‘TYRANTS OF ABACO': FLYCATCHER ID (1) – LOGGERHEAD vs GRAY KINGBIRD


Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco - Tom Reed

Loggerhead Kingbird with bee. Note dark head, yellowish underside

‘TYRANTS OF ABACO': FLYCATCHER ID (1)

LOGGERHEAD vs GRAY KINGBIRD

Gray Kingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

Gray Kingbird: note dark eye ‘mask’, lighter head, mainly white underside & notched tail

Abaco has 275 (or so) recorded bird species. Omitting the transients, vagrants and (frankly) oddities – hello, feral peafowl of Casuarina – and concentrating on the residents and the summer / winter migrants brings the checklist down considerably. Maybe to around 200. But there is still an awful lot of scope for species confusion. This is frequently found with the warblers (37 species, mostly yellow), shorebirds and (my particular blind spot) gulls & terns with all their gender, age, season and breeding plumage variations. There is one common confusion that surrounds just 4 birds. I’ve decided to tackle the issue because these are the birds I am most frequently asked by people to identify. They send me their photos or a link, or post them on my FB page, and I am always delighted to help. Except… I get confused myself sometimes. So now I plan to demystify the Tyrant Flycatchers (Tyrannidae) of Abaco once and for all. Or for the time being, anyway.

ABACO’S TYRANT FLYCATCHER SPECIES

Tyrant Flycatcher Checklist jpg

There are 14 tyrant species recorded for Abaco, as listed in the checklist clip above taken from “THE BIRDS OF ABACO” (a FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER was seen recently for the first time on Abaco, and will in due course be added to the checklist). You’ll be relieved to learn that we can at once dispense of 10 of the above for present purposes. In practical terms – i.e. everyday life – the only flycatchers you need to be concerned with are the 4 underlined in red above: Cuban Pewee, Gray Kingbird, La Sagra’s Flycatcher and Loggerhead Kingbird. The underlined codes provide useful information for each bird .

  • PR 3 of the 4 are permanent residents – not the gray kingbird, which is SR a summer resident
  • B    these 4 are the only flycatchers that breed on Abaco
  • 1     all 4 are widespread, commonly and easily found. All other candidates are unusual to very rare
Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

Which is this?

LOGGERHEAD Tyrannus caudifasciatus vs GRAY Tyrannus dominicensis 

DIFFERENCES and SIMILARITIES

TOP TIP ANY KINGBIRD SEEN IN WINTER WILL BE A LOGGERHEAD

  • A kingbird seen between (say) October and March is a Loggerhead. Grays are strictly summer visitors
  • Both are medium size birds and roughly the same size as adults (around 23 cms)
  • Loggerheads have dark brownish heads (some say black), grays have lighter, slate-coloured heads
  • Loggerheads have a ‘squared’ tip to the tail; grays have a notched tip
  • Loggerheads may have a whitish fringe at the tip of the tail; grays not so
  • Loggerheads have yellowish tinges to their white undersides & forewings; grays less so or not at all
  • Grays have a dark or black ‘mask’ through the eyes, often clear but not always easy to see
  • Loggerheads allegedly have inconspicuous orange head crests; grays are red. I’ve never seen either!
  • [*RH opinion alert*] Grays have larger, heavier beaks than loggerheads
  • Grays are territorially aggressive; when they turn up, the loggerheads tend to retreat to the forest

Here is how David Sibley shows the differences

 6323_Sibl_9780307957900_art_r1 3069_Sibl_9780307957900_art_r1-1

Illustrations: David Allen Sibley

Gray or Loggerhead? Note the light head, discernible mask & notched tailGray Kingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

Loggerhead or Gray? Note the darker head and no maskLoggerhead Kingbird.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Mrs RH has very recently taken some photos of a loggerhead in the garden at Delphi that perfectly illustrate another possible difference from the gray kingbird. *Contentious Opinion Alert* I have always believed that the ‘loggerhead’ in some way refers to the ability of the bird to raise a modest head crest to a more prominent extent than the Gray. I stand to be corrected on this – don’t hold back! Anyway, these 2 images show a fine example of a Loggerhead crest.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco (Mrs RH) 1 Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco (Mrs RH) 2

