ABACO’S ENDEMIC BIRDS: MAKING A CASE FOR PROTECTION


Bahama Yellowthroat on Abaco - Tom Reed

Bahama Yellowthroat on Abaco – Tom Reed

 ABACO’S ENDEMIC BIRDS: MAKING A CASE FOR PROTECTION

I recently wrote a post showcasing the 4 Bahamas endemic bird species found on Abaco: swallow, warbler, woodstar hummingbird, and yellowthroat. You can read it and see some great photos HERE. Sadly, the magnificent oriole, extant on Abaco for centuries, was extirpated in the 1990s. You can still see them but only on Andros; and the population there is barely sustainable – there are only 260 remaining. Still, on Abaco there remain four of the endemic species to conserve and care for.

The Bahamas National Trust BNT has produced 6 brief but informative illustrated ‘cards’ about the Bahamas endemics. They deserve a wide audience, especially in view of the threats to some species for reasons that include habitat loss and increasing development. New Providence lost its subspecies of Bahama Yellowthroat within the last 20 years. Let’s hope that Abaco can hold onto its speciality birds for the future. 

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FIVE STARS: BAHAMAS ENDEMIC BIRDS (FOUR FROM ABACO)


20130106_Bahamas-Great Abaco_4846_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy

Bahama Yellowthroat (Gerlinde Taurer)

FIVE STARS: BAHAMAS ENDEMIC BIRDS (FOUR FROM ABACO)

The Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival is underway. You can find out more on the CARIBBEAN BIRDS FESTIVALS Facebook page. Abaco is fortunate to be home to 4 of the 5 endemic Bahamas species. The fifth, the beautiful BAHAMA ORIOLE Icterus northropi, was found on both Abaco and Andros until the 1990s, when it sadly became extirpated from Abaco. Now found only on Andros, there are thought to be fewer than 300 Orioles left – a barely sustainable number. The species is unsurprisingly IUCN listed as critically endangered. Here’s a picture of one as a reminder of what Abaco is now missing…

Bahama_Oriole (Wiki)

Bahama Oriole

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Abaco’s four endemic species are the tiny Bahama Woodstar hummingbird, the Bahama Yellowthroat, the Bahama Warbler (since 2011), and the Bahama Swallow. All are of course permanent breeding residents on Abaco and its outer Cays. None is exclusive to Abaco; all are relatively plentiful. The Woodstar is perhaps the hardest to find, not least because it competes territorially with the Cuban Emerald hummingbird. Even Woodstars can be found easily in some areas – Man-o-War Cay is a good place for them, for example. Here are some striking images of these four endemic bird species taken from the archives for “The Birds of Abaco” published last month. 

BAHAMA WOODSTAR Calliphlox evelynae 

Bahama Woodstar male 3.1.Abaco Bahamas.2.12.Tom Sheley copy

Bahama Woodstar (m) (Tom Sheley)

Bahama Woodstar (f) TL IMG_3213 2

Bahama Woodstar (f) Tara Lavallee

BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT Geothlypis rostrata

Bahama Yellowthroat vocalizing.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Bahama Yellowthroat (Tom Sheley)

Bahama Yellowthroat (M) BH IMG_0675 copy

Bahama Yellowthroat (Bruce Hallett)

BAHAMA WARBLER Setophaga flavescens

Bahama Warbler BH IMG_8398 copy - Version 2

Bahama Warbler (Bruce Hallett)

Bahama Warbler WB P1001012 copy

Bahama Warbler (Woody Bracey)

BAHAMA SWALLOW Tachycineta cyaneoviridis

Bahama Swallow CN

Bahama Swallow (Craig Nash)

bahama-swallow EG  copy

Bahama Swallow (Erik Gauger)

“The Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco”  was published as limited edition of 500 and has only been for sale for 8 weeks or so exclusively through the Delphi Club. Yesterday, we passed a happy milestone in that short time as the 250th copy was sold. Complimentary copies have also been donated to every school and relevant education department on Abaco to tie in with the excellent policy of teaching children from an early age the value of the natural world around them, the importance of its ecology, and the need for its conservation. The cover bird for the book was easy to choose – it just had to be a male Woodstar in all his glory with his splendid purple ‘gorget’. 

Bahama Woodstar (m) BH IMG_0917 copy

Bahama Woodstar (m) Bruce Hallett

JACKET GRAB JPG

Image credits as shown; otherwise, ‘cover bird’ by Tom Sheley, Bahama Oriole from Wiki and CEBF flyer from the Bahamas National Trust

FINE FEATHERS (1): ABACO BIRD ‘PICS’ OF 2013


Least Tern, Abaco

FINE FEATHERS (1): ABACO BIRD ‘PICS’ OF 2013

The Least Tern in the header image was a stroke of luck. I was watching plovers on the beach when it landed on the tideline with a small fish in its mouth. I just had time to point the camera and fire off 3 shots before it flew off again. This was the only usable image. I liked the fish, of course, and the way its little legs made a dent in the wet sand.

