SHARING SHEARWATER SEASHORE SHOCK ON ABACO…


Great_Shearwater_RWDz9 Dick DanielsSHARING SHEARWATER SEASHORE SHOCK ON ABACO…

I return reluctantly to the “Great Shearwater” phenomenon to give, I hope, closure to the topic for this season and with luck for several years to come. A great many people have engaged with the debate about the large number unfortunate birds found either dead or dying in the water or (especially) on the beaches of Abaco and beyond. You can see the original post, a tabulation and map based on the reports I received or came across, and the views of the experts HERE

This occurrence appears to have declined considerably from its peak last week, presumably because the migration has moved rapidly northwards. Already, reports from the eastern US Atlantic coast (e.g. Cape May) of a great shearwater influx are coming in, so we must hope that the attrition rate in the Northern Bahamas has stopped, or will stop within the next few days. This is evidenced by this FB clip from Tom Reed, a photographic contributor to THE BIRDS OF ABACO

TR clip

The ABA (American Birding Association) has taken an interest in the problem on Abaco, and reported the incidence of shearwater die-off HERE. For the sake of completeness, I have updated reports I have received or found over the last few days below, together with an updated distribution map. More sad images are included because, pitiful though they are, photographs are of real assistance in the study of migratory die-off. For example, it is likely that juvenile birds are more likely to be affected by exhaustion in the course of their 10,000 mile journey than adults. Photos enable an assessment of the age of the birds to be made.

Exhausted shearwater, Delphi beach. Is this a juvenile, less able to make a huge journey than an adult?Great Shearwater, Delphi, Abaco (Sharon Elliott)The yellow tip to this bird’s beak shows that it is a different species of shearwater, the Cory’s.  Like the Greats, these birds are also rare transients on Abaco, and also make long-distance migrations. A Cory’s was photographed a couple of weeks ago swimming happily off the Delphi beach. This one has obviously run out of stamina. It has the chance to recover, but it is vulnerable in this state; and turkey vultures are quick to move in on fatalities…

 UPDATED REPORTS (SINCE JUNE 24) IN RED
  • Delphi Club Beach – 20 plus + 1
  • Schooner Bay – 5
  • Bahama Palm Shores – ‘many many’ dead birds washed up on the shore
  • Casuarina Beach – 1
  • Cherokee (Watching Bay) – 3 or 4
  • Cherokee (Winding Bay) – 4
  • Little Harbour – 3
  • Marsh Harbour area – about 5
  • Great Guana Cay, southern end   – 1 (possibly a gull)
  • Tilloo Cay – 13 at least on Junk Beach, more than ever seen (see photos below)
  • Elbow Cay – 2 + 1 Atlantic side beach near Abaco Inn
  • Elbow Cay – 2, North End
  • Green Turtle Cay beach – 2
  • Green Turtle Cay, offshore – “a lot in the water”
  • Man-o-War Cay – 1 by the roadside
  • Ocean 20m from HT Lighthouse – 2 in the sea

also Exuma Sound (5 birds), Shroud Cay Exuma (gull?”), Briland Beach,Harbour Island Eleuthera (“some” + 4) , and Church Bay, South Eleuthera – 10 + 2

Ellen Bentz, who reported the Church Bay birds, has frozen 3 of them for research purposes; it will be extremely interesting to see what results from their examination, from the ages of the birds to condition to likely cause of death. She also took photographs to aid species identification and diagnostic efforts.

unnamed unnamed-4 unnamed-2  unnamed-1unnamed-3

Abaco distribution map. Earlier reports marked in green, two new sites in blue
Shearwater Map, Abaco update

