RING-BILLED GULLS ON ABACO


Ring-billed Gull ACH DSC_0451 copy

RING-BILLED GULLS ON ABACO

The Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis is a common winter gull, familiar to all in its adult form because of its… er… ringed bill that distinguishes it from all the other gull species found in the northern Bahamas. There are other differences, obviously, but this beak-related signifier provides the easiest method of ID. To be honest, you may find one anywhere – out to sea, on the shore, inland, or perhaps hanging out at one of the dumps that they are attracted to. This last preference is one shared with many species, but while the dumps may provide good birding venues, the photographic backgrounds and general ambience may be somewhat unattractive… Here are 3 great photos by Nina Henry of these gulls where they look best, near the shoreline.

STOP PRESS Nov 18 Woody Bracey reports from Treasure Cay “I had my first for the fall here in Treasure cay yesterday – one adult and 1 immature. It’s nice to have them back”. So keep an eye out – the ring-billeds are back on Abaco…

Ring-Billed Gull, Abaco (Nina Henry)Ring-Billed Gull, Abaco (Nina Henry)Ring-Billed Gull, Abaco (Nina Henry)

The Latin name of these gulls refers to the Delaware River, Pennsylvania, which is on their migration route. But there must have been dozens of other towns along the route with equal claim to have a bird named after them. Why Delaware took the honours, I cannot explain… and thinking about it has inserted the old song in my brain “What did Delaware, boys? What did Delaware? She wore a brand New Jersey…” etc etc**. So I’ll get on and show some more RBGs to get it out of my head. Here are 3 stages of development from Bruce Hallett.

JuvenileRing-billed Gull (juv), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

First winterRing-billed Gull (1st winter), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

AdultRing-billed Gull, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Laughing Gulls are gregarious creatures, and are quite often found in a group with some other seabird in the middle of the crowd – often a larger one. Here is a ring-billed gull standing proudly in the throng, while the laughing gulls snooze in the sun on the jetty. Ring-billed Gull + Laughing Gulls, Abaco (Peter Mantle)

Photo Credits: Tony Hepburn (1), Nina Henry (2,3,4), Bruce Hallett (5,6,7), Peter Mantle (8)

** If you want to remind yourself – or inflict on yourself for the first time – the entire US-State-related pun-encrusted jingle CLICK DELAWARE DITTY

VIREOS ON ABACO (2): THE PHILADELPHIA VIREO


Vireo_philadelphicus Brian Mcclure (wiki) CROP

VIREOS ON ABACO (2): THE PHILADELPHIA VIREO

Vireos haven’t had as much attention as they deserve hereabouts. I have posted about the BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO, but the 7 other vireo species found on Abaco haven’t had much of a look in. It’s a wrong that I shall right at once by featuring the rather shy Philadelphia Vireo Vireo philadelphicus. Here is the full list of the vireos recorded for Abaco, from which you will see that only the Thick-billed Vireo is a common permanent resident. The Black-whiskered vireo is a common summer breeding resident; there are 2 uncommon winter residents; and the other 4 are transients that chose Abaco as a resting place on their migrations.

Taken from ‘The Birds of Abaco’ checklist by Tony White with Woody BraceyVIREO CHECKLIST

SONY DSC

This little bird tends  to be described with such unkind adjectives as ‘drab’, ‘dull’ and ‘plain’, but  like many under-appreciated species it has its own charm. The header image and the one above give excellent close-up views. The signifiers include the dark eyes, white eyebrows, the dark line through the eyes, the yellow underparts, and in the negative sense the complete absence of eye rings, wing bars or tail markings. And the thick bill is one quick way to distinguish it from similar-looking warbler species, with their generally smaller, pointy beaks. SONY DSC

The Philadelphia Vireo has a wide range, from its summer breeding grounds as far north as Canada down to its winter quarters in Mexico and South America. They have even, very rarely, been seen in Europe. The connection with Philadelphia is somewhat tenuous and arises because the bird was first identified in 1842 from a specimen collected near Philadelphia. However their visits there are brief, since at best it is only a stopover on their migration route…vire_phil_AllAm_map

Philadelphia Vireo (Vireo philadelphicus Dominic Sherony wiki

Here is the song comparison between (in order) the Philly, the familiar TBV whose song accompanies everyday life on Abaco, and the Black-whiskered vireo. My TBV recording is rather quieter than the other 2.