This Black-necked Stilt was attempting to distract me from a nearby nest, which I’d have known nothing about until it tried to distract me. It zig-zagged towards me, striding through the water while yelling,  and then took off and flew at my head! Twice. I moved away…Black-necked Stilt, Abaco

An effortlessly elegant Red-winged BlackbirdRed-winged Blackbird, Abaco

A Reddish Egret (white morph)  in the mangroves out on the Marls takes a call on its cellphoneReddish Egret (White Morph), Abaco Marls

A Bahama Mockingbird deep in the pine forest of the Abaco National ParkBahama Mockingbird, National Park, Abaco

A baby West Indian Woodpecker takes a look at the wide world from its nest box. Within a week, it and 4 other chicks had flown. West Indian Woodpecker chick in nest box, Abaco

A Red-legged Thrush in full songRed-legged Thrush, Abaco

The Bahama Yellowthroat is one of 4 endemic species on Abaco. Only the males have the striking Zorro mask. They are shy birds, but also inquisitive. I learnt to imitate their call (not difficult) to bring them out of scrub and bushes. Once out, they liked to take a good look from a safe distance.Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco

PHOTOGENIC ENDEMICS: BAHAMA YELLOWTHROATS ON ABACO


Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 7

PHOTOGENIC ENDEMICS: BAHAMA YELLOWTHROATS ON ABACO

I’ve been keeping this little bird up my capacious avian-friendly sleeve for a while. In June we took a truck and headed for deep backcountry to the edge of the pine forests and beyond to see what we could find in the way of birdlife. Good choice – the answer was ‘plenty’.Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 5

Among the birds we encountered were the endemic Bahama swallows, hairy woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, kingbirds, red-legged thrushes, red-winged blackbirds, western spindalises, tobacco doves, La Sagra’s flycatchers, crescent-eyed pewees with a nest and eggs, a wonderful ‘booming display’ by antillean nighthawks courting during an early evening fly hatch**… and Bahama yellowthroats Geothlypis rostrata.Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 1

The illustrative photos are of poor quality, but rather than blame my camera (as I am only too ready to do), I plead ‘overexcitement’ in mitigation. Of the 4 endemic species on Abaco, this was the only one I’d never seen. There was a tweeting noise on the edge of an abandoned sugar cane field (above), followed by  some rustling… and out fluttered this bird, crossing the track right by us and landing quite close to inspect us. Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 2

This striking bird, with its Zorro mask and bright yellow body, is an endearing mix of shy and inquisitive. Only the males have the mask – the females are less colourful, though naturally equally interesting… Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 8

Yellowthroats are responsive to pishing, and once lured from cover they may happily remain on low-to-medium height branches or on a shrub, watching you watching them.Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 3

Their song is quite easily imitated, and that may also bring them into the open – a source of immense satisfaction to the amateur (me) if it works. Here’s an example, courtesy of my iPH@NE METHOD for bird recording. It’s the call at the start and the end.

The one we watched had plenty to sing about – it’s just a shame that my images are so poor, because in some you can see its tiny tongue. A bit too blurry, though, even by my own moderate standards for inclusion.Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 4

At a formative stage of this blog, I did a short post about the endemic Bahama Yellowthroat and its comparisons with the similar and better-known Common Yellowthroat, which is also found in the Bahamas. You can read it HERE. There’s a female shown, a video, and an unacknowledged debt to Wiki or similar source, I can’t help but notice…Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 6

**ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS AND THE ‘BOOMING DISPLAY’

Common Nighthawk Photo “On summer evenings, keep an eye and an ear out for the male Nighthawk’s dramatic “booming” display flight. Flying at a height slightly above the treetops, he abruptly dives for the ground. As he peels out of his dive (sometimes just a few meters from the ground) he flexes his wings downward, and the air rushing across his wingtips makes a deep booming or whooshing sound, as if a racecar has just passed by. The dives may be directed at females, territorial intruders, and even people.” We found ourselves right in the middle of one of these astounding displays, with maybe 100 birds behaving exactly as described, often whooshing within inches of our heads. I’ll post some more about it in due course. Credits: Philip Simmons; All About Birds (Cornell Lab)

Toyota Truck, Abaco Backcountrygeothlypis_rostrata RANGE MAP

Q: WHAT IS CUTER THAN A BAHAMA WOODSTAR HUMMINGBIRD ON ABACO?


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Q: WHAT IS CUTER THAN A BAHAMA WOODSTAR HUMMINGBIRD ON ABACO?2129_1086920126985_4106_n

A: A BABY BAHAMA WOODSTAR HUMMINGBIRD ON ABACO1377387_10201470915708562_1875646596_n

Charmaine Albury from Man-o-War Cay, Abaco, has taken some fabulous photographs of a nesting Bahama Woodstar Hummingbird at her home. With her kind permission, I am delighted to display a selection of them below. The adult is a female, and lacks the striking purple gorget of the male. The baby’s plumage is… spiky!  The cup nest is beautifully constructed, made from plant down, bark and cobwebs, balanced in a string of lights.  The size of the bulbs give a very clear idea how tiny these sweet little birds are. These are photos to be viewed in wonderment and awwwwwwwwww….

