BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS (1) ZEBRA HELICONIANS


Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 3

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS (1) ZEBRA HELICONIANS

The Zebra Heliconian butterfly Heliconius charithonia is also know as the Zebra Longwing.  These striking butterflies roost nightly in large colonies, a species behaviour that is believed to be a protective measure against predation, providing safety in numbers (or at least reducing the probabilities that you will be the one to be eaten). In 1996 the Zebra Longwing was appointed the State Butterfly of Florida.

Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 1Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 2Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 5Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 4Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 6Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 7Credits: all images by Charles Skinner, taken in the vicinity of the Delphi Club, Abaco

‘DREAM PLOVER’: WILSON’S PLOVERS ON ABACO (1)


Wilson's Plover, Abaco Header

‘DREAM PLOVER’: WILSON’S PLOVERS ON ABACO (1)

Dream Plover? Well, granted, not quite as adorable as the tiny surf-chasers, the Piping Plovers Charadrius melodus. But Wilson’s Plovers Charadrius wilsonia live on Abaco all year round, and may readily be seen on a beach near you. They breed on Abaco, and in the summer you’ll see their tiny puffball chicks scampering round. And if you approach a nest, you’ll very likely see the amazing ‘broken wing display’ by a parent, who will lurch strickenly and pathetically across the sand… leading a predator gradually further away from the nest or her chicks. Part 2 will include photos of this fascinating protective performance, and of some chicks on the Delphi beach.

MALE WILSON’S PLOVERWilson's Plover, Abaco 12

FEMALE WILSON’S PLOVERWilson's Plover, Abaco 11

And who was the Wilson who lent his name not only to a plover, but also to a snipe, a warbler, a storm-petrel and a phalarope, all birds that have been recorded for Abaco?

ALEXANDER WILSON (1766- 1813)

Wilson was Scottish poet.  Besides traditional ballads, he also wrote satirical commentary on the conditions of mill weavers. One vicious tirade against a particular mill owner resulted in Wilson’s arrest. He was sentenced to burn the work in public, and imprisoned. After his release, he sensibly emigrated to America in 1794.

Wilson's Plover, Abaco 2

Wilson became a teacher in Pennsylvania, where he developed an interest in ornithology and painting. He ambitiously decided to publish a collection of illustrations of all the birds of North America. He spent several years travelling, collecting material and painting, eventually publishing the nine-volume American Ornithology. Of the 268 species of birds illustrated there, 26 had never previously been described.  

SIDE-ON AND FRONT VIEWS OF THE SAME MALE PLOVER Wilson's Plover, Abaco 5Wilson's Plover, Abaco 6

FRONT AND SIDE VIEW OF THE SAME FEMALE PLOVER

Wilson's Plover, Abaco 9Wilson's Plover, Abaco 8

All birds on this page were photographed on the Delphi Beach. They happily coexist there with other shore bird species that include Least Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones and Killdeer. Here is a taster for Part 2, the family life of the Wilson’s plover. Wilson's Plover, Abaco 13

A CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD AT DELPHI, ABACO


Cuban Emerald Delphi Abaco 4

A CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD AT DELPHI, ABACO

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 HERE about 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… Cuban Emerald Delphi Abaco 1

I’ll tuck my wing in neatly if you are going to take pics of meCuban Emerald Delphi Abaco 2

Uh-oh! Close-ups. This is my better side.
Cuban Emerald Delphi Abaco 3

That’s enough, human. I’ve stopped the posing. Now push off and leave me alone.Cuban Emerald Delphi Abaco 5

In close-up, the feathers look like tiny iridescent pine needle fansCuban Emerald Delphi Abaco 6

The Delphi Club: a hive of activity for birds (to mangle a metaphor)The Delphi Club, Abaco, Bahamas

ENJOYING THE POOL: YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERONS ON ABACO


Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 5

ENJOYING THE POOL: YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERONS ON ABACO

The Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violate) is a smallish heron, and avian counterpart to the Black-crowned Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax). The clue to the main difference between them is in the names. The juveniles of both species are similar. The ‘night’ part of the name refers to their preferred time for feeding. They have broad appetites that include crustaceans, molluscs, frogs, fish, and aquatic insects. 

Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 6

At Delphi, these lovely birds are regularly seen in gardens round the pool; drinking from the pool; standing hopefully waiting for prey to show itself in the water; and occasionally getting a bit confused by the whole thing (see below). Delphi Club Pool

Looking rightYellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 7

Looking wet and ruffledYellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 8

Looking hungryYellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 9

Looking contentedYellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 10

The YNCH will stand motionless, waiting to ambush its prey. So a human, wandering to the pool laden with towel, book, iWotsit™, sun stuff and a cool Kalik, may easily not spot the bird at first. It will have seen you first, anyway, and moved away quietly if it isn’t too sure about you. However, they can be surprisingly tame if not startled. You may settle down, and suddenly sense that you are being watched from the other side of the pool…Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Delphi (DR)

Peter Mantle managed to capture a wonderful moment when a juvenile YCNH made a bit of a mistake early one morning while the pool cover was still in place… It looks embarrassed and slightly apologetic.Yellow-crowned Night Heron (juv) PM IMG_4607 (2)

Usually, these birds are to be found in marshy areas, or by brackish ponds where (unlike the pool) there is a ready supply of food for them. A few miles south of Delphi is an excellent pond for birding near Crossing Rocks, where there is always the chance of seeing an unusual or rare species. Herons and egrets often use the landing stage as a vantage point for scoping out the feeding opportunities. The next pictures are of a juvenile (?teenage) YCNH doing just that – and fortunately, the pond does not have a cover to cause discombobulation of the species. Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 3 Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 2Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 4

Black-crowned night heron for comparison220px-Black-crowned_Night_Heron_RWD7

300px-YCNH20101

Photo credits: All RH except the across-pool-starer (David Rainford); the confused juvenile on the pool cover (Peter Mantle); and the last 2 comparatives (Wiki)