 Andrew Spencer / Xeno Canto

RH at Delphi

 Brian Cox / Xeno-Canto

Philadelphia Vireo William H. Majoros wiki If you want to know how to record birdsong easily using an iPhone or equivalent CLICK HERE 

Credits: Woody Bracey (2, 3); Brian McClure, Dominic Sherony, William H. Majoros, Xeno Canto, Wiki, Cornell Lab

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (5): THE UNUSUAL MARTIAL SCRUB-HAIRSTREAK


Martial Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon martialis (Nina Henry) 1 sm

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (5): THE UNUSUAL MARTIAL SCRUB-HAIRSTREAK

I wish I could tell you something useful about this butterfly, but frankly there’s not a lot of info about it to be found. In part that may be because it is not a mainstream American butterfly, being found only in southern Florida. However it is found in the West Indies, and indeed on Abaco – this one was photographed by Nina Henry at Little Harbour. She was walking from Pete’s Pub to the OLD LIGHTHOUSE when she came across this butterfly. She sent it to me as a query and it took me an hour to nail the ID – there are other very similar and more common hairstreaks that threw me off track for a while (I thought it might be a female… oh, ever  mind, it wasn’t).

The Martial Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon martialis ranges from the southern tip of Florida, throughout the Bahamas and Greater Antilles. I’ve never seen one on Abaco, and I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who has. As far as I can make out this creature’s range tends to be further south, so I’m guessing they are unusual  for Abaco. Prove me wrong!

Martial Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon martialis (Nina Henry) 3 sm

Martial Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon martialis (Nina Henry) 2 sm

Photo Credit: Nina Henry

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS: ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW


Cyphoma_gibbosum Clark Anderson - Aquaimages

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS: ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW

I wrote about FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS Cyphoma gibbous more than two years ago. They have not changed noticeably since then but this site has – in scope, available material and audience. So I am revisiting these small marine gastropod molluscs, which are related to cowries. The live animal is brightly coloured and strikingly patterned, but that colour only exists in the ‘live’ parts – the ‘mantle’. The shell itself is usually pale and characterised by  a thick ridge round the middle. These snails live in the tropical waters of the Caribbean and the wider western Atlantic. Whether alive or dead, they are gratifyingly easy to identify.

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAIL ON A PURPLE ROPE SPONGEFlamingo Tongue on purple rope sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

FEEDING ON A CORAL STEM

This snail is snacking on a coral stem, leaving a feeding track behind it. The structural shell ridge is clearly visible beneath the distinctively marked live tissue of these creatures.

Flamingo Tongue LASZLO ILYES Cyphoma_gibbosum_(living)_2

The flamingo tongue feeds by browsing on soft corals. Adult females attach eggs to coral which they have recently fed upon. About 10 days later, the larvae hatch. They eventually settle onto other gorgonian corals such as Sea Fans. Juveniles tend to live on the underside of coral branches, while adults are far more visible and mobile. Where the snail leaves a feeding scar, the corals can regrow the polyps, and therefore the snail’s feeding preference is generally not harmful to the coral.

Flamingo_Tongue_Snail_on_Soft_Coral_LASZLO ILYES

The principal purpose of the mantle of  tissue over the shell is as the creature’s breathing apparatus.  The tissue absorbs oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. As I have seen it described (unkindly?) “it’s basically their lungs, stretched out over their rather boring-looking shell”. 

Flamingo Tongue, Abaco (Char Albury)

This snail species, once common, is becoming rarer. The natural predators include Hogfish, Pufferfish and Spiny Lobsters, though the spotted mantle provides some defence by being rather unpalatable. Gorgonian corals contain natural toxins and instead of secreting these, the snail stores them. This supplements the defence provided by its APOSEMATIC COLORATION, the vivid colour and /or pattern warning sign to predators found in many species.

It comes as little surprise to learn that man is now considered to be the greatest menace to these little  creatures, and the reason for their significant decline in numbers. The threat comes from snorkelers and divers who mistakenly / ignorantly think that the colour of the mantle is the shell of the animal, collect up a whole bunch from the reef, and in due course are left with… “boring-looking shells” (see photos below). Don’t be a collector; be a protector…
Flamingo Tongue, Abaco (Char Albury)

These photos are of flamingo tongue shells from the Delphi Club Collection. Until I read the ‘boring-looking shell’ comment, I believed everyone thought they were rather lovely… I did, anyway. You decide!

