“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.

PRETTY PALMS: CHEERY WARBLERS ON SUNNY ABACO


220px-Palm_Warbler,_Indiatlatlantic

PRETTY PALMS: CHEERY WARBLERS ON SUNNY ABACO

Palm Warblers Setophaga palmarum are cheerful little birds. Keen feeders, foraging around on the ground, in the coppice, or where there are pines. They are one of only 3 warbler species that bobs its tail, not just when it’s happy but much of the time. Maybe it is happy much of the time. The other 2 species are the relatively familiar Prairie Warbler; and the vanishingly rare – on Abaco, at least – Kirtland’s Warbler, the avian Holy Grail for birdwatchers on the island. 

The male palm warbler in breeding plumage has a smart chestnut cap and what might be described as a ‘buttery’ BTM, to use a polite text-abbrev. The females are paler and have less yellow on them. The photos below were taken in March this year, mostly by Mrs RH (I can’t now recall who took what so I’ll give a general credit until she claims her ones). You’ll see the wide variety of types of place you might encounter one of these little birds. The last picture isn’t great as a photograph… but it’s a classic bit of acrobatic personal grooming.

CALL


Palm Warbler, Abaco 7 Palm Warbler, Abaco 6 Palm Warbler, Abaco 5 Palm Warbler, Abaco 4 Palm Warbler, Abaco 3 Palm Warbler Abaco 2 Palm Warbler Abaco 1Thank you for admiring me…Palm Warbler, Abaco 9…now please excuse me if I scratch my ear for a moment…Palm Warbler, Abaco 8Header thumbnail image credit: Wiki

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.

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.

WILLET OR WON’T IT… GET CLOSE TO YOU?


WILLET OR WON’T IT… GET CLOSE TO YOU?

Willets (Tringa semipalmata) are large sandpipers, familiar as shore birds, foragers on sand bars and mudflats, or out in the mangrove swamps. Some might describe them as quite solid and plain to look at. Until they take flight, when their gorgeous wing patterns are revealed.

willet ©Greg Page @ Cornell Lab

Willets are ground-nesting birds, often breeding in colonies. They use their stout bills to forage on mudflats or in shallow water for insects, crustaceans, marine worms and occasionally plant-life. They tend to keep their distance, and in the past I have only managed this sort of unimpressive snapshot, not least because I normally only take a small basic camera out on the water in case it – or I – should fall in.Willet, Abaco Marls 1

However, we recently fished from the prow of a skiff parked on a sandy spit on the Abaco Marls, as bonefish came past on the tide. It was a productive hour for my boat-partner, though frankly less so for his boat-partner… As we fished, and to our surprise, a willet landed of the point of the spit to feed, and gradually worked its way towards us seemingly unconcerned by the skiff, by us or by the fish action. It started off about 30 feet away, and at close quarters it was far less drab and notably more elegant than expected.Willet, Abaco Marls 4

It foraged slowly towards us, keeping a beady inky-black eye on usWillet, Abaco Marls 2

At one time it came within a very few feet of us, then decided it had come close enough. We watched it stepping delicately away on its semi-palmated feet. The shot isn’t clear enough to show the slight webbing between the toes. However, you can clearly see the barred tail.Willet, Abaco Marls 5

In the c19 and early c20 there was a sharp population decline of these fine birds due to hunting. I’m not sure if it was for feathers, food or fun. All three, probably. Their population has recovered and their IUCN status is currently ‘Least Concern’, but like so many similar species they remain at risk, especially through continued habitat loss.

