Sandy Point R.I. to CS


All piping plovers on Abaco are welcome winter visitors. Or I should say, winter residents. They are little different from the many Abaco second-homers who live in North America during the summer. As the chill of autumn and early winter takes hold in their northern habitat, they too fly south to their winter destination in the hope of warm sun, unspoilt sandy beaches and good food bahamian-style. Not worms, though. The humans draw a line at those, though they do pull things out of the sea that plovers would disdain as acceptable sustenance.

Jonesy was first sighted more than month ago on the beach at Winding Bay. This beach, and its neighbours on Cherokee Sound, have proved to be this season’s PIPL hotspot so far. Ali Ball originally reported having seen one bird with a green flag in a group of birds. Eventually, on October 29, she was able to get close enough to get a photo of Green Flag with its friends.SAM_2228 sm copy SAM_2211 sm copy

Tantalisingly, however, no amount of enhancement could reveal the code on the flag. Never mind, there was already enough information to start the process of identification. It was not a returning Bahamas-banded bird, which have bright pink coded flags. ‘Green Flag Upper Left’ indicated a bird banded by, or in conjunction with, the Virginia Tech program. This in turn pointed to the shorelines of Connecticut or Rhode Island. But it was vital to get a clear sight of the expected 3-character alphanumeric code on the flag. PIPL maestro Todd Pover was quickly on the case. 



There are several obstacles for the local ‘civilian’ bird monitor, who may well not be equipped with a powerful camera and tripod, or a digiscope. The birds are very small. They scuttle. They can be nervous and quite difficult to get close to. They may hang out in much larger groups of shorebirds such as sandpipers and turnstones. The light might be poor or the weather unhelpful. Counting the birds is one matter. Seeing bands or flags – let alone reading codes – may be quite another.

Luckily, within a couple of days, Keith Kemp was able to visit the beach, and managed to get a couple of definitive shots of the bird. As you can see below, it turned out to have a blue band upper right as well as the flag, a fact that would narrow down the search for its summer habitat. The first task was to check out the code on the flag, a process of cropping, enhancing and magnifying… to get, finally, to Bird 09C

PiPl 09C (L leg - Blue R leg) 2 WB 30.10 (1) min copyPiPl 09C (L leg - Blue R leg) 2 WB 30.10 (2) min copy

09C 1 crop copy 09C Mag2 copy 09C 2 crop copy  09C mag1 copy

I posted Ali’s Oct 29 sighting as a provisional ID. Within a very short time of Keith’s nailing of the alphanumeric code, Todd Pover had located the bird’s origin and obtained some information which I then posted to my page ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH:

#44 OCT 30. 08.30. **NEW ID** Winding Bay. Mid-tide. 17 foraging PIPL inc. ‘JONESY’ (see #43) at the cabanas end. 2 photos. Green Flag code 09C. π Ali Ball (original spotter & monitor); Keith Kemp (follow-up). ID CONFIRMED: SY male, unsuccessful nester this summer at Sandy Point, Rhode Island. Last sighted there July 16. COMMENT Jonesy gets an upgrade from green to red marker. Most of these birds will have been counted already, but 17 suggests a handful of new arrivals. on that end of the beach. More details about Jonesy soon.


To give an idea of how accurate the professional conservation teams are, the red flag on the map above marks the exact location of the last sighting of Jonesy, on July 16th. Sandy Point is a narrow sand spit on the boundary of Rhode Island and Connecticut; and of the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge and the Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Jonesy seems to have spent the breeding season there scuttling backwards and forwards between RI and CT. He apparently paired off, but the reason for being ‘an unsuccessful nester’ is unknown at the moment. I haven’t yet been able to obtain any further information; I am hoping to be able to identify the bander, as with TUNA


Originally Jonesy was called ‘Mrs Jones’. On Ali’s visits to the beach at Winding Bay, this little plover was regularly in “the same place, the same time”, as in the Billy Paul song “Me and Mrs Jones”. The only drawback being that it then emerged that Mrs Jones was a male. To change his name to Mr Jones seemed rather formal, and the suggestion that ‘Jonesy’ would cover the awkward situation was approved…

Credits: Ali Ball, Keith Kemp, Todd Pover, mapping things, Jonesy for choosing Abaco


Piping Plover 32 (banded as an adult in 2010 at Manistee, MI Sleeping Bear Dunes N L, MI)

Banded in Michigan in 2010 – in Florida right now!


