This post is a slight, alright huge, cheat. It’s been a Hurricane Sandy-dominated week. I have been posting / updating daily about the storm: the before, during and after for Abaco. Weather predictions. Trackers. Pics. Views from space. Several thousand hits later, and I realise that, as for Irene last year, the world is thirsty for information about cyclones and the communities affected by extreme weather. The power and communication problems faced by Abaco (as elsewhere) at these times increases the global concern. There have been emails asking for information about damage at Green Turtle Cay; if I know how uncle Fred on Elbow Cay is faring; and what of Saucy Sue in Marsh Harbour (the boat, not the person)…
Now that the storm has passed, power and comms are mostly restored, and the clean-up underway on Abaco it’s thankfully back to wildlife. Some interesting birds are called for to spread some cheer.These two species will be familiar but not in the setting shown…
PINK FLAMINGOS (Phoenicopterus)
Cheat 1: These birds were photographed… in captivity. Not quite the same as the real wild thing, I agree. To see wild ones on Inagua during the past breeding season, check out my earlier post with wonderful photographs by Melissa Maura CLICKHERE
Cheat 2: They are not in fact the Bahamas / Caribbean species, now I come to think of it. But they are undeniably pretty and cheering.
WHITE PELICANS (Pelicanus)
The birds below are American White Pelicans, not the Brown Caribbean Pelican familiar in the Bahamas. This isn’t a real cheat, however, since these birds are listed (in some sources at least) as ‘accidentals’ in the Bahamas. These’s always the chance that you might see a stray one. And if anyone has – especially if they have a photo – I’d be most interested to know.
A SERIES OF ABACO PARROT PAINTINGS BY ANTONIUS ROBERTS
The wonderful parrots of Abaco are often featured hereabouts, and with good reason. They are the only subspecies of cuban parrot to nest underground, a unique species adaptation that protects them from fires in the pine forest of the ABACO NATIONAL PARK where they breed. However this in turn makes them vulnerable to predation. An intensive long-term conservation and predation-reduction program headed by scientist Caroline Stahala has reversed the decline of this iconic bird. Numbers have increased from fewer than 2500 some years ago to an estimated 4000.
There are places on Abaco – south Abaco in particular – where the parrots congregate in noisy groups during the day. Many people manage to take photographs of them. Good photographers with a decent lens can get outstanding results. Even the camera-incompetent (I hear my name!) can manage the occasional first-class photo, given time and plenty of spare space on the camera card… But very few can do justice to these colourful birds in paint.
A recent reception was held in Nassau to showcase this series of paintings. You will find more about them by clicking the link to open a pdf of the reception brochureABACO PARROT PAINTINGSCaroline Stahala contributed an excellent one-page article about the Abaco Parrots and their conservation – click on it to enlarge to legible size
The hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus) inhabits forest, woodland or coppice over a wide area of the North American continent and the islands to the east, including the Bahamas. They are mostly permanent residents, though there is a degree of migration within their territorial area.
They are a very familiar sight on Abaco, along with their larger cousins the West Indian Woodpecker. These birds forage on trees for insects, turning over bark or excavating deeper. They also feed on fruits, berries and nuts. It’s not unusual for them to attack the woodwork on houses in a search for bugs…
This male hairy woodpecker is prospecting a promising hole near the Delphi Club guest driveThe marks at the bottom of the hole suggest this may be a nesting hole – past, present or futureIt’s certainly deemed worth further investigation… if only he had someone to share it with
He may be in luck! This female hairy woodpecker was in the coppice not far away… A female HW is smaller than the male and lacks the male’s distinctive red head marking. They nest in a tree hole like the one above, where the female usually produces four white eggs.
BEDRAGGLED ABACO PARROTS, & AN AMERICAN KESTREL TAKES OFF…
It’s a fine June day. Perfect for a morning out with Ricky Johnson, the omniscient leader of ABACO NATURE TOURS. Want parrots? He’ll take you to them. Want a Bahama Woodstar ‘pished’ from its deep cover into the open? He’s your man. And as for wrassling land crabs – see LANDCRAB andLANDCRAB: THE SEQUELWe set off from the Delphi Club in sunshine and hope…
Sure enough, we found the parrots at Bahama Palm Shores, so often a good bet. This was (Ricky said) a non-breeding flock, the breeders all being otherwise detained in the National Park with their nests and eggs. Out of nowhere, a sudden short, sharp downpour arrived, and 5 minutes later, everything – everyone – was soaked. And so, of course, were the parrots. At first I discounted the resulting photos for use. These lovely, rare birds are made to be seen in their bright cheerful livery of green, red and blue. These wet ones looked… black. I usually try to avoid doing much (or any) ‘work’ on my photos, but for these I tried changing the contrast a bit and realised that they looked rather appealing with their dark, damp feathers and unkempt appearance. So I’ve decided to use a few images. Here they are, then: some sodden parrots!
