SHARING SHEARWATER SEASHORE SHOCK ON ABACO…


Great_Shearwater_RWDz9 Dick DanielsSHARING SHEARWATER SEASHORE SHOCK ON ABACO…

I return reluctantly to the “Great Shearwater” phenomenon to give, I hope, closure to the topic for this season and with luck for several years to come. A great many people have engaged with the debate about the large number unfortunate birds found either dead or dying in the water or (especially) on the beaches of Abaco and beyond. You can see the original post, a tabulation and map based on the reports I received or came across, and the views of the experts HERE

This occurrence appears to have declined considerably from its peak last week, presumably because the migration has moved rapidly northwards. Already, reports from the eastern US Atlantic coast (e.g. Cape May) of a great shearwater influx are coming in, so we must hope that the attrition rate in the Northern Bahamas has stopped, or will stop within the next few days. This is evidenced by this FB clip from Tom Reed, a photographic contributor to THE BIRDS OF ABACO

TR clip

The ABA (American Birding Association) has taken an interest in the problem on Abaco, and reported the incidence of shearwater die-off HERE. For the sake of completeness, I have updated reports I have received or found over the last few days below, together with an updated distribution map. More sad images are included because, pitiful though they are, photographs are of real assistance in the study of migratory die-off. For example, it is likely that juvenile birds are more likely to be affected by exhaustion in the course of their 10,000 mile journey than adults. Photos enable an assessment of the age of the birds to be made.

Exhausted shearwater, Delphi beach. Is this a juvenile, less able to make a huge journey than an adult?Great Shearwater, Delphi, Abaco (Sharon Elliott)The yellow tip to this bird’s beak shows that it is a different species of shearwater, the Cory’s.  Like the Greats, these birds are also rare transients on Abaco, and also make long-distance migrations. A Cory’s was photographed a couple of weeks ago swimming happily off the Delphi beach. This one has obviously run out of stamina. It has the chance to recover, but it is vulnerable in this state; and turkey vultures are quick to move in on fatalities…

 UPDATED REPORTS (SINCE JUNE 24) IN RED
  • Delphi Club Beach – 20 plus + 1
  • Schooner Bay – 5
  • Bahama Palm Shores – ‘many many’ dead birds washed up on the shore
  • Casuarina Beach – 1
  • Cherokee (Watching Bay) – 3 or 4
  • Cherokee (Winding Bay) – 4
  • Little Harbour – 3
  • Marsh Harbour area – about 5
  • Great Guana Cay, southern end   – 1 (possibly a gull)
  • Tilloo Cay – 13 at least on Junk Beach, more than ever seen (see photos below)
  • Elbow Cay – 2 + 1 Atlantic side beach near Abaco Inn
  • Elbow Cay – 2, North End
  • Green Turtle Cay beach – 2
  • Green Turtle Cay, offshore – “a lot in the water”
  • Man-o-War Cay – 1 by the roadside
  • Ocean 20m from HT Lighthouse – 2 in the sea

also Exuma Sound (5 birds), Shroud Cay Exuma (gull?”), Briland Beach,Harbour Island Eleuthera (“some” + 4) , and Church Bay, South Eleuthera – 10 + 2

Ellen Bentz, who reported the Church Bay birds, has frozen 3 of them for research purposes; it will be extremely interesting to see what results from their examination, from the ages of the birds to condition to likely cause of death. She also took photographs to aid species identification and diagnostic efforts.

unnamed unnamed-4 unnamed-2  unnamed-1unnamed-3

Abaco distribution map. Earlier reports marked in green, two new sites in blue
Shearwater Map, Abaco update

