“ABACO’S GOT TALONS”: THE OSPREY


Osprey, Abaco (Jim Todd 2)

“ABACO’S GOT TALONS”: THE OSPREY

The magnificent Osprey Pandion haliaetus is one of the world’s most successful raptors and can be found on every continent except Antarctica.

220px-Pandion_haliaetus_global_range.svg

Osprey, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

On Abaco the Osprey is a permanent breeding resident, and while certainly not an ‘every day bird’, the chances of seeing one are reasonable. They are fairly often seen flying over the bay at Delphi, or out on the Marls. A pair recently nested at Sandy Point close to Nancy’s restaurant.

Ospreys, Abaco (Jim Todd)

There are few more exhilarating sights in the world of birds than an osprey swooping from a great height into the sea, emerging with a large fish held characteristically ‘fore and aft’ in its talons, and flying into the distance with heavy wing-beats. This wonderful close-up by wildlife photographer PHIL LANOUE shows an osprey that has actually managed to grab dinner for two…

osprey-flight-with-two-fish-03

This bird looks as if it is poised to dive onto some hapless fishOsprey in flight (Lake Wylie, S Carolina) - Gareth Rasberry

 10 PANDION POINTS TO PONDER

  • Ospreys are also known as sea hawks, fish hawks or fish eagles. They are almost exclusively fish-eating
  • A mature adult’s wingspan may reach 6 feet
  • They are the only members of their taxonomic family, genus and species
  • Ospreys & owls are the only raptors with reversible outer toes to grasp prey firmly
  • They can carry fish weighing more than 4 lbs
  • They dive into water feet first to grab its prey; their nostrils can close up to keep out water
  • Osprey-watch.org is a global site for mapping osprey nest locations / logging nesting observations
  • A New Jersey group has designed the optimum artificial nest platform, now an accepted standard
  • Ospreys usually mate for life
  • Osprey populations in many areas have been affected by pesticides and by egg trophy-hunters

PUTTING THE ‘PREY’ INTO ‘OSPREY’
Osprey, Florida (Danny Sauvageau)

A utility post makes a perfect perch for a bonefish snackOsprey, Abaco (Woody Bracey)  copy

The impressive wingspan of an Abaco ospreyOsprey, Abaco (Craig Nash) copy

An osprey far out on the Marls. I managed to get some distance shots of it despite having a fishing rod in my hand…Osprey - Abaco Marls 1Osprey - Abaco Marls 2Osprey - Abaco Marls 4 Osprey - Abaco Marls 3

The Osprey is a prolific symbol in national, cultural and sporting themes, and has been depicted on Bahamas stamps. And quite right too.

Bahamas Wildlife Stamp Osprey copy

Wm Shakespeare Coriolanus

I think he [Coriolanus] will be to Rome
As is the osprey to the fish, who takes it
By sovereignty of nature… 

Credits: Jim Todd (1, 3), Tom Sheley (2), Phil Lanoue (4), Gareth Rasberry / Wiki (5), Danny Sauvageau (6), Woody Bracey (7), Craig Nash (8), RH (Marls pics) – thanks for all image use permissions

“BEAUTIFUL BAHAMA BIRDS”: NEW BAHAMAS BIRD BOOK REVIEW


ABACO PARROTS MM 2

“Over the Moon” (Abaco Parrot / Melissa Maura)

“BEAUTIFUL BAHAMA BIRDS”: NEW BOOK REVIEW

Published 2014 ~ 128pp ~ $20, available from the BNT

A fine new book on the birds of the Bahamas has recently been published by the BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST and BIRDSCARIBBEAN. Compiled and edited by well-known Bahamas bird guide CAROLYN WARDLE  with the BNT’s Lynn Gape and Predensa Moore, this slim book is packed with valuable information. It doesn’t set out to be an exhaustive field guide, a task already fully covered by Bruce Hallett’s indispensable Birds of the Bahamas and the TCI. Nor is it anything like my own photographic tome ‘Birds of Abaco’, differing in scope and intention, and weighing a mere 225 gms as opposed to 2 kilos! Beautiful Bahama Birds is eminently a book for the pocket, day bag or backback, to be carried along with your Hallett.

