FINE FEATHERS (1): ABACO BIRD ‘PICS’ OF 2013


Least Tern, Abaco

FINE FEATHERS (1): ABACO BIRD ‘PICS’ OF 2013

The Least Tern in the header image was a stroke of luck. I was watching plovers on the beach when it landed on the tideline with a small fish in its mouth. I just had time to point the camera and fire off 3 shots before it flew off again. This was the only usable image. I liked the fish, of course, and the way its little legs made a dent in the wet sand.

This Black-necked Stilt was attempting to distract me from a nearby nest, which I’d have known nothing about until it tried to distract me. It zig-zagged towards me, striding through the water while yelling,  and then took off and flew at my head! Twice. I moved away…Black-necked Stilt, Abaco

An effortlessly elegant Red-winged BlackbirdRed-winged Blackbird, Abaco

A Reddish Egret (white morph)  in the mangroves out on the Marls takes a call on its cellphoneReddish Egret (White Morph), Abaco Marls

A Bahama Mockingbird deep in the pine forest of the Abaco National ParkBahama Mockingbird, National Park, Abaco

A baby West Indian Woodpecker takes a look at the wide world from its nest box. Within a week, it and 4 other chicks had flown. West Indian Woodpecker chick in nest box, Abaco

A Red-legged Thrush in full songRed-legged Thrush, Abaco

The Bahama Yellowthroat is one of 4 endemic species on Abaco. Only the males have the striking Zorro mask. They are shy birds, but also inquisitive. I learnt to imitate their call (not difficult) to bring them out of scrub and bushes. Once out, they liked to take a good look from a safe distance.Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco

EARLY BIRDS ON ABACO: CHARLES CORY’S EXPEDITIONS 1891


00179p1

EARLY BIRDS ON ABACO: CHARLES CORY’S EXPEDITIONS 1891

Before the explorations of the american ornithologist Charles Cory towards the end of the c19, there had been few if any serious attempts to record the birds of the Bahama Islands, especially the sparsely populated ones such as Abaco. The english naturalist Mark Catesby had published his  wonderful The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands as early as 1754, which of course included some birds, but it was far from avian-specific. During the 1880s, Cory forsook the golf course (his other passion – he even competed in the 1904 Olympics but, as it is intriguingly put, “…did not finish…”) to concentrate on birds. He commenced his research for his List of the Birds of the West Indies, published in 1886. The scope was wide, including Antilles, Jamaica, Cuba, Hispaniola and the Bahamas. The book simply listed birds by family, giving the bird names in Latin, and the locations where they were found. It’s scarcely an enticing read, and the ‘print on demand’ copy I obtained for about $15 is frankly horrid.00199p1

In 1891, Cory and his colleague Mr C.L. Winch paid more specific attention to the Bahamas, visiting several islands, taking specimens and recording their findings. Cory subsequently published these in the ornithological journal of record, The Auk, established in 1884 as a quarterly peer-reviewed scientific journal and the official publication of the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU).  I’m not clear whether Cory actually accompanied Winch throughout the voyages, or whether they covered the islands separately. In any event, the first visit to Abaco took place in March 1891, when Mr Winch took specimens and recorded the species he encountered.00161p1

Cory : Winch 1891 March jpg

To save you the bother of taxing your brain with Latin  taxonomies (in some cases out-of-date), the species recorded are shown below. Every one of these species might be seen during a March visit nowadays.

COLUMN 1 Semipalmated Plover; Common Ground Dove; Turkey Vulture; Smooth-billed Ani; Belted Kingfisher; Hairy Woodpecker; Bahama Woodstar; Cuban Emerald; La Sagra’s Flycatcher; Loggerhead Kingbird; Greater Antillean Bullfinch; Black-faced Grassquit; Western Spindalis; Thick-billed Vireo; Black-whiskered Vireo

COLUMN 2 Bananaquit; Black & White Warbler; Kirtland’s Warbler; Yellow Warbler; Prairie Warbler; Yellow-rumped Warbler; Yellow-throated Warbler; Common Yellowthroat; Bahama Yellowthroat; Northern Waterthrush; Ovenbird; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher; Gray Catbird; Northern Mockingbird;  Red-legged Thrush

00103p1

In June they were back on Abaco; or at least, Mr Winch had returned. This time, the list of species was somewhat different, as one might expect in the summer season. It contains one particular curiosity: the Bahama Oriole. This fine bird was sadly extirpated from Abaco in the 1990s, and may now only be found on Andros. There are reckoned to be only about 300 left, so the species is on the brink of extinction.Bahama Oriole.jpg (Wiki)

Charles Cory 1857 – 1921Charles Barney Cory 1857-1921 (Wiki)Cory List copy jpg

COLUMN 1 Red-tailed Hawk; Mourning Dove; Common Nighthawk; Cuban Emerald; Bahama Woodstar; West Indian Woodpecker; Hairy Woodpecker; La Sagra’s Flycatcher; Cuban Pewee; Loggerhead Kingbird; Gray Kingbird; Bahama Oriole; Red-winged Blackbird

COLUMN 2  Greater Antillean Bullfinch; Western Spindalis; Thick-billed Vireo; Bahama Swallow; Bahama Yellowthroat; Pine Warbler; Olive-capped Warbler; Yellow-throated Warbler; Bananaquit; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher; Northern Mockingbird; Red-legged Thrush

Cory published his findings in The Auk
The Auk 1891

A regrettable ‘print-on-demand’ purchaseCory

Illustrations by John James Audubon 1785 – 1851 (who never visited Abaco)00422p1

For anyone with eyelids still open, you can read more about Bahamas birds and The Auk journal HERE

PHOTOGENIC ENDEMICS: BAHAMA YELLOWTHROATS ON ABACO


Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 7

PHOTOGENIC ENDEMICS: BAHAMA YELLOWTHROATS ON ABACO

I’ve been keeping this little bird up my capacious avian-friendly sleeve for a while. In June we took a truck and headed for deep backcountry to the edge of the pine forests and beyond to see what we could find in the way of birdlife. Good choice – the answer was ‘plenty’.Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 5

Among the birds we encountered were the endemic Bahama swallows, hairy woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, kingbirds, red-legged thrushes, red-winged blackbirds, western spindalises, tobacco doves, La Sagra’s flycatchers, crescent-eyed pewees with a nest and eggs, a wonderful ‘booming display’ by antillean nighthawks courting during an early evening fly hatch**… and Bahama yellowthroats Geothlypis rostrata.Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 1

