HIP! HIP! HIPPOCAMPUS: LET’S CELEBRATE SEAHORSES


Seahorse (Bahamas) 4 ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba

HIP! HIP! HIPPOCAMPUS: LET’S CELEBRATE SEAHORSES

Melinda Riger, doyenne of the deep and photographer to the stars (brittle stars, basket stars, starfish etc), undertook her 5000th dive a few days ago. She swims with sharks almost daily, and points her lens at the varied reef life she encounters along the way. Her gold prize for the dive turned out to be one of the smallest creatures she encountered: the seahorse. Hippocampus (Ancient Greek: Ἵππος, horse and Κάμπος, sea monster) is a unique fish, deriving from the pipefish, with more than 50 species known worldwide. I can feel a Rolling Harbour fact list coming on…

Seahorse (Bahamas) 3 ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba

10 SEAHORSE FACTS TO DAZZLE YOUR FRIENDS WITH

  • Only seahorses and razorfish swim upright / vertically all the time
  • Their tails are prehensile and enable them to moor on coral, seagrass etc
  • They have no scales, but skin stretched over bony plates arranged in rings
  • The ‘coronet’ on a seahorse’s head is unique to the individual
  • Seahorses are pathetic swimmers: the slowest have a top speed of 5′ per hour
  • They feed by ambush, rotating the head and sucking prey in with their snout
  • A seahorse’s eyes can move independently of each other, like a chameleon 
  • The Bahamas is home to H. erectus and the dwarf seahorse H. zosterae
  • Despite rumours, they don’t mate for life. Some may stay together for a season
  • The smallest seahorse in the world – the pygmy – is a maximum of 15mm long

Seahorse (Bahamas) 2 ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba

MAKING BABY SEAHORSES: A MOST UNUSUAL ARRANGEMENT

There’s no getting round it: seahorse courtship and reproduction is highly unusual. Here is a summary of how it goes (there’s a lot more to it, but life is short):

  1. COURTING This may last for many days. They may change colour; they swim together; they entwine tails; they attach themselves to the same strand of coral or seagrass and turn slowly round it in unison (a so-called ‘pre-dawn’ dance). The final courtship dance may last several hours while the male & female prepare for the next stage.
  2. EGG TRANSFER When the time is right the female transfers her eggs – hundreds of them – via her ovipositor  to the male, in the process of which they are fertilised. Handily, he has inflated a special egg pouch located on his abdomen. She then buggers off.
  3. GESTATION The fertilised eggs grow inside the egg pouch of the male and develop into baby seahorses. This process may take from 10 days to a few weeks. During this time, the female will visit for a short ‘morning greeting’ and some intertwining action.
  4. ‘BIRTH’ In due course the male ejects the baby seahorses from his pouch using muscular contractions. These may number from five to (get this!) 2,500 at a time; on average 100–1000. Job done. Then the tiny seahorse babies are on on their own…

Seahorse (Bahamas) 1 ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba

THREATS TO SEAHORSES

The attrition rate of baby seahorses through predation is high (as for most fish species), but the prolific breeding rate reduces the effect on the overall populations.  As so often, there are human-related threats, not least habitat destruction, overfishing and pollution. There’s a less expected problem: the importance of seahorses in Chinese medicine.  Their presumed healing qualities are used to treat impotence, wheezing, enuresis, pain and to assist labour. For these purposes, some 20 million seahorses a year are caught and sold. Increasingly they are reduced to pill or capsule form. 

Seahorse values depend on the species, but weight for weight dried seahorses retail for *unbelieving face* more than the price of silver and almost that of gold in Asia, from US$600 to $3000 per kilogram. Ours not to reason why.

anagram

USELESS SEAHORSE FACTS

  • Seahorse is an anagram of seashore
  • The Seahorses were an English rock band, formed in 1996 by guitarist John  Squire following his departure from The Stone Roses. They split in 1999
  • Devendra Banhart’s song ‘Seahorse’ contains these inspiring lyrics:
    I wanna be a little seahorse
    I wanna be a little seahorse
    A little seahorse
    I wanna be a little seahorse
    I wanna be a little seahorse
    I wanna be a little seahorse
    I wanna be a little seahorse
  • I’m losing the will to live. Let’s meet Otis.