Here is the wonderful Crossley ID guide tableau of great shearwaters, showing every facet of the birdGreat_Shearwater_from_the_Crossley_ID_Guide_Britain_and_Ireland
WHERE DO THESE BIRDS COME FROM & WHERE DO THEY GO?
Sean Giery of the excellent ABACO SCIENTIST has also commented on the recent phenomenon, concluding “…if you haven’t looked up Gough Island, the probable origin of these Greater Shearwaters, do. Use Google Maps to get an impression of how far these amazing birds travel. It’s truly amazing.” By great good fortune, I’ve done the legwork for you… Let’s take a closer look.
Great shearwaters breed almost exclusively the small area of the globe that includes the Gough Islands, Tristan da Cunha and a few lesser-known islands in that area. There is also a small breeding population in the Falklands. Whichever, they are not so very far from Antarctica. Their range, however, is massive and involves long migrations over the Atlantic ocean to the far north – as far as the Arctic – and back each year.
gtshearmap
 And, as the shearwater flies, this is the distance from the breeding grounds to Abaco; 2/3 of their total journey. Now, factor in a first-season juvenile shearwater facing the vagaries of food supply, weather conditions and stamina… The fact that some die-off occurs every few years at some stage of the migration becomes less surprising.
Gough Island to Abaco 6300 milesGough Island to Abaco jpg
I’ll conclude with a photo of a great shearwater flying ‘at the shear’, which I am certain is how best we’d like to think of these wonderful seabirds…
Great_Shearwater_RWD3b Dick Daniels
Credits: to the 30 or so people credited in the original post I add with thanks Molly Kemmer Roberts, Susan Drwal, Sharon Elliott, Ellen Bentz, Dick Daniels and open source maps chaps.

GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH: ABACO’S “POLICE BIRD”


Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH: ABACO’S “POLICE BIRD”

Following my last gloomy post about the widely-reported die-off of the poor, exhausted migratory great shearwaters, let’s turn with relief to a cheerful bird known to all and admired in coppice and garden: the Greater Antillean Bullfinch Loxigilla violacea. These pretty birds are easy to find and to identify. They love feeders, and they are responsive to ‘pishing’, that irritating (?) noise that birders make to unseen avians in the coppice to persuade them to reveal themselves. Adult males are black with bright red accessories (hence “police bird”); females are paler with orangey accessories; and juveniles look a bit scruffy and patchy. Here’s a GAB gallery to enjoy.

Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 4 Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 5Greater Antillean Bullfinch immature with snail 2.Delphi Club.Abaco (Tom Sheley)Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Great Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco  (Tom Sheley) 1Great Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Charles Skinner)Great Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)GAB BH IMG_9208 copy 2

Credits: Erik Gauger (1); Alex Hughes (2, 3); Tom Sheley (4, 6); Keith Salvesen (5); Charles Skinner (7); Gerlinde Taurer (8); Bruce Hallett (9)

 

SIGNS OF GOOD BREEDING: PIPING PLOVERS IN SUMMER


Piping Plover Charadrius melodus (Ontario, MDF / wiki)

SIGNS OF GOOD BREEDING: PIPING PLOVERS IN SUMMER

No apologies for writing again about Piping Plovers. This rare bird – only 8000 left in the world – overwinters in Florida, on the Gulf Coast, and to a notable extent in the Bahamas, very possibly on a beach near you. The peacefulness and cleanliness of Abaco’s pristine beaches provide the ideal habitat for the little PIPL to live safe and healthy lives during the winter, in preparation for their return to their summer breeding grounds. And breeding is what they are doing right now, up north. There are breeding populations on the Atlantic Coast, the Great Plains, and the Great Lakes. So I thought I’d feature a few images of what appears to be a rather successful season so far…

One of the best bird blogs around, one that I have recommended before, is called READINGS FROM THE NORTHSIDE. It is written in an informative yet witty style illustrated with excellent photos, and chronicles the daily avian goings-on on Long Beach Island NJ, an important nesting area for piping plovers. There are links with Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger, two scientists from the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ who will be familiar to many Abaconians for the winter work they do with the plovers on Abaco. The photos below have almost all been taken this month as the PIPL chicks hatch and begin to find their feet in a big world.

