“ABACO’S GOT TALONS”: THE OSPREY


Osprey, Abaco (Jim Todd 2)

“ABACO’S GOT TALONS”: THE OSPREY

The magnificent Osprey Pandion haliaetus is one of the world’s most successful raptors and can be found on every continent except Antarctica.

Osprey, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

On Abaco the Osprey is a permanent breeding resident, and while certainly not an ‘every day bird’, the chances of seeing one are reasonable. They are fairly often seen flying over the bay at Delphi, or out on the Marls. A pair recently nested at Sandy Point close to Nancy’s restaurant.

Ospreys, Abaco (Jim Todd)

There are few more exhilarating sights in the world of birds than an osprey swooping from a great height into the sea, emerging with a large fish held characteristically ‘fore and aft’ in its talons, and flying into the distance with heavy wing-beats. This wonderful close-up by wildlife photographer PHIL LANOUE shows an osprey that has actually managed to grab dinner for two…

osprey-flight-with-two-fish-03

This bird looks as if it is poised to dive onto some hapless fishOsprey in flight (Lake Wylie, S Carolina) - Gareth Rasberry

 10 PANDION POINTS TO PONDER

  • Ospreys are also known as sea hawks, fish hawks or fish eagles. They are almost exclusively fish-eating
  • A mature adult’s wingspan may reach 6 feet
  • They are the only members of their taxonomic family, genus and species
  • Ospreys & owls are the only raptors with reversible outer toes to grasp prey firmly
  • They can carry fish weighing more than 4 lbs
  • They dive into water feet first to grab its prey; their nostrils can close up to keep out water
  • Osprey-watch.org is a global site for mapping osprey nest locations / logging nesting observations
  • A New Jersey group has designed the optimum artificial nest platform, now an accepted standard
  • Ospreys usually mate for life
  • Osprey populations in many areas have been affected by pesticides and by egg trophy-hunters

PUTTING THE ‘PREY’ INTO ‘OSPREY’
Osprey, Florida (Danny Sauvageau)

A utility post makes a perfect perch for a bonefish snackOsprey, Abaco (Woody Bracey)  copy

The impressive wingspan of an Abaco ospreyOsprey, Abaco (Craig Nash) copy

An osprey far out on the Marls. I managed to get some distance shots of it despite having a fishing rod in my hand…Osprey - Abaco Marls 1Osprey - Abaco Marls 2Osprey - Abaco Marls 4 Osprey - Abaco Marls 3

The Osprey is a prolific symbol in national, cultural and sporting themes, and has been depicted on Bahamas stamps. And quite right too.

Bahamas Wildlife Stamp Osprey copy

Wm Shakespeare Coriolanus

I think he [Coriolanus] will be to Rome
As is the osprey to the fish, who takes it
By sovereignty of nature… 

Credits: Jim Todd (1, 3), Tom Sheley (2), Phil Lanoue (4), Gareth Rasberry / Wiki (5), Danny Sauvageau (6), Woody Bracey (7), Craig Nash (8), RH (Marls pics)

RING-BILLED GULLS ON ABACO


Ring-billed Gull ACH DSC_0451 copy

RING-BILLED GULLS ON ABACO

The Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis is a common winter gull, familiar to all in its adult form because of its… er… ringed bill that distinguishes it from all the other gull species found in the northern Bahamas. There are other differences, obviously, but this beak-related signifier provides the easiest method of ID. To be honest, you may find one anywhere – out to sea, on the shore, inland, or perhaps hanging out at one of the dumps that they are attracted to. This last preference is one shared with many species, but while the dumps may provide good birding venues, the photographic backgrounds and general ambience may be somewhat unattractive… Here are 3 great photos by Nina Henry of these gulls where they look best, near the shoreline.

