THE ABACO PARROT: BEAUTIFUL, NOISY AND UNIQUE [Video]


 Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 (Keith Salvesen)

THE ABACO PARROT: BEAUTIFUL, NOISY AND UNIQUE [Video]

I’ve posted quite often about Abaco’s unique ground-nesting parrots. They have their own page at ABACO PARROTS; and there’s a link in the right sidebar to a small illustrated booklet about them wot I writ in conjunction with Caroline Stahala. I have just found a very short bit of video footage that’s ideal for anyone who is extremely busy and /or has a short attention span. Spend a happy 10 seconds to  (a) admire the bright colours and (b) listen to the raucous cries of a flock of Abaco parrots. 

Abaco Parrots (Melissa Maura)Credits: Header photo & video RH; 2-parrot pic Melissa Maura with thanks

 

SAW A SORA? SURE? RAIL TRACK ON ABACO


BAHAMAS - Sora 2 - Oct 2010 copy 2

SAW A SORA? SURE? RAIL TRACK ON ABACO

‘Furtive’. ‘Secretive’. ‘Skulking’. These are harsh epithets to chuck at a small inoffensive bird that just goes about its daily routine in watery places. And look at it from the Sora’s point of view: ‘intrusive'; ‘prying'; invasive'; ‘nosy’… That’s you with your camera, disturbing its quiet life in the reeds and on the margins of marsh and lake. And for that matter your careful attempts to get close to the shy sora without startling it could also be described as furtive, secretive and skulking. See how it feels?

Sora.Marsh Harbour.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy

The Sora Porzana carolina is a species of rail, a winter resident on Abaco. The island also has the CLAPPER RAIL, Virginia Rail and the Black Rail. There are no recorded sightings of this last one, and certainly no photographs. But their distinctive call has been heard in several locations over the last few years –  for example, by two people in different places last June when we were in full bird mode for “THE BIRDS OF ABACO”.

Sora, Gilpin Point Abaco RH 1

Although not uncommon, the sora is relatively hard to find; and if found, to photograph. As I wrote in the book, ‘these are most inconspicuous birds, so it is quite a coup if you manage to locate one. Their creamy beak and upturned tail may give their presence away as they work their way along the water’s edge, feeding intently’. Tom Sheley took the magnificent photo above of a sora peering out from cover – he’s a very patient man. Often, the best sight you’ll get is of the bird half-hidden in the reeds at a distance, as in my feeble effort above. Spot the Sora… I tracked the same bird, and later got a more open shot as the sora picked its way along the edge of a pond before disappearing again into the reeds. The bird was moving away from me. I was crouched on a small jetty, with a little blue heron nearby looking at me in puzzlement. Or sympathy. My best (ha!) shot below (beak and tail both visible? Check!) is followed by much the most usual view of a sora in my experience, the less photogenic end with the white… stern.

Sora, Gilpin Point Abaco RH 3Sora, Gilpin Point Abaco RH 4

I can’t improve on good old Wiki in summarising the diet of this little rail: “Soras are omnivores, eating seeds, insects and snails. Animals that are commonly reported as sora food items include snails, crustaceans, spiders, and insects – mainly beetles, grasshoppers, flies, and dragonflies. Soras often eat plant seeds. Plants in the sora’s diet include duckweed, pondweeds, and grasses.” Wiki’s own image is shown next.

Sora, Birding Center, Port Aransas, Texas

We were with our friend the ornithological scientist Caroline Stahala* when we – I should say she – saw my first sora at the pond at Gilpin Point near Crossing Rocks. She grabbed my camera and plunged into the rather thick undergrowth at the water’s edge. Actually, she had to plunge into the water itself at one stage. Here are 2 shots that further demonstrate how hard it can be to photograph these wretched creatures. They don’t pose prettily on a branch in the sunshine like a Spindalis, for example. They forage about in places where low light and thick vegetation combine to make focus and clarity difficult to achieve. *’The Parrot Lady’  Sora, Gilpin Point Abaco - Caroline Stahala 1 Sora, Gilpin Point Abaco - Caroline Stahala 2 The remarkable calls of the sora can be heard in the very short clips below, from the invaluable Xeno-Canto archive. They make three distinct types of sound, one described as “a descending whinny”. Apparently the use of ‘call broadcasts’ greatly increases the chances of hearing a sora. They also increase the chances of seeing a sora, as the bird will often investigate the source of the call. The propriety of using a recording to attract a bird is open to debate, but there’s no doubt that it can be far more effective than simply going ‘pish-wish’ repeatedly… CALL Ted Floyd ‘WHINNY’ CALL   Micah Riegner ‘WEEP CALL’  Todd Wilson This is a second Wiki image of a sora foraging in water. I like the fact that, as with Tom’s photo, you can see the feet.1024px-Porzana_carolina “SORA”. Where does the word come from? What does it mean? It sounds like some uninviting butter-style spread. Or is that ‘Flora’? I did some research and for a start it means ‘Sky’ in Japanese and ‘Seashell’ in Korean – both used as names. Six countries worldwide have places called Sora. There are various obscure usages (e.g. a little-known video game). Disappointingly, however, the best etymology I can find in a birding context is that the origin is ‘unknown’. I was too disheartened to explore the derivation of ‘Porzana’. Could so easily be a second-tier female character in a Shakespeare comedy: “Haply, Porzana, hast seen the Sora of the Prince, withal?”. Having started this post with a header shot by Becky Marvil, I’ll end with the etymological mystery and another photo by Becky of the same bird going for some underwater delicacy. Sora, Abaco - Becky Marvil 2.1

