IDENTITY CRISIS ON ABACO:WEST INDIAN WOODPECKERS OR HUMMINGBIRDS?
The hummingbirds round here – Cuban Emeralds and occasional Bahama Woodstars – have feeders full of sugar water to keep them sweet. These are also enjoyed by other birds with suitable beaks or tongues able to get to the liquid through tiny holes. Bananaquits, for example. Now the resident woodpeckers have got in on the act. Our arrival at Delphi coincides with the start of insistent tapping noises from inside the 2 nesting boxes that were put up to divert the woodpeckers from wrecking the wooden roof eaves. They are carrying out annual routine maintenance, putting up new bookshelves etc before settling down to produce their first brood of the year. And they have now discovered how to get a sugar-rush to keep up their energies.
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
The Bahamas National TrustBNTis one of several organisations in the Bahamas responsible for conservation across the widely scattered islands of the Bahamas. One of its tasks is to look after the birds and their habitat, and from time to time the Trust publishes articles about their work. The Abaco-related material below is taken from a much longer article by Predensa Moore and Lynn Gape that covers the whole area, and concerns the importance of Abaco as a prime Bird Area. This applies in particular to Little Abaco and the Northern Cays; and to the large area of South Abaco that incorporates the National Park. The bird images used show some Abaco speciality birds mentioned by the BNT in their material.
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)
PRECIOUS EMERALDS ON ABACO: GREEN HUMMINGBIRD JEWELS
There are two resident hummingbird species on Abaco: the beautiful endemic Bahama Woodstar; and the lovely non-native Cuban Emerald. The species don’t get on, and tend to keep to separate territories. At Delphi the Emeralds predominate, though luckily there are Woodstars as well. Both species of these tiny birds have featured in previous posts, but this little hummer was a special one.
There’s a small patch of cleared coppice at Delphi, the ‘Farm’. This is where plants are ‘grown on’ for the gardens. In particular, there are coconuts planted in soil to germinate, to provide replacements for any palms that are trashed in the hurricane season. Since both Irene (in 2011) and Sandy (2012) passed directly over Delphi, you can see the sense in having an on-site garden centre. It can be a good place for birds, having both sun and shade. It’s where I suddenly spotted this Emerald, a few feet away from me.
It seemed quite relaxed, so I decided to see how close I could get. My attempt at stealth was slightly spoiled by my inexplicable need to make totally unnecessary “soothing” clicking and chooking noises as I crept forward. But the bird just watched peacefully, assuming me to be insane and probably harmless.
I shuffled forwards, expecting the bird to fly off at any moment. Instead, it seemed to go to sleep… By now I was a couple of feet away, and felt it was time to stop the ridiculous noises. The bird could not have been more at ease if I had sung it a lullaby. [Apart from the fact that I can't sing, that is]
By now the metallic glint of the feathers in the sun was extraordinary, with colours other than green clearly visible, especially on the tail. Does this bird look nervous? I was a foot away from it.
In the end I actually reached the bird. I stood over it and could easily have touched it. I quite see that it had probably been using the sugar water feeders, and was used to seeing people. But still. It was mini and I am… not. Here is my last shot, an aerial view. Then I crept away again, leaving the bird in peace and doubtless wondering what on earth that had all been about. I have a general rule against anthropomorphic ‘special moments’ but if I did not, then this was one…All photos RH armed with a Panasonic Lumix. If you want to use a photo - surprisingly, people occasionally do – please ask first and it will probably be fine. One or more of my images may be published shortly, and I don’t want a wrangle on my hands. Or anywhere else…
This tiny bird was in the Abaco coppice, well off the beaten track. Nearly two miles down a notably unbeaten track, in fact, that later was to lead to a puncture-and-@$%^&*-I-forgot-my-cellphone drama. Trauma, even. The hummer knew perfectly well that I had crept up behind it, but it had presumably seen few bipeds. It would not have known of their urge to bulldoze wild habitat and turn it into massive unsold developments, as has happened a short way up the coast… So it just carried on with what a bird has to do to keep itself looking presentable, while I, feeling rather rude and intrusive, took some quick pictures before leaving it in peace. Rather than sell these intimate studies to Hello!, OK!, Chirpy! or Tweet!, I am displaying them free for your enjoyment.
In addition to the Cuban Emerald, the Bahamas has its own endemic hummingbird, the Bahama Woodstar. In the faltering early days of this blog, I posted about them both atBAHAMA WOODSTARS & CUBAN EMERALDS: THE HUMMINGBIRDS OF ABACOAt that time, I was not really a ‘birder’ at all, and had only a very basic camera, so my own pictures were… very basic. But you may be interested in some of the info in the post about these two species, so I mention it in passing.
