BAHAMA ORIOLE: ABACO’S LOST ENDEMIC SPECIES


Bahama Oriole ABC : D. Belasco

BAHAMA ORIOLE: ABACO’S LOST ENDEMIC SPECIES

FEWER THAN 300 LEFT IN THE WORLD – AND ALL ON ANDROS

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

THE SPECIES

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

WHEN & WHY DID THEY VANISH FROM ABACO?

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)

THE MAIN CAUSES OF THE CRITICAL DECLINE ON ANDROS

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

 Paul Driver / Xeno Canto

A GLIMMER OF HOPE?

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

♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦

WHO WAS THE EPONYMOUS MR NORTHROP?

640px-Picture_of_John_Isaiah_Northrop

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)

RELATED MATERIAL

“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

DIVERS VIEWS: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (4)


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DIVERS VIEWS: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (4)

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’S FOUR PROTECTED AREAS: THE PROPOSALS


ABACO (CUBAN) PARROT (Caroline Stahala)

ABACO’S FOUR PROTECTED AREAS: THE PROPOSALS

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. 

THE ABACO PROPOSALS

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!

“50 WAYS TO PLEASE YOUR PLOVER”: PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO (2)


Piping Plover - Danny Sauvageau

 “50 WAYS TO PLEASE YOUR PLOVER”: PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO (2)

There must be 50 ways at least, most of them amounting to leaving Piping Plovers alone and respecting their habitat. So, in many cases simply NOT doing things . Refraining from driving your  SUV around on the beaches exactly where they are resting (with other shorebirds) during migration (yes, this very scenario is captured on film). Discouraging your canine friends from investigating their scrapes, eggs and chicks. Not building a concrete block on their favourite beach. Avoiding dumping quantities of oil in their vicinity. That kind of thing. Make a new plan, Stan! Watch where you drive, Clive! Find a new place, Grace! Safeguard your oil, Doyle! And leave the birds free…

Piping Plover - Danny Sauvageau

MIGRATION & CONSERVATION I’m returning to Piping Plovers at a time when concerns for their diminished population has led to intensive research and protection programs at both ends of their migration routes. For a long time, their winter destination was a mystery. Recent investigations have helped to pinpoint the wintering grounds, which include Abaco. Ringing programs in the summer breeding areas mean that birds can be identified in winter and traced back to their origin. So if you are out and about and see one of these little guys – let’s say, on the beach at Casuarina – and you happen to have a camera with you, can I repeat the request to please take a photo, if possible showing the leg bling, and let one of the island birders (or me) know…

You can see how the PIPLs live through the seasons and their migrations in an excellent Audubon interactive presentation I have featured previously entitled “Beating the Odds: A Year in the Life of a Piping Plover”. CLICK BEATING THE ODDS

Piping Plover - Danny Sauvageau

PIPL ON ABACO I shared this wonderful video from the reliably excellent CONCH SALAD TV on my FB page, but it’s such a great 15 minutes worth of Piping Plover information that I am including it in this post, not least because many of the the subscribers are different. The Bahamas in general and Abaco in particular are favoured by these delightful but rare and vulnerable birds for their winter habitat (sensible creatures). If you can spare 15 minutes and are interested in the importance of Abaco as a vital component in the conservation of migratory birds, do watch the video. Presenters include Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger of CONSERVE WILDLIFE NEW JERSEY, David Knowles of the BNT and Olivia Patterson of FOTE (Friends of the Environment, Abaco). One of the most heartening features is to see the responses of  the young children who were encouraged to participate in the project, and who take to it with huge enthusiasm.  

Piping Plover - Danny Sauvageau

A while back, well-known and much missed Abaco naturalist Ricky Johnson made his own Piping Plover film incorporating his own trademark style and sense of humour. My original post about it can be seen HERE, but far better to go straight to Ricky’s video. It’s good to recall his infectious enthusiasm for the wildlife of Abaco. Impossible to watch without smiling…

Piping Plover - Danny Sauvageau

Piping Plover - Danny Sauvageau

The PIPL in this post all have two things in common. The wonderful photos are all taken by Danny Sauvageau; and all of the birds are differently ringed, reflecting their various summer habitats. So this brings me to Danny’s Kickstarter project “Saving Endangered Piping Plovers through Photography”. He has put together a superb presentation explaining his project, and how his photography in prime PIPL resting areas during their migrations back and forth can help to map and complete the picture of this vulnerable species to enable their protection.