STOP PRESS Uli Nowlan has kindly sent a photo of a Sora taken at ponds north of Treasure Cay (below). It’s a timely reminder to me that this blog is somewhat South Abaco oriented. More than somewhat, in fact. That’s inevitable I’m afraid, owing to my base camp being south of MH. Also, I think it’s generally accepted that South Abaco is the place to find the best birding. I do include birds from the TC area – the golf course ponds and the creeks – but perhaps not enough. Contributions welcome!

Sora, Abaco (Treasure Cay area) - Uli Nowlan

Credits: Header and last image – Becky Marvil; Tom Sheley, RH, Wiki, Caroline Stahala; Uli Nowlan. Wiki-nod for some info also.

THE UNIQUE ABACO PARROT: ITS PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE


APB 1

THE UNIQUE ABACO PARROT: ITS PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE

Image Credits: RH, Caroline Stahala, Melissa Maura. Based on an information booklet ©Rolling Harbour. You are welcome to use or share this slideshow but please credit and link. Booklets are available at the Delphi Club, Abaco for a small donation to parrot research. The music is from astounding guitar virtuoso Erik Mongrain – he has all the tricks, and sounds as if he plays with 2 pairs of hands…

ABACO PARROT CHICKS FOR 2014, TOP POSTS & A DODO…


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 8

ABACO PARROT CHICKS FOR 2014, TOP POSTS & A DODO…

The dawn of a New Year shimmers just below the horizon, with all its bright promise for the future. It  provides a convenient excuse to peer symbolically into the limestone holes of the remarkable ABACO PARROT to take a peek at some newly hatched eggs and the tiny chicks that will, by next spring, look like the handsome bird at the top of the page…Abaco Parrot Nest 3 Abaco Parrot Nest 4 Abaco Parrot Nest 5

This website is not overly preoccupied with stats, but I have had a quick look to see which posts were the most popular during 2013. Here, for better or worse (I didn’t make the choices…), are the top dozen, introduced by the cutest chick of the year, a Wilson’s plover calling for its mum…Tiny Wilson's Plover for 2014

ABACO ARTS & CRAFTS    
SEA SHELLS    
LIGNUM VITAE – BAHAMAS NATIONAL TREE    
YELLOW ELDER – THE BAHAMAS NATIONAL FLOWER    
ABACO FOOD & DRINK (cook hog / bonefish; clean a conch; sip an Abaco cocktail / Goombay Smash)    
FLORA    
ABACO MAPS    
SPIDER WASPS & TARANTULA HAWKS: DON’T MESS WITH THESE GUYS    
PINEAPPLES: SYMBOLS OF WELCOME & WEALTH (ALSO, DELICIOUS)    
SHARKS & RAYS    
ABACO & HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, BAHAMAS: A SHORT HISTORY IN MAPS    
ABACO PARROTS    
 

So! Farewell then 2013. Like the Curate’s egg, you were good in parts – indeed, many parts of you were excellent. Now, like Raphus cucullatus, you will become extinct, leaving remains and memories behind you… Thanks to all loyal followers of this site for sticking with it and its eccentricities (especially the musical digressions). If you wound up here by chance, mistyped g@@gle search or sheer misfortune, cheers… A very Happy New Year to you all! 

Dodo AMNH NYCPhoto taken at the American Museum of Natural History – there’s also a dodo skeleton in the Oxford University Museum of natural History

Credits: Parrot nests – Caroline Stahala (the scientist i/c parrots); the rest – RH

‘TAKING OFF’ ON ABACO: NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS & MIMICRY


‘TAKING OFF’ ON ABACO: NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS & MIMICRY

The Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) is commonly found in North America, but also has a wide range further afield. The species is plentiful on Abaco and in the northern Bahamas generally. I recently posted about Abaco’s other mocker, the local Bahama Mockingbird, HERE.