THE CROSS LITTLE WOODPECKER: A TRUE HAIRY TALE FROM ABACO


Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco Header

THE CROSS LITTLE WOODPECKER: A TRUE HAIRY TALE FROM ABACO

ONCE UPON A TIME, on a magical far away island called Abaco, where the sun always shone and the people were always friendly and smiling, there lived a little woodpecker. It was a beautiful little woodpecker with long shiny golden locks and its name was Hairy… oh look, I can’t go on with this drivel and neither can you, I’m sure. Sorry about that. Let’s take it from the top…

    ♦      ♦      ♦      ♦

I have mentioned before the excellent birding opportunities that a wander round the Delphi drive circuit has to offer. It’s the best part of 2 miles. I am working on a list of all species encountered on the route from the Lodge, along the guest drive to the white rock on the road, and back down the service drive. It is turning out to be a gratifyingly long one.

During your stroll, it’s worth checking out the dead trees, especially the upper trunk and branches, as you go. For a start, these provide excellent places for birds to pause and scope out the territory below. They also have a good chance of finding insects there. And for some species, like the Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus, it is home. Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 16

The Hairy Woodpecker is very similar to the Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens, the smallest woodpecker of North America. Male HWs have a prominent red patch on the back of the head.  You can find an earlier post about a male HW and its nest in the Delphi coppice, with some HW species facts, HERE

220px-Picoides-villosus-001

Last June Tom Sheley, a birding expert and photographer from Ohio with serious (by which I mean huge camo-covered camera and tripod) equipment, was staying at Delphi. He tipped me off about a woodpecker nest he’d found 1/3 of the way along the guest drive, just before the first bend. So I grabbed a camera –  the wrong one, as it turned out, but my main camera battery was charging – and headed out. I found the nest at the top of a dead tree near the edge of the drive (shown above) and a female HW close to it. Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 1

She watched my approach carefully, and as soon as I paused close to the nest tree, she went into a fascinating ‘diversionary tactic’ routine to distract me from the nest. She flew across the track close in front of me, and settled on a tree on the other side of the drive, about 1/3 of the way up its trunk. There, she proceeded to scold me loudly as I fiddled about with the camera… Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 3

Still scolding, she then started to climb the tree quite slowly, pausing occasionally to fire off some more angry woodpecker abuse at me. Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 6

From time to time, she would change tack, closing her eyes gradually and hugging the trunk. This was presumably to make herself appear vulnerable to a predator (me), and therefore retain its (my) interest. If anyone is familiar with this behaviour, please leave a comment.Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 5

The woodpecker carried on up the tree, chattering as she went…Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 7

…before performing the closed eye / sleepy routine againHairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 11Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 12

By now she was nearing the top of the tree, and I was thinking of giving in… Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 13 Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 14 Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 15

Once she had reached the very top, I made the decision to move on, marvelling at her persistence in taking on a two-legged predator 6ft 5″ high and… not exactly a bantam-weight. Then I realised that, in all of this, I hadn’t thought of the nest behind me a single time. She and her distraction technique had won, and so I made my apologies for disturbing her and left. HW 1, Human 0. At least I knew that on a hot cloudless day I had something to look forward to back at the ranch… 

coasters

PINEAPPLES: SYMBOLS OF WELCOME & WEALTH (ALSO, DELICIOUS)


PINEAPPLES – A SHORT BUT FRUITY HISTORY (Mk 2)

NOTE The original post more than a year ago was intended in part as a celebration of passing the 50,000 hits mark. As I said then, “…so much interest in the wildlife of one small island? Thanks to all those who have visited during the last year or so”. Now we are speeding towards 125,000. In that time, the readership has increased somewhat (I thank you both…). So I am rolling this one out again with a few revisions, because it went down quite well before, at least with Pinaphiles…

🍍  🍍  🍍  🍍  🍍

The first image below is of the handsome locally hand-carved pineapple that surmounts the roof of the DELPHI CLUB Abaco. The fruit lost a few leaves in Hurricane Irene, which scored a direct hit on the Club. As posted on the ABACO FACTS page (under RANDOM main menu) “the precise Longitude & Latitude coordinates of the Pineapple [on] the Delphi Club roof are respectively -77.1787834167480  &  26.20450323936187 “. But why is it there? Time for a Short Voyage around the Pineapple…

PINEAPPLE FACTS TO ENLIVEN YOUR CONVERSATION

HISTORICAL & SOCIAL CONTEXT

  • Brought back to Europe by Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his return from his second voyage
  • Taken on long voyages as a protection against scurvy and because of its long life
  • By the c17 royalty & aristocracy grew them in hot-houses (or rather, their gardeners did). King Charles II tried one, an event so important it was recorded by the Court painter Hendrik Danckerts 
  • By c18 considered a great delicacy and a status symbol of wealth, often the centre-piece of a feast.
  • If you couldn’t afford to buy one, you could rent one and return it afterwards. Someone richer than you would then buy it.
  • Pineapples were grown in pits of fermenting manure. In England Queen Victoria was not amused and soon put an end to that unpleasant nonsense
  • In the c19 pineapples were one of the most significant exports from Abaco
  • The Earl of Dunmore built a huge pineapple folly in Scotland in 1761, which you can stay in (We have. It’s a lot of fun)

   

  • On ‘Unter den Linden’ in Berlin,  the cast iron posts round the huge equestrian statue of Frederick the Great are topped by pineapples.