It’s started already. The autumn migration of piping plovers from up north to down south. It seems only the other day (April in fact) that the last PIPL were seen on Abaco. Since then, they have spent the summer in their breeding grounds, raising families. This seems to have been a successful breeding season, with good reports that included a record number in the tiny Great Lakes population. But the attrition rate to predation is high: for example, of the 4 chicks in one family that was closely observed on Long Beach Island NJ, only one (‘Beth’) has survived.

Piping Plovers - 2 chicks, 2 eggs - CT (Danny Sauvageau)

Piping plovers: 2 chicks & 2 eggs, Connecticut


A recent estimate put the world’s supply of these little birds at 8000. And of these, many spend their winter in the Bahamas, Abaco being one of their favoured destinations. The survival of the species is in the balance. Habitat degradation at either end of their migrations could be disastrous; at both ends, more than doubly so.

Piping Plover (juv) CT (Danny Sauvageau)

Piping Plover juvenile, Connecticut


A number of organisations and individuals are dedicated to looking out for the PIPL. This includes ensuring preservation of habitat integrity and protection on the beaches where they nest, and banding programs so that birds can be tracked and monitored during their migrations. This is one aspect which people on Abaco (and elsewhere) can help with – looking out for these birds, reporting their location and how many are seen, and if possible describing the bling: colour of bands, which legs, which order,visible numbers etc. Or better still, taking photos!

Piping Plover CT (Danny Sauvageau)


On beaches and shorelines. On the mainland, places where they were reported last year included Long Beach, Crossing Rocks, Schooner Bay, the beach at Delphi, Bahamas Palm Shores, Casuarina and Little Harbour. They also visit the cays, with a number reported on Man-o-War Cay for example.Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 3


Well on their way south. Danny Sauvageau, who combines monitoring beaches in Florida with being a wonderful bird photographer, has just reported the first arrivals. On 23 July he saw 3 unbanded PIPL in Dunedin Fl. – here’s one of them.Piping Plover, Dunedin, FL (Danny Sauvageau)

Then on 29 July Danny found his first banded Piping Plovers of the 2015-16 wintering season at Fort Desoto – 6 birds of which 5 were banded. This enabled him to recognise them as returners, and to identify their origin: “Two were from the Great Lakes (Michigan), two were from the Great Plains (North Dakota and South Dakota) and one was from Nebraska!”.

These 3 examples show the wide variation in banding in the different locations. Which is why a photo of a bird’s legs is particularly helpful for the research into the species.

PPL-106- 2nd year at Ft Desoto - Banded in Nebraska PPL-35 - 3rd year at Ft Desoto - Banded as a chick 2012 Vermillion, MI along Lake Superior PPL-2 - 3rd year at Ft Desoto - Banded as a adult 2013 Whitefish Point, MI along Lake Superior

The CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION OF NJ is involved annually with researching the piping plovers of Abaco. Many will be familiar with the scientists Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger who visit each year to monitor the plovers. For those who do not already have a direct line to them I would be very pleased to receive reports of sightings to collate and pass on. The monitoring work provides exactly the kind of information that will help to ensure the survival of this adorable but vulnerable species. Please email me at rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com or, better still, upload info / pics to the new FB page I have set up, ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH 2015 – 16Piping Plover Charadrius melodus (Ontario, MDF : wiki)

The most helpful information to have is date; time; location; number of birds; whether banded or unbanded; and if banded, as much information as possible or ideally a photo…



The referencing in the title to a famous ‘disc’ from 1966 by a ‘popular beat combo’ does not presage a re-formation. In the past there was acrimony. Some drink ‘n’ drugs hell. Splits and re-formations. Sadly not all former members are still with us. Here’s a memory of them from (arguably) their most satisfyingly inventive era… **EARWORM ALERT** now you won’t be able to get the wretched tune out of your head. It’s given you ‘excitations’. Sorry about that.