Flamingo Tongue Snail Shell, Keith Salvesen AbacoFlamingo Tongue Snail Shell, Keith Salvesen AbacoFlamingo Tongue Snail Shell, Keith Salvesen Abaco

Finally, a couple of videos. The first is rather charmingly titled ‘FLAMINGO TONGUES DOING…. SOMETHING’. Any (printable but amusing) suggestions via the Comment box are welcome. The second punchily summarises this post in 30 seconds. Maybe that’s all that was needed!

Image Credits: Clark Anderson, Melinda Riger, Laszlo Ilyes, Charmaine Albury, RH

Doh! Reading through this after posting I can’t remove from my mind the likeness of Homer Simpson on the snail in Melissa’s photo (2). I had to  check it out and… it’s uncanny!

Homer Simpson Flamingo Tongue copy images

“STAR ANIS”: ENTERTAININGLY GREGARIOUS CUCKOOS ON ABACO


Smooth-billed Ani, TCGC Hole 11 - Becky Marvil

“STAR ANIS”: ENTERTAININGLY GREGARIOUS CUCKOOS ON ABACO 

The Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani) is the third member of the cuckoo family found on Abaco, the others being the MANGROVE CUCKOO and the YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO. Anis range from Florida and the Bahamas in the north, down through the Caribbean to South America, where they are widespread.

Ani Range Map (Xeno-Canto) jpg

Smooth Billed Ani, Abaco - Nina Henry 2a

Unlike their shy and retiring cuckoo cousins, anis are extrovert shouty birds that like to hang out in noisy gangs. Large groups can quite often be found in the low scrub at the Highway end of the Delphi drive; and you may well find a posse of them in settlements such as Sandy Point. You’ll probably hear them from some way off, sounding like this:

Leonardo Ordóñez-Delgado / Xeno Canto

Smooth-billed Anis_Abaco - Tony Hepburn

Anis have advanced parenting and chick-rearing skills, sharing not only communal nesting sites but also egg incubation and feeding the chicks. They are also what my mother might have called ‘fast’, raising up to three broods in a season. Rather touchingly, the young of earlier broods help to feed more recent chicks.

Smooth-billed Anis Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer d

I have tried to discover why an ani’s beak is as it is, without much success. Very often beak shape relates directly to the feeding habits and preferences of a species, but it is hard to see how a diet consisting mainly of insects and small reptiles such as lizards would account for such a prominent proboscis. Here is a close-up of the item in question (thanks, Roselyn Pierce).
On Abaco (and indeed elsewhere) Anis are sometimes known as ‘Cemetery Birds’, no doubt because of their all-black appearance (their raucous tendencies would be quite inappropriate for a graveyard…). [Nicolette Russell has contacted me to say that she has always known them as Rain Crows] However although at a distance these birds may look completely black, catch one in the sun at the right angle, and you’ll find that the plumage is far more varied, and with some intricate patterning.

Smooth-billed Ani. Abaco Bahamas Tom Sheley

Look for Anis in low scrubland and coppice, cultivated areas, perched in unsteady bickering rows on utility lines… and on the ground.

Smooth-billed Ani, Abaco. Gerlinde Taurer c

The appearance and flying abilities of Anis are wonders to behold. As I wrote in The Birds of Abaco, “Their curious heavy beaks, their clumsy flight and their untidy take-off and landing routines suggest a design fault”.

Smooth Billed Ani, Abaco - Nina Henry 1a

“One… is the loneliest number…” oh, hang on a moment…Smooth-billed Ani Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer a

…”two of us…standing solo in the sun…”Smooth-billed Ani, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer) b

As far as I know, there is not yet a collective noun for a group of anis. There should be. Any suggestions welcome via the comment box. Meanwhile I put forward A Commotion of Anis”

Smooth-biled Ani, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

Credits: Becky Marvil, Nina Henry, Tony Hepburn, Gerlinde Taurer, Roselyn Pierce, Tom Shelley, Bruce Hallett; Xeno Canto for range map & sound file; Hat tip to Aimee Mann.