Berlin, Unter den Linden, Reiterstandbild Friedrich II                 Reiterstandbild_-_Friedrich_der_Große Berlin Wikimedia

CULTURAL SYMBOLISM

  • Pineapples symbolise welcome and hospitality, placed at the entrance to villages or plantations. The tradition spread to Europe where they were carved as gateposts; staircase finials; and incorporated into wooden furniture (including bedposts at the Delphi Club)

  • Seafarers put pineapples outside their homes on their return to show that they were back from their travels and ‘at home’ to visitors
  • An expensive fruit to grow & to transport; remained a luxury until the arrival of steamships
  • Their costliness made them status symbols / indicators of wealth and rank. Displaying or serving pineapple showed that guests were honoured. And, coincidentally, that the hosts were loaded.
  • In the 1920s the grandest dinners apparently needed both “a pineapple and Lady Curzon” (I have been asked whether this is Interwar Period code for some sort of disreputable activity… let’s hope the answer is ‘yes’)

           Ornamental Pineapple at Ham House - James Long @ Wikimedia

  • The future Queen Elizabeth was sent 500 cases of canned pineapple as a wedding present from Australia. She asked them “Hev you come far?” Prince Phillip’s reaction was – apart from the word ‘pineapple’ – unprintable
  • In the play Abigail’s Party (Mike Leigh) pineapple chunks on cocktail sticks were used as a plot device to highlight the desperate social ambitions of a hellish hostess trying to impress & outclass her guests
  • A 1930s ad promised that by baking a pineapple pie a wife would make her man “smack his lips in real he-man enjoyment” (NB This may not work so well in the 2010s) 

By Appointment to HM the Queen

ARTS & CRAFTS

  • Used on Wedgwood pottery designs as early as the 1760s; others soon followed suit
  • Became widely used decoratively as a motif for gateposts, weather vanes, door lintels, wallpaper, table linen & curtains, and incorporated into furniture
  • Depicted as curiosities in early botanical engravings (Commelin 1697 Hortus Botanicus)

Commelin - Engraving - Ananas - Hortus Botanicus 1697

  • Featured in still life paintings as a crowning example of opulence (e.g. De Heem, Jan van Os)

                                  Josef Schuster

  • Depicted in plant and fruit studies, for example these by Johann Christoph Volckamer, very early c18        
  • Occasionally found in Church stained glass windows (e.g. St Lawrence’s, Jersey)

Églyise_Pârouaîssiale_dé_Saint_Louothains_Jèrri Man Vyi * Wikimedia

  • Featured in music e.g. Pineapple Rag (Scott Joplin); Pineapple Head (Crowded House); Escape – The Piña Colada Song (Rupert Holmes); Pineapple Express (Huey Lewis); Pineapple (Sparks) 

  • Used as a motif on shutters in Marsh Harbour 

SPORT

  • The Men’s Singles Trophy at  Wimbledon is a silver gilt cup with a gilded pineapple on top of the lid. It used to mean “Welcome back, Roger!” Now it stands for the first British male singles win since 1937 (‘Go, Andy!’). [British women have fared rather better in the singles in that time ('Go, Angela, Ann & Virginia!')]

MOTORING

  • Vauxhall produced the Vauxhall Astra Sport in ‘tasteful’ Pineapple yellow. For the history of the use of the far more glamorous Bahama Yellow  in motoring, click HERE

10 TASTY PINEAPPLE CHUNKS

  • The cocktail Afterglow is 1 part grenadine, 4 parts orange juice & 4 parts pineapple juice on ice
  • Piña Colada is rum, coconut milk & crushed pineapple. Omit the rum for a Virgin Colada
  • It is impossible, for chemical reasons, to make jelly with fresh pineapple
  • “Pineapple heat” was once a standard marking on thermometers
  • A pineapple grows as two interlocking helixes (8 one way, 13 the other – each being a Fibonacci number)
  • A pineapple will never become any riper than it was when harvested
  • Workers who cut up pineapples eventually have no fingerprints – a gift fact for crime writers
  • Pineapple stems are being tested for anti-cancer properties
  • Pine Apple, a small Alabama town full of pineapple symbols, was originally named “Friendship” but there turned out to be another town called that, so they changed it
  • Features on the Bahamian 5 cents coin…

  • …and  a $1 stamp

BAHAMAS PINEAPPLE STAMP

Read Jim Kerr’s interesting article in ABACO LIFE on Abaco’s pineapple past HERE

FRANCESCA BEAUMAN 2006

THE PINEAPPLE – KING OF FRUITS

If you want to find out more about pineapples, their  history and social significance, you should be able to pick up a copy of this book on Am@z%n, Abe or ALibris for a few dollars

“What?” I hear you cry, “you’ve managed a whole page about pineapples without mentioning modern advertising”. Shall I do so now? The man from Del Monte, he says YES

Sources: Own ideas + some magpie-thieving-borrowing from a variety of sources, many of which contain identical info and / or quote from the above book. Hope everyone is comfortable with that…

NB Not every fact above is strictly 100% true, so expect to be challenged if you try one out. In particular Prince Phillip is of course naturally docile and gentle-mouthed…

POST SCRIPT The first 21 Fibonacci numbers (just add 2 successive numbers to produce the next) are

F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 F6 F7 F8 F9 F10 F11 F12 F13 F14 F15 F16 F17 F18 F19 F20
0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55 89 144 233 377 610 987 1597 2584 4181 6765

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PRECIOUS EMERALDS ON ABACO: GREEN HUMMINGBIRD JEWELS


Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco10PRECIOUS 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. Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco 1

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. Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco 2

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. Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco 3

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]Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco 6

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.Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco 7

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…Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco 8All 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…

MAKING A GOOD IMPRESSION: BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACO


MAKING A GOOD IMPRESSION: BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACOBahama Mockingbird, Abaco 1

The Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii is similar to its slightly smaller cousin, the widespread Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottis. The range of Bahama Mockingbirds is slightly wider than the Bahamas themselves, and includes areas of  Cuba, Jamaica and TCI.  It is also a vagrant to the United States, especially southeastern Florida.