I have illustrated this review with photos of sample pages of the book, invariably the best way to give a clear impression of this kind of publication. Apologies that some of my images are a bit wonky, my copy being new and individual pages being hard to keep flat…

Beautiful Bahama Birds 1 Beautiful Bahama Birds 2

The photographs throughout the book are mainly the work of Linda Huber and the late Tony Hepburn. I was fortunate enough to be able to use some of Tony’s photographs for my own book, given with unreserved generosity; it is a fitting tribute to him that his images have now been published in Beautiful Bahama Birds, and that it  is dedicated to him.Beautiful Bahama Birds 3

An idea of the broad scope and of the book and its usefulness to the birder can be gained from the contents pages, which I reproduce here. Click to enlarge them. The book is arranged in 3 parts: Let’s Go Birding; Field Guide to 60 Common Birds; and Conservation Now.

Beautiful Bahama Birds 4Beautiful Bahama Birds 5b

PART 1 offers plenty of useful information and practical advice about birding in general (I wish I could have read this before I started my own book!). Anyone who loves birds will benefit from this whole section, even if they would not call themselves a birder – especially Chapter 3 ‘Getting Closer to Bird Life’.

Beautiful Bahama Birds 6  Beautiful Bahama Birds 7

PART 2 All 5 Bahama endemics are featured in the main section, which is handily divided  very broadly into ‘waterbirds’ and ‘land birds’. Some birds are commonly found on most islands; some have more limited range: for example the Bahama Oriole is now found only on Andros; and breeding populations of the Cuban Parrot are found only on Abaco and Inagua (the increasing number of sightings on New Providence give some hope for a breeding population there too). I’ve chosen the parrot because the underground-nesting subspecies on Abaco is so special; and the Flamingo and Bahama Oriole, both very sadly extirpated from Abaco in recent memory.

The illustrations by Tracy Pederson and Kristin Willams are clear and highlight well the identifiers for each species. Where necessary, species variations are shown, for example between sexes, breeding / non-breeding plumage and adult / immature. This can be a confusing and even fraught area (as I constantly find), which this book usefully addresses.  Some birds in flight are also shown to aid ID.

   Beautiful Bahama Birds 8 Beautiful Bahama Birds 9

Beautiful Bahama Birds 10

PART 3 covers the National Parks, important birding areas of the Bahamas, conservation matters, and a charming section on birds in Bahamian culture. Appendices include lists of Bahamas native plants and their importance for wildlife; National Parks and Protected Areas; important birding areas of the Bahamas; a Checklist; a Bibliography; and a user-friendly Index (not all are…).

 Beautiful Bahama Birds 13 Beautiful Bahama Birds 12

A good Checklist is a vital ingredient for any birder, whether visitor or local. Here, all the species occurring on the islands are shown on the left and their residential status and range throughout the islands across the top. Thus at a glance you can tell whether a given species is found on a particular island and when it may be found there. You would know not to look for Turkey Vultures on Eleuthera at any time; and that the black-bellied plover is a winter resident throughout the region and not to be seen during your trip in June…  I also like the tick-boxes on the left for species collectors.

Beautiful Bahama Birds 11

Overall I have thoroughly enjoyed this small book and unreservedly recommend it. It does not replace Hallett, but it complements it. Furthermore, I’m sure the straightforward style and presentation will appeal to bird-loving non-birders and also to younger birders – it may even encourage some out into the field! On p.20 the recommended reading list includes books that would appeal to young readers and links to appropriate websites, a thoughtful touch. I have learnt, or been reminded of, much from reading this book a couple of times. It is a welcome addition to the relatively sparse avian literature for the Bahamas, a prime birding region that is home to an astonishingly wide variety of birds including rare, threatened and vulnerable species like the Parrots, the Kirtland’s Warbler and the Piping Plover.

BOOK LINKS

RH BOOK REVIEW PAGE

BIRDER’S GUIDE TO THE BAHAMA ISLANDS (Tony White)

JAMES BOND (LICENSED TO WATCH BIRDS…)

SAN SALVADOR BIRDS

DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO

RING-BILLED GULLS ON ABACO


Ring-billed Gull ACH DSC_0451 copy

RING-BILLED GULLS ON ABACO

The Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis is a common winter gull, familiar to all in its adult form because of its… er… ringed bill that distinguishes it from all the other gull species found in the northern Bahamas. There are other differences, obviously, but this beak-related signifier provides the easiest method of ID. To be honest, you may find one anywhere – out to sea, on the shore, inland, or perhaps hanging out at one of the dumps that they are attracted to. This last preference is one shared with many species, but while the dumps may provide good birding venues, the photographic backgrounds and general ambience may be somewhat unattractive… Here are 3 great photos by Nina Henry of these gulls where they look best, near the shoreline.