Here is the wonderful Crossley ID guide tableau of great shearwaters, showing every facet of the birdGreat_Shearwater_from_the_Crossley_ID_Guide_Britain_and_Ireland
WHERE DO THESE BIRDS COME FROM & WHERE DO THEY GO?
Sean Giery of the excellent ABACO SCIENTIST has also commented on the recent phenomenon, concluding “…if you haven’t looked up Gough Island, the probable origin of these Greater Shearwaters, do. Use Google Maps to get an impression of how far these amazing birds travel. It’s truly amazing.” By great good fortune, I’ve done the legwork for you… Let’s take a closer look.
Great shearwaters breed almost exclusively the small area of the globe that includes the Gough Islands, Tristan da Cunha and a few lesser-known islands in that area. There is also a small breeding population in the Falklands. Whichever, they are not so very far from Antarctica. Their range, however, is massive and involves long migrations over the Atlantic ocean to the far north – as far as the Arctic – and back each year.
gtshearmap
 And, as the shearwater flies, this is the distance from the breeding grounds to Abaco; 2/3 of their total journey. Now, factor in a first-season juvenile shearwater facing the vagaries of food supply, weather conditions and stamina… The fact that some die-off occurs every few years at some stage of the migration becomes less surprising.
Gough Island to Abaco 6300 milesGough Island to Abaco jpg
I’ll conclude with a photo of a great shearwater flying ‘at the shear’, which I am certain is how best we’d like to think of these wonderful seabirds…
Great_Shearwater_RWD3b Dick Daniels
Credits: to the 30 or so people credited in the original post I add with thanks Molly Kemmer Roberts, Susan Drwal, Sharon Elliott, Ellen Bentz, Dick Daniels and open source maps chaps.

GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH: ABACO’S “POLICE BIRD”


Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH: ABACO’S “POLICE BIRD”

Following my last gloomy post about the widely-reported die-off of the poor, exhausted migratory great shearwaters, let’s turn with relief to a cheerful bird known to all and admired in coppice and garden: the Greater Antillean Bullfinch Loxigilla violacea. These pretty birds are easy to find and to identify. They love feeders, and they are responsive to ‘pishing’, that irritating (?) noise that birders make to unseen avians in the coppice to persuade them to reveal themselves. Adult males are black with bright red accessories (hence “police bird”); females are paler with orangey accessories; and juveniles look a bit scruffy and patchy. Here’s a GAB gallery to enjoy.

Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 4 Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 5Greater Antillean Bullfinch immature with snail 2.Delphi Club.Abaco (Tom Sheley)Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Great Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco  (Tom Sheley) 1Great Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Charles Skinner)Great Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)GAB BH IMG_9208 copy 2

Credits: Erik Gauger (1); Alex Hughes (2, 3); Tom Sheley (4, 6); Keith Salvesen (5); Charles Skinner (7); Gerlinde Taurer (8); Bruce Hallett (9)

 

SHEARWATERS ON ABACO: SAD TALES FROM THE SEA


GREAT SHEARWATER Puffinus gravis (Patrick Coin Wiki)

SHEARWATERS ON ABACO: SAD TALES FROM THE SEA

We do not generally do sad or sombre at Rolling Harbour. It’s a beautiful and happy place, and the Delphi Club is a haven of good fellowship and good craic (stemming no doubt from its Irish connections). But I have to report on a sad occurrence on the beach at Delphi and, as it turns out, at many other Abaco locations (and beyond) during June – a notable number of shearwaters being found dying or dead on beaches or else in the sea, their bodies in due course being washed in on the tide.

There are quite a few species of shearwater worldwide, of which 5 are recorded for Abaco. The only permanent breeding resident is the Audubon’s Shearwater, a bird that is quite commonly seen out at sea though not, I imagine, on land. We never managed to obtain a photo of one for “The Birds of Abaco”. I presume there are breeding colonies on Abaco, but not that I have heard about.

Shearwater Checklist, Abaco

As the checklist above shows, three of the other shearwaters are rare transients. These birds fly long migration routes over the ocean and so the casual birder is in practice unlikely to encounter one, let alone get a photograph. The Manx can be ignored as an aberration – the V5 means that one or two vagrant individuals have been recorded since (say) 1950. Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis - Patrick Coin Wiki

My first inkling that something unusual was occurring came a week ago from a FB post by Melissa Maura, whose wonderful parrot and flamingo photos feature elsewhere in these pages. She said …on my rugged Abaco ocean beach last week, were many dead magnificent seabirds – greater shearwaters (about 5) and a couple of Frigate birds… They didn’t appear to wash in on the waves, but appeared to have perished perhaps from exhaustion on the beach”.  Various later comments suggested that this phenomenon had been noted periodically in the past, the last time 4 or 5 years ago. 