While we were damply watching the parrots, Ricky spotted an American Kestrel near the top of a tree. Heads swivelled. It was some way away, but we could see it looking a bit dejected, huddled in the palm fronds. Then suddenly, just as I pressed the camera button, the kestrel stretched itself upright, raised its wings, and launched itself into the sky. The two photos below are frankly of marginal quality (on a high “blur setting”, as you might say) but the second one has caught the rain-drenched kestrel’s take-off about as well as a point ‘n’ shoot at that distance could…
ABACO BIRDWALK WITH THE BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST – OCTOBER 20th
This sounds a lot of fun, and I wish I could be taking part. I’ve never been on Abaco in the autumn when the winter migrants start to arrive as the weather cools in their summer breeding grounds. It must be exciting to see the various species gradually reappear after their summer break, presumably with all the young birds born this year that will see Abaco (and the feeders!) for the first time. If any blog-follower goes on the expedition and happens to keeps a birding record, I would love to know which species you have seen . And if anyone gets some good pics, likewise…
ABACO BIRD ID CHALLENGE (FOR NON-EXPERTS ONLY): THE SOLUTION
This small bird (Oh. I’ve given away the size already) was photographed in June. I was looking through a batch of downloaded photos recently. When I saw it again, I knew at once which bird species it belonged to – but not the specific make. I did some research and came up with the answer. I’d nailed the ID – or thought I had. The photo was a long shot which I had to enlarge to see the markings more clearly, hence a lower overall quality. I sent the jpeg to an officially avian-knowledgeable person for confirmation (hi, Alex!). The reply was swift. No, not the bird ‘swift’, I mean it was quick. It turns out that I was, as so often, completely wrong. Barking up the wrong tree. Chirping in the wrong nest. Perched on the wrong branch…
I’d say there are two definitely plausible candidates, and you may even think of others. So what bird is it? You can click on it to enlarge it. Please join in and give your answer using ‘leave a comment’ (tiny letters at the end of this post) or email firstname.lastname@example.org Or, if you are seeing this on Facebook, please reply on that.
UPDATE Thanks for emails. Opinion is divided, but one of the 2 candidates is definitely ahead… I’ll leave this over the weekend
SOLUTION Of the few replies, most were right. One or 2 were (wrongly) with me – I reckoned it was a SWAINSON’S WARBLER. No one suggested turkey vulture. The correct ID, and the reasons for it, were provided by Alex Hughes, to whom thanks: “The first bird is aBLACK-WHISKERED VIREO. The black supercilium going through the eye and the heavy bill are good marks, which can resemble a Swainson’s Warbler, but a clinching mark here is the yellow wash underneath the tail at the rear of the bird”.
While I am dealing with mystery birds, I posted photos of a very sweet littleJUVENILE BANANAQUIT about a month ago. At the end I added a photo, which again has since been positively identified (thanks again, Alex)
“Finally, this bird was a distance shot. At the time, it looked larger than a bananaquit – more Loggerhead Kingbird-sized. Before I had downloaded the image and could see it clearly [rather than on the screen on the back of the camera], I’d wondered about a mangrove cuckoo. Then I saw at once that it didn’t tick the right boxes. So I decided it must just be a huge bananaquit with an orange rather than yellow front. If it’s anything else (a rare hybrid spindalisquit?), please say so!” It is a indeed bananaquit, but in my limited experience I have never seen one with a spindalis-orange front. Can anyone say if that is a common colouring on Abaco, or unusual?
BOBOLINKS: MIGRATORY SONGBIRDS OF ABACO & THE BAHAMAS
Occasionally vacation plans disrupt the flow in the smoothest of operations. A smear of suntan cream in the well-oiled machinery of a blog. Or a well-oiled operator over-sampling the local produce – wine, in these parts. So it pays to follow the Blue Peter principle of ‘Here’s one I prepared earlier’. Except regrettably I didn’t do it properly and have been struggling to unpick some html on an iPhone. Don’t ever try it. Luckily the ever-resourceful Mrs RH brought an iPad along. Much less fiddly. So I am now able to feature the BOBOLINK (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), a small New World blackbird
14 ESSENTIAL BOBOLINK FACTS TO ENTERTAIN YOUR FAMILY & FRIENDS
Adults weigh about 1 ounce (28 g)
The collective name for a group of Bobolinks is a ‘chain’
One bird was tracked flying 12,000 miles (19,000 km) in one year
A bobolink has been tracked covering 1,100 miles (1,800 km) in one day
The birds migrate in flocks, feeding on cultivated grains and rice, which may annoy farmers
Despite their flying stamina Bobolinks have rarely been sighted in Europe
In South American they are known as “ricebirds”
In Jamaica they are sometimes eaten and are called “butterbirds”
Bobolinks forage on or near the ground eating seeds and insects.