The illustrative photos are of poor quality, but rather than blame my camera (as I am only too ready to do), I plead ‘overexcitement’ in mitigation. Of the 4 endemic species on Abaco, this was the only one I’d never seen. There was a tweeting noise on the edge of an abandoned sugar cane field (above), followed by  some rustling… and out fluttered this bird, crossing the track right by us and landing quite close to inspect us. Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 2

This striking bird, with its Zorro mask and bright yellow body, is an endearing mix of shy and inquisitive. Only the males have the mask – the females are less colourful, though naturally equally interesting… Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 8

Yellowthroats are responsive to pishing, and once lured from cover they may happily remain on low-to-medium height branches or on a shrub, watching you watching them.Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 3

Their song is quite easily imitated, and that may also bring them into the open – a source of immense satisfaction to the amateur (me) if it works. Here’s an example, courtesy of my iPH@NE METHOD for bird recording. It’s the call at the start and the end.


The one we watched had plenty to sing about – it’s just a shame that my images are so poor, because in some you can see its tiny tongue. A bit too blurry, though, even by my own moderate standards for inclusion.Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 4

At a formative stage of this blog, I did a short post about the endemic Bahama Yellowthroat and its comparisons with the similar and better-known Common Yellowthroat, which is also found in the Bahamas. You can read it HERE. There’s a female shown, a video, and an unacknowledged debt to Wiki or similar source, I can’t help but notice…Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 6

**ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS AND THE ‘BOOMING DISPLAY’

Common Nighthawk Photo “On summer evenings, keep an eye and an ear out for the male Nighthawk’s dramatic “booming” display flight. Flying at a height slightly above the treetops, he abruptly dives for the ground. As he peels out of his dive (sometimes just a few meters from the ground) he flexes his wings downward, and the air rushing across his wingtips makes a deep booming or whooshing sound, as if a racecar has just passed by. The dives may be directed at females, territorial intruders, and even people.” We found ourselves right in the middle of one of these astounding displays, with maybe 100 birds behaving exactly as described, often whooshing within inches of our heads. I’ll post some more about it in due course. Credits: Philip Simmons; All About Birds (Cornell Lab)

Toyota Truck, Abaco Backcountrygeothlypis_rostrata RANGE MAP

NEST PROTECTION: WILSON’S PLOVERS ON ABACO (2)


Wilson's Plover, Abaco 12

NEST PROTECTION: WILSON’S PLOVERS ON ABACO (2)

This is the second of three vaguely planned posts about these delightful shore birds. They aren’t rare but they are approachable and fun to watch. During the nesting and hatching season, there may even be some gorgeous chicks on a beach near you (a phrase I never thought I’d find myself using). PART ONE identified the typical male and female adults found on the Delphi beach almost any day. 

Nettie's Point, Abaco - Trucks & Skiffs

This post is about nest protection. Not the ingenious methods of  the birds themselves, that will come next time. This is a story of protection by humans. The photograph above shows Nettie’s Point, one of the launching points for bonefishing skiffs being taken out to the Marls, a vast area of sea, low sand banks and mangroves where the fish are found. You hope. The skiffs gain access to open sea via an artificial channel carved out of rock. The early morning trip along it is one of the most exciting part of a fisherman’s day, as he or she sets out with a clean score sheet, a rod and a box of flies. And a cooler box with some food and maybe a Kalik beer or three.

Nettie's Point, Abaco - the cut to the sea

This June, a pair of plovers decided to locate their nesting ‘scrape’ right in the middle of the cleared area where the trucks normally turn. This was by no means a wise home-planning decision, and they might well have found themselves being promptly relocated. Or (worst case scenario) ending up under a large Toyota. But not a bit of it. Instead, these small birds were looked after by the guides like this: Nettie's Point, Abaco - Plover's nest protection

A makeshift castle was built all round the nest to protect it from any inadvertent truck-related tragedies. Meanwhile the male plover stood guard outside the castle, amiably watching the human activities. Nettie's Point, Abaco - Male Wilson's Plover guards nest

I kept my distance but in fact he was quite unperturbed, perhaps sensing that we were not a threat. He still kept a beady eye on the proceedings, though.Nettie's Point, Abaco - male Wilson's Plover guards a nest

Meanwhile, what of the wooden enclosure itself? At first glance, there didn’t look much to report. However, if you look in the centre of the picture, you’ll see the female peeping out from the nest.Nettie's Point, Abaco - Nest protection 2

I very slowly moved nearer, prepared to stop if the male became agitated, or if the female shifted her position. Both seemed quite relaxed, so I took a couple of shots and walked away to leave the birds in peace. Then I went fishing.Nettie's Point, Abaco - Female Wilson's Plover on NestNettie's Point, Abaco - Mrs Wilson's Plover on the nest

As a postscript, Nettie’s Point is the location of a remarkable geographical phenomenon, possibly the result of the cutting of the channel. Along one part of the cut, for about 30 feet, the water level sinks alarming in the middle, while remaining normal at each side. Then it levels out again. This remarkable mid-stream aquatic depression is quite disconcerting to motor through on a skiff, though eventually one gets used to it. Nettie's Point, Abaco - channel water phenomenon(Note: not every fact in this post is 100% true. If you have some salt handy, take a pinch)

‘DREAM PLOVER’: WILSON’S PLOVERS ON ABACO (1)


Wilson's Plover, Abaco Header

‘DREAM PLOVER’: WILSON’S PLOVERS ON ABACO (1)

Dream Plover? Well, granted, not quite as adorable as the tiny surf-chasers, the Piping Plovers Charadrius melodus. But Wilson’s Plovers Charadrius wilsonia live on Abaco all year round, and may readily be seen on a beach near you. They breed on Abaco, and in the summer you’ll see their tiny puffball chicks scampering round. And if you approach a nest, you’ll very likely see the amazing ‘broken wing display’ by a parent, who will lurch strickenly and pathetically across the sand… leading a predator gradually further away from the nest or her chicks. Part 2 will include photos of this fascinating protective performance, and of some chicks on the Delphi beach.

