The Black-and-White Warbler Mniotilta varia is a fairly common winter resident on Abaco. They are the only birds of the genus Mniotilta (“moss-picker” gr.). Unlike most warblers these birds behave rather like nuthatches, creeping along the trunks and branches of trees grubbing insects out of the bark. Pine trees are ideal for this. I remain rather dim about the 37 species of warbler on Abaco. A lot of them are small and yellow. But as soon as I saw one of these for the first time, I was very relieved. I knew exactly what it was – the bird that has been described as ‘a flying humbug’.
Finally, this is a great short video of this little bird in action. Even if you only watch the first 30 seconds, you will be enchanted…
There are plenty of cute little birds on Abaco, as almost anywhere else. The BGG would definitely be in my top 10, and probably shouldering its tiny way into the top 5. This one was in the coppice 20 yards from the Delphi Club. I made some of those irritating (to other humans) ‘pishing’ sounds and, gratifyingly, it popped into sight. Then it started singing.
If the colouring / name coincidence doesn’t help with ID, look for the characteristic full white eye-rings. Adults have a dark Frida Kahlo ‘monobrow’, visible in these pictures. They also have a tendency to cock the tail when perching. If you are lucky, you may see a BGG ‘hawking’ for small insects, fluttering off a branch to make the catch and returning to its perch to eat it.
The image below shows the same bird having flown a short distance. I wanted a cocked tail shot, but as I pressed the (what is it? button? knob? shutter? trigger?) pressy thing, the bird started the preliminaries for flying off. The top 3 photos are exactly as taken, with no ‘work’ done bar cropping. The one below had a bit of a sharpen. Not a good photo, but it shows the stance. Then, having seen a cocked tail, I returned to immerse myself in a cocktail – a ‘Delphi Punch’ is a knockout drink!
This post may be infected with a passing dose of Badworkmanblamingtoolitis. I took a new camera to Abaco, an upgrade on my previous one (which thankfully I kept while testing the new one). I only use a ‘Bridge’ camera, mostly set on auto because it takes me too long to fidget with controls while the bird in front of me chooses the optimum moment to fly off, i.e. fractionally before I have pressed the button…
We went to the Abaco Neem Farm, a large acreage of Neem and other trees, with pinewood, coppice and open land. Perfect for birding. The owner Nick kindly gave us a metaphorical ‘Access All Areas’, so we took him at his word. I will post about this trip in due course – as expected, we found much of interest there.
Meanwhile, back to the camera. This little Cuban Pewee Contopus caribaeus was quite close, watching me and seeming very relaxed. I hoped that the much-vaunted zoom (“and many other features”) would bring pin-sharp images. This was the first time I realised that this might not be the case. As it has turned out the bird results are a bit disappointing, with images being ‘soft’. A great camera, probably, for general use: not so good for bird close-ups…
The last photo was a lucky shot, as the bird took hold of a large passing insect (cricket? hopper?). It’s not a sharp shot, but I’m glad I got it!
FIVE ELEGANT GULLS AND A SMART BUOY: BIRDS OF ABACO
There are 8 gull species recorded on Abaco. The 5 species shown here all feature in the new ‘Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco’. The others are the occasional vagrants Black-legged Kittiwake and Black-headed Gull; and the rare winter visitor Great Black-backed Gull. We do in fact have a Black-headed Gull in the archive (in winter plumage), but it was taken on New Providence and wasn’t eligible for inclusion in a book of Abaco birds. Even as a cheat.
‘OUTSTANDING BILLS’: THE WHITE IBIS ON ABACO AND BEYOND
The AMERICAN WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus) has a wide range in the Americas and is a familiar species in the southern United States, especially Florida. It is also found in the Caribbean. On Abaco they are quite rare, appearing sporadically as winter residents. Encountering one is definitely a ‘find’. I know of only one recent sighting when an ibis decided to spend some time on the lake at Treasure Cay Golf Course. Luckily Kasia was not concentrating too hard on her round of golf to the exclusion of all else – and had a camera with her.
The white ibis is more common on other Bahamas islands, for example New Providence (Nassau). Here are some photos taken there by Tony Hepburn and Woody Bracey. Others were taken in Florida.
