CARIBBEAN ENDEMIC BIRD FESTIVAL: NASSAU BIRDERS VISIT ABACO


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CARIBBEAN ENDEMIC BIRD FESTIVAL: NASSAU BIRDERS VISIT ABACO

THE CARIBBEAN ENDEMIC BIRD FESTIVAL (CEBF) is a Caribbean-wide festival that aims to heighten awareness for birds generally in the region. It is sponsored by the excellent BIRDS CARIBBEAN organisation – click the link to see what it is all about. Birds, obviously, but from the points of view both of promoting and of preserving the rich avian variety throughout the Caribbean.

As part of the CEBF celebrations this month, a birding group from New Providence came to Abaco to explore the birdlife. The expedition group included several well-known local bird experts, all the better for locating and identifying species and ensuring a comprehensive checklist could be compiled. Also in the group was photographer Linda Huber, whose photos you will undoubtedly have seen in Bahamas publications, including the recently published small guide BEAUTIFUL BAHAMA BIRDS (click to see my review and further details – highly recommended for any birder from novice up). Here are a few of Linda’s photos of some of the birds seen during the expedition, a gallery that shows the extraordinary diversity of species to found in a short time on Abaco.

Apologies to those who received a ‘false start’ draft of this post. It was lunchtime, I was hungry, I pressed ‘Save Draft’… or thought I had. Why is the ‘Publish’ button so close? Oh. Right. I see. It’s not its fault, it’s mine…

Western Spindalis Spindalis zena                   Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Amazona leucocephala bahamensis  DSC00210_2 DSC00216_2

Bahama Yellowthroat Geothlypis rostrata                   Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachiiDSC00298_3 DSC00317_2

Bahama Warbler Setophaga flavescens                         Black-faced Grassquit Tiaris bicolorDSC00356_3 DSC00381_3

                                                        Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia                                                                DSC00371_2 DSC00378_2

Bahama Swallow Tachycineta cyaneoviridis              Cuban Pewee Contopus caribaeus bahamensis  DSC00399_3 DSC00413_2

Olive-capped Warbler Dendroica pityophila            Pearly-eyed Thrasher Margarops fuscatusDSC00422_2 DSC00501_3

                              West Indian Woodpecker Melanerpes superciliaris                                             DSC00475_2  DSC00278_3

                                                      Canada Goose Branta canadensis                                                                             DSC00566 DSC00642_2

White-cheeked Pintails Anas bahamensis                   Caribbean Coot Fulica caribaea     DSC00612_2 DSC00627_3

Muscovy Duck Cairina moschata                                   European Starling Sturnus vulgaris        DSC00639_2  DSC00524_2

Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor                    La Sagra’s Flycatcher Myiarchus sagrae lucaysiensisDSC00675_2 DSC00694_2_2

Cuban Emerald Chlorostilbon ricordii                        Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea DSC00721_2 DSC09484_2

The gallery above includes a number of specialist birds and others of particular interest. In brief:

  • 3 of the 4 ENDEMIC SPECIES found on Abaco (omitting only the Bahama Woodstar)
  • The famous, incomparable and indeed unique ground-nesting ABACO PARROT
  • 4 ‘local’ subspecies of birds also found beyond the Bahamas
  • 1 of only 5 resident warblers, the Olive-capped (of 37 recorded for Abaco)
  • The most recent addition to the birds recorded for Abaco PEARLY-EYED THRASHER
  • The WEST-INDIAN WOODPECKER, now found only on Abaco and (rarely) San Salvador
  • 2 or 3 introduced or domestic species (if that Muscovy Duck was at Gilpin Point it’s a pet!)
  • The debatable ‘Caribbean Coot’, about which it has been written**  The American Coot is familiar to all, but controversy surrounds the Caribbean Coot with its all-white frontal shield. Some authorities say it is a separate species; others say it is a true subspecies of the American Coot; some claim it is simply a local variant. Bond (1947) treats them as distinct species. The image below shows the two species together. They coexist contentedly and are indifferent to the debate.

American & 'Caribbean' Coot (Tony Hepburn)

The group on a Logging Track in the Abaco National ParkDSC00349

The New Providence Birding Group Expedition to AbacoDSC00706_3

 Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival Flyer

CREDITS All photos Linda Huber (with many thanks for use permission) except the pair of coots (Tony Hepburn) and the singing Bahama Yellowthroat in the BNT Flyer (Bruce Hallett)

** Keith Salvesen, The Birds of Abaco p22

“STRIKE THE POSE”: BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS ON ABACO


Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Becky Marvil)

“STRIKE THE POSE”: BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS ON ABACO

I’ve featured these little birds before, including a few I took a couple of months back. For reasons to do with a current project I have been revisiting some of my archive folders of Abaco birds. Most are carefully and correctly labelled, which in most cases is easy – ‘Abaco Parrots'; ‘W Spindalis'; B/quits’ etc. Some have more fancy shortcut names that I’m just getting into – ‘PIPL'; ‘BAWA'; ‘WESA’ and so on. And some are crammed into generic folders like ‘Shorebirds Misc’, ‘Gulls Terns Whatever’ or ‘Warblers???’ pending further attention (if ever).