Piping Plover LBI 1   Piping Plover LBI 2 piping-plover-chick-sneaking-through-dune piping-plover-sit-in-dune

NEWLY HATCHED (TUFTERS’ & TACEY’S 4th CHICK, AMY) piping-plover-wet-chick1

TIDYING THE EGGSHELLpiping-plover-with-eggshell

EGGSHELL REMOVALpiping-plover-remove-eggshell-nest

HAPPY FAMILIES…piping-plover-chick-leaves-nest

MORE HAPPY FAMILIES IMG_0853 IMG_0856 IMG_0855 IMG_0854

BARNEGAT LIGHTHOUSE WITH PIPL IN THE FOREGROUND!IMG_0857

Most regrettably, you’ll never see a Piping Plover chick on Abaco. The adult birds have left the Bahamian beaches and flown north before their breeding season begins. These little creatures are both rare and special at both ends of their migration range, so I’ll end with a video from the most excellent CONCH SALAD TV that is dedicated to these tiny wave-chasers. Abaco is one of the main areas for winter research into the piping plover population. Scientists visit the island to find the birds, count them, collect reports of sightings, check and identify tagged birds to determine their origin, and ensure the continuing good health of their habitat, without which the PIPL will be lost. You can find out more about this vital work carried out out by the CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION OF NEW JERSEY HERE.

THE DELICATE TASK OF RINGING TINY BIRDS
lbi-piping-plover-chick

Credits: MLF/ Ontario; Exit63 ‘Mr Norfside’ to whom a major tip o’ the hat; Conch Salad TV

FERAL PEACOCKS: SOMETHING COMPLETELY “DIFFERENT (OF ABACO)”


Peacock, Casuarina, Abaco (Sally Salvesen)

FERAL PEACOCKS: SOMETHING COMPLETELY “DIFFERENT (OF ABACO)”

Driving the Highway south from Marsh Harbour, past the turn-off to Winding Bay and Cherokee, you reach an unassuming side road. This takes you to Casuarina, its gorgeous beach and the canal cut that leads to Cherokee Sound and … bonefish. At the junction you can hardly fail to see the large, time-worn notice for “Different of Abaco“, the former fishing lodge owned by Nettica Symonette. It has been defunct for many years. The lodge buildings are sadly dilapidated and *safety alert* the wooden boards are frail. The grounds are romantically overgrown, and dotted with half-concealed derelict vehicles and machinery rusting away benignly as the seasons pass. The large ponds that must have once been attractive are brackish and uninviting. But guess what! The place is a haven for birds.

Peacock, Casuarina, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The most surprising sight is of peafowl – the collective name for peacocks, peahens and peachicks. This flamboyant species was introduced many years ago as a decorative addition to the Lodge and its grounds. It was part of a wider, more ambitious scheme to reintroduce a breeding flock of flamingoes to Abaco. These had regrettably become extirpated from the island and then, as now, were only found as vagrant individuals. The attempt sadly failed and the flamingoes disappeared. Rumours sometimes surface of breeding pairs far out on the Marls or in a secluded place in the far south of the island, but these remain unsubstantiated. The peafowl introduction, however, has proved to be an unexpected success.

Peacock, with bizarre graffiti addressed to Santa ClausFeral Peacock, Casuarina, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Peahen in the garden of “Different of Abaco”Peahen, Casuarina, Abaco (Sally Salvesen)

Peacocks swaggering in the grounds: note the fully feathered tails (cf photo #2  above)Peacock, Abaco (Nina Henry) 1Peacock, Abaco (Nina Henry) 3

The compilation of “THE BIRDS OF ABACO” involved plenty of decision-making. We obviously couldn’t feature every recorded species – for a start, for many species there were merely reports of sightings but no (or only inadequate) photographs. One interesting factor for consideration was the stage at which an introduced species becomes bird OF Abaco as opposed to a non-indigenous bird that happens to be IN Abaco.

