ELEGANT COOT CABARETS (6,6,2,5 anag.): CATTLE EGRETS ON ABACO


“ELEGANT COOT CABARETS” (6,6,2,5 anag.): CATTLE EGRETS ON ABACO

The CATTLE EGRET Bubulcus ibis is a species of heron with an affinity with cattle and other grazing animals. It’s a two-way thing – they relieve a cow of its ticks and flies, and get a ready meal return. Their name is the latin for ‘herdsman’.

Originating in Africa, these birds have proved to be one of the most successful and resilient bird species at expanding their breeding populations around the globe.

Range map – yellow: breeding – green: year-round –  blue: non-breeding                     

The first sightings in North America were in 1941, then assumed to be escapees. Far from it. They flew in and multiplied. By 1953 they were breeding in Florida; in Canada in 1962; and in the Bahamas in the 1960s. Now they are everywhere – though (depending, like, how old you are) your grandparents might never have seen one… Here’s a helpful wiki-graphic 

Range expansion in the Americas

In the breeding season, cattle egrets develop pinkish-buff patches on their front, back and crown, and grow matching head-plumes

Recently we saw one at Sandy Point when photographing kestrels. It’s no longer in full breeding plumage, but traces of a pinkish tinge can still be seen.Cattle Egret Abaco 8The cattle egret’s eyes are positioned so that while they are feeding they have binocular vision. I’m not quite sure why that would be advantageous; you might think they’d prefer one eye on their food, and one on the look out for predatorsCattle Egret Sandy Point Abaco 12

When on the move the egrets may adopt a stooping, creeping stanceCattle Egret Abaco 7

These birds have capacious mouths, which enable them to vary their diet from small maggoty things to larger insects, then through snails to small frogs and the likeCattle Egret Abaco 5

Although the neck generally looks slim, they appear to have an expandable gullet which no doubt helps with larger food itemsCattle Egret Abaco 4

Now. Time to get back to the Crossword…Cattle Egret Abaco 2

BINOCULAR VISIONce_sp1Graphics, breeding plumage & header: redoubtable wiki; other images RH

ADDENDUM The redoubtable dou dou, creator of tiny and cute handmade bird models, has been inspired by these fine creatures to make a handsome pair. Check out her site with the link above… and you can even buy your very own cattle egrets there

cattle-egret-birds

“STRIKE THE POSE”: RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS ON ABACO


Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 5

“STRIKE THE POSE”: RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS ON ABACO

The red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) has previously hopped around these pages in the context of a (my!) simple way to RECORD BIRDS using a smart-phone, trim the result and convert it into an mp3 (or even a ring-tone – I have a great Abaco parrot one to startle friends, family and indeed complete strangers). Now we move on to a more important topic, namely courtship and so forth. And boy, don’t male RWBs fancy themselves when trying to impress the laydeez…Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 1We had taken a truck into backcountry between the pine forest and the Marls, with Tom and his impressive camo-camera with its 10 foot lens.Tom & Nighthawks

We found formerly cultivated fields – evidence of the defunct sugar cane industry – and then we came unexpectedly to a large expanse of open scrubland, with the track straggling through the middle.Truck

And there, on carefully chosen vantage points, was an array of RWBs. Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 2

This bird was within range of my comparatively puny camera, and I watched as it arranged itself into various elegant poses in the late afternoon sun. All around were their ‘rusty door hinge’ calls, of which this is an example (in fact a female, recorded at Casaurina, hence the background sound of lapping waves).

Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 4

These acres of open land were not far inland, and there was a slight breeze to ease the heat. This caused the occasional ruffling of feathers, and the need to spruce up…Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 3

The purpose of all this was of course to impress the opposite sex (behaviour not confined to bird species). There were plenty of females around, also similarly perching on vantage points for similar display-with-view-to-dating-maybe-more reasons.Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 6Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 7

I didn’t see the phase in which the males may get quite worked-up, but luckily Y**T*b* has perfect example of a male RWB in full song. Credits as shown on the video.

OL’ RED EYES IS BACK: A RED-LEGGED THRUSH SINGS THE… REDS?


Red-legged Thrush, Abaco 2

OL’ RED EYES IS BACK: A RED-LEGGED THRUSH SINGS THE… REDS?