STOP PRESS Nov 18 Woody Bracey reports from Treasure Cay “I had my first for the fall here in Treasure cay yesterday – one adult and 1 immature. It’s nice to have them back”. So keep an eye out – the ring-billeds are back on Abaco…

Ring-Billed Gull, Abaco (Nina Henry)Ring-Billed Gull, Abaco (Nina Henry)Ring-Billed Gull, Abaco (Nina Henry)

The Latin name of these gulls refers to the Delaware River, Pennsylvania, which is on their migration route. But there must have been dozens of other towns along the route with equal claim to have a bird named after them. Why Delaware took the honours, I cannot explain… and thinking about it has inserted the old song in my brain “What did Delaware, boys? What did Delaware? She wore a brand New Jersey…” etc etc**. So I’ll get on and show some more RBGs to get it out of my head. Here are 3 stages of development from Bruce Hallett.

JuvenileRing-billed Gull (juv), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

First winterRing-billed Gull (1st winter), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

AdultRing-billed Gull, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Laughing Gulls are gregarious creatures, and are quite often found in a group with some other seabird in the middle of the crowd – often a larger one. Here is a ring-billed gull standing proudly in the throng, while the laughing gulls snooze in the sun on the jetty. Ring-billed Gull + Laughing Gulls, Abaco (Peter Mantle)

Photo Credits: Tony Hepburn (1), Nina Henry (2,3,4), Bruce Hallett (5,6,7), Peter Mantle (8)

** If you want to remind yourself – or inflict on yourself for the first time – the entire US-State-related pun-encrusted jingle CLICK DELAWARE DITTY

VIREOS ON ABACO (2): THE PHILADELPHIA VIREO


Vireo_philadelphicus Brian Mcclure (wiki) CROP

VIREOS ON ABACO (2): THE PHILADELPHIA VIREO

Vireos haven’t had as much attention as they deserve hereabouts. I have posted about the BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO, but the 7 other vireo species found on Abaco haven’t had much of a look in. It’s a wrong that I shall right at once by featuring the rather shy Philadelphia Vireo Vireo philadelphicus. Here is the full list of the vireos recorded for Abaco, from which you will see that only the Thick-billed Vireo is a common permanent resident. The Black-whiskered vireo is a common summer breeding resident; there are 2 uncommon winter residents; and the other 4 are transients that chose Abaco as a resting place on their migrations.

Taken from ‘The Birds of Abaco’ checklist by Tony White with Woody BraceyVIREO CHECKLIST

SONY DSC

This little bird tends  to be described with such unkind adjectives as ‘drab’, ‘dull’ and ‘plain’, but  like many under-appreciated species it has its own charm. The header image and the one above give excellent close-up views. The signifiers include the dark eyes, white eyebrows, the dark line through the eyes, the yellow underparts, and in the negative sense the complete absence of eye rings, wing bars or tail markings. And the thick bill is one quick way to distinguish it from similar-looking warbler species, with their generally smaller, pointy beaks. SONY DSC

The Philadelphia Vireo has a wide range, from its summer breeding grounds as far north as Canada down to its winter quarters in Mexico and South America. They have even, very rarely, been seen in Europe. The connection with Philadelphia is somewhat tenuous and arises because the bird was first identified in 1842 from a specimen collected near Philadelphia. However their visits there are brief, since at best it is only a stopover on their migration route…vire_phil_AllAm_map

Philadelphia Vireo (Vireo philadelphicus Dominic Sherony wiki

Here is the song comparison between (in order) the Philly, the familiar TBV whose song accompanies everyday life on Abaco, and the Black-whiskered vireo. My TBV recording is rather quieter than the other 2.

 Andrew Spencer / Xeno Canto

RH at Delphi

 Brian Cox / Xeno-Canto

Philadelphia Vireo William H. Majoros wiki If you want to know how to record birdsong easily using an iPhone or equivalent CLICK HERE 

Credits: Woody Bracey (2, 3); Brian McClure, Dominic Sherony, William H. Majoros, Xeno Canto, Wiki, Cornell Lab

“STAR ANIS”: ENTERTAININGLY GREGARIOUS CUCKOOS ON ABACO


Smooth-billed Ani, TCGC Hole 11 - Becky Marvil

“STAR ANIS”: ENTERTAININGLY GREGARIOUS CUCKOOS ON ABACO 

The Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani) is the third member of the cuckoo family found on Abaco, the others being the MANGROVE CUCKOO and the YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO. Anis range from Florida and the Bahamas in the north, down through the Caribbean to South America, where they are widespread.

