HOPE TOWN BIRDERS SPOT 44 SPECIES ON SOUTH ABACO


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahama Palm Shores (Keith Salvesen)

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahama Palm Shores (Keith Salvesen)

HOPE TOWN BIRDERS SPOT 44 SPECIES ON SOUTH ABACO

South Abaco – the tract of land south of Marsh Harbour – has some of the richest birding in the Bahamas. Besides 4 of the 5 Bahamas ENDEMIC SPECIES, it contains some of the most interesting speciality birds. The unique ABACO PARROT for a start, with a population that is gradually increasing following a drastic decline and conservation intervention. Rare PIPING PLOVERS on the eastern shores that overwinter, as do the endangered KIRTLAND’S WARBLERS, of which more soon. In the Bahamas the WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER is common on Abaco, but elsewhere it is rare on San Salvador and is no longer found on Grand Bahama (missing, presumed extirpated). If you want to learn more about them and their engaging ways read Caroline Stahala’s fascinating article HERE
Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Olive-capped Warbler, one of 5 permanent resident warblers (of 37 species in all) Bruce Hallett

January was an excellent time for the Hope Town Birding Group to take the ferry over for a quality day of birding on south Abaco. In all, 44 species were identified, ranging from expected feathery denizens to what are sometimes described as ‘Good Gets’. The group was led by Bruce Wolck. Jan Metcalf contacted me to arrange for Delphi – a notable birding hotspot – to be on the itinerary. And as she wrote to me afterwards in summing up the day:
“Amazing birds, amazing day, amazing Delphi (where we saw the Bullfinch)”
Sally Chisholm has since emailed that among places visited were the “[town] dump, locations along the highway south to the Y, Sandy Point, the south ferry dock, Gilpin Point, Bahama Palm Shores and Delphi” I’ve never been to the dock, so that’s one for us to try out in March…
Here is the group’s checklist of the 44 species. I have added thumbnail images, almost all taken on Abaco by contributors to THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO, including some used in the book. “Good Gets” include the Pied-billed Grebe, a permanent resident but quite scarce; the Bonaparte’s Gull; the Great Black-backed Gull; and the White Ibis. The last 3 are what are termed ‘casual’ winter residents – rarely seen and so irregularly reported.
HOPE TOWN BIRDING GROUP CHECKLIST – JANUARY 2015
CLICK on a thumbnail to enlarge it. That’s the idea anyway, but I’m a bit ‘casual’ myself in checking links. The ones I spot-checked worked so I am hoping for the best with the remainder…
Pied-billed- Grebe Podilymbus podiceps (Wiki)Pied-billed Grebe
Pelican Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Brown Pelican
Magnificent Frigate male wikipicsMagnificent Frigatebird
Great_Blue_Heron_Wading_2Great Blue Heron 
Great Egret Abaco - Treasure Cay Ponds (Keith Salvesen)Great Egret
Little Blue Heron, Abaco - Bruce HallettLittle Blue Heron
Cattle Egret, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith SalvesenCattle Egret
Green Heron, Abaco - Treasure Cay GC - Charlie SkinnerGreen Heron
White Ibis, Treasure Cay Abaco - Kasia ReidWhite Ibis
White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco - Gilpin Pond - Keith SalvesenWhite-cheeked Pintail
Turkey Vulture Abaco - Delphi  (Keith Salvesen)Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk Abaco - Bruce HallettRed-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel Abaco - Sandy Point - Keith SalvesenAmerican Kestrel
1009BlackBelliedPloverBlack-bellied Plover
American Oystercatcher Abaco -  Jim ToddAmerican Oystercatcher
Willet.Abaco Bahamas.2.13.Tom Sheley smallWillet
Ruddy Turnstone winter plumage.Abaco Bahamas.2.13.Tom Sheley eRuddy Turnstone
Laughing Gull, Abaco - Nina HenryLaughing Gull
Bonaparte's Gull (Ad NB), Abaco - Bruce HallettBonaparte’s Gull
Ring-billed Gull, Abaco (Nina Henry : DCB)Ring-billed Gull
800px-Great_Black-backed_Gull_Larus_marinusGreat Black-backed Gull
Rock_Dove_close-upRock Dove
Eurasian Collared Dove, Abaco - Bruce HallettEurasian Collard Dove
Ground Dove, Abaco -Nina Henry Common Ground Dove
ABACO (CUBAN) PARROT, Abaco (Caroline Stahala)Cuban Parrot
Smooth-billed Ani, Abaco - Roselyn PierceSmooth-billed Ani
Cuban Emerald, Delphi, Abaco - Keith SalvesenCuban Emerald
800px-Belted_Kingfisher_with_preyBelted Kingfisher
800px-West_Indian_Woodpecker_(Melanerpes_superciliaris)West Indian Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Abaco Bahamas 2.12.Tom SheleyYellow-bellied Sapsucker
Cuban Pewee Abaco - Casuarina - Keith SalvesenCuban Peewee
La Sagra's Flycatcher - Delphi,  Abaco - Keith SalvesenLa Sagra’s Flycatcher
Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco - Peter Mantle Loggerhead Kingbird
Bahama Swallow, Abaco - Craig NashBahama Swallow
Red-legged Thrush, Delphi,  Abaco - Keith SalvesenRed-legged Thrush
Northern Mockingbird, Delph, Abaco  - Keith SalvesenNorthern Mockingbird
Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Craig Nash)Thick-billed Vireo
Northern Parula, Abaco - Craig NashNorthern Parula
Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco - Bruce HallettYellow-throated Warbler
Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco - Bruce HallettOlive-capped Warbler
Pine Warbler, AbacoPine Warbler
Western Spindalis, Abaco - Bruce HallettStripe-headed Tanager

