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. 

IMG_1613IMG_1618IMG_1801IMG_1617IMG_1713IMG_1707

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

10302060_10152308854900862_2019057607431310750_n-1

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

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


2319_1090169168209_1705_n

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….

1157556_10201484511728454_263738206_n1009896_10201430116528608_457141162_n

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

——————————————-
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

ENDEMIC BAHAMA SWALLOW: FROM ‘THREATENED’ TO ‘ENDANGERED’ RED LISTING


THE BAHAMA SWALLOW: A SMALL ENDEMIC BIRD WITH BIG SURVIVAL PROBLEMS

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) RED LIST status 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:

 

BAHAMA PARROTS: BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST DOCUMENTARY


BNT ABACO / INAGUA PARROT DOCUMENTARY

In August 2011 the Bahamas National Trust published a documentary about the resident Abaco and Inagua populations of this Cuban Parrot subspecies. It features research scientist Caroline Stahala, and contains plenty of information about these birds, their nesting and breeding habits, and the problems they face from predation. In places, some of the devastation caused by the extensive forest fires in March 2011 is still evident (see images in earlier POST). If you want to know more about these attractive (but noisy) birds, the documentary video below covers a great deal in 8 minutes…

BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT: ABACO’S ENDEMIC WARBLER


BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT: AN ENDEMIC WARBLER

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’.

Bahama Yellowthroat (Adult female), Little Abaco                                    Photo credit ©Mike Danzenbaker  http://www.avesphoto.com

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 in BOOKS BirdLife International and good old Wiki