MALE WILSON’S PLOVERWilson's Plover, Abaco 12

FEMALE WILSON’S PLOVERWilson's Plover, Abaco 11

And who was the Wilson who lent his name not only to a plover, but also to a snipe, a warbler, a storm-petrel and a phalarope, all birds that have been recorded for Abaco?

ALEXANDER WILSON (1766- 1813)

Wilson was Scottish poet.  Besides traditional ballads, he also wrote satirical commentary on the conditions of mill weavers. One vicious tirade against a particular mill owner resulted in Wilson’s arrest. He was sentenced to burn the work in public, and imprisoned. After his release, he sensibly emigrated to America in 1794.

Wilson's Plover, Abaco 2

Wilson became a teacher in Pennsylvania, where he developed an interest in ornithology and painting. He ambitiously decided to publish a collection of illustrations of all the birds of North America. He spent several years travelling, collecting material and painting, eventually publishing the nine-volume American Ornithology. Of the 268 species of birds illustrated there, 26 had never previously been described.  

SIDE-ON AND FRONT VIEWS OF THE SAME MALE PLOVER Wilson's Plover, Abaco 5Wilson's Plover, Abaco 6

FRONT AND SIDE VIEW OF THE SAME FEMALE PLOVER

Wilson's Plover, Abaco 9Wilson's Plover, Abaco 8

All birds on this page were photographed on the Delphi Beach. They happily coexist there with other shore bird species that include Least Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones and Killdeer. Here is a taster for Part 2, the family life of the Wilson’s plover. Wilson's Plover, Abaco 13

A CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD AT DELPHI, ABACO


Cuban Emerald Delphi Abaco 4

A CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD AT DELPHI, ABACO

Mostly, the Cuban Emeralds at Delphi spend their days perching briefly on twigs before zooming like tiny green rockets to their next appointment – an inviting sugar-water feeder, a promising flower or maybe yet another tempting twig. Sometimes, pairs will put on an acrobatic mid-air display, flitting around each other at high speed, chittering, before disappearing into the coppice together. Avian speed-dating. Occasionally, they are more contemplative. I recently posted HERE about one that had let me get (very slowly) right up to it. Emeralds may be quite hard to spot in amongst the green leaves, but often they are there, quietly watching you go by. Here is one that stayed put when I stopped to admire it.

I’m keeping an eye on you… Cuban Emerald Delphi Abaco 1

I’ll tuck my wing in neatly if you are going to take pics of meCuban Emerald Delphi Abaco 2

Uh-oh! Close-ups. This is my better side.
Cuban Emerald Delphi Abaco 3

That’s enough, human. I’ve stopped the posing. Now push off and leave me alone.Cuban Emerald Delphi Abaco 5

In close-up, the feathers look like tiny iridescent pine needle fansCuban Emerald Delphi Abaco 6

The Delphi Club: a hive of activity for birds (to mangle a metaphor)The Delphi Club, Abaco, Bahamas

ENJOYING THE POOL: YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERONS ON ABACO


Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 5

ENJOYING THE POOL: YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERONS ON ABACO

The Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violate) is a smallish heron, and avian counterpart to the Black-crowned Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax). The clue to the main difference between them is in the names. The juveniles of both species are similar. The ‘night’ part of the name refers to their preferred time for feeding. They have broad appetites that include crustaceans, molluscs, frogs, fish, and aquatic insects. 

Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 6

At Delphi, these lovely birds are regularly seen in gardens round the pool; drinking from the pool; standing hopefully waiting for prey to show itself in the water; and occasionally getting a bit confused by the whole thing (see below). Delphi Club Pool

Looking rightYellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 7

Looking wet and ruffledYellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 8

Looking hungryYellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 9

Looking contentedYellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 10

The YNCH will stand motionless, waiting to ambush its prey. So a human, wandering to the pool laden with towel, book, iWotsit™, sun stuff and a cool Kalik, may easily not spot the bird at first. It will have seen you first, anyway, and moved away quietly if it isn’t too sure about you. However, they can be surprisingly tame if not startled. You may settle down, and suddenly sense that you are being watched from the other side of the pool…Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Delphi (DR)

Peter Mantle managed to capture a wonderful moment when a juvenile YCNH made a bit of a mistake early one morning while the pool cover was still in place… It looks embarrassed and slightly apologetic.Yellow-crowned Night Heron (juv) PM IMG_4607 (2)

Usually, these birds are to be found in marshy areas, or by brackish ponds where (unlike the pool) there is a ready supply of food for them. A few miles south of Delphi is an excellent pond for birding near Crossing Rocks, where there is always the chance of seeing an unusual or rare species. Herons and egrets often use the landing stage as a vantage point for scoping out the feeding opportunities. The next pictures are of a juvenile (?teenage) YCNH doing just that – and fortunately, the pond does not have a cover to cause discombobulation of the species. Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 3 Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 2Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 4

Black-crowned night heron for comparison220px-Black-crowned_Night_Heron_RWD7

300px-YCNH20101

Photo credits: All RH except the across-pool-starer (David Rainford); the confused juvenile on the pool cover (Peter Mantle); and the last 2 comparatives (Wiki)

THE CROSS LITTLE WOODPECKER: A TRUE HAIRY TALE FROM ABACO


Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco Header

THE CROSS LITTLE WOODPECKER: A TRUE HAIRY TALE FROM ABACO

ONCE UPON A TIME, on a magical far away island called Abaco, where the sun always shone and the people were always friendly and smiling, there lived a little woodpecker. It was a beautiful little woodpecker with long shiny golden locks and its name was Hairy… oh look, I can’t go on with this drivel and neither can you, I’m sure. Sorry about that. Let’s take it from the top…

    ♦      ♦      ♦      ♦

I have mentioned before the excellent birding opportunities that a wander round the Delphi drive circuit has to offer. It’s the best part of 2 miles. I am working on a list of all species encountered on the route from the Lodge, along the guest drive to the white rock on the road, and back down the service drive. It is turning out to be a gratifyingly long one.