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Becky Marvil)Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Becky Marvil)

The BGGs I have previously shown have all been photographed on South Abaco. Several of the photos here were taken in and around the Treasure Cay area by Becky Marvil, one of the photographic contributors to THE BIRDS OF ABACO. It’s good to remember that although South Abaco provides the best birding, there are other parts of the island, and some Cays such as Man-o-War, where the birding is also very good.

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Becky Marvil)Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Treasure Cay Abaco (Becky Marvil)

BGGs are well-known for their irreziztbz little ways – coming to check you out if you pish, click or whistle softly in thick coppice; posing daintily for the camera; and maybe even preceding or following you down a track in a companionable way. They may be small, but they always a welcome sight and they make for a very attractive bird gallery.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley) aBlue-gray Gnatcatcher preening, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley) bBlue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley) c

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco (Charles Skinner)Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Credits: Becky Marvil (1,2,3,4,5), Tom Sheley (6,7,8), Charlie Skinner (9,10), Bruce Hallett (11)Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

YELLOW WARBLERS ON ABACO


Yellow Warbler at sunrise. Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy

YELLOW WARBLERS ON ABACO

Of the 37 WARBLER SPECIES recorded for Abaco, 25 are mainly or partly yellow. So talk of a ‘yellow warbler’ can as easily be a general description matching any one of a number of species, as a particular description of the one and only Yellow Warbler Setophaga petechia. This small sunny bird is a common permanent resident on Abaco, one of only 5 resident warblers. The other 4 don’t help the situation much, by dint of all being yellow to a greater or lesser extent. 

Yellow Warbler male3.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom SheleyDendroica-petechia-001 (MDF)

My general rule of thumb is that the Yellow Warbler out-yellows all the rest (though the winter-resident PROTHONOTARY gives it a run for its money), with the adult males bright and cheerful all over and the females rather less glaring but still demonstrably yellow from beak to tail tip.

Yellow Warbler (f) Bruce Hallett

Q. ARE THEY ALWAYS EASY TO SEE? A. SEE BELOW, GO FIGUREYellow Warbler male.Cherokee Sound.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Q. CAN YOU SHOW MORE PRETTY FEMALES? A. BY ALL MEANSYEWA_Bahamas-Great Abaco_5204_Yellow Warbler_Gerlinde Taurer copyYEWA 2_Bahamas-Great Abaco_5165_Yellow Warbler_Gerlinde Taurer copy

Q. SO YEWAs ARE COMMON? HAVE YOU EVER PHOTOGRAPHED ONE? A. ONLY HOPELESSLYYellow Warbler, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Q. DO THEY HAVE AN ATTITUDE PROBLEM? A. ONLY VERY RARELYYellow Warbler male2.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

A THREAT TO THE SPECIES Shiny Cowbirds, luckily still rare on Abaco, favour yellow warbler nests for their parasitic egg-laying, with sadly predictable results. These cowbirds properly belong in South America, but they are gradually spreading north through the Caribbean, and have now reached Florida. I’m beginning to take a (purely personal) hard line on invasive species where they diminish and destroy indigenous species: eradication. The feral peacocks of Casuarina, now several generations down the line from their original introduction as exotic pets, do no harm and are undeniably decorative. But would you prefer the pretty yellow warbler and its fledglings in your garden, or the shiny cowbird that displaced them?

240px-Dendroica_petechia_map.svg

Credits: Tom Sheley (1,2,5,9); MDF (3)Bruce Hallett (4); Gerlinde Taurer (6,7); RH (8)

And finally… the song that out-yellows all other songs with the word ‘yellow’ in the title – it is the only song called just that one word! 

    Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy                Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy                Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy                Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy                Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

PLOVER LOVER? MEET SOME CUTE CHICKS ON ABACO


Wilson's Plover chick.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

PLOVER LOVER? MEET SOME CUTE CHICKS ON ABACO

(*Serious Voice*) “The Wilson’s Plover is the only permanent resident plover found on Abaco, the other species being the winter resident Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Piping Plover and Killdeer; and the rare transient American Golden Plover. The nidification of the Wilson’s Plover is by common consent among naturalists the most…”

But let’s not get carried away with all that pompous ornithological stuff. There are baby plovers to be considered. Each one exudz adorbz and absorbz admirz. Most of the photos below were taken on the beach at Delphi. Ready? Let’s meet some chicks… But you can’t have them without first having the eggs, can you?