Their breeding habitats are open grassy fields across North America
Males are often polygynous, and take their vows shamefully lightly
Females lay 5 to 6 eggs in a cup-shaped nest on the ground, hidden in dense vegetation
Both parents feed the young, except when the male has some important singing to do (often)
Although currently rated “of least concern” their numbers are declining due to loss of habitat
WAYS IN WHICH THE BOBOLINK HAS INSPIRED ARTISTS (despite its unpromising name)
Emily Dickinson wrote several poems about the bird, including “The nicest bird, I always think / Is the tiny Bobolink / To me, it never had occurred / Thus to name a songstrel bird”*
The Bobolink is also mentioned in a song called Evelina, from a musical called “Bloomer Girl” (me neither): “Evelina, won’t ya ever take a shine to that moon? / Evelina, ain’t ya bothered by the Bobolink’s tune?”**
The Bobolink is name-checked by Nabokov; in a poem by Sophia Jewett, An Exile’s Garden (1910); and it has a fly-on part in a film “The Mouse on the Moon”
Finally, a wonderful video showcasing the bubbling song of the bobolink(Credit: Themusicofnature)
* and ** I can’t be sure which of these is made up. Maybe neither. Or both.
Laughing gulls. Amusingly raucous and raucously amusing. Unless, maybe, you are living right next to a breeding colony during a collective fit of hysterics. These gulls, Leucophaeus atricilla, will be familiar to anyone on the Atlantic coast of North America; in the Caribbean; and further south to the northern coastal areas of South America. In winter, their migration pattern simply involves relocating to the southern parts of their range. They are easily recognisable in the breeding season by their smart black caps, though this fades in winter. And by their unmistakeable call, of course. Immature birds tend to be darker than adults. They breed in large colonies, each female laying 3 – 4 eggs. And like most (all?) gulls, they’ll eat pretty much anything.
Laughing Gull Conservation Status
We saw – and heard – plenty while bonefishing on the Abaco Marls in June. I took some rather grainy distance shots, as they tended to fly off as the skiff was slowly poled towards them. This gull has found a good vantage point for some quality preening among the mangroves.
The pair below stayed put, and watched our gradual approach with suspicion that turned into noisy protest as we poled past them. I presume they were defending their territory – probably a nest site nearby.
I took a very short video just before they flew off as we drifted by. Apologies for the sound of the breeze – I’ve no idea if it’s possible to reduce the background noise while retaining the bird call. Listening to online bird sound clips (e.g. on the excellent Xeno-Canto) I think not. Or not without expensive editing equipment of a complexity I can’t face…
And here (thanks, Don Jones @Xeno-Canto) is what laughing gulls sound like when one of them has told the one about the bonefish and the shrimp…
LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHERMyiarchus sagrae is anon-migratory bird quite frequently seen in the Abaco pine forest and scrubland. It is resident throughout the year on Abaco, as elsewhere within its distribution range (see map below) – also occasionally found as a vagrant in southern Florida. It is a ‘tyrant flycatcher’, a passerine species found throughout the Americas that includes kingbirds, pewees and phoebes.
The conservation status of this flycatcher is ‘Least Concern’
The LSF’s natural habitat is subtropical forest and rough scrubland. It builds its nest in a tree cavity or similar natural hole, and usually lays a clutch of two to four eggs.
Adult La Sagra’s Flycatchers, unlike many avians, are very similar in appearance in both sexes.
As the name suggests, the species is primarily insectivore, fly-catching in the undergrowth and low scrub. However these birds also eat berries and seeds. Their call is a high pitched single or double noted sound described as ‘wink’. Here’s an example from the Bahamas by Paul Driver @ Xeno-Canto
And who or what the heck was La Sagra? The answer is: multi-talented Spanish botanist Ramón Dionisio José de la Sagra y Peris(1798–1871), who was also a writer, economist, sociologist, politician, anarchist, and founder of the world’s first anarchist journal El Porvenir (“The Future”). At one time he lived in Cuba and became director of Havana’s Botanical Garden; his name lives on arguably more significantly in ornithological than in anarchist circles (actually, an ‘anarchist circle’ must surely be a contradiction in terms…)
I note in passing that La Sagra is a provincial area in Spain, an Italian festive celebration, a chocolatier, or a small comet – all of which meanings may have to be negotiated online before you get to the flycatcher…
Ramón Dionisio José de la Sagra y PerisFinally, to continue with the recently introduced avian philatelic theme, here are stamps from the Cayman Islands and Cuba featuring the La Sagra’s Flycatcher. The Cuban stamp commemorates the death of Juan Gundlach, the man who chose La Sagra’s name to bestow on this bird
This small bird was quite far back – and high up – in the coppice on the Delphi guest drive. The photos were distance shots, so not the best quality, but they do capture the little bird in full song. BGGs have complete white eye rings; males have a dark ‘monobrow’ which can just about be seen in the photo above. In a word, ‘cute’. They sound like this (you may need to wait for the clip (credit: Cornell Lab / RH) to load – or hurry it along by clicking ‘Play’ as it loads):
They build a cup nest on a horizontal tree branch. It’s a modern family unit – both parents make the nest, tend the eggs, feed the young, and teach them manners. They may raise two broods in a season.
