THE HUMMER’S TALE: A BAHAMA WOODSTAR’S RESCUE ON EXUMA


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THE HUMMER’S TALE: A BAHAMA WOODSTAR’S RESCUE ON EXUMA

This blog usually stays pretty close to base on Abaco, with occasional forays to other parts of the Bahamas. Inagua for example, for amazing photos of the annual FLAMINGO banding. Now it’s time for a visit to Exuma. In July, a resident of Stocking Island emailed me asking for advice about a rescued hummingbird that had arrived on her porch and could not – or would not – fly. Caroyln had nursed her – a female Bahama Woodstar – for 5 days and was worried about her (lack of) progress.

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Being an amateur in these matters, and some 4000 miles away, I wondered how much I could usefully contribute. However for the next few days Carolyn and I kept in touch and exchanged ideas. The bird was apparently uninjured, was able to feed a bit and to drink sugar water from a syringe. However without being able to fly, her chances of survival were minimal.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Eventually the hummer start to practise some fluttering, which was a good sign. That’s her above, in the widow behind the greenery. We worked on various ideas to encourage a flying instinct. I suggested putting her on a low box to see what happened… If the fluttering worked to any extent, a gradual increase in take-off height might do the trick.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This seemed promising, except that the bird’s left wing fluttered twice as fast as her right wing. This suggested some sort of lack of co-ordination that might explain why the natural instinct to fly was somehow surpressed. However by Day 10 we had progress, if not actual lift-off.

By now the bird was starting to look less bedraggled and a lot stronger. My suggested names (‘Hummy’; ‘Humela’) didn’t find favour; Carolyn simply called her ‘Baby’. A potential fruit-fly factory on a banana was constructed.photo

At times, Baby was somewhat passive, but it’s possible that Carolyn’s tuneful mockingbird was a confusing element… You can see she was well catered for, with sustenance, fresh air and a nice view.

The next stage was to devise an outdoor flight plan. There had been strong winds, but by Day 12 they had abated.  It was time to see what Baby could do in the fresh air, with tempting flowers all around. She had had some indoor twig perching practice. Her fluttering was stronger: maybe launching from a low branch outside would be the answer. Or the ground?

Mmmmm. 3 failed attempts. Not encouraging. And Carolyn needed to leave Exuma imminently. Luckily, a new life for Baby was at hand with a family in Georgetown who were able to supply a happy ending, having cared for hummingbirds and being perfectly set up with a screened porch with shrubs, flowers, feeders… and fruit flies. Hummer heaven. I am waiting to hear the very end of the story… did Baby ever fly, or is she so pampered in her new home that there is no need for her to budge? And when I get some news, I will post it here.

Bahamas Map  Exuma

‘THE AUK’ JOURNAL: SUMMER BIRDS ON ABACO & IN THE BAHAMAS 1905


THE AUK

A Quarterly Journal of Ornithology

 

THE AUK is a quarterly journal published by the AOU specialising in promoting the scientific study of birds by means of original peer-reviewed reports. It has been in continuous publication since 1884, and can lay claim to be a (the?) foremost journal in its field. Here is the front page of  the first volume of the journal

The 1905 Vol 22 No. 2 contains a 22 page study by Glover M Allen entitled SUMMER BIRDS IN THE BAHAMAS. If you aren’t a particularly dedicated birder, my advice is ‘look away now’ and move on to a page, post or other occupation that interests you more. For the remaining 2 of you, stay tuned in. I thank you both. It will be worth it…

The article was published at a time when ornithological survey of the Bahamas was in its infancy. Cory’s famous list of birds collected from the islands had been published a mere 15 years earlier. Allen details his time spent with 2 companions – much of it on Abaco – as they investigated birdlife and recorded their findings. That aspect comprises the first part of the article. The second part is equally  fascinating: their list of bird species, with commentary, remarks and comparisons thrown in, together with some of the local names for the birds. Some of these are still in use, others perhaps long-forgotten. Is a Least Tern still known as a ‘Kill-’em-Polly’? Here are some highlights for busy people:

FLAMINGO / SPOONBILL Of particular interest is the recording of the apparently imminent loss of the flamingo (“fillymingo”) from the Northern Bahamas – a single colony only still surviving on the Abaco Marls by 1905. Allen and his group found only one roseate spoonbill, also on the Marls (we were also lucky enough to see a single spoonbill on the Marls in June)

BAHAMA PARROT Those who follow the fortunes of these fine birds on this blog or elsewhere will be especially interested in the following extract, which suggest that at the start of the c20, the species had all but died out on Abaco: “Amazona bahamensis (Bryant). We were interested to learn through the captain of our schooner, that a few parrots still exist on Great Abaco. He told us of having seen a flock near Marsh Harbor the year before (1903) and in previous years had some- times observed a flock in late summer at that part of the island. We learned that at Acklin’s Island about 14o miles south of Nassau, parrots still nest in numbers and the young birds are regularly taken from the nest when fledged,and bronght to Nassau to be sold as pets” I will be posting about the parrots later this month, but suffice to say here that the current estimate for Abaco parrots is now around 4000 birds, a significant increase since conservation measures and a predator control program were started some years ago.