Introducing Otis, Melinda’s seahorse that lives under her dockSeahorse (Otis), Bahamas ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

SEAHORSE MATING DANCE (4 MINS)

MALE SEAHORSE GIVING BIRTH

All photos: many thanks to Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; sources, many and manifold including Wiki which is pretty good on this kind of thing! Fab seahorse gif by Alex Konahin 

Seahorse by Alex Konahin copy

OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLERS ON ABACO


Olive-capped Warbler 3.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLERS ON ABACO

Abaco has a recorded 37 warbler species. Of these, most are winter residents and some are rarer migratory transients. Only 5 are permanently resident on Abaco: the Bahama Warbler, Bahama Yellowthroat, Olive-capped Warbler, Pine Warbler and Yellow Warbler. You can read about all 5 HERE 

Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

I realise that I haven’t posted about OCWs in their own right; and that as a species they have been unfairly lumped in (by me) with more general warbler posts. Time to put that right by showing some exclusively OCW photos.

Olive-capped Warbler.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

OCWs have an unusually restricted range, despite which they remain IUCN-listed ‘Least Concern’. These pretty birds are native only to the western and eastern ends of Cuba, Grand Bahama, and Abaco. Their natural habitat is pine forests and to a lesser extent in mixed forest and coppice areas.

Olive-capped Warbler 6.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

If you are lucky enough to see an OCW on Abaco, it’s worth thinking about the rich and unspoilt habitat that ensures its survival there. These little birds, along with other important bird species, enjoy a safe haven in the vast acres of pine forest.Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco (Tom Reed)

Photo credits: Tom Sheley, Bruce Hallett, Tom Reed

ABACO’S BIRDING HOTSPOTS (42 OF THE BAHAMAS TOP 100)


Black-necked Stilt, Abaco (Tom Sheley)

ABACO’S BIRDING HOTSPOTS (42 OF THE BAHAMAS TOP 100)

Right now, I’m doing daily checks on the indispensable EBIRD CARIBBEAN in relation to the ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH project (and incidentally if you encounter one or more on a beach near you, details would be very welcome – below is what to look out for!).

Piping Plover, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

It occurred to me to check out the contention that Abaco is Numero Uno birding destination in the Bahamas (though sadly lacking the flamingoes, except for vagrants; and the Bahama oriole, now extirpated and confined to select areas of Andros). Sure enough, Abaco has 42 out of the top 100 birding hotspots. In the map below, gray pointers indicate a few observations, blue means 50+ and green represents 100+. Nowhere has yet achieved the flame-red pointer – the ultimate hotspot accolade…

Abaco Birding Hotspots Map (eBird)

People often ask where best to go for quality birding on Abaco. The answer depends of course on the season and on what they are after – for example shorebirds or warblers; parrots or absence of parrots and so on. The Abaco 42 are listed below. There are a couple points to make about the hotspot list:

  • There is a degree of duplication, eg Gorda Cay / Castaway Cay being shown as separate entries, as is Angelfish Point / Angel Fish Point
  • Also, the data gathered by eBird is entirely dependent on regular uploads of checklists. Inevitably the birders will mostly be regulars, with their own preferred beats or perhaps with an interest limited to the area where they live. Some records show long gaps – sometimes a couple of years – between reports. So the eBird data can only give an overview, not a precise record of actual observations or birding effort and success. 

Bahama Woodstar male 3.1.Abaco Bahamas.2.12.Tom Sheley copy

In very general terms, and assuming a broad birding interest, I would recommend the Treasure Cay area; in and around Marsh Harbour; the stretch east of the Highway that takes in Bahama Palm Shores, the Abaco Neem Farm, Delphi, Crossing Rocks & Gilpin Point; the National Park; and Sandy Point. I’m sure there will be other views, but I am thinking primarily of the visitor who has but a single day to spare from a packed schedule of fishing, swimming, sunbathing, eating and drinking… [nb as a soi-disant photographer I’m not so keen on the dumps and landfill. Yes, the birding can be good. No, I don’t want to feature rubbish in my already rubbish photos…]

American Oystercatcher4.1.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley RH 2

Here’s the eBird list, omitting all the non-Abaconian hotspots. Clicking on the links will take you straight to the relevant location’s latest reports and show some of the species seen there. I haven’t checked every link, but spot-checks suggest they work ok…

