GOING CHEEP ON ABACO: THE BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO


Black-whiskered Vireo, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

GOING CHEEP ON ABACO: THE BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO

There are 8 vireo species recorded for Abaco. The most common is the ubiquitous Thick-billed Vireo Vireo crassirostris – the only permanent resident vireo – whose cheery chirp is part of the background of bird song heard daily all over the island.  The only other species you are likely to encounter without going out of your way is the summer resident BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO Vireo altiloquus, which breeds on Abaco. The other 6 are the White-eyed, Yellow-throated, Blue-headed, Warbling, Philadelphia, and Red-eyed Vireo. Of these, the first 2 are quite rare winter residents; and the other 4 are considered to be transients. Black-whiskered Vireo, Abaco

The BWV’s song is similar to the Thick-billed Vireo, but (luckily) identifiably different. I’m not a great one for phonetic attempts at turning a bird call into a human sentence of the ‘Quick!-come-to-pick-up-a-brick’ and the ‘Skin-me-a-nice-bit-of-bonefish’ type. The Black-whiskered Vireo’s song has been described as sounding like ‘Whip, Tom Kelly’. But not to me. See what you make of it…

Brian Cox / Xeno-Canto

Black-whiskered Vireo, Abaco Bahamas 2 (Tom Sheley)

As with other vireo species, the BWV has a stout bill, a feature that helps to distinguish vireos from the many thin-billed warbler species on Abaco. The main signifiers are found on this bird’s head: the dark stripe right through the eye; the long white eyebrows; and the noticeable black lines – the ‘whiskers’ – on the sides of the neck. Other identification pointers are the pale underside with a yellow tinge to the flanks and undertail; and the red eyes (the red-eyed vireo, a very similar bird, lacks the whiskers).Black-whiskered Vireo, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

Black-whiskered vireos feed mostly on insects in trees, bushes and undergrowth. They can sometimes be seen hovering while they forage. They also vary their diet with small quantities of berries. Here are two great shots of a mother BWV feeding a very large chick with a berry, followed by some vile insect.Black-whiskered Vireo, Abaco (Charlie Skinner)Black-whiskered Vireo, Abaco (Charlie Skinner)

Image Credits: Bruce Hallett, Tom Shelley, Charlie Skinner, Charmaine Albury, Erik Gaugerblack-whiskered-vireo, Abaco (Erik Gauger) 1

FAST FOOD ON THE WING: ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS ON ABACO


Antillean Nighthawk in flight 2. Abaco bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

FAST FOOD ON THE WING: ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS ON ABACO

A bird ID query was recently posted on my FB page by Abaco resident Maria Bethel Flore, who said “I saw a flock of birds I’ve never seen before. All black except for a white stripe underneath the wing. I didn’t get one good picture they were flying so fast”. There were a couple of clues there: a fast-flying flock; and the white underwing bars. Maria’s distant image confirmed the ID as an Antillean Nighthawk Chordeiles gundlachii. These birds have local names such as ‘killakadick’ and ‘pi-di-mi-dix’, or variations on the theme – presumably onomatopoeic.

Paul Marvin / Xeno-Canto

I thought a post illustrating these wonderful birds in flight and on the ground would be timely. 

Antillean Nighthawk in flight 3. Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom SheleyAntillean Nighthawk, Abaco  (Sandy Walker)

The photos above were taken during a trip into deep South Abaco backcountry to the west of the Highway to photograph birds for BIRDS OF ABACO. We reached an open area late in the afternoon to find ourselves in the middle of dozens of nighthawks swooping and diving as they hawked for flies. We leapt out of the truck (we stopped it first) with eager eyes and cameras and watched the performance in amazement. The birds were quite unperturbed by our presence, and from time to time would zoom past within inches of our heads, making a swooshing noise as they did so.