The Red-legged Thrush (Turdus plumbeus) is often said to be the Caribbean equivalent of the American Robin. Its main range is from the northern Bahamas down to the Caymans, Hispaniola, Dominica and Cuba. Although Abaco is less than 200 miles from the Florida coast, reports of RLTs in Florida are rare. Similarly, the robin rarely crosses over to Abaco – and most reported sightings are on the Cays rather than the main island.RTL Range Map birdlife.org

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco 10

I’ve always been slightly surprised by the RLT’s name. You don’t get birds called ‘the brown-feathered tobaccoquit’ and so on. Brown-feathers are not a particular signifier. Thus, there are plenty of bird species with red legs. But few with eyes that glow with the startling intensity of an angry ember*. 

RTL eye

The RLT on Abaco is ubiquitous – familiar in gardens, coppice and pine forest. They have a broad diet, eating mainly fruits and insects of all types. They will also eat snails, lizards and even birds’ eggs. Because of this range of diet, you’ll often see these birds foraging on the ground, as well as in the understorey and higher up in the bushes and trees of the coppice.Red-legged Thrush Abaco 7

In the mornings and evenings, RLTs like to sing. They will fly up to a high perch, often the topmost dead branch of a tree, and perform loudly and elegantly. They have a variety of characteristic poses that they like to strike. These photos were taken with a small camera from ground to tree top in the coppice, so they aren’t as sharp as I’d like. But you can still see the bird’s tiny ululating tongueRed-legged Thrush, Abaco 1Red-legged Thrush, Abaco 5

This bird was in the Delphi drive at around 6.00 pm. I recorded it for about 30 seconds as a video, but the camera-shake is so… well, I’m sparing you the movie, ok? Instead I’ve converted the song to an mp3 file, which has worked quite well. Turn your volume up a bit – the bird was not very close. Note the smart matching red inside of the mouth – hence, singing the reds…

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco 4Red-legged Thrush, Abaco 9Red-legged Thrush, Abaco 3

One disadvantage of posing on a high perch is the risk of ruffled feathers & dignity

MAKIN’ COOL MUSICRed-legged Thrush, Abaco 8

YET SECONDS LATER… WARDROBE MALFUNCTIONRed-legged Thrush, Abaco 6

Finally, another (and more professional) example of an RLT’s song from Xeno-Canto, also recorded in the Bahamas

Credits: All photos RH except the greyer one on the ground, Mrs RH. Range map birdlife.org

AFTERWORD

1. John Bethell has commented “In Long Island they call them Rain Crows, because they were always seen right after a rain storm!”. So I checked my James Bond (1947), the best resource for historic local names. Generically, ‘Blue Thrasher’, and specifically for the Bahamas, ‘Blue Jane’ are given.

NEW (JUNE 2014) ‘John’ comments “Rain bird or rain crow refer to both the mangrove cuckoo and the lizard cuckoo in the Bahamas”.

2. *To the friend who rightly points out that, strictly speaking, embers cannot be ‘angry’, I point to my right to use PATHETIC FALLACY if I choose, the imputation of human emotions to objects or, [perhaps] creatures. Or to employ, like, creative simile. Now beg to go back on my Xmas card list, buddy.

HELLO, HANDSOME! WESTERN SPINDALIS IN THE MOOD FOR LURVE…


Western Spindalis Abaco 4

HELLO, HANDSOME! WESTERN SPINDALIS IN THE MOOD FOR LURVE…

Nearly two years ago, when this blog was still in its mewling infancy, I posted about one of my favourite small birds on Abaco, the WESTERN SPINDALIS (Spindalis zena, formerly known as the Stripe-headed Tanager). It is a strikingly handsome creature by any standards, often seen posing ‘tall’ on a branch looking splendid in its orange, black and white livery.