Ani Range Map (Xeno-Canto) jpg

Smooth Billed Ani, Abaco - Nina Henry 2a

Unlike their shy and retiring cuckoo cousins, anis are extrovert shouty birds that like to hang out in noisy gangs. Large groups can quite often be found in the low scrub at the Highway end of the Delphi drive; and you may well find a posse of them in settlements such as Sandy Point. You’ll probably hear them from some way off, sounding like this:

Leonardo Ordóñez-Delgado / Xeno Canto

Smooth-billed Anis_Abaco - Tony Hepburn

Anis have advanced parenting and chick-rearing skills, sharing not only communal nesting sites but also egg incubation and feeding the chicks. They are also what my mother might have called ‘fast’, raising up to three broods in a season. Rather touchingly, the young of earlier broods help to feed more recent chicks.

Smooth-billed Anis Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer d

I have tried to discover why an ani’s beak is as it is, without much success. Very often beak shape relates directly to the feeding habits and preferences of a species, but it is hard to see how a diet consisting mainly of insects and small reptiles such as lizards would account for such a prominent proboscis. Here is a close-up of the item in question (thanks, Roselyn Pierce).
On Abaco (and indeed elsewhere) Anis are sometimes known as ‘Cemetery Birds’, no doubt because of their all-black appearance (their raucous tendencies would be quite inappropriate for a graveyard…). [Nicolette Russell has contacted me to say that she has always known them as Rain Crows] However although at a distance these birds may look completely black, catch one in the sun at the right angle, and you’ll find that the plumage is far more varied, and with some intricate patterning.

Smooth-billed Ani. Abaco Bahamas Tom Sheley

Look for Anis in low scrubland and coppice, cultivated areas, perched in unsteady bickering rows on utility lines… and on the ground.

Smooth-billed Ani, Abaco. Gerlinde Taurer c

The appearance and flying abilities of Anis are wonders to behold. As I wrote in The Birds of Abaco, “Their curious heavy beaks, their clumsy flight and their untidy take-off and landing routines suggest a design fault”.

Smooth Billed Ani, Abaco - Nina Henry 1a

“One… is the loneliest number…” oh, hang on a moment…Smooth-billed Ani Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer a

…”two of us…standing solo in the sun…”Smooth-billed Ani, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer) b

As far as I know, there is not yet a collective noun for a group of anis. There should be. Any suggestions welcome via the comment box. Meanwhile I put forward A Commotion of Anis”

Smooth-biled Ani, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

Credits: Becky Marvil, Nina Henry, Tony Hepburn, Gerlinde Taurer, Roselyn Pierce, Tom Shelley, Bruce Hallett; Xeno Canto for range map & sound file; Hat tip to Aimee Mann.

“Star Anis” – do not confuse with Star Anise. One can fly, the other cannotStar Anise Spice (Tesco)

CORMORANTS: RAPACIOUS PESCATARIAN SEA-RAVENS


Cormorant WWT 12

CORMORANTS: RAPACIOUS PESCATARIAN SEA-RAVENS

Cormorants are strange creatures. Strange to look at. Strange in their relationship with humans – love / hate in fishing terms and good / evil in mythology. Strangely useless for poetry, since – like the words ‘purple’ and ‘orange’ – there is no pure rhyme for the word cormorant. But they are undeniably striking, and a cormorant on the Abaco Marls effortlessly gliding inches above the water is an impressive sight.