BGGs eat insects and spiders, feeding in trees and shrubs. They can hover very briefly, but mainly they catch insects on the wing (‘hawking’). The tail is often held upright while defending territory. Or sometimes just because they can.
All the information you could want on this species can be found at the excellent OISEAUX-BIRDS.COM
STOP PRESSchecking back through my photos, I’ve found a (slightly blurry) distance shot of a BGG. I am adding it because it shows the bird with its characteristically cocked tail, often seen when perching (the bird, I mean)
A very pretty BGG has recently been published on the superb Cornell Lab website, credited to Laura Frazier. It’s so cute – and such a clear image – that it deserves inclusion here
The wild parrots of Abaco are very special birds. Uniquely they nest underground in limestone holes which provides protection, not least from forest fires. Thanks to a program of intensive research over the last few years, far more is now known about these birds and their breeding habits. Investigations into predation have led to effective predator controls. The evidence this year is that the population numbers, having stabilised, are gradually rising to a sustainable level of some 4000 birds. The parrot below has been ringed as a chick as part of the continuing monitoring program.
I will soon be posting about the current breeding season – the parrots are in their limestone cavity nests now, the eggs are laid, the chicks will soon be hatching. Caroline Stahala, the Abaco parrot expert familiar to those who follow this blog (seeABACOPARROTS), will soon be reporting on this years breeding and chick-ringing program. In the meantime, here are some of Caroline’s pictures taken during the past season of the parrots in all their glory…
The parrots mainly live and breed in the pine forest of the Abaco National Park
During the day they fly northwards, often in large noisy groups, where they feed. One of their favourite treats is the fruit of the Gumbo Limbo tree. This sometimes requires acrobatic skill
The sunshine brings out their bright colouring. When they fly, the blue on their wings is wonderful
Besides Gumbo Limbo berries, the parrots enjoy feeding on seeds
A parrot takes flight near a nest cavity. There’ll be more photos of parrot nests later this month
THE AUK is a quarterly journal published by the AOU specialising in promoting the scientific study of birds by means of original peer-reviewed reports. It has been in continuous publication since 1884, and can lay claim to be a (the?) foremost journal in its field. Here is the front page of the first volume of the journal
The 1905 Vol 22 No. 2 contains a 22 page study by Glover M Allen entitled SUMMER BIRDS IN THE BAHAMAS. If you aren’t a particularly dedicated birder, my advice is ‘look away now’ and move on to a page, post or other occupation that interests you more. For the remaining 2 of you, stay tuned in. I thank you both. It will be worth it…
The article was published at a time when ornithological survey of the Bahamas was in its infancy. Cory’s famous list of birds collected from the islands had been published a mere 15 years earlier. Allen details his time spent with 2 companions – much of it on Abaco – as they investigated birdlife and recorded their findings. That aspect comprises the first part of the article. The second part is equally fascinating: their list of bird species, with commentary, remarks and comparisons thrown in, together with some of the local names for the birds. Some of these are still in use, others perhaps long-forgotten. Is a Least Tern still known as a ‘Kill-’em-Polly’? Here are some highlights for busy people:
FLAMINGO / SPOONBILL Of particular interest is the recording of the apparently imminent loss of the flamingo (“fillymingo”) from the Northern Bahamas – a single colony only still surviving on the Abaco Marls by 1905. Allen and his group found only one roseate spoonbill, also on the Marls (we were also lucky enough to see a single spoonbill on the Marls in June)
BAHAMA PARROT Those who follow the fortunes of these fine birds on this blog or elsewhere will be especially interested in the following extract, which suggest that at the start of the c20, the species had all but died out on Abaco:“Amazona bahamensis (Bryant). We were interested to learn through the captain of our schooner, that a few parrots still exist on Great Abaco. He told us of having seen a flock near Marsh Harbor the year before (1903) and in previous years had some- times observed a flock in late summer at that part of the island. We learned that at Acklin’s Island about 14o miles south of Nassau, parrots still nest in numbers and the young birds are regularly taken from the nest when fledged,and bronght to Nassau to be sold as pets” I will be posting about the parrots later this month, but suffice to say here that the current estimate for Abaco parrots is now around 4000 birds, a significant increase since conservation measures and a predator control program were started some years ago.
BAHAMA WOODSTAR These endemic hummingbirds, now taking second place to the in-comer Cuban Emerald, were plainly everywhere then: “On all the islands and cays, wherever there was bush or tree growth, this humming- bird occurred”
“PARAKEETS” There seems to have been a significant population of these, known then as ‘Bahama Grassquits’. What species were – or are -these? The description doesn’t quite match the ‘quit family candidates we are familiar with today.