During your stroll, it’s worth checking out the dead trees, especially the upper trunk and branches, as you go. For a start, these provide excellent places for birds to pause and scope out the territory below. They also have a good chance of finding insects there. And for some species, like the Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus, it is home. Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 16

The Hairy Woodpecker is very similar to the Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens, the smallest woodpecker of North America. Male HWs have a prominent red patch on the back of the head.  You can find an earlier post about a male HW and its nest in the Delphi coppice, with some HW species facts, HERE

220px-Picoides-villosus-001

Last June Tom Sheley, a birding expert and photographer from Ohio with serious (by which I mean huge camo-covered camera and tripod) equipment, was staying at Delphi. He tipped me off about a woodpecker nest he’d found 1/3 of the way along the guest drive, just before the first bend. So I grabbed a camera –  the wrong one, as it turned out, but my main camera battery was charging – and headed out. I found the nest at the top of a dead tree near the edge of the drive (shown above) and a female HW close to it. Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 1

She watched my approach carefully, and as soon as I paused close to the nest tree, she went into a fascinating ‘diversionary tactic’ routine to distract me from the nest. She flew across the track close in front of me, and settled on a tree on the other side of the drive, about 1/3 of the way up its trunk. There, she proceeded to scold me loudly as I fiddled about with the camera… Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 3

Still scolding, she then started to climb the tree quite slowly, pausing occasionally to fire off some more angry woodpecker abuse at me. Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 6

From time to time, she would change tack, closing her eyes gradually and hugging the trunk. This was presumably to make herself appear vulnerable to a predator (me), and therefore retain its (my) interest. If anyone is familiar with this behaviour, please leave a comment.Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 5

The woodpecker carried on up the tree, chattering as she went…Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 7

…before performing the closed eye / sleepy routine againHairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 11Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 12

By now she was nearing the top of the tree, and I was thinking of giving in… Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 13 Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 14 Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 15

Once she had reached the very top, I made the decision to move on, marvelling at her persistence in taking on a two-legged predator 6ft 5″ high and… not exactly a bantam-weight. Then I realised that, in all of this, I hadn’t thought of the nest behind me a single time. She and her distraction technique had won, and so I made my apologies for disturbing her and left. HW 1, Human 0. At least I knew that on a hot cloudless day I had something to look forward to back at the ranch… 

coasters

‘TAKING OFF’ ON ABACO: NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS & MIMICRY


‘TAKING OFF’ ON ABACO: NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS & MIMICRY

The Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) is commonly found in North America, but also has a wide range further afield. The species is plentiful on Abaco and in the northern Bahamas generally. I recently posted about Abaco’s other mocker, the local Bahama Mockingbird, HERE.

Northern Mockingbird 1

A DOZEN MEMORABLE MOCKINGBIRD FACTS TO ENLIVEN YOUR CONVERSATION

  • Only male mockingbirds sing
  • The Latin name means ‘many-tongued mimic’
  • They are omniverous and eat fruits, seeds, insects and even small lizards
  • They been shown in experiments to be capable of recognising individual humans
  • They are the State Bird of Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, & Texas
  • Thomas Jefferson had a pet mockingbird named “Dick” [wish I'd invented this one...]
  • Courting males fly around females to impress them with their splendid wing patterns
  • Mockingbirds are monogamous & mate for life (though known to play away on occasion…)
  • Both the male and female are involved in the nest building
  • Cowbirds are inclined to lay their eggs in mockingbird nests
  • Both male and female feed their chicks, in the modern way
  • Mockers will confront larger birds including hawks; also cats and dogs; & even humans

Northern Mockingbird 2

 IMITATIONAL SKILLS
Besides having a particularly wide song repertoire, the mockingbird will mimic other birds, other natural sounds (including dogs) and even man-made / mechanical sounds – car alarms, sirens and a whole lot more besides. Good old Wiki has this to say:
“There are four recognized calls for the Mockingbird: the nest relief call, hew call, chat or chatburst, and the begging call. The Hew call is mainly used by both sexes for potential nest predators, conspecific chasing, and various interactions between mates. The differences between chats and chatbursts are frequency of use, as chats are year-round, and chatbursts occur in the fall. Another difference is that chatbursts appear to be used in territorial defense in the fall, and the chats are used by either sex when disturbed. The nest relief and begging calls are only used by the males.” Northern Mockingbird 4
IMITATIVE MEMORY?
Remarkably, it seems that Northern Mockingbirds can inherit and store the imitations of their ancestors. We listened to a young one in the Abaco National Park with Caroline Stahala, the scientist i/c Abaco Parrot conservation. The bird was accurately mimicking a tufted titmouse, a bird it will never have heard and so cannot have learned from directly (and no other bird on Abaco sounds like the titmouse). 
NEW! Another remarkable nugget, gleaned from Bahamas bird authority and author Tony White, is that in early Spring you may hear the calls of Grey Kingbirds starting to arrive for their summer vacations. Do not be fooled; Northern Mockingbirds begin imitate the calls of this species about 2 weeks before they begin to arrive…
By way of comparison, here is a Northern Mockingbird I photographed at the beginning of the year in New York while walking the High Line (if you get the opportunity to do this, take it. The perfect solution for a defunct high-level railway track is to turn it into a walkway-cum-park-cum-viewing platform).  There are detectable differences, not least the brown frontal flecking.Northern Mockingbird NYC

THE INFLUENCE OF MOCKINGBIRDS ON THE ARTS

“To Kill a Mockingbird”, Harper Lee, (1960); Film version (1962) starring, by amazing coincidence, Gregory Peck

“Listen to the Mocking Bird” (1855) An American folk song popular in the mid-19th century

“Mockingbird” (1974) Carly Simon duets with James Taylor, her (then) husband, one of several (though not simultaneous)

“Mockin’ Bird Hill” (1951) Les Paul & Mary Ford, later massacred in 1964 by ‘The Migill 5′

Star of the Lullaby that starts “Hush, little baby, don’t say a word, Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird…” That’s quite enough of that to be going on with

It turns out Mr Eminem has rapped up a ‘parental advisory’ and ‘explicit warning’ “Mockingbird” for our delectation. I was going to post the mp3 in a vaguely satirical way, but it is so numbingly dire that even his mum Mrs Mathers can’t bear to listen to it. So just enjoy the cover, then move on quickly to the birdsong video below…

51rcGGGsb3L._AA200_

Audubon’s Mockingbirds

Northern Mockingbird Eggs

WILLIAM SWAINSON, ORNITHOLOGIST: 224 YEARS OLD TODAY


Swainson William 1789-1855.jpg

WILLIAM SWAINSON, ORNITHOLOGIST: 224 YEARS OLD TODAY

Happy Birthday, William Swainson, 224 years old today, honoured with a Google emblem, and… oh, sorry, we’ve run out of tiny candles for your cake… 

william-john-swainsons-224th-birthday-5655612935372800-hp

Swainson (1789 – 1855) was an English ornithologist, entomologist, conchologist, natural historian, and a gifted illustrator of the natural world. He was a pioneer of the new lithographic technology, which enabled quicker reproduction of his work than engraving.