The flowers and plants below were mostly photographed in the grounds of The Delphi Club, Abaco or nearby. I expect most or many are already securely on the SD chips or hard drives of every visitor to an agreeably floral place like the Bahamas. Who can resist a pretty flower? I have confessed in earlier plant-based posts (links below) to a certain lack of aptitude around flowers. They just… are. Let’s see how this pans out – corrections and (for the last two) IDs welcome.
BOUGAINVILLEAThe butterfly is a Polydamus Swallowtail (also in the header image)
DATURA (ANGEL’S TRUMPET)This one has a cuban emerald hummingbird feeding from it – a lucky, but frankly not very good, shot
FIRECRACKER PLANT RusseliaMARSH FLEABANE (WITH HONEY BEE) PlucheaHORSERADISH TREE (WITH CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD) Moringa oleiferaBISMARCK PALMBANANASThese were growing just outside our bedroom. Pity they weren’t quite ripe…
I’m beginning to struggle now. The next two plants are probably completely obvious, but I am losing my floral grip. Suggestions welcome via the comment box or email (Bridget on Tilloo, that means you…)
STOP PRESSID within 24 hours, thanks to Nick Kenworthy who says via the comment box that this bright pink one “is loosely referred to as the Orchid tree (or Hong Kong Orchid Tree) as the blooms are very like an orchid but it comes on a tree rather than a plant”. I’ve checked my cheat books, where it is named Bauhinia pupurea, aka Orchid Tree, Butterfly Tree or (from the leaf shape) Bull Hoof Tree. The tree originates from India and Southeast Asia. Nick has undoubtedly nailed it, for which many thanks. One more to go…
ORCHID TREEBauhinia pupurea
STOP PRESS 2Nick has solved the second ID as well. His interesting information about this striking waxy plant can be seen in detail in the comments below. The answer, in a word, is ‘Jatropha’, of which there are a great many varieties – and quite a number of informal names, most of which (‘Firecracker’; ‘Star of Bethlehem’) are confusingly assigned to other plant species as well. It doesn’t feature in either of my Caribbean plant /tree reference books, so my amateur eyes didn’t actually let me down this time… This plant (there was were two of three) was in a small park area by the beach at Treasure Cay. I haven’t seen it elsewhere on Abaco.
Here are the links to a couple of my previous Abaco flower / plant posts:
I took photos of this tiny bird at BPS last month. They were ‘chance’ pics taken when we were photographing parrots in the tree tops. The hummer suddenly appeared some way ahead of me, so I swivelled the camera at it without changing any settings. Frankly, I didn’t expect the results to show more than a small green blur, but they have turned out slightly better than anticipated. I put these images on my subsidiary ‘Gallery’ site and people seem to like them so I’ve decided to add them here too. After all, it’s their true home, I suppose, with the other Abaco wildlife. Apologies to those who have seen these already on the other site. The images are exactly as taken – no colour tweaking, no sharpening, no photoshop - and may not stand enlargement or close scrutiny, because I was several yards away. On the other hand they give a good idea of how this bird feeds. The body postures are very characteristic, and besides, the plants are pretty…
This is a ‘holding’ post while I am actually on Abaco, to be rejigged in due course. The weather is a bit variable, my fishing is somewhat variable (as usual – more miss than hit, though my biggest bone yet a couple of days ago), the birds are fantastic. Abaco has two hummingbird species, the endemic Bahama Woodstar and the Cuban Emerald. The Woodstars are rather pushed around by the Emeralds, and tend to be scarcer where there are plenty of Emeralds. We are lucky at Delphi that both species coexist in relative harmony, although this may be largely due to the sugar-water feeders and the hummer-friendly planting around the Lodge. Here are a few irridescent images I’ve taken in the last few days. Things are a bit slow here (the internet connections, not me), so the image order, formatting and sizing may need attention later on…
Oh. Is that the time? I need a Kalik and lie down. I’ll add a couple pics more later!
NB these photos are posted exactly as taken. No photoshop, no iFiddling, no cropping. That’s how close you can get to these tiny birds…
ADDENDUM A few shots of a hummer in flight feeding on plants can now be seen on my subsidiary website HERE
A brilliant hi-def video by the excellent ornitho-artist bloggerBIRDSPOT. A very effective combination of the visual, amazing sound, and keeping very still. I realise you are highly unlikely to encounter one of these hummers on Abaco. But you might. Although they are normally found on the west coast of North America and inland from there, they have been regularly seen well outside their usual range, for example in Alaska, New York, Newfoundland and… Florida. So it’s only a matter of time before one slips across for a quick vacation in the northern Bahamas. Best not a pair, though. They are apparently very territorial, and the poor endemic Bahama Woodstar has enough trouble fighting its corner with the migrant Cuban Emerald… (credit: BIRDSPOT with thanks for use permission)
ABACO HUMMINGBIRDS: BAHAMA WOODSTAR & CUBAN EMERALD SIGHTINGS MAP
A while ago a new feature landed near the end of the right-hand sidebar. The idea was to put together an informal mapping of Woodstar and Emerald sightings on Abaco.