Northern Mockingbird 1

A DOZEN MEMORABLE MOCKINGBIRD FACTS TO ENLIVEN YOUR CONVERSATION

  • Only male mockingbirds sing
  • The Latin name means ‘many-tongued mimic’
  • They are omniverous and eat fruits, seeds, insects and even small lizards
  • They been shown in experiments to be capable of recognising individual humans
  • They are the State Bird of Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, & Texas
  • Thomas Jefferson had a pet mockingbird named “Dick” [wish I'd invented this one...]
  • Courting males fly around females to impress them with their splendid wing patterns
  • Mockingbirds are monogamous & mate for life (though known to play away on occasion…)
  • Both the male and female are involved in the nest building
  • Cowbirds are inclined to lay their eggs in mockingbird nests
  • Both male and female feed their chicks, in the modern way
  • Mockers will confront larger birds including hawks; also cats and dogs; & even humans

Northern Mockingbird 2

 IMITATIONAL SKILLS
Besides having a particularly wide song repertoire, the mockingbird will mimic other birds, other natural sounds (including dogs) and even man-made / mechanical sounds – car alarms, sirens and a whole lot more besides. Good old Wiki has this to say:
“There are four recognized calls for the Mockingbird: the nest relief call, hew call, chat or chatburst, and the begging call. The Hew call is mainly used by both sexes for potential nest predators, conspecific chasing, and various interactions between mates. The differences between chats and chatbursts are frequency of use, as chats are year-round, and chatbursts occur in the fall. Another difference is that chatbursts appear to be used in territorial defense in the fall, and the chats are used by either sex when disturbed. The nest relief and begging calls are only used by the males.” Northern Mockingbird 4
IMITATIVE MEMORY?
Remarkably, it seems that Northern Mockingbirds can inherit and store the imitations of their ancestors. We listened to a young one in the Abaco National Park with Caroline Stahala, the scientist i/c Abaco Parrot conservation. The bird was accurately mimicking a tufted titmouse, a bird it will never have heard and so cannot have learned from directly (and no other bird on Abaco sounds like the titmouse). 
NEW! Another remarkable nugget, gleaned from Bahamas bird authority and author Tony White, is that in early Spring you may hear the calls of Grey Kingbirds starting to arrive for their summer vacations. Do not be fooled; Northern Mockingbirds begin imitate the calls of this species about 2 weeks before they begin to arrive…
By way of comparison, here is a Northern Mockingbird I photographed at the beginning of the year in New York while walking the High Line (if you get the opportunity to do this, take it. The perfect solution for a defunct high-level railway track is to turn it into a walkway-cum-park-cum-viewing platform).  There are detectable differences, not least the brown frontal flecking.Northern Mockingbird NYC

THE INFLUENCE OF MOCKINGBIRDS ON THE ARTS

“To Kill a Mockingbird”, Harper Lee, (1960); Film version (1962) starring, by amazing coincidence, Gregory Peck

“Listen to the Mocking Bird” (1855) An American folk song popular in the mid-19th century

“Mockingbird” (1974) Carly Simon duets with James Taylor, her (then) husband, one of several (though not simultaneous)

“Mockin’ Bird Hill” (1951) Les Paul & Mary Ford, later massacred in 1964 by ‘The Migill 5′

Star of the Lullaby that starts “Hush, little baby, don’t say a word, Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird…” That’s quite enough of that to be going on with

It turns out Mr Eminem has rapped up a ‘parental advisory’ and ‘explicit warning’ “Mockingbird” for our delectation. I was going to post the mp3 in a vaguely satirical way, but it is so numbingly dire that even his mum Mrs Mathers can’t bear to listen to it. So just enjoy the cover, then move on quickly to the birdsong video below…

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Audubon’s Mockingbirds

Northern Mockingbird Eggs

ABACO PARROTS TO CELEBRATE A MODEST LANDMARK


Abaco Parrot

Abaco Parrot

ABACO PARROTS TO CELEBRATE A MODEST LANDMARK

‘Rolling Harbour: The Blog’ had humble beginnings – a dodgy structure built on foundations formed of an unpromising mix of ignorance and incompetence. Gradually it has come together, to the extent that it has just passed the 125,000 visits mark. Abaco is a small and uncrowded island, so the audience demographic [to use biz-speak] isn’t large. However the wildlife, scenery and lifestyle have turned out to have a wider appeal. 1/8 of a million people (or perhaps 1 crazy punter with repetitive strain injury from checking in unhealthily often) deserve a few of Abaco’s unique parrots in return.