You can reach Danny’s film by clicking the link DANNY’S FILM (there’s no obligation to go further and contribute) and you will see some fabulous footage of these little birds scuttling around on the beach, looking enchanting; and the commentary will explain the importance of the the birds and the research into their conservation.

RELATED POSTS

RARE GEMS: PIPL ON ABACO 1

“GIVE PEEPS A CHANCE ” (I know, I know…)

Credits: All photos, Danny Sauvageau; Videos – Audbon, Conch Salad TV, Ricky Johnson, Danny Sauvageau; Tip of the Hat, Paul Simon

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

ABACO PARROTS: A GALLERY OF GORGEOUS


'Over the Moon'

‘Over the Moon’

ABACO PARROTS: A GALLERY OF GORGEOUS

It’s been a while since the parrots of Abaco got a look-in hereabouts. Time to put that right. At the end of this gallery I will add some links to posts about the unique ground-nesting parrots of Abaco. Newcomers to this blog (I thank you both) may be interested to know that intensive conservation measures have brought this subspecies of the Cuban Parrot back from the brink of extinction – fewer than 1000 – to a sustainable and expanding population of around 4000.

For an overview of these lovely birds, I’ve made a slideshow presentation of a small booklet I put together in conjunction with scientist Caroline Stahala, who devoted several years to the research and protection of the parrots. Contents: parrots, nests, eggs, cute chicks, info, Sandy Walker with a fledgling on his lap.

Bahamas-Great Abaco_6419_Rose-throated Parrot_Cuban Parrot_Gerlinde Taurer Abaco Parrot Craig Nash.Cuban Parrot Abaco Abaco Parrot eating Gumbo Limbo fruit. Abaco Bahamas 2.12 copy

Here is the noise of a flock of parrots at Bahama Palm Shores, an excellent place to find them. It’s one of the less raucous recordings that I have made! We normally go to the main (north) turning, drive straight down to the end, cut the engine and listen. I’ve usually been lucky in that immediate area around 5.00 p.m., though others may have discovered other good times of day.

Abaco Parrot, Peter Mantle Abaco Parrot Keith Salvesen.Rolling Harbour Abaco
Bahama Parrot 1-Nina Henry sm Cuban Parrot Bruce Hallett IMG_7681ABACO (CUBAN) PARROT Abaco (Cuban) Parrot -  Charlie SkinnerAbaco (Cuban) Parrot -  Charlie SkinnerABACO PARROTS Unique parrots in pictures, video & sound

ABACO PARROTS Rare nesting footage

ABACO PARROTS Conservation & anti-predation programs 

Credits: Melissa Maura (brilliant header!), Gerlinde Taurer, Craig Nash, Tom Sheley, Peter Mantle, RH, Nina Henry, Bruce Hallett, Charlie Skinner, and Caroline Stahala

RARE GEMS: PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO (1)


Piping Plover (non-breeding), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Piping-Plover Artmagenta  RARE GEMS: PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO (1) Piping-Plover Artmagenta

8000 

That’s the total number of all the piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) left in the world. Like many other rare and vulnerable species (e.g. the Kirtland’s Warbler), the habitat at both ends of their migration routes is under threat. And, as with the Kirtland’s, vigorous conservation campaigns are underway. Problems such as habitat loss at one end are bad enough – if at both ends, population decline is a certainty and extinction looms. The summer breeding range of PIPLs takes in Canada, central US and the eastern seaboard. In winter they join the mass migration of other birds south to warmer climes. Abaco is lucky enough to receive these little winter visitors; and at Delphi we are fortunate that every year some choose the beach for their winter retreat.

char_melo_AllAm_map

Piping Plover, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

This is the first of a planned Piping Plover series that I have been working on. The reason for beginning now is because the autumn migrations are starting, and before long a few of this precious species will be on a beach near you on Abaco. Many of them will be ringed as part of the ongoing conservation projects. One of the best ways to monitor success is to follow the migratory lives of these birds; and this can very easily be done by taking photographs of a piping plover that show its rings. The number and colours of the rings on each leg tell the conservationists a great deal about an individual bird. Here is a photo by Don Freiday that shows what to look out for – these 4 items of plover-bling are an integral part of the preservation efforts for this species.