I put a few in as a start, hoping for more contributions, but so far it hasn’t been a popular item. Maybe it won’t work at all as a contributory feature, or maybe it just isn’t interesting if you live with the hummers. As an Abaco visitor (never having seen a hummingbird before. Except stuffed ones) they are a delight. A highlight.
It’s worth another try, and I have revised the map slightly to make the two contribution / contact methods clearer. It can’t be made more interactive than that I’m afraid. If you go to the sidebar and click on ‘View larger map’, you’ll see the data in more detail.
The map might even test the theory that Woodstars are scarce where Emeralds are numerous.
If you’d like to add to the mapping, I just need the type of hummer; the location in reasonable detail so I can stick a pin in the map; month / year (e.g. 03/12) and I will do the rest…
At an early stage of this blog I set out one of its aims – to help answer the question “What the heck is that small yellow bird over there…?” Since then, images have been posted. Lists and links have been given. Bird books have been reviewed. Every little prompt with ID helps the interested amateur (e.g. rh) and not just with the little yellow birds… I have seen all these birds at or very close to Delphi except the common yellowthroat (which I may well have seen but not “seen” as in recognised); and the red-tailed hawk, which we have spotted in the National Park (seeTO THE LIGHTHOUSE , a rugged (ha!) account of the frankly unnerving trip through the National Park to Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse)
This might be entertaining. Possibly. I’ve stumbled into a way to make and embed a customisable Abaco map. The bright idea is to record sightings of hummingbirds on the main island and the Cays – both Cuban Emeralds and especiallyBahama Woodstars. See SIDEBAR, right-hand side, down at the bottom for the map, which is enlargeable and moveable.
Data entry I am the only person who can do this, because I had to make the map using my own G**gle account. So if you’ve got sightings to add, that would be excellent. The most helpful thing would be to add a comment to this page or else to email me at email@example.com and I’ll do the pin-sticking.
A useful format would be‘BW (or CE) – Location (as precisely as possible, for sticking in the pin) – Date (MM/YY) – Initials – Comment (if any)’
This very pleasant walk somehow seems more satisfactory taken clockwise, turning left at the front gateway and wandering along the guest drive. The straight service drive is less interesting and feels less ‘in the coppice’. The distance is about 2 miles. You can walk the circuit briskly in about half an hour. The birds will see you, but you won’t see them… So preferably take it easy. Here is a fantastic aerial view of the drives (courtesy of DCB)
The start of the route – trees as far as the eye can see
From a birding point of view, as you walk down to the gateway, keep an eye out on both sides. There are plenty of birds in the bushes and trees, though they are not always easy to see. You might see a western spindalis, bananaquits, black-faced grassquits, warblers, northern parulas, loggerhead kingbirds, vireos, cuban emerald hummingbirds or a bahama woodstar if you are lucky, amongst many others. When you get to the main drives, have a look straight ahead into the coppice – in fact anywhere along the guest drive is worth pausing to investigate.
This cuban emerald was just opposite the drive gateway (credit Xeno-canto.org)
The gumbo limbo trees are very popular with many birds, including the Abaco Parrots, so it’s good to check them out as you pass by (and if you have unfortunately touched a poison-wood tree, they provide the antidote – conveniently the two trees tend to grow next to each other). Here are a couple of Thick-billed Vireos proving the point. And their song, which you will hear a lot around the Club itself.(credit Xeno-canto.org)
Hairy Woodpeckers seem to favour dead trees for drilling practice – and perhaps for feeding on the sort of bugs attracted to dead wood. Here’s what they sound like (a call and response with 2 birds) (credit Xeno-canto.org)
There are plenty of small birds all along the way, some more vivid than others…Black-faced grassquit (not a warbler, as earlier suggested. Thanks CN)
Antillean Bullfinch(not, as previously alleged, an American Redstart. Thanks CN)
If you look at the base of the trees in certain places, especially on the the left hand side of the guest drive (facing the highway), there are some small but deep holes in the limestone. If you drop a stone in, you can hear it splash in water – and the ferns growing inside them suggest a continuously moist environment.
As you progress, you move from the hardwood coppice to the pine forest.This photograph was taken just as the forest fires in March were petering out. The theory was that the fires that raged through the pine forest would stop where the coppice began, and not sweep on to engulf Delphi… and so this photo shows. The thick pine forest with its flammable vegetation and undergrowth gives way here to damper and less combustible coppice-wood which has halted the progress of the flames. The pines you can see are the last few outliers of the pine forest.
Here is an example of the drive having acted as a partial firebreak.