Cormorant WWT 1Cormorant WWT 5

The cormorant’s name originates from the Latin name ‘Corvus Marinus’, the Sea Raven. Cormorants belong to the ‘Pelican’ order of birds known as the pelecaniformes that also encompasses tropicbirds, frigatebirds and anhingas. Worldwide, there are around 40 different species of cormorant. In many parts of the world, this seabird has established itself inland. Angling communities are increasingly concerned by the spread of this bird along productive fishing rivers, often far from the sea shore. In the UK as elsewhere they are very bad news for prime fishing rivers.

Cormorant WWT 8

Splosh! Gull Photobomb! It wasn’t there when I decided to press the trigger…Cormorant WWT 4 (gull photobomb)Itchy neck? You just have to scratch it…Cormorant WWT 6Relaxed now, thanks…Cormorant WWT 7

The birds here were photographed in the UK on Halloween. While the world was preparing to immerse up to its neck in blood, guts, gore and spider webs, I was out armed only with a camera in unseasonably warm sunshine. So these are Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo, the species found in the UK. They a remarkably similar to the Double-crested Cormorants Phalacrocorax auritus found on Abaco but larger and with a pale cheek and upper neck. This was a perfect day for the cormorants to enjoy their preening and wing-drying routines.

Cormorant WWT 9 Cormorant WWT 10 Cormorant WWT 11  Cormorant WWT 13

Last sight of the one on the small rock: “Hey, photographer, for !@£$%&* sake leave me alone, ok?”Cormorant WWT 14

I will be writing about Neotopic Cormorants Phalacrocorax brasilianus on Abaco in detail soon, but for comparative purposes here is one from Bruce Hallett taken on Teasure Cay Golf Course, where the ponds are usually a productive birding resource (check in at the clubhouse for permission first).

Neotropic Cormorant, Treasure Cay, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

And as for the very familiar double-crested cormorant, here is a great photo taken on Abaco by Jim Todd of three chicks growing up fast in their unusual double-decker nest…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Credits: All photos RH except the last 2, Bruce Hallett and Jim Todd

PLOVER LOVER? PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO (3)


Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 4

PLOVER LOVER? PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO (3)

So much to post about – what to choose? Well, the fall migration is still in full swing, with warblers hurtling across land and sea to Abaco in large numbers for their overwintering. Palm warblers are currently arriving. However I’m going to stick with shorebirds for now, and one of the rarer winter visitors, the Piping Plover. I have some more great photos from Danny Sauvageau in Florida, who tirelessly patrols the plover resting areas to record the banded ones so that their origin can be determined. This research assists with vital habitat conservation programs at each end of the migration. There are only 8000 of these little birds left in the world and without protection there’ll be none before you can say “oh dear, very pretty, they’re gone, what a pity…”

PIPING PLOVERS IN THE EARLY MORNING SUNPiping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 6Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 5Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 3

RING BLING & FLAG TAGS

The postions, colours and numbering of the rings and tags on these plovers identify individual birds, the location of their summer breeding grounds and so on. Dispersal and migration patterns of each bird can be recorded and specific facts – age for example – can be monitored.Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 2

Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 7Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 8Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 9Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 1

PIPL IN FLIGHT – AN AMAZING IMAGE

On the very day I was about to press the ‘publish’ button on this post, look what just flew in from Danny’s beach in Fl.! This is an outstanding photo of a PIPL in flight – you can even see its shadow on the sand. I have a few shots of these birds flying in groups over the sea but apart from a general impression of PIPL-ness, they could really be any small shorebirds travelling fast on the wing. This one is special. Piping Plover in flight (Fl., Danny Sauvageau)

ABACO PIPL NEWS

Piping plovers have already arrived on Abaco. Casuarina beach is a promising place to look. Rhonda Pearce sent me this nice photo taken on the point (see my map). This pretty bird looks as though it has a black tag. However Todd Pover of CONSERVE WILDLIFE NEW JERSEY who also monitors the Abaco end of the migration thinks it may just be a piece of wrack – black tags are not usually used.