Truck Backcountry

The speed of flight and the jagging paths made it extremely hard to take photos. Photographer Tom Sheley (below) was able to nail them (see top 2 images); I could barely catch a bird in my jiggling viewfinder, but Sandy Walker got a good clear shot (photo 3).Tom Sheley with Antillean Nighthawks, Abaco

Apart from the exuberant aerial displays such as I have described, nighthawks may also be seen on the ground, where they nest. Their colouring enables them tend to blend in with the surroundings. Woody Bracey took the first 2 pictures; the next is from the excellent BIRDS CARIBBEAN, which anyone with an interest in birds would enjoy; and the final one was scooped by Susan Daughtrey on a recent visit to Abaco – another very good example of the bird’s camouflage in natural surroundings.

Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco Woody Bracey Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco (Woody Bracey)Antillean Nighthawk chick (aka %22pi-di-mi-dix%22) BahamasAntillean Nighthawk, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

Credits: Tom Sheley, Sandy Walker, RH, Woody Bracey, Birds Caribbean, Susan Daughtrey, Xeno-Canto

RARE GEMS: PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO (1)


Piping Plover (non-breeding), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Piping-Plover Artmagenta  RARE GEMS: PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO (1) Piping-Plover Artmagenta

8000 

That’s the total number of all the piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) left in the world. Like many other rare and vulnerable species (e.g. the Kirtland’s Warbler), the habitat at both ends of their migration routes is under threat. And, as with the Kirtland’s, vigorous conservation campaigns are underway. Problems such as habitat loss at one end are bad enough – if at both ends, population decline is a certainty and extinction looms. The summer breeding range of PIPLs takes in Canada, central US and the eastern seaboard. In winter they join the mass migration of other birds south to warmer climes. Abaco is lucky enough to receive these little winter visitors; and at Delphi we are fortunate that every year some choose the beach for their winter retreat.

char_melo_AllAm_map

Piping Plover, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

This is the first of a planned Piping Plover series that I have been working on. The reason for beginning now is because the autumn migrations are starting, and before long a few of this precious species will be on a beach near you on Abaco. Many of them will be ringed as part of the ongoing conservation projects. One of the best ways to monitor success is to follow the migratory lives of these birds; and this can very easily be done by taking photographs of a piping plover that show its rings. The number and colours of the rings on each leg tell the conservationists a great deal about an individual bird. Here is a photo by Don Freiday that shows what to look out for – these 4 items of plover-bling are an integral part of the preservation efforts for this species.

PIPLfledge_banded_Meb_DF

The Audubon Society has produced a wonderful interactive demonstration of the PIPL’s year-round life  that can be found at BEATING THE ODDS. For anyone interested in these fascinating little birds, I highly recommend a click on the link. Some clips are shown below.

A good example of one of the organisations involved in the conservation of PIPLs is CONSERVE WILDLIFE NEW JERSEY, of which Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger are also directly involved on both Abaco and with the CAPE ELEUTHERA INSTITUTE.

With due acknowledgement to Audubon, here are a couple of outstanding photos by Shawn Carey from the site; and below them, details of the range of the Piping Plovers and their 4000-odd mile two-way trip made in the course of each year.

TWO LEGS                                                                SIX LEGS

ShawnCarey[3] ShawnCarey.crop[1}

SUMMER                                                                      FALL

PIPL range Summer jpgPIPL range Fall jpg

WINTER                                                                         SPRING

PIPL range Winter jpgPIPL range Spring jpg

THE PIPING OF THE PLOVER Originator Lang Elliot, as featured by Audubon, eNature, Birdwatchers Digest etc

That’s enough to begin with. I will return to PIPLs soon, with more photos, information and links. Meanwhile, here is a great 4-minute video from Plymouth Beach MA. And if you see a Piping Plover on Abaco this autumn and are not part of the ‘bird count community’, please let me know the location; if you can, describe the rings – how many, which legs, what colour; if possible, photograph the bird (and – a big ask – try to include the legs). Whether ringed or not, all data is invaluable and I’ll pass it on.