This is the call of an Ibis in the Florida Wetlands (credit Xeno-Canto / Paul Marvin)
Juveniles have dark plumage that gradually grows out as they age and is replaced by white plumage
The ibis forages mainly by feel rather than sight, using the long curved beak to probe the bottom of shallow water for aquatic prey.
The white ibis is said to be a symbol for courage and optimism because they are supposedly the last birds to shelter from the onset of a hurricane, and the first to venture out as the storm passes. This is of course equally consistent with symbolising extreme foolhardiness… but let it pass.
FASCINATING FACTOIDS The white ibis / hurricane connection is nurtured by the University of Miami, of which the bird is the mascot. The sports teams are called the Hurricanes (or the ‘Canes for cheering purposes). Their endeavours are supported enthusiastically by none other than Sebastian the Ibis. “What does he look like?”, I hear you cry. This:
Sebastian makes a ‘U for University’ with his.. er… wingtips. He sports a natty Hurricanes hat and might easily be confused with Donald Duck’s less amiable-looking and more aggressive cousin
I had intended to digress further into the mysteries of the Sacred Ibis, symbol of the Ancient Egyptian God Thoth, the God of Learning and Wisdom who ranked with Isis and Osiris as A Top God. But in fact it’s quite a dull area, and 3 pictures and a nice bronze sculpture will give you the general idea.
The Sacred Ibis of Thoth, Met. Museum NYC
Credits: Kasia Reid, Woody Bracey, Tony Hepburn, Met, Wiki
SNOWY EGRETS (Egretta thula) are small white herons of the Americas, similar to the European Little Egret. The first thing you may notice about them is that they have remarkable bright yellow feet. This distinguishes these birds from all other egret and heron species.
Young Snowy Egrets often have yellow markings higher up on their legs.
The feet are so bright that they are often visible underwater.
Snowy Egrets eat fish, crustaceans, insects and small reptiles. They have 3 main foraging tactics: (1) Standing still in or on the edge of water to ambush prey (2) Stalking prey in shallow water, often running or shuffling their feet to flush out prey (3) “Dip-fishing” by flying low over water.
In breeding season, Snowy Egrets grow beautiful plumes – “bridal plumage”. At one time these were in great demand as adornments for women’s hats (as with flamingos, parrots and many other decorative species). This reduced the population of the birds to dangerously low levels, from which they have now recovered. Their IUCN rating is now ‘Least Concern’.
Contemplating the next meal… one of Sandy Walker’s excellent Abaco photos taken this winterPhoto Credits: Sandy Walker, Woody Bracey, Tony Hepburn, Wiki
ALL THINGS BRIGHT… CHEERFUL GARDEN BIRDS AT DELPHI, ABACO
It’s not necessary to prowl around the coppice or lurk in the pine forest to see beautiful birds. They are on the doorstep, sometimes literally. Especially if there are full seed feeders and hummingbird feeders filled with sugar water for the Cuban Emeralds, Bahama Woodstars and other birds with pointy beaks (Bananaquits, for example). Here are are a few from the gardens immediately around the Delphi Club.
PAINTED BUNTINGS (f & m)
PAINTED BUNTING (m) WITH BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS (m & f)
PAINTED BUNTING (f)
WESTERN SPINDALIS (m)
THICK-BILLED VIREO (m)
This is a TBV recording made with my iPhone.
For details how to record birds (or indeed animals. Or people) with a smart phone and embed the results as an mp3, CLICKHERE
These little birds are autumn / winter visitors, though I have seen one at Delphi in June – it must have like it there and decided to stay on. Strangely, though originally named for one found on Cape May in the c19, there wasn’t another one recorded there for another 100 years…
ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK (m)
INDIGO BUNTING (m)
THE DELPHI CLUB, ABACOCredits: Mainly Sandy Walker; a couple from Peter Mantle; DCB by RH
ABACO: A SANDY ISLAND (SANDY BEACHES, A SANDY POINT AND A SANDY WALKER)
This post features some great Abaco bird photos taken by Sandy Walker, a man familiar to anyone connected with the Delphi Club in any capacity at all, and well-known far and wide from Marsh Harbour to Ireland. Possibly notorious in some places… Sandy doesn’t talk about his photography much, though he has plenty to say on most topics. Here are a few of his photos taken in the last 6 months or so, and deserving a wider audience. The header image, from the Delphi garden, shows a Bananaquit in characteristic feeding mode.