Credits: All photos courtesy of Danny Sauvageau except ‘lone chick’ MDF & ‘chick in hand’ CWFNJ; shout outs to Danny, Todd, Stephanie and all PIPL researchers. Plus Bay Soundings. And the Beach Boys…

ADDENDUM AUG 2 A good article about the significance of banding can be found at BAY SOUNDINGS (based around Tampa Bay). It includes contributions from Danny and a useful info box:

Reporting banded birds

Reporting banded birds is one of the most important activities for citizen-scientists, says Wraithmell. “It’s the only way we have to solve the mystery of migration – to learn where they stop and where they winter so we can protect that habitat too.”

Most photographers stumble upon their first banded birds accidentally because they don’t always see the bands until they review their images on a computer screen. After that, they’ll learn to watch for the bands even if they don’t get close enough to see them with their naked eye.

“There’s something very exciting about photographing banded birds, learning where they came from and following their travels if they’ve been seen and reported before,” Sauvageau said.

But capturing an image shouldn’t outweigh allowing the bird to rest or feed in peace, Wraithmell said. “One thing that’s really important is not disturbing the birds, whether they’re nesting or just resting,” she said. If nesting birds are disturbed, they fly off and leave their eggs or babies in broiling sun and defenseless against predators. Wintering birds need to rest and pack on the pounds before they fly back to their summer breeding grounds.

“Some birds, like piping plovers, actually spend more time here than they do nesting,” she said. “Their main job over the winter is eating and resting so they can nest successfully. And breeding is hard work – it takes a lot of energy to make an egg and then to feed and defend a chick until it’s old enough to take care of itself.”

For the scientists who band birds, “it’s like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it in the sea,” Wraithmell said. “Every resighting is valuable because we learn something new.”


Piping Plover Charadrius melodus (Ontario, MDF / wiki)


No apologies for writing again about Piping Plovers. This rare bird – only 8000 left in the world – overwinters in Florida, on the Gulf Coast, and to a notable extent in the Bahamas, very possibly on a beach near you. The peacefulness and cleanliness of Abaco’s pristine beaches provide the ideal habitat for the little PIPL to live safe and healthy lives during the winter, in preparation for their return to their summer breeding grounds. And breeding is what they are doing right now, up north. There are breeding populations on the Atlantic Coast, the Great Plains, and the Great Lakes. So I thought I’d feature a few images of what appears to be a rather successful season so far…

One of the best bird blogs around, one that I have recommended before, is called READINGS FROM THE NORTHSIDE. It is written in an informative yet witty style illustrated with excellent photos, and chronicles the daily avian goings-on on Long Beach Island NJ, an important nesting area for piping plovers. There are links with Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger, two scientists from the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ who will be familiar to many Abaconians for the winter work they do with the plovers on Abaco. The photos below have almost all been taken this month as the PIPL chicks hatch and begin to find their feet in a big world.

Piping Plover LBI 1   Piping Plover LBI 2 piping-plover-chick-sneaking-through-dune piping-plover-sit-in-dune

NEWLY HATCHED (TUFTERS’ & TACEY’S 4th CHICK, AMY) piping-plover-wet-chick1

TIDYING THE EGGSHELLpiping-plover-with-eggshell

EGGSHELL REMOVALpiping-plover-remove-eggshell-nest

HAPPY FAMILIES…piping-plover-chick-leaves-nest



Most regrettably, you’ll never see a Piping Plover chick on Abaco. The adult birds have left the Bahamian beaches and flown north before their breeding season begins. These little creatures are both rare and special at both ends of their migration range, so I’ll end with a video from the most excellent CONCH SALAD TV that is dedicated to these tiny wave-chasers. Abaco is one of the main areas for winter research into the piping plover population. Scientists visit the island to find the birds, count them, collect reports of sightings, check and identify tagged birds to determine their origin, and ensure the continuing good health of their habitat, without which the PIPL will be lost. You can find out more about this vital work carried out out by the CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION OF NEW JERSEY HERE.