The Willet call and song are very distinctive, and are reproduced here via the great bird-noise resource Xeno-Canto

CALL


SONG


Willet, Abaco Marls 6All images RH except header (Wikimedia) & in-flight image (Greg Page @ Cornell Lab for Ornithology)

(PS if you think the traditional RH puntastic title is laboured, be grateful I didn’t proceed with the initial idea of working ‘Bruce Willets’ into this post. It didn’t work, on any level…)

AMERICAN KESTRELS IN SANDY POINT, ABACO, BAHAMAS


 AMERICAN KESTRELS ON ABACO 8

AMERICAN KESTRELS IN SANDY POINT, ABACO, BAHAMAS

American kestrels Falco sparverius are well known birds in the Americas and Caribbean, and I can’t usefully add anything to the photographs below, all taken at Sandy Point, Abaco a few days ago. Well, perhaps just that they are said to “chitter” when they copulate – but they can’t be alone in that, surely… There were several kestrels around the settlement, including juveniles. Mostly they stayed on the utility posts and lines, from which they dropped occasionally to collect some titbit from the ground below. There was a wonderfully rich-coloured male in a palm tree, but he declined to turn round to be photographed, and I have refrained from including his rather magnificent rear view in the gallery below, out of respect for a fine bird of the species.

AMERICAN KESTRELS ON ABACO 8American Kestrel Abaco 5American Kestrel Abaco 1JUVENILEAmerican Kestrel Abaco 2American Kestrel Abaco 4American Kestrel Abaco 3

AMERICAN KESTRELS ON ABACO 7American Kestrel Abaco 6

“ON STILTS”: THE BLACK-NECKED STILTS OF ABACO


“ON STILTS”: THE BLACK-NECKED STILTS OF ABACO

This elegant stilt Himantopus mexicanus was one of a pair nesting in the scrub by a small brackish lake near Crossing Rocks. We had gone there for heron and egret reasons, but for once there were none. Just dozens of BAHAMA (WHITE-CHEEKED) PINTAILS. I had walked to one end of the lake, when suddenly this bird rose from the undergrowth and flew, shrieking, straight at me. It veered off, landing agitatedly in the water, and proceeded to stalk towards me on a zig-zag route, scolding me belligerently. Black-necked Stilt, Abaco 1Black-necked Stilt, Abaco 2Black-necked Stilt, Abaco 3
In the end, it stood facing me squarely, then flew at me before veering away again back to the bushes, where it continued to protest. Presumably close by was a well-concealed nest with the female and her eggs or chicks. Of course I wouldn’t have had any idea about it but for this peevish display of aggression. However, this is such a handsome bird, and the protective display was so effective that I considered myself well warned, and moved away from the area…
BLACK-NECKED STILT ALARM CALL (Xeno-Canto)


Black-necked Stilt, Abaco 4

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…

BLACK & WHITE WARBLERS: WINTER VISITORS TO ABACO


Black & White Warbler (Wiki)

BLACK & WHITE WARBLERS (Mniotilta varia)

WINTER VISITORS TO ABACO

By no stretch of the imagination are the images below very impressive. Sorry about that. The wonder is that we noticed this little bird at all – also, that it stayed still for long enough for me to get a bead on it. I credit the sharp eyes of Mrs RH (from whom little is hid) for spotting a fleeting movement on a pine trunk along the Delphi drive. Unlike any other warbler, these small birds feed in the manner of nuthatches or tree / brown creepers. They run rapidly up and down tree trunks and branches foraging on insects in the bark with their sharp little beaks. 

Black & White Warbler, Abaco, Bahamas 1Summer & Winter Ranges

Black & White Warbler, Abaco, Bahamas 2

IUCN status

Black & White Warbler, Abaco, Bahamas 3

The next 2 photos (yes, I agree, they’re not very good, nor taken – the top one, anyway – from an elegant angle) are included to demonstrate the remarkable length and dexterity of the bird’s legs. During the minute we watched it before it flew off, we noted this characteristic legs-splayed ‘pausing pose’ several times.

Black & White Warbler, Abaco, Bahamas  4Black & White Warbler KS P1050385 - Version 2

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)

“GIVE PEEPS A CHANCE”: THREATENED PIPING PLOVERS, ABACO BAHAMAS


“GIVE PEEPS A CHANCE”: THREATENED PIPING PLOVERS

Not the feeblest punning title on this blog, but going hard for the avian-related booby prize. As it were. Many months ago I did a short post about these tiny plovers, and had begun to update it. Then I found that both the BNT and the ABACO SCIENTIST are onto them too. Thanks to them, I have some excellent added material further down the page… But first, here’s a quick cut out ‘n’ keep summary