A great picture of feeding time, with the huge chick already seeming to have outgrown the parent – apart from its rather stumpy tail
These shy birds are reclusive by nature and relatively hard to photograph. They tend to lurk in the undergrowth or half-hidden on water margins. If they are caught in the open, they tend to run in a somewhat cartoonish sort of way. This one was having a good dig in the mud for food.
Large birds of the shoreline and mangrove swamps, and classed with sandpipers. In flight, they have eye-catching wing stripes that Sandy has captured with a bit of camera sharp-shooting. You can see more Willets HERE
I was with Sandy when he took this photo during an amazing early evening feeding display of these birds. A hundred or more were swooping and jinking, making the most of an evening fly hatch. Sometimes they flew very close to our heads, make a whirring sound as they passed. Their speed and jagging flight made them very hard to take. I hardly got one in my viewfinder at all, but Sandy is an excellent shot of a different sort, so I guess aiming isn’t a problem for him…
I love these handsome birds, distinguishable from all other white herons and egrets (in some cases as white morphs) by their astonishing bright yellow feet. These are so vivid that they are often clearly visible when a snowy egret is standing in the water. This one was taken by the jetty at a local pond, a wonderful and secluded place to see water birds of many varieties, including rarities.
All images (except this one): Sandy Walker, with thanks
Ruddy Turnstones Arenaria interpres are well-known shore birds around the world. They used to be classified as plovers, but are now counted with sanderling. Fortunately they are distinctive enough not to be confusable with the many other species of shore bird with which they mix.
Their foraging methods are classified into 6 broad categories, though I imagine that if peckish, they may opt for all of these in the one feeding session.
Routing — rootling through piles of seaweed by flicking, ‘bulldozing’, and pecking it to expose small crustaceans or gastropod molluscs hidden underneath.
Turning stones — living up to its name name, flicking stones with its bill to uncover hidden snaily and shrimpy creatures.
Digging — using small flicks of the bill to make holes in sand or mud and then gobbling up the prey revealed.
Probing — inserting the bill right into the ground to get at concealed gastropods.
Hammering — cracking open shells using the bill as a hammer, then winkling out the occupant.
Surface pecking — short, shallow pecks to get at prey just below the surface of the sand.
Between them, these turnstones seem to be using methods 1, 3, 4 and 6
This female bird has clearly dug down in the sand to the length of its bill
This male is digging deep…
When they are not actively feeding, turnstones enjoy group preening sessions
They are also very good at just standing around having a companionable chat…
…or a post-prandial snooze…
…or just enjoying the scenery in groups…
…or simply having a peaceful paddleAll photos by RH on the Delphi Club beach (where I’ve never seen one actually turn a stone)
This is the second of three vaguely planned posts about these delightful shore birds. They aren’t rare but they are approachable and fun to watch. During the nesting and hatching season, there may even be some gorgeous chicks on a beach near you (a phrase I never thought I’d find myself using). PART ONE identified the typical male and female adults found on the Delphi beach almost any day.
This post is about nest protection. Not the ingenious methods of the birds themselves, that will come next time. This is a story of protection by humans. The photograph above shows Nettie’s Point, one of the launching points for bonefishing skiffs being taken out to the Marls, a vast area of sea, low sand banks and mangroves where the fish are found. You hope. The skiffs gain access to open sea via an artificial channel carved out of rock. The early morning trip along it is one of the most exciting part of a fisherman’s day, as he or she sets out with a clean score sheet, a rod and a box of flies. And a cooler box with some food and maybe a Kalik beer or three.