3 Treasure Cay GC

4 Abacos–Citrus Farm near Treasure Cay

5 Abaco–Sandy Point

8 Angel Fish Point

10 Marsh Harbour

12 Abaco–Crossing Rocks

13 Abacos–Treasure Cay Dump

14 Abacos–Treasure Cay West Side

18 Abaco Cays IBA–Great Guana Cays

20 Abacos–Treasure Cay Sunset Ridge and vicinity

22 Robert’s nursery, ponds and marls overlook

23 Abaco–Bahama Palm Shores

28 Abaco Cays IBA–Green Turtle Cay

32 Gilpin Point

35 Hope Town, Elbow Cay

37 Big Bird

38 Castaway Cay

41 Man-o-war Cay

44 Abaco National Park IBA

45 Marsh Harbour–Landfill

52 Island Homes–Beach

57 Abaco Beach Resort

60 North Atlantic Abaco Cays IBA

62 North dump (Abaco)

65 Marsh Harbour

69 Cherokee Sound

70 Great Guana Cay

72 Green Turtle Cay Sand Spit

73 Angelfish Point

81 Green Turtle Cay

82 Track north of Hwy

86 Southern Abaco IBA

87 Abaco Neem farm

88 Marsh Harbor Airport

89 Abaco–Crown Haven

91 Little Abaco IBA

92 Abaco–Hole-in-the-Wall

93 Camp Abaco

94 Little Harbour

96 Castaway Cay

97 Cooper’s Town

98 Crossing Rock / Island Homes

Bahamas-Great Abaco_4846_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy

RELATED POSTS

AUDUBON’S ‘PRIORITY BIRDS’ ON ABACO

ABACO BIRDS FOUND IN NYC (& VICE VERSA)

THE BIRDS OF ABACO”

Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)11

Credits: Tom Sheley, Bruce Hallett, Gerlinde Taurer, RH

ABACO BUTTERFLIES feat. FLUTTERY PHILATELY


Red-spotted Purple Butterfly, Abaco (Selah Vie)

ABACO BUTTERFLIES feat. FLUTTERY PHILATELY

I’ve been distracted from my intended scribble by a lovely butterfly posted by ‘Selah Vie’, one I’ve never seen before. It’s one of those lepidots that have a topside surprisingly and excitingly different from the underwings (see header image). Imagine having this beauty turning up on your patio…

RED-SPOTTED PURPLE BUTTERFLYRed-spotted Purple Butterfly (Selah Vie)

This reminded me that I have some butterfly images waiting in the wings (ha!), so now is the time to encourage a few out of their virtual chrysalis for wider appreciation. 

BAHAMAS SWALLOWTAILBahama Swallowtail? Palamedes Swallowtail?Bahama Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) 2Bahama Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) 1

POLYDAMUS SWALLOWTAILPolydamus Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)Hibiscus / Polydamus Swallowtail, Delphi Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

MONARCH BUTTERFLYMonarch Butterfly, Abaco (Charmaine Albury) 2 Monarch Butterfly, Abaco (Charmaine Albury) 1

MONK (?) SKIPPER

Skipper Butterfly, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

FRITILLARY (make unknown)Fritillary, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

tigertail

FLUTTERY PHILATELY

The Bahamas has an excellent record for producing colourful stamp issues showcasing the wildlife of the islands – birds, reef fish and of course butterflies. I’ve posted about these several time, and they are more or less collected together on a dedicated stamp page HERE. As for the butterflies, they get a new issue every decade or so. Here are the last four.

1975

Bahamas Butterfly Stamps 1974

1983

$_1-1

1994

$_1-1 copy

2008

baha08002

tigertail          imgres          tigertail

Credits: Selah Vie (1, 2); Uli Nowlan (3); Rhonda Pearce (4, 5, 6, 10, 11); RH (7); Charmaine Albury (8, 9); open source / ads etc (all stamps)

ABACO’S WINTER WARBLERS: ARRIVING ANY MOMENT!


Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco

ABACO’S WINTER WARBLERS: ARRIVING ANY MOMENT!