GRAY KINGBIRDS: masked & notch-tailedGray Kingbird, Abaco - Alex Hughes Gray Kingbird (Charlesjsharp Wiki) Gray_Kingbird (Dick Daniels Wiki)

CLASSIC LOGGERHEAD: squarer tail, yellowish underside, dark head, hint of a crestLoggerhead Kingbird Abaco - Peter Mantle

COMMON TO ALL FLYCATCHERS An Insect ‘Hook’ at the tip of this Loggerhead’s ‘top’ billLoggerhead Kingbird, Abaco (Mrs RH)

MEMORABLE FACT TO DEPLOY IN CONVERSATION

The collective names for a group of kingbirds are: a Court, a Coronation, or a Tyranny

I hope this helps with ID, but it’s fair to say that even the birds shown here don’t conform strictly to the rules. A couple of gray kingbirds have distinctly yellowish undersides. Mrs RH’s loggerhead shows little or no yellow tinge. And the real problem is this: you see a medium-size bird. It is hawking for insects. It is high summer. It’s a kingbird. It is 150 feet away, and against the sun. It’s just a darkish bird. You can’t see a notched tail or yellowish underside, still less a mask. But at least you can be confident that you can restrict the ID to just 2 birds… Just ask me which, and I’ll do my best…

NEXT UP LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER vs CUBAN PEWEE 

Credits: Tom Reed (1), Tom Sheley (2, 4, 5), Gerlinde Taurer (3), Mrs RH (6, 7), Alex Hughes (8), Charles Sharp (9), Dick Daniels (10), Peter Mantle (11), RH (12); Illustrations David Sibley

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD: NEW SUBSPECIES FOR ABACO?


Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 14

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD: NEW SUBSPECIES FOR ABACO?

[Camera. Lights. ACTION] Attenborough, D (for it is he), off-screen, in familiar breathy tones…

“Here, deep in the impenetrable pine forests of the Abaco National Park, lives an incredible bird discovery until recently known only to four people in the world. For here, where the unique Abaco Parrots nest in their underground holes and the rare Kirtland’s Warbler continues its brave stand against extinction… here is a completely new bird subspecies that is destined to take the avian world by storm… the Red-faced Bahama Mockingbird Mimus bahamensis volvensharborii…”

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 06

I can’t keep that nonsense up for any longer, you’ll be relieved to hear… But here is the story. Woody Bracey was taking us, with his friend Bill, in search of the rare and elusive Kirtland’s Warbler, about which more soon (*Spoiler Alert* Yes, we did. Four). We had stopped the truck in a remote area of the National Park to listen for and indeed watch parrots. I was in the front of the truck, window down, listening hard when suddenly, right by us, I suddenly heard the beautiful song of a Bahama Mockingbird. Here are two recordings I made the previous year – the first is over 1 min long, the second is only 17 secs.

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 07

I grabbed my camera and started to fire away at the bird, which was perched on a dead branch just a few feet away near the edge of the track. I had no time to think about depth of field, light balance, or refrangible focus indices, I just went for it. It was Woody who first noticed the remarkable feature of this bird – its red face. It first, I thought it was just on the chin, but later I saw that the red colouring is above the beak as well.

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 09

Woody is one of the most experienced birders in the Bahamas, and he had never come across this variant before. Sometimes a bird may have white patches or some other LEUCISTIC colour variation. But red is something very different. Once we had ruled out blood (no evidence of injury) and strawberry jam (no likelihood of a propensity for sticking face in same), an altogether more exciting possibility began to emerge…

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 10

The Bahamas Birding Triumvirate will be debating this find, no doubt. Is this sort of red-faced variant found in any other bird species? Is it a one-off? Or is it perhaps one example of a small subspecies confined to Abaco or the wider Bahamas? Or does it just come from eating red berries, as in photo #3? Has anyone come across a BM like this one? Any comment welcome via the comment box or email. 

