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 tinged slight disappointment (the book is already out of date by June!)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

 

 

BANANAQUITS ARE UBIQUITS ON ABACO – AND ÜBERCUTE TOO


Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 7

BANANAQUITS ARE UBIQUITS ON ABACO – AND ÜBERCUTE TOO

The Bananaquit Coereba flaveola. Permanently resident on Abaco, at the Delphi Club, and in my top ten favourite birds. And everyone else’s, I shouldn’t wonder. With their handsome livery and their cheeky chirping, they can be found almost anywhere. They could equally well be called ubiquits. I had been going to post some recent images of one feasting at a hummingbird feeder, but I found this thirsty palm-forager in my photo folder first, so here he is in all his glory…

Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 1 Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 2 Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 5Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 6Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 4

Here’s the song of a bananaquit from Xeno-Canto (Paul Driver, Andros) (and there’s a thick-billed vireo in the background)

And here is the ‘whole picture’ without the zooming, showing what a relatively small and cute bird the bananaquit isBananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 3

All images: RH; sound recording Paul Driver, Xeno-Canto

ABACO WARBLERS: IN SEARCH OF A YELLOW RUMP…


Yellow-rumped_Warbler Dan Pancamo (Wiki)

ABACO WARBLERS: IN SEARCH OF A YELLOW RUMP…

I haven’t been very lucky with yellow rumps in the past. This is not normally something one likes to talk about in a public forum… but to be honest I have been longing to get hold of a yellow rump of my own. The warbler Setophaga coronata, that is, a fairly common winter resident on Abaco. I’ve seen them of course. I’ve glimpsed a passing flash of yellow rump. But no YRW has stayed parked in tree with its backside towards me for long enough to permit me to photograph its posterior glory. Ideally I’d have liked a clear, attractive shot like the header image (Dan Pancamo, Wiki). But desperation leads to lowered expectations and plummeting standards. Frankly, this year I’d have been satisfied with any yellow rump. Abandoning my initial plan to apply a yellow highlighter pen to a compliant female grassquit, I bided my time. And suddenly there, at the very top of a tree near the swimming pool at Delphi, was my chance… A pair of YRWs were in evidence.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco 5Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco 6Yellow-rumped Warbler Abaco 1Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco 2

The tree wasn’t very close to me, and the birds stayed near the very top. My photos were never going to be great. Especially since each bird was meticulous in keeping its rear end out of sight. Then they flew away! However quite soon one was back. This time there were twigs in the way, one of the those little variables that makes camera focussing so enjoyable. But this time I managed to ‘pap’ its derrière…  Feeble shots but mine own. As an avian ‘Holy Grail’, a mere yellow rump leaves quite a lot to be desired, I can quite see. It’s on no one’s ‘bucket list’ of birding musts. But now I can move on, release that poor female grassquit and chuck out the highlighter pen.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco 3Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco 4

GEE! BEES!! HIVE TALKIN’ ON ABACO


Bees at Delphi Abaco 1

GEE! BEES!! HIVE TALKIN’ ON ABACO

This post concerns the bees of Abaco, with little or no apology for the cultural cross-reference to the dread mid-70’s musical era. If you wish to experience the full horror, scroll straight to the bottom of the page and relive those heady days of Barry, Robin & Maurice… 

The bees on Abaco south of Marsh Harbour are mostly wild. The header photo shows the West Indian Woodpecker nest box near the skiff park at Delphi that has become the exclusive residence of bees. They have a profusion of flowers in the Delphi Club gardens to choose from, but it is not practical to keep hives for them. So they are left to do their own thing. Here they were last month, being busy.

Bees at Delphi Abaco 2

During the past year I have found 2 places between Delphi and MH that keep hives. One is PEPPER POT FARMS - click the name to reach their FB page. You can get their honey direct or in MH for $6.75 a pot. I enjoyed their evidence of why bees are called ‘workers’…

5 FUN BEE FACTS

  • Bees must visit approximately 2 million flowers to make 1 lb. of honey. 
  • Bees have to fly over 55,000 miles to make 1 lb. of honey. 
  • On average a worker bee will make 1/12 teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. 
  • Two tablespoons of honey would fuel a honey bee flying once around the world.
  • Honey bees will visit between 50-100 flowers during one nectar collection trip.

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The other place with hives is ABACO NEEM FARMS, the base for the production of the stock at the Abaco Neem shop on the way into MH from the roundabout [explanation for non-Abaconians - there is only one roundabout on a 120-mile long island, so no need to specify which…]. The owner Nick has installed 2 hives which we had a look at when we took up his invitation to bird-watch there. It is something of a birding hotspot, benefitting from pine woods, coppice, fruit trees and open land over a large area. 

Abaco Neem Farm Hives 1Abaco Neem Farm Hives 2Abaco Neem Farm Hives 3

There was plenty of bee action around the hives on a warm sunny day and plenty of plants for them to feed from. We watched them come and go, the returning bees having filled their trouser pockets with pollen.Abaco Neem Farm Hives 4 Abaco Neem Farm Hives 5

There are both cultivated and wild flowers all over the place, with bees feasting on plants and fruit trees of many kinds. I liked the bright flower chosen by this bee. Abaco Neem Farm Hives 6

I’ll be posting more about the birds and plants of the Neem Farm in a while. Meanwhile, here are a couple of links to previous relevant links.

 TO SEE AN EARLIER ABACO BEE POST, CLICK HERE

TO SEE A CUBAN PEWEE AT THE NEEM FARM CLICK HERE

Finally, here is your chance to roll back the years with the Brothers Gibb. And below it, an excellent corrective!

This excellent Bee Gee parody by the “Hee Bee Gee Bees” called “Meaningless Songs in Very High Voices” is live from Sweden. Well, it still makes me laugh anyway (they also ripped off and ripped into Bowie, Jackson, The Police, Status Quo & many more).