Black-faced Grassquit (m), Abaco - Bruce HallettBlack-faced Grassquit
Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco - Tony HepburnGreater Antillian Bullfinch
If any Birding Groups are interested in birding the one-mile drives (wonderful pine and coppice habitats), gardens and one-mile white sand beach at Delphi, let me know. It can easily be arranged, but there are times when it is not convenient or that some areas are not open for access. Email me as first contact at rollingharbour.delphi[AT]gmail.com
Western Spindalis Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Western Spindalis, Abaco -Delphi Club Drive (Keith Salvesen)

ABACO ROAD TRIP: CHEROKEE SOUND


ABACO ROAD TRIP: CHEROKEE SOUND

A Guest Post by Amanda Diedrick of GTC – check out 

“Several years back, on a family road trip to the south end of the Abaco mainland, we took a quick swing through the settlement of Cherokee Sound. Though our stop was brief, I was enchanted by the beauty of the tiny town and its breathtaking beach.

bahamas, abaco, cherokee sound, marsh harbour

Earlier this year, I finally got the chance to get back to Cherokee. I spent an afternoon wandering through this small fishing village that, by comparison, makes sedate Green Turtle Cay seem like a lively metropolis.

Similar to Green Turtle, Cherokee was originally settled by Loyalist descendants who supported their families by fishing or building boats. Today, fewer than 200 residents — most of whom commute to other parts of Abaco for work — call Cherokee Sound home.

Though Cherokee’s streets were virtually deserted on the hot June afternoon I visited, I did spot a group of primary school students enjoying recess, and I met a few locals while photographing their quaint, colourful homes.

bahamas, abaco, cherokee sound

And then there’s that beach. That stunning, unspoiled beach. And jutting 700 feet out into the clear water, a beautiful old dock which, according to the sign posted nearby, is the longest wooden pier in the Bahamas.

bahamas, abaco, cherokee sound, pier Until a few decades ago, the only way into Cherokee Sound was by sea. And given the shallow waters surrounding the settlement, an extended pier was a necessity. These days, with a paved road connecting Cherokee to the rest of the Abaco mainland, the dock functions primarily as a tourist attraction.

Casuarina Old Jetty

The Old Jetty at Casuarina, Abaco – the pre-road shortcut to Cherokee (RH)

To get to Cherokee Sound from Marsh Harbour, head south on the main highway and turn left when you reach the sign below:

bahamas, abaco, cherokee sound, pete's pub

Follow the winding road until it ends at Cherokee Sound. The drive from Marsh Harbour takes 30-45 minutes or so.

Cherokee Sound jpg

Between the highway and Cherokee, there are two key points of interest and they could not be more different. Pete’s Pub and Gallery is a rustic, off-the-grid, on-the-sand restaurant that serves up local seafood and stunning ocean views, while the Abaco Club at Winding Bay is a manicured beachfront resort with a spa and fitness center, full-size golf course and pro shop.

If it’s meal time or you’re in need of refreshments, I’d suggest stopping at Pete’s or the Abaco Club, as there are no restaurants in Cherokee Sound. Nor are there any hotels, though a quick online search reveals nearly a dozen vacation homes for rent in or near the village.

bahamas, abaco, cherokee sound

Below are a few of the photos I shot that afternoon. And if you’d like to know more about Cherokee Sound and its history, here’s a great article by Abaco Life editor, Jim Kerr.