BAHAMA WOODSTAR These endemic hummingbirds, now taking second place to the in-comer Cuban Emerald, were plainly everywhere then: “On all the islands and cays, wherever there was bush or tree growth, this humming- bird occurred” 

“PARAKEETS” There seems to have been a significant population of these, known then as ‘Bahama Grassquits’. What species were – or are -these? The description doesn’t quite match the ‘quit family candidates we are familiar with today.

OTHER SPECIES Avian taxononomy, with its frequent official changes of classification, is a confusing area… but it seems that in 1905 there were then 2 distinct species of Spindalis (now, one); and 3 Mockingbird varieties (now, two). But of course there may simply have been a naming adjustment since the article was published…

For those who have stayed awake till now, your prize is the following link to the whole 22-page (small pages!) article

BAHAMAS BIRDS PAPER 1905

 

BIRDS OF BAHAMA PALM SHORES, ABACO: FEEDER, COPPICE & BEACH


BIRDS OF BAHAMA PALM SHORES

I posted a while ago about a wonderful afternoon spent at BPS with nature guide and all-round Abaco knowledge mine Ricky Johnson. Three posts (Abaco Parrots; other birds; flower and plants) were later combined into the page ABACO ECO-TOUR (if you visit, apologies that the formatting is still out of whack after a blog format change)

Resident ANN CAPLING has kindly sent some photos of birds on her feeder, prompted by my post of her recent sighting of a PROTHONOTARY WARBLER, a bird not often encountered at BPS. The feeder photos were taken from indoors through glass, considering which they have come out very well. She also sent a brilliant photo of a tiny female Bahama Woodstar looking totally cute (not a word I normally use, but completely apt here, I think); and of 2 American Oystercatchers strutting along the BPS shoreline

PROTHONOTARY WARBLER

YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERON

INDIGO BUNTING (and 2 more dowdy admirers)

INDIGO BUNTING (2)

GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH

BAHAMA WOODSTAR HUMMINGBIRD

AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS

ANNA HUMMINGBIRDS ON A HANDHELD FEEDER – VIDEO


ANNA HUMMINGBIRDS ON A HANDHELD FEEDER

A brilliant hi-def video by the excellent ornitho-artist blogger BIRDSPOT. A very effective combination of the visual, amazing sound, and keeping very still. I realise you are highly unlikely to encounter one of these hummers on Abaco. But you might. Although they are normally found on the west coast of North America and inland from there, they have been regularly seen well outside their usual range, for example in Alaska, New York, Newfoundland and… Florida. So it’s only a matter of time before one slips across for a quick vacation in the northern Bahamas. Best not a pair, though. They are apparently very territorial, and the poor endemic Bahama Woodstar has enough trouble fighting its corner with the migrant Cuban Emerald… (credit: BIRDSPOT with thanks for use permission)

ABACO HUMMINGBIRDS: WOODSTAR & EMERALD SIGHTINGS MAP CHALLENGE


ABACO HUMMINGBIRDS: BAHAMA WOODSTAR & CUBAN EMERALD SIGHTINGS MAP

A while ago a new feature landed near the end of the right-hand sidebar. The idea was to put together an informal mapping of Woodstar and Emerald sightings on Abaco.

I put a few in as a start, hoping for more contributions, but so far it hasn’t been a popular item. Maybe it won’t work at all as a contributory feature, or maybe it just isn’t interesting if you live with the hummers. As an Abaco visitor (never having seen a hummingbird before. Except stuffed ones) they are a delight. A highlight. 

It’s worth another try, and I have revised the map slightly to make the two contribution / contact methods clearer. It can’t be made more interactive than that I’m afraid. If you go to the sidebar and click on ‘View larger map’, you’ll see the data in more detail.

The map might even test the theory that Woodstars are scarce where Emeralds are numerous.

