“TOOTHY CRITTERS”: BARRACUDA ON ABACO


3875_aquaimages

“TOOTHY CRITTERS”: BARRACUDA ON ABACO

We’ve had some sharks swimming around the blog, for example HERE. But not a great deal about barracudas. Time to put that right. Melinda Riger’s excellent photographs tell you the basics of what you need to know – they are lean, mean biting machines with wicked teeth. In fact, ‘cuda bites are quite rare (unless you you very stupid or very unlucky) and many of the common sense rules that apply to fraternising with sharks in their own element apply equally with ‘cudas.

Barracuda & Diver ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

Great gnashers – some teeth angle forwards & some backwards for mincing prey effectivelyBarracuda ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba Barracuda ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy 800px-Barracuda_laban

Lobbing a brightly-coloured lure from a skiff using a spinning rod into the general vicinity of a barracuda can result in a heart-stopping few seconds as the fish plunges towards the lure at astonishing speed. If it takes it, there’s even more fun to be had bringing it in. ‘Cuda steaks are delicious, but some care needs to be taken. These fish are known carriers of CIGUATERA fish-poisoning. Click the link to find out about the unpleasantness of the toxin involved. On Abaco, ‘cudas from one side of the island are OK, and from the other side may be suspect… just make sure you know which is which before you cook your supper…

BARRACUDA ©Melida Riger @ G B  ScubaBarracuda ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

‘RAINBOW BIRDS’: GORGEOUS PAINTED BUNTINGS ON ABACO


Painted Bunting male.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

‘RAINBOW BIRDS’: GORGEOUS PAINTED BUNTINGS ON ABACO

The Mnemonic: that little aide memoire that helps you easily remember a fact. A suitable example hereabouts would be one for remembering the order of taxonomy:  Kids Prefer Cheese Over Fried Green Spinach (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species). ‘ROY G BIV’ or ‘VIBGYOR’ were my childhood ones for the colours of the rainbow in order. Now I’d just look at a picture of a Painted Bunting. Who cares about the exact order? The colours are all there! 

Painted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

PAINTED BUNTINGS (Passerina ciris) belong to the Cardinal family (Cardinalidae) native to North America. Some would argue that the male Painted Bunting is one of the most beautiful birds. There are no ID problems with the male – once seen, never forgotten. However, these birds are inclined to skulk a bit, so despite their vivid  colouring they aren’t always easy to see amid foliage. The plumage of female and juvenile Painted Buntings are green or greeny-yellow and may be even harder to see in coppice. The one below is an immature female.

Painted Bunting (female, immature), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

These  buntings are shy birds, but luckily their keenness for seeds outweighs their natural diffidence, and they enjoy feeders. They also eat small invertebrates such as spiders, snails, grasshoppers, and caterpillars, especially in the breeding seasonPainted Bunting, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Male painted buntings are only too well aware how gorgeous they look (‘You’re so vain – I bet you think this post is about you…’). They may go in for ostentatious displays, including flying like a butterfly or all fluffed up or with quivering wings. Or all three. Sometimes this is to upstage another male; mostly it is to impress the laydeez.

Painted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavellee)

Russ Wigh, Xeno-Canto

Unsurprisingly the painted bunting was at one time very popular as a caged bird. Now though, it is illegal to catch or keep one. They are IUCN listed as Near Threatened and are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.

220px-Status_iucn3.1_NT.svg220px-Passerina_ciris_distribution

The photos above all come from the photographic archive amassed for “The Birds of Abaco” project. Credits to Tom Sheley, Tara Lavallee, Bruce Hallett, and Erik Gauger. Below is an omnium gatherum consisting of a gallery of rather good painted bunting photos from Wiki;  a good video of PABUs singing; and for light relief a largely irrelevant yet quite charming 10 minute cartoon ‘The Rainbow Bird’ based on a South American folktale. 

PaintedBunting23 Painted Bunting Passerina ciris Doug Janson Wiki 800px-Painted_Bunting_Female_by_Dan_Pancamo

 

SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO


SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO

Uli Nowlan has had two beautiful swallowtail butterfly species in her garden at Treasure Cay. These are absolute stunners, with great camerawork to capture the details.

