“CATCHING THE EYE”: OYSTERCATCHERS (+ BONUS ID TIPS)


American Oystercatcher AMOY eye close-up (Todd Pover / CWFNJ)

 “CATCHING THE EYE”: OYSTERCATCHERS (+ BONUS ID TIP)

I’m focusing (ha!) on oystercatcher eyes today. Like the extraordinary one in the header image. Notice the bright orangey-red ‘orbital ring’, the egg-yolk-reminiscent eye and the pitch black iris. An eye-catching and unmistakeable feature of this handsome black and white shorebird, the American Oystercatcher.

Here’s another AMOY eye, with a different smudge of black by the iris. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that AMOY specialists are able to ID individual birds at least in part by their different eye markings. And you can see that the eye-ring smartly matches the beak into the bargain.

American Oystercatcher AMOY eye close-up (Todd Pover / CWFNJ)

This wonderful photograph of a loving AMOY pair with their precious egg safely encircled by a rocky nest was taken on LBI, NJ by Northside Jim, whose amazing photos I sometimes include. See how brightly the eyes of each bird stand out, like tiny archery targets.american-oystercatcher-t2-eggs (Northside Jim : Exit 63)

“The World is Mine Oyster”

The AMOY shot below was generously put on Wiki by Dan Pancamo. He captioned it perfectly.The world's mine oyster - American Oystercatcher AMOY (Dan Pancamo Wiki)

OYSTERCATCHER ID TIPS

A while ago, when I was choosing AMOY photographs for publication, I idly wondered what was the difference between them and Eurasian Oystercatchers (yes, yes, I hear you – apart from geographical, I mean…). At a first comparative glance, to me they looked remarkably similar in coloration and size. Assuming both species were to be discovered on the same shoreline, how best might one distinguish them? The main differences seemed to be:

  • Leg colouring differs, AMOY legs being generally pale pink as opposed to the stronger coloured legs of the EUROY (if they can be called that). However there are considerable EUROY variations (see below), from pink to orange to reddish, that are presumably seasonal. The leg colour, assuming they are visible to the watcher, is not quite a definitive identifier.
  • Both species have black heads and necks, but the AMOY’s back plumage shades to dark brown. But how distinctive would that be in low light or indifferent weather?
  • Mrs RH, looking over my shoulder, saw it at once: the eyes. If you can see the eyes, you can tell instantly what make of OY you are looking at*. Here are a some Eurasian Oystercatchers showing their own distinctively red eyes and orbital rings.

Eurasian Oystercatcher (Elis Simpson)Eurasian Oystercatcher - Haematopus ostralegus (Elis Simpson)Haematopus_ostralegus_-Scotland_(Snowmanradio / wiki)

As so often, I have since found that the excellent Birdorable site has nailed the differences clearly and simply. Eye colour, leg colour and – less obviously – the AMOY’s brownish back as opposed to the EUROY’s entirely black and white body. Sorted.

american-oystercatcher (Birdorable) eurasian-oystercatcher (Birdorable)

RECOMMENDED SHOREBIRD SITE WADER QUEST

*I realise there are a number of other oystercatcher species around the world, but for obvious reasons they don’t really come into consideration for present purposes…

Credits: Todd Pover / CWFNJ (1, 2); Northside Jim EXIT63 (3); Dan Pancamo (4); Elis Simpson / Wader Quest (5, 6); snowmanradio / wiki (7); Wader Quest, Birdorable, magpie pickings and Mrs RH for sharp… er… eyes

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY: ABACO’S COMPLETE CHECKLIST


American Oystercatcher, Abaco (Tom Sheley)

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY: ABACO’S COMPLETE CHECKLIST

Abaco is home to 33 shorebird species. For a few, the islands are a permanent residence; for many others they are winter quarters; and some species are visitors transient in their migrations, or rare vagrants. Last year I produced 3 posts with plenty of photos showcasing 26 of the species, the remaining 7 all being transients or vagrants. 

Willet in flight.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley small2

I divided the species into 3 categories: sandpipers & kin; plovers; and a catch-all ‘large shorebird’ group that included one or two sandpipers. Of the 26 birds featured and shown in the main checklist below, 23 are ones you might reasonably hope or expect to encounter on Abaco, though some only if you are lucky or your field-craft is excellent. The others are the long-billed dowitcher, American avocet and Wilson’s phalarope (of which only one has ever been seen on Abaco, with a photo to prove it)

Black-necked Stilt, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

CLICK A LINK TO INVESTIGATE

LARGE SHOREBIRDS

SANDPIPERS

PLOVERS

Wilson's Plover chick.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley JPG copy

THE COMPLETE CHECKLIST

The codes tell you, for any particular bird, when you may see it (P = permanent, WR = winter resident, TR = transient, V = vagrant); whether it breeds (B) on Abaco; and your chance of seeing it, graded from easy (1) to vanishingly unlikely (5). 