The pines, even burnt ones, are a good place to see West Indian Woodpeckers
When you reach the top of the guest drive it is worth carrying on to the highway. For a start you can admire Sandy’s gardening effort on the south side of the ‘white rock’, and maybe do some weeding. You are quite likely to see Turkey Vultures on the telegraph posts and wires, as here. You may also see Bahama Swallows on the wires, and perhaps an American Kestrel on a post.
I have seen a raucous flock of Smooth-billed Anis in this area, but it is hard to get close to them. Listen out for this unmistakable noise (credit Xeno-canto.org)
Returning from the road to the fork, to your right is the way you have come – seen here as the fires burnt out. There had been thick, indeed impenetrable, bright green undergrowth all along only 3 or 4 days earlier.
To the left is the service drive and your route home
Because this route is more open, there seem to be fewer birds. Again, you may see kestrels on the posts. Halfway along we heard the loud and very melodious singing of a Northern Mockingbird some distance away. CLICK on image (as you can with all, or most, of these photos) and you can see it singing!CLICK BUTTON to hear song of a Northern Mockingbird (credit http://www.bird-friends.com)
On either drive you will see butterflies. They seem to like the vegetation around the piles of stone and rubble. GULF FRITILLARYAgraulis vanillae
It is also worth looking out on either drive for epiphytes, or air-plants, growing on their host trees. They are so-called because unlike say, mistletoe, they are non-parasitic and do not feed off their hosts.
And so back to Delphi, a well-earned swim… and an ice-cold Kalik in the hammock…
For another angle on the circuit walk, have a look at a proper professional-looking blog by Craig Nash, already trailed in the BLOGROLL. This link will take you specifically to his fourth Delphi post, featuring this stroll. At the risk of stitching myself up here, I should say that you’ll get plenty of seriously good photos… PEREGRINE’S BLOG 4
At last I have got round to the hummingbirds. It’s quite simple. There are only two species of hummingbird on Abaco. The endemic variety is the Bahama Woodstar, one of only 3 endemic bird species on Abaco (the others are the Bahama Yellowthroat and the Bahama Swallow). The settled migrant is the Cuban Emerald.
Male and female Bahama Woodstars (Photo Credit: Phil Brown – and VG too)
These hummingbirds are found throughout the Bahamas. They do not migrate, although are occasional vagrants in SE Florida. They breed all year round, the main season being in April. The female lays 2 elliptical white eggs, which she incubates for 15-18 days. As with humans, the female is mainly responsible for childcare while males go drinking at the nectar bar and hang out with their mates.
This BW was one of a small group at Hole-in-the-Wall. They were completely unconcerned by our presence, and we could get within arm’s length of them. Woodstars, though tame in human terms, can be aggressive and territorial. They are plentiful throughout the Bahamas except on Grand Bahama, Abaco and Andros. Significantly those are the only islands where the Cuban Emerald is found in any numbers. As with the native red and import grey squirrel problem in the UK, the migrant emerald is aggressive towards the woodstar, which is consequently rare where emeralds are abundant.
Here is their call (credit Jesse Fagan Xeno-canto)
Addition April 2012Here is a seriously cute female Woodstar photographed by Ann Capling at Bahama Palm Shores, close to Ocean Drive – a really pretty little bird
At Delphi, you’ll frequently see emeralds, especially now that feeders with sugar water have been hung up for them. The pool area is a very good place to watch them. But there are occasional woodstars to be seen as well – in the coppice on the drives for example, and even on the feeders. The vague blur to the left of the feeder below is a woodstar in the millisecond between me pointing the camera and it flying away… Don’t bother to click to enlarge it – it’s a useless photo, I know, but it is evidence even at the lowest level
CUBAN EMERALDChlorostilbon ricordii
There’s probably a great deal to be written about the emeralds, but not by me. Or not now, anyway. The little you need to know from me is already covered above, and I haven’t yet discovered whether their childcare arrangements differ significantly from the woodstars. Probably not. So I’ll put in a selection of photos, and remark that it is strange how quickly they can change from sleek and slender birds to small rather cold and dispirited looking bundles of feathers. Both states are depicted below. Here’s what to listen for (credit Xeno-canto.org)
Delphi – pool feeder
Delphi – pool feeder
Delphi – pool feeder
Delphi – far side of pool
Delphi – near pool
Delphi – front drive
Delphi – front drive
All the above birds were photographed at Delphi. We saw emeralds elsewhere, of course – in the pine forest, flicking across the logging tracks; on other Cays. The best sighting was during our day trip reef-snorkelling and island-hopping with Kay Politano, when we had an excellent lunch for 14 at Cracker P’s on Lubbers Cay (see future post about this and the island-hops). There was a bird feeder by our table, to which emeralds came and went throughout the meal. Here are some photos – I wanted to get them hovering, and kind of succeeded. More or less.