OTHER SPECIES Avian taxononomy, with its frequent official changes of classification, is a confusing area… but it seems that in 1905 there were then 2 distinct species of Spindalis (now, one); and 3 Mockingbird varieties (now, two). But of course there may simply have been a naming adjustment since the article was published…
For those who have stayed awake till now, your prize is the following link to the whole 22-page (small pages!) article
NO SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN? GO BIRDWATCHING INSTEAD…
AN ABACO / YEMEN BIRD POPULATION COMPARISON
All anglers have done it. Gone somewhere to fish on a hunch, a whim or a tentative recommendation, only to find no fish. What if you decided to take a break from Abaco bonefishing on the strength of the film title Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, only to find that there is, in fact, no migratory salmonid species in the republic. Despite the film’s dreamily optimistic outcome, it’s a piscatorial impossibility. You should have read the book first, of course – or seen the film, if only for Emily Blunt. Ok, and Ewan McGregor, if you must. Yes yes, and the fabulously over-the-top foul-mouthed cameo that is Kristin Scott-Thomas.
Set aside your disappointment. The only sensible thing is to put the fishing tackle away and check out the other Yemeni wildlife, specifically the birds. But you haven’t come prepared for this. You have no bird guide. So what species might you find in the Yemen that would be familiar to a Bahamian, specifically a South Abaconian?
South Abaco has 126 of the 196 birds species found more widely on Abaco, according to Avibase. I wondered how many of these one might find in the Yemen. And the answer is 33 (or 26%)
When I started checking this, I thought there would be very few – maybe a dozen or so – ‘mutual’ birds. As I worked my way through the seabirds, shore birds, birds of prey etc, the total slowly rose. Then I came to a sudden halt. Apart from the near-ubiquitous, adaptable rock dove, starling and sparrow, there are NO small birds in common at all. The obvious reasons are distance, habitat and climate, of course, but nevertheless I found it a slightly surprising finding.
So the lesson is, don’t be tempted to go warbler-watching in the Yemen either…
WARBLER IDENTIFICATION – A LIGHT-HEARTED CHALLENGE
SPECIES ID NOW SOLVED! CUT TO THE CHASE BENEATH THE PHOTOS FOR DETAILS. A LATE ENTRY NOW DISPUTES THE GENDER ID, SO THE SEX CHALLENGE IS REOPENED, SO TO SPEAK
I have previously posted aids to WARBLER ID (1); WARBLER ID (2), a pitfall-fraught area that continues to baffle me despite books, online resources, futile stabs in the dark etc. For each species the male differs from the female, and both differ from juvenile / maturing birds. And this all depends to some extent on the season. Here’s a speckled warbler photographed recently at the Delphi Club, Abaco, for which there are various candidates ranging from the distinctly possible to the frankly completely-unlikely-but-astounding-if-it-turned-out-to-be-true Kirtland’s Warbler. These are seen and positively identified vanishingly rarely on Abaco – maybe one or two a year, and invariably in winter. But what if one decided to stay behind for the summer… And to those who say “Prairie, dimwit”, I reply “…but their speckles don’t cover their entire fronts”.
I’m throwing this open, because although I have a view I’d like to see what others come up with. Craig? Avian101? Avian3? Margaret H? Other birding followers? Are you out there? Leave a comment (see small-print blurb at the bottom of the post) or email me at email@example.com The bird was a bit reluctant to be photographed, but I managed to get a side view, a ‘full-frontal’ and a head shot. Any ideas?
UPDATEThanks to all who came up with suggestions – it’s interesting how opinion on warbler species varies, even with quite clear close-ups to judge from. The first past the post is… Dr Elwood D Bracey (Fl), to whom many thanks. It’s a female CAPE MAY WARBLERDendroica tigrina. The runner-up is (amazingly) myself – I had it down for a Cape May juvenile, because I thought it looked a bit on the fluffy side… Also, its eye-patches (photo 3) are grey rather than brown, and I took their colouring to be a work in progress. There’ll be some more ID queries from our recent batch of Abaco photos – not just birds, but flowers & shells as well. All contributions will be welcome…
Oh no! What’s happening here? A late challenge has come in from Margaret H (see comments), who contends that the clearly shown patch on the bird’s cheek indicates that it is a male, not a female, Cape May. So the challenge was ended and the award given prematurely… The species is now definite, but the gender ID remains unresolved…
I’ve now heard from Alex Hughes, who writes “[I am] one of Caroline Stahala’s field techs on the parrot project this summer. She forwarded me the photos of the warbler taken recently on Abaco. The photos I saw are of a female Cape May Warbler, which is a great find in June! She is certainly not going to make it to her breeding grounds, unfortunately, but still fascinating to see a boreal forest bird in the Bahamas during summer.