Credits: MLF/ Ontario; Exit63 ‘Mr Norfside’ to whom a major tip o’ the hat; Conch Salad TV


Piping Plover Chick ©Melissa Groo PhotographyI had been going to post a selection of bird photos to mark Endangered Species Day today. I’d begun to plan the details – the birds to use, the captions for each and so on. Then I saw one photograph that is so charming and yet so poignant that I realised that adding further images would be superfluous. This tiny piping plover chick is a potent symbol of the vulnerability of all threatened species.

This shot was taken by award-winning and renowned wildlife photographer Melissa Groo. If you want to see the most wonderful and varied wildlife photography that you could ever imagine, please go to Melissa’s website and prepare to be amazed. You will find it HERE

I have posted several times about the endangered piping plovers, many of which overwinter in the northern Bahamas generally, Abaco particularly, and the Delphi Club beach specifically. There are believed to be fewer than 8000 individual birds on earth, and their little world of the shoreline is threatened at both ends of their migration, as well as at their rest ‘stopovers’ en route in either direction. Conservation programs at each end of the range are proving effective at preserving the plovers’ habitat, and the population does seem to have increased slightly. Each chick protected represents a small triumph for conservation.






Photo credit: Melissa Groo, with thanks for the inspiration! “Less is more…”; Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ for their partnership conservation work with PIPL on Abaco and in the Bahamas; the originator – ?Great Lakes Piping Plover Project –  of the neat small logo…



Bahama Oriole ABC : D. Belasco



Having just posted about the endangered NASSAU GROUPER and its protection by the introduction of a 3-month closed season, it’s time to focus on a rare, beautiful and vulnerable bird, the Bahama Oriole (Icterus northropi). It is IUCN Red Listed as ‘Critically Endangered’. ENDEMIC to the Bahamas, this bird lived only on Abaco and Andros. Not any more. Now you’ll only find them on Andros, the species having been lost to Abaco in very recent memory. The 1990s, in fact. And on Andros, this lovely bird is now struggling against the threat of extinction and is found only in limited areas in very small numbers. The most optimistic population estimate I have found puts the total as fewer than 300 individuals… the consensus puts the likely total in the region of 250. Bahamas Oriole, Andros (Binkie Van Es)1 Bahamas Oriole, Andros (Binkie Van Es)2


In 2010, the Greater Antillean Oriole Icterus dominicensis was separated by the AMERICAN ORNOTHOLOGISTS’ UNION into 4 species, one being the Bahama Oriole. As the BNT wryly put it, “New species are always a source of excitement… but in this case the intrigue is overshadowed by a sense of alarm and urgency”. For by then this new species ‘in its own right’ was limited to certain parts of Andros, in small and diminishing numbers. It had already vanished from some areas – especially in North Andros – were it had formerly been abundant. The best estimates suggested 250 individual birds. Bahama Oriole - Harold Brewer (via PM) - Version 3


This is a classic ‘riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’. Various sources I have looked at use a formula such as “…became extirpated from Abaco in the 1990s”, or “disappeared for unknown reasons in the 1990s”. I’ve found no clear clue as to the cause – nor even when the last sighting of an oriole on Abaco was made. I haven’t found a photo of one taken on Abaco, although to be fair the option of snapping everything with wings several times using a digital camera with a large chip didn’t exist then. In the next para a number of crucial factors in the more recent decline of the Andros population are given; but as far as I can determine, some at least did not apply in the 1990s, or certainly not to the same extent. Maybe it was a combination of a degree of habitat loss and the gradual decline of a small population that could not breed prolifically enough to sustain the future population **. Bahama_Oriole (Mxmerce Wiki)


Lethal Yellowing Disease of the coconut palm, prime nesting habitat for the oriole. In some areas on Andros (e.g. Staniard Creek), the palm has been all but wiped out. 