“Star Anis” – do not confuse with Star Anise. One can fly, the other cannotStar Anise Spice (Tesco)

TURTLEY AMAZING: HAWKSBILL TURTLES IN THE BAHAMAS


Hawksbill Turtle © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

TURTLEY AMAZING: HAWKSBILL TURTLES IN THE BAHAMAS

The Bahamas has breeding populations of 5 of the world’s 7 sea turtle species – Green, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, Leatherback and Kemp’s Ridley turtles (the other two are Olive Ridley – occasionally found in the Bahamas – and Flatback turtles). All are endangered. There’s no getting away from the fact that Man and Man’s activities are now the primary threats. The IUCN ratings below make for sad reading. To see some of the problems, check out THREATS TO SEA TURTLES

Admire the photos here of Hawksbill Turtles Eretmochelys imbricata while you can – the species is IUCN red-listed and I can’t improve on this explanatory display…Hawksbill Turtle Eretmochelys imbricata (IUCN Red List)

HAWKSBILL TURTLE GALLERY

(thanks as ever to Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba, but for whom etc)Hawksbill Turtle ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba Hawksbill Turtle ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy Hawksbill  Turtle ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba copyHawksbill Turtle ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

I did ask myself whether including this shot might show a lack of sensitivity for the essential dignity of a fine species, infringing its Testudinal rights. But overall, I feel the public interest is best  served by showing it. Anyway, it has plainly discovered something very tasty to get stuck into, so it won’t be unduly bothered. The pair of French Angelfish aren’t going to get a look-in…Hawksbill Turtle ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 3

 The SEA TURTLE CONSERVANCY has produced an outstanding series of posters similar to the LOXAHATCHEE posters about corals, conchs, sea grass, bonefish etc. Here is their Hawksbill one, with illustrations by artist DAWN WITHERINGTON. Click the link to reach her website and see her excellent scientific drawings and a lot more besides. This excellent poster contains pretty much all the details you need to hold your own in any hawksbill-related conversation. You can enlarge it by doing that thing with 2 fingers on your track pad thingy.

HawksbillLifeHistoryPoster-STC-DWitherington

I rather like this video from Andros, with the turtle’s gentle tolerance while being approached by a photographer until at last  it decides to move slowly off. The music’s a bit annoying though – it doesn’t really fit the scene IMO. 

Credits: IUCN, Melinda for the fab photos, Sea Turtle Conservancy

CORMORANTS: RAPACIOUS PESCATARIAN SEA-RAVENS


Cormorant WWT 12

CORMORANTS: RAPACIOUS PESCATARIAN SEA-RAVENS

Cormorants are strange creatures. Strange to look at. Strange in their relationship with humans – love / hate in fishing terms and good / evil in mythology. Strangely useless for poetry, since – like the words ‘purple’ and ‘orange’ – there is no pure rhyme for the word cormorant. But they are undeniably striking, and a cormorant on the Abaco Marls effortlessly gliding inches above the water is an impressive sight.

Cormorant WWT 1Cormorant WWT 5

The cormorant’s name originates from the Latin name ‘Corvus Marinus’, the Sea Raven. Cormorants belong to the ‘Pelican’ order of birds known as the pelecaniformes that also encompasses tropicbirds, frigatebirds and anhingas. Worldwide, there are around 40 different species of cormorant. In many parts of the world, this seabird has established itself inland. Angling communities are increasingly concerned by the spread of this bird along productive fishing rivers, often far from the sea shore. In the UK as elsewhere they are very bad news for prime fishing rivers.

Cormorant WWT 8

Splosh! Gull Photobomb! It wasn’t there when I decided to press the trigger…Cormorant WWT 4 (gull photobomb)Itchy neck? You just have to scratch it…Cormorant WWT 6Relaxed now, thanks…Cormorant WWT 7

The birds here were photographed in the UK on Halloween. While the world was preparing to immerse up to its neck in blood, guts, gore and spider webs, I was out armed only with a camera in unseasonably warm sunshine. So these are Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo, the species found in the UK. They a remarkably similar to the Double-crested Cormorants Phalacrocorax auritus found on Abaco but larger and with a pale cheek and upper neck. This was a perfect day for the cormorants to enjoy their preening and wing-drying routines.

Cormorant WWT 9 Cormorant WWT 10 Cormorant WWT 11  Cormorant WWT 13

Last sight of the one on the small rock: “Hey, photographer, for !@£$%&* sake leave me alone, ok?”Cormorant WWT 14

I will be writing about Neotopic Cormorants Phalacrocorax brasilianus on Abaco in detail soon, but for comparative purposes here is one from Bruce Hallett taken on Teasure Cay Golf Course, where the ponds are usually a productive birding resource (check in at the clubhouse for permission first).

Neotropic Cormorant, Treasure Cay, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

And as for the very familiar double-crested cormorant, here is a great photo taken on Abaco by Jim Todd of three chicks growing up fast in their unusual double-decker nest…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Credits: All photos RH except the last 2, Bruce Hallett and Jim Todd