In a follow-up, Alex adds “I’d be very surprised if this was a male bird, due to the plumage lined up with the time of year. This year’s juvenile birds are not big enough to make the flight south from breeding grounds yet, and wouldn’t anyways if they could. Therefore, it would have to be adult non-breeding plumage if it were a male, also meaning this bird already molted from alternate plumage from spring, and flew south. This seems far more unlikely to me than a female who simply didn’t make the flight, probably due to some handicap. Either way, very cool!”
So I think that wraps it up. A female Cape May, in the right place at the wrong time. How lucky to have got close to one in the off-season. It just goes to show, eager Kirtland hunters, that any of the migratory warbler species might choose to stay behind for the summer…
CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY IMAGE & BLURB
“The Cape May Warbler breeds across the boreal forest of Canada and the northern United States, where the fortunes of its populations are largely tied to the availability of spruce budworms, its preferred food. Striking in appearance but poorly understood, the species spends its winters in the West Indies, collecting nectar with its unique curled, semitubular tongue”.
It is presumably using its ‘unique… tongue’ in Photo 2, inconveniently concealed by foliage so we will never know
(RH COMMENT My one obviously liked the Delphi Club – and its feeders – so much that it decided to stay for the summer…)
(Credit: Steve Pelikan for Xeno-Canto)
CAPE MAY WARBLER RANGE MAP (Wiki) (left)
As a warbler-muddler, I am interested to see how extremely selective this species is in its preferred summer and winter latitudes. The banding is very distinct. Are they never tempted by New York? Have they never tried Disneyland?
CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY RANGE MAP(below)
The more sophisticated range map below shows the migration areas between the summer breeding and winter non-breeding areas. It looks as though a Cape May warbler on Abaco in June is an unexpected sighting.
JAMES BOND – THE ORNITHOLOGIST WHO LENT HIS NAME TO A FICTION LEGEND
Jamaica, 1952. The night was hot, too hot. Fleming cursed as he made his way up the steps to his neighbour’s verandah. He heard the clink of ice from within the house, and guessed that the rum punch was being mixed just the way he liked it. Stirred, not shaken. As he passed a low table on the verandah his eyes were drawn to a small book lying on it. Fleming paused, taking in the information, his senses suddenly alive. Bond. James Bond. A bird book about the avian species of the West Indies. Suddenly, it all made sense. Fleming knew now the direction he had to take, and with a thin smile he flicked back the insolent comma of dark hair that had fallen across his face and strode into the house towards the sound of the ice…
James Bond, ornithologist (1900 – 1989) was an expert on the birdlife of the Caribbean and wrote the seminal Birds of the West Indies, first published in 1936 and republished in varying formats ever since.
Ian Fleming lived in Jamaica and was a keen birdwatcher. The story goes that one evening, visiting friends, he saw ornithologist James Bond’s Birds of the West Indies on a table, and borrowed that short, punchy name for his fictional hero 007 for Casino Royale, published in 1953. He later said he wanted a name that sounded ‘as ordinary as possible’. In an interview, Fleming said “I wanted the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name I could find, and ‘James Bond’ was much better than something more interesting, like ‘Peregrine Carruthers.’ Exotic things would happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure — an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department.” Fleming wrote to the real James Bond’s wife “It struck me that this brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon and yet very masculine name was just what I needed, and so a second James Bond was born.” He also contacted the real James Bond about using his name in the books and Bond replied that he was “fine with it.” At some point during one of Fleming’s visits to Jamaica he met the real Bond and his wife. The meeting was recorded for a documentary.
FACT, FICTION & IN-JOKES
In Dr No Fleming referenced Bond’s work by basing a large Ornithological Sanctuary on Dr No’s island in the Bahamas. In 1964, Fleming gave Bond a first edition copy of You Only Live Twice signed “To the real James Bond, from the thief of his identity”. In the 2002 Bond film Die Another Day the fictional Bond can be seen examining Birds of the West Indies in an early scene that takes place in Havana. However the author’s name (James Bond) on the front cover is obscured. In the same film, when Bond first meets Jinx, he introduces himself as an ornithologist.
Ian Fleming Lived Here in Jamaica **
I had been planning to research the history of the various editions of Birds of the West Indies, the locus classicus for Caribbean species. Then I started to look into it and found that someone – Jack Holloway – had already done it so thoroughly that I would be wasting my time. So I contacted Jack for use permission, and I am very grateful to him for granting it by return. This next part is all thanks to him. I recommend a visit to his very good online bird resource website at AVIAN3
♠ ♣ ♥ ♦ ♠ ♣ ♥ ♦ ♠ ♣ ♥ ♦ ♠ ♣ ♥ ♦ ♠ ♣ ♥ ♦
THE HISTORY OF BIRDS OF THE WEST INDIES BY JAMES BOND
1936 (The Original)
This is the alpha of the “Birds of the West Indies” books by James Bond. Its longer subtitle is “An Account with full descriptions of all the birds known to occur or to have occurred on the West Indian Islands“. Published just shy of two years after Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds of the West Indies, this book was the first field guide to cover all the birds of the West Indies (outside of Cory’s annotated book of 1889).