BAHAMA SWALLOWTAIL Papilio andraemonBahamas Swallowtail Butterfly, Abaco (Uli Nowlan)

TIGER SWALLOWTAIL Papilio glaucusSwallowtail Butterfly, Abaco (Uli Nowlan) Bahamas Swallowtail Butterfly, Abaco (Uli Nowlan)

BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS ON ABACO: MORE SIGHTINGS & IMAGES


Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco - Liann Key Kaighin

BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS ON ABACO: MORE SIGHTINGS & IMAGES

I have only just posted about this new duck species for Abaco HERE. Yesterday Liann Key Kaighin encountered a pair of these ducks at Marsh Harbour Airport. She took some great shots of them. They certainly look very appealing little birds. Her first report was Thursday June 12, 2014, around 9am, this pair flew in together to hang out in the water puddle. They were very unafraid. AZigZag Airways, MH Airfield, Abaco”. Since previous sightings have been of 6 birds together, either the original group has split up as they have travelled north over the week; or another pair have chosen to inaugurate the new airport with a new bird species by landing there. I asked Liann about the numbers and she says that this could be the case: “These two came in on the wing from south and I watched them for half an hour. No more showed up”.

There have been a few other reports from the same general area, and I expect there’ll be quite an archive of photos building up. Woody Bracey is the person to report sightings to. That way, he can build the picture of how many of these visitors there are, and how they are moving around the island. Contact him at edb64 [at] hotmail.com

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco - Liann Key KaighinBlack-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco - Liann Key Kaighin Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco - Liann Key KaighinBlack-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco - Liann Key Kaighin

CHART OF REPORTS OVER THE WEEK SINCE THE DUCKS WERE FIRST SPOTTED

Map for desktop jpg

Photo Credit: Liann; Map by cartographer Martin Brown drawn specially for “The Birds of Abaco”

A STRANGE COINCIDENCE

In my last BBWD post I added a photo from Wiki and saw it was actually taken at the WWT Wetland Centre, Barnes in West London UK. I am briefly back in London (quite close to Barnes), though without my camera. Any camera at all. Except on my phone. So today I paid a quick visit to see if the BBWDs were in residence. They were, and I took a few shots of them and various other species. Frankly the ones I took when the sun was behind the clouds are useless; the ones in the sun are OK. So here are a few. But they are NOT the Abaco ducks, just cousins. And I’ll definitely be going back at the end of the month, with a proper camera!

I made a couple of sound recordings but one is ruined by an emergency vehicle siren that started up; and the other by a low-flying aeroplane making its descent to Heathrow Airport. The Wetlands Centre is a rural oasis ingeniously built round huge disused gravel pits by the Thames; but it has the drawback of being right on the flight path…  Not sure if they are usable, thought the whistles are clear!

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco : WWT - RH 2NOTE EPONYMOUS BLACK BELLY…Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco : WWT - RH 3 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco : WWT - RH 4 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco : WWT - RH 5 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco : WWT - RH

I took a brief (20 secs of your time…) phone video of the pond with a number of different waterbirds in and around it. The BBWDs are in the foreground. The interaction between the species was quite amusing. The moorhen was clearly in charge of them all…  You’ll hear a bit of whistling – more a feeble squeak, really (and an aeroplane passing overhead). You’ll see that when the moorhen starts its casual harassment, the underside of the wing of the startled duck is completely black.

BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS: A NEW BIRD SPECIES FOR ABACO


Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS: A NEW BIRD SPECIES FOR ABACO

In March 2014 “The Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco” was published. It contains a checklist of every species recorded for Abaco that was accurate on the day of publication. So it was with a mix of excitement (new species!) tinged slight disappointment (the book is already out of date by June!) that I heard reports of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks Dendrocygna autumnalis being seen on Abaco. Followed by photographs to prove it.

The first report came from Woody Bracey in his account of a day in the field on June 9th in which 40 bird species were seen. He concluded the report: “Most remarkable of these sighting were the 5 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. This species has been reported before on Andros and Grand Bahama but never on Abaco. 5 were seen clearly in flight with their bright white central upper wing patches, dark underbelly, red legs and bill and long neck. A Yellow-crowned Night Heron spooked 8 Parrots feeding in a Gumbo Limbo Tree when this small flock of whistling ducks flew by affording a good look coming, overhead and going. Unfortunately I did not get a photo even with camera in hand. They have bred in Cuba but not in the Bahamas”.

So, a clear sighting but no photographic evidence. Until the following morning, yesterday June 10 around breakfast time, when at the Delphi Club Lucy Mantle happened to notice some strange ducks right in front of the Club. She grabbed a camera (possibly her phone?) and took a couple of quick shots. Peter Mantle checked Hallett, the go-to field guide, and saw at once that these were not West Indian Whistling Ducks (a species found on Abaco). So he put the word about, adding Lucy’s photos. Hers are almost certainly the first ever images of this species on Abaco.