1610795_10152397349768720_8542277013207863186_n10345763_10152398046303720_8315779621600880072_n10524740_10152397350053720_2270412119470328978_n10306740_10152397712968720_2616129013617847509_n    10647090_10152398010393720_8268702990135221309_n

Rhonda Pearce’s Peafowl Gallery (NB peachicks included!) above demonstrates why this species was an easy choice for inclusion. On the assumption that the original birds were brought to the Lodge in the late ’80s or early ’90s, the chicks you see here must be several generations down the line. A breeding population has been established in the wild, as the grounds of D of A have become. The evidence is that it is spreading slowly – across the road, further into the settlement at Casuarina and recently even further afield.

Celia Rogers photographed this cluster of peahens in Casuarina – but the two males were on the road to Cherokee, maybe 3 or 4 miles distance to the north as the peacock struts

Peahens, Casuarina (Celia Rogers)Peacocks (Cherokee Road)  Abaco (Celia Rogers)

So that’s how the feral peacocks of Abaco come to be classified (in a purely unofficial way) as birds OF Abaco for the purposes of the book**. Once they would have been viewed as pets – like the muscovy ducks that can be found in a few places, Gilpin Point for example. But in the wilderness that Different of Abaco has become for many years, the descendants of the original peacocks are breeding contentedly, expanding their population, and are wholly unreliant on human intervention. Verily feral, in fact.

**That, and the fact that Mrs RH borrowed my camera and undeniably took the best photos of the male and female birds (#1 and #4 above), as seen on pp 70-71 of the book…

Peacock, Abaco (Liann Key Kaighin) 1

D of A: the glory daysimg0049

Credits: Mrs RH (1, 4); RH (2, 3); Nina Henry (5, 6); Rhonda Pearce (7 – 11); Celia Rogers (12, 13); Liann Key Kaighin (14); added final image π “The Abacos” online

KILLDEER ON ABACO? IT DOESN’T, BUT ACE NAME ANYWAY


Kildeer, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

KILLDEER ON ABACO? IT DOESN’T, BUT ACE NAME ANYWAY

The KILLDEER Charadrius vociferus is a fairly common winter resident plover on Abaco. They can often be found on the Delphi beach, and the lovely beach at Casuarina is another place to spot them. They can easily be distinguished from other plover species, being the only ones with two black frontal bands – see above and below. The lower picture, you’ll be relieved to hear, is not the fabled ‘legless killdeer’, but is simply having a little rest on a nice warm wall.

Killdeer, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

The killdeer’s name is a bit of a puzzle, frankly. The Latin term Charadrius vociferus basically means “shouty plover”, but it’s a long way from that to “killdeer”. This is another one of those bird names that are allegedly onomatopoeic – and thankfully it has nothing whatsoever to do with savage behaviour involving Bambi and his ilk (or elk, even). Supposedly the killdeer call is “Kill…Deer”, in the same way as the bobwhite calls an interrogative “Bob…White?”. 

Killdeer - Harrold & Wilson Ponds, NP (Rick Lowe) copy

Consulting some random authorities reveals divergence of opinion on the issue, with definite bet-hedging between ‘kill-dee’ variations and ‘dee dee dees’. Except for Messrs Flieg & Sanders who opine (rudely) ‘the shrill, loud, monotonous call resembles its name’. Yet while I completely get the ‘Bob…White?’ thing, I’m not so sure with the killdeer. Were I a little killdeer, it’s a name I’d like to have anyway. Respect! But what do these sound like to you?

or this

Guillermo Funes Xeno Canto

or this

Peter Boesman Xeno CantoKIlldeer (Danny Sauvageau)

I’ve mentioned the distinctive double black breast-bands that distinguish the killdeer from its brother plovers. These can be seen at quite a distance, as this shot on the Delphi beach by Mrs RH shows (the tracks are from Smithy’s seaweed-clearing tractor).