This June, a pair of plovers decided to locate their nesting ‘scrape’ right in the middle of the cleared area where the trucks normally turn. This was by no means a wise home-planning decision, and they might well have found themselves being promptly relocated. Or (worst case scenario) ending up under a large Toyota. But not a bit of it. Instead, these small birds were looked after by the guides like this:
A makeshift castle was built all round the nest to protect it from any inadvertent truck-related tragedies. Meanwhile the male plover stood guard outside the castle, amiably watching the human activities.
I kept my distance but in fact he was quite unperturbed, perhaps sensing that we were not a threat. He still kept a beady eye on the proceedings, though.
Meanwhile, what of the wooden enclosure itself? At first glance, there didn’t look much to report. However, if you look in the centre of the picture, you’ll see the female peeping out from the nest.
I very slowly moved nearer, prepared to stop if the male became agitated, or if the female shifted her position. Both seemed quite relaxed, so I took a couple of shots and walked away to leave the birds in peace. Then I went fishing.
As a postscript, Nettie’s Point is the location of a remarkable geographical phenomenon, possibly the result of the cutting of the channel. Along one part of the cut, for about 30 feet, the water level sinks alarming in the middle, while remaining normal at each side. Then it levels out again. This remarkable mid-stream aquatic depression is quite disconcerting to motor through on a skiff, though eventually one gets used to it. (Note: not every fact in this post is 100% true. If you have some salt handy, take a pinch)
Mostly, the Cuban Emeralds at Delphi spend their days perching briefly on twigs before zooming like tiny green rockets to their next appointment – an inviting sugar-water feeder, a promising flower or maybe yet another tempting twig. Sometimes, pairs will put on an acrobatic mid-air display, flitting around each other at high speed, chittering, before disappearing into the coppice together. Avian speed-dating. Occasionally, they are more contemplative. I recently posted HEREabout one that had let me get (very slowly) right up to it. Emeralds may be quite hard to spot in amongst the green leaves, but often they are there, quietly watching you go by. Here is one that stayed put when I stopped to admire it.
I’m keeping an eye on you…
I’ll tuck my wing in neatly if you are going to take pics of me
Uh-oh! Close-ups. This is my better side.
That’s enough, human. I’ve stopped the posing. Now push off and leave me alone.
In close-up, the feathers look like tiny iridescent pine needle fans
The Delphi Club: a hive of activity for birds (to mangle a metaphor)
THE CROSS LITTLE WOODPECKER: A TRUE HAIRY TALE FROM ABACO
ONCE UPON A TIME, on a magical far away island called Abaco, where the sun always shone and the people were always friendly and smiling, there lived a little woodpecker. It was a beautiful little woodpecker with long shiny golden locks and its name was Hairy… oh look, I can’t go on with this drivel and neither can you, I’m sure. Sorry about that. Let’s take it from the top…
♦♦ ♦ ♦♦ ♦ ♦♦ ♦ ♦♦ ♦
I have mentioned before the excellent birding opportunities that a wander round the Delphi drive circuit has to offer. It’s the best part of 2 miles. I am working on a list of all species encountered on the route from the Lodge, along the guest drive to the white rock on the road, and back down the service drive. It is turning out to be a gratifyingly long one.
During your stroll, it’s worth checking out the dead trees, especially the upper trunk and branches, as you go. For a start, these provide excellent places for birds to pause and scope out the territory below. They also have a good chance of finding insects there. And for some species, like the Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus, it is home.
The Hairy Woodpecker is very similar to the Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens, the smallest woodpecker of North America. Male HWs have a prominent red patch on the back of the head. You can find an earlier post about a male HW and its nest in the Delphi coppice, with some HW species facts, HERE
Last June Tom Sheley, a birding expert and photographer from Ohio with serious (by which I mean huge camo-covered camera and tripod) equipment, was staying at Delphi. He tipped me off about a woodpecker nest he’d found 1/3 of the way along the guest drive, just before the first bend. So I grabbed a camera – the wrong one, as it turned out, but my main camera battery was charging – and headed out. I found the nest at the top of a dead tree near the edge of the drive (shown above) and a female HW close to it.