If you’d like to add to the mapping, I just need the type of hummer; the location in reasonable detail so I can stick a pin in the map; month / year (e.g. 03/12) and I will do the rest…

YOUR FAVOURITE ABACO BIRD: VOTE NOW FROM THE 4 NOMINEES


A NEW BIRDING DIVERSION

BAHAMA WOODSTARS LEAD VOTE NOW POLL CLOSES 29 FEBRUARY 

This could be fun. Unless no one bothers to participate. I’ve just found out how to do this, having wondered for a while what the little widget did. There may be some way for you to put your own choice, but I am a slow learner. Another time maybe. For now,  you can positively opt out of the nominated birds – your very own protest vote. Or you can all just ignore the whole thing, as I rather fear may happen… If this prototype bombs, I’ve only wasted a couple of hours, after all…

UPDATE: After a week, the order is (1) Bahama Woodstar (2) Abaco Parrot (3) Western Spindalis (4=) Banaquit and ‘Sorry…’ The poor Tropicbird got no votes and has been removed…

 

SOUTH ABACO CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT 2011


Here is a clip taken from the excellent website THE ABACO SCIENTIST, with the kind permission of Dr Craig Layman of FIU. The brief summary of the South Abaco Bird Count 2011 by Elwood D. Bracey is of great interest, not least for the Delphi Club, from where guided Nature Tours take place and where there is a lot of enthusiasm for the birdlife of the island. 75 separate species were recorded this year, including all the known Abaconian endemics.

It is also a very fine photo of a male Bahama Woodstar courtesy of BIRD FORUM

HUMMINGBIRD WATCH: ABACO, BAHAMAS


‘HUMMER WATCH’

This might be entertaining. Possibly. I’ve stumbled into a way to make and embed a customisable Abaco map. The bright idea is to record sightings of hummingbirds on the main island and the Cays – both Cuban Emeralds and especiallyBahama Woodstars. See SIDEBAR, right-hand side, down at the bottom for the map, which is enlargeable and moveable.

Data entry I am the only person who can do this, because I had to make the map using my own G**gle account. So if you’ve got sightings  to add, that would be excellent. The most helpful thing would be to add a comment to this page or else to email me at rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com and I’ll do the pin-sticking. 

A useful format would be ‘BW (or CE) – Location (as precisely as possible, for sticking in the pin) – Date (MM/YY) – Initials – Comment (if any)’ 

BAHAMA WOODSTARS & CUBAN EMERALDS: THE HUMMINGBIRDS OF ABACO


THE HUMMINGBIRDS OF ABACO

At last I have got round to the hummingbirds. It’s quite simple. There are only two species of hummingbird on Abaco. The endemic variety is the Bahama Woodstar, one of only 3 endemic bird species on Abaco (the others are the Bahama Yellowthroat and the Bahama Swallow). The settled migrant is the Cuban Emerald.

               BAHAMA WOODSTAR                                    

 Calliphlox evelynae

Male and female Bahama Woodstars  (Photo Credit: Phil Brown – and VG too)

These hummingbirds are found throughout the Bahamas. They do not migrate, although are occasional vagrants in SE Florida. They breed all year round, the main season being in April. The female lays 2 elliptical white eggs, which she incubates for 15-18 days. As with humans, the female is mainly responsible for childcare while males go drinking at the nectar bar and hang out with their mates.

This BW was one of a small group at Hole-in-the-Wall. They were completely unconcerned by our presence, and we could get within arm’s length of them. Woodstars, though tame in human terms, can be aggressive and territorial. They are plentiful throughout the Bahamas except on Grand Bahama, Abaco and Andros. Significantly those are the only islands where the Cuban Emerald is found in any numbers. As with the native red and import grey squirrel problem in the UK, the migrant emerald is aggressive towards the woodstar, which is consequently rare where emeralds are abundant.

Here is their call (credit Jesse Fagan Xeno-canto)


Addition April 2012 Here is a seriously cute female Woodstar photographed by Ann Capling at Bahama Palm Shores, close to Ocean Drive – a really pretty little bird

At Delphi, you’ll frequently see emeralds, especially now that feeders with sugar water have been hung up for them. The pool area is a very good place to watch them. But there are occasional woodstars to be seen as well – in the coppice on the drives for example, and even on the feeders. The vague blur to the left of the feeder below is a woodstar in the millisecond between me pointing the camera and it flying away… Don’t bother to click to enlarge it – it’s a useless photo, I know, but it is evidence even at the lowest level

CUBAN EMERALD Chlorostilbon ricordii

                                        

There’s probably a great deal to be written about the emeralds, but not by me. Or not now, anyway.  The little you need to know from me is already covered above, and I haven’t yet discovered whether their childcare arrangements differ significantly from the woodstars. Probably not. So I’ll put in a selection of photos, and remark that it is strange how quickly they can change from sleek and slender birds to small rather cold and dispirited looking bundles of feathers. Both states are depicted below. Here’s what to listen for (credit Xeno-canto.org) 



Delphi – pool feeder

Delphi – pool feeder

Delphi – pool feeder

Delphi – far side of pool

Delphi – near pool

Delphi – front drive

Delphi – front drive

All the above birds were photographed at Delphi. We saw emeralds elsewhere, of course – in the pine forest, flicking across the logging tracks; on other Cays. The best sighting was during our day trip reef-snorkelling and island-hopping with Kay Politano, when we had an excellent lunch for 14 at Cracker P’s on Lubbers Cay (see future post about this and the island-hops). There was a bird feeder by our table, to which emeralds came and went throughout the meal. Here are some photos – I wanted to get them hovering, and kind of succeeded. More or less.




