THE ‘THRUSH’ THAT ISN’T: NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH ON ABACO


Northern Waterthrush.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco.3.Tom Sheley

THE ‘THRUSH’ THAT ISN’T: NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH ON ABACO

The pretty thrush-like warbler Northern Waterthrush Parkesia noveboracensis is a common winter resident on Abaco. Despite the name it’s not a real thrush, but it is larger than most of the compact winter warblers that heed the the migratory instinct that “It’s Better in the Bahamas” and make Abaco their overwintering habitat.

Northern Waterthrush.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco.1.Tom Sheley

HOW CAN YOU TELL SIMILAR PLUMAGED THRUSHES FROM THESE GUYS?

The simplest rule of thumb is that true thrushes have spotted or speckled chests; whereas waterthrushes have streaked chests. That, and the fact that similar thrush species are generally larger. A number of true thrushes are recorded for Abaco, many quite similar to the waterthrush; but the speckled vs spotted distinction should be your guide. If a sighting is momentary or in bad light, it’s anyone’s guess…

Northern Waterthrush, Abaco (Becky Marvil)

northern_waterthrush_rangemap(1)

APART FROM THRUSHES, ANY OTHER BIRDS I MIGHT CONFUSE IT WITH?

There’s another far less commonly found waterthrush that also overwinters on Abaco – the closely-related Louisiana waterthrush Parkesia motacilla. I have no Abaco photos of one – it really is quite rare – so I’ve had to borrow an open source one. The Cornell Lab explains the differences between the two waterthrushes thus: “Northern usually has stripes on throat, a slightly smaller bill, a thinner and off-white or cream eyestripe that does not extend as far onto the nape, less pink legs, and a more yellowish wash on the underparts”. Maybe one can generalise that the northern is overall a yellower bird, and its legs are more brown than pink.

Lousiana waterthrush – rarer on Abaco than the northern but a potential source of confusionLouisiana_Waterthrush_(Parkesia_motacilla) Magnus Manske : Wiki

WHAT’S THAT POSH TAXONOMIC NAME ALL ABOUT, THEN?

The Mr Parkes in question was Kenneth Carroll Parkes (1922 – 2007), an American ornithologist and Chief Curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh. The noveboracencis part simply means ‘from New York’ in Latin (novum – new; Eboracum – York); and the -ensis is a common suffix meaning ‘from’. Mr Parkes’s bird from New York.

Kenneth Carrol ParkesMr Parkes

Northern Waterthrush, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)
Both species have similar habits. For example, on the ground, they tend to walk rather than hop, ‘bobbing’ their butts (technical term) as they go. They forage on the ground for insects, snails and small mollusks etc.
  
Northern Waterthrush, Abaco 1 (Gerlinde Taurer)
I’m not a huge fan of attempts at phonetic renditions of bird calls – the ‘Did you have a nice day today dear?’ and the ‘I’d like a very big Kalik please’ and so on. But for what it is worth, the song of the northern waterthrush has been interpreted as “a loud swee swee chit chit weedleoo”.  This is what is sounds like in real life. Go figure.
Northern Waterthrush, Abaco 2 (Gerlinde Taurer).jpg

Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 2, 8); Becky Marvil (3); Magnus Manske (4); Bruce Hallett (5); Gerlinde Taurer (6, 7); Richard E Webster at Xeno-Canto for the song clip

Northern Waterthrush.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco.2.Tom Sheley

SMALL ABACO BIRDS TO MAKE THINGS BETTER


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)

SMALL ABACO BIRDS TO MAKE THINGS BETTER

Bad day. I know about random outage outrage and so on, but really… The router died, unmourned. Bought another. Wasted 2 hours trying to make it work. Turns out to be ‘defective’, which is to say broken. Or another B word. Bought another. Almost lost the will to live. I have the briefest window in which to check emails etc before it, too, checks out of the Mac Hotel. The ONLY SOLUTION (apart from Kalik in copious quantities, sadly not available where I am right now), is to look at some pretty birds taken in the gardens round the Delphi Club. Mmmmm. Feeling better now. Deep breaths… and… relax…