She watched my approach carefully, and as soon as I paused close to the nest tree, she went into a fascinating ‘diversionary tactic’ routine to distract me from the nest. She flew across the track close in front of me, and settled on a tree on the other side of the drive, about 1/3 of the way up its trunk. There, she proceeded to scold me loudly as I fiddled about with the camera…
Still scolding, she then started to climb the tree quite slowly, pausing occasionally to fire off some more angry woodpecker abuse at me.
From time to time, she would change tack, closing her eyes gradually and hugging the trunk. This was presumably to make herself appear vulnerable to a predator (me), and therefore retain its (my) interest. If anyone is familiar with this behaviour, please leave a comment.
The woodpecker carried on up the tree, chattering as she went…
…before performing the closed eye / sleepy routine again
By now she was nearing the top of the tree, and I was thinking of giving in…
Once she had reached the very top, I made the decision to move on, marvelling at her persistence in taking on a two-legged predator 6ft 5″ high and… not exactly a bantam-weight. Then I realised that, in all of this, I hadn’t thought of the nest behind me a single time. She and her distraction technique had won, and so I made my apologies for disturbing her and left. HW 1, Human 0. At least I knew that on a hot cloudless day I had something to look forward to back at the ranch…
Contrary to appearances from the header image and the one below, Reddish Egrets (Egretta rufescens) do not yet use cellphones to communicate. Nevertheless, the trick of having a good ear-scratch while standing in water on one leg is a good posey accomplishment.
All these photos were taken while we were bonefishing from a skiff far out on the Marls in the mangroves. Ishi poled us closer so that boat-partner Tom – a real photographer – could get some shots. Meanwhile, I did my best with my little camera that I take out on the boat – the one that won’t matter too much when it slips from my hand or pocket into the drink. These things happen: I lost a good pair of Costas that a gust of wind unkindly whisked away when I took them off to change a fly.
This egret comes in two very different ‘colourways’. The classic version has a slatey-blue body and a reddish head and plumes. The white morph is pure white. The only similarities between the two are the two-tone bills with the black tip; and the blue-grey legs and feet.
True Reddish Egret, as you might expect it to look
The white morph
I’m not certain of the proportions of each type on Abaco, but I have certainly seen twice as many white ones as true reddish ones. There seem to be quite a few around – there are plenty of fish for them and dozens of square miles of human-free space in which to stalk them. However as with many (most?) of the bird species, there is a declining population for all the usual man-related reasons, and these fine birds have now had to be put on the IUCN ‘near-threatened’ list.
The bird kept an eye on us as we drifted closer, but was unperturbed. It continued to poke around in the mud, and occasionally it moved delicately but quite quickly to a different patch.
We watched the bird for about 10 minutes. Then we returned to what we were really there for – Tom to catch bones with practised skill, and me to wave the rod incompetently around until some passing fish took pity on me and grabbed my fly, knowing it would soon be released once all the fuss was over…
I’m not generally into whimsy and such stuff BUT… I can’t get enough of small bananaquits (Coereba flaveola). I’ve featured them beforeHEREandHERE AGAIN, but then I see another one, take some photos, and awwwwww – look at its little fluffy feathers… and its tiny sharp claws! The two shown below are summer babies. They aren’t really babies, though, are they? Teenagers, more like. Like many Abaco birds – especially the parrots – they are keen on the fruit of the Gumbo Limbo tree Bursera simaruba shown here. They also love flowers, piecing the base with their beaks to get at the nectar. They are quite as happy on a feeder – or indeed sipping sugar water from a hummingbird feeder, living up to their nickname ‘sugar bird’.
“Watching you watching me…”
This second bird is a bit older, and has developed some smart citrus lemon shoulder flashes. Bananaquits have many regional variations throughout the caribbean and beyond. These birds are, or were, generally lumped in with the tanager species. They have an official classification of ‘uncertain placement’ in the taxonomic scheme for now, while their exact status is debated. Not that anyone watching them worries about that sort of technicality.
Here is what a Bahamas bananaquit sounds like, recorded on Andros (Credit: Paul Driver at Xeno-Canto)
MAKING A GOOD IMPRESSION: BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACO
The Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii is similar to its slightly smaller cousin, the widespread Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottis. The range of Bahama Mockingbirds is slightly wider than the Bahamas themselves, and includes areas of Cuba, Jamaica and TCI. It is also a vagrant to the United States, especially southeastern Florida.
The Bahama Mockingbird is browner than the Northern Mockingbird, and has distinctive streaking and spotting to its breast and undercarriage.
Both species are found on Abaco. The NMs are ubiquitous in towns, settlements, gardens, coppice and pine forest, whereas BMs are shyer and tend to be found in the pine forest and well away from humans and their operations.We took a truck into the pine forest south of Delphi with well-known Abaco birder Woody Bracey and Ohio bird photographer Tom Sheley. They were quick to locate a bird, in part because one was sitting prettily on a branch singing lustily. It was well within range of Tom’s massive lens; more of a struggle for my modest Lumix (as you may detect). I was astounded by the beauty and variety of the song. It consisted of very varied notes and phrases, each repeated 3 or 4 times before moving on to the next sounds in the repertoire. Here is a short 18 second example I recorded, using my unpatented iPhone method, for which seeHERE.
For those with interest in birdsong, here is a longer 1:13 minute song from the same bird, with largely different sounds from the first recording made minutes earlier. There’s even a decent stab at imitation of a 1960s Trimphone™. Had we not had to move on to Sandy Point for an appointment with some cattle egrets and American kestrels, I could have stayed listening for far longer.
Finally, the Northern Mockingbird below was photographed in a garden at Casuarina – far tamer and clearly very different from its cousin. The range map shows the stark contrast with the very limited range of the Bahama Mockingbird.
One of the prettiest small birds to photograph on Abaco is the Crescent-eyed, or Cuban, Pewee Contopus caribaeus. These small flycatchers are as interested in your struggles with your camera settings and your ‘stealthy’ (yet clumsy) approach, as you are in their cute poses. It’s a symbiotic relationship – you may get nice pictures, they have a benign laugh at your efforts.
This bird was one of a pair we found at a magical corner of scrubland at a crossroad of tracks between the edge of the pine forest and a backcountry of derelict and overgrown sugar cane fields – the perfect habitat for a wide variety of species. The pewees had a nest hidden deep in the undergrowth, but were tame enough to be untroubled by our presence. They kept calm and carried on as usual.
These little birds are resident in Cuba and the Northern Bahamas. I have previously posted photos of them, taken by the beach at Casuarina, HERE. They are the smallest flycatchers – tyrannidae – on Abaco, a family that includes LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER, and the larger Loggerhead & Gray Kingbirds. Here’s a recording of cuban pewees made on Abaco (credit: Jesse Fagan / Xeno-Canto)
They often have a charmingly quizzical or watchful expression
OUT FOR A DUCK: FINDING WHITE-CHEEKED (BAHAMA) PINTAILS ON ABACO
Hunt them. Then when you have found them, shoot them. But only with a camera, obviously… These attractive dabbling ducks are far too pretty for anything more controversial than watching and enjoying. Many moons ago I posted about them HERE, but I’m a bit cannier since then, and even have my own photos now…
NOTEWithin hours of posting this, I was alerted (thanks, Tony W) to the inadvisability of (a) using the word ‘hunting’ in the title; and (b) the opening 2 sentences. (a) has been changed to the neutrally vanilla ‘finding’. (b) remain but with this warning: “It is illegal to shoot white-cheeked pintail in the Bahamas“. While I don’t imagine the readers of a blog like this will already have rushed to the gun cabinet, packed up a cartridge bag, added a couple of Kaliks and headed off with extreme pintail population decrease in mind, I expect a g**gle search for ‘hunting & shooting sweet small ducks’ could indeed provoke the odd (to very odd) person to assume it is open season for pintails.It isn’t. It never is.
The white-cheeked pintail Anas Bahamensis is also known as the Bahama Pintail. It is a gregarious species, often found in large numbers on lakes and ponds. An excellent place to see them on Abaco is at the pond by Hole 11 at Treasure Cay golf course. Don’t all rush at once – and if you do follow up the hint, check in at the Clubhouse to get permission – there may be a competition in progress… You’ll see many other waterbird species there, and I will do a follow-up post about them. Do mind your head – if someone yells ‘fore’ they will probably not be counting duck species.
The male and female of the species are very similar. However, in the image below there’s one bird that stands out from the others… and I don’t mean the American Coot. Near the bottom right is aLEUCISTICvariant of the Bahama Duck, a genetic condition similar to albinism.
Here is a close-up of the same duck on dry land. These variants are known as Silver Bahama Pintails. They are worth more than the standard version. You can see some good comparative pictures and find out more atMALLARD LANE FARMS
Here is a more extreme wiki-example of a silver bahama pintail
Another excellent place for pintails is in the Crossing Rocks area of South Abaco. Strictly, it is on private land. And legally too, for that matter. So I won’t pinpoint these pintails publicly. There is a wonderful variety of waterbird life there. I have seen great egrets, little blue herons, yellow-crowned night herons, belted kingfishers and elegantBLACK-NECKED STILTSthere, besides several duck species. I have also seen a sora there (twice), a small, furtive rail that skulks in the reeds and foliage at the edge of the water, profoundly hoping that you won’t notice it… If you are birding on Abaco from Delphi, ask Peter or Sandy for the location. Or else contact me.
I posted briefly about ROYAL TERNS (Thalasseus maximus) on the Abaco Marls earlier this year HERE. Yesterday’s news from the Lindo Wing (anti-Monarchists look away now) surely justifies a few more photos of these fine and noble seabirds. Everyone else is using the event to sell newspapers / magazines / products (‘Royal’ Baby Lotion – so gentle, so soft – fit for a future King’s delicate…’ etc etc). If there’s a cheerful bandwagon passing, why not just hop on? I’ll skip the info about the range and nesting arrangements of these birds and show some them in all their glory, posing in the sunshine on a dead tree way out in the Abaco Marls.
PS No terns were hurt trying to get the yellow crown to fit one of them. In fact, they rather enjoyed it…
The LEAST TERN (Sternula antillarum, as it is now designated) is a small tern of the Americas and Caribbean, a very pretty, delicate little bird. It is a rare a vagrant to Europe, with a single example recorded in Great Britain. It is quick and manoeuvrable in flight, slightly hunched and ready to assume the position shown below after hovering over a likely spot for small fish. This image shows the bird coming out of its hover, and at the very start of its rapid plunge to the water. It’s here for illustrative purposes only – I realise it is somewhat inept as a photograph, but frankly you can never be sure when the dive is going to happen. Unless you have lightning reactions, a refrangible apex lens and a zircon-encrusted focal-zone flange, you’ll be lucky to do much better. Oh, and steady hands.
I had a lucky break on the Delphi beach one day, when I was taking photos of Wilson’s plovers and their new chicks (soon to feature here). A least tern appeared from nowhere and landed at the water’s edge within a few yards of me. I had no time to rethink my settings – a perennial problem at the best of times – and I simply aimed the camera and managed to squeeze off 3 shots before the bird took off again. One was a blurry fail, one is the header picture… and the 3rd captured the bird as it turned its head. You can see that, even though this is a small and light bird, its feet have sunk right into the soft, damp white sand.
Another day on the beach produced a more measured opportunity. A least tern landed quite close to me, and was so preoccupied with its preening routine that it let me creep closer, all the while keeping a beady black eye on me. In the top shot, it has just become aware of me behind it. I was lucky it chose to stay and let me watch.
TURKEY VULTURES (Cathartes aura) are a familiar sight, wheeling effortlessly overhead on thermals or gliding with the wind in singles, pairs or flocks. Statistically, 83% of all photographs of turkey vultures are taken from below and look like this
Of those, 57% are taken in unhelpful light, and look like the one below. On the positive side, this picture show the extreme delicacy of the wing-tip feathering that enables these birds to adjust their direction and speed (this is not the bird above; it was taken by someone else at a different time. But 100% of TV in-flight photos are indistinguishable).
TVs have a wide range in the Americas and the Caribbean, and can prosper in almost any type of habitat. This is probably because these large birds are almost exclusively carrion feeders, and carrion is everywhere. They spend their days scavenging, or thinking about scavenging. They do not kill live creatures.