Moluccan King Parrot from Zoological Illustrations
Swainson lent his name to a number of avian species, three of which may be found on Abaco. These are the Swainson’s Hawk, Thrush and Warbler. The hawk is a rare visitor; the thrush is a transient, passing through the Bahamas during migration; and the warbler is a hard-to-find winter resident. Here are the three species, courtesy of AUDUBON.ORG and for each, an illustrative video.
∞  ∞  ∞  ∞  ∞  ∞
SWAINSON’S HAWK Buteo swainsoni
Swainson's Hawk Swainson's Hawk

Swainson's_Hawk_b57-1-276_l

SWAINSON’S THRUSH Catharus ustulatus

 Swainson's Thrush Swainson's Thrush

Swainson's Thrush

SWAINSON’S WARBLER Limnothlypis swainsonii

Swainson's Warbler Swainson's Warbler

SwainsonsWarbler_Scott_Somershoe

WHITE SOUND, ABACO: MANGROVES, MUD & (REALLY) GREAT EGRETS


Great Egret Abaco 7

WHITE SOUND, ABACO: MANGROVES, MUD & (REALLY) GREAT EGRETS

The piratically named Treasure Cay (aaarrrrrr…) is north of Marsh Harbour, and home to one of the larger communities on Abaco. It has a wonderfully long white sand beach, a golf course, condos and villas, a marina and a cheerful atmosphere. It is also one of the best areas in North Abaco for birding. There are the shorebirds, of course, and all the usual ‘settlement’ species. In addition, the golf course has freshwater ponds where you will find a wide variety of duck and other water species. NB Check in at the Club House and get permission first – amiably given if politely requested (see map below).

Treasure Cay also has a large area of bays, brackish inlets and lagoons, including – to continue the pirate theme – Galleon Bay, Brigantine Bay, Cannon Bay and Gun Powder Creek. And also White Sound. This can be reached by luck (which may run out) or good management (ask for directions; wait for me to get back the map I have lent to someone and post a grab from it). Drive (with care) along the uneven track beside the lagoon and there is a good chance you will see Great Egrets in the mangrove islands dotted around the middle of the water. This is what to look out for…Great Egret, White Sound, Abaco

Zoom in a bit, and you’ll see two more egrets on the far side of the clump of mangroves. It’s a colony… in the end we were able to count 9 birds on this one mangrove island.Great Egret Abaco 1

One of the loveliest features of these fine birds in breeding season is the way that even a slight breeze will blow their long plumes away from their bodies like streamersGreat Egret Abaco 2Great Egret Abaco 3

We were some way from the birds, as these rather indifferent photos suggest, so we decided to try and get closer. The water was fairly low, leaving expanses of firm-looking marly mud around the edge. There was an apparent causeway to an overgrown rocky outcrop that would enable us to get closer to a vantage point without being spotted. As it turned out, the mud was only… ankle deep. It could have been messier. And we had a chance to see at close quarters the remarkable way in which mangrove entanglements develop.

Great Egret Abaco 4 Great Egret Abaco 5

We reached the outcrop muddier and slightly wiser, and clambered up through the scrubby and scratchy bushes to the top, nothing if not intrepid. My wading stick came in handy for beating a rough path. And by adopting strange stances in the manner of someone trying to pick up a faint cellphone signal, we could peer through the foliage to establish whether we were indeed a bit closer to the egrets.Great Egret Abaco 6

The answer was yes. But there was another obstacle, familiar to all fellow ‘focus fail’ offenders. Shooting a bird through a hole in a bush straight in front of you is complicated. You get a vivid detailed  frame of greenery, with a blurry centre of unintentional and unwanted BOKEH instead of the intended subject. A lens entension (the poor man’s zoom that I use) tends to make it worse. So you’ll have to make do with these pictures for now, until you can visit White Sound and get your own with your natty Nikon. Great Egret Abaco 11Great Egret Abaco 9Great Egret Abaco 8

My favourite ‘stance’ shotGreat Egret Abaco 10

That wasn’t the end of the adventure. After we had squidged our way back through the slightly smelly mud, we moved further along the sound, to find a further egret colony on the far shore just in time to watch them from afar as they took flight.Great Egret Abaco 12 Great Egret Abaco 13 Great Egret Abaco 14

TREASURE CAY, LOCATIONS OF WHITE SOUND & THE GOLF CLUB, &  SOME PIRATICAL NAMESTreasure Cay Map

TREASURE CAY IN RELATION TO OTHER ABACO PLACESAbaco Egret Map 1 jpg

When leaving Treasure Cay, visitors receive a friendly reminder to return, in terms reminiscent of, yet far nicer than, a Scottish Tourist Board brochure. Maybe this reflects the historic significance of the Scots in the history of the Bahamas, to the extent that there is even a Bahamas tartan. 

Bahamas TartanHaste Ye Back...

TC Map credit: Abaco Estate Services. They send me emails, so I guess they won’t mind publicity here

ABACO PARROTS TO CELEBRATE A MODEST LANDMARK


Abaco Parrot

Abaco Parrot

ABACO PARROTS TO CELEBRATE A MODEST LANDMARK

‘Rolling Harbour: The Blog’ had humble beginnings – a dodgy structure built on foundations formed of an unpromising mix of ignorance and incompetence. Gradually it has come together, to the extent that it has just passed the 125,000 visits mark. Abaco is a small and uncrowded island, so the audience demographic [to use biz-speak] isn’t large. However the wildlife, scenery and lifestyle have turned out to have a wider appeal. 1/8 of a million people (or perhaps 1 crazy punter with repetitive strain injury from checking in unhealthily often) deserve a few of Abaco’s unique parrots in return.