Bananaquit, Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)La Sagra flycatcher, Abaco 1 (RH)Cuban Emerald, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco (RH)

All pics by a rather stroppy RH

STOP PRESS Exactly 24 hours after excitedly unwrapping the (second) new router, after a convoluted and Kafkaesque series of phone calls to various techie centres, headily mixed with wine, beer, tears and tantrums, I combined some of the info from each and miraculously the recalcitrant beast sprang to life. For how long, though? Router advice given: $100 ph + exes

GULL-BILLED TERNS ON ABACO


Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 01

GULL-BILLED TERNS ON ABACO

The gull-billed tern Gelochelidon nilotica had a name upgrade from Sterna nilotica some years ago, and was awarded the honour of its own genus. Let’s be clear at the outset: there’s no such thing as a tern-billed gull. Which slightly lessens the scope for species confusion. 

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 04

For those (me) who need a reminder about the whole family / genus / species taxonomic maze, here is a reminder. The example used is man. Or stickman, anyway.3958555126_4f85d9fa5b

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 05

There are 12 species of tern recorded for Abaco. Only one, the royal tern, is a permanent resident. There is one winter resident, the Forster’s tern and there a 6 summer resident terns of varying degrees of commonness. The other four are transient or vagrant, and probably not worth making a special trip to Abaco to find. The GBT is designated SB3, a summer breeding resident that is generally uncommon, though might be more common in particular areas.

TERN TABLE**Tern Species Abaco**I know! Too tempting…

gull-billed-tern

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 11

The bird gets its name from it short, thick gull-like bill. It’s quite large in tern terms, with a wingspan that may reach 3 foot. They lose their smart black caps in winter.

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 03

There are 6 species of GBT worldwide, and it is found in every continent. While many terns plunge-dive for fish, the GBT mostly feeds on insects in flight, and will also go after birds eggs and chicks. Small mammals and amphibians are also on the menu. The header image shows a GBT with a small crab. I imagine they must eat fish. Surely they do? But I have looked at dozens of images online to find one noshing on a fish, with no success. Does anyone have a ‘caught-in-the-act’ photo?

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 06Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 02

All photos were taken by Alex Hughes, a contributor to “THE BIRDS OF ABACO”, when he spent some time on Abaco a while back in connection with the conservation of the Abaco Parrot and the preservation of the habitat integrity of their nesting area in the Abaco National Park

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 12

STIRRING TALES OF NORTHERN SHOVELERS


Northern Shoveler male. Abaco Bahamas. 2.12.Tom Sheley copy 2

STIRRING TALES OF NORTHERN SHOVELERS

I’m broadly in favour of self-identifying bird names. You know where you are with a Spoonbill. If its bill is spoon-shaped, it is one. Conversely if it isn’t, it isn’t. True, you might waste a lot of time looking for a brownish duck gadding about near a wall, but the general principle of WYCIIWYG (what you call it is what you get) is a useful one.

Northern Shoveler 2.Abaco Bahamas.2.12.Tom Sheley

Thus with shovelers. Their beaks are shovel-shaped. They shovel about in the water to feed. It’s that simple. Being dabbling ducks, they are dab hands (wings?) at upending themselves to get that sturdy beak down in the water. These are highly specialist gadgets too, edged with ‘combs’ (lamellae) that strain out the water from a diet that includes aquatic vegetation and invertebrates.  You can see this arrangement in the male shoveler in the header image.

Northern Shoveler.Abaco Bahamas.2.12.Tom Sheley

The male shoveler has striking plumage, with one of those ‘mallard drake’-coloured heads that is green except when the light catches it and it looks blue. I say ‘looks’, because the blue shades apparent in bird plumage do not result from pigments (which absorb most colours but reflect the visible colours) but from so-called ‘structural colouration’ resulting from scattered light, with the blue wavelength dominant. So even the bluest of blue birds – a bluebird, say, or an indigo bunting – is not blue but appears blue. But the bright red pigmentation of a male Northern cardinal is ‘real’ colour. 