I THANK YOU ALLAbaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 4a

WHERE IT ALL BEGINS – AN UNDERGROUND NEST DEEP IN THE NATIONAL FORESTAbaco Parrot Nest 2

EVENTUALLY THE CHICKS HATCH…Abaco Parrot Nest 4

…AND GROWAbaco Parrot Nest 5

IN DUE COURSE THEY ARE READY TO BE CHECKED OVER AND RINGEDAbaco Parrot Chick Ringing 1

THEY HAVE NO FEAR OF THE ‘PARROT LADY’, SCIENTIST CAROLINECS with Abaco parrot chick

SOON THEY ARE INDEPENDENT AND DISCOVERING THE JOYS OF GUMBO LIMBO BERRIESABACO PARROT ©CS 2012 3

KEEPING A BEADY EYE OUT…ABACO PARROT ©CS 2012 7

DOMESTIC HARMONY…ABACO PARROTS MM 3ABACO PARROTS MM 8

…BUT NOT ALL THE TIMEAbaco Parrots MM 10

‘HOW DO I LOOK AGAINST A BRIGHT BLUE SKY?’Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 13

PARROTS HAVING AN EARLY EVENING GET-TOGETHER AT BAHAMA PALM SHORES

‘GOODNESS ME, IS THAT THE TIME? I MUST FLY…’

parrot crossingCredits: Caroline Stahala, Melissa Maura, RH; recording and video RH

ABACO’S UNIQUE PARROTS IN PICTURES, VIDEO & SOUND


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 4a

ABACO’S UNIQUE PARROTS IN PICTURES, VIDEO & SOUND

Abaco parrots. The only ground-nesting parrot species in the Bahamas. In the world, in fact. I’ve posted quite often about them – indeed they have their own page HERE – because, frankly, they are special and their story is one of encouraging success for intensive research and conservation programs. In 1492, Christopher Columbus was amazed by the vast number of parrots he saw in the Bahamas (not that the islands were called that then). In his journal he noted: “flocks of parrots darken the sun…”  Not many years ago, parrot numbers on Abaco had dwindled to fewer than 1000 – below the critical point for sustaining a viable population. Extinction of the Abaco parrot loomed, accelerated by increasing habitat change, predation, and (*euphemistically*) ‘human intervention’.  Thanks to the campaign of conservation, habitat preservation, anti-predation measures and vigilance, numbers have been restored to a sustainable level, perhaps as many as 4000. They are now a fairly common sight – and sound – in South Abaco. But not everyone who looks for them finds them, or even hears them. Especially not if they take pot luck in the vast areas of pine forest in the National Park, where they breed…

I’ve covered much of this ground before, but there is a slightly wider audience these days, so a few newcomers may be interested to learn about these lovely birds. The best thing is to have a look. All photos were taken by me during two early evenings in March.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 1Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 2 Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 4aAbaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 5

The parrots are extremely agile, and have very strong feet and claws that enable them to move around in the tree-tops – or to hang upside down if they choose to. The next photo is a close-up a foot; below that is short video showing a parrot manoeuvring itself in a tree. You’ll also see how the birds use their beaks as an extra limb, so to speak. The uninspiring title shown is only because I forgot to label it ‘Abaco Parrot’ in the first place, and can’t find how to edit it…Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 6

In this image you can clearly see how their ‘opposable’ claws wrap round a branchAbaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 8

If you suspect that this one has had some ‘work’ done, you’d be right. I normally leave my photos largely alone, apart from cropping and maybe basic light balancing where needed. Sometimes an image is nearly there, but needs a bit of extra cosmetic business – but one can usually tell. The left wing? Hmmmmm (users of ‘noise reduction’ will know what I am talking about!).Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 9 Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 10 Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 11 Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 12

The flocks of parrots are incredibly noisy. Sometimes they split into two or three groups, close together, and seem to compete in raucousness. Around 5.00 pm seemed to be the noisiest time. I took recordings of the racket, using the voice memo app on an iPh*ne, simply holding the phone with the speaker / mike end towards the parrots. Some come out pretty well – good enough to post on the excellent XENO-CANTO bird sound site. Here is a recording, with the first few seconds transcribed into a sonogram. I made a ring tone from this recording for Caroline Stahala, the scientist who, with her team, looks after the birds. She’s been too polite to say whether she uses it or (more likely) not!

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 13Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 14Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 15I find the parrots very hard to nail in flight (see above), possibly because of a shutter-speed issue (mine, not the camera’s). I nearly junked the picture below, but I liked the clash of the parrot colours with the purple bougainvillea, so I spared it.Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 16B

If anyone is interested in making a small contribution towards the continuing research into and protection of these birds, please have a look at my ABACO WILDLIFE CHARITIES  page, where the relevant link to Parrots International can be found. Or visit doudoubirds, where you will find endearing Abaco Parrot prints by dou dou herself for sale in aid of the parrots. Or contact me at rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.comAbaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 7

If anyone had a problem with the Xeno-Canto sound file above, here is a simplified version of the recording