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 11

This is my personal favourite pic, taken while the bird was in mid-song. I’d have liked an ‘open mouth’ shot, but frankly when you find an apparently new bird in the middle of nowhere, you can’t have everything….Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 13

Finally, you may well ask “So that’s all very well, but what does a ‘normal’ Bahama Mockingbird look like close-to?” Here’s an example for comparison 

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco 2

All photos RH, cheers to Woody for leading the trip and for spotting the unusual features of this bird PDQ

“HANDSOME BIRD, BLUE EYES, LIKES FISH, SEEKS MATE…” REDDISH EGRET ON ABACO


Reddish Egret,  Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

“HANDSOME BIRD, BLUE EYES, LIKES FISH, SEEKS MATE…”

REDDISH EGRET ON ABACO

Reddish Egrets come in two colour schemes, reddish and pure white; and both are available on Abaco. ID hint – among the 10 heron and egret species found on Abaco, these are the only ones with a black tip to the beak. In March, these birds are thinking about fish. They do that every day of the year. But they are also thinking about finding a mate. The colouring of the males intensifies, and in particular the greyish-pinkish base of its beak turns a bright ‘hi babe, how are you doing’ pink. The male RE in this post is resplendent in his breeding plumage. We encountered this RE at Crossing Rocks in the brackish pond area on the opposite side of the highway to the bonefishing jetty. This in an excellent place to check out for herons, egrets and other wading birds such as yellowlegs. The island is at its thinnest point here, with the hard dry land over which the highway passes just a few yards across. On either side it’s basically water, mangroves, and other wetland plants. Reddish Egret,  Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) The RE noticed us at the edge of the pond and put on a little display. This is unlikely to have been a ‘come on’… Conceivably, he wanted to show off his distinctive ‘bad hair day’ styling. More plausibly, he was probably put out by having his fishing disturbed. Reddish Egret,  Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) Reddish Egret,  Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) He wasn’t diverted for long, though, and soon got back to business hunting fish. Sometimes he would stand stock still, poised for a rapid strike into the water with that lethal beak. This is the RE’s classic fishing method, the static hunt. Reddish Egret,  Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) However, there are times for being proactive and chasing down the prey. While bonefishing out on the Marls, I have seen this done from a distance, especially by the white RE morphs. They splash about near the edge of the mangroves, moving back and forth, lifting their long legs high in the vegetation as they hunt down their small silver snacks. Our Crossing Rocks RE was suddenly on a mission…Reddish Egret,  Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) Reddish Egret,  Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) Reddish Egret,  Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) We had to tear ourselves away from this performance, grateful to have seen it at such close quarters. However we went back a few days later while on a birding trip to the pond at Gilpin Point. But that’s a post for another time…

RELATED POSTS

REDDISH EGRETS (WHITE MORPH)

GREAT EGRETS 

SNOWY EGRETS

GREAT BLUE HERON

GREEN HERON

CATTLE EGRET

All photos RH; cheers to Woody Bracey for stopping the truck here during our warbler expedition!

WEST INDIAN WOODPECKERS ON ABACO: GUEST POST


WEST INDIAN WOODPECKERS ON ABACO: GUEST POST

The WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER Melanerpes superciliaris is a specialist bird of Abaco, where it is common. The only other island in the Bahamas where it is found is San Salvador, where it is uncommon. Formerly found on Grand Bahama, it is now believed to be extirpated from that island, with no recent recorded sightings. In the early days at Delphi, we had to put up 2 nest boxes under the eaves to discourage the woodpeckers from destroying the woodwork – very effective, since they are now used every year by a pair that raises a family in one of the boxes and, even before the chicks have fledged, are busy kitting out the second box for a second family… 

WIW box Delphi

Charmaine Albury is a resident of Man-o-War Cay, Abaco. A photographic contributor to THE BIRDS OF ABACO, she is an enthusiastic birder and very handy with a camera. MOW has had a great winter season for birds, especially warbler species, and Charmaine has been recording her sightings and posting about them regularly. She has now started a photographic Facebook page SEES THE DAY which I commend to anyone wanting an overview of the rich birdlife of Abaco. This post shows some of her excellent recent photographs of West Indian Woodpeckers on Abaco. The male has the striking red crown; the female has a smaller, paler cap.