CRYSTAL CLEAR: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (3)


Crystal Caves of Abaco - Ralph's Cave (Brian Kakuk)

CRYSTAL CLEAR: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (3) 

This is the third in a series showcasing the wealth of beauty that lies beneath the many thousands of acres of pine forest that cover the vast majority of South Abaco. I have previously  featured sets of wonderful photos taken by diver Hitoshi Miho in the underground cave systems of Abaco, in conjunction with the Bahamas Caves Research Foundation. The links to these posts are given below. This post showcases some of the photos taken by Abaco’s leading cave diver, well-known Brian Kakuk. The following images all come from RALPH’S CAVE, one of several systems that lie within the proposed South Abaco Blue Holes Conservation Area.

The maps show the 3 main caves in the SABHCA area, Ralph’s, Dan’s and Nancy’s – also Sawmill Sink. The curve of bay, bottom right, is Rolling Harbour – and one excuse for ‘borrowing’ the map is that I notice that it includes a (tiny) photo of mine of the Delphi Club from the beach that I uploaded to Google Earth a while back…

Abaco caves map jpg    Abaco Caves Ralph & Dan jpg

Crystal Caves of Abaco - Ralph's Cave (Brian Kakuk)Crystal Caves of Abaco - Ralph's Cave (Brian Kakuk) Crystal Caves of Abaco - Ralph's Cave (Brian Kakuk)Crystal Caves of Abaco - Ralph's Cave (Brian Kakuk)Crystal Caves of Abaco - Ralph's Cave (Brian Kakuk)

To get the ‘live’ experience of exploring these underground geological wonders, here is a 6 minute video of a dive in Ralph’s Cave made in June 2014 by Ramon Llaneza of Ramon Llaneza Technical Diving

RELATED POSTS

ABACO’S ASTOUNDING CAVES (1) Hirohito Miho

ABACO’S ASTOUNDING CAVES (2) Hirohito Miho

SAWMILL SINK Industrial Archaeology / Post-apolcalyptic Landscape

 Credits: Brian Kakuk, Bahamas Caves Research Foundation, Ramon Llaneza

FAST FOOD ON THE WING: ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS ON ABACO


Antillean Nighthawk in flight 2. Abaco bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

FAST FOOD ON THE WING: ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS ON ABACO

A bird ID query was recently posted on my FB page by Abaco resident Maria Bethel Flore, who said “I saw a flock of birds I’ve never seen before. All black except for a white stripe underneath the wing. I didn’t get one good picture they were flying so fast”. There were a couple of clues there: a fast-flying flock; and the white underwing bars. Maria’s distant image confirmed the ID as an Antillean Nighthawk Chordeiles gundlachii. These birds have local names such as ‘killakadick’ and ‘pi-di-mi-dix’, or variations on the theme – presumably onomatopoeic.

Paul Marvin / Xeno-Canto

I thought a post illustrating these wonderful birds in flight and on the ground would be timely. 

Antillean Nighthawk in flight 3. Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom SheleyAntillean Nighthawk, Abaco  (Sandy Walker)

The photos above were taken during a trip into deep South Abaco backcountry to the west of the Highway to photograph birds for BIRDS OF ABACO. We reached an open area late in the afternoon to find ourselves in the middle of dozens of nighthawks swooping and diving as they hawked for flies. We leapt out of the truck (we stopped it first) with eager eyes and cameras and watched the performance in amazement. The birds were quite unperturbed by our presence, and from time to time would zoom past within inches of our heads, making a swooshing noise as they did so.

Truck Backcountry

The speed of flight and the jagging paths made it extremely hard to take photos. Photographer Tom Sheley (below) was able to nail them (see top 2 images); I could barely catch a bird in my jiggling viewfinder, but Sandy Walker got a good clear shot (photo 3).Tom Sheley with Antillean Nighthawks, Abaco

Apart from the exuberant aerial displays such as I have described, nighthawks may also be seen on the ground, where they nest. Their colouring enables them tend to blend in with the surroundings. Woody Bracey took the first 2 pictures; the next is from the excellent BIRDS CARIBBEAN, which anyone with an interest in birds would enjoy; and the final one was scooped by Susan Daughtrey on a recent visit to Abaco – another very good example of the bird’s camouflage in natural surroundings.

Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco Woody Bracey Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco (Woody Bracey)Antillean Nighthawk chick (aka %22pi-di-mi-dix%22) BahamasAntillean Nighthawk, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

Credits: Tom Sheley, Sandy Walker, RH, Woody Bracey, Birds Caribbean, Susan Daughtrey, Xeno-Canto

ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (1)


ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (1)

Hitoshi Miho is a diver and photographer who takes amazing photographs of the underground caves he explores. These include some of the cave systems on Abaco, where he has recently accompanied renowned Abaco diver Brian Kakuk of the Bahamas Caves Research Foundation. In due course I hope to produce a page dedicated to the Caves and Blue Holes of Abaco including maps but that’s a project in the mind for now. Meantime, with Hitoshi’s kind permission, here are a few preliminary examples of his fabulous work that showcases the wondrous crystal palaces that lie deep beneath Abaco. 