  • Black-necked Stilt                             Himantopus mexicanus                PR B 3
  • American Avocet                               Recurvirostra americana             WR 4
  • American Oystercatcher                  Haematopus palliatus                   PR B 2
  • Black-bellied Plover                         Pluvialis squatarola                       WR 1
  • American Golden-Plover                Pluvialis dominica                           TR 4
  • Wilson’s Plover                                 Ochthodromus wilsonia                 PR B 2
  • Semipalmated Plover                      Charadrius semipalmatus             WR 2
  • Piping Plover                                     Charadrius melodus                       WR 3
  • Killdeer                                               Charadrius vociferus                     WR 2
  • Spotted Sandpiper                            Actitis macularius                          WR 1
  • Solitary Sandpiper                            Tringa solitaria                              WR 2
  • Greater Yellowlegs                            Tringa melanoleuca                      WR 2
  • Willet                                                   Tringa semipalmata                     PR B 2
  • Lesser Yellowlegs                              Tringa flavipes                               WR 3
  • Ruddy Turnstone                              Arenaria interpres                        PR 2
  • Red Knot                                             Calidris canutus                            WR 3
  • Sanderling                                          Calidris alba                                   WR 1
  • Dunlin                                                 Calidris alpina                               WR 2
  • Least Sandpiper                                Calidris minutilla                          WR 2
  • White-rumped Sandpiper               Calidris fuscicollis                          TR 3
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper                Calidris pusilla                               TR 2
  • Western Sandpiper                           Calidris Mauri                                TR 2
  • Short-billed Dowitcher                    Limnodromus griseus                    WR 1
  • Long-billed Dowitcher                     Limnodromus scolopaceus           WR 4
  • Wilson’s Snipe                                   Gallinago delicata                          WR 3
  • Wilson’s Phalarope                           Phalaropus tricolor                        V 4

Semipalmated Sandpiper (juv), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

For the sake of completeness, the other 7 species of shorebird recorded for Abaco – all transients or vagrants – are:

  • Upland Sandpiper                     Bartramia longicauda             TR 4
  • Whimbrel                                    Numenius phaeopus                 TR 4
  • Hudsonian Godwit                   Limosa haemastica                    V5
  • Marbled Godwit                         Limosa fedoa                              V5
  • Buff-breasted Sandpiper          Tryngites subruficollis             V5
  • Pectoral Sandpiper                   Calidris melanotos                    TR 3
  • Stilt Sandpiper                           Calidris himantopus                 TR 3

Please excuse the wonky column formatting, an aspect of listing that WordPress doesn’t seem to cater for…

Ruddy Turnstone Abaco Bahamas. 2.12.Tom Sheley copy 2

Photo Credits: Tom Sheley, Bruce Hallett, Keith Salvesen

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY – ABACO’S 33 SHORE SPECIES (1) LARGE BIRDS


Wilson's Plover chick 5.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy small

Wilson’s Plover chick, Delphi Club Beach, Abaco (Tom Sheley)

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY: ABACO’S 33 SHORE SPECIES (1)

Abaco is home to 33 shorebird species. Like the human residents of the main island and cays, some are permanent; some are winter visitors arriving to enjoy a warmer climate; and some a transients (e.g. Delphi Club members). To celebrate today being World Shorebirds Day, I am going to feature Abaco’s quota of the world’s shorebirds in 3 posts over the next few days. I’ll start with the definitive checklist of Abaco’s shorebirds compiled by Bahamas Birding author and authority Tony White  with Woody Bracey especially for the BIRDS OF ABACO. I have kept to the conventional / official species order. I’ve let the formatting run wild, though… problematic in WordPress. I may try to sort it. Or perhaps not…

AMERICAN AVOCET Recurvirostra americana   WR 4
American Avocet, New Providence - Tony Hepburn

The codes will tell you, for any particular bird, when you may see it (P = permanent, WR = winter resident, TR = transient, V = vagrant); whether it breeds (B) on Abaco; and your chance of seeing it, graded from easy (1) to vanishingly unlikely (5).