Bahama MockingbirdBahama Mockingbird, Abaco 4

The Bahama Mockingbird is browner than the Northern Mockingbird, and has distinctive streaking and spotting to its breast and undercarriage.Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco 6

Both species are found on Abaco. The NMs are ubiquitous in towns, settlements, gardens, coppice and pine forest, whereas BMs are shyer and tend to be found in the pine forest and well away from humans and their operations.Bahama Mockingbird 5We took a truck into the pine forest south of Delphi with well-known Abaco birder Woody Bracey and Ohio bird photographer Tom Sheley. They were quick to locate a bird, in part because one was sitting prettily on a branch singing lustily. It was well within range of Tom’s massive lens; more of a struggle for my modest Lumix (as you may detect). I was astounded by the beauty and variety of the song. It consisted of very varied notes and phrases, each repeated 3 or 4 times before moving on to the next sounds in the repertoire. Here is a short 18 second example I recorded, using my unpatented iPhone method, for which see HERE.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco 3

For those with interest in birdsong, here is a longer 1:13 minute song from the same bird, with largely different sounds from the first recording made minutes earlier. There’s even a decent stab at imitation of a 1960s Trimphone™. Had we not had to move on to Sandy Point for an appointment with some cattle egrets and American kestrels, I could have stayed listening for far longer.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco 2

Finally, the Northern Mockingbird below was photographed in a garden at Casuarina – far tamer and clearly very different from its cousin. The range map  shows the stark contrast with the very limited range of the Bahama Mockingbird.Northern Mockingbird, Abaco 1220px-Northern_Mockingbird-rangemap

OUT FOR A DUCK: FINDING WHITE-CHEEKED (BAHAMA) PINTAILS ON ABACO


White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 9

OUT FOR A DUCK: FINDING WHITE-CHEEKED (BAHAMA) PINTAILS ON ABACO

Hunt them. Then when you have found them, shoot them. But only with a camera, obviously… These attractive dabbling ducks are far too pretty for anything more controversial than watching and enjoying. Many moons ago I posted about them HERE, but I’m a bit cannier since then, and even have my own photos now…

NOTE Within hours of posting this, I was alerted (thanks, Tony W) to the inadvisability of (a) using the word ‘hunting’ in the title; and (b) the opening 2 sentences. (a) has been changed to the neutrally vanilla ‘finding’. (b) remain but with this warning: “It is illegal to shoot white-cheeked pintail in the Bahamas“. While I don’t imagine the readers of a blog like this will already have rushed to the gun cabinet, packed up a cartridge bag, added a couple of Kaliks and headed off  with extreme pintail population decrease in mind, I expect a  g**gle search for ‘hunting & shooting sweet small ducks’ could indeed provoke the odd (to very odd) person to assume it is open season for pintails. It isn’t. It never is.

White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 1

The white-cheeked pintail Anas Bahamensis is also known as the Bahama Pintail. It is a gregarious species, often found in large numbers on lakes and ponds. An excellent place to see them on Abaco is at the pond by Hole 11 at Treasure Cay golf course. Don’t all rush at once – and if you do follow up the hint, check in  at the Clubhouse to get permission – there may be a competition in progress… You’ll see many other waterbird species there, and I will do a follow-up post about them. Do mind your head – if someone yells ‘fore’ they will probably not be counting duck species.White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 3

The male and female of the species are very similar. However, in the image below there’s one bird that stands out from the others… and I don’t mean the American Coot. Near the bottom right is a LEUCISTIC variant of the Bahama Duck, a genetic condition similar to albinism.White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 5

Here is a close-up of the same duck on dry land. These variants are known as Silver Bahama Pintails. They are worth more than the standard version. You can see some good comparative pictures and find out more at MALLARD LANE FARMSWhite-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 7

 Here is a more extreme wiki-example of a silver bahama pintail
220px-White-cheeked_Pintail_white_morph_RWD

Another excellent place for pintails is in the Crossing Rocks area of South Abaco. Strictly, it is on private land. And legally too, for that matter. So I won’t pinpoint these pintails publicly. There is a wonderful variety of waterbird life there. I have seen great egrets, little blue herons, yellow-crowned night herons, belted kingfishers and elegant BLACK-NECKED STILTS there, besides several duck species. I have also seen a sora there (twice), a small, furtive rail that skulks in the reeds and foliage at the edge of the water, profoundly hoping that you won’t notice it… If you are birding on Abaco from Delphi, ask Peter or Sandy for the location. Or else contact me.White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 6

“On Reflection…”White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 2

QUIS PHOTOGRAPHIET IPSOS PHOTOGRAPHERES? [INSULA ABACO]


RH vig

QUIS PHOTOGRAPHIET IPSOS PHOTOGRAPHERES? [INSULA ABACO]*

Who indeed does photograph the people who take the photographs? Here is a small gallery of photographers on Abaco caught in the act of shooting wildlife, so to speak. And if anyone has ever seen – or been – a photographer photographing photographers photographing other photographers, trust me, that is one stage beyond weird.

RH on a nature trek with Ricky JohnsonWildlife Photography on Abaco 1

Mrs RH goes right off-piste & ends up on the golf course at TC  [good birding there in fact]Wildlife Photography on Abaco 3

RH (who uses a stick – or ‘cane’, if that isn’t too ’50 shades’) takes a collapsible wading stick on these occasions. Since he, too, is collapsible it is sometimes helpful to have a seat while photographing. Not elegant, though, and not especially comfortable. Cheers, Clare, for capturing the indignity…Wildlife Photography on Abaco 8

Mrs RH zooms in on a possibly rare bird… as it turned out, a female grassquit!Wildlife Photography on Abaco 4

RH sort of looks the part but the backpack is crammed full of food & drink, not equipment, and he is looking for shade for a picnic at CasuarinaWildlife Photography on Abaco 6

PM challenges RH to a ‘camera-off’ duel at Nancy’s, Sandy Point, and proves that his is the biggest…Wildlife Photography on Abaco 7

Ace birder and photographer from Ohio, Tom, arrives at Delphi and puts PM’s puny equipment to shame – and with Camo for extra cool. Even the tripod legs.Wildlife Photography on Abaco 11