SIZE               Charadrius melodus is a Very Small Shorebird

HABITAT     Rocky shores / sandy beaches; nesting in higher, drier areas of the shoreline where there is cover 

Photo courtesy of Caribbean Birds SCSCB

RANGE          From Canada (summer) down to the Gulf of Mexico (winter). They head south in August and return in March 

Credit: Xeno-Canto / Google

CALL              A thin whistled peep peeping, whether standing or flying, and a two-note alarm call [There are surprisingly few Piping Plover call samples online. Many sites - Audubon, eNature, Birdwatchers Digest - all seem to have the same one. So I'll credit them all and the originator Lang Elliot and hope I've covered my back...]


BREEDING   The male digs out several scrapes on the high shoreline. The female contemplates these efforts, and (if any meet her ideal domestic criteria) chooses her preferred one, which she then decorates (grass, weed, shells etc). Meanwhile, Mr Peep tries to impress her by chucking pebbles around, dive-bombing her, and strutting around her importantly and “fluffed up” [none of these tactics work in human courtship, in my experience]. If Mrs Peep (a) likes the home she has chosen and furnished and (b) has recovered from her fit of the giggles at all that performance, she permits mating to proceed

NESTING     First nests normally have 4 eggs; later ones fewer. Both share incubation and subsequent parental ‘brooding’ duties

DEFENCE    Plovers have a defensive “broken wing display” used to distract predators and draw attention away from the nest

THREATS    Larger birds, cats, raccoons etc. Human disturbance. Plovers and chicks are vulnerable to storms & abnormal high tides 

ZOOM…!     Capable of running at astonishing speed over short distances. When they stop, they often snap the head back and forward.

STATUS       Depending on area, treated either as Threatened or Endangered; IUCN listing NT

CONSERVATION Historically PP feathers were used as decoration in wealthy women’s hats – no longer a problem. Shoreline development and alterations to natural coastline are now the leading cause of population decline. This has been reversed through field and legislative protection programs, especially at nesting sites; public education; anti-predation measures; and restricting human access in vulnerable areas – including off-roading…

STOP PRESS Nov 18 Sean has just posted a professional / scientific article about piping plovers, with some very useful information specific to Abaco and some helpful links, over at the ABACO SCIENTIST. Clicking through is highly recommended if you want to know more about these little birds

This is the characteristic ‘pigeon-toed’ stance – they run that way too…

RICARDO JOHNSON’S 6 MINUTE VIDEO ‘PIPING PLOVERS’ 

Ricky is a well-known, infectiously enthusiastic, and compendiously knowledgeable Abaco nature guide  (this guy gets way too much free publicity in this blog…). As I wrote when I originally posted  it “In this video he focusses his binoculars on piping plovers, a threatened species of tiny plover which annually makes a long migration to the Bahamas, including Abaco – and then heads all the way north again.”

If this video doesn’t make you smile at some stage, I suspect a SOH bypass and / or your ‘anti-cute’ setting is jammed on. Even so you’ll see the differences between the piping plover and the more familiar Wilson’s plover.

The BNT / ABSCI material originates from the Audubon Society. If you want to know about the annual journeys of these little birds and where they are in each season, it’s all here. The item was made in conjunction with the ESRI mapping project. I’ve put a screenshot below to give a general idea of what’s involved [click to enlarge] and you can reach the interactive Audubon page if you CLICK PIPING PLOVER

Credits:Wiki (images), Audubon Soc, Xeno-Canto, Lang Elliot & partners, Ricky Johnson

BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO – PRETTY FAMILIAR BIRDS


BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO – PRETTY FAMILIAR BIRDS

Both pretty and familiar, in fact. Birds of the pine-woods, coppice, garden… and feeder. They are an unremarkable species, they don’t have off-beat avian habits, they aren’t scarce… but if they weren’t there, you’d probably miss them. Males and females have notably different colouring, with the female having a bright eye-ring. They tend to hang out in pairs or small groups. These little birds are abundant in the north Bahamas, but like many species found there, they are only very rarely found in south Florida.