STOP PRESS 12 JUNE I’ve had an email from Woody Bracey saying that he first photos documenting the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were in fact taken Saturday June 7 on the Schooner Bay Dock by Glen Kelly. These photos are the ‘official documenting ones’ so I’m afraid that as things stand, Lucy moves to silver medal position and Tara to bronze…

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Delphi Club (Lucy Mantle) – first second species photo on Abaco?Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Delphi, Abaco (Lucy Mantle) v2

Tony White, compiler of the checklist, responded to Peter: “Congratulations! you are the first to document a new species on Abaco since the book and checklist came out. These are Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, casual visitors to the Bahamas. They are increasing rapidly in Florida and I think we can expect them to be breeding somewhere in the Bahamas in the next few years.There are two subspecies and they both have been seen in the Bahamas. I’ll let Woody try to figure out which these are. Thanks for being so alert and getting these photos”.

The birds must have moved gradually north during the day, and further sightings were reported online. Tara Lavallee took some photos of them in her yard a few miles north of Delphi and posted them on FB asking “Six of these beauties visiting my yard. Anyone know what they are?” 12-year old birder Chris Johnson was very quick off the mark with the correct ID as Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. Hector Morales had seen them flying over his house the previous day. I’ve seen no further reports, but I am really pleased to be able to feature Tara’s photos, which she kindly emailed earlier today. Her bird photography credentials are high – her wonderful photo of a Bahama Woodstar feeding from a flower takes up the whole of p43 of “The Birds of Abaco”.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco (Tara Lavallee) 2Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco (Tara Lavallee) 4Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco (Tara Lavallee) 3Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco (Tara Lavallee) 5

This is what they sound like. If you hear this call – grab a camera!

Paul Marvin @ Xeno-Canto

The present range of this species is shown in the Cornell Lab graphic below.It seems that the range is starting to expand, and that these ones are most likely to be visitors from Florida. It remains to be seen whether these ducks will remain vagrant curiosities, or settle down and begin to breed on Abaco. There are plenty of them, and they are IUCN listed as ‘Least Concern’. It’s a gregarious species, so perhaps that increases the chances of having a breeding population on Abaco.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck Range Map

I’ll end with two excellent photos of the BBWD, taken by people who plainly had plenty of time to sort out and set up their equipment at their own pace, and not as the result of a totally unexpected and random arrival in the front yard!

Black-bellied Whistling Duck Alan D. Wilson, www.naturespicsonline.com Black-bellied Whistling Duck - Alan D. Wilson, http://www.naturespicsonline.com (Wiki)

Black-bellied Whistling Duck Dendrocygna autumnalis London_Wetland_Centre,_UK_-_Diliff Black-bellied Whistling Duck, London Wetland Centre, UK by Diliff  (Wiki)

Photo credits as shown, with special thanks to Lucy Mantle for her exclusive  ‘first’; to Tara for use permission and sending her originals; and an honourable mention to Chris Thomas for his powers of ID!

 

DOLPHINS OF ABACO: WONDERFUL PHOTOS FROM THE BMMRO


Dolphin, Abaco - BMMRO

DOLPHINS OF ABACO: WONDERFUL PHOTOS FROM THE BMMRO

The BMMRO (Bahamas Marine Research Organisation) is based at Sandy Point, Abaco. It is dedicated to researching, monitoring, and protecting the marine mammals of a very large area. Not just cetaceans – the dolphins and whales. Recently, a small number of West Indian manatees (sirenians) have been making the northern Bahamas their home. I’ve written plenty about Georgie the adventurous manatee in the past – and in April she returned to her favourite place, Cherokee, after a bit of time away from Abaco.

Recently, photographer Shane Gross spent some time with the BMMRO and took stunning photos of dolphins. It’s impossible to say, or think, anything unpleasant about these lovely, intelligent, playful creatures. Say you ‘don’t much care for dolphins’, and you’d be more than halfway to having a down on kittens. Here are some magnificent images that deserve a wide audience.

Dolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) - Shane GrossDolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) - Shane GrossDolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) - Shane GrossDolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) - Shane GrossDolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) - Shane Gross

WHALES & DOLPHINS  PAGE

MANATEES PAGE

BMMRO WEBSITE

BMMRO FACEBOOK

SHANE GROSS PHOTOGRAPHIC

Thanks as ever to Charlotte & Diane at the BMMRO for ongoing use permission of material including the header pic; and to Shane for his outstanding photos

SAW A SORA? SURE? RAIL TRACK ON ABACO


BAHAMAS - Sora 2 - Oct 2010 copy 2

SAW A SORA? SURE? RAIL TRACK ON ABACO

‘Furtive’. ‘Secretive’. ‘Skulking’. These are harsh epithets to chuck at a small inoffensive bird that just goes about its daily routine in watery places. And look at it from the Sora’s point of view: ‘intrusive’; ‘prying’; invasive’; ‘nosy’… That’s you with your camera, disturbing its quiet life in the reeds and on the margins of marsh and lake. And for that matter your careful attempts to get close to the shy sora without startling it could also be described as furtive, secretive and skulking. See how it feels?