Sandy Walker, General Manager of Delphi and man of many parts, turns out to own a snappy NikonWildlife Photography on Abaco 12

PM & RH engaged in a ridiculous challenge to photograph various items on the beach. Both lost, even though they had devised the rules…Wildlife Photography on Abaco 10

The professionals Tom and Woody (‘Birdman of Abaco’) Bracey get serious with Bahama Mockingbirds in the pine forest. The red bandana is to attract the endemic Bahama Woodstar hummingbirds.Wildlife Photography on Abaco 13

However at Sandy Point they seem to have forgotten their cameras…Wildlife Photography on Abaco 14

Tom returning to the truck after filming an evening festival of dozens of nighthawks on the wingWildlife Photography on Abaco 15

Out in the field… or scrubland – with 2 camerasWildlife Photography on Abaco 21

PM takes aim…Wildlife Photography on Abaco 20

RH subdues an unruly Yellow Elder (Bahamas national flower) for a close-upWildlife Photography on Abaco 18

*This titular nod to the phrase ‘quis custodiet ipsos custodes’ (‘who is guarding the guardians’) is open to objection on the ground of illogicality. It’s a Latin tag with a greek-derived verb and noun forms jocularly inserted. A ‘photograph’ is, literally, ‘light writing’ in Greek. So ‘quis lux-scribit ipsos lucis-scriptores’ is the best solution I can offer… Let’s have that Elder flower to end on a light note Yellow Elder Hope Town, Abaco 2

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Photographees: Peter Mantle, Sandy Walker, Tom Sheley, Woody Bracey, Mrs RH, RH

Photographers: Clare Latimer, Brigitte Bowyer, Mrs RH, RH

Photographers of photographers photographing photographers: none that we were aware of

ONE GOOD TERN DESERVES… A FISH [DELPHI CLUB BEACH, ABACO]


Least Tern, Delphi, Abaco 2

ONE GOOD TERN DESERVES… A FISH

DELPHI CLUB BEACH, ABACO

The LEAST TERN (Sternula antillarum, as it is now designated) is a small tern of the Americas and Caribbean, a very pretty, delicate little bird. It is a rare a vagrant to Europe, with a single example recorded in Great Britain. It is quick and manoeuvrable in flight, slightly hunched and ready to assume the position shown below after hovering over a likely spot for small fish. This image shows the bird coming out of its hover, and at the very start of its rapid plunge to the water. It’s here for illustrative purposes only – I realise it is somewhat inept as a photograph, but frankly you can never be sure when the dive is going to happen. Unless you have lightning reactions, a refrangible apex lens and a zircon-encrusted focal-zone flange, you’ll be lucky to do much better. Oh, and steady hands.Least Tern Abaco b

I had a lucky break on the Delphi beach one day, when I was taking photos of Wilson’s plovers and their new chicks (soon to feature here). A least tern appeared from nowhere and landed at the water’s edge within a few yards of me. I had no time to rethink my settings – a perennial problem at the best of times – and I simply aimed the camera and managed to squeeze off 3 shots before the bird took off again. One was a blurry fail, one is the header picture… and the 3rd captured the bird as it turned its head. You can see that, even though this is a small and light bird, its feet have sunk right into the soft, damp white sand.Least Tern, Delphi, Abaco 1

Another day on the beach produced a more measured opportunity. A least tern landed quite close to me, and was so preoccupied with its preening routine that it let me creep closer, all the while keeping a beady black eye on me. In the top shot, it has just become aware of me behind it. I was lucky it chose to stay and let me watch.Least Tern, Delphi, Abaco 8 Least Tern, Delphi, Abaco 7 Least Tern, Delphi, Abaco 6 Least Tern, Delphi, Abaco 5 Least Tern, Delphi, Abaco 4

‘CARRION SCAVENGING’: TURKEY VULTURES ON ABACO


‘CARRION SCAVENGING’: TURKEY VULTURES ON ABACO

TURKEY VULTURES (Cathartes aura) are a familiar sight, wheeling effortlessly overhead on thermals or gliding with the wind in singles, pairs or flocks. Statistically, 83% of all photographs of turkey vultures are taken from below and look like this TURKEY VULTURE

Of those, 57% are taken in unhelpful light, and look like the one below. On the positive side, this picture show the extreme delicacy of the wing-tip feathering that enables these birds to adjust their direction and speed (this is not the bird above; it was taken by someone else at a different time. But 100% of TV in-flight photos are indistinguishable).Turkey Vulture Abaco CL 1

TVs have a wide range in the Americas and the Caribbean, and can prosper in almost any type of habitat. This is probably because these large birds are almost exclusively carrion feeders, and carrion is everywhere. They spend their days scavenging, or thinking about scavenging. They do not kill live creatures.

The word ‘vulture’ derives from the latin word ‘vulturus’ meaning ‘ripper’, ‘shredder’, or ‘very loud Metallica song’. TVs have very good eyesight, and an acute sense of smell that enables them to detect the scent of decay from some distance. A breeding pair will raise two chicks which revoltingly are fed by the regurgitation of all the rank… excuse me a moment while I… I feel a little bit…

Turkey Vulture Abaco 11

When they are not flying, feeding, breeding or feeding young, TVs like best to perch on a vantage point – a utility post is ideal. But unusually for a bird, you won’t ever hear them sing or call. They lack a SYRINX (the avian equivalent of a larynx), and their vocalisation is confined to grunting or hissing sounds. Here’s a hiss (at 10 / 15 secs).