  • Black-necked Stilt                             Himantopus mexicanus              PR B 3
  • American Avocet                               Recurvirostra americana             WR 4
  • American Oystercatcher                  Haematopus palliatus                   PR B 2
  • Black-bellied Plover                          Pluvialis squatarola                      WR 1
  • American Golden-Plover                 Pluvialis dominica                          TR 4
  • Wilson’s Plover                                  Ochthodromus wilsonia               PR B 2
  • Semipalmated Plover                        Charadrius semipalmatus             WR 2
  • Piping Plover                                      Charadrius melodus                     WR 3
  • Killdeer                                                 Charadrius vociferus                  WR 2
  • Spotted Sandpiper                              Actitis macularius                       WR 1
  • Solitary Sandpiper                             Tringa solitaria                              WR 2
  • Greater Yellowlegs                             Tringa melanoleuca                      WR 2
  • Willet                                                     Tringa semipalmata                   PR B 2
  • Lesser Yellowlegs                               Tringa flavipes                              WR 3
  • Ruddy Turnstone                                 Arenaria interpres                        PR 2
  • Red Knot                                                Calidris canutus                         WR 3
  • Sanderling                                             Calidris alba                                WR 1
  • Dunlin                                                    Calidris alpina                             WR 2
  • Least Sandpiper                                   Calidris minutilla                          WR 2
  • White-rumped Sandpiper                  Calidris fuscicollis                           TR 3
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper                  Calidris pusilla                                TR 2
  • Western Sandpiper                             Calidris Mauri                                TR 2
  • Short-billed Dowitcher                      Limnodromus griseus                     WR 1
  • Long-billed Dowitcher                      Limnodromus scolopaceus             WR 4
  • Wilson’s Snipe                                     Gallinago delicata                         WR 3
  • Wilson’s Phalarope                            Phalaropus tricolor                          V 4

Of these 26 birds, 23 are ones you might encounter, though some only if you are lucky or your field-craft is excellent. If you happen upon a Long-billed Dowitcher or an American Avocet, tell someone! And the photo I will be posting of a Wilson’s Phalarope is of the first specimen ever recorded for Abaco. And it so happens that I can illustrate them with photographs, mostly from the book archive… What a coincidence. All except 3 were photographed on Abaco; and I have purposely chosen many that were photographed on the lovely 1-mile curve of white sand watched over by the Delphi Club and historically named ‘Rolling Harbour’.

For the sake of completeness, the other 7 species of shorebird recorded for Abaco – all transients or vagrants – are:

  • Upland Sandpiper                     Bartramia longicauda             TR 4
  • Whimbrel                                    Numenius phaeopus                 TR 4
  • Hudsonian Godwit                   Limosa haemastica                   V5
  • Marbled Godwit                         Limosa fedoa                               V5
  • Buff-breasted Sandpiper          Tryngites subruficollis            V5
  • Pectoral Sandpiper                   Calidris melanotos                    TR 3
  • Stilt Sandpiper                           Calidris himantopus                 TR 3

photo

OK let’s see some of the birds. I’ll post one shot of each of the 26 birds to show them at their best in their perfect environment – wild coastline. Some of these species haven’t yet featured in the blog at all, or else not for a while. Let’s go with some of the larger and / or long-beaked species, including a couple of matching pairs.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS  Tringa melanoleuca   WR 2Greater Yellowlegs LR. Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley.2.12 copy 2

LESSER YELLOWLEGS  Tringa flavipes  WR 3Lesser Yellowlegs.Evening on the Marls.Abaco Bahamas.2.13.Tom Sheley small2

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER  Limnodromus griseus  WR 1Short-billed Dowitcher (NB), Abaco - Bruce Hallett 

LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER  Limnodromus scolopaceus   WR 4Long-billed Dowitcher Mike Baird Wiki

WILLETT  Tringa semipalmata  PR B 2Willet.Abaco Bahamas.2.13.Tom Sheley small

WILSON’S SNIPE  Gallinago delicata   WR 3Wilson's Snipe, Abaco - Woody Bracey

BLACK-NECKED STILT  Himantopus mexicanus  PR B 3Black-necked Stilt, Abaco - Tom Sheley

I’m adding a free  bonus stilt in flight, because it’s such a great shot…Black-necked stilt, Abaco - Alex Hughes

AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER  Haematopus palliatus PR B 2American Oystercatcher, Abaco 5.1 Tom Sheley