Abaco Underwater Caves 1 (©Hitoshi Miho)Abaco Underwater Caves 2 (©Hitoshi Miho)Abaco Underwater Caves 3 (©Hitoshi Miho)Abaco Underwater Caves 4 (©Hitoshi Miho)Abaco Underwater Caves 5 (©Hitoshi Miho)

All images © Hitoshi Miho and displayed by kind permission

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

WHITE SOUND, ABACO: MANGROVES, MUD & (REALLY) GREAT EGRETS


Great Egret Abaco 7

WHITE SOUND, ABACO: MANGROVES, MUD & (REALLY) GREAT EGRETS

The piratically named Treasure Cay (aaarrrrrr…) is north of Marsh Harbour, and home to one of the larger communities on Abaco. It has a wonderfully long white sand beach, a golf course, condos and villas, a marina and a cheerful atmosphere. It is also one of the best areas in North Abaco for birding. There are the shorebirds, of course, and all the usual ‘settlement’ species. In addition, the golf course has freshwater ponds where you will find a wide variety of duck and other water species. NB Check in at the Club House and get permission first – amiably given if politely requested (see map below).

Treasure Cay also has a large area of bays, brackish inlets and lagoons, including – to continue the pirate theme – Galleon Bay, Brigantine Bay, Cannon Bay and Gun Powder Creek. And also White Sound. This can be reached by luck (which may run out) or good management (ask for directions; wait for me to get back the map I have lent to someone and post a grab from it). Drive (with care) along the uneven track beside the lagoon and there is a good chance you will see Great Egrets in the mangrove islands dotted around the middle of the water. This is what to look out for…Great Egret, White Sound, Abaco

Zoom in a bit, and you’ll see two more egrets on the far side of the clump of mangroves. It’s a colony… in the end we were able to count 9 birds on this one mangrove island.Great Egret Abaco 1

One of the loveliest features of these fine birds in breeding season is the way that even a slight breeze will blow their long plumes away from their bodies like streamersGreat Egret Abaco 2Great Egret Abaco 3

We were some way from the birds, as these rather indifferent photos suggest, so we decided to try and get closer. The water was fairly low, leaving expanses of firm-looking marly mud around the edge. There was an apparent causeway to an overgrown rocky outcrop that would enable us to get closer to a vantage point without being spotted. As it turned out, the mud was only… ankle deep. It could have been messier. And we had a chance to see at close quarters the remarkable way in which mangrove entanglements develop.

Great Egret Abaco 4 Great Egret Abaco 5

We reached the outcrop muddier and slightly wiser, and clambered up through the scrubby and scratchy bushes to the top, nothing if not intrepid. My wading stick came in handy for beating a rough path. And by adopting strange stances in the manner of someone trying to pick up a faint cellphone signal, we could peer through the foliage to establish whether we were indeed a bit closer to the egrets.Great Egret Abaco 6

The answer was yes. But there was another obstacle, familiar to all fellow ‘focus fail’ offenders. Shooting a bird through a hole in a bush straight in front of you is complicated. You get a vivid detailed  frame of greenery, with a blurry centre of unintentional and unwanted BOKEH instead of the intended subject. A lens entension (the poor man’s zoom that I use) tends to make it worse. So you’ll have to make do with these pictures for now, until you can visit White Sound and get your own with your natty Nikon. Great Egret Abaco 11Great Egret Abaco 9Great Egret Abaco 8

My favourite ‘stance’ shotGreat Egret Abaco 10

That wasn’t the end of the adventure. After we had squidged our way back through the slightly smelly mud, we moved further along the sound, to find a further egret colony on the far shore just in time to watch them from afar as they took flight.Great Egret Abaco 12 Great Egret Abaco 13 Great Egret Abaco 14

TREASURE CAY, LOCATIONS OF WHITE SOUND & THE GOLF CLUB, &  SOME PIRATICAL NAMESTreasure Cay Map

TREASURE CAY IN RELATION TO OTHER ABACO PLACESAbaco Egret Map 1 jpg

When leaving Treasure Cay, visitors receive a friendly reminder to return, in terms reminiscent of, yet far nicer than, a Scottish Tourist Board brochure. Maybe this reflects the historic significance of the Scots in the history of the Bahamas, to the extent that there is even a Bahamas tartan. 

Bahamas TartanHaste Ye Back...

TC Map credit: Abaco Estate Services. They send me emails, so I guess they won’t mind publicity here