Wilson's Plover nest, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Clare Latimer)Wilson's Plover chick.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

The Wilson’s Plovers at Delphi generally nest at the north end of the beach, up towards the reef. It is secluded, has good sight-lines and is bordered by pines. On the approach of a predator or human (in this case, me), the tiny chicks are sent scuttling to safety at the back of the beach while the parents prepare to tough it out if need be…Wilson's Plover Chicks Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

“You ain’t seen me, right?”Wilson's Plover Chick, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

“I know we are caught in the open, but if we stand really still, you can’t see us, right?”Wilson's Plover Chicks x 2, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

One of the most fascinating aspects of bird behaviour to watch is the so-called ‘broken-wing’ display put on by plover parent(s) to distract a predator away from a nest or scrape, and the eggs or chicks in it. Kildeer and black-necked stilts are among other species that do this performance. It goes like something like this: 

“Oh! OW! I am helpless. Please don’t attack me, Apex Predator, for I am but a vulnerable plover…”Wilson's Plover, Delphi, Abaco -  broken wing display (Clare Latimer)

“But kindly follow me as I flap pathetically (moving away from my nest). I can’t fly, you know…”Wilson's Plover, Delphi, Abaco -  broken wing display (Clare Latimer)

Camouflage also plays a part in the protection of these little creatures. This chick is on the rocks at the north end of the Delphi beach, the bit where you begin to wish you’d worn shoes because the rock is so sharp… From 10 feet away, you might well miss seeing the chick completely.Wilson's Plover chick. Delphi.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

This is one of my favourite shots, also at Delphi, taken by Sandy WalkerWilson's Plover & Chick, Delphi, Abaco (Sandy Walker)

Quite a while ago, I wrote about a Wilson’s Plover family that had made their scrape at Nettie’s Point, the place where the bonefishing skiffs are launched. They chose their homemaking site right where the trucks and trailers turn. Big mistake you might think. But the kind guides built a small stockade of branches round the scrape so that it could clearly be seen and avoided. After that, Mrs WP settled down happily and Mr WP stood guard whenever anyone was around…

The protective stockade in place. Mrs Plover in place. All’s well with the worldNettie's Point, Abaco - Proected Wison's Plover Nest (Keith Salvesen)Nettie's Point, Abaco - Mrs Wilson's Plover on the nest (Keith Salvesen)

Soon after, two chicks hatched, were reared by both parents, and in due course fledged safelyWilson's Plover.Abaco Bahamas.Tom SheleyWilson's Plover + chicks 2.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

Photo Credits: Clare Latimer (2, 7, 8); Tom Sheley (1, 3, 9, 13, 14); Sandy Walker (10); RH (the rest)

WHITE IBISES ON ABACO: UNCOMMONLY EXCITING SIGHTING


White Ibises (adult & juvenile), Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

 WHITE IBISES ON ABACO: UNCOMMONLY EXCITING SIGHTING

“STOP THE CAR!” The shout was embarrassingly loud, amplified by being yelled inside a vehicle. Loud, because it seemed to emanate from very close indeed to my ear. Embarrassing, because it appeared to come out of my own mouth. Good grief! It was me. And I’d seen White Ibises. There they were, 2 adults and 2 juveniles, strolling and feeding their way across an open grassy area right in the middle of Sandy Point, as casual as you please.

P1200740White Ibises (adult & juvenile), Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

So I leapt out of the car (it had conveniently and fortunately stopped by this stage), remembered to remove the lens cap for once, and took some photos. Unfortunately we had driven slightly past them which inevitably increased the risk of bird-butt shots (as the birds were moving away from me) to add to my already impressive ‘aves-ass’ collection

White Ibis, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The reason for the excitement was that the White Ibis is classed on Abaco as a ‘WR4‘, that is to say a Winter Resident that is both uncommon to rare and irregularly reported. Some years, maybe none will be seen at all. When I was collecting the images – hundreds and hundreds of them – for THE BIRDS OF ABACO, I rejected any that had not actually been taken on Abaco. That was part of the point of the enterprise, to showcase Abaco’s birds, not “birds from other islands that you may also encounter on Abaco”. So although we had some wonderful White Ibis pics from Nassau, they were ineligible for the book…

We ended with just the one, taken by Kasia Reid at the Treasure Cay Golf course ponds. In the course of the 16 months it took to produce the book, we never obtained another Abaco White Ibis photo, which meant that Kasia’s image did not qualify for a spread and sadly had to be relegated to the supplement… (bird 159 on page 262!). Here it is.