Perching proudly…Western Spindalis Abaco 1… or dining elegantly…Western Spindalis Abaco 2

The  spindalis is one of the birds to look out for if you are walking along one of the drives at Delphi, or (*recommended 1/2 hour stroll*) walking the drive circuit. You’ll see them in the coppice or in the undergrowth alongside the drives in the pine forest area, almost certainly a little way in from the front. We spotted one quite close to the Highway, looking most decorative in the greenery. This one had an uncharacteristic hunched look about him, and we soon discovered why – he was courting. Not the black-faced grassquit near the bottom of the photo, but a female spindalis well-hidden low down and further back in the undergrowth to the left. So we edged nearer to get a better look.Western Spindalis Abaco 7

You’ll see that this male bird’s hunched posture has produced a rather impressive neck ruff, an adornment presumably irresistible to female spindalises. Both birds were ‘chucking’ softly to each other, and the male turned his head regularly to show off his glories from all angles. Western Spindalis Abaco 6Western Spindalis Abaco 8I can’t unfortunately reveal the outcome of this encounter. We never saw the female, and we had probably got too close for her to feel comfortable about breaking cover. The male, however, was too absorbed refining his pulling techniques to be greatly bothered by our presence, though he did keep a beady black eye on us. Is this male preoccupation when courting found in other animal species, I wonder? Reader, we made our excuses and left…

GREEN PREEN: CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD, ABACO


Cuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco 8

GREEN PREEN: CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD, ABACO 

This tiny bird was in the Abaco coppice, well off the beaten track. Nearly two miles down a notably unbeaten track, in fact, that later was to lead to a puncture-and-@$%^&*-I-forgot-my-cellphone drama. Trauma, even. The hummer knew perfectly well that I had crept up behind it, but it had presumably seen few bipeds. It would not have known of their urge to bulldoze wild habitat and turn it into massive unsold developments, as has happened a short way up the coast… So it just carried on with what a bird has to do to keep itself looking presentable, while I, feeling rather rude and intrusive, took some quick pictures before leaving it in peace. Rather than sell these intimate studies to Hello!, OK!, Chirpy! or Tweet!, I am displaying them free for your enjoyment.Cuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco 1Cuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco 4Cuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco 6Cuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, AbacoCuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco 5Cuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco 2Cuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco 7a

In addition to the Cuban Emerald, the Bahamas has its own endemic hummingbird, the Bahama Woodstar. In the faltering early days of this blog, I posted about them both at BAHAMA WOODSTARS & CUBAN EMERALDS: THE HUMMINGBIRDS OF ABACO At that time, I was not really a ‘birder’ at all, and had only a very basic camera, so my own pictures were… very basic. But you may be interested in some of the info in the post about these two species, so I mention it in passing.

A RARE ABACO PARROT DISPLAYS A RARE TALENT…


DCB GBG Cover Logo

A RARE ABACO PARROT DISPLAYS A RARE TALENT…

WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MY LITTLE TRICK?ABACO PARROT CS 13-3

I’M A BIT CAMERA-SHY – I’LL JUST TURN ROUNDABACO PARROT CS 13-4

THAT’S BETTER. ARE YOU SURE YOU ARE READY FOR THIS?ABACO PARROT CS 13-2

TA DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAABACO PARROT CS 13-1

The Abaco Parrot is a unique subspecies of Cuban Parrot found on only Abaco. They are the only parrot to nest underground, in limestone caves in the pine forest. Their numbers have increased from near extinction to a sustainable population as the result of an intensive program of conservation and anti-predation. They get plenty of publicity hereabouts, and have their own page HERE. We normally avoid too much whimsy in these parts, but I am in parrot territory right now, so I have given myself permission to break my own rule. Photos: ©Caroline Stahala (who looks after them)

A PIED WAGTAIL’S EVENING PREENING ROUTINE


A PIED WAGTAIL PREENING IN EVENING SUNSHINE

In a departure from the usual strictly Abaco-centric blog principles that apply around here, and because a number of birding folk are tolerant enough to follow this blog regularly, I am migrating a euro-bird post from my side-project non-Abaco blog at ROLLING HARBOUR LIFE (check out the bees there!). I think this photo sequence of the evening ablutions of a small bird may be of wider interest, or amusement at the least. Also, it’s a cute little creature – some of its pale grey downy feathers are incredible soft and delicate. And anyway, what the heck – we’re in England (flood alerts!), we’ll be on Abaco in less than 4 weeks, and tomorrow is May 1st.

