SWAINSON’S HAWK: A UNIQUE VISITOR TO ABACO, BAHAMAS


Swainson's Hawk (imm), Abaco - Bruce Hallett

SWAINSON’S HAWK: A UNIQUE VISITOR TO ABACO, BAHAMAS

Abaco has 6 accipiter species (hawks, eagles and kites) recorded:  Swallow-tailed Kite TR 4, Bald Eagle V4, Northern Harrier WR 3, Sharp-shinned Hawk WR 4, Red-tailed Hawk PR B 1 and Swainson’s Hawk Buteo swainsoni V5. The Red-tail is a familiar permanent resident; the Harrier and Sharp-shinned hawk are uncommonly recorded winter residents; the Kites are occasionally seen passing through on their migratory path; the Bald Eagle has been reported on only a handful of occasions; and the Swainson’s Hawk has been seen (or anyway recognised) precisely once. One glance at its migration route shows why… 

Swainson's_hawk_migration_route

This fine raptor is definitely not worth travelling to Abaco in the hope of encountering. Managing to find one, identify it and photograph it, is a considerable achievement. Well-known Bahamas bird authority Bruce Hallett not only did so, but got great pictures of this juvenile bird both in flight and perched. No other sighting is recorded for Abaco; and few if any have ever been seen in the Bahamas generally.

Swainson's Hawk (imm), Abaco - Bruce Hallett

Swainson's Hawk (imm), Abaco - Bruce Hallett

WHO WAS MR SWAINSON?

Swainson was one of the early ornithologists  – along with men such as Wilson, Cory, Kirtland and La Sagra – whose name is now inextricably bound to the birds they became associated with. Swainson is the  ‘owner’ of 3 bird species recorded for Abaco: a hawk, a thrush and a warbler. I have previously written about him and these birds, so to find out more about him click SWAINSON.

WHAT DO THESE BIRDS SOUND LIKE?  

WHAT DO THEY LOOK LIKE IN FLIGHT?

A ringed Swainson’s Hawk in its more familiar territory – ColoradoButeo swainsoni (Pharoah Hound Wiki)

Credits: Photos, Bruce Hallett, Wiki (last); Migration Map, open source; videos, as shown

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY – ABACO’S 33 SHORE SPECIES (2) – SANDPIPERS


Ruddy Turnstone winter plumage.Abaco Bahamas.2.13.Tom Sheley e

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY: ABACO’S 33 SHORE SPECIES (2)

Yesterday I featured 8 of the larger, longer-billed species among Abaco’s 33 shorebirds. Plus one cute Wilson’s Plover chick as page-bait! A number of those are classified as sandpipers. To see them, click HERE. Today it’s the turn of the smaller sandpiper species, little birds with long beaks for their size that in general help differentiate them from the stubby-beaked plover species. To recap, here is  the main Abaco shorebird checklist of 26 species (birds previously featured in bold):

The codes will tell you, for any particular bird, when you may see it (P = permanent, WR = winter resident, TR = transient, V = vagrant); whether it breeds (B) on Abaco; and your chance of seeing it, graded from easy (1) to vanishingly unlikely (5).

  • Black-necked Stilt                         Himantopus mexicanus              PR B 3
  • American Avocet                           Recurvirostra americana           WR 4
  • American Oystercatcher          Haematopus palliatus                 PR B 2
  • Black-bellied Plover                          Pluvialis squatarola                     WR 1
  • American Golden-Plover                 Pluvialis dominica                        TR 4
  • Wilson’s Plover                                  Ochthodromus wilsonia              PR B 2
  • Semipalmated Plover                        Charadrius semipalmatus         WR 2
  • Piping Plover                                      Charadrius melodus                      WR 3
  • Killdeer                                                 Charadrius vociferus                    WR 2
  • Spotted Sandpiper                              Actitis macularius                         WR 1
  • Solitary Sandpiper                             Tringa solitaria                              WR 2
  • Greater Yellowlegs                       Tringa melanoleuca                     WR 2
  • Willet                                                   Tringa semipalmata                     PR B 2
  • Lesser Yellowlegs                          Tringa flavipes                               WR 3
  • Ruddy Turnstone                                Arenaria interpres                        PR 2
  • Red Knot                                               Calidris canutus                              WR 3
  • Sanderling                                            Calidris alba                                     WR 1
  • Dunlin                                                 Calidris alpina                                 WR 2
  • Least Sandpiper                                  Calidris minutilla                           WR 2
  • White-rumped Sandpiper                 Calidris fuscicollis                          TR 3
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper                  Calidris pusilla                                TR 2
  • Western Sandpiper                             Calidris Mauri                                 TR 2
  • Short-billed Dowitcher               Limnodromus griseus                   WR 1
  • Long-billed Dowitcher                Limnodromus scolopaceus         WR 4
  • Wilson’s Snipe                                 Gallinago delicata                         WR 3
  • Wilson’s Phalarope                            Phalaropus tricolor                        V 4