This link may or may not result in you hearing an emerald’s call. Let’s see if I can make it work…
http://www.xeno-canto.org/sounds/uploaded/LNEEOOWCQR/Emerald_Cuban_feedingcall_10122010_0831_0075.mp3

HUMMER FACTS
  • The colourful throat of a (male) bird is known as a ‘gorget’
  • Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards
  • There are 320 species of hummingbird worldwide
  • The smallest is the bee hummingbird of Cuba, at 2″ for an adult
  • John Gould, the c19 ornithologist and artist, invented many of the names to reflect the varied and iridescent colours of the birds.
  • Hummingbird wings beat as much as 75 times per second
  • Hummingbirds have the highest metabolic rate of any warm-blooded creature; also the largest hearts (proportionately, obviously…)
  • On TCI, the Bahama Woodstar is known as ‘The God Bird
  • There are many collective nouns, including a “bouquet”, “glittering”, “hover”, “shimmer”, and “tune” of hummingbirds 

“TO THE LIGHTHOUSE…” A TRIP TO HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, ABACO


A TRIP TO HOLE-IN-THE-WALL THROUGH THE NATIONAL PARK

You will need: One truck with plenty of fuel (for the return journey); courage, patience and determination; picnic; bird book – borrow the HALLETT (KS copy) from Club library; camera / binoculars; willingness to cope with and explore derelict buildings; good shoes if you want to walk from the lighthouse; life insurance if you want to climb the uninvitingly hazardous lighthouse stairs

Map credit as elsewhere

Like marriage, this expedition is not by any to be undertaken lightly or ill- advisedly… Driving to the lighthouse at Hole-in-the-Wall involves a 15-mile (each way) return journey on a track south from the Highway. It starts promisingly but gradually turns nasty as the track degenerates. Rental cars are banned; Sandy will have strong views about using the Club car… Realistically, it can only be done in a truck. We took a truck… I don’t want to be unduly off-putting but we were still considering turning back at mile 14. Especially at mile 14. The view is as shown below for most of the way, the trees thinning out as one nears the coast.An optimistically good stretch of track

During the journey, you pass through the heart of the National Park, breeding ground for the Abaco Parrots. Uniquely for this species, they nest on the ground in limestone holes, making them vulnerable to predators. Logging roads cross the track at regular intervals, and are a good place to pull in and look for the birds of the pine forest –from large red-tailed hawks through gray catbirds, loggerhead kingbirds and hairy woodpeckers down to small warblers. If you take a picnic with you, you’ll have an excellent opportunity to bird watch.Loggerhead Kingbird in the National Park

This is what you will find when (if?) you reach the end of the road…

Park here. Mind the rocks. Far from advisable to continue further…


Hole-in-the-wall Lighthouse and outbuildings

The Entrance

No sign of renovation in Spring 2010

Land’s End – the southern tip of Great Abaco, and a good place for whale-watching

The internal staircase – access is easy, the door isn’t even kept shut let alone locked

THE UNEXPECTED REWARD for our endurance was to find, beside the path back to the car, a small group of Bahama Woodstars. This is the endemic species of hummingbird, and they are rare where there are the Cuban Emerald imports (at Delphi, for example). The ones we saw were all female – the males are iridescent green with a purple front. They were amazingly unafraid of us, flying back and forth around us,  and quite happy to perch almost within arms’ reach and watch us watching them. They were completely enchanting, and cheered us up for the forthcoming journey back – fortunately it gets easier – and a picnic by a logging road once the track-terror had subsided.

STOP PRESS: Courtesy of batfa242 / Panoramio who braved the dodgy-looking spiral staircase in the lighthouse, here is a fantastic shot of ‘Land’s End’ taken across the lamp and through the glass. Many thanks for permission to use this – it makes me regret not having had the spirit of adventure to make the climb… Double-click for a very detailed view, including the in-built fresnel lens… (and see HOPE TOWN LIGHTHOUSE post)

POST SCRIPT: I am very grateful to Marinas.com for permission to download this wonderful aerial image of Hole-in-the-Wall lighthouse and its outbuildings, looking towards the southern tip of Abaco. They have generously enabled a completely cost and watermark-free download. I have added the © detail. Thanks, guys.