PIPLfledge_banded_Meb_DF

The Audubon Society has produced a wonderful interactive demonstration of the PIPL’s year-round life  that can be found at BEATING THE ODDS. For anyone interested in these fascinating little birds, I highly recommend a click on the link. Some clips are shown below.

A good example of one of the organisations involved in the conservation of PIPLs is CONSERVE WILDLIFE NEW JERSEY, of which Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger are also directly involved on both Abaco and with the CAPE ELEUTHERA INSTITUTE.

With due acknowledgement to Audubon, here are a couple of outstanding photos by Shawn Carey from the site; and below them, details of the range of the Piping Plovers and their 4000-odd mile two-way trip made in the course of each year.

TWO LEGS                                                                SIX LEGS

ShawnCarey[3] ShawnCarey.crop[1}

SUMMER                                                                      FALL

PIPL range Summer jpgPIPL range Fall jpg

WINTER                                                                         SPRING

PIPL range Winter jpgPIPL range Spring jpg

THE PIPING OF THE PLOVER Originator Lang Elliot, as featured by Audubon, eNature, Birdwatchers Digest etc

That’s enough to begin with. I will return to PIPLs soon, with more photos, information and links. Meanwhile, here is a great 4-minute video from Plymouth Beach MA. And if you see a Piping Plover on Abaco this autumn and are not part of the ‘bird count community’, please let me know the location; if you can, describe the rings – how many, which legs, what colour; if possible, photograph the bird (and – a big ask – try to include the legs). Whether ringed or not, all data is invaluable and I’ll pass it on.

 Migration ProductionsMigration Productions

Piping Plover Chick (Beaun -Wiki)

Credits with thanks: Bruce Hallett, Cornell Lab, Tony Hepburn, Don Freiday, Shawn Carey, Audubon, Beaun/wiki, Lang Elliott (audio) Migration Productions (video), Artmagenta (mini drawings)

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

“FAIR GAME” ON ABACO: THE ATTRACTIVE BUT SADLY DELICIOUS WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON


White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)

 “FAIR GAME” ON ABACO: THE ATTRACTIVE BUT SADLY DELICIOUS WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON

Fishing is the mainstay of Abaco’s sporting life, but hunting runs it a close second. Whether it’s the hog hunters plunging down remote backcountry tracks with their dogs or the shooters plying their trade, there is plenty on the hunter’s menu. The WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON Patagioenas leucocephala is one of the species that’s fair game in season. The bright white of its crown rather gives away its position. A permanent resident on Abaco, this pigeon is quite commonly found.

White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

The Bahamas hunting season for this species is between the end of September and March. Here is the relevant extract from the excellent BNT HUNTERS GUIDE, a very useful publication packed with information that is well worth a look at. WCP BNT Hunters Guide

220px-Status_iucn3.1_NT.svg

Unfortunately, this pigeon is no longer as prolific as it once was, and is now IUCN-listed ‘near-threatened’. Hunting is one reason. Habitat loss is another. And apparently in Florida (the only US State that has these birds), car-strike is a major cause of population decline (with time, they may learn to fly higher. Unless it’s too late for the species by then…).

White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

The balance of species preservation and the perceived need of humans to encroach on habitat or their wish to shoot for the pot, is a always a hard one to judge. ‘Near-threatened’ sounds bad, but it’s probably not until the next stage is reached – ‘vulnerable’ or ‘endangered’ – that there is real cause for concern. But as the title says (props to Peter Mantle for this pithy observation, duly incorporated into the WCP entry in THE BIRDS OF ABACO) these inoffensive pigeons are indeed ‘sadly delicious…’

White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)Photo credits: Gerlinde Taurer, Alex Hughes, Tony Hepburn plus BNT for the hunters guide