White Ibis, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Kasia Reid)

Meanwhile, returning swiftly to Sandy Point, the 4 Ibises (Ibi?) were working their way slowly and systematically over the greenery, picking through it for morsels of food.

White Ibises (adult & juvenile), Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) White Ibis, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) White Ibis, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) White Ibises (adult & juvenile), Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) White Ibises (adult & juvenile), Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Then they were gone, and I got back into the car feeling that I had seen something special. I may have been the only occupant who felt that way, but such is life. For all I know, the birds may have been there for weeks. Or forever. But I have never seen them there before, nor seen reports of them. The sighting further confirms the excellence of Sandy Point as a birding location on land, shoreline and out to sea.

And then it was off to the legendary Nancy’s for lunch (fresh snapper, Kalik). Here are some of the Ibi (that sounds a much better plural) that had to be ruled out of the book for being non-Abaconian.

THE SALON DES REFUSÉS OF THE NASSAU EUDOCIMUS ALBUS

White Ibis, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn) White Ibis, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn) White Ibis (adult & juvenile), Bahamas (Tony Hepburn) White Ibises, Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

Credits: RH, Kasia Reid, Tony Hepburn, Woody Bracey

REDDISH EGRET ON ABACO, LOVES FISHING, STILL SEEKS ‘THE ONE’


Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)09

REDDISH EGRET ON ABACO, LOVES FISHING, STILL SEEKS ‘THE ONE’

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a wonderful male reddish egret in his splendid breeding colours. He was hanging out in the brackish ponds opposite the Crossing Rocks jetty, ‘spear fishing’ from a standing position and ‘chase-fishing’ frantically through the water. You can see that post HERE. Unsurprisingly, we decided to take another look down there – easily done, since we had spent the morning out bonefishing on the west side. We’d earlier seen a tri-colored heron in the ponds, and a reddish egret WHITE MORPH, so it was worth having a (different) camera to hand…

Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)11

We were in luck. The RE was still there, looking every bit as handsome as before (though not the entire time – see below) So here are some more shots of this gorgeous bird.

Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)12Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)13Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)01Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)02Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)14Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)05

Mostly, the RE was sleek and elegant. There were times however when the wind ruffled him up a bit, and he lost some of his composure… not the ideal look should a female RE arrive looking for her perfect partner at that very moment. A bit ‘morning after’ rather than ‘evening before’…Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)07

…and does this (unfairly undignified) view reveal a touch of early baldness’?Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)06

This turned out to be our last opportunity to see the RE. Let’s hope he has paired off happily, and that his offspring will be at the ponds next year.

I posted this photo on FB, because the bird strongly reminded me of someone. A very small amount of digging produced the human likeness and inspired a bit of creativity – see below (with apologies to both parties).Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)08

RODDISH EGRET MEETS RED STEWART…

                     Rolling Harbour Abaco's photo.Rolling Harbour Abaco's photo.
To coin a phrase, Every Picture tells a Story! Oh. Someone’s come up with that already, have they? Well here’s a reminder of the original – complete with Sir Roderick’s personal grooming advice near the start: “…standing in front of my mirror… combed my hair in 1000 ways, but it came out looking just the same…”
All photos: RH, with Mrs RH

WOOD DUCK: THE LEAST REALISTIC DUCK EVER


Wood Duck (Keith Salvesen)5

WOOD DUCK: THE LEAST REALISTIC DUCK EVER

I’ve been out shooting duck, camera-wise. Ducks are a bit of a mystery to me, and to be honest I often find it hard to tell one ruddy duck from another. I’ve found a memorable one now, though – the Wood Duck Aix sponsa. With all due respect to the Family Anatidae, these birds are just wooden toys brightly painted. I’ve watched them, and I’m still not convinced they don’t have tiny motors in them that propel them slowly in the water and make the wings twitch from time to time. 

Wood Duck (Keith Salvesen)2

Wood Ducks may be found on Abaco, which I why I mention them. I’m showing some here in case you should be lucky enough to meet one – then you’ll recognise it at once. They are infrequent winter residents on Abaco – not exactly rare, but not commonly seen and therefore irregularly reported. 

Wood Duck (Keith Salvesen)1

If you do happen upon one of these birds you’ll be fortunate, for they are undoubtedly very beautiful. It might be worth clapping your hands to test my theory that they won’t react at all. Their little motors will just keep them chugging through the water…Wood Duck (Keith Salvesen)4

All photos: RH. Idiotic duck-based theory: RH