Great Shearwater (dec'), Abaco (Melissa Maura)

This was followed a couple of days later by evidence from well-known birding maestro Woody Bracey that living great shearwaters were in Abaco waters, perhaps confirming that they are in mid-migration at the moment. The one in #2 was “caught” 3 miles off Great Guana Cay.

Great Shearwater Abaco (Woody Bracey)Great Shearwater, Abaco boated (Woody Bracey)

Then a couple of days ago Jane Mantle emailed me with photos of some dead birds on the beach at Delphi saying that half- dead birds are washing up on the beach ‘only for the vultures to finish off’.  We must have over 20 with more to come”. I circulated these to the ‘usual suspects’ for ID and comment.

Great Shearwater, Abaco (dec'd) (Jane Mantle)Great Shearwater, Abaco (dec'd) (Jane Mantle)

I also posted the photos on my RH FB to see if others had seen anything similar. Many thanks to all those who ‘liked’, shared or commented on the post. Here is a summary of the responses, from which a pretty clear picture emerges of widespread recent shearwater deaths on Abaco mainland and Cays.

  • Delphi Club Beach – 20 plus
  • Bahama Palm Shores – ‘many many’ dead birds washed up on the shore
  • Casuarina Beach – 1
  • Cherokee (Watching Bay) – 3 or 4
  • Cherokee (Winding Bay) – 4
  • Marsh Harbour area – about 5
  • Great Guana Cay, southern end   – 1 (possibly a gull)
  • Tilloo Cay – 13 at least on Junk Beach, more than ever seen (see photos below)
  • Elbow Cay – 2 + 1 Atlantic side beach near Abaco Inn
  • Elbow Cay – 2, North End
  • Green Turtle Cay beach – 2
  • Green Turtle Cay, offshore – “a lot in the water”
  • Man-o-War Cay – 1 by the roadside
  • Ocean 20m from HT Lighthouse – 2 in the sea

also Exuma Sound (5 birds), Briland Beach Harbour Island (“some”) and Shroud Cay (gull?”)

SIGHTINGS MAP, ABACO AS AT 09.00 JUNE 25 (2X click to enlarge)
Shearwater Map, Abaco

Shearwaters at Tilloo Cay (Janie Thompson)

Great Shearwater (dec'd) Tilloo Cay Abaco988563_780040245445527_87776362163085216_n10429826_780040222112196_5624095942981629125_n

Shearwaters on Elbow Cay (Rudolf Verspoor)

11406243_10153041925951245_9107566668485466585_o 11537917_10153041926991245_4040884745830449528_o

WHAT SORT OF SHEARWATERS ARE THESE?

In the main it looks and sounds as though these are migrating great shearwaters. Woody Bracey has identified several dead birds as ‘greats’ from photos, and one as an alive Cory’s shearwater swimming in the sea off the Delphi Beach. ID is not easy, and a few of the birds found may be gulls. It’s possible that there are some Audubon’s shearwaters among the stricken birds, although since they are resident to Abaco that would go against the theory of an exhausted migratory species that has been blown of course en masse.

Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis (JJ Harrison Wiki)

WHAT DO THE EXPERTS THINK?

There are a few obvious contenders for the solution to the riddle of the shearwaters, ranging from the frontrunner migration exhaustion to disease and trash ingestion. The evidence of mass deaths over a wide geographical area during a short time probably rules out trash ingestion – although I’m sure the poor creatures must have plenty of plastic bits inside them. Mass disease striking suddenly over one area is seems unlikely. Once those two possibilities are ruled out, the primary cause, covering most instances of the sad and upsetting phenomenon, becomes clearer.

Lynn Gape of BNT posted the view of William Mackin, a seabird biologist who looked at some of the photos and wrote “The five birds look like greater shearwaters. They breed at Gough Island in the South Atlantic. The young begin life by flying 10000 miles to Newfoundland in the North Atlantic. Some do not make it. They wash up on eastern US and Bahamian beaches. It is sad. We should monitor the numbers. The frequency is variable but possibly increasing.”