The arrival and spread of the Shiny Cowbird Molothrus bonariensis, a brood parasite that lays its eggs in the nests of other bird species such as the yellow warbler, the black-whiskered vireo… and the oriole. The cowbird reached Andros in the mid-1990s. The first Abaco report that I have found is from 1999 (so presumably, as the oriole was already gone from the island by then, they were not a factor).  The cowbird is a summer resident on Abaco, though still relatively uncommon; and its range continues to expand northwards. Some might argue that the cowbird should be discouraged from spreading on Abaco right now for the sake of the indigenous warbler and vireo populations – before it is too late.

Habitat loss / island development (although Birdlife International notes “…the planting of coconut palms in residential areas has allowed the species to spread into human settlements”). Other factors put forward include forestry work, forest fires, diseases, rodents and feral cats – problems that affect many other birds such as the Abaco parrot. Bahamas Oriole (BNT / Carlton Ward) The photo below is a pleasure to include in this post. It was taken earlier this year on Andros by Christopher Johnson of Nassau. And here’s the thing. He is 13, and an avid birder. I’m sure he likes his X-Box time, but he certainly knows plenty about birds too. He’s quick off the mark with offering IDs – correct ones – for birds online, and when he saw this bird he knew the significance of it and managed to get some good shots too. This is my favourite, the oriole ‘vocalising’. See below for its song. Here is Christopher’s brief but enthusiastic field report: Awesome trip to Andros this past weekend! Was amazed to see the Bahama Oriole and its nest — feeling great”. Bahama Oriole, Andros (Christopher Johnson) 2

Bahama Oriole taken during a BMMRO research trip on AndrosBahama Oriole, Andros (BMMRO)

 Paul Driver / Xeno Canto


In the same way that urgent conservation measures were put in place to halt and then reverse the critical decline of the Abaco parrot population, similar projects are in place for the Bahama Oriole on Andros. One proposal is to establish a ‘captive breeding’ program leading to reintroduction and reinforcement of the wild population. According to the American Bird Conservancy, this could even include reintroduction on Abaco… So perhaps in a decade or two, this fine bird will once again become firmly established as one of the birds of Abaco. Bahamas Oriole, Andros (Binkie Van Es)3 As I said in my Nassau Grouper post, a country’s attitude can to a degree be gauged by the pride with which it features its wildlife and natural resources in its stamps (I used North Korea for adverse comparison). In 2009 The Bahamas Postal Service even issued a ‘Rare Birds’ set featuring the Bahama Oriole.. I rest my case. Bahama Oriole Stamp birdtheme.org

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The comprehensive answer is provided by the University of Glasgow Library Research Annexe in relation to a fine  illustration from A Naturalist in the Bahamas (1910), reprinted in The Auk journal (below) at a time when Icterus northropi was still a mere subspecies: The yellow and black Bahama Oriole (Icterus Northropi) is a bird species unique to the Bahamas. The bird was named for American ornithologist and zoologist, John Isiah Northrop (1861–91); the illustration comes from an account of the trip Northrop and his botanist wife, Alice, took to the Bahamas in 1889 which was published in his memory: A Naturalist in the Bahamas: John I. Northrop, October 12 1861-June 25, 1891; a memorial volume (New York: Columbia University Press, 1910). It was edited and introduced by Henry Fairfield Osborn, professor of zoology at Columbia University where Northrop worked as a tutor and was killed in a laboratory explosion shortly (9 days) before the birth of his son John Howard Northrop (who became a Nobel prize-winning chemist). Icterus Northropi illustrated in A Naturalist in the Bahamas (plate 1)


