BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD: NEW SUBSPECIES FOR ABACO?


Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 14

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD: NEW SUBSPECIES FOR ABACO?

[Camera. Lights. ACTION] Attenborough, D (for it is he), off-screen, in familiar breathy tones…

“Here, deep in the impenetrable pine forests of the Abaco National Park, lives an incredible bird discovery until recently known only to four people in the world. For here, where the unique Abaco Parrots nest in their underground holes and the rare Kirtland’s Warbler continues its brave stand against extinction… here is a completely new bird subspecies that is destined to take the avian world by storm… the Red-faced Bahama Mockingbird Mimus bahamensis volvensharborii…”

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 06

I can’t keep that nonsense up for any longer, you’ll be relieved to hear… But here is the story. Woody Bracey was taking us, with his friend Bill, in search of the rare and elusive Kirtland’s Warbler, about which more soon (*Spoiler Alert* Yes, we did. Four). We had stopped the truck in a remote area of the National Park to listen for and indeed watch parrots. I was in the front of the truck, window down, listening hard when suddenly, right by us, I suddenly heard the beautiful song of a Bahama Mockingbird. Here are two recordings I made the previous year – the first is over 1 min long, the second is only 17 secs.

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 07

I grabbed my camera and started to fire away at the bird, which was perched on a dead branch just a few feet away near the edge of the track. I had no time to think about depth of field, light balance, or refrangible focus indices, I just went for it. It was Woody who first noticed the remarkable feature of this bird – its red face. It first, I thought it was just on the chin, but later I saw that the red colouring is above the beak as well.

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 09

Woody is one of the most experienced birders in the Bahamas, and he had never come across this variant before. Sometimes a bird may have white patches or some other LEUCISTIC colour variation. But red is something very different. Once we had ruled out blood (no evidence of injury) and strawberry jam (no likelihood of a propensity for sticking face in same), an altogether more exciting possibility began to emerge…

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 10

The Bahamas Birding Triumvirate will be debating this find, no doubt. Is this sort of red-faced variant found in any other bird species? Is it a one-off? Or is it perhaps one example of a small subspecies confined to Abaco or the wider Bahamas? Or does it just come from eating red berries, as in photo #3? Has anyone come across a BM like this one? Any comment welcome via the comment box or email. 

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 11

This is my personal favourite pic, taken while the bird was in mid-song. I’d have liked an ‘open mouth’ shot, but frankly when you find an apparently new bird in the middle of nowhere, you can’t have everything….Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 13

Finally, you may well ask “So that’s all very well, but what does a ‘normal’ Bahama Mockingbird look like close-to?” Here’s an example for comparison 

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco 2

All photos RH, cheers to Woody for leading the trip and for spotting the unusual features of this bird PDQ

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS IN ABACO WATERS (2): MOTHER & CALF


Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas 12

Sometimes things happen that completely take my breath away. Here is one of those moments, from our recent trip with Charlotte and Diane in the BMMRO research boat. As we returned from whale-watching to base in Sandy Point and moved from the deep dark ocean to the bright blue shallows, we encountered a group of bottlenose dolphins. You can see my recent post featuring some of the adults HERE. That was exciting enough, as they played around the boat. Then another participant appeared… 

 Notice the dark area behind the adult dolphin… Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

…which soon separated into a small dark splashing creature with its own fin cutting the waves…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

…and next seen keeping pace with its parentDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

The sharp line between the light and the dark sea is where the sandy shallows abruptly give way to the deep waters of the Grand Bahama Canyon, a massive trench up to 2.5 miles deep with almost vertical cliff walls to the depths in some places

Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

There were less active and splashy moments as the pair swam around togetherDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, BahamasDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Then it was back to doing what they like best…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, BahamasDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Then some more restful moments…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

And finally the pair moved away. On the far horizon, the Massive Mickey Mouse Cruise ship moored at ‘Disney’s Castaway Cay’ (formerly the sober-sounding Gorda Cay), where you can be a Pirate of the Caribbean. Or anyway a very happy Tourist. The choice is yours. Would you like fries with that?Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

And looking out to sea from the cheerful place that is Castaway Cay, I wonder if a small child was wondering “Ok, love Mickey and his Friends – but I’d also really love to see a wild dolphin swimming free… 

Disney Magic docked next to the Castaway Cay Family Beach copy

All photos RH (except Castaway, Wiki). Huge thanks to Charlotte, Diane and Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO for a truly wonderful day photo 2

bmmro_logo

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