Sora.Marsh Harbour.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy

The Sora Porzana carolina is a species of rail, a winter resident on Abaco. The island also has the CLAPPER RAIL, Virginia Rail and the Black Rail. There are no recorded sightings of this last one, and certainly no photographs. But their distinctive call has been heard in several locations over the last few years -  for example, by two people in different places last June when we were in full bird mode for “THE BIRDS OF ABACO”.

Sora, Gilpin Point Abaco RH 1

Although not uncommon, the sora is relatively hard to find; and if found, to photograph. As I wrote in the book, ‘these are most inconspicuous birds, so it is quite a coup if you manage to locate one. Their creamy beak and upturned tail may give their presence away as they work their way along the water’s edge, feeding intently’. Tom Sheley took the magnificent photo above of a sora peering out from cover – he’s a very patient man. Often, the best sight you’ll get is of the bird half-hidden in the reeds at a distance, as in my feeble effort above. Spot the Sora… I tracked the same bird, and later got a more open shot as the sora picked its way along the edge of a pond before disappearing again into the reeds. The bird was moving away from me. I was crouched on a small jetty, with a little blue heron nearby looking at me in puzzlement. Or sympathy. My best (ha!) shot below (beak and tail both visible? Check!) is followed by much the most usual view of a sora in my experience, the less photogenic end with the white… stern.

Sora, Gilpin Point Abaco RH 3Sora, Gilpin Point Abaco RH 4

I can’t improve on good old Wiki in summarising the diet of this little rail: “Soras are omnivores, eating seeds, insects and snails. Animals that are commonly reported as sora food items include snails, crustaceans, spiders, and insects – mainly beetles, grasshoppers, flies, and dragonflies. Soras often eat plant seeds. Plants in the sora’s diet include duckweed, pondweeds, and grasses.” Wiki’s own image is shown next.

Sora, Birding Center, Port Aransas, Texas

We were with our friend the ornithological scientist Caroline Stahala* when we – I should say she – saw my first sora at the pond at Gilpin Point near Crossing Rocks. She grabbed my camera and plunged into the rather thick undergrowth at the water’s edge. Actually, she had to plunge into the water itself at one stage. Here are 2 shots that further demonstrate how hard it can be to photograph these wretched creatures. They don’t pose prettily on a branch in the sunshine like a Spindalis, for example. They forage about in places where low light and thick vegetation combine to make focus and clarity difficult to achieve. *’The Parrot Lady’  Sora, Gilpin Point Abaco - Caroline Stahala 1 Sora, Gilpin Point Abaco - Caroline Stahala 2 The remarkable calls of the sora can be heard in the very short clips below, from the invaluable Xeno-Canto archive. They make three distinct types of sound, one described as “a descending whinny”. Apparently the use of ‘call broadcasts’ greatly increases the chances of hearing a sora. They also increase the chances of seeing a sora, as the bird will often investigate the source of the call. The propriety of using a recording to attract a bird is open to debate, but there’s no doubt that it can be far more effective than simply going ‘pish-wish’ repeatedly… CALL Ted Floyd ‘WHINNY’ CALL   Micah Riegner ‘WEEP CALL’  Todd Wilson This is a second Wiki image of a sora foraging in water. I like the fact that, as with Tom’s photo, you can see the feet.1024px-Porzana_carolina “SORA”. Where does the word come from? What does it mean? It sounds like some uninviting butter-style spread. Or is that ‘Flora’? I did some research and for a start it means ‘Sky’ in Japanese and ‘Seashell’ in Korean – both used as names. Six countries worldwide have places called Sora. There are various obscure usages (e.g. a little-known video game). Disappointingly, however, the best etymology I can find in a birding context is that the origin is ‘unknown’. I was too disheartened to explore the derivation of ‘Porzana’. Could so easily be a second-tier female character in a Shakespeare comedy: “Haply, Porzana, hast seen the Sora of the Prince, withal?”. Having started this post with a header shot by Becky Marvil, I’ll end with the etymological mystery and another photo by Becky of the same bird going for some underwater delicacy. Sora, Abaco - Becky Marvil 2.1

STOP PRESS Uli Nowlan has kindly sent a photo of a Sora taken at ponds north of Treasure Cay (below). It’s a timely reminder to me that this blog is somewhat South Abaco oriented. More than somewhat, in fact. That’s inevitable I’m afraid, owing to my base camp being south of MH. Also, I think it’s generally accepted that South Abaco is the place to find the best birding. I do include birds from the TC area – the golf course ponds and the creeks – but perhaps not enough. Contributions welcome!

Sora, Abaco (Treasure Cay area) - Uli Nowlan

Credits: Header and last image – Becky Marvil; Tom Sheley, RH, Wiki, Caroline Stahala; Uli Nowlan. Wiki-nod for some info also.