To celebrate the forthcoming influx of the ‘confusing fall warblers’ of the winter season, here is a reminder of my guide to the 37 warbler species found on Abaco, of which only 5 are permanent residents. The remainder are either winter residents of variable scarcity; or transients somewhat randomly passing through. As ace birdman Woody Bracey has rightly commented on the guide, “One note of caution to new birders. Most transients are seen in Abaco in the fall. They are not in bright breeding plumage at this time. That’s why they’re called ‘confusing fall warblers’. So don’t expect all the birds you see to look exactly like the photos. Females and juveniles are generally duller and may look very different from Spring males”.

Last season, Charmaine Albury saw 22 of the possible warbler species on Man-o-War Cay, a remarkably good proportion for a small island (I’d be interested if anyone can top that in one location).  Add prolific shorebirds including piping plovers to the mix and it looks as though MoW is fast becoming a reliable hotspot for birding. Charmaine’s species were:  Yellow-throated, Tennessee, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow, Pine, Bahama, Ovenbird, Worm Eating, Northern Waterthrush, Black and White, Cape May, Redstart, Northern Parula, Black-throated Blue, Palm, Yellow-rumped, Prairie, Hooded, Prothonotary, Orange-crowned, Blackburnian, BlackPoll.

AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO ABACO’S 37 WARBLER SPECIES

Until a couple of years ago, I lazily believed all of the warblers were (a) near identical and (b) yellow, differing only in their extent of yellowness. Not so. I know better now. The seasonal migration prompted me to devise a general guide to all the various warblers, so that the great diversity can be appreciated. The photos that follow show an example of each warbler, where possible (1) male and (2) taken on Abaco. Where I had no Abaco images – especially with the transients – I have used other mainstream birding resources and Wiki. All due credits at the foot of the post.

Abaco has 37 warbler species recorded for the main island and cays. They fall into 3 categories: 5 permanent residents (PR) that breed on Abaco (B), of which two are endemics; 21 winter residents (WR) ranging from ‘everyday’ species to rarities such as the Kirtland’s Warbler; and 11 transients, most of which you will be lucky to encounter. The codes given for each bird show the residence status and also the likelihood of seeing each species in its season, rated from 1 (very likely) to 5 (extreme rarities, maybe only recorded once or twice).

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

PERMANENT RESIDENTS

BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT Geothlypis rostrata PR B 1  ENDEMIC

Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco - Tom Reed

YELLOW WARBLER Setophaga petechia PR B 1 

Yellow Warbler, Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLER Setophaga pityophila PR B 1 

Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

PINE WARBLER Setophaga pinus PR B 1 

Pine Warbler, Abaco - Tom Reed

BAHAMA WARBLER Setophaga flavescens PR B 1 ENDEMIC

Bahama Warbler, Abaco - Alex Hughes

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

WINTER RESIDENTS  (COMMON)

OVENBIRD Seiurus aurocapilla WR 1 

OVENBIRD_Bahamas-Great Abaco_6639_Ovenbird_Gerlinde Taurer 2

WORM-EATING WARBLER Helmitheros vermivorum WR 2 

Worm-eating Warbler.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH  Parkesia noveboracensis WR 1 

BAHAMAS - Northern Waterthrush - Oct 2010 Becky Marvil

BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER Mniotilta varia WR 2 

Black & White Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

COMMON YELLOWTHROAT Geothlypis trichas WR 1 

Common Yellowthroat.Gilpin Pond.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley copy

AMERICAN REDSTART  Setophaga ruticilla WR 1 

Bahamas-Great Abaco_6334_American Redstart_Gerlinde Taurer copy

CAPE MAY WARBLER Setophaga tigrina WR 1 

Cape May Warbler (m), Abaco - Bruce Hallett

NORTHERN PARULA Setophaga americana WR 1 

Northern Parula, Abaco - Woody Bracey

BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER Setophaga caerulescens WR 2 

Black-throated Blue Warbler (m), Abaco - Bruce Hallett

PALM WARBLER  Setophaga palmarum WR 1 

Palm Warbler, Abaco - Peter Mantle

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER Setophaga coronata WR 2 

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco - Keith Salvesen (RH)

YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER Setophaga dominica WR 1 

Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

PRAIRIE WARBLER Setophaga discolor WR 1 

Bahamas-Great Abaco_6609_Prairie Warbler_Gerlinde Taurer copy 2

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

 WINTER RESIDENTS  (UNCOMMON TO RARE)

LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH Parkesia motacilla WR 3 

Louisiana waterthrush William H. Majoros WIKI

BLUE-WINGED WARBLER Vermivora cyanoptera WR 3

Blue-winged Warbler, Abaco (Becky Marvil)

Blue-winged Warbler. talainsphotographyblog

SWAINSON’S WARBLER  Limnothlypis swainsonii WR 4 

Swainson's Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

NASHVILLE WARBLER Oreothlypis ruficapilla WR 4 

Nashville Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

HOODED WARBLER Setophaga citrina WR 3 

Hooded Warbler, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

KIRTLAND’S WARBLER Setophaga kirtlandii WR 4 

Kirtland's Warbler (m), Abaco - Woody Bracey

MAGNOLIA WARBLER Setophaga magnolia WR 3 

Magnolia warbler, Abaco - Craig Nash

BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER Setophaga virens WR 3 

Black-throated Green Warbler - talainsphotographyblog

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

TRANSIENTS

PROTHONOTARY WARBLER Protonotaria citrea TR 3 

Prothonotary Warbler, Abaco - Ann Capling

TENNESSEE WARBLER Oreothlypis peregrina TR 4 

Tennessee Warbler Jerry Oldenettel Wiki

ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER  Oreothlypis celata TR 4 

Orange-crowned Warbler dominic sherony wiki

CONNECTICUT WARBLER Oporonis agilis TR 4 

Connecticut Warbler Central Park NYC 10000birds.com

KENTUCKY WARBLER Geothlypis formosa TR 4 

Kentucky_Warbler Steve Maslowski wiki - Version 2

BAY-BREASTED WARBLER Setophaga castanea TR 4 

Bay-breated warbler MDF Wiki

BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER Setophaga fusca TR 4

Blackburnian Warbler Mdf wiki

CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER Setophaga pensylvanica TR 4

Chestnut-sided Warbler talainsphotographyblog - Version 2

BLACKPOLL WARBLER Setophaga striata TR 3 

Blackpoll Warbler avibirds.com

WILSON’S WARBLER Cardellina pusilla TR 4 

Wilson's Warbler Michael Woodruff wiki

YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT Icteria virens TR 4 

Yellow-breasted Chat Emily Willoughby wiki

PHOTO CREDITS: GUIDE (1 – 37) Bruce Hallett (Header, 3, 9, 12, 14, 17, 21, 22); Tom Reed (1, 4); Tom Sheley (2, 7, 10); Alex Hughes (5); Gerlinde Taurer (6, 11, 18);  Becky Marvil (8, 20a); Woody Bracey (13, 24); Peter Mantle (15); RH (16); William H. Majoros (wiki)(19);  talainsphotographyblog (20b, 26, 34); Charmaine Albury (23); Craig Nash (25); Ann Capling (27); Jerry Oldenettel wiki (28); Dominic Sherony wiki (29); 10000birds (30); Steve Maslowski wiki (31);  MDF wiki (32, 33); Avibirds (35); Michael Woodruff wiki (36); Emily Willoughby wiki (37)

CHECKLIST & CODES based on the complete checklist and codes for Abaco devised by Tony White with Woody Bracey for “THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO” by Keith Salvesen

BAHAMA PINTAILS ON ABACO (WITH YELLOWLEGS PHOTOBOMB)


Bahama (Whitecheeked) Pintail with Lesser Yellowlegs, Gilpin Point, Abaco

BAHAMA PINTAILS ON ABACO (WITH YELLOWLEGS PHOTOBOMB)

I’m not going to pretend that these are particularly meritorious bird photos in any way. We were at Gilpin Point pond, always a good place to see birds and now an area that has regular parrot fly-pasts (and hang-around-squawkings). It’s the only place we have found a furtive little sora creeping guiltily around the reedy margins. It’s a reliable spot for herons and egrets of all kinds, white-cheeked (bahama) pintails by the score, black-necked stilts and lesser yellowlegs. Occasionally a northern pintail. I’ve seen belted kingfishers, bahama woodstars, cuban emeralds, american kestrels, spindalis and many more coppice birds besides. Pelicans have been seen on the rocks on the beach. Always worth a try! One day perhaps I’ll make a checklist… **