These vultures are often seen in a spread-winged stance, which is believed to serve multiple functions: drying the wings, warming the body, and baking bacteria.Turkey Vulture Abaco 3

They are equally happy to spread their wings on the ground, the shoreline being idealTurkey Vulture Abaco CL 3

10 SCAVENGED TURKEY VULTURE FACTS FOR YOU TO PICK OVER

  • One local name for TVs is ‘John Crow’
  • An adult  has a wingspan of  up to 6 feet
  • Sexes are identical in appearance, although the female is slightly larger
  • The eye has a single row of eyelashes on the upper lid and two on the lower lid
  • TVs live about 20 years. One named Nero had a confirmed age of 37 
  • LEUCISTIC (pale, often mistakenly called “albino”) variants are sometimes seen
  • The Turkey Vulture is gregarious and roosts in large community groups
  • The Turkey Vulture has few natural predators
  • Though elegant in flight, they are ungainly on the ground and in take-off
  • The nostrils are not divided by a septum, but are perforated; from the side one can see through the beak [some humans also suffer from MSS (missing septum syndrome). They tend to sniff a lot]

REVOLTING CORNER / TOO MUCH INFORMATION 

SQUEAMISH? LOOK AWAY NOW

UNATTRACTIVE HABITS The Turkey Vulture “often defecates on its own legs, using the evaporation of the water in the feces and/or urine to cool itself, a process known as UROHIDROSIS. This cools the blood vessels in the unfeathered tarsi and feet, and causes white uric acid to streak the legs”. The droppings produced by Turkey Vultures can harm or kill trees and other vegetation.

HORRIBLE DEFENCES The main form of defence is “regurgitating semi-digested meat, a foul-smelling substance which deters most creatures intent on raiding a vulture nest. It will also sting if the predator is close enough to get the vomit in its face or eyes. In some cases, the vulture must rid its crop of a heavy, undigested meal in order to take flight to flee from a potential predator”

Turkey Vulture Abaco CL 2

DIETARY NOTES TVs tend to prefer recently dead creatures, avoiding carcasses that have reached the point of putrefaction. They will occasionally resort to vegetable matter – plants and fruit (you could view this as their salad). They rarely, if ever, kill prey – vehicles do this for them, and you’ll see them on roadsides feeding on roadkill. They also hang around water, feeding on dead fish or fish stranded in shallow water. 

ECO-USES If you did not have birds like this, your world would be a smellier and less pleasant place, with higher chance of diseases from polluted water and bacterial spread.

FORAGING TVs forage by smell, which is uncommon in birds. They fly low to the ground to pick up the scent of ethyl mercaptan, a gas produced by the beginnings of decay in dead animals. Their olfactory lobe in the brain is particularly large compared to that of other animals.

SEX TIPS Courtship rituals of the Turkey Vulture involve several individuals gathering in a circle, where they perform hopping movements around the perimeter of the circle with wings partially spread. In humans, similar occasions are called ‘Dances’. In the air, one bird closely follows another while flapping & diving.Turkey Vulture Abaco 4

For more about Turkey Vultures, including cool videos, visit DEAR KITTY

It’s possible you may enjoy a visit to max-out-cute Birdorable. Click TV below for linkturkey-vulture

And if you’d prefer something TV but less cute, depressingnature.com has the thing for you…turkey_vulture2

Credits: Photos mainly RH, 2 by Clare L, small ones Wiki; Info – cheers Wiki & random pickings

Oh. Ok. Here’s the Metallica thing referenced above. Sweaty. Not my taste these days.

A BAHAMAS CRAB FEAST ON ABACO & BEYOND


Land Crab 2

A BAHAMAS CRAB FEAST ON ABACO & BEYOND

The photos below show a sample of the types of crab that may be found in and around the island of Abaco, both in the sea and on land. The wonderful underwater images were taken in adjacent waters by Melina Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba. The rest were taken by landlubbers at Rolling Harbour on the Delphi beach and rather closer to the building than one might expect. The last crab (and the header image) was a crab hooshed out of the coppice by Ricky Johnson to demonstrate its fighting prowess. I have put links to 2 posts featuring this fine specimen (including a video) at the end.

ARROW CRABArrow Crab ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

Arrow Crab ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

HERMIT CRABHermit Crab ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Hermit Crab 2Hermit Crab 3Hermit Crab 1

HORSESHOE CRAB (LIMULUS)Horseshoe Crab (Limulus), Delphi Beach, Abaco Bahamas

COMMON GHOST CRAB (Ocypode quadrata), DELPHI BEACHBeach Crab 1

PET CRABS PROTECTING MY ROD OUTSIDE OUR ROOM (note second crab behind it) AND ADVERTISING HARDY PRODUCTS. Rick Guest has pointed out that the crab is not protecting my rod at all. As if! “The crab in the foreground is the male guarding “his” female, distinguished by the small, abdominal triangle. The wide margins of the female’s abdomen are evident.” So that’s how to tell the sex of a land crab. Crabs & rodCrab & rod

BLUE LAND CRAB (Cardisoma guanhumi) WITH ATTITUDELand Crab 1

LAND CRABS ON ABACO: HOW TO STALK & WRESTLE THEM

LAND CRAB vs RICKY JOHNSON: ROUND 2 (VIDEO)

PS thanks to Nick Kenworthy for species comments + knowing the Latin names; also Clare for the Limulus

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.

NEW (JUNE 2014) ‘John’ comments “Rain bird or rain crow refer to both the mangrove cuckoo and the lizard cuckoo in the Bahamas”.

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.

SHORE THINGS: BEACHCOMBING ON A PRISTINE ABACO BEACH


Shore Things 16

SHORE THINGS: BEACHCOMBING ON A PRISTINE ABACO BEACH

The Abaco bay known as Rolling Harbour is a 3/4 mile curve of white sand beach, protected by an off-shore reef. The beach is pristine. Or it would be but for two factors. One is the seaweed that arrives when the wind is from the east – natural and biodegradable detritus. It provides food and camouflage for many species of shorebird – plover and sandpipers of all varieties from large to least. The second – far less easily dealt with – is the inevitable plastic junk washed up on every tide. This has to be collected up and ‘binned’, a never-ending cycle of plastic trash disposal. Except for the ATLAS V SPACE-ROCKET FAIRING found on the beach, that came from the Mars ‘Curiosity’ launch. Sandy's Mystery Object

We kept is as a… curiosity, until it was eventually removed by the men in black…

Shore Things 14I’d intended to have a ‘plastic beach trash’, Atlantic-gyre-rage rant, with angry / sad photos to match. Instead, I decided to illustrate a more positive side to beach life – things you may discover when you take a closer look at the sand under your feet. Like the coconut above. Many of these photos were taken by our friend Clare Latimer (to whom thanks for use permission); some by me.