Tony White, the omniscient Recorder of Bahamas Birds and compiler of the comprehensive and authoritative checklist for the area, writes: 

“The dead birds on the beach (and in the water) is a phenomenon that happens every five to ten years. According to the late Dave Lee these are young Great Shearwaters migrating from their natal home in the South Atlantic to their feeding grounds off the US and Canada, Combination of poor food supply and wind conditions in the doldrums lead to their expending all their energy and expiring. It is a normal event for this species and has been recorded many times The Great Shearwater population appears to weather the bad years and do well in the good years. Relevant articles are: Lee, D.S. 2009. Mass die-offs of Greater Shearwater in the Western North Atlantic: Effects of weather patterns on mortality of a trans-equatorial migrant. Chat 73(2):37; Seabird Ecological Assessment Network. 2007. Greater Shearwater Die-off in the Atlantic: June-July 2007. Volunteer Newsletter 3(2):2; and Watson, George. 1970. A Shearwater Mortality on the Atlantic Coast.  Atlantic Naturalist 25(2):75-80.

Woody Bracey has now left an informative and perceptive comment: “It’s amazing how far(10,000 miles) these young birds have to travel to their feeding grounds so soon after being fledged. Breeding colonies are on isolated subantarctic islands of the southern hemisphere. Breeding begins in October. Incubation of the single egg lasts 55 days and it is another 105 days until the chick is ready to fly. Each loss of a bird represents much time and effort of a pair to produce a single chick which then has to fly the gauntlet through the windless, often foodless doldrums to reach its northern feeding grounds. So many hazards, so few birds! It’s sad to witness these die-offs but the species still survives. Global warming cannot be helping this species on its journey to the colder, nutrient rich more northern briny destinatioin. Lets stop setting our dumps and forests on fire here in the Abacos. Eventually it will not only affect the Great Shearwaters but us as well”.

I should add that it is reassuring to be able to confirm that, at least at present, the great shearwater is IUCN-listed “Least Concern”

Status_iucn3.1_LC.svg

Great Shearwater in flight (Hardaker)

Tony has asked for all available information Bahamas-wide: “It would be very useful if someone could collect some hard data on the die-off, e.g. when was it first noted and how many birds are found along a given stretch of beach? Check for other species and take a few wings as samples of the desiccated birds. In past events the number of dead birds was much greater on Crooked and Acklin Islands than Abaco. Eleuthera too should be checked if possible”.

Lynn has also asked “Please photograph and count birds found on your beaches and send images and the number counted to me at lgape@bnt.bs. We will send on to William Mackin and Tony White who are keeping records of these occurrences The image with this post is a Greater Shearwater in flight…” (see above, as we would all like to think of these magnificent birds)

Or by all means contact me at rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com and I’ll pass on any info

STOP PRESS An update to this post written the following week, detailing new sightings and reporting the passing of a sad fortnight of shearwater fatalities in the Bahamas, can be found HERE

A happier great shearwater image to leave you with…
Great Shearwater (Dick Daniels, Wiki)
Credits and thanks to Woody Bracey, Melissa Maura, Lynn Gape, Jane Mantle, William Mackin, Patrick Coin, J J Harrison, Dick Daniels, Norvell Slezycki, Lory Kenyon, Selah Vie, Lindsey Delaphine McCoy, Turtle Cove Tilloo, Janie Thompson, Rudolf Verspoor, Laurie Schreiner, Caroline Woodson Sawyer, Steph Russell, Ashley L. Albury, Dwayne Wallas, Sully Vincent T Sullivan, Ben Albury, Abaco Bulletin, Carol Rivard Roberts, Jason McIntosh, Dale Sawyer, Barbara Trimmer, Dominique Allen, Jessica Aitken and Juana Rudzki, with apologies to anyone else who has slipped through the net…

SIGNS OF GOOD BREEDING: PIPING PLOVERS IN SUMMER


Piping Plover Charadrius melodus (Ontario, MDF / wiki)