Part 2 will be about the Plovers. Or maybe the Sandpipers

RELATED POSTS

WILLET

BLACK-NECKED STILT

AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER

 Photo Credits: Tom Sheley, Bruce Hallett, Tony Hepburn, Mike Baird, Woody Bracey, Alex Hughes

photo                 photo              photo

‘AMOY’ THERE! AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS ON ABACO


American Oystercatcher.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

‘AMOY’ THERE! AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS ON ABACO

The American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus is a familiar shorebird, with the significant advantage that it cannot be mistaken for any other shore species either to look at or to hear. All those little sandpipers and plovers can be very confusing; the handsome AMOY stands out from the crowd. I am posting about this species now as a prelude to WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY on September 6th. The link will take you to the official Facebook Page where you will find more information, including how to sign up for a pleasant day’s birding, with the chance to report your sightings.world-shorebirds-day1000

The header picture and the next 2 were taken by photographer and ace birder Tom Sheley on the Delphi Club beach. Unsurprisingly, we used one of these wonderful photographs as a full-page image in The Delphi Club Guide to THE BIRDS OF ABACO.

American Oystercatcher.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley American Oystercatcher.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Bruce Hallett, author of the essential field guide ‘Birds of the Bahamas and the TCI’ (featured in the sidebar) was a major contributor to the book. Not just with his excellent photographs, either, such as the two below. His knowledge, his patience with my queries, and his scrupulous reading of the final draft to eliminate my errors were vital to the project. American Oystercatcher.Abaco Bahamas.Bruce HallettAmerican Oystercatcher.Abaco Bahamas.Bruce Hallett163952

Here are two recordings of oystercatchers, unmistakeable call sounds that will probably be instantly familiar.

Lopez Lanus / Xeno-Canto

Krzysztof Deoniziak / Xeno-Canto

I like the rather dishevelled appearance of this AMOY from Jim Todd, fly fisherman, author of ‘The Abaco Backcountry’, and intrepid kayak explorer around the coast of Abaco.American oystercatcher Abaco (Jim Todd)

The next two photos were taken on the Delphi beach by Charlie Skinner, another contributor to the book. Below them is an ‘in-flight’ shot by Bruce Hallett.American Oystercatcher, Abaco (Charlie Skinner)American Oystercatcher, Abaco (Charlie Skinner)     American Oystercatcher.Abaco Bahamas.Bruce Hallett

This fine video from Audubon shows close-up views of the American Oystercatcher, and unleashes more of the distinctive call-sounds – an insistent wittering – of the species. [vimeo https://vimeo.com/48479131%5D

For some time, I found it difficult to distinguish American and Eurasian Oystercatchers. The markings of both species are variable according to gender, age, season and so on, but are generally very similar. Mrs RH noticed the salient difference at once – the eyes. The AMOY has bright orange eyes with red eye-rings; the EUROY’s eyes are the reverse colouring, as this example shows.Eurasian Oystercatcher. BBC

 Credits: Tom Sheley, Bruce Hallett, Jim Todd, Charlie Skinner, Xeno-Canto, Audubon, BBC
world-shorebirds-day1000

HURRICANE SANDY AFTERMATH: ABACO PICTURES, NEWS FROM DELPHI CLUB, BAHAMAS & MANATEE UPDATE


DAMAGE FROM HURRICANE SANDY AT THE DELPHI CLUB, ABACO

The storm has passed from the Bahamas and the clear-up is underway – but further north communities are bracing themselves for the onslaught. The news today  from contacts, from Facebook and the web generally, is of thankfully little lasting damage, with power and comms restored in many places. There’s been plenty of flooding – eg Sandy Point – and tree / plant mayhem.

The Delphi Club was again, as with Irene last year, almost directly beneath the eye of the storm. Then, a couple of leaves were lost from the pineapple crown (above), a few fittings were smashed, and the gardens were unceremoniously rearranged. Peter Mantle, Delphi Club supremo, has posted his record of the last few days at the club – the approach of Sandy, the storm, and the aftermath. I am posting extracts below, to be read (chronologically) from the bottom entry to the top of the page. For those who haven’t experienced a storm of this violence, Peter’s account gives a vivid picture of the before, the during and the after…

Apologies for having posted about Sandy in detail with maps etc, and at the crucial time tailing off  while I was away and had only an iPhone™  and a sporadic connection…

STOP PRESS: AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS – BRAVE OR FOOLISH? 29 October

Peter Mantle has just sent me a ‘Sandy’ photo from the Delphi Club beach, showing a group of oystercatchers on the rocks at one end of Rolling Harbour. Storm detritus already festoons the rocks. Have the birds seen what’s about to hit them? Are they waterproof? 