STOP PRESS Nov 18 Woody Bracey reports from Treasure Cay “I had my first for the fall here in Treasure cay yesterday – one adult and 1 immature. It’s nice to have them back”. So keep an eye out – the ring-billeds are back on Abaco…

Ring-Billed Gull, Abaco (Nina Henry)Ring-Billed Gull, Abaco (Nina Henry)Ring-Billed Gull, Abaco (Nina Henry)

The Latin name of these gulls refers to the Delaware River, Pennsylvania, which is on their migration route. But there must have been dozens of other towns along the route with equal claim to have a bird named after them. Why Delaware took the honours, I cannot explain… and thinking about it has inserted the old song in my brain “What did Delaware, boys? What did Delaware? She wore a brand New Jersey…” etc etc**. So I’ll get on and show some more RBGs to get it out of my head. Here are 3 stages of development from Bruce Hallett.

JuvenileRing-billed Gull (juv), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

First winterRing-billed Gull (1st winter), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

AdultRing-billed Gull, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Laughing Gulls are gregarious creatures, and are quite often found in a group with some other seabird in the middle of the crowd – often a larger one. Here is a ring-billed gull standing proudly in the throng, while the laughing gulls snooze in the sun on the jetty. Ring-billed Gull + Laughing Gulls, Abaco (Peter Mantle)

Photo Credits: Tony Hepburn (1), Nina Henry (2,3,4), Bruce Hallett (5,6,7), Peter Mantle (8)

** If you want to remind yourself – or inflict on yourself for the first time – the entire US-State-related pun-encrusted jingle CLICK DELAWARE DITTY

VIREOS ON ABACO (2): THE PHILADELPHIA VIREO


Vireo_philadelphicus Brian Mcclure (wiki) CROP

VIREOS ON ABACO (2): THE PHILADELPHIA VIREO

Vireos haven’t had as much attention as they deserve hereabouts. I have posted about the BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO, but the 7 other vireo species found on Abaco haven’t had much of a look in. It’s a wrong that I shall right at once by featuring the rather shy Philadelphia Vireo Vireo philadelphicus. Here is the full list of the vireos recorded for Abaco, from which you will see that only the Thick-billed Vireo is a common permanent resident. The Black-whiskered vireo is a common summer breeding resident; there are 2 uncommon winter residents; and the other 4 are transients that chose Abaco as a resting place on their migrations.

Taken from ‘The Birds of Abaco’ checklist by Tony White with Woody BraceyVIREO CHECKLIST

SONY DSC

This little bird tends  to be described with such unkind adjectives as ‘drab’, ‘dull’ and ‘plain’, but  like many under-appreciated species it has its own charm. The header image and the one above give excellent close-up views. The signifiers include the dark eyes, white eyebrows, the dark line through the eyes, the yellow underparts, and in the negative sense the complete absence of eye rings, wing bars or tail markings. And the thick bill is one quick way to distinguish it from similar-looking warbler species, with their generally smaller, pointy beaks. SONY DSC

The Philadelphia Vireo has a wide range, from its summer breeding grounds as far north as Canada down to its winter quarters in Mexico and South America. They have even, very rarely, been seen in Europe. The connection with Philadelphia is somewhat tenuous and arises because the bird was first identified in 1842 from a specimen collected near Philadelphia. However their visits there are brief, since at best it is only a stopover on their migration route…vire_phil_AllAm_map

Philadelphia Vireo (Vireo philadelphicus Dominic Sherony wiki

Here is the song comparison between (in order) the Philly, the familiar TBV whose song accompanies everyday life on Abaco, and the Black-whiskered vireo. My TBV recording is rather quieter than the other 2.

 Andrew Spencer / Xeno Canto

RH at Delphi

 Brian Cox / Xeno-Canto

Philadelphia Vireo William H. Majoros wiki If you want to know how to record birdsong easily using an iPhone or equivalent CLICK HERE 

Credits: Woody Bracey (2, 3); Brian McClure, Dominic Sherony, William H. Majoros, Xeno Canto, Wiki, Cornell Lab

“STAR ANIS”: ENTERTAININGLY GREGARIOUS CUCKOOS ON ABACO


Smooth-billed Ani, TCGC Hole 11 - Becky Marvil

“STAR ANIS”: ENTERTAININGLY GREGARIOUS CUCKOOS ON ABACO 

The Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani) is the third member of the cuckoo family found on Abaco, the others being the MANGROVE CUCKOO and the YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO. Anis range from Florida and the Bahamas in the north, down through the Caribbean to South America, where they are widespread.

