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…
An effortlessly elegant Red-winged Blackbird
A Reddish Egret (white morph) in the mangroves out on the Marls takes a call on its cellphone
A Bahama Mockingbird deep in the pine forest of the Abaco National Park
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.
A Red-legged Thrush in full song
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.
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’.
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.
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…
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.
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 myiPH@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.
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 itHERE. There’s a female shown, a video, and an unacknowledged debt to Wiki or similar source, I can’t help but notice…
**ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS AND THE ‘BOOMING DISPLAY’
“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)
Q: WHAT IS CUTER THAN A BAHAMA WOODSTAR HUMMINGBIRD ON ABACO?
A: A BABY BAHAMA WOODSTAR HUMMINGBIRD ON ABACO
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….
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…
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.
A BIRDER’S GUIDE TO THE BAHAMA ISLANDS (INCLUDING TURKS & CAICOS)
ABA BIRDFINDING GUIDES (American Birding Association)
Anthony W. White
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
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: 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…
THE BAHAMA SWALLOW: A SMALL ENDEMIC BIRD WITH BIG SURVIVAL PROBLEMS
The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) RED LISTstatus of the endemic Bahama Swallow Tachycineta cyaneoviridis has been upgraded from ‘Threatened’ to ‘Endangered’ because its small declining population faces a number of threats that are likely to worsen in the future. In particular, renewed logging activity and widespread property development could result in a further decline in breeding habitat.
The excellent photo above is the ‘Wikimedia poster bird’, but was in fact taken by prolific bird photographer Craig Nash in the main driveway of the Delphi Club, Abaco in 2010. He blogs as Peregrine’s Blog – see RECOMMENDED LINKS in right sidebar
This swallow species breeds only on 4 Bahamas islands: Grand Bahama, Abaco and Andros; and on New Providence, where a few birds are seen each breeding season, suggesting a ‘relict’ population there. The map below suggests that confirmed numbers are so few that New Providence sadly no longer counts as an ‘official’ breeding island.
The Bahama Swallow winters throughout the Bahamas and has been recorded as far as eastern Cuba, but in general the full wintering range is little known. It is a rare vagrant elsewhere during migration, including Florida. The preferred habitat is in the pine forests, where they nest in old woodpecker holes in Caribbean Pines using pine needles, Casuarina twigs, and grass to make the nest which they line with feathers. They typically lay 3 eggs. Incubation is 15 days and the fledging period is around 22 days.
Sound credit: Jesse Fagan / Xeno-Canto
Besides loss of habitat due to human intervention, other factors in population decline are thought to relate to hurricanes and forest fires. The Red List proposals for conservation of the Bahamas Swallow state:“Survey all suitable breeding habitat and assess the status of the species and its habitat; Gather empirical evidence to clarify population trends as a priority; Assess winter distribution and habitat requirements; Study the impacts of fire suppression on the species; Maintain natural nest-sites through a pine snag management programme, and potentially fire management; Assess and monitor the success of the nest box scheme; Protect remaining forest in the Bahamas and minimise the area lost to housing development and logging; Assess the impact of starling and house sparrows on the population and develop appropriate measures to reduce the threat”
The Bahama Swallow has joined other notable bahamian wildlife species in receiving the accolade of a stamp and a coin:
The Bahama Yellowthroat (Geothlypis rostrata) is a resident breeder species of warbler endemic to the Bahamas, closely related to the migratory Common Yellowthroat. The other birds endemic to Abaco / Bahamas are the Bahama Swallow, BAHAMA WOODSTAR and ABACO PARROT
HABITAT Dense low scrub, usually in drier areas than used by wintering Common Yellowthroats. It builds a cup nest low in dense vegetation and lays two eggs. Like other yellowthroats it feeds on insects and other small invertebrates in low vegetation
THE 3 VARIETIES The adult Bahama Yellowthroat is 15 cm long with a large bill. There are 3 subspecies: G. r. rostrata on Andros and New Providence islands (uncommon to rare); G. r. tanneri on Grand Bahama, Great Abaco and associated islands (common); and G. r. coryi on Eleuthera and Cat islands (common). The noticeable distinction between these 3 types seems to be in the forecrown colour (not one I myself would readily spot…)
DIFFERENCES FROM COMMON YELLOWTHROAT The Bahama Yellowthroat is slightly larger than wintering Common Yellowthroat and has a heavier bill and ‘slower, more deliberate movements’. Males have ‘more extensively yellow underparts, a larger facemask extending onto the nape, and in the case of coryi the distinctive yellow forecrown. Females have a grey wash to the head not shown by Common Yellowthroat’.
SONG Described as a loud wichety wichety wichety wich, similar to that of Common Yellowthroat, with the call a softer jip than that of Common Yellowthroat. This is meaningless to me – lots of warblery birds sound like that as far as I can make out. Here is a very short recording of a BY on Abaco courtesy of Xeno-Canto, but it’s not saying wichety to me – more like whee-hew
Below is a short self-crediting video to illustrate the song of a Bahama Yellowthroat on Grand Cayman. There’s a hint of wichety there.
CONSERVATION The Bahama Yellowthroat population overall is quite small and is outnumbered in winter by migrant Common Yellowthroats. It appears not to be endangered. Its conservation is currently listed as ‘Least Concern’ (see Wiki-Box above). The population may be decreasing slightly due to habitat destruction, but not yet sufficiently to bring the species within the ‘vulnerable’ classification.
Here is an excellent clear image of an adult male by Craig Nash who has taken many wonderful photos around Delphi and further afield – see the 4 ‘Peregrine’s Blog’ links under the Blogroll in the SIDEBAR Highly recommended. [I am also clearing copyright permission to add a few other photos - I haven't taken my own BY photo yet...]Photo credit: Craig Nash
Sources: various, including relevant books (see reviews inBOOKS) BirdLife International and good old Wiki