MALE BFG IN THE COPPICE NEAR THE DELPHI CLUB

A MALE BFG DEEP IN THE PINE FOREST NEAR THE SAWMILL SINK BLUE HOLE

No two books describe their call in the same way. I’m not venturing into the vexed field of avian phonetics of the ‘chip chip chip kerrrrr–ching’ variety… so here’s a very clear recording of the song of Tiaris bicolor from the excellent Xeno-Canto (Paul Driver)


FEMALE BFGs EAGERLY SNACKING ON THE FEEDERS AT THE DELPHI CLUBTHESE TWO PHOTOS SHOW THE DISTINCTIVE EYE RING OF THE FEMALE BFG

‘PARROTS OF THE BAHAMAS’: ABACO PARROT PAINTINGS BY ANTONIUS ROBERTS


‘PARROTS OF THE BAHAMAS’

A SERIES OF ABACO PARROT PAINTINGS BY ANTONIUS ROBERTS

The wonderful parrots of Abaco are often featured hereabouts, and with good reason. They are the only subspecies of cuban parrot to nest underground, a unique species adaptation that protects them from fires in the pine forest of the ABACO NATIONAL PARK where they breed. However this in turn makes them vulnerable to predation. An intensive long-term conservation and predation-reduction program headed by scientist Caroline Stahala has reversed the decline of this iconic bird. Numbers have increased from fewer than 2500 some years ago to an estimated 4000. 

There are places on Abaco – south Abaco in particular – where the parrots congregate in noisy groups during the day. Many people manage to take photographs of them. Good photographers with a decent lens can get outstanding results. Even the camera-incompetent (I hear my name!) can manage the occasional first-class photo, given time and plenty of spare space on the camera card… But very few can do justice to these colourful birds in paint.

The spectacular series of paintings below are by well-known Bahamian artist and sculptor Antonius Roberts. Caroline has already posted about these on the ABACO PARROT RESEARCH F/B page. The originals of these paintings have (unsurprisingly) been sold, but they are available as limited-edition prints. Antonius will generously be donating proceeds of sale from the series to support the on-going parrot research. The images are ©Antonius Roberts – thanks to him and to Caroline for use permission

A recent reception was held in Nassau to showcase this series of paintings. You will find more about them by clicking the link to open a pdf of the reception brochure ABACO PARROT PAINTINGS Caroline Stahala contributed an excellent one-page article about the Abaco Parrots and their conservation – click on it to enlarge to legible size

Contact Antonius via email to hillsidehousebs@gmail.com or check out his website by clicking the parrot

HAIRY WOODPECKERS IN THE ABACO COPPICE


HAIRY WOODPECKERS IN THE ABACO COPPICE

The hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus) inhabits forest, woodland or coppice over a wide area of the North American continent and the islands to the east, including the Bahamas. They are mostly permanent residents, though there is a degree of migration within their territorial area.

They are a very familiar sight on Abaco, along with their larger cousins the West Indian Woodpecker. These birds forage on trees for insects, turning over bark or excavating deeper. They also feed on fruits, berries and nuts. It’s not unusual for them  to attack the woodwork on houses in a search for bugs…

This male hairy woodpecker is prospecting a promising hole near the Delphi Club guest driveThe marks at the bottom of the hole suggest this may be a nesting hole – past, present or futureIt’s certainly deemed worth further investigation… if only he had someone to share it with

He may be in luck! This female hairy woodpecker was in the coppice not far away… A female HW is smaller than the male and lacks the male’s distinctive red head marking. They nest in a tree hole like the one above, where the female usually produces four white eggs. 