SIGNS OF GOOD BREEDING: PIPING PLOVERS IN SUMMER

No apologies for writing again about Piping Plovers. This rare bird – only 8000 left in the world – overwinters in Florida, on the Gulf Coast, and to a notable extent in the Bahamas, very possibly on a beach near you. The peacefulness and cleanliness of Abaco’s pristine beaches provide the ideal habitat for the little PIPL to live safe and healthy lives during the winter, in preparation for their return to their summer breeding grounds. And breeding is what they are doing right now, up north. There are breeding populations on the Atlantic Coast, the Great Plains, and the Great Lakes. So I thought I’d feature a few images of what appears to be a rather successful season so far…

One of the best bird blogs around, one that I have recommended before, is called READINGS FROM THE NORTHSIDE. It is written in an informative yet witty style illustrated with excellent photos, and chronicles the daily avian goings-on on Long Beach Island NJ, an important nesting area for piping plovers. There are links with Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger, two scientists from the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ who will be familiar to many Abaconians for the winter work they do with the plovers on Abaco. The photos below have almost all been taken this month as the PIPL chicks hatch and begin to find their feet in a big world.

Piping Plover LBI 1   Piping Plover LBI 2 piping-plover-chick-sneaking-through-dune piping-plover-sit-in-dune

NEWLY HATCHED (TUFTERS’ & TACEY’S 4th CHICK, AMY) piping-plover-wet-chick1

TIDYING THE EGGSHELLpiping-plover-with-eggshell

EGGSHELL REMOVALpiping-plover-remove-eggshell-nest

HAPPY FAMILIES…piping-plover-chick-leaves-nest

MORE HAPPY FAMILIES IMG_0853 IMG_0856 IMG_0855 IMG_0854

BARNEGAT LIGHTHOUSE WITH PIPL IN THE FOREGROUND!IMG_0857

Most regrettably, you’ll never see a Piping Plover chick on Abaco. The adult birds have left the Bahamian beaches and flown north before their breeding season begins. These little creatures are both rare and special at both ends of their migration range, so I’ll end with a video from the most excellent CONCH SALAD TV that is dedicated to these tiny wave-chasers. Abaco is one of the main areas for winter research into the piping plover population. Scientists visit the island to find the birds, count them, collect reports of sightings, check and identify tagged birds to determine their origin, and ensure the continuing good health of their habitat, without which the PIPL will be lost. You can find out more about this vital work carried out out by the CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION OF NEW JERSEY HERE.

THE DELICATE TASK OF RINGING TINY BIRDS
lbi-piping-plover-chick

Credits: MLF/ Ontario; Exit63 ‘Mr Norfside’ to whom a major tip o’ the hat; Conch Salad TV

KILLDEER ON ABACO? IT DOESN’T, BUT ACE NAME ANYWAY


Kildeer, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

KILLDEER ON ABACO? IT DOESN’T, BUT ACE NAME ANYWAY

The KILLDEER Charadrius vociferus is a fairly common winter resident plover on Abaco. They can often be found on the Delphi beach, and the lovely beach at Casuarina is another place to spot them. They can easily be distinguished from other plover species, being the only ones with two black frontal bands – see above and below. The lower picture, you’ll be relieved to hear, is not the fabled ‘legless killdeer’, but is simply having a little rest on a nice warm wall.

Killdeer, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

The killdeer’s name is a bit of a puzzle, frankly. The Latin term Charadrius vociferus basically means “shouty plover”, but it’s a long way from that to “killdeer”. This is another one of those bird names that are allegedly onomatopoeic – and thankfully it has nothing whatsoever to do with savage behaviour involving Bambi and his ilk (or elk, even). Supposedly the killdeer call is “Kill…Deer”, in the same way as the bobwhite calls an interrogative “Bob…White?”. 

Killdeer - Harrold & Wilson Ponds, NP (Rick Lowe) copy

Consulting some random authorities reveals divergence of opinion on the issue, with definite bet-hedging between ‘kill-dee’ variations and ‘dee dee dees’. Except for Messrs Flieg & Sanders who opine (rudely) ‘the shrill, loud, monotonous call resembles its name’. Yet while I completely get the ‘Bob…White?’ thing, I’m not so sure with the killdeer. Were I a little killdeer, it’s a name I’d like to have anyway. Respect! But what do these sound like to you?

or this

Guillermo Funes Xeno Canto

or this

Peter Boesman Xeno CantoKIlldeer (Danny Sauvageau)

I’ve mentioned the distinctive double black breast-bands that distinguish the killdeer from its brother plovers. These can be seen at quite a distance, as this shot on the Delphi beach by Mrs RH shows (the tracks are from Smithy’s seaweed-clearing tractor).