Killdeer SS edits

The babies are, like all plover chicks, totes irresistibz munchkinsKilldeer hatchling (NTox)Killdeer FB

And like other plovers, a killdeer will defend its nest and young with a broken wing display to distract predators, lurching pathetically across the sand, moving ever further away from the nest. 

I think we can safely conclude that, while the bird doesn’t quite live up to the cervidae-cidal tendencies suggested by its name, nor even sound particularly as though it is saying “killdeer”, it is a very attractive plover to have around whatever the heck its call may resemble.Killdeer, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Photo credits: Bruce Hallett, Tony Hepburn, Rick Lowe, Danny Sauvageau, Mrs RH, NTox, Very Recent FB & I’ll track down the source if it kills me**, Erik Gauger

** Got it now: The very excellent Mike Bizeau, whose on his wonderful NATUREHASNOBOSS website posts a single daily image. Many are birds, some are landscapes, some are other things that have caught his eye. I get a daily email, and am invariably impressed by the quality of the images…

NORTHERN PINTAILS ON ABACO: LOOKING SHARP


Northern Pintail, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

NORTHERN PINTAILS ON ABACO: LOOKING SHARP

The Northern Pintail Anas acuta is a relatively rare winter resident dabbling duck on Abaco. The species has a huge range, being found throughout much of the northern hemisphere. 

DABBLING DUCKS – PINTAILS UPNorthern Pintails (M & F) Up-ending (J M Garg)jpg

The ‘acuta’ in the Latin name refers to the characteristic sharp ‘pin tail’. As so often, the drake is a somewhat flashy specimen while the female is unassuming or, as some sources harshly put it, dull and drab. And while the drake makes a melodious whistle, the female simply quacks or croaks.

FLASHY MALENorthern Pintail, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

DULL & DRAB FEMALE? DEBATABLE!Northern Pintail (f), Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Northern Pintail (f) x 4 (Woody Bracey)

Northern Pintails form flocks and are happy to mix with other species.  Their long necks give the edge over similarly-sized dabbling ducks such as the mallard, enabling them to reach deeper down in the water to feed.

Northern Pintail PM IMG_5342 copy 2

THREATS TO THE SPECIES

  • Predation of nests and chicks by animals and birds such as birds of prey and (some) gulls
  • Parasites including worms and lice, to which they seem to be susceptible; and avian diseases including bird ‘flu
  • Hunting: they are a good target species being swift and agile in the air (for sport) yet quite large (for success rate). Also, delicious (for dinner).
  • Lead poisoning from shot or angling tackle, research has shown. A major problem with all bottom-feeders, though improved where laws prohibiting lead shot have been introduced
  • Loss of wetland areas to agriculture or due to habitat or climate changes

Northern Pintail, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

On Abaco, Northern Pintails arrive in the autumn and leave as spring approaches. They are most likely to be found on ponds such as the one at Treasure Cay Golf Course, where I photographed the male; and at Gilpin Point where I spotted the lone female (at a distance). Below are both genders together for comparison (NB not taken on Abaco). 

BREEDING TIME

Mating is aquatic, by the usual anatine method in which the female lowers herself in the water to indicate her agreement to the proposal whereupon the male tries to drown her. Apparently after mating, the male raises his head and whistles – whether as a signal that it’s all over or exaltation or relief has not been researched. Yet. 

Northern Pintails (M & F) J M Garg

 RELATED POSTS

BAHAMA (WHITE-CHEEKED) PINTAIL

BAHAMA PINTAIL PAGE

Credits: RH x 3, Peter Mantle x 1, Tony Hepburn x 1, Woody Bracey x 1, J M Garg x 2, Birdorable 

        northern-pintail        northern-pintail        northern-pintail

“THEY CALL ME THE HUNTER…” A GREEN HERON ON ABACO


Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)07

“THEY CALL ME THE HUNTER…” A GREEN HERON ON ABACO

There are a number of birding hotspots on South Abaco (defined loosely for avian purposes as south from Marsh Harbour). Most are attractive places to be; a few (e.g. the town dump) less so, requiring additional skills to avoid taking your long-awaited ‘life bird’ in a pool of grossness…