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20417_1625338127698555_7498796397392575987_n

PLAYING WITH YOUR FOOD? HOW MUCH FUN CAN YOU HAVE WITH A BERRY?11117259_1625337987698569_7452867222430469765_n10942602_1625337984365236_7839433915910857592_n

and… pop it into the hole. Score!20417_1625338031031898_5316912847301464680_n

11035287_1625338024365232_6166437311448663000_n

NOW IT’S TIME TO VISIT THE STONE THING THAT HAS WATER IN IT10309181_1625338207698547_743705503764216360_n11080986_1625338147698553_6862424132411400508_n11060458_1625338187698549_1989610138388453679_n

   11035287_1625338024365232_6166437311448663000_n

MY TURN ON THE TREE NOW11133685_1625338034365231_5375400946628441291_n

GETTING A BIT SLEEPY NOW. GOT BED HEAD…11111962_1625338074365227_2479363145688616600_n

All photos Charmaine Albury, with many thanks for use permission. Delphi WIW in nest box & all silly anthropomorphising captions are down to me…

PEARLY-EYED THRASHER – ANOTHER NEW BIRD FOUND ON ABACO


Margarops_fuscatus_Mike's Birds Wiki

 PEARLY-EYED THRASHER – ANOTHER NEW BIRD FOUND ON ABACO

Exactly a year ago, the ultimate, complete and utter Checklist of the birds of Abaco, compiled by Tony White with Woody Bracey, was published. It covers 4 pages of close print in THE BIRDS OF ABACO, and lists the 282 species recorded since 1950, including so-called ‘exotics’ but excluding so-called ‘pets’ (sadly your minah bird would not qualify). New sightings had been static since a BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS had made an unheralded appearance out at sea. In the last year, 5 new species have been recorded. The links to them are listed below. That Checklist already needs an update!

Pearly-eyed_ThrasherDick Daniels (Wiki)

The newest bird in town is the Pearly-eyed Thrasher (Margarops fuscatus). This is a bird in the family Mimidae, along with mockingbirds and the gray catbird. Until last November, no thrasher species had ever been recorded for Abaco. Then there was a sighting of a BROWN THRASHER. Just a few months later, its Pearly-eyed cousin has turned up right in the heart of Treasure Cay, seen by first by Erik Gauger and confirmed by Woody Bracey (each a contributor to THE BIRDS OF ABACO). 

This thrasher species is found widely throughout the Caribbean, though with several varieties that are genetically distinct. In the Bahamas, they breed on some of the southern islands. They are known to overwinter on Eleuthera and Cat Island, but have not previously been recorded as far north as Abaco. This sighting is important in suggesting that the species may be beginning to extend its range, although it could of course simply be a one-off ‘vagrant’, as they are officially yet disrespectfully known.

Pearly_Eyed_Thrasher,_Margarops_fuscatus (Kati Fleming Wiki)

Since the first sightings by Erik & Woody a couple of days ago, Woody has been out again with a camera seeking to obtain photographic  evidence of the bird. Last night he sent me a snapshot taken in difficult circumstances – the bird was being hassled by a Eurasian Collared Dove (who should have known better, being a non-native species itself…). The pearly eye is quite clear, as is the speckled front and white end to the underside of the tail. If  a clearer shot comes in, I’ll add it. So, TC-based birders, a Rolling Harbour Kalik challenge is on!

