RARE GEMS: PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO (1)


Piping Plover (non-breeding), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Piping-Plover Artmagenta  RARE GEMS: PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO (1) Piping-Plover Artmagenta

8000 

That’s the total number of all the piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) left in the world. Like many other rare and vulnerable species (e.g. the Kirtland’s Warbler), the habitat at both ends of their migration routes is under threat. And, as with the Kirtland’s, vigorous conservation campaigns are underway. Problems such as habitat loss at one end are bad enough – if at both ends, population decline is a certainty and extinction looms. The summer breeding range of PIPLs takes in Canada, central US and the eastern seaboard. In winter they join the mass migration of other birds south to warmer climes. Abaco is lucky enough to receive these little winter visitors; and at Delphi we are fortunate that every year some choose the beach for their winter retreat.

char_melo_AllAm_map

Piping Plover, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

This is the first of a planned Piping Plover series that I have been working on. The reason for beginning now is because the autumn migrations are starting, and before long a few of this precious species will be on a beach near you on Abaco. Many of them will be ringed as part of the ongoing conservation projects. One of the best ways to monitor success is to follow the migratory lives of these birds; and this can very easily be done by taking photographs of a piping plover that show its rings. The number and colours of the rings on each leg tell the conservationists a great deal about an individual bird. Here is a photo by Don Freiday that shows what to look out for – these 4 items of plover-bling are an integral part of the preservation efforts for this species.

PIPLfledge_banded_Meb_DF

The Audubon Society has produced a wonderful interactive demonstration of the PIPL’s year-round life  that can be found at BEATING THE ODDS. For anyone interested in these fascinating little birds, I highly recommend a click on the link. Some clips are shown below.

A good example of one of the organisations involved in the conservation of PIPLs is CONSERVE WILDLIFE NEW JERSEY, of which Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger are also directly involved on both Abaco and with the CAPE ELEUTHERA INSTITUTE.

With due acknowledgement to Audubon, here are a couple of outstanding photos by Shawn Carey from the site; and below them, details of the range of the Piping Plovers and their 4000-odd mile two-way trip made in the course of each year.

TWO LEGS                                                                SIX LEGS

ShawnCarey[3] ShawnCarey.crop[1}

SUMMER                                                                      FALL

PIPL range Summer jpgPIPL range Fall jpg

WINTER                                                                         SPRING

PIPL range Winter jpgPIPL range Spring jpg

THE PIPING OF THE PLOVER Originator Lang Elliot, as featured by Audubon, eNature, Birdwatchers Digest etc

That’s enough to begin with. I will return to PIPLs soon, with more photos, information and links. Meanwhile, here is a great 4-minute video from Plymouth Beach MA. And if you see a Piping Plover on Abaco this autumn and are not part of the ‘bird count community’, please let me know the location; if you can, describe the rings – how many, which legs, what colour; if possible, photograph the bird (and – a big ask – try to include the legs). Whether ringed or not, all data is invaluable and I’ll pass it on.

 Migration ProductionsMigration Productions

Piping Plover Chick (Beaun -Wiki)

Credits with thanks: Bruce Hallett, Cornell Lab, Tony Hepburn, Don Freiday, Shawn Carey, Audubon, Beaun/wiki, Lang Elliott (audio) Migration Productions (video), Artmagenta (mini drawings)

Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta

WHAT’S IN A NAME? NORTHERN BOBWHITE ON ABACO


Northern Bobwhite female 2.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

WHAT’S IN A NAME? NORTHERN BOBWHITE ON ABACO

220px-Status_iucn3.1_NT.svg

A part of me would like Bob White to have been a legendary hero – perhaps holding his post against impossible odds; or a courageously reforming politician; or scoring a stupendous winning goal in the dying seconds of a famous tournament. Or maybe just a nice guy, popular in the local bar. Instead, the bobwhite Colinus virginianus is a small plump game bird of the quail family, named for its call which (as I have written elsewhere) “does indeed sound something like ‘bob…white?’ played on a slide-whistle”. This bird is an introduced species on Abaco where it breeds and is quite common. It is more often heard than seen, since it is a shy creature and not so easy to find. If they see you first, you’ll glimpse them scurrying away at best and you may well not see them at all. At Delphi, some set up home at the highway end of the drive where they can be heard and, from time to time, seen. Photographer Tom Sheley bided his time in order to capture these wonderful shots of a pair.