STOP PRESS: BMMRO MANATEE UPDATE 29 October

The BMMRO has posted news from Sandy Point and for those who have been asking after manatee Georgie’s welfare, an update:

“Hi Everyone, everything is ok here at the research center! We are working on getting information on Georgie’s whereabouts and we will happily update everyone as soon as we hear anything. There’s still a bit of damage here in Abaco that is preventing travel but hopefully we will be able to get up to Georgie soon”.

STOP PRESS: SOME ABACO IMAGES 28 October

(credits to Timothy Roberts & Cindy James Pinder and their facebook posts)

SANDY TAKES BONEFISH; DARK HUMOUR ON DARK DAYS

OCTOBER 27th Among the many bits of minor damage caused by Hurricane Sandy was the destruction of our bonefish weather vane. This had been hand-made by the other Sandy, our general manager, and stood atop his lodgings. Snapped off, the copper creation was found nearby, bruised and dented, rather like ourselves.

Yet again, we have been very fortunate – staff and guests are all well. And most of the damage caused by the 100mph winds was minor. The storm had its moments, but the worst bits were at nighttime when many people were huddled safe in bed. Lots of bumps and bangs provided a spooky soundtrack, but it was more of a B movie than a full-blown Hollywood epic. That said, I hate to think what a really big Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricane would be like.

We still have no mains electricity; thank God for the gennie. We have no phones or mobile connection, so we have little idea of what is going on elsewhere on the island. We hope for the best but fear not all will have escaped as lightly as we did. Some of the staff from Crossing Rocks are stranded here by flooding. But the wireless internet is back so all will soon be revealed.

Yet again, the gardens have been shredded. The banana trees have been snapped off mid-fruiting. My favorite banyan tree has broken in half again, having nearly bounced back from Irene. The big Bismark ferns are banjaxed, the bougainvillea is blasted leafless and the pool is a mess. But who cares. We are fine. Dunkirk spirit? Well, very black humour and spirits of a different kind have seen us through.

“I survived Sandy” T-shirts are now in preparation, but that’s a staff joke about their hyperactive and heroic boss…..

A BAD HAIR DAY…

OCTOBER 25th It is getting distinctly breezy here, with winds as bad as any Irish gale. But Hurricane Sandy, now upgraded to a Category 2 hurricane, is still some 18 hours away and currently features average winds of 105mph with higher gusts. It may get even worse, they say. So no fishing today. More guests have made it in. Bahamasair even ran a plane out of Nassau at first light this morning.

While we still have power and phones, the lines are buzzing and we are glued to the internet. It seems odd to see that Sandy is the lead news story on the BBC. Non-technical guests have adjourned to the library (where “A Perfect Storm” and “Winnie the Poo and the Blustery Day” are current favourites). The air of gloom is more attributable to the fact that Arsenal lost at home last night than to any fears for personal safety.

We may go quiet for a while.

NOTHING VERY FEMININE ABOUT THIS SANDY

OCTOBER 24th, noon Tropical storms are now given boys’ and girls’ names alternately; in the old days they were all girls. The one that currently threatens us is Sandy, a name that is more commonly applied to females in this part of the world. But there is nothing too feminine about this storm; as the forecast deteriorates and Sandy intensifies into a hurricane over Jamaica, we are becoming more and more concerned by its macho capabilities.

The National Hurricane Centre now predicts that Sandy will pass very close to Abaco – the predicted path having shifted overnight. As it now looks, the eye may pass just 25 miles from us, which would basically be a direct hit since damaging winds spread far out from the centre. We are going to have to keep a very close on on this little girl over the next 48 hours.

ALL EYES ON SANDY

OCTOBER 23rd No sooner has the Club reopened for the new season than a tropical storm appears on the horizon. And, in a twist of divine humour, it’s been christened after our general manager, Sandy.

Sandy (the mostly human version) is tracking Sandy (the swirling tempest) on an hourly basis. As it now stands, we are in the “cone” of the likely track of the storm over coming days. Currently south of Jamaica, TS Sandy is turning north and could yet morph into a hurricane. It’s expected to be over or near us by Friday night, with “average” winds of nearly 60mph and gusts of up to 90mph.

Hatches will therefore be battened, outdoor furniture put back indoors and supplies of grog reinforced. The lucky fishers in residence will have to take a breather, while the new chef, John, will receive a special form of baptism.

Tropical storms this late in the year are a great rarity. Somehow that is not very reassuring just now. But the forecast for the following week is rather better… 

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