 Migration ProductionsMigration Productions

Piping Plover Chick (Beaun -Wiki)

Credits with thanks: Bruce Hallett, Cornell Lab, Tony Hepburn, Don Freiday, Shawn Carey, Audubon, Beaun/wiki, Lang Elliott (audio) Migration Productions (video), Artmagenta (mini drawings)

Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta

ABACO: THE PERFECT PLACE FOR BAHAMAS BIRDING


ABACO: THE PERFECT PLACE FOR BAHAMAS BIRDING

I’ve  fairly very often mentioned the remarkable diversity of the bird species on Abaco. This small island has a wide variety of permanent resident species and the advantage of being on a primary migration route so that it has both winter and summer migratory visitors. Here’s an example of some of the species a visitor might reasonably expect to find during a day’s birding. This isn’t an ‘invented inventory’, easy though that would be to compile. It records a birding outing by Abaco visitor Susan Daughtrey, guided by the legendary Woody Bracey, with sightings of 53 species from A (baco Parrot) to Z (enaida Dove). Here are some of Susan’s photos of the birds she encountered. At the end is the full list of the 34 species she photographed.There’s nothing very rare – most of those shown are permanent residents (PR), breed on Abaco (B) and are commonly found (1). Hence the code* PR B 1. SR is for the 2 summer residents, I is for the introduced collared dove. The best ‘get’ is the Bahama Mockingbird (PR B 3), a bird mainly of the pine forests and not so easy to find.

ADDENDUM Susan has now sent me her complete record for a great day out in which 53 species were seen. The list shows the numbers seen for each species. I have had to reformat the list from the original to make it work in this blog. I have added links for the first bird, the Black-bellied Whistling Duck, which was recorded on Abaco for the first time in early June. Of the six seen at any one time to begin with (including at Delphi), the reported numbers dropped to 2, then 1. The latest news is an unconfirmed sighting of a single bird at Treasure Cay Golf Course.

ABACO (CUBAN) PARROT Amazona leucocephala PR B 1

ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWK Chordeiles gundlachii SR 1Amazon (Cuban) Parrot, Abaco (Susan Daughtrey)Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD (ENDEMIC) Mimus gundlachii PR B 3Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

BAHAMA SWALLOW (ENDEMIC) Tachycineta cyaneoviridis PR B 1Bahama Swallow, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

BAHAMA PINTAIL (WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAIL) Anas bahamensis PR B 1
Bahama (White-cheeked) Pintail, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER Polioptera caerulea PR B 1Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

CUBAN PEWEE Contopus caribaeus PR B 1Cuban Pewee, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE Streptopelia decaocto  I PR B 1Eurasian Collared Dove, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

HAIRY WOODPECKER Picoides villosus PR B 1Hairy Woodpecker, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

LEAST TERN Sternula antillarum SR B 1Least Tern, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD Tyrannus caudifasciatus PR B 1Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD (female)  Fregata magnificens PR B 1Magnificent Frigatebird, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLER Setophaga pityophila PR B 1                                            Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

RED-LEGGED THRUSH  Turdus plumbeus PR B 1Red-legged Thrush, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD Agelaius phoeniceus PR B 1Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

SMOOTH-BILLED ANI Crotophaga ani PR B 1Smooth-billed Ani, Abaco (Susan Daughtrey)

THICK-BILLED VIREO Vireo crassirostris PR B 1
Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

WESTERN SPINDALIS Spindalis zena PR B 1Western Spindalis, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON Patagioenas leucocephala PR B 1White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

SUSAN’S LIST OF BIRDS PHOTOGRAPHED

SUSAN'S SPECIES jpg

SUSAN’S COMPLETE LIST FOR THE DAY – 53 SPECIES

To learn about Abaco’s latest new species the Black-bellied Whistling Duck click HERE & HERE

Susan's fuller list JPG

Credits: all photos, Susan Daughtrey; *the excellent birding code was devised by ornithologist Tony White with Woody Bracey