Bobwhite pair.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley crBobwhite pair 2.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley cr

I recently wrote about another game bird, the WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON. The bobwhite also appears in the excellent Bahamas National Trust’s BNT HUNTERS GUIDE 

Northern Bobwhite BNT Hunters Guide

Unfortunately one of the consequences of enjoying game bird status – coupled with other factors such as habitat loss – is that the species is IUCN-listed ‘near threatened’. That’s not a cause for immediate concern, but the next stage may be…

The northern bobwhite can be found year-round in fields, grassland, open woodland areas, roadsides and wood edges. Sightings of bobwhites are most usually made when they are in cover such as long grass or undergrowth, as in the header photo and the one below.Bobwhite male in habitat.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy

When we went out searching for bobwhites last year to photograph for the book, we drove along tracks in open farmland and remote backcountry. We could hear them but we only saw a few, mostly too briefly to photograph. My own attempts were abject failures, small brown blurs of backside as the birds scuttled away. Tom Sheley fortunately had what it took to get results – patience, skill and a great camera.

Photo credits: Tom Sheley

LHUDE SING, CUCCU! THE MANGROVE CUCKOO ON ABACO


 Mangrove Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

LHUDE SING, CUCCU! THE MANGROVE CUCKOO ON ABACO

Summer is icumen in, that’s for sure. Has already cumen in, to be accurate. The approach of summer is the time when cuckoos tend to sing loudly (not lewdly, as the old lingo might suggest). The YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, recently featured, is one. The MANGROVE CUCKOO (Coccyzus minor) is another. Before I get on to some gorgeous pictures (none taken by me!), let’s have a sample of how this species sounds. The call has been described in various ways, for example as “gawk gawk gawk gawk gauk gauk”. I’m not so sure. And I can’t think of a sensible way to write it out phonetically. So I won’t. Please try, via the comment box…

Jesse Fagan / Xeno-Canto

Cornell Lab / Allaboutbirds  

MANGROVE CUCKOO, Abaco (Alex Hughes)Mangrove Cuckoo with insect.Delphi Club, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

You will notice that all three birds above have got fat insects in  their beaks. A lot of photos in the archive show feeding mangrove cuckoos. Maybe that’s when they are most likely to break cover, for they are quite a shy species.  Their preference is for caterpillars and grasshoppers, but they are happy to eat other insects, spiders, snails, lizards and (with a nod to an all-round healthy diet) fruit.

Mangrove Cuckoo, Delphi Club, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley) copyMangrove Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer) Mangrove Cuckoo, Abaco Alex Hughes

Delphi is lucky to have some of these handsome birds lurking in dense foliage along the drives – the guest drive in particular. Some of these photographs were taken there. Occasionally you may see one flying across a track ahead of a vehicle, flashing its distinctive tail. It’s significant that only the last of these photos shows the bird right out in the open – the rest are all deeper in the coppice.

Mangrove Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn) copyMangrove Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)  copyCredits: Bruce Hallett, Alex Hughes,  Tom Sheley, Gerlinde Taurer and the late Tony Hepburn; Audio – Xeno-Canto & Cornell Lab. All photos taken on Abaco!

SumerIsIcumenIn-line

 

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

BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS: A NEW BIRD SPECIES FOR ABACO


Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS: A NEW BIRD SPECIES FOR ABACO

In March 2014 “The Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco” was published. It contains a checklist of every species recorded for Abaco that was accurate on the day of publication. So it was with a mix of excitement (new species!) tinged slight disappointment (the book is already out of date by June!) that I heard reports of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks Dendrocygna autumnalis being seen on Abaco. Followed by photographs to prove it.

The first report came from Woody Bracey in his account of a day in the field on June 9th in which 40 bird species were seen. He concluded the report: “Most remarkable of these sighting were the 5 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. This species has been reported before on Andros and Grand Bahama but never on Abaco. 5 were seen clearly in flight with their bright white central upper wing patches, dark underbelly, red legs and bill and long neck. A Yellow-crowned Night Heron spooked 8 Parrots feeding in a Gumbo Limbo Tree when this small flock of whistling ducks flew by affording a good look coming, overhead and going. Unfortunately I did not get a photo even with camera in hand. They have bred in Cuba but not in the Bahamas”.

So, a clear sighting but no photographic evidence. Until the following morning, yesterday June 10 around breakfast time, when at the Delphi Club Lucy Mantle happened to notice some strange ducks right in front of the Club. She grabbed a camera (possibly her phone?) and took a couple of quick shots. Peter Mantle checked Hallett, the go-to field guide, and saw at once that these were not West Indian Whistling Ducks (a species found on Abaco). So he put the word about, adding Lucy’s photos. Hers are almost certainly the first ever images of this species on Abaco.

STOP PRESS 12 JUNE I’ve had an email from Woody Bracey saying that he first photos documenting the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were in fact taken Saturday June 7 on the Schooner Bay Dock by Glen Kelly. These photos are the ‘official documenting ones’ so I’m afraid that as things stand, Lucy moves to silver medal position and Tara to bronze…

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Delphi Club (Lucy Mantle) – first second species photo on Abaco?Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Delphi, Abaco (Lucy Mantle) v2

Tony White, compiler of the checklist, responded to Peter: “Congratulations! you are the first to document a new species on Abaco since the book and checklist came out. These are Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, casual visitors to the Bahamas. They are increasing rapidly in Florida and I think we can expect them to be breeding somewhere in the Bahamas in the next few years.There are two subspecies and they both have been seen in the Bahamas. I’ll let Woody try to figure out which these are. Thanks for being so alert and getting these photos”.