Ani Range Map (Xeno-Canto) jpg

Smooth Billed Ani, Abaco - Nina Henry 2a

Unlike their shy and retiring cuckoo cousins, anis are extrovert shouty birds that like to hang out in noisy gangs. Large groups can quite often be found in the low scrub at the Highway end of the Delphi drive; and you may well find a posse of them in settlements such as Sandy Point. You’ll probably hear them from some way off, sounding like this:

Leonardo Ordóñez-Delgado / Xeno Canto

Smooth-billed Anis_Abaco - Tony Hepburn

Anis have advanced parenting and chick-rearing skills, sharing not only communal nesting sites but also egg incubation and feeding the chicks. They are also what my mother might have called ‘fast’, raising up to three broods in a season. Rather touchingly, the young of earlier broods help to feed more recent chicks.

Smooth-billed Anis Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer d

I have tried to discover why an ani’s beak is as it is, without much success. Very often beak shape relates directly to the feeding habits and preferences of a species, but it is hard to see how a diet consisting mainly of insects and small reptiles such as lizards would account for such a prominent proboscis. Here is a close-up of the item in question (thanks, Roselyn Pierce).
On Abaco (and indeed elsewhere) Anis are sometimes known as ‘Cemetery Birds’, no doubt because of their all-black appearance (their raucous tendencies would be quite inappropriate for a graveyard…). [Nicolette Russell has contacted me to say that she has always known them as Rain Crows] However although at a distance these birds may look completely black, catch one in the sun at the right angle, and you’ll find that the plumage is far more varied, and with some intricate patterning.

Smooth-billed Ani. Abaco Bahamas Tom Sheley

Look for Anis in low scrubland and coppice, cultivated areas, perched in unsteady bickering rows on utility lines… and on the ground.

Smooth-billed Ani, Abaco. Gerlinde Taurer c

The appearance and flying abilities of Anis are wonders to behold. As I wrote in The Birds of Abaco, “Their curious heavy beaks, their clumsy flight and their untidy take-off and landing routines suggest a design fault”.

Smooth Billed Ani, Abaco - Nina Henry 1a

“One… is the loneliest number…” oh, hang on a moment…Smooth-billed Ani Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer a

…”two of us…standing solo in the sun…”Smooth-billed Ani, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer) b

As far as I know, there is not yet a collective noun for a group of anis. There should be. Any suggestions welcome via the comment box. Meanwhile I put forward A Commotion of Anis”

Smooth-biled Ani, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

Credits: Becky Marvil, Nina Henry, Tony Hepburn, Gerlinde Taurer, Roselyn Pierce, Tom Shelley, Bruce Hallett; Xeno Canto for range map & sound file; Hat tip to Aimee Mann.

“Star Anis” – do not confuse with Star Anise. One can fly, the other cannotStar Anise Spice (Tesco)

CORMORANTS: RAPACIOUS PESCATARIAN SEA-RAVENS


Cormorant WWT 12

CORMORANTS: RAPACIOUS PESCATARIAN SEA-RAVENS

Cormorants are strange creatures. Strange to look at. Strange in their relationship with humans – love / hate in fishing terms and good / evil in mythology. Strangely useless for poetry, since – like the words ‘purple’ and ‘orange’ – there is no pure rhyme for the word cormorant. But they are undeniably striking, and a cormorant on the Abaco Marls effortlessly gliding inches above the water is an impressive sight.

Cormorant WWT 1Cormorant WWT 5

The cormorant’s name originates from the Latin name ‘Corvus Marinus’, the Sea Raven. Cormorants belong to the ‘Pelican’ order of birds known as the pelecaniformes that also encompasses tropicbirds, frigatebirds and anhingas. Worldwide, there are around 40 different species of cormorant. In many parts of the world, this seabird has established itself inland. Angling communities are increasingly concerned by the spread of this bird along productive fishing rivers, often far from the sea shore. In the UK as elsewhere they are very bad news for prime fishing rivers.

