“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

“WARTS & ALL”: THE TURKEY VULTURE IN ALL HIS GLORY


“WARTS & ALL”: THE TURKEY VULTURE IN ALL HIS GLORY

This wonderful picture taken by Irish photographer Craig Nash appears on page 215 of “The Birds of Abaco”. It was awarded a full page to itself, and a few people have asked about this authorial / editorial decision. The simple answer is that the book is full of lovely pictures of gorgeous birds. Too much perfection can become tedious, and an occasional corrective is called for. The Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura is often described in detail, but only a really good close-up will reveal a bird that only its mother could love unconditionally. 

The text for the book is as follows: “Graceful in flight as they wheel overhead singly or in large groups catching the thermals, these large raptors are rather less attractive at close quarters. The head and neck are completely hairless. They lack a syrinx (the avian equivalent of a larynx) and can only grunt and hiss.These vultures are carrion feeders, with a sense of smell so keen that they can detect rotting flesh from afar.They usefully help to clear up road-kill on the Abaco Highway. Their defence mechanism – and what a good one – is to vomit foul-smelling semi-digested putrified meat onto a perceived threat”. 

Double-click on the image and you will be able to count the hairs on his chin. Go on. Nothing to lose. You can find out plenty more about these fine birds and their somewhat revolting habits including 10 Essential Facts, what they sound like, the statistical percentage photographed from below, and a free yet horrible Metallica song at ‘CARRION SCAVENGING': TURKEY VULTURES ON ABACO

Turkey Vulture, Abaco - Craig Nash 1

‘RAINBOW BIRDS': GORGEOUS PAINTED BUNTINGS ON ABACO


Painted Bunting male.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

‘RAINBOW BIRDS': GORGEOUS PAINTED BUNTINGS ON ABACO

The Mnemonic: that little aide memoire that helps you easily remember a fact. A suitable example hereabouts would be one for remembering the order of taxonomy:  Kids Prefer Cheese Over Fried Green Spinach (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species). ‘ROY G BIV’ or ‘VIBGYOR’ were my childhood ones for the colours of the rainbow in order. Now I’d just look at a picture of a Painted Bunting. Who cares about the exact order? The colours are all there! 

Painted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

PAINTED BUNTINGS (Passerina ciris) belong to the Cardinal family (Cardinalidae) native to North America. Some would argue that the male Painted Bunting is one of the most beautiful birds. There are no ID problems with the male – once seen, never forgotten. However, these birds are inclined to skulk a bit, so despite their vivid  colouring they aren’t always easy to see amid foliage. The plumage of female and juvenile Painted Buntings are green or greeny-yellow and may be even harder to see in coppice. The one below is an immature female.

Painted Bunting (female, immature), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

These  buntings are shy birds, but luckily their keenness for seeds outweighs their natural diffidence, and they enjoy feeders. They also eat small invertebrates such as spiders, snails, grasshoppers, and caterpillars, especially in the breeding seasonPainted Bunting, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Male painted buntings are only too well aware how gorgeous they look (‘You’re so vain – I bet you think this post is about you…’). They may go in for ostentatious displays, including flying like a butterfly or all fluffed up or with quivering wings. Or all three. Sometimes this is to upstage another male; mostly it is to impress the laydeez.

Painted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavellee)

Russ Wigh, Xeno-Canto

Unsurprisingly the painted bunting was at one time very popular as a caged bird. Now though, it is illegal to catch or keep one. They are IUCN listed as Near Threatened and are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.

220px-Status_iucn3.1_NT.svg220px-Passerina_ciris_distribution

The photos above all come from the photographic archive amassed for “The Birds of Abaco” project. Credits to Tom Sheley, Tara Lavallee, Bruce Hallett, and Erik Gauger. Below is an omnium gatherum consisting of a gallery of rather good painted bunting photos from Wiki;  a good video of PABUs singing; and for light relief a largely irrelevant yet quite charming 10 minute cartoon ‘The Rainbow Bird’ based on a South American folktale. 

PaintedBunting23 Painted Bunting Passerina ciris Doug Janson Wiki 800px-Painted_Bunting_Female_by_Dan_Pancamo