This male shoveler does not have a blue head…Northen Shovelers Foraging (Keith Salvesen) 5

Northern Shoveler (m & f) Abaco (Tony Hepburn) Northern Shoveler, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

The shovelers shown above (except for the ‘blue’-headed one which comes from the set below) were all photographed on Abaco. I mentioned the familiar dabbling method of feeding earlier. However a few days ago in Central Park NYC on The Lake near Bow Bridge, I witnessed shoveler feeding behaviour that was new to me. It’s probably perfectly well-known and documented, but that’s amateurs for you**. A flock of about 30 male and female shovelers had split into smaller groups of between 2 and 10. They formed circles – sometimes very tight – and swam round each other with their heads underwater, stirring up the water as they paddled round, so that their bills were always immersed in freshly disturbed food possibilities. The effect was hypnotic, as you can see from the 15 sec video I took. Although in the clip it looks as though the birds are rapidly progressing to the right, they in fact stayed in much the same place. They were not very close to me, so these are illustrative images rather than ‘Audubon shots’.

Northen Shovelers Foraging (Keith Salvesen) 7Northen Shovelers Foraging (Keith Salvesen) 1Northen Shovelers Foraging (Keith Salvesen) 3

** Of course as soon as I looked I discovered that “Large groups of northern shovelers swim rapidly in circles to collect food from the surface by creating a funnel effect” (cheers to Wiki)Spinus-northern-shoveler-2015-01-n025006-w

Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 2, 3); Tony Hepburn (4); Woody Bracey (5); Keith Salvesen (the rest)

AVIAN PISCAVORES CAUGHT IN THE ACT…



Tri-colored Heron with fish (Phil Lanoue)

AVIAN PISCAVORES CAUGHT IN THE ACT…

There’s something enjoyable about watching a wild creature having a good meal, even if the meal consists of an item that, all things considered, you personally would prefer not to eat. While I am temporarily parted from my computer for a few days, I am able to publish blog posts from my phone. I could write one too, but that’s a bothersome and fiddly process, best avoided. So I thought you might enjoy a gallery of gorgeous birds doing what they like to do best – eat fish. Many thanks as ever to Phil Lanoue and Danny Sauvageau for use permission for their truly exceptional photos.

Great Blue Heron & Fish (Phil Lanoue)Cormorant with fish (Phil Lanoue)Anhingha with fish (Phil Lanoue)White Egret with fish (Phil Lanoue)Green Heron with fish (Phil Lanoue)Osprey with fish (Phil Lanoue)Tern with fishReddish Egret (white morph) with fish (Phil Lanoue)green-heron-gilpin-point-abaco-keith-salvesenOsprey, Florida (Danny Sauvageau)

Birds featured are tri-colored heron in breeding plumage, great blue heron, cormorant, anhinga, white egret, green heron, osprey, tern and reddish egret (white morph).

All photos by Phil Lanoue except penultimate (Keith Salvesen) and last (Danny Sauvageau)

YELLOW BIRDS ON ABACO: A ‘TWIXTMAS’ COLOUR SCHEME


Bahamas-Great Abaco_4846_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy

YELLOW BIRDS ON ABACO: A ‘TWIXTMAS’ COLOUR SCHEME

Red. Green. A splash of blue. The shimmer of gold and silver. Those Christmas colours are so passé. OVAH! So ‘last year’ (or very nearly). In the hope and expectation that people are not too bilious from Xmas Xcess, or too jaundiced by seasonal overload, I feel it’s time to change the colour scheme. Let’s go for bright yellow. Specifically, a mix of endemic Bahama Yellowthroats and Common Yellowthroats. I love these cheerful little birds, and the challenge of trying to lure them into the open with my rather unconvincing approximations of their ‘wichity’ call. Such sunny little creatures, and always such a joy to watch.