IMG_3432 copy

STOP PRESS Woody has sent a couple more photos of the PET taken right in the centre of Treasure Cay. Or perhaps there is a second one… and if so, different sexes… and if so, a nest, eggs, chicks, fledglings and in due course a new breeding species on Abaco… 

Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Treasure Cay, Abaco - Woody Bracey (new species for Abaco)IMG_3444 Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Treasure Cay, Abaco - Woody Bracey (new species for Abaco)

STOP PRESS April 2015 Erik Gauger has now written up his account of his discovery of this new species for Abaco. You can read it HERE (scroll down to the second article on the page)

The other photos I have used are ‘open source’ for obvious reasons, and credited below as far as the information is available…

 NEW ABACO BIRD SPECIES – MAR 2014 to MAR 2015

BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS

FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER

BROWN THRASHER

MASKED BOOBY

Photo credits with thanks for public postings: (1) ‘Mike’s Birds (2) Dick Daniels (3) Kati Fleming, and  (4) Woody Bracey

UNDENIABLY NATTY: BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS ON ABACO


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas 1 copy

UNDENIABLY NATTY: BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS ON ABACO

As I sort through 11,867* recent photographs from Abaco and dump the 99% of them that fall into any of the ‘epic fail’, ‘hopeless’, ‘what on earth?’, ‘why on earth’?, ‘sun-flared’, ‘pitch black’, and ‘bird-butt’ categories, a few are making it through the rigorous editorial process. There will be birds, fish, whales, dolphins, expeditions and scenery in due course, but I’m kicking off with a small bird that is a great favourite, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea. This is because it is probably the easiest bird to pish, click, whistle or otherwise vocalise from the back of the coppice to the front. Then it gets flirty with the camera, performs cutely, and follows you down the track. The perfect subject except for one thing: they are small and branches / twigs are numerous. So, many shots consist of a magnificently focussed stick or leaf, with a blue-gray blur behind it…

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas 7Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas 6Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas 1Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas 2Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas 5

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BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS “TOP 5 CUTE?”

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*This may be a slight exaggeration, but it certainly seems like it now…

All photos: RH

THE WARBLER GUIDE: BOOK OR EASY ID IN NEW APP


The Warbler Guide App (cover)

 THE WARBLER GUIDE: BOOK OR EASY ID IN NEW APP

In 2013 Princeton University published a well-received – indeed award-winning – guide to North American warblers. Its relevance to the Northern Bahamas is that all 37 species of warbler recorded for Abaco are found on its pages. Plus, you can use it in North America as a bonus! Details of the book are given below.

As a follow-up project, Princeton has now produced a Warbler Guide App that looks quite impressive at a glance. It’s not cheap, at £9.99 or dollar equivalent, but with bird apps you generally get what you pay for. Included are song/call IDs for a start, which takes the App a long way beyond mere visual recognition. And the illustrations are from several angles, taking account of the fact that you may not get an ideal broadside view of a bird in the field. Below are a few sample images.

To go straight to the App on iTunes CLICK HERE

The Warbler Guide App (Princeton)The Warbler Guide App (Princeton) The Warbler Guide App (Princeton) The Warbler Guide App (Princeton)

 THE WARBLER GUIDE IN BOOK FORM

(Amazon listing details March 2015)

WARBLER GUIDE  for post jpg

The Warbler Guide revolutionizes birdwatching, making warbler identification easier than ever before. For more information, please see the author videos on the Princeton University Press website.

  • Covers all 56 species of warblers in the United States and Canada
  • Visual quick finders help you identify warblers from any angle
  • Song and call finders make identification easy using a few simple questions
  • Uses sonograms to teach a new system of song identification that makes it easier to understand and hear differences between similar species
  • Detailed species accounts show multiple views with diagnostic points, direct comparisons of plumage and vocalizations with similar species, and complete aging and sexing descriptions
  • New aids to identification include song mnemonics and icons for undertail pattern, color impression, habitat, and behavior
  • Includes field exercises, flight shots, general identification strategies, and quizzes
  • A complete, page-by-page audio companion to all of the 1,000-plus songs and calls covered by the book is available for purchase and download from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library by using the link at http://www.TheWarblerGuide.com
  • Winner of a 2014 National Outdoor Book Award in Nature Guidebooks
  • Second Place for the 2013 BB/BTO Best Bird Book of the Year, British Birds and the British Trust for Ornithology
  • Honorable Mention for the 2013 PROSE Award in Single Volume Reference/Science, Association of American Publishers