The word ‘vulture’ derives from the latin word ‘vulturus’ meaning ‘ripper’, ‘shredder’, or ‘very loud Metallica song’. TVs have very good eyesight, and an acute sense of smell that enables them to detect the scent of decay from some distance. A breeding pair will raise two chicks which revoltingly are fed by the regurgitation of all the rank… excuse me a moment while I… I feel a little bit…
When they are not flying, feeding, breeding or feeding young, TVs like best to perch on a vantage point – a utility post is ideal. But unusually for a bird, you won’t ever hear them sing or call. They lack aSYRINX(the avian equivalent of a larynx), and their vocalisation is confined to grunting or hissing sounds. Here’s a hiss (at 10 / 15 secs).
These vultures are often seen in a spread-winged stance, which is believed to serve multiple functions: drying the wings, warming the body, and baking bacteria.
They are equally happy to spread their wings on the ground, the shoreline being ideal
10 SCAVENGED TURKEY VULTURE FACTS FOR YOU TO PICK OVER
One local name for TVs is ‘John Crow’
An adult has a wingspan of up to 6 feet
Sexes are identical in appearance, although the female is slightly larger
The eye has a single row of eyelashes on the upper lid and two on the lower lid
TVs live about 20 years. One named Nero had a confirmed age of 37
LEUCISTIC (pale, often mistakenly called “albino”) variants are sometimes seen
The Turkey Vulture is gregarious and roosts in large community groups
The Turkey Vulture has few natural predators
Though elegant in flight, they are ungainly on the ground and in take-off
The nostrils are not divided by a septum, but are perforated; from the side one can see through the beak [some humans also suffer from MSS (missing septum syndrome). They tend to sniff a lot]
REVOLTING CORNER / TOO MUCH INFORMATION
SQUEAMISH? LOOK AWAY NOW
UNATTRACTIVE HABITS The Turkey Vulture“often defecates on its own legs, using the evaporation of the water in the feces and/or urine to cool itself, a process known asUROHIDROSIS.This cools the blood vessels in the unfeathered tarsi and feet, and causes white uric acid to streak the legs”. The droppings produced by Turkey Vultures can harm or kill trees and other vegetation.
HORRIBLE DEFENCES The main form of defence is“regurgitating semi-digested meat, a foul-smelling substance which deters most creatures intent on raiding a vulture nest. It will also sting if the predator is close enough to get the vomit in its face or eyes. In some cases, the vulture must rid its crop of a heavy, undigested meal in order to take flight to flee from a potential predator”
DIETARY NOTESTVs tend to prefer recently dead creatures, avoiding carcasses that have reached the point of putrefaction. They will occasionally resort to vegetable matter – plants and fruit (you could view this as their salad). They rarely, if ever, kill prey – vehicles do this for them, and you’ll see them on roadsides feeding on roadkill. They also hang around water, feeding on dead fish or fish stranded in shallow water.
ECO-USES If you did not have birds like this, your world would be a smellier and less pleasant place, with higher chance of diseases from polluted water and bacterial spread.
FORAGING TVs forage by smell, which is uncommon in birds. They fly low to the ground to pick up the scent of ethyl mercaptan, a gas produced by the beginnings of decay in dead animals. Their olfactory lobe in the brain is particularly large compared to that of other animals.
SEX TIPS Courtship rituals of the Turkey Vulture involve several individuals gathering in a circle, where they perform hopping movements around the perimeter of the circle with wings partially spread. In humans, similar occasions are called ‘Dances’. In the air, one bird closely follows another while flapping & diving.
For more about Turkey Vultures, including cool videos, visitDEAR KITTY
It’s possible you may enjoy a visit to max-out-cute Birdorable. Click TV below for link
And if you’d prefer something TV but less cute, depressingnature.com has the thing for you…
Credits: Photos mainly RH, 2 by Clare L, small ones Wiki; Info – cheers Wiki & random pickings
Oh. Ok. Here’s the Metallica thing referenced above. Sweaty. Not my taste these days.