Somewhat in contrast to what is stated in the later 1961 version as the “First American Edition”, this 1936 book was published by The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (at which Bond worked) and was printed by Waverly Press, Inc. in Baltimore, Maryland.
This book is certainly quite scarce and typically commands a price ranging from $500 – $1,500 depending on its condition and the presence of a dustjacket.
Ultimately, one may ask, “What’s the difference between this first book and the subsequent versions?” Here is the answer in the form of a table (see below)
1947 (The Next Version)
This 1947 version is often advertised or assumed to be the first edition. This may be due in part to the rarity of the original 1936 edition and/or to the presence of “First Printing” printed on the backside of the Title Page in the 1947 book (see image below). This “first printing” refers only to the second book. For the true, original book, you must go back another 11 years to 1936.
Despite the notation of “First American Edition” in the 1961 version, this 1947 book was published by the MacMillan Company of New York and was printed in the United States. The 1936 edition was also US published and printed.
As an obscure note, the title of the book printed on the dustjacket does not match the title printed on the book itself. The cover reads, “Field Guide of Birds…” while the book reads, “Field Guide to Birds…”. Also, it is likely this is the version owned by Ian Fleming which inspired the naming of his charismatic spy (see below)
Depending on the condition of this book and the presence of a dustjacket, this 1947 version ranges in price between $30 and $100.
STOP PRESS As a guideline, I’ve now bought a copy of this edition on eBay for $80, in very good condition with good dust jacket. On a first edition, I beat the seller down from $2250 to $1600, but it was in poor condition and I left it at that…
1961 (“1st American Edition“)
Just as a note of interest — or irony — this 1961 version is labeled as the “First America Edition”. Keep in mind the 1936 and 1947 books were both published and printed in the US. Additionally, just beneath the statement of “First American Edition”, you will see “Printed in Great Britain”. Completing the picture, this book was published by the Houghton Mifflin Company of Boston; thus, the American connection (I guess).
1971 1971 1974
1980 1980 1985 1986 (?)
1990s (the adoption by the Peterson series)
1993 1995 1999
Needless to say, the name James Bond has a familiarity beyond just the birding world. Several myths and slight distortions have grown related to how this name has been transmogrified from ornithologist to international spy.
In 1966, Mrs. James (Mary Wickham) Bond wrote a 62-page book How 007 Got His Name that outlined the circumstances which led to the use of Mr. Bond’s name in the series of books written by Ian Fleming.
As noted on pp. 16-17, Dr. Bond first became aware of his new recognition in 1961. This was after seven spy thrillers had already been published and were just becoming popular in the US.
Mrs. Bond wrote a light-hearted letter to Mr. Fleming on February 01, 1961 to make note that he had “…brazenly taken the name of a real human being for your rascal!” (p.18). A return letter by Mr. Fleming was most gracious and apologetic.
In this reply, (contained in full in Mrs., Bond’s book), Mr. Fleming wrote, “I will confess at once that your husband has every reason to sue me in every possible position and for practically every kind of libel in the book, for I will now confess the damnable truth.” (p.21).
He then provided an explanation of how he selected his character’s name for the first book in 1953: “…I was determined that my secret agent should be as anonymous a personality as possible…At this time one of my bibles was, and still is, Birds of the West Indies by James Bond, and it struck me that this name, brief, unromantic and yet very masculine, was just what I needed and so James Bond II was born…”
Mimicking Mrs. Bond’s light-hearted approach, Mr. Fleming continued his reply with this unique offer: “In return I can only offer your James Bond unlimited use of the name Ian Fleming for any purpose he may think fit. Perhaps one day he will discover some particularly horrible species of bird which he would like to christen in an insulting fashion.” (p.22).
Mr. Fleming also offered the Bonds an open invitation to visit his residence in Jamaica and to visit the birthplace of the second James Bond.
Iam Fleming and the real James Bond met only once, which was February 5th, 1964. This was in Jamaica, six months before the death of Mr. Fleming.
This short book by Mrs. Bond is a nice, quick read. I appreciate it for the first-hand accounts of the historical beginnings of Bond vs. Bond as opposed to the hearsay and myths created over time. The book also offers entertaining stories of how James Bond dealt with his new popularity and the avid “fans” upon their discovery of his name.
Comparison Table of the Books’ Contents over theYears
**“THE FLEMING VILLA” (SHOWN ABOVE) – THE FACTS
Once rented by Noel Coward
Sting wrote “Every Breath you Take” here
Princess Margaret, while a guest, broke a toe on one of the beds (rum punch alert!)