Killdeer SS edits

The babies are, like all plover chicks, totes irresistibz munchkinsKilldeer hatchling (NTox)Killdeer FB

And like other plovers, a killdeer will defend its nest and young with a broken wing display to distract predators, lurching pathetically across the sand, moving ever further away from the nest. 

I think we can safely conclude that, while the bird doesn’t quite live up to the cervidae-cidal tendencies suggested by its name, nor even sound particularly as though it is saying “killdeer”, it is a very attractive plover to have around whatever the heck its call may resemble.Killdeer, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Photo credits: Bruce Hallett, Tony Hepburn, Rick Lowe, Danny Sauvageau, Mrs RH, NTox, Very Recent FB & I’ll track down the source if it kills me**, Erik Gauger

** Got it now: The very excellent Mike Bizeau, whose on his wonderful NATUREHASNOBOSS website posts a single daily image. Many are birds, some are landscapes, some are other things that have caught his eye. I get a daily email, and am invariably impressed by the quality of the images…

NORTHERN PINTAILS ON ABACO: LOOKING SHARP


Northern Pintail, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

NORTHERN PINTAILS ON ABACO: LOOKING SHARP

The Northern Pintail Anas acuta is a relatively rare winter resident dabbling duck on Abaco. The species has a huge range, being found throughout much of the northern hemisphere. 

DABBLING DUCKS – PINTAILS UPNorthern Pintails (M & F) Up-ending (J M Garg)jpg

The ‘acuta’ in the Latin name refers to the characteristic sharp ‘pin tail’. As so often, the drake is a somewhat flashy specimen while the female is unassuming or, as some sources harshly put it, dull and drab. And while the drake makes a melodious whistle, the female simply quacks or croaks.

FLASHY MALENorthern Pintail, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

DULL & DRAB FEMALE? DEBATABLE!Northern Pintail (f), Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Northern Pintail (f) x 4 (Woody Bracey)

Northern Pintails form flocks and are happy to mix with other species.  Their long necks give the edge over similarly-sized dabbling ducks such as the mallard, enabling them to reach deeper down in the water to feed.

Northern Pintail PM IMG_5342 copy 2

THREATS TO THE SPECIES

  • Predation of nests and chicks by animals and birds such as birds of prey and (some) gulls
  • Parasites including worms and lice, to which they seem to be susceptible; and avian diseases including bird ‘flu
  • Hunting: they are a good target species being swift and agile in the air (for sport) yet quite large (for success rate). Also, delicious (for dinner).
  • Lead poisoning from shot or angling tackle, research has shown. A major problem with all bottom-feeders, though improved where laws prohibiting lead shot have been introduced
  • Loss of wetland areas to agriculture or due to habitat or climate changes

Northern Pintail, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

On Abaco, Northern Pintails arrive in the autumn and leave as spring approaches. They are most likely to be found on ponds such as the one at Treasure Cay Golf Course, where I photographed the male; and at Gilpin Point where I spotted the lone female (at a distance). Below are both genders together for comparison (NB not taken on Abaco). 

BREEDING TIME

Mating is aquatic, by the usual anatine method in which the female lowers herself in the water to indicate her agreement to the proposal whereupon the male tries to drown her. Apparently after mating, the male raises his head and whistles – whether as a signal that it’s all over or exaltation or relief has not been researched. Yet. 