Shore Things 13A LONE FLOWERShore Things 17SEA STAR (DEFUNCT), WITH CRAB TRACKSShore Things 21SEA FAN (GORGONIAN)Shore Things 15WASHED-UP BOTTLE (PROBABLY NOT RUM)Shore Things 12

SEA BISCUITSShore Things 9

Thanks to Capt Rick Guest, who has contributed an interesting comment regarding the sea biscuit with a hole in it. He writes “the (Meoma) Sea Biscuit w/ the hole in it was dined upon by a Helmet Conch. The Cassis madagascariensis, or C.tuberosa drills the hole w/ its conveyer-belt-like radula teeth w/ some help from its acidic, saliva. Probably 98% of all symetrical holes in marine invertebrates are of this nature. Murex, Naticas, Helmets, and many Cephalapods (via a Stylet), are the usual B&E suspects. The Cone shells utilize a modified radula in the form of a harpoon which is attached to a venom tube.” For more on the vicious cone shell, and other creatures to avoid, click HERE

DRIFTWOOD. IT’S LIKE… OH, USE YOUR IMAGINATIONShore Things 5A WILSON’S PLOVER NESTShore Things 11HORSESHOE CRAB (LIMULUS)Shore Things 4SCULPTURE? AN EMBRYONIC SHELTER? Shore Things 3LARGE BIRD FOOTPRINTSShore Things 18MORE BIRD PRINTS AND CRAB TRACKSShore Things 19 CRABUS CUTICUSShore Things 6CONCH SHELLS & OTHER BEACH TREASURESShore Things 8Shore Things 20CRAB HOLE & TRACKSShore Things 22SOME IDIOT’S LEFT HIS… OH! IT’S MINEShore Things 7

“PISHING IN THE WIND”: BIRDING IN A BREEZE AT DELPHI


Abaco Cloud Map 5:29

“PISHING IN THE WIND”: BIRDING IN A BREEZE AT DELPHI

The Bahamas weather has been uncharacteristically dire. Rain and cloud for the past week, and a poor forecast for the next week (see above). I arrived on Abaco yesterday, with the short internal flight from Nassau last night nearly cancelled due to a humungous downpour. Instead, people were boarded in bare feet, having had to wade through 3 inches of water to get to the small plane floating on the undrained concrete. Yet today, there was sunshine at Delphi this morning (though cloud to both north and south). A stiff breeze was keeping the clouds off-shore. The weather is fickle and very local.

ROYAL POINCIANADCB 1.10

I took a small camera and strolled for half and hour for about 200 yards along the Delphi drive and back (for those that know it, to the first corner of the guest drive) to see what the first of June had to offer in the way of wildlife. The birds were clearly enjoying some unaccustomed sunshine, and I have listed those I saw below. Not all were photogenically posed, and many were flicking around the coppice too quickly to capture.

RED-LEGGED THRUSHDCB 1.2

GRAY KINGBIRDDCB 1 3

The smaller birds were unusually responsive to ‘pishing’, the unattractive but effective noise that can bring a bird to the front of woodland or scrub to investigate. A black-whiskered vireo was interested, but flew off just as I pressed the button. He was immediately replaced on the branch by a

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERDCB 1 5

A pair of Western Spindalises (see recent post HERE) joined it in the adjacent treeDCB 1.4

DELPHI 30 MINUTE STROLL BIRD LIST 1.06.13

  • Red-legged Thrush 3
  • Western Spindalis  3
  • West Indian Woodpecker 2
  • Black-whiskered Vireo 2
  • Cuban Emerald 2
  • Turkey Vulture 2
  • Bahama Swallow 1
  • Gray Kingbird 1
  • Loggerhead Kingbird 1
  • Greater Antillean Bullfinch 1
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
  • Bananaquit 1
  • {Heard only} Abaco Parrots 2

The flowers were also enjoying some sunshine after the rainDCB 1.8DCB 1.9DCB 1.12DCB 1.11A couple of other things caught my eye, including a cute baby lizard, before I headed for some restDCB 1.7DCB 1.6DCB 1.1

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…

HOW TO RECORD BIRDS EASILY ON ABACO (OR ANYWHERE ELSE…)


Red-winged Blackbird Abaco 3

RECORDING BIRDS: A LAYMAN’S GUIDE

YOU WILL NEED: an iPh@ne or similar  smartphone with a voice memo facility; patience; minimal non-natural background noises (traffic, yelling people, barking dogs, heavy machinery); a steady-ish hand; one or more birds nearby

RECORDING

  • Use the Voice Memo app on an iPh@ne (I presume most other smart phones have a similar app).
  • Once you have it onscreen, turn the phone round 180 deg and the image will swivel round too. Now you can point the microphone at the sound and have the controls the right way up facing you.
  • Turn the volume up to max before you record.
  • Handle the phone carefully so it doesn’t record you touching it as well. It probably won’t pick up pressing ‘record’, but it may when you press ‘stop’. But you can trim the end of the saved file on the file very simply.
  • The recording saves in m4p format, and you can email it to your computer direct from the app (or to anywhere or anyone else).
  • Drag / save the file onto your desktop from the email. When you open it, it will (a) play and (b) appear in your iTunes library (or whatever music storage system you use).

