“THEY CALL ME THE HUNTER…” A GREEN HERON ON ABACO


Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)07

“THEY CALL ME THE HUNTER…” A GREEN HERON ON ABACO

There are a number of birding hotspots on South Abