BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD: NEW SUBSPECIES FOR ABACO?


Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 14

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD: NEW SUBSPECIES FOR ABACO?

[Camera. Lights. ACTION] Attenborough, D (for it is he), off-screen, in familiar breathy tones…

“Here, deep in the impenetrable pine forests of the Abaco National Park, lives an incredible bird discovery until recently known only to four people in the world. For here, where the unique Abaco Parrots nest in their underground holes and the rare Kirtland’s Warbler continues its brave stand against extinction… here is a completely new bird subspecies that is destined to take the avian world by storm… the Red-faced Bahama Mockingbird Mimus bahamensis volvensharborii…”

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 06

I can’t keep that nonsense up for any longer, you’ll be relieved to hear… But here is the story. Woody Bracey was taking us, with his friend Bill, in search of the rare and elusive Kirtland’s Warbler, about which more soon (*Spoiler Alert* Yes, we did. Four). We had stopped the truck in a remote area of the National Park to listen for and indeed watch parrots. I was in the front of the truck, window down, listening hard when suddenly, right by us, I suddenly heard the beautiful song of a Bahama Mockingbird. Here are two recordings I made the previous year – the first is over 1 min long, the second is only 17 secs.

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 07

I grabbed my camera and started to fire away at the bird, which was perched on a dead branch just a few feet away near the edge of the track. I had no time to think about depth of field, light balance, or refrangible focus indices, I just went for it. It was Woody who first noticed the remarkable feature of this bird – its red face. It first, I thought it was just on the chin, but later I saw that the red colouring is above the beak as well.

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 09

Woody is one of the most experienced birders in the Bahamas, and he had never come across this variant before. Sometimes a bird may have white patches or some other LEUCISTIC colour variation. But red is something very different. Once we had ruled out blood (no evidence of injury) and strawberry jam (no likelihood of a propensity for sticking face in same), an altogether more exciting possibility began to emerge…

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 10

The Bahamas Birding Triumvirate will be debating this find, no doubt. Is this sort of red-faced variant found in any other bird species? Is it a one-off? Or is it perhaps one example of a small subspecies confined to Abaco or the wider Bahamas? Or does it just come from eating red berries, as in photo #3? Has anyone come across a BM like this one? Any comment welcome via the comment box or email. 

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 11

This is my personal favourite pic, taken while the bird was in mid-song. I’d have liked an ‘open mouth’ shot, but frankly when you find an apparently new bird in the middle of nowhere, you can’t have everything….Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 13

Finally, you may well ask “So that’s all very well, but what does a ‘normal’ Bahama Mockingbird look like close-to?” Here’s an example for comparison 

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco 2

All photos RH, cheers to Woody for leading the trip and for spotting the unusual features of this bird PDQ

UNDENIABLY NATTY: BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS ON ABACO


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas 1 copy

UNDENIABLY NATTY: BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS ON ABACO

As I sort through 11,867* recent photographs from Abaco and dump the 99% of them that fall into any of the ‘epic fail’, ‘hopeless’, ‘what on earth?’, ‘why on earth’?, ‘sun-flared’, ‘pitch black’, and ‘bird-butt’ categories, a few are making it through the rigorous editorial process. There will be birds, fish, whales, dolphins, expeditions and scenery in due course, but I’m kicking off with a small bird that is a great favourite, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea. This is because it is probably the easiest bird to pish, click, whistle or otherwise vocalise from the back of the coppice to the front. Then it gets flirty with the camera, performs cutely, and follows you down the track. The perfect subject except for one thing: they are small and branches / twigs are numerous. So, many shots consist of a magnificently focussed stick or leaf, with a blue-gray blur behind it…

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas 7Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas 6Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas 1Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas 2Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas 5

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BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS “TOP 5 CUTE?”

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*This may be a slight exaggeration, but it certainly seems like it now…

All photos: RH

“PELICAN BRIEF”: BROWN PELICANS AT SANDY POINT, ABACO


Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 12

 “PELICAN BRIEF”: BROWN PELICANS AT SANDY POINT, ABACO

The Brief today is to write about Brown Pelicans at Sandy Point. And to shoehorn in the traditional titular pun somehow (job done!). For those unfamiliar with Abaco, SP is the end of the road. Literally. The island has one highway 120 miles long, mostly straight, from north to nearly south where it curves abruptly west for a while, past the airfield, and when it reaches the ocean at Rocky Point there’s a 90º turn. For a couple of miles, you travel north again into Sandy Point… then stop when you see the sea ahead of you. Dead end. Time to park and explore… 

Abaco Road Map

Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 4

The birding at SP can be very rewarding. Depending on the time of year, you may see ospreys, tropicbirds, heron and egrets of various sorts, kestrels, anis and plenty of shorebirds. The last are found on the narrow beaches and at low tide on the sandbars close to the shore. On the more distant sandbars in Spring, you may see a colony of Magnificent Frigatebirds (or Man-0-War birds), the males with their amazing ‘look-at-me’ bright red throat-balloons (‘gular pouches’) inflated to enhance their wooing prospects. This is exactly the time you’ll realise you haven’t brought your binoculars with you…  Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 9 We’d gone to a (very) informal lunch party at the legendary Nancy’s, but there was activity on the nearby dock that caught my eye. A pair of pelicans were fishing from it, then drying in the sun, then having a little fly around. I only had a rather underwhelming camera with me, so I did what I could in a short time before returning to the matter in hand. Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 8Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 6Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 7 Although I watched the birds diving off the dock a few times, I never actually saw them catch anything. Maybe they had already swallowed some hapless little fish before returning to the dock. I was reminded of a poem by a poet called James Montgomery. Here’s his vivid and perhaps overwrought description of pelican feeding habits: Nimbly they seized and secreted their prey, Alive and wriggling in the elastic net, Which Nature hung beneath their grasping beaks; Till, swoln, with captures, the unwieldy burden Clogg’d their slow flight, as heavily to land, These mighty hunters of the deep return’d. There on the cragged cliffs they perch’d at ease, Gorging their hapless victims one by one; Then full and weary, side by side, they slept, Till evening roused them to the chase again. James Montgomery (4 November 1771 – 30 April 1854): Pelican Island, 1828 (canto IV, l. 141)

Watching the water intentlyBrown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 10

Check out that ‘gular pouch’… Pelicans, like frigatebirds, have them – cormorants too.Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 14

After each sortie a certain amount of shaking down, feather fluffing & general drying-off took placeBrown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 13

Although these pelicans look generally rather clumsy and ponderous both in flight and on land, they are surprisingly quick and agile in the dive. Occasionally, however, the take-off was a bit ragged… Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 16 Usually the male took the tallest post from which to survey the scene, but occasionally the female beat him to a good vantage point.Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 17 I’d never seen pelicans so close-to before. At Delphi they can be seen flying lazily past over the bay, quite high. I’ve seen one in Hope Town, but some distance away. So it was a huge thrill to be able to watch these two birds from the dock itself. You’ll see that the female was ringed (banded), but the male was not. Very soon we’ll be back on Abaco. I’m hoping the pelicans will be at Sandy Point again. And the ospreys. And the Frigatebirds.  And that I’ll have remembered the binoculars. And that the Kaliks at Nancy’s will be ice-cold…  All photos, RH

It’s a poor photo, but it illustrates the huge wingspan compared to body length…Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 15

BANANAQUITS ON ABACO: CHEERY VANQUISHERS OF GLOOM


Bananaquit, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

BANANAQUITS ON ABACO: CHEERY VANQUISHERS OF GLOOM

I’d been planning a post about marine debris and its dire effects on the natural world. Some images I proposed to use are distressing, and some simply suggest how futile it is to try to prevent mankind chucking harmful and semi-permanent rubbish into the sea. Depressing. A gyre of upset. Add in new military interventions without limitation and suddenly I longed for something more cheerful. Checking through a folder of photos of Bananaquits helped to stave of the gloom, so I picked out a few images of this lovely small bird taken by 9 photographers. 

Bananaquit, Abaco - Craig NashBananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 2 (Keith Salvesen)Bananaquit, Treasure Cay, Abaco - Becky MarvilBananaquit, Bahamas, Great Abaco - Gerlinde TaurerBananaquit, Abaco - Bruce HallettBananaquit, Abaco - Charlie Skinner Bananaquit, Abaco - Erik Gauger Bananaquit, Abaco - Tom Reed Bananaquit, Abaco - Peter Mantle

Credits: Bruce Hallett, Craig Nash, Keith Salvesen, Becky Marvil, Gerlinde Taurer, Charlie Skinner, Erik Gauger, Tom Reed, Peter Mantle

“I HEAR YOU KNOCKING”: THE YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO ON ABACO


Coccyzus-americanus_ Factumquintus Wiki

“I HEAR YOU KNOCKING”: THE YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO ON ABACO

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) is the least common of three cuckoo species found on Abaco. All are permanent residents.  It is similar to the more frequently seen Mangrove Cuckoo (post to follow). Both are avid consumers of insects in general and caterpillars in particular. The YBC is shy and you are quite unlikely to see one out in the open, though you may hear its distinctive ‘knocking’ call. The third species classified with the ‘cuculidae’ is the Smooth-billed Ani. Here’s what to listen out for:

Mike Nelson / Xeno-Canto

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley) copy

The YBC has, obviously, a yellow bill. It also has yellow eye-rings and pure white underparts. Photographer Tom Sheley, a major contributor t0 “The Birds of Abaco”, is a very patient man. He managed to capture these two beautiful birds by knowing the right place to be at the right time… and waiting. The results for this little-seen species are spectacular.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

For those whose memories are stirred by the reference to “I hear you knocking” (Rick from Nassau – you!), I include archive material of Dave Edmunds hamming it up. Get a load of the Clothes! The Dancing! The Moves of the guy in the top left corner / centre back, at once rhythmic yet disconcertingly bizarre.

‘LEAST, BUT NOT LAST': LEAST GREBES ON ABACO


Least Grebe Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley) 1

‘LEAST, BUT NOT LAST': LEAST GREBES ON ABACO

The Least Grebe Tachybaptus dominicus is an adorable little dabchick that can be very entertaining to watch. These small birds are able to stay underwater for long enough to ensure they always bob up further away from you than you expect. They can easily stay below the surface for 20 seconds, and may dive again only a few seconds after surfacing (their taxonomic name comes from a Greek compound meaning  ‘fast diving’). While underwater, the grebe forages for tiny fish, crustaceans, frogs and aquatic insects. In the breeding season the striped chicks are sometimes carried on a parent’s back.

A GALLERY OF LEAST GREBESLeast Grebe, Abaco (Rolling Harbour)Least Grebe, Abaco  (Peter Mantle) Least Grebe, Abaco (Peter Mantle) Least Grebe, Abaco (Tom Reed)Least Grebe, Abaco (Rolling Harbour) Least Grebe, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

Least Grebe Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley) 2 - Version 2 Least Grebe, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley) 3

For the sake of completeness, there is one other dabchick species found on Abaco, the closely related Pied-billed Grebe. Here’s how to tell them apart:  the Least  has a bright golden eye, while the Pied-billed  is slightly the larger of the two species, and has a dark eye and a  black beak-ring in the breeding season.

PIED-BILLED GREBEPied-billed- Grebe Podilymbus podiceps (Wiki)

 Photo Credits: Tom Sheley (3); Peter Mantle (2); RH (2); Gelinde Taurer (1); Tom Reed (1); Wiki – PBG (1)

GRAY CATBIRDS & BIRDBATHS ON ABACO: HANDY FOR A DRINK OR A DIP


Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 6

GRAY CATBIRDS & BIRDBATHS ON ABACO: HANDY FOR A DRINK OR A DIP

The birdbaths at Delphi are not as popular as the feeders, but certain species seem to make the most of them. Among the frequent users are Greater Antillean Bullfinches, Black-faced Grassquits and Gray Catbirds Dumetella carolinensis. The bird above and in the next 2 photos was one of several species using the poolside birdbath on a hot day. It seemed to pause after taking a drink, as if to enjoy the water trickling down their throats (or is that just me and Kalik?).

Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 7Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 8

This Gray Catbird started the day with a good drink at the birdbath near The Shack. There seems to be a certain amount of gargling and dribbling going on, but clearly it is enjoying some fresh cool water. Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 1Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 2

This catbird was tempted to the birdbath at the far side of the pool on a very hot afternoon. Not just to drink from, but actually to get in for a dip. And then a major bout of splashing about…  Note the characteristic russet undertail coverts of this bird, also visible on the header bird. And if you want to know how this species got its name and what it sounds like, this will explain all…

David Bradley Xeno-Canto

Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 5Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 4Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 3

All photos: RH