I THANK YOU ALLAbaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 4a

WHERE IT ALL BEGINS – AN UNDERGROUND NEST DEEP IN THE NATIONAL FORESTAbaco Parrot Nest 2

EVENTUALLY THE CHICKS HATCH…Abaco Parrot Nest 4

…AND GROWAbaco Parrot Nest 5

IN DUE COURSE THEY ARE READY TO BE CHECKED OVER AND RINGEDAbaco Parrot Chick Ringing 1

THEY HAVE NO FEAR OF THE ‘PARROT LADY’, SCIENTIST CAROLINECS with Abaco parrot chick

SOON THEY ARE INDEPENDENT AND DISCOVERING THE JOYS OF GUMBO LIMBO BERRIESABACO PARROT ©CS 2012 3

KEEPING A BEADY EYE OUT…ABACO PARROT ©CS 2012 7

DOMESTIC HARMONY…ABACO PARROTS MM 3ABACO PARROTS MM 8

…BUT NOT ALL THE TIMEAbaco Parrots MM 10

‘HOW DO I LOOK AGAINST A BRIGHT BLUE SKY?’Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 13

PARROTS HAVING AN EARLY EVENING GET-TOGETHER AT BAHAMA PALM SHORES


‘GOODNESS ME, IS THAT THE TIME? I MUST FLY…’

parrot crossingCredits: Caroline Stahala, Melissa Maura, RH; recording and video RH

IT’S ALL WHITE – IT’S A REDDISH EGRET ON ABACO


Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 5

IT’S ALL WHITE – IT’S A REDDISH EGRET ON ABACO

Contrary to appearances from the header image and the one below, Reddish Egrets (Egretta rufescens) do not yet use cellphones to communicate. Nevertheless, the trick of having a good ear-scratch while standing in water on one leg is a good posey accomplishment.Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 4

All these photos were taken while we were bonefishing from a skiff far out on the Marls in the mangroves. Ishi poled us closer so that boat-partner Tom – a real photographer – could get some shots. Meanwhile, I did my best with my little camera that I take out on the boat – the one that won’t matter too much when it slips from my hand or pocket into the drink. These things happen: I lost a good pair of Costas that a gust of wind unkindly whisked away when I took them off to change a fly.Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 3Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 2

This egret comes in two very different ‘colourways’. The classic version has a slatey-blue body and a reddish head and plumes. The white morph is pure white. The only similarities between the two are the two-tone bills with the black tip; and the blue-grey legs and feet.

True Reddish Egret, as you might expect it to lookReddish_Egret Wiki

The white morphReddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 9

I’m not certain of the proportions of each type on Abaco, but I have certainly seen twice as many white ones as true reddish ones. There seem to be quite a few around – there are plenty of fish for them and dozens of square miles of human-free space in which to stalk them. However as with many (most?) of the bird species, there is a declining population for all the usual man-related reasons, and these fine birds have now had to be put on the IUCN ‘near-threatened’ list.220px-Status_iucn3.1_NT.svg

The bird kept an eye on us as we drifted closer, but was unperturbed. It continued to poke around in the mud, and occasionally it moved delicately but quite quickly to a different patch.Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 8 Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 7 Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 6

We watched the bird for about 10 minutes. Then we returned to what we were really there for – Tom to catch bones with practised skill, and me to wave the rod incompetently around until some passing fish took pity on me and grabbed my fly, knowing it would soon be released once all the fuss was over…Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 1

PRECIOUS EMERALDS ON ABACO: GREEN HUMMINGBIRD JEWELS


Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco10PRECIOUS EMERALDS ON ABACO: GREEN HUMMINGBIRD JEWELS

There are two resident hummingbird species on Abaco: the beautiful endemic Bahama Woodstar; and the lovely non-native Cuban Emerald. The species don’t get on, and tend to keep to separate territories. At Delphi the Emeralds predominate, though luckily there are Woodstars as well. Both species of these tiny birds have featured in previous posts, but this little hummer was a special one. Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco 1

There’s a small patch of cleared coppice at Delphi, the ‘Farm’. This is where plants are ‘grown on’ for the gardens. In particular, there are coconuts planted in soil to germinate, to provide replacements for any palms that are trashed in the hurricane season. Since both Irene (in 2011) and Sandy (2012) passed directly over Delphi, you can see the sense in having an on-site garden centre. It can be a good place for birds, having both sun and shade. It’s where I suddenly spotted this Emerald, a few feet away from me. Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco 2

It seemed quite relaxed, so I decided to see how close I could get. My attempt at stealth was slightly spoiled by my inexplicable need to make totally unnecessary “soothing” clicking and chooking noises as I crept forward. But the bird just watched peacefully, assuming me to be insane and probably harmless. Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco 3

I shuffled forwards, expecting the bird to fly off at any moment. Instead, it seemed to go to sleep…  By now I was a couple of feet away, and felt it was time to stop the ridiculous noises. The bird could not have been more at ease if I had sung it a lullaby.  [Apart from the fact that I can't sing, that is]Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco 6

By now the metallic glint of the feathers in the sun was extraordinary, with colours other than green clearly visible, especially on the tail. Does this bird look nervous? I was a foot away from it.Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco 7

In the end I actually reached the bird. I stood over it and could easily have touched it. I quite see that it had probably been using the sugar water feeders, and was used to seeing people. But still. It was mini and I am… not. Here is my last shot, an aerial view. Then I crept away again, leaving the bird in peace and doubtless wondering what on earth that had all been about. I have a general rule against anthropomorphic ‘special moments’ but if I did not, then this was one…Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco 8All photos RH armed with a Panasonic Lumix. If you want to use a photo - surprisingly, people occasionally do – please ask first and it will probably be fine. One or more of my images may be published shortly, and I don’t want a wrangle on my hands. Or anywhere else…

BANANAQUIT BABIES ON ABACO: AWWWWWW…SOME BIRDS


Bananaquit (juv) Abaco, Bahamas 4

BANANAQUIT BABIES ON ABACO: AWWWWWW…SOME BIRDS

I’m not generally into whimsy and such stuff BUT… I can’t get enough of small bananaquits (Coereba flaveola). I’ve featured them before HERE and HERE AGAIN, but then I see another one, take some photos, and awwwwww – look at its little fluffy feathers… and its tiny sharp claws! The two shown below are summer babies. They aren’t really babies, though, are they? Teenagers, more like. Like many Abaco birds – especially the parrots – they are keen on the fruit of the Gumbo Limbo tree Bursera simaruba shown here. They also love flowers, piecing the base with their beaks to get at the nectar. They are quite as happy on a feeder – or indeed sipping sugar water from a hummingbird feeder, living up to their nickname ‘sugar bird’. 