The other 7 species of shorebird recorded for Abaco – all transients or vagrants – are: Upland Sandpiper TR 4, Whimbrel  TR 4, Hudsonian Godwit V5, Marbled Godwit V5, Buff-breasted Sandpiper V5, Pectoral Sandpiper  TR 3, Stilt Sandpiper TR 3

SANDPIPERS

Of the sandpiper species shown below, 9 of the 10 are ones that, at the right time and in the right place, you may see on Abaco. The tenth, the Wilson’s Phalarope, is the first specimen ever recorded for Abaco and as far as is known this is the only photo of it (props to Woody Bracey for this accomplished ‘get’). Again, some of the birds shown below were photographed on the Delphi Club beach.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER Actitis macularius   WR 1Spotted Sandpiper.Abaco Bahamas - Tom Sheley

SOLITARY SANDPIPER Tringa solitaria  WR 2Solitary Sandpiper, Petrie Island D G E Robertson Wiki

RUDDY TURNSTONE  Arenaria interpres  PR 2Ruddy Turnstone Abaco Bahamas. 2.12.Tom Sheley copy 2

RED KNOT Calidris canutus (non-breeding plumage)  WR 3Red Knot,  Green Turtle Cay, Abaco - Becky Marvil

SANDERLING  Calidris alba  WR 1Sanderling, Abaco -  Craig Nash

LEAST SANDPIPER  Calidris minutilla  WR 2Least Sandpiper, Delphi Club Beach, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER  Calidris fuscicollis  TR 3White-rumped Sandpiper, Abaco - Tony Hepburn

SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER   Calidris pusilla  TR 2Semipalmated Sandpiper, Abaco (juv) Bruce Hallett

WESTERN SANDPIPER  Calidris Mauri  TR 2Western Sandpiper, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

WILSON’S PHALAROPE Phalaropus tricolor  V 4 Wilson's Phalarope, Abaco - Woody Bracey

RELATED POSTS

RUDDY TURNSTONES

LEAST SANDPIPERS

Photo Credits: Tom Sheley, D Robertson, Becky Marvil, Craig Nash, RH, Tony Hepburn, Bruce Hallett, Woody Bracey

‘AMOY’ THERE! AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS ON ABACO


American Oystercatcher.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

‘AMOY’ THERE! AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS ON ABACO

The American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus is a familiar shorebird, with the significant advantage that it cannot be mistaken for any other shore species either to look at or to hear. All those little sandpipers and plovers can be very confusing; the handsome AMOY stands out from the crowd. I am posting about this species now as a prelude to WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY on September 6th. The link will take you to the official Facebook Page where you will find more information, including how to sign up for a pleasant day’s birding, with the chance to report your sightings.world-shorebirds-day1000

The header picture and the next 2 were taken by photographer and ace birder Tom Sheley on the Delphi Club beach. Unsurprisingly, we used one of these wonderful photographs as a full-page image in The Delphi Club Guide to THE BIRDS OF ABACO.

American Oystercatcher.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley American Oystercatcher.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Bruce Hallett, author of the essential field guide ‘Birds of the Bahamas and the TCI’ (featured in the sidebar) was a major contributor to the book. Not just with his excellent photographs, either, such as the two below. His knowledge, his patience with my queries, and his scrupulous reading of the final draft to eliminate my errors were vital to the project. American Oystercatcher.Abaco Bahamas.Bruce HallettAmerican Oystercatcher.Abaco Bahamas.Bruce Hallett163952

Here are two recordings of oystercatchers, unmistakeable call sounds that will probably be instantly familiar.

Lopez Lanus / Xeno-Canto

Krzysztof Deoniziak / Xeno-Canto

I like the rather dishevelled appearance of this AMOY from Jim Todd, fly fisherman, author of ‘The Abaco Backcountry’, and intrepid kayak explorer around the coast of Abaco.American oystercatcher Abaco (Jim Todd)

The next two photos were taken on the Delphi beach by Charlie Skinner, another contributor to the book. Below them is an ‘in-flight’ shot by Bruce Hallett.American Oystercatcher, Abaco (Charlie Skinner)American Oystercatcher, Abaco (Charlie Skinner)     American Oystercatcher.Abaco Bahamas.Bruce Hallett

This fine video from Audubon shows close-up views of the American Oystercatcher, and unleashes more of the distinctive call-sounds – an insistent wittering – of the species.