The birds must have moved gradually north during the day, and further sightings were reported online. Tara Lavallee took some photos of them in her yard a few miles north of Delphi and posted them on FB asking “Six of these beauties visiting my yard. Anyone know what they are?” 12-year old birder Chris Johnson was very quick off the mark with the correct ID as Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. Hector Morales had seen them flying over his house the previous day. I’ve seen no further reports, but I am really pleased to be able to feature Tara’s photos, which she kindly emailed earlier today. Her bird photography credentials are high – her wonderful photo of a Bahama Woodstar feeding from a flower takes up the whole of p43 of “The Birds of Abaco”.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco (Tara Lavallee) 2Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco (Tara Lavallee) 4Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco (Tara Lavallee) 3Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco (Tara Lavallee) 5

This is what they sound like. If you hear this call – grab a camera!

Paul Marvin @ Xeno-Canto

The present range of this species is shown in the Cornell Lab graphic below.It seems that the range is starting to expand, and that these ones are most likely to be visitors from Florida. It remains to be seen whether these ducks will remain vagrant curiosities, or settle down and begin to breed on Abaco. There are plenty of them, and they are IUCN listed as ‘Least Concern’. It’s a gregarious species, so perhaps that increases the chances of having a breeding population on Abaco.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck Range Map

I’ll end with two excellent photos of the BBWD, taken by people who plainly had plenty of time to sort out and set up their equipment at their own pace, and not as the result of a totally unexpected and random arrival in the front yard!

Black-bellied Whistling Duck Alan D. Wilson, www.naturespicsonline.com Black-bellied Whistling Duck – Alan D. Wilson, http://www.naturespicsonline.com (Wiki)

Black-bellied Whistling Duck Dendrocygna autumnalis London_Wetland_Centre,_UK_-_Diliff Black-bellied Whistling Duck, London Wetland Centre, UK by Diliff  (Wiki)

Photo credits as shown, with special thanks to Lucy Mantle for her exclusive  ‘first'; to Tara for use permission and sending her originals; and an honourable mention to Chris Thomas for his powers of ID!

 

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.

‘BURNS NIGHT’ – CONTAINING FOREST FIRES ON ABACO


Abaco Forest Fire 4

‘BURNS NIGHT’ – CONTAINING FOREST FIRES ON ABACO

Every year Abaco has a number of forest fires, especially in the south of the island. The timing is variable –  sometimes it’s March, right now it’s… right now. The fires are good in some respects for the forest, and regeneration is remarkably rapid. Links to previous posts on the topic are shown below. Many, or most, are (allegedly) started by hunters clearing scrub and undergrowth so that the dogs can chase the hogs. The rights and the wrongs are debatable, but what is beyond doubt is that a change of wind can cause fires set in forest on the unpopulated west side to jump the Highway across to the east side. There are farms and settlements there, and these are regularly put in peril. The Delphi Club has had a couple of close calls when the thick coppice between the house and the pinewoods failed adequately to deter the flames (in theory, it should!); Crossing Rocks had some nights last year when the whole community united to protect the settlement. Now it’s the turn of Bahama Palm Shores, where the fire service and volunteers have spent the last few days – and nights – trying to prevent fire reaching the houses. So far, so good. Abaco is a wonderful place, but the fires can be powerful and scary, spreading rapidly in the wind.

Luc Lavallee is one of the volunteers, and hasn’t had a lot of sleep recently. He has posted regular bulletins during the night on the BPS Facebook Page to keep everyone informed of the situation and the work in progress – for example creating firebreaks. Here are some of his photos over the last few days; the aerial shot is by photographer David Rees, who takes wonderful ‘drone’ photos.

Forest fire, BPS, Abaco (David Rees) Forest Fire, BPS, Abaco (Luc Lavallee) Forest Fire, BPS, Abaco (Luc Lavallee) Forest Fire, BPS, Abaco (Luc Lavallee)

This photo captures the fire raging in the middle of the night, making an almost abstract imageForest Fire, BPS, Abaco (Luc Lavallee)

FOREST FIRES –  BURNING SENSATIONS

FOREST FIRES – TOO CLOSE TO DELPHI

FOREST FIRES – REGENERATION

INDUSTRIAL ARCHAEOLOGY AT SAWMILL SINK REVEALED BY FIRE

Finally, here is a shot I took last year from the Delphi balcony looking west to the sunset. The fires had burned for several days, and the suns rays in daytime had to penetrate clouds of smoke and ash. The effect was striking.

Forest Fires, Delphi Abaco 2013

 

 Credits: Header & last pic- RH at Delphi 2013; aerial shot – David Rees; other images – Luc Lavallee