This preening is a complicated routine involving a great deal of busy activity, from 180° head rotation to elaborate fluffing up to pauses for admiration. I watched this bird, one of a pair, for several minutes. The photos (taken in Dorset) have been cropped but not in any way photoshopped or adapted… I’m pleased at how well they turned out, considering that I was filming from the ground 20 feet below, and the bird was moving most of the time. I’ve put  a few individual pictures up first, then a slideshow of some highlights of the performance

This was a serious feat of balance, with a very vigorous shake-down with only one foot on the wire

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

BAHAMA WOODSTARS & CUBAN EMERALDS: THE HUMMINGBIRDS OF ABACO


THE HUMMINGBIRDS OF ABACO

At last I have got round to the hummingbirds. It’s quite simple. There are only two species of hummingbird on Abaco. The endemic variety is the Bahama Woodstar, one of only 3 endemic bird species on Abaco (the others are the Bahama Yellowthroat and the Bahama Swallow). The settled migrant is the Cuban Emerald.

               BAHAMA WOODSTAR                                    

 Calliphlox evelynae

Male and female Bahama Woodstars  (Photo Credit: Phil Brown – and VG too)

These hummingbirds are found throughout the Bahamas. They do not migrate, although are occasional vagrants in SE Florida. They breed all year round, the main season being in April. The female lays 2 elliptical white eggs, which she incubates for 15-18 days. As with humans, the female is mainly responsible for childcare while males go drinking at the nectar bar and hang out with their mates.

This BW was one of a small group at Hole-in-the-Wall. They were completely unconcerned by our presence, and we could get within arm’s length of them. Woodstars, though tame in human terms, can be aggressive and territorial. They are plentiful throughout the Bahamas except on Grand Bahama, Abaco and Andros. Significantly those are the only islands where the Cuban Emerald is found in any numbers. As with the native red and import grey squirrel problem in the UK, the migrant emerald is aggressive towards the woodstar, which is consequently rare where emeralds are abundant.

Here is their call (credit Jesse Fagan Xeno-canto)

Addition April 2012 Here is a seriously cute female Woodstar photographed by Ann Capling at Bahama Palm Shores, close to Ocean Drive – a really pretty little bird

At Delphi, you’ll frequently see emeralds, especially now that feeders with sugar water have been hung up for them. The pool area is a very good place to watch them. But there are occasional woodstars to be seen as well – in the coppice on the drives for example, and even on the feeders. The vague blur to the left of the feeder below is a woodstar in the millisecond between me pointing the camera and it flying away… Don’t bother to click to enlarge it – it’s a useless photo, I know, but it is evidence even at the lowest level

CUBAN EMERALD Chlorostilbon ricordii

                                        

There’s probably a great deal to be written about the emeralds, but not by me. Or not now, anyway.  The little you need to know from me is already covered above, and I haven’t yet discovered whether their childcare arrangements differ significantly from the woodstars. Probably not. So I’ll put in a selection of photos, and remark that it is strange how quickly they can change from sleek and slender birds to small rather cold and dispirited looking bundles of feathers. Both states are depicted below. Here’s what to listen for (credit Xeno-canto.org) 


Delphi – pool feeder

Delphi – pool feeder

Delphi – pool feeder

Delphi – far side of pool

Delphi – near pool

Delphi – front drive

Delphi – front drive

All the above birds were photographed at Delphi. We saw emeralds elsewhere, of course – in the pine forest, flicking across the logging tracks; on other Cays. The best sighting was during our day trip reef-snorkelling and island-hopping with Kay Politano, when we had an excellent lunch for 14 at Cracker P’s on Lubbers Cay (see future post about this and the island-hops). There was a bird feeder by our table, to which emeralds came and went throughout the meal. Here are some photos – I wanted to get them hovering, and kind of succeeded. More or less.




This link may or may not result in you hearing an emerald’s call. Let’s see if I can make it work…
http://www.xeno-canto.org/sounds/uploaded/LNEEOOWCQR/Emerald_Cuban_feedingcall_10122010_0831_0075.mp3

HUMMER FACTS
  • The colourful throat of a (male) bird is known as a ‘gorget’
  • Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards
  • There are 320 species of hummingbird worldwide
  • The smallest is the bee hummingbird of Cuba, at 2″ for an adult
  • John Gould, the c19 ornithologist and artist, invented many of the names to reflect the varied and iridescent colours of the birds.
  • Hummingbird wings beat as much as 75 times per second
  • Hummingbirds have the highest metabolic rate of any warm-blooded creature; also the largest hearts (proportionately, obviously…)
  • On TCI, the Bahama Woodstar is known as ‘The God Bird
  • There are many collective nouns, including a “bouquet”, “glittering”, “hover”, “shimmer”, and “tune” of hummingbirds