For some time, I found it difficult to distinguish American and Eurasian Oystercatchers. The markings of both species are variable according to gender, age, season and so on, but are generally very similar. Mrs RH noticed the salient difference at once – the eyes. The AMOY has bright orange eyes with red eye-rings; the EUROY’s eyes are the reverse colouring, as this example shows.Eurasian Oystercatcher. BBC

 Credits: Tom Sheley, Bruce Hallett, Jim Todd, Charlie Skinner, Xeno-Canto, Audubon, BBC
world-shorebirds-day1000

SHARP-EYED & SHARP-BILLED: GREEN HERON ON ABACO


Green Heron.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

SHARP-EYED & SHARP-BILLED: GREEN HERON ON ABACO

Abaco has six ‘true’ heron species (putting aside the various egrets): Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. The Green Heron Butorides virescens is a permanent resident and is easily distinguishable from the other heron species. The header picture by Tom Sheley is one of many wonderful photographs he took for THE BIRDS OF ABACO, and is one of the most striking. This is a bird actively hunting, keeping very low with eyes fixed on the water, waiting for the chance to use that long sharp bill to snaffle its prey – small fish, frogs and aquatic insects.

RANGE MAP

Green Heron Range Map

There are thought to be 5 sub-species of green heron within the range, but this is a matter for anguished debate (not by me). However, the resident variety in the Bahamas has been designated Butorides virescens bahamensis since 1888 (Brewster), so I’m going along with that.

Green Herons are most likely to be seen in or near water – the margins of brackish ponds or amongst the mangroves, for example. Their foraging is mostly done in water, usually at dawn or dusk.Green Heron, Abaco Woody Bracey

You may encounter one on the shoreline or beach…GREEN HERON, Abaco - Nina Henry

…but they don’t always choose the most scenic locationsGreen Heron, Abaco Nina Henry

FASCINATING FACTOID

Green Heron are known to drop food, insects, or small objects such as stones on the water’s surface as bait to attract fish or other tasty creatures. They are thus classified as one of the animal kingdom’s  44 (?) TOOL-USING SPECIES, considered a sign of superior intelligence.

Green Herons may also be found perching in treesGreen Heron Abaco Tom ReedGreen Heron, Abaco Rick LoweGreen Heron, Abaco Peter Mantle

Occasionally they may be seen out at sea – this one from an offshore BMMRO research vesselGreen Heron Abaco BMMRO

The Golf Course at Treasure Cay is an excellent place to go bird-watching. There is always plenty of bird life on the 3 ponds there, the one on hole #11 being the biggest and most abundant. If you are going to bird there, call in first at the Clubhouse and ask for permission:  they are very kind about it, but they do need to know who is out on the course.  And since the pond is alongside the fairway, keep your wits about you – you are a potential target for the sliced drive… (ok, ok left-handers – hooked, then).

Green Heron, Abaco Charlie SkinnerGreen Heron, Abaco Charlie Skinner

The 2 images above are from Charlie Skinner, and show a green heron adult and chick putting the Golf Course drainage pipe to good use. Captions invited for the top  one. Birds often seen at this particular location include green heron, white-cheeked pintail (lots), common gallinule (moorhen), coot, Canada goose, least grebe, neotropic cormorant, and blue-winged teal. You may also see little blue heron and smooth-billed anis. Once I found a least bittern in the background of a teal photo – I didn’t notice it at the time, but when I checked the photos there it was in the reeds behind the ducks. Another good place to bird if you are in the TC area is White Sound.

Credits: Tom Sheley, Woody Bracey, Nina Henry, Tom Reed, Rick Lowe, Peter Mantle, Charlie Skinner, Wiki

POSTSCRIPT I’ve just commented HERE on the supposedly phonetic call-sounds attributed to birds to render them recognisable by man – the “What’s-for-dinner-Martha, what’s-for-dinner” and the “Give-me-a-drink-please…NOW” and so on. So when I was borrowing the range map from Wiki I was amused to see this: “The green heron’s call is a loud and sudden kyow; it also makes a series of more subdued kuk calls. During courtship, the male gives a raah-rahh call with wide-open bill, makes noisy wingbeats and whoom-whoom-whoom calls in flight, and sometimes calls roo-roo to the female before landing again. While sitting, an aaroo-aaroo courtship call is also given”. So there you go.

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