is the origin of the Bridled Tern’s species name, Onychoprion anaethetus. Wondering about the medical-sounding word, I discovered via the excellent ARKIVE that the name derives from the Greek for ‘senseless’ or ‘stupid’, “a reference to the ease with which hungry sailors captured this bird“. So there you have it: not ‘aesthetically pleasing’ or similar compliment, but just plain dozy.

Bridled Tern, Abaco Bruce Hallett 3

The Bridled Tern is a fairly common summer resident on Abaco, where it breeds.  It is one of 12 tern species recorded on Abaco, the others being Sooty Tern, Least Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Caspian Tern, Black Tern, Roseate Tern, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Forster’s Tern, Royal Tern and Sandwich Tern. 

These terns plunge-dive for fish, but will also take them from the surface. Unlike other terns – for example the Least Tern – they usually dive directly and not from a hover. When courting, the male will rather charmingly woo the female by offering her fish.

Bridled Tern, Abaco Bruce Hallett 1http://www.xeno-canto.org/sounds/uploaded/XFQFSNTWJY/XC197147-bridled%20tern.mp3 Eveny Louis / Xeno CantoBridled_Tern (Aviceda Wiki)

 Credits: Bruce Hallett (1,2,3), Aviceda (4), Xeno Canto (audio)

PEACOCK FLOUNDER: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (21)


  Peacock Flounder ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

PEACOCK FLOUNDER: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (21)

PEACOCK FLOUNDER or PLATE FISH Bothus lunatus

I have briefly featured this fish before in the context of its extraordinary camouflage abilities; and also its interesting ocular arrangements. Time to give it another swim around, I think, with some additional photos that I have collected.

Peacock Flounder

Bothus lunatus is the Atlantic / Caribbean version of a species also found in the Pacific and Indian oceans. Adults may grow up to 18 inches long. The species is a ‘lefteye’ flounder, with both eyes on its left (top) side & its right side underneath.  However a baby flounder looks & swims like normal fish, with bilateral eyes. As it grows, the right eye gradually ‘moves’ round to the topside, and it becomes a flatfish.

Peacock Flounder

A flounder’s eyes can move independently of each other. One may look forwards, the other backwardsPeacock Flounder Eye ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

‘NOW YOU SEE IT…’ CAMO-FISH

The Peacock Flounder has extraordinary  colour-changing powers, and can rapidly vary its background colour to make it closely resemble that of its surroundings. This enables it camouflage itself as it lies on the seabed. It can change coloration completely in between two to eight seconds.  

Four frames of the same fish taken a few minutes apart showing the ability of flounders to change colors to match the surroundings (Wiki)Peacock Flounder Brocken Inaglory

Check out these imitative patterns in Bahamas waters…Peacock Flounder (f) ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

Flower_flounder_in_Kona_wiki

There are two advantages to the ability to camouflage (‘cryptic coloration). One is obviously to avoid detection by predators. The other is to enable the flounder to ambush its meals. They feed primarily on small fishes, crabs and shrimps, lying concealed on the seabed and grabbing any unwary prey that ventures too close. They will even partially bury themselves in the sand, leaving just their eye-stalks keeping watch…Peacock Flounder ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

HOW CAN THEY POSSIBLY CHANGE COLOUR SO QUICKLY?

Scientists are still puzzling this out. In a conch shell, it seems the flounder can coordinate its amazing all-round vision with its hormones, instantly releasing certain pigments to its skin cells and suppressing other pigments to make the colour match. Not convinced? Then watch this short video and prepare to be impressed. 

Fred Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba, who kindly keeps a benign eye on my reef fish posts (he’s the expert), adds a third excellent reason for coloration changes: sex… “the male peacock flounder can, and does greatly intensify his colors, presumably to declare territory and attract females to his person. When doing this the males will also signal with the left pectoral fin, sticking it straight up and waving it around.” Maybe that is what is going on in the photo below – intensified, non-camouflage colours, and a raised fin…Peacock Flounder ©Melinda Riger@ G B Scuba

Peacock Flounder on a plate – Kim Rody Art983829_10154948988290716_6633206689277673329_n

Credits: Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba for almost all photos; wiki for 2 illustrative images