Bananaquit (juv) Abaco, Bahamas 1Bananaquit (juv) Abaco, Bahamas 7“Watching you watching me…”Bananaquit (juv) Abaco, Bahamas 3

This second bird is a bit older, and has developed some smart citrus lemon shoulder flashes. Bananaquits have many regional variations throughout the caribbean and beyond. These birds are, or were, generally lumped in with the tanager species. They have an official classification of ‘uncertain placement’ in the taxonomic scheme for now, while their exact status is debated. Not that anyone watching them worries about that sort of technicality.Bananaquit (juv) Abaco, Bahamas 6Bananaquit (juv) Abaco, Bahamas 5

Here is what a Bahamas bananaquit sounds like, recorded on Andros (Credit: Paul Driver at Xeno-Canto)


A pair of adult bananaquits

MAKING A GOOD IMPRESSION: BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACO


MAKING A GOOD IMPRESSION: BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACOBahama Mockingbird, Abaco 1

The Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii is similar to its slightly smaller cousin, the widespread Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottis. The range of Bahama Mockingbirds is slightly wider than the Bahamas themselves, and includes areas of  Cuba, Jamaica and TCI.  It is also a vagrant to the United States, especially southeastern Florida.

Bahama MockingbirdBahama Mockingbird, Abaco 4

The Bahama Mockingbird is browner than the Northern Mockingbird, and has distinctive streaking and spotting to its breast and undercarriage.Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco 6

Both species are found on Abaco. The NMs are ubiquitous in towns, settlements, gardens, coppice and pine forest, whereas BMs are shyer and tend to be found in the pine forest and well away from humans and their operations.Bahama Mockingbird 5We took a truck into the pine forest south of Delphi with well-known Abaco birder Woody Bracey and Ohio bird photographer Tom Sheley. They were quick to locate a bird, in part because one was sitting prettily on a branch singing lustily. It was well within range of Tom’s massive lens; more of a struggle for my modest Lumix (as you may detect). I was astounded by the beauty and variety of the song. It consisted of very varied notes and phrases, each repeated 3 or 4 times before moving on to the next sounds in the repertoire. Here is a short 18 second example I recorded, using my unpatented iPhone method, for which see HERE.


Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco 3

For those with interest in birdsong, here is a longer 1:13 minute song from the same bird, with largely different sounds from the first recording made minutes earlier. There’s even a decent stab at imitation of a 1960s Trimphone™. Had we not had to move on to Sandy Point for an appointment with some cattle egrets and American kestrels, I could have stayed listening for far longer.


Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco 2

Finally, the Northern Mockingbird below was photographed in a garden at Casuarina – far tamer and clearly very different from its cousin. The range map  shows the stark contrast with the very limited range of the Bahama Mockingbird.Northern Mockingbird, Abaco 1220px-Northern_Mockingbird-rangemap

ABACO’S RAREST VISITOR: MEET ALBERT ROSS… THE ALBATROSS


ABACO’S RAREST VISITOR: MEET ALBERT ROSS… THE ALBATROSS

I can find no record for the sighting of an albatross in the waters around Abaco. Nor for anywhere else in the Bahamas for that matter. It must have come as some surprise to the BMMRO team out at sea on their research vessel off Sandy Point to see a large and unusual seabird bobbing tranquilly on the water. A black-browed albatross Thalassarche melanophrys. Diane Claridge managed to get a great shot of it and I’m really pleased to be able to use it here.

Black-browed Albatross, Abaco © DC BMMROBlack-browed albatross off Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas. Photographed by Diane Claridge.

© Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation 2013

This bird was way out of the normal range for the species. They are birds of the southern oceans, breeding in colonies on such islands as the Falklands, South Georgia and Macquarie Island. As far as I can make out, they have no business to be north of the equator at all.

Black-browed Albatross Range Map BirdLife Int

SIGHTING A BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS: A REPORT

During a three-hour survey for whales off Sandy Point, Abaco on Sunday, July 21st scientists from the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation had an exceptional sighting. Dr Diane Claridge, the group’s Executive Director recalls details of the sighting:

“We were drifting waiting for a beaked whale to resurface when our intern Tristan Albury pointed towards a white object floating in the distance and asked what it was. We decided that it was a piece of trash, unfortunately a common sighting, and continued to focus our search for the whale. A half hour later, we still had not re-sighted the whale and believed that it may have gone down on one of its one-hour long feeding dives. So with time to kill and the “trash” still in sight, we had another look with binoculars. We realised immediately that it was a very large bird and slowly motored towards it for a closer look. I began taking photographs of it because we already knew it was unusual and we wanted to be sure to identify the species. As we got closer, Roxy Corbett, a visiting scientist and avid birder exclaimed that it was an albatross! I couldn’t believe it. We were able to approach within 100 feet at which point it swam towards us providing an opportunity for us to document its body condition; it appeared healthy with no obvious signs of distress.

Later when back ashore, we compared our photographs with those available online and learned that it was a juvenile Black-browed albatross, an endangered bird with a 7-foot wing span known from subtropical to polar regions of the southern hemisphere! As far as I know this species has never been recorded previously in the tropical North Atlantic. I have seen albatross during whale surveys in Alaska but never dreamed that I’d ever see one in The Bahamas. Although we are thrilled by the rarity of this sighting, the outcome for a bird so far out of its normal range is not usually good. However, there are two Black-browed albatross that strayed into the North Atlantic previously that have taken up long-term residence in Scotland and the Faroe Islands so who knows where this one may end up. Sunday afternoon was indeed exceptional: in addition to this remarkable sighting, we also saw 4 different species of whales and dolphins, all within 5 miles of Sandy Point.”