WHAT’S IN A NAME? NORTHERN BOBWHITE ON ABACO


Northern Bobwhite female 2.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

WHAT’S IN A NAME? NORTHERN BOBWHITE ON ABACO

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A part of me would like Bob White to have been a legendary hero – perhaps holding his post against impossible odds; or a courageously reforming politician; or scoring a stupendous winning goal in the dying seconds of a famous tournament. Or maybe just a nice guy, popular in the local bar. Instead, the bobwhite Colinus virginianus is a small plump game bird of the quail family, named for its call which (as I have written elsewhere) “does indeed sound something like ‘bob…white?’ played on a slide-whistle”. This bird is an introduced species on Abaco where it breeds and is quite common. It is more often heard than seen, since it is a shy creature and not so easy to find. If they see you first, you’ll glimpse them scurrying away at best and you may well not see them at all. At Delphi, some set up home at the highway end of the drive where they can be heard and, from time to time, seen. Photographer Tom Sheley bided his time in order to capture these wonderful shots of a pair.

Bobwhite pair.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley crBobwhite pair 2.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley cr

I recently wrote about another game bird, the WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON. The bobwhite also appears in the excellent Bahamas National Trust’s BNT HUNTERS GUIDE 

Northern Bobwhite BNT Hunters Guide

Unfortunately one of the consequences of enjoying game bird status – coupled with other factors such as habitat loss – is that the species is IUCN-listed ‘near threatened’. That’s not a cause for immediate concern, but the next stage may be…

The northern bobwhite can be found year-round in fields, grassland, open woodland areas, roadsides and wood edges. Sightings of bobwhites are most usually made when they are in cover such as long grass or undergrowth, as in the header photo and the one below.Bobwhite male in habitat.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy

When we went out searching for bobwhites last year to photograph for the book, we drove along tracks in open farmland and remote backcountry. We could hear them but we only saw a few, mostly too briefly to photograph. My own attempts were abject failures, small brown blurs of backside as the birds scuttled away. Tom Sheley fortunately had what it took to get results – patience, skill and a great camera.

Photo credits: Tom Sheley

BIRDS OF SAN SALVADOR, BAHAMAS: BOOK REVIEW


Birds of San Salvador (cover) JPG

THE BIRDS OF SAN SALVADOR, BAHAMAS

  • Authors: R. Hays Cummins, Mark R. Boardman, Mark L. McPhail
  • Published 1 Jan 2013, 132pp with 400+ images covering 54 species
  • Available spiral bound for $29.95 on Am@zon; and a steal at $3.16 for Kindle (£5.99 in the UK)
  • STOP PRESS Also available on iTunes for iPhone / iPad, where I imagine it looks great. Once downloaded, author Hays says it can be viewed on a Mac, certainly if you have the latest OS X Mavericks. UK price: a very modest £1.99 (= $3.30)

Within a couple of weeks of the decision to use Tom Sheley’s wonderful Bahama Woodstar as the ‘cover bird’ for “THE BIRDS OF ABACO”, another Bahamas bird book was announced. The same colourful and enchanting endemic bird had also commended itself to the authors for their cover. I wrote to Hays Cummins at once to check whether he would mind another Bahamas bird book encroaching on the territory, especially one using the same cover bird into the bargain. He very charmingly said it would be fine and declared his support for our (luckily) rather different project.