Always a good bet, Gilpin Point near Crossing Rocks is definitely worth a visit at almost any time, especially the brackish pond just inland from the shoreline. Bear in mind it is (a) a longish private road (we got a puncture down there once…*) and (b) it is private land. However Perry Maillis is always welcoming to tidy birders who bring only enthusiasm and take only pictures. Plus he very kindly changed our wheel! At the end of this post is a rough list of birds I have seen at Gilpin, with one or two that I know have also been seen there (photographic evidence!)

*I realise I should say we got a ‘flat’, but to me that would mean we had obtained an apartment. We are indeed “nations divided by a common language” (Attrib variously to Wilde, Shaw & Churchill)

We found this small Green Heron quite easily. We’d watched it fly onto a stump in the pond near the jetty, then fly closer to the shoreline. By tiptoeing onto the jetty, we could see it perched close to the water, inspecting it with a fierce and predatory eye. Both eyes, in fact. 

Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)01

The hunting technique is deceptively simple. Note the long sharp stabbing beak. Note the large feet and claws for gripping securely Here’s how it is done. As a fish is sighted, so the heron leans forward, beak closer to the water, more streamlined to look at.Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)02

As the prey unwittingly approaches the bird slowly tilts further forward unless its beak almost touches the water, the quicker to strike…Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)03 Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)04

The actual strike is so rapid that it is barely possible to see with the naked eye, let alone to photograph it clearly. For me and my little Pentax, anyway. But the end result is rarely in doubt, with a small fish struggling but securely held. It will be down the heron’s gullet in a matter of seconds.Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)05

I left the heron as it settled slowly back into ‘scanning the water mode’ while I went to look at some Lesser Yellowlegs nearbyGreen Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)06

I returned a few minutes later. Scanning was still in progress, and the bird started the gradual ‘leaning forward’ process as it sighted a fishGreen Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)08

Get ready to spearfish…Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)10

Epic success for the heron, epic fail for the photographer…Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)09

“Ha ha Mr Human with your funny black clicky thing hanging round the thing that attaches your head to your body. I was too quick for you. Who hasn’t got the hang of shutter speed yet? Eh? I win the fish. I win the game…”Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)11

ROUGH GILPIN CHECKLIST

Species we have found on and around the pond include Black-necked Stilts, Little Blue Heron, Great Blue Heron, Tri-colored Heron, Snowy Egret, Reddish Egret, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Sora, hordes of White-cheeked Pintails, Northern Pintails, Lesser Yellowlegs, Belted Kingfisher, Turkey Vulture, Smooth-billed Ani, American Kestrel, Bahama Woodstar, Cuban Emerald, Mucovy Duck (pets!)  and – for the first time this year – Green heron. As a bonus, Gilpin has become a regular stop for flocks of Abaco Parrots. Other species found there include American Flamingo, Brown Pelican, DC Cormorants and Limpkin. I’ve no doubt there are shorebirds on the beach such as Wilson’s Plovers, various gulls to be identified, and passing tropicbirds & magnificent frigatebirds high over the water.

VOLUNTARY MUSICAL DIGRESSION

‘The Hunter’ is a well-known Albert King / Stax song from 1967 with elements reminiscent of many blues songs and lyrics before that. The best known versions are probably the one by Free (‘Tons of Sobs’ 1968), which is un-improvable and definitive; and the doff of the cap by Led Zeppelin towards the end of ‘How Many More Times’… However ‘Pacific Gas and Electric’ made a pretty good stab at the song, also in the late ’60s

RELATED POSTS  

SHARP-EYED SHARP BILLED

A FACEFUL OF FISH

All photos RH; Music ‘borrowed’  from a CD into iTunes, converted to MP3 and ‘re-borrowed’ for present non-commercial purposes. And it did say “FREE” on it in large letters…