Ian Fleming himself designed the house, and wrote all the Bond books here
It has 5 bedrooms, and was built by a former donkey track bought by Fleming in 1946
You can rent it (and its full-time staff) for £3500 (including breakfast). Per night…
It is part of the ‘Goldeneye’ Estate (and no, there isn’t a ‘Thunderball’ Estate)
Here is a general overview of 10 characteristics of seabirds (birds that spend most of their life out at sea), shorebirds (migratory birds that scurry along the shore looking for food), and wading birds (taller birds that wade in wetlands for their food).
10 characteristics of seabirds (Examples include albatross, auk, booby, frigatebird, fulmar, gannet, murre, penguin, petrel, puffin, shearwater, and tropicbirds…
Here is an excellent resource from the laid-back BEACH CHAIR SCIENTIST with extremely useful comparisons between sea birds, shore birds and wading birds. The 'top tens' format is always a helpful way to get factual info across without blocks of text. Say goodbye to 'Is that a stilt or a rail?' misery now.
BRIGHT & BEAUTIFUL: SUMMER BIRDS AT THE DELPHI CLUB, ABACO
Peter Mantle reports that some colourful birds have arrived at Delphi to take advantage of the feeders and fresh water provided. Indigo Buntings have been around for a while, as they have been a little further north atBAHAMA PALM SHORES;and Rose-fronted / Red-breasted Grosbeaks (I’m not sure which is correct – the terms seem to be used interchangeably) have been seen all round the Club grounds for a week or more. They haven’t been recorded at Delphi before, so they have now been added to the ever-growing official list of the ‘Birds of Delphi’. How long before an elusive Kirtland’s Warbler puts in an appearance? And will anyone recognise it if it does..?
BANISH “WHAT WARBLER???” MISERY NOW WITH CORNELL LAB
I’ve written before about the problems of ID of the multitude of small yellow birds on Abaco. They are mostly (but not all) warblers. The issue is further confused by the differences in each species between males, females and juveniles; and also, I expect, by colour variations during the season.YW song courtesy of Xeno-Canto
The CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY has again come to the rescue with a helpful article. The link below takes as the starting point Yellow Warblers. Here is a grab of the page so you can see the well-thought-out format. You get
Keys to ID – size, shape, colour pattern, behaviour and habitat
Audio clip of Call
Field marks (zoomable) including M & F
Similar species for comparison
Further down the page, other similar species and their details (e.g. American Goldfinch, Yellowthroats)
I posted a while ago about a wonderful afternoon spent at BPS with nature guide and all-round Abaco knowledge mine Ricky Johnson. Three posts (Abaco Parrots; other birds; flower and plants) were later combined into the pageABACO ECO-TOUR(if you visit, apologies that the formatting is still out of whack after a blog format change)
Resident ANN CAPLING has kindly sent some photos of birds on her feeder, prompted by my post of her recent sighting of a PROTHONOTARY WARBLER, a bird not often encountered at BPS. The feeder photos were taken from indoors through glass, considering which they have come out very well. She also sent a brilliant photo of a tiny female Bahama Woodstar looking totally cute (not a word I normally use, but completely apt here, I think); and of 2 American Oystercatchers strutting along the BPS shoreline
GARETH & KASIA’S GUIDE TO THE BIRDIES OF TREASURE CAY GOLF COURSE
Gareth Reid, master chef of the Delphi Club and Kasia ofABACO BEACHCOMBINGfame have put together some excellent material about the bird-life to be found on Treasure Cay golf course. I’ve never been there myself, but I already knew from a recent comment from Dr Elwood Bracey of TC that the birdlife on the golf course is very varied and exciting.
Gareth writes:I am a keen golfer and my girlfriend loves nature and wildlife so sometimes to cover both bases we spend our day off at Treasure Cay Golf Club. Whilst I play, Kasia twitches!
Treasure Cay golf course is 20 odd miles north of Marsh Harbour a challenging little track with a lovely mixture of short Par 4s interesting par 5s and a couple of really testing Par 3s. It was designed by Dick Wilson of Doral fame and has matured into today’s layout of tight fairways framed by dense island vegetation.
Birdlife on the course is supported by the three lakes, beside the fourth and fifteenth greens and to the right of the eleventh fairway. Species include North American Coots, Moorhens, Canada Geese, Snow Geese, Mallard Ducks, White Cheeked Pintails, Anis, Northern Mocking Birds, Ibis and Palm Warblers. We have also spotted a Belted Kingfisher and an Osprey both enjoying a light lunch of fresh fish.
So next time you come visit Abaco why not take the trip to Treasure Cay with a bag full of sticks a few balls and tees, hopes of birdies and dreams of eagles and if your swing lets you down at least you got those cute coots. The Delphi Club can provide packed lunches, or you can eat at TC – try Coco Bar (fish and chips, burgers etc) or Treasure Sands (upmarket bar restaurant with pool)
BAHAMA (WHITE-CHEEKED) PINTAILS AT TC GC & OTHER SPECIES
(The slideshow was meant to showcase just Pintails but apparently has to include all the other images)