It’s been a while since I added to the section BOOKS, but I thought I’d mention this one for two reasons. First, it is described as ‘A Photo Essay of Common Birds’, which in practical terms means that most if not all of the species featured will be common to the northern Bahamas and therefore familiar on Abaco. Secondly, I very much like the format of the book: there are clear photos; and all necessary general information including notes on individual characteristics and similar species is presented in an easily assimilable way. Were the Delphi book not designed to be the 2 kg bird-showcasing non-field guide doorstop it is, the San Salvador book is one I should liked to have produced! Birds of San Salvador (sample page 1) Birds of San Salvador (sample page 2) DESCRIPTION “This enchanting book addresses a need for an important audience, the budding naturalist, which many of our students are. Without fanfare and pomposity, the book presents beautiful and inspiring photos and lively discussion, but does not indulge in the details of the accomplished birder. The authors present information about the natural history of birds on San Salvador, Bahamas, not through the eyes of a professional or advanced birder, but through the eyes and photographic lenses of inquiring educators and naturalists. This book will help capture and catalyze the interests of aspiring birders and will be an asset for introductions to the birds of the Bahamas and neighboring Caribbean. Over 400 images, representing 54 species, are all original and include a variety of behaviors and highlight recognition characteristics. The authors’ aesthetic photography, printed on high quality paper, will help reinforce identification and enjoyment. Birds are organized by habitat (Coastal, Interior, and Lakes & Ponds), not by taxonomic affinities. A taxonomic index is included.” 

I’m pleased to see the decision to depart from the usual taxonomic ordering of species, though I recognise that for a serious field guide that tradition is pretty much sacrosanct. We played around with categories and sub-categories a bit (sea birds, water birds, land birds; big, medium, small; cute, splendid, dull, plug-ugly) before settling on Peter Mantle’s excellent idea of straight alphabetical organisation. For a mainly photographic book this gives an element of surprise to turning the pages, and avoids  e.g. 37 pages of warblers species, mostly yellow, all huddled together.  Birds of San Salvador (sample page 4) Birds of San Salvador (sample page 5) I notice that there is a single Amazon review, a good one, that says “This guide to one of the lesser known islands in the Bahamas is a nice one. While not exhaustive, it covers most of the species likely to be seen on San Salvador. The style is unorthodox for a field guide (elements of humor, gives brief description of species, but no real key field marks), the descriptions, locations on the island, and behaviors make this guide useful for those visiting San Salvador. The photographs are excellent.” Birds of San Salvador (sample page 3)For anyone interested in a useful reference guide to the common birds of Abaco, and in possession of a Kindle, this book is easily worth getting electronically.  ‘To be brutally honest’ (™ Sandy Walker), I’d like in due course to produce a small book very like this for Abaco, but it would obviously be naked plagiarism to do that, so of course I won’t. Still, all the same…

“FAIR GAME” ON ABACO: THE ATTRACTIVE BUT SADLY DELICIOUS WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON


White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)

 “FAIR GAME” ON ABACO: THE ATTRACTIVE BUT SADLY DELICIOUS WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON

Fishing is the mainstay of Abaco’s sporting life, but hunting runs it a close second. Whether it’s the hog hunters plunging down remote backcountry tracks with their dogs or the shooters plying their trade, there is plenty on the hunter’s menu. The WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON Patagioenas leucocephala is one of the species that’s fair game in season. The bright white of its crown rather gives away its position. A permanent resident on Abaco, this pigeon is quite commonly found.

White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

The Bahamas hunting season for this species is between the end of September and March. Here is the relevant extract from the excellent BNT HUNTERS GUIDE, a very useful publication packed with information that is well worth a look at. WCP BNT Hunters Guide

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Unfortunately, this pigeon is no longer as prolific as it once was, and is now IUCN-listed ‘near-threatened’. Hunting is one reason. Habitat loss is another. And apparently in Florida (the only US State that has these birds), car-strike is a major cause of population decline (with time, they may learn to fly higher. Unless it’s too late for the species by then…).

White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

The balance of species preservation and the perceived need of humans to encroach on habitat or their wish to shoot for the pot, is a always a hard one to judge. ‘Near-threatened’ sounds bad, but it’s probably not until the next stage is reached – ‘vulnerable’ or ‘endangered’ – that there is real cause for concern. But as the title says (props to Peter Mantle for this pithy observation, duly incorporated into the WCP entry in THE BIRDS OF ABACO) these inoffensive pigeons are indeed ‘sadly delicious…’

White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)Photo credits: Gerlinde Taurer, Alex Hughes, Tony Hepburn plus BNT for the hunters guide