If anyone sees a piping plover and has a camera handy, I’d be very pleased to receive any photos, especially showing rings if possible – or indeed ringless legs, which is also informative to the monitors. If it turns out to be a Wilson’s Plover, no matter: they are fine birds in their own right!

PIPL Casuarina Oct 14 Rhonda Pearce via RHCasuarina Map jpg

Finally a quick reminder about Danny’s Kickstarter project “Saving Endangered Piping Plovers through Photography” and his presentation explaining how his photography in PIPL resting areas during their migrations can help to map and complete the picture of this vulnerable species to enable their protection.

You can reach Danny’s film by clicking the link DANNY’S FILM and you will see some fabulous footage of these little birds scuttling around on the beach, looking enchanting; and the commentary will explain the importance of the the birds and the research into their conservation.

RELATED POSTS

RARE GEMS: PIPL ON ABACO 1

50 WAYS TO PLEASE YOUR PLOVER

And finally – what are the good people of Massachusetts doing to help? (great plover skitterings on the shoreline here!)

Credits: All photos, Danny Sauvageau except the last, Rhonda Pearce

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

STANDIN’ ON THE DOCK OF THE BAY: GREAT BLUE HERON ON ABACO


Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 2

STANDIN’ ON THE DOCK OF THE BAY: GREAT BLUE HERON ON ABACO

The occasion: a trip to Sandy Point for a lunch party at the legendary Nancy’s in honour of  Sandy Walker at the end of his 5 years as manager of the Delphi Club. A pair of brown pelicans on the nearby dock were clumsily flying around, diving, perching, drying their feathers, then repeating the cycle. In a quiet moment I slipped away to watch them – and a Great Blue Heron landed quite close by me. So as well as taking photos of the pelicans, I pointed the camera at the heron from time to time. My favourite view is of it standing proudly on the edge of the dock, with the truly azure sea behind it (header and final image).

Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 6

THE PERILS OF A CAMERA UPGRADE

[PHOTOGRAPHIC INTERLUDE – SKIP IF EASILY BORED BY SUCH THINGS]

I don’t have a fancy camera. I would never get the settings right before the bird had flown. Or died, even. So I had been using a Panasonic Lumix FZ45 kindly given to me by Mrs RH in a benign moment, possibly Christmas. Then I made a classic error of upgrading to an FZ72 with an alleged massive 60X zoom. Brilliant, I thought. Big mistake. My old camera has a Leica lens. Used with care and a lens extension (zeugma score!), it is / I am occasionally capable of taking pin-sharp photos. The upgrade camera’s lens turned out not to be a Leica. Almost all the shots I took were ‘soft’, the more so using the zoom. A soft photo taken with a less good lens, zoomed 60X, will never be a better photo. Just an even softer one. I wish I’d had Old Faithful with me instead. When we got home, I immediately dug out OF and sold 60X disappointment. OF is now reinstated as my BF.  

The shots of this heron mostly turned out fairly well, largely because it stayed quite close to me. It flew off a couple of times, then returned to the edge of the dock. Here are a few close-up views of the heron selected from the various pics I took, showing some of the details of this fine bird. Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 3 Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 4 Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 5Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 7Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 10 Then I remembered why I was meant to be at Sandy Point, and went back to Nancy’s for conch fritters and a Kalik or two well OK make that three… Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 11

ROLLING HARBOUR MUSICAL DIGRESSION

Otis Redding recorded ‘Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay’, arguably his greatest moment, in 1967 a matter of days before he died in a plane crash. The record became the first ever posthumous US Chart #1 (#3 in UK). I’ve dug out a video compo by the excellent Rhino outfit that disinters or at least recycles gems from our musical heritage. It’s not just the voice of Otis Redding that makes this song so poignant and so good – Steve Cropper’s guitar is outstanding too.

Guitarists out there – you want a ‘Chase Chart’, don’t you?

Ch_6_Fig_114http://www.howmusicreallyworks.com

A rare photo of Sandy (centre back row, sunnies on cap) smilingSandy at Sandy Point

Photo Credits: RH, er… that it…