“Rediscovering the Bahama Oriole” Erik Gauger, author of the excellent Notes from the Road and photographic contributor to the Birds of Abaco has a good tale of the pursuit of the apparent sighting of a Bahama Oriole on Abaco 2o years after its (supposed?) extirpation. You can read it HERE The Auk Read more about this journal and the birding history of the Bahamas HERE There is a Care2Action ‘Save the Bahama Oriole Before It Is Too Late’ petition HERE. It seems to have stalled somewhat, so it would be good to generate some more signatories. ** Mathematically inclined? Find out about the application of the stochastic process to the oriole’s situation. In a nutshell, this concerns the combined effect of several random adverse factors on sustainability, given that the oriole’s already very small population, very limited range and particular habitat requirements militate against breeding expansion, and therefore increase the likelihood of extinction. We can only hope this is not an inevitability… Image, audio and research credits: American Bird Conservancy, Binkie van Es, BNT / Carlton Ward, Birdlife International, Christopher Johnson, Cornell Neotropical, Harold Brewer, MxMerce, birdtheme.org, Wiki, Xeno Canto / Paul Driver; Uni of Glasgow / Roger Herriott




The birds have had a very fair share of posts for the month so I am returning to some of Brian Kakuk’s astonishing images from his dives of the underground cave systems of Abaco.

Abaco caves map jpg

Here, he explores Dan’s Cave, one of several huge caves beneath the pine forests of the west side of South Abaco. This complex cave system is within the proposed South Abaco Blue Holes Conservation Area, one of four designated Protected Areas that I wrote about recently HERE SABHCA.

Abaco Caves Ralph & Dan jpg

You get a good idea of the massive size of this column in comparison with the diversDan's Cave, Abaco (©Brian Kakuk) Dan's Cave, Abaco (©Brian Kakuk)

‘Rooms’ are connected by narrow tunnels or passagesDan's Cave, Abaco (©Brian Kakuk) Dan's Cave, Abaco (©Brian Kakuk) Dan's Cave, Abaco (©Brian Kakuk)

Individual caves have memorable names. This is the ‘Fanghorn Forest’ full of HelictitesHelictites, Fanghorn Forest, Dan's Cave, Abaco

Stalagmites or stalagtites? ‘Tites’ hang tight to the ceiling so they don’t fall off…Dan's Cave, Abaco (©Brian Kakuk)

All photos © Brian Kakuk, with thanks for use permission


ABACO (CUBAN) PARROT (Caroline Stahala)


The latest version of the 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BAHAMAS PROPOSAL FOR THE EXPANSION OF THE PROTECTED AREA SYSTEM OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF THE BAHAMAS has been published. It is a joint proposal by the Bahamas Government, The Nature Conservancy and the Bahamas National Trust. The breadth of the scheme is very ambitious, affecting all the principal Bahama Islands. To understand the objectives and scope of the project, you can see the whole 34-page project by clicking BAHAMAS PROPOSED PROTECTED AREAS 2014 It is in pdf format, so you should be able to save it if you wish to.

Many people will be familiar with the proposals as they affect Abaco. However since the latest version appears to be a final draft, I thought it might be helpful to show the 4 proposed areas of protection and conservation in their present form. These are, in summary:

  1. THE ABACO MARLS NATIONAL RESERVE A vast area of nearly 200,000 acres (300 square miles) of mangrove flats, sandbanks, creeks and wetland habitat
  2. EAST ABACO CREEKS NATIONAL PARK 13,000 acres (20 square miles) of wetland habitat that provides a vital wildlife nursery, and includes blue holes, creeks and a significant area for recreational activities (though Pete’s Pub at Little Harbour may be just outside the zone…)
  3. CROSS HARBOUR PROTECTED AREA 14,000 acres (21 square miles) in South West Abaco, a crucial breeding area for a number of species,including bonefish
  4. SOUTH ABACO BLUE HOLES CONSERVATION AREA  A huge 34,000 acre (53 square miles) swathe of South Abaco to the west of the E D Highway, incorporating 4 inland blue holes and important cave systems, and 13 offshore blue holes. This is an area of mainly pine forest on land and low waters at sea, with an anticipated value for eco-tourism

Here are the BNT maps showing the extent of each area. Far more information will be found via the link to the report given above. 


Abaco Preserves 1 copy

Abaco Preserves 2 copyjpg Abaco Preserves 3 copyjpg Abaco Preserves 4 copyjpg

Credits: Parrot, (ex-)parrot protector Caroline Stahala; Maps, BNT; acres to sq m conversion, Gizmo!