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This hummingbird species nests all year round. The female lays 2 elliptical white eggs, which she incubates for 15–18 days.  Not only is the baby in these pictures in a very small nest, it is sharing it with an unhatched and presumably sterile egg. Then again, two babies would be even more of a squash… 1381404_10201471034351528_1693570080_n541844_10201470918508632_1470337409_n 1376617_10201470928108872_1146646017_n 1377385_10201470917748613_443444189_n 1382262_10201470921668711_411658918_n

The Bahama Woodstar Calliphlox evelynae is endemic to the Bahamas, found only on there and as an occasional vagrant in south east Florida. On Abaco, it is one of four endemic species found on the island – the others are the Bahama Swallow, the Bahama Warbler and the Bahama Yellowthroat. Together with the unique ground-nesting ABACO PARROT, these are among the most special birds of Abaco.

Photo Credits: All images © Charmaine Albury

‘A BIRDER’S GUIDE TO THE BAHAMA ISLANDS': BOOK REVIEW


A BIRDER’S GUIDE TO THE BAHAMA ISLANDS (INCLUDING TURKS & CAICOS)   

 ABA BIRDFINDING GUIDES (American Birding Association)

  Anthony W. White

  Published 1998

  302 pages

  Wire-O binding

  ISBN 1-878788-16-7

QUICK REVIEW In a rush? Scroll down for a 30-second bullet-point review. If not, hang in here for fuller details…

PUBLISHER’S BLURB (précis) The first comprehensive guide to finding birds on the islands of The Bahamas and TCI. The islands host an unusual mix of Caribbean and North American species, with over 300 bird species recorded. There are 3 endemic species: Bahama Woodstar, Bahama Swallow, and Bahama Yellowthroat, and a host of other specialties, including such birds as West Indian Whistling-Duck, White-cheeked Pintail, Key West Quail-Dove, Great Lizard-Cuckoo, Cuban Emerald, West Indian Woodpecker, Bahama Mockingbird, Olive-capped Warbler, Stripe-headed Tanager, Greater Antillean Bullfinch, and Black-cowled Oriole. Seabird nesting colonies [include] Audubon’s Shearwaters, White-tailed Tropicbirds, and 8 tern species. The parks and refuges of The Bahamas and TCI protect a great diversity of subtropical birds, among them the Bahama Parrot (an endemic subspecies of Cuban Parrot), and many North American wintering birds, including the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler. The New World’s largest flamingo colony nests on Great Inagua, protected by the country’s largest national park. The Guide [includes] complete descriptions by Tony White of more than 150 birding sites on the major islands and smaller cays. It also features a beautiful eight-page Photo Gallery of many of the Bahamian specialty birds, several of which show up regularly in Florida

RH VIEW This book obviously covers a far greater area than Abaco / Northern Bahamas – indeed, it is about as comprehensive of the whole Bahamas region as it could get. Where it scores highly is in taking the area island by island, cay by cay, and identifying the prime birding areas on each. I have to say that, being a 1998 book, some of the descriptions of places on Abaco that I am familiar with are not as you will find them now; and doubtless this applies across the whole region. As the Table of Contents shows, the book is split into ‘places’ chapters, with additional and useful general information chapters. Abaco is covered in just 20 pages. It’s not a lot, but the birding hotspots are well covered, and expected / hoped for bird species are given for each.

Despite the relatively little page space given to each region, there is much else to be got from this book. The final third of the book includes a detailed annotated list of the speciality bird species (also shown in photo gallery format earlier in the book). This is followed by a huge 20-page bird checklist, with every species given a numbered code for each region, ranging from 1 (easily found) to 6 (cannot be found – extinct or extirpated). So you will find, for example, that a Forster’s Tern is rated ‘4’ for Abaco – ‘extremely difficult to find’. There are short notes on other Bahamas wildlife, divided into mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects – followed by helpful appendices (a glossary; a list of common name alternatives); a massive 22-page bibliography; and a serviceable index

The chart inside the front cover shows where the specialty Bahamas birds are to be found . At the back is a large area map showing the total coverage

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BULLET POINT REVIEW FOR THOSE WHO ARE PRESSED FOR TIME
  • Fairly weighty 300 pages covering the entire Bahamas region
  • Short but helpful descriptions of birding hotspots on the islands and cays, with the species you may encounter
  • Excellent ancillary species and distribution checklists
  • Focus on specialty birds of the Bahamas
  • Particularly useful for anyone investigating different regions of the Bahamas, or wishing to compare them
  • 14 years since publication is a long time in the islands’ development; expect some irrelevant references for 2012
  • Overall a useful, interesting bird location book, but NB not intended as species identification field guide

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…