BEDRAGGLED ABACO PARROTS, & AN AMERICAN KESTREL TAKES OFF…


BEDRAGGLED ABACO PARROTS, & AN AMERICAN KESTREL TAKES OFF…

It’s a fine June day. Perfect for a morning out with Ricky Johnson, the omniscient leader of  ABACO NATURE TOURS. Want parrots? He’ll take you to them. Want a Bahama Woodstar ‘pished’ from its deep cover into the open? He’s your man. And as for wrassling land crabs – see LANDCRAB and LANDCRAB: THE SEQUEL We set off from the Delphi Club in sunshine and hope…

Sure enough, we found the parrots at Bahama Palm Shores, so often a good bet. This was (Ricky said) a non-breeding flock, the breeders all being otherwise detained in the National Park with their nests and eggs. Out of nowhere, a sudden short, sharp downpour arrived, and 5 minutes later, everything – everyone – was soaked. And so, of course, were the parrots. At first I discounted the resulting photos for use. These lovely, rare birds are made to be seen in their bright cheerful livery of green, red and blue. These wet ones looked… black. I usually try to avoid doing much (or any) ‘work’ on my photos, but for these I tried changing the contrast a bit and realised that they looked rather appealing with their dark, damp feathers and unkempt appearance. So I’ve decided to use a few images. Here they are, then: some sodden parrots!

While we were damply watching the parrots, Ricky spotted an American Kestrel near the top of a tree. Heads swivelled. It was some way away, but we could see it looking a bit dejected, huddled in the palm fronds. Then suddenly, just as I pressed the camera button, the kestrel stretched itself upright, raised its wings, and launched itself into the sky. The two photos below are frankly of marginal quality (on a high “blur setting”, as you might say) but the second one has caught the rain-drenched kestrel’s take-off about as well as a point ‘n’ shoot at that distance could… 

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.

PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS: WHAT’S IN A NAME?


PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS

Janene Roessler has kindly sent news of a sighting yesterday of a prothonotary warbler on a feeder at Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco [Later addition] Now, with thanks to Ann Capling, here is that very warbler on the feeder –  a fine photo considering it was taken indoors through glass.Apparently there hasn’t been one recorded there since 2007. I know of one seen further south on the island near the Delphi Club in April 2010 (see photo and caption below). I’ve never seen one myself. It seems fitting to celebrate the news with a post about these little birds…

This very pretty species of warbler Protonotaria citrea is the only member of its genus. The male birds are very colourful, with the females and juveniles being a bit duller. In flight, the underside of their tails are white at the base, and dark at the tip Photo Credit Craig Nash (Peregrine’s Blog) This fantastic photo was taken on the main drive of the Delphi Club, Abaco

These warblers are native to the eastern US where they breed, wintering further south in the West Indies and Central & South America. Their nesting arrangements are unusual: “It is the only eastern warbler that nests in natural or artificial cavities, sometimes using old downy woodpecker holes. The male often builds several incomplete, unused nests in his territory; the female builds the real nest” where she lays 3 – 7 eggs. So either the male is cleverly creating decoy nests away from the real nest; or maybe he is showing typically male behaviour in starting several home DIY projects at once and not getting round to finishing any of them…

Female Prothonotary Warbler (wiki)

I can never cope with those phonetic descriptions of bird calls… So many small birds are described as going ‘tseep’ or ‘tweep’ or ‘seeep’, yet in practice sound different from each other. So here, courtesy of the admirable Xeno-Canto and recordist Don Jones, is how they sound in real life


Listed as of ‘Least Concern’ (except in Canada, where they are ‘endangered’), the sad fact is that like so many species PNs are declining in numbers due to habitat loss. They are also bullied by other birds, in particular the brown-headed cowbird; and the house wren with which they compete for nest sites.

And the cumbersome name? Although at one time known by the helpful name ‘Golden Swamp Warbler’, the bird was renamed after senior Roman Catholic church officials called PROTONOTARII whose robes were (are?) supposedly golden. For full but quite dull details click on the green word back there. Bizarrely, the wiki-link doesn’t seem to confirm the goldenness of the robes at all. I think I’ll vote for a return to the simpler description…

Male Prothonotary Warbler (wiki)

POST SCRIPT: By complete coincidence, the National Audubon Society posted this lovely PN picture on its Facebook page this very day, with the caption Start your Monday morning off right with this cute Prothonotary Warbler peeking out of a heart shaped tree hole! Have you seen any of these birds yet? Photo by Mark Musselman” 

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:

 

“FAVOURITE BIRD” POLL RESULTS FROM ABACO, BAHAMAS


ABACO FAVOURITE BIRD POLL RESULTS

RESULTS Here are the results of the recent Abaco Favourite Bird Poll, with apologies for an intermission in activity around here. We were away for a few days somewhere that turned out to be sunny, returning late last night to near-zero temperatures…

THE POLL started with five birds, but the Tropicbird was removed after a week having failed to chart. To begin with, it looked as though the parrots would stay way out in front, but the smallest rival gained ground, flew past and won the title.