CONVERTING RECORDINGS TO MP3

  • Having opened the recording, to convert the file to an mp3 (generally the preferred version for uploading elsewhere) in iTunes, go to Songs in your iTunes library and search for Memo. There it is!
  • You can rename it at this stage if you wish.
  • Then go to File on the top bar, and in the drop-down menu, near the bottom, go to Create new version. It will offer you mp3.
  • Click mp3 and a second recording file will appear in your library. That’s your mp3.
  • Drag it onto your desktop and do what you want with it.

Apologies if this is all blindingly obvious and written in the elementary computer language ‘eggy-peggy’. It took me a while to get it sorted out, and I hope the details above will help the lo-tek computer user to record birds and use the results painlessly.

FIELD NOTES

  • I recommend recording for about 20 – 30 seconds max. The iPh@ne  allows easy trimming at the start and end of the saved file, but there’s no easy way to edit the middle to take out the barking dog.
  • Several short recordings of each bird will give a better choice of results than one or 2 long recordings.
  • The iPh@ne mic is surprisingly sensitive. It will pick up all nearby sounds – someone whispering at you “is it recording yet?”, for example. So ideally this is best done in the pine forest or coppice, away from the Highway. And maybe the loud whisperer.
  • Wind can be a problem. Not just for humans. The mic will pick up gusts of wind, or wind blowing across it if you change the direction you are pointing the phone as you record. So this is best done on a calm day.

Red-winged Blackbird Abaco 1

Here are two practice recordings I made in March. The first is the female red-winged blackbird above (and header) at Casuarina beach. The distinctive call is rather like a rusty hinge on a swinging gate, often heard far out in the mangrove swamps of the Marls. You’ll hear background noises from collared doves and also the sea lapping on the shore.

The second is thick-billed vireo in the coppice at Delphi. You’ll hear an answering vireo – and also some wind noise. I find these little birds frustratingly hard to see – they always seem to be lurking further back in the bushes than I think. I’ve never managed to take a good photo of one, so I’ll upload an illustrative poor one to be going on with. I am back on Abaco in a week, and a better TBV photo is on my avian hit list.

Thick-billed Vireo, AbacoFinally, you’ll find a longer recording I made of Abaco parrots squabbling noisily at Bahama Palm Shores near the end of a recent post HERE. I made an mp3 using the method described above, and uploaded it to the excellent Xeno-Canto bird sounds website, which is well worth exploring. You can find my recordings of the parrots and the birds in this post, plus sonograms, on my XC page, such as it is, HERE 

But if you just want to hear the parrots, here they are. Like schoolkids, only louder.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 13Why do I do that annoying ‘iPh@ne’ thing? It’s a statistical fact that I have just made up that 373,597 people a minute world-wide g@@gle the correct word. Imagine the meta-crawlers and spam-splurgers that lock onto that word. I don’t want to cyber-meet them. I also use the form Am@z@n but for different reasons relating to their ingenious tax arrangements (alleged, obviously). Thus  with G@@gle as well (again, merely alleged – as Dusty Springfield memorable sang, “Nothing is proved…)

BURNING SENSATIONS: FOREST FIRES ON ABACO


Forest Fires, Abaco 11

BURNING SENSATIONS: FOREST FIRES ON ABACO 

My last post was about SAWMILL SINK – not the famous Blue Hole itself, but the detritus of past logging activity in that part of the Abaco pine forests revealed by last month’s forest fires. I mentioned that this destructive burning of the shrubby understorey is (allegedly) the work of  hunters making it easier for their dogs to pursue the hog denizens of the forest. The evidence suggests that nature alone could not cause so many separate seats of fire to appear in a matter of days over such a wide area – and in springtime at that.

This year, the fires came uncomfortably close to several small communities and outlying residences – and to the Delphi Club itself. Many people spent nights hosing down undergrowth and building on the edge of settlements, with neighbours all joining in. Electricity poles are vulnerable, with obvious consequences for the supply should they burn through at the bottom, as often happens. One pole a short way south of Delphi on the highway has the burnt remains of 3 utility posts beside the current (ha!) one. At Delphi itself, the vegetation from around all the poles along the mile of drive had to be cleared.

This iPhone photo was taken from the Delphi balcony. The fire is in fact on the far side of the highway, with the pall of smoke – and therefore the fire’s direction – heading south. The question is, when and where will it jump the highway, and what will be the wind direction then…Forest Fires, Abaco 12

This picture shows the extraordinary effect of the smoke-laden atmosphere on the sunset. The header picture is another example. The fire is now into the pine woods between the Club and the highway, and the theory that the damp coppice nearer the Club will act as a barrier to prevent its spread is about to be put to the test overnight…Forest Fires, Abaco 9

It soon became clear that the fires were not going to be discouraged by the coppice.  Sandy is always eager to find volunteers to go out in a truck to feel the heat, so to speak. He is apt to dismiss concerns that one is sitting on top of a large tank of inflammable liquid by pointing out that diesel is less combustible than petrol. This is invariably comforting to all occupants of the vehicle. So with the fire burning bright, and with tree-tops suddenly bursting into flame like torches, off we go…Forest Fires, Abaco 3Forest Fires, Abaco 5Forest Fires, Abaco 7Forest Fires, Abaco 1Forest Fires, Abaco 2

In the morning, a smokey mist lies over the trees and the bay to the northForest Fires, Abaco 14

An uncomfortably short distance along the guest drive, it is clear that the coppice has burnt quite easily, though not devastatingly. In fact there are still flames to be seen…Forest Fires Abaco 19Forest Fires Abaco 18

Later, out on the Marls, a plume of smoke is visible, with several more in either directionForest Fires, Abaco 4

Despite the widespread damage caused by the fires, the capacity for regeneration is amazing. New growth is visible very quickly, and within the year the burnt-out areas are mostly back to normal. I’ll end on that optimistic note, and with another dramatic sunset above the haze of smoke over the tree canopy.Forest Fires, Abaco 8