Cormorant WWT 8

Splosh! Gull Photobomb! It wasn’t there when I decided to press the trigger…Cormorant WWT 4 (gull photobomb)Itchy neck? You just have to scratch it…Cormorant WWT 6Relaxed now, thanks…Cormorant WWT 7

The birds here were photographed in the UK on Halloween. While the world was preparing to immerse up to its neck in blood, guts, gore and spider webs, I was out armed only with a camera in unseasonably warm sunshine. So these are Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo, the species found in the UK. They a remarkably similar to the Double-crested Cormorants Phalacrocorax auritus found on Abaco but larger and with a pale cheek and upper neck. This was a perfect day for the cormorants to enjoy their preening and wing-drying routines.

Cormorant WWT 9 Cormorant WWT 10 Cormorant WWT 11  Cormorant WWT 13

Last sight of the one on the small rock: “Hey, photographer, for !@£$%&* sake leave me alone, ok?”Cormorant WWT 14

I will be writing about Neotopic Cormorants Phalacrocorax brasilianus on Abaco in detail soon, but for comparative purposes here is one from Bruce Hallett taken on Teasure Cay Golf Course, where the ponds are usually a productive birding resource (check in at the clubhouse for permission first).

Neotropic Cormorant, Treasure Cay, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

And as for the very familiar double-crested cormorant, here is a great photo taken on Abaco by Jim Todd of three chicks growing up fast in their unusual double-decker nest…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Credits: All photos RH except the last 2, Bruce Hallett and Jim Todd

PLOVER LOVER? PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO (3)


Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 4

PLOVER LOVER? PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO (3)

So much to post about – what to choose? Well, the fall migration is still in full swing, with warblers hurtling across land and sea to Abaco in large numbers for their overwintering. Palm warblers are currently arriving. However I’m going to stick with shorebirds for now, and one of the rarer winter visitors, the Piping Plover. I have some more great photos from Danny Sauvageau in Florida, who tirelessly patrols the plover resting areas to record the banded ones so that their origin can be determined. This research assists with vital habitat conservation programs at each end of the migration. There are only 8000 of these little birds left in the world and without protection there’ll be none before you can say “oh dear, very pretty, they’re gone, what a pity…”

PIPING PLOVERS IN THE EARLY MORNING SUNPiping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 6Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 5Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 3

RING BLING & FLAG TAGS

The postions, colours and numbering of the rings and tags on these plovers identify individual birds, the location of their summer breeding grounds and so on. Dispersal and migration patterns of each bird can be recorded and specific facts – age for example – can be monitored.Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 2

Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 7Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 8Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 9Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 1

PIPL IN FLIGHT – AN AMAZING IMAGE

On the very day I was about to press the ‘publish’ button on this post, look what just flew in from Danny’s beach in Fl.! This is an outstanding photo of a PIPL in flight – you can even see its shadow on the sand. I have a few shots of these birds flying in groups over the sea but apart from a general impression of PIPL-ness, they could really be any small shorebirds travelling fast on the wing. This one is special. Piping Plover in flight (Fl., Danny Sauvageau)

ABACO PIPL NEWS

Piping plovers have already arrived on Abaco. Casuarina beach is a promising place to look. Rhonda Pearce sent me this nice photo taken on the point (see my map). This pretty bird looks as though it has a black tag. However Todd Pover of CONSERVE WILDLIFE NEW JERSEY who also monitors the Abaco end of the migration thinks it may just be a piece of wrack – black tags are not usually used.

If anyone sees a piping plover and has a camera handy, I’d be very pleased to receive any photos, especially showing rings if possible – or indeed ringless legs, which is also informative to the monitors. If it turns out to be a Wilson’s Plover, no matter: they are fine birds in their own right!

PIPL Casuarina Oct 14 Rhonda Pearce via RHCasuarina Map jpg

Finally a quick reminder about Danny’s Kickstarter project “Saving Endangered Piping Plovers through Photography” and his presentation explaining how his photography in PIPL resting areas during their migrations can help to map and complete the picture of this vulnerable species to enable their protection.

You can reach Danny’s film by clicking the link DANNY’S FILM and you will see some fabulous footage of these little birds scuttling around on the beach, looking enchanting; and the commentary will explain the importance of the the birds and the research into their conservation.

RELATED POSTS

RARE GEMS: PIPL ON ABACO 1

50 WAYS TO PLEASE YOUR PLOVER

And finally – what are the good people of Massachusetts doing to help? (great plover skitterings on the shoreline here!)

Credits: All photos, Danny Sauvageau except the last, Rhonda Pearce

Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta        Piping-Plover Artmagenta