THANKS to all who took part by voting and or commenting – a gratifying number, enough to make for a reasonably accurate result. It would be nice to know what bird the voters in the last category would have chosen instead of the candidates on offer…

THE OTHER POLL was designed to find out if people were finding that the ongoing woodpecker saga is becoming (has become?) tedious  or is providing a modicum of entertainment. Of relatively few responses (nb I did not vote), the result speaks for itself. I will take voting abstention / inertia to indicate either indifference or tolerance, and continue as and when a new drama occurs.

Best outcome? Chicks!  

‘MERLIN’ – NEW ONLINE BIRD ID TOOL FROM CORNELL LAB FOR ORNITHOLOGY


STOP PRESS January 2014

Cornell are now re-promoting ‘MERLIN’ with a free App and a video to go with it.

 has produced a new proactive bird identification gizmo called MERLIN (CLICK for direct link). They are trying to build up a user-friendly ID ‘wizard’ using the sort of variable descriptions that people like me use to describe birds they don’t recognise. Perhaps we’ve all been there – “well, it was a medium-size greyish bird, but I think it had white under the wings. Or maybe a lighter grey. And a sort of white streak on its head. Actually the bird was more bluey-grey…”etc. Merlin seeks to iron out the variations using AI, by showing a bird and asking a number of questions to get users to describe the colouring  they are looking at. I tried it with a teal, and it worked first time.

Gradually, the input of descriptions for each bird will be analysed, so that future users are more like to get a correct ID based on their description, even if others might describe the bird differently. With any luck it will also improve the chance to ID that pretty bird seen fleetingly at a distance. It’s worth trying this out even if you are a serious birder, because each ‘attempt’ adds to the picture. And anyway, there’s a very slight element of a game here – will the computer get it right?

HELP SAVE ABACO PARROTS – DOU DOU’S ART INITIATIVE


WELCOME BACK! Normal service is resumed after the family festivities of Christmas, with only the precious gift of a fractured wrist for rh to spoil an otherwise lovely few days. Immediately, I can report excellent parrot news…               DOU DOU, an avid birder and sculptor of most engaging miniature birds, has taken up the cause of the Abaco Parrot. We have been corresponding for a while about this, and I now reproduce her latest post, with the link to her site below

BIRD SCULPTURE – ABACO PARROT

“Help, the cats are eating my babies!” said the parrot. And it’s true. These parrots are endangered – only 1000 of them left. A woman named Caroline is trying to save them from the feral cats that have invaded their island in the Bahamas. Let’s help her out! All proceeds from the sale of this parrot are going to Parrots International, which supports Caroline’s work. 

This little parrot measures 3.5 x 1.5 x 1.5 inches. You can buy it HERE from me and I will send the money to Parrots International or you can use “Other” to check out, send me proof you donated at least $30 to Parrot’s International, and I will send you a code that gives you $30 discount on this parrot so you will just pay for shipping – I will verify that a donation was made.

We can save these parrots! Let’s do it!!!!!

Read about Caroline’s work to save the parrots: ABACO PARROT RESCUE

doudou      CLICK LOGO to visit website ===>>>      

More about this exciting development in due course – other ideas are afoot… Abaco Parrot conservation is strongly supported by the Delphi Club, Abaco; and the research scientist heading the project, Caroline Stahala, is delighted with dou dou’s initiative in helping to raise the profile of her conservation work and in contributing to the funding received through PARROTS INTERNATIONAL

This organisation allocates funding for the research into the Abaco Parrots and their conservation. You can now pay direct by Paypal or Credit Card (with gift tax benefits depending where you live). Please remember use the “Note to Seller” box to specify ‘ABACO PARROTS / CAROLINE STAHALA’

Membership and Donation page   CLICK LOGO===>>>       Parrots International