Northern Pintails (M & F) J M Garg

 RELATED POSTS

BAHAMA (WHITE-CHEEKED) PINTAIL

BAHAMA PINTAIL PAGE

Credits: RH x 3, Peter Mantle x 1, Tony Hepburn x 1, Woody Bracey x 1, J M Garg x 2, Birdorable 

        northern-pintail        northern-pintail        northern-pintail

“THEY CALL ME THE HUNTER…” A GREEN HERON ON ABACO


Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)07

“THEY CALL ME THE HUNTER…” A GREEN HERON ON ABACO

There are a number of birding hotspots on South Abaco (defined loosely for avian purposes as south from Marsh Harbour). Most are attractive places to be; a few (e.g. the town dump) less so, requiring additional skills to avoid taking your long-awaited ‘life bird’ in a pool of grossness…

Always a good bet, Gilpin Point near Crossing Rocks is definitely worth a visit at almost any time, especially the brackish pond just inland from the shoreline. Bear in mind it is (a) a longish private road (we got a puncture down there once…*) and (b) it is private land. However Perry Maillis is always welcoming to tidy birders who bring only enthusiasm and take only pictures. Plus he very kindly changed our wheel! At the end of this post is a rough list of birds I have seen at Gilpin, with one or two that I know have also been seen there (photographic evidence!)

*I realise I should say we got a ‘flat’, but to me that would mean we had obtained an apartment. We are indeed “nations divided by a common language” (Attrib variously to Wilde, Shaw & Churchill)

We found this small Green Heron quite easily. We’d watched it fly onto a stump in the pond near the jetty, then fly closer to the shoreline. By tiptoeing onto the jetty, we could see it perched close to the water, inspecting it with a fierce and predatory eye. Both eyes, in fact. 

Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)01

The hunting technique is deceptively simple. Note the long sharp stabbing beak. Note the large feet and claws for gripping securely Here’s how it is done. As a fish is sighted, so the heron leans forward, beak closer to the water, more streamlined to look at.Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)02

As the prey unwittingly approaches the bird slowly tilts further forward unless its beak almost touches the water, the quicker to strike…Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)03 Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)04

The actual strike is so rapid that it is barely possible to see with the naked eye, let alone to photograph it clearly. For me and my little Pentax, anyway. But the end result is rarely in doubt, with a small fish struggling but securely held. It will be down the heron’s gullet in a matter of seconds.Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)05

I left the heron as it settled slowly back into ‘scanning the water mode’ while I went to look at some Lesser Yellowlegs nearbyGreen Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)06

I returned a few minutes later. Scanning was still in progress, and the bird started the gradual ‘leaning forward’ process as it sighted a fishGreen Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)08

Get ready to spearfish…Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)10

Epic success for the heron, epic fail for the photographer…Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)09

“Ha ha Mr Human with your funny black clicky thing hanging round the thing that attaches your head to your body. I was too quick for you. Who hasn’t got the hang of shutter speed yet? Eh? I win the fish. I win the game…”Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)11

ROUGH GILPIN CHECKLIST

Species we have found on and around the pond include Black-necked Stilts, Little Blue Heron, Great Blue Heron, Tri-colored Heron, Snowy Egret, Reddish Egret, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Sora, hordes of White-cheeked Pintails, Northern Pintails, Lesser Yellowlegs, Belted Kingfisher, Turkey Vulture, Smooth-billed Ani, American Kestrel, Bahama Woodstar, Cuban Emerald, Mucovy Duck (pets!)  and – for the first time this year – Green heron. As a bonus, Gilpin has become a regular stop for flocks of Abaco Parrots. Other species found there include American Flamingo, Brown Pelican, DC Cormorants and Limpkin. I’ve no doubt there are shorebirds on the beach such as Wilson’s Plovers, various gulls to be identified, and passing tropicbirds & magnificent frigatebirds high over the water.

VOLUNTARY MUSICAL DIGRESSION

‘The Hunter’ is a well-known Albert King / Stax song from 1967 with elements reminiscent of many blues songs and lyrics before that. The best known versions are probably the one by Free (‘Tons of Sobs’ 1968), which is un-improvable and definitive; and the doff of the cap by Led Zeppelin towards the end of ‘How Many More Times’… However ‘Pacific Gas and Electric’ made a pretty good stab at the song, also in the late ’60s

RELATED POSTS  

SHARP-EYED SHARP BILLED

A FACEFUL OF FISH

All photos RH; Music ‘borrowed’  from a CD into iTunes, converted to MP3 and ‘re-borrowed’ for present non-commercial purposes. And it did say “FREE” on it in large letters…