These are huge strong birds, with a massive wingspan. I wondered what they might sound like – it’s like this… (Credit: Xeno-Canto & recordist Sofia Wasylyk)


For more information on the normal range and status of the Black-browed albatross, the BMMRO recommended links are:

Link to Birdlife International’s site:
http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=3959

Link to IUCN’s species red list:
http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/106003959/0

CATCHING FLIES: CRESCENT-EYED (CUBAN) PEWEE ON ABACO


Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 6

One of the prettiest small birds to photograph on Abaco is the Crescent-eyed, or Cuban, Pewee Contopus caribaeus. These small flycatchers are as interested in your struggles with your camera settings and your ‘stealthy’ (yet clumsy) approach, as you are in their cute poses. It’s a symbiotic relationship – you may get nice pictures, they have a benign laugh at your efforts.Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 2

This bird was one of a pair we found at a magical corner of scrubland at a crossroad of tracks between the edge of the pine forest and a backcountry of derelict and overgrown sugar cane fields – the perfect habitat for a wide variety of species. The pewees had a nest hidden deep in the undergrowth, but were tame enough to be untroubled by our presence. They kept calm and carried on as usual.Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 1Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 5

These little birds are resident in Cuba and the Northern Bahamas. I have previously posted photos of them, taken by the beach at Casuarina, HERE. They are the smallest flycatchers – tyrannidae – on Abaco, a family that includes LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER, and the larger Loggerhead & Gray Kingbirds. Here’s a recording of cuban pewees made on Abaco (credit: Jesse Fagan / Xeno-Canto)


Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 3Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 4

They often have a charmingly quizzical or watchful expressionCrescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 8Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 7

“Magical Corner”, Abaco – birding hotspot. Location on application. $$ only please (©Tom Sheley)Birdwatching Hotspot, Abaco Backcountry ©Tom Sheley

OUT FOR A DUCK: FINDING WHITE-CHEEKED (BAHAMA) PINTAILS ON ABACO


White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 9

OUT FOR A DUCK: FINDING WHITE-CHEEKED (BAHAMA) PINTAILS ON ABACO

Hunt them. Then when you have found them, shoot them. But only with a camera, obviously… These attractive dabbling ducks are far too pretty for anything more controversial than watching and enjoying. Many moons ago I posted about them HERE, but I’m a bit cannier since then, and even have my own photos now…

NOTE Within hours of posting this, I was alerted (thanks, Tony W) to the inadvisability of (a) using the word ‘hunting’ in the title; and (b) the opening 2 sentences. (a) has been changed to the neutrally vanilla ‘finding’. (b) remain but with this warning: “It is illegal to shoot white-cheeked pintail in the Bahamas“. While I don’t imagine the readers of a blog like this will already have rushed to the gun cabinet, packed up a cartridge bag, added a couple of Kaliks and headed off  with extreme pintail population decrease in mind, I expect a  g**gle search for ‘hunting & shooting sweet small ducks’ could indeed provoke the odd (to very odd) person to assume it is open season for pintails. It isn’t. It never is.

White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 1

The white-cheeked pintail Anas Bahamensis is also known as the Bahama Pintail. It is a gregarious species, often found in large numbers on lakes and ponds. An excellent place to see them on Abaco is at the pond by Hole 11 at Treasure Cay golf course. Don’t all rush at once – and if you do follow up the hint, check in  at the Clubhouse to get permission – there may be a competition in progress… You’ll see many other waterbird species there, and I will do a follow-up post about them. Do mind your head – if someone yells ‘fore’ they will probably not be counting duck species.White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 3

The male and female of the species are very similar. However, in the image below there’s one bird that stands out from the others… and I don’t mean the American Coot. Near the bottom right is a LEUCISTIC variant of the Bahama Duck, a genetic condition similar to albinism.White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 5

Here is a close-up of the same duck on dry land. These variants are known as Silver Bahama Pintails. They are worth more than the standard version. You can see some good comparative pictures and find out more at MALLARD LANE FARMSWhite-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 7

 Here is a more extreme wiki-example of a silver bahama pintail
220px-White-cheeked_Pintail_white_morph_RWD

Another excellent place for pintails is in the Crossing Rocks area of South Abaco. Strictly, it is on private land. And legally too, for that matter. So I won’t pinpoint these pintails publicly. There is a wonderful variety of waterbird life there. I have seen great egrets, little blue herons, yellow-crowned night herons, belted kingfishers and elegant BLACK-NECKED STILTS there, besides several duck species. I have also seen a sora there (twice), a small, furtive rail that skulks in the reeds and foliage at the edge of the water, profoundly hoping that you won’t notice it… If you are birding on Abaco from Delphi, ask Peter or Sandy for the location. Or else contact me.White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 6

“On Reflection…”White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 2

ELEGANT COOT CABARETS (6,6,2,5 anag.): CATTLE EGRETS ON ABACO


“ELEGANT COOT CABARETS” (6,6,2,5 anag.): CATTLE EGRETS ON ABACO

The CATTLE EGRET Bubulcus ibis is a species of heron with an affinity with cattle and other grazing animals. It’s a two-way thing – they relieve a cow of its ticks and flies, and get a ready meal return. Their name is the latin for ‘herdsman’.

Originating in Africa, these birds have proved to be one of the most successful and resilient bird species at expanding their breeding populations around the globe.

Range map - yellow: breeding – green: year-round –  blue: non-breeding                     

The first sightings in North America were in 1941, then assumed to be escapees. Far from it. They flew in and multiplied. By 1953 they were breeding in Florida; in Canada in 1962; and in the Bahamas in the 1960s. Now they are everywhere – though (depending, like, how old you are) your grandparents might never have seen one… Here’s a helpful wiki-graphic 

Range expansion in the Americas

In the breeding season, cattle egrets develop pinkish-buff patches on their front, back and crown, and grow matching head-plumes

Recently we saw one at Sandy Point when photographing kestrels. It’s no longer in full breeding plumage, but traces of a pinkish tinge can still be seen.Cattle Egret Abaco 8The cattle egret’s eyes are positioned so that while they are feeding they have binocular vision. I’m not quite sure why that would be advantageous; you might think they’d prefer one eye on their food, and one on the look out for predatorsCattle Egret Sandy Point Abaco 12

When on the move the egrets may adopt a stooping, creeping stanceCattle Egret Abaco 7

These birds have capacious mouths, which enable them to vary their diet from small maggoty things to larger insects, then through snails to small frogs and the likeCattle Egret Abaco 5

Although the neck generally looks slim, they appear to have an expandable gullet which no doubt helps with larger food itemsCattle Egret Abaco 4

Now. Time to get back to the Crossword…Cattle Egret Abaco 2

BINOCULAR VISIONce_sp1Graphics, breeding plumage & header: redoubtable wiki; other images RH

ADDENDUM The redoubtable dou dou, creator of tiny and cute handmade bird models, has been inspired by these fine creatures to make a handsome pair. Check out her site with the link above… and you can even buy your very own cattle egrets there

cattle-egret-birds