A ‘Preening of Pintail’ with a lesser yellowlegs feeding happily (if blurrily) behind themBahama (Whitecheeked) Pintail with Lesser Yellowlegs, Gilpin Point, Abaco

Less than a minute earlier… PHOTOBOMBBahama (Whitecheeked) Pintail with Lesser Yellowlegs, Gilpin Point, Abaco

The photobomb was a complete surprise, but I managed to snap the more elegant landing…Bahama (Whitecheeked) Pintail with Lesser Yellowlegs, Gilpin Point, Abaco

** As a postscript, I see that Pericles Maillis posted on eBird his very brief bird count at Gilpin pond and on the beach a couple of days after I posted this. He saw

  • 3 Blue-winged Teal (‘first sighting of bw teal for 2015 migration’)
  • 20 White-cheeked (Bahama) Pintail
  • 1 Great Blue Heron
  • 1 Snowy Egret
  • 2 Tricolored Heron
  • 5 Green Heron
  • 2 Killdeer
  • 2 Ruddy Turnstone
  • 10 Laughing Gull
  • 1 Caribbean Dove
  • 8 House Sparrow

Pics: RH

“CHECK OUT THE WEB” (2) SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS ON ABACO


Semipalmated Sandpiper, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

“CHECK OUT THE WEB” (2) SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS ON ABACO

Having recently headlined a post for SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS with a web-related title, I’m repeating it for Abaco’s other part-webbed shorebird, the semipalmated sandpiper. Either it’s so apposite that it doesn’t need changing; or else I lack the imagination to think up something new…

Semipalmated Sandpiper (juv), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)
semipalmateThis attractive little sandpiper Calidris pusilla has the partially webbed feet that give it its name. In spring and fall these ‘peeps’ are the most numerous shorebirds on Abaco but they are just passing through on their migration further south – so-called ‘transients’. Flocks of these birds may be arriving any moment now on a beach near you. The signifiers are black legs, a short, straight dark bill, and a body that is white underneath and brown /gray on top, tinged lighter on the head and neck. 

Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla (MDF) 

SO THEY’RE EASY TO SPOT ON THE SHORELINE?

Not really, I’m afraid. This species is very easy to confuse with other small shorebirds (with which they happily mingle), especially the less common western sandpiper which has a slightly longer and downturned bill. It takes an experienced birder to tell them apart. The most reliable way – to see the feet to check for the partial webbing between the toes – is far from easy. A photograph of the bird as it picks its way across sand, tide margins or mud may be best, if you can zoom in on the feet. The webbing is just visible in both the images above and the one below. 

 Semipalmated sandpiper (Thomas W. Gorman : Conserve Wildlife NJ

WHERE DO SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS LIVE?

These are birds of the far north – Canada’s tundras and Alaska, close to water – where they breed and lay their eggs in scrapes. Rather sweetly, the male makes several prospective nests for the female to choose her favourite and furnish with grasses etc. Both adults share incubation duties. The chicks are independent almost as soon as they are hatched. Then in early fall they head many miles south to warmer places, of which Abaco is one of the most northerly, principally as a stopover for rest before continuing their journey to the coastal margins of South America. The migrating flocks may contain tens of thousands of birds. Of the many range maps around, this one from the excellent avibirds.com shows the marked contrast between the summer and winter habitats very clearly. 

Semipalmated Sandpiper distribution map (Avibirds.com)

Semipalmated Sandpiper (Dick Daniels Wiki)

HOW DO THEY COMPARE IN SIZE WITH OTHER SANDPIPERS?

The SPSP is one of the smallest shorebirds, the female being slightly larger than the male. This image shows 2 of them in the company of a much larger white-rumped sandpiper (also a transient on Abaco) for comparison.White-rumped Sandpiper + 2 semi-palmated(Woody Bracey)1 copy 2

Time now to get the binoculars out (now where on earth are they?) and patrol the beach to catch the first of these little birds as they begin to arrive in considerable numbers during their fall migration.Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

ADDENDUM a recent SPSP from Bruce Hallett, in which the semipalmation can be seen Semipalmated Sandpiper (Bruce Hallett)

Credits: Bruce Hallett (1, 2), MDF (3), Thomas Gorman / Conserve Wildlife Foundation NJ (4), Avibirds (infographic), Dick Daniels (5), Woody Bracey (6) [& comments – cheers], Alex Hughes (7)