Bahamas-Great Abaco_5267_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copyBahama Yellowthroat (M) Bruce Hallett Bahama Yellowthroat 3 Tom Reed

ALL ABOVE – BAHAMA YELLOWTHROATS; ALL BELOW – COMMON YELLOWTHROATS

Common Yellowthroat.Gilpin Pond.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley copyCommon Yellowthroat (m) Bruce Hallett IMG_4232Common Yellowthroat, Gilpin Pond, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)Common-yellowthroat, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Credits: Gerlinde Taurer (1,2); Bruce Hallett (3, 6); Tom Reed (4); Tom Sheley (5, 7); Erik Gauger (8)

“FOUR CALLING BIRDS…” CAN YOU FIND ONE ON ABACO?


Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

“FOUR CALLING BIRDS…” CAN YOU FIND ONE ON ABACO?

The Winter Solstice arrives today. The shortest day followed by the longest night of the year… then the serious business of Christmas. And some quality frivolity with it. So this will probably be my last post before then and possibly until next year, depending on available time, relative sobriety and other seasonal variables too numerous to mention…

Red-winged Blackbird.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom SheleyCALLING BIRDS? WHAT ARE THEY, EXACTLY?

“The Twelve Days of Christmas “is an old, old song, supposedly written in 1780, and popular ever since. Over time, the words have altered somewhat from the original. The ‘Calling Birds’ were originally ‘Colly (or Collie) Birds’, meaning, black birds. The word derives from the word ‘coal’. The change to ‘calling birds’ wasn’t noted until the early c20. One version I learnt as a child a few years decades later used ‘colly birds’. However the quaint usage quickly died out during the pernicious excesses of the 1960s which I obviously don’t remember because I wasn’t there…

European BlackbirdEuropean Blackbird (wiki)

Colly birds were – are – European blackbirds, song birds that bring joy. There are other black birds of course, but crows, ravens and the like have from medieval times been viewed as birds of ill-omen (lots of examples in Shakespeare). Hardly a Christmassy gesture to give one of them to your True Love, far less four. 

WHAT ABACO BIRD SHOULD I GIVE MY TRUE LOVE AFTER 5 GOLD RINGS?

Undoubtedly red-winged blackbirds. They are undeniably black birds. They have festively flashy markings. True, their ‘metal-gate-with-very-rusty-hinges’ grating call is not exactly melodious (and 4 red-legged thrushes on vocals would suit the occasion much better). But what a handsome present to give someone already trying to cope with the burden and general commotion of sundry Lords a’Leaping, Maids a’Milking, Drummers Drumming and so on. Much easier to deal with.

Red-winged Blackbird male 2 .Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

HOW MANY GIFTS WILL MY TRUE LOVE EXPECT FROM ME?

I’m afraid it will be 364 in total, with some items on the list becoming increasingly difficult to source. The breakdown (note in passing the mathematical symmetry of the increasing and correspondingly diminishing numbers) is as follows:

  • 12 partridges in pear trees
  • 22 turtle doves
  • 30 french hens
  • 36 calling birds
  • 40 golden rings
  • 42 geese a laying
  • 42 swans a swimming
  • 40 maids a milking
  • 36 ladies dancing
  • 30 lords a leaping
  • 22 pipers piping
  • 12 drummers drumming

But with any luck your TL would be happy to share a Kalik in the sunset instead of having all that palaver…

Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Happy Christmas** to all people kind enough to follow this blog or read it from time to time, and – why not – all the people who don’t and / or have no idea of its existence… Time to let Kermit & Elmo to take over. 

Photo credits, Tom Sheley (2, 3), Keith Salvesen / RH (1, 4), Wiki for the Eurasian blackbird

**The term ‘Christmas’ is used as a broad term to cover the midwinter holiday period – or indeed non-holidays for many – and is intended to include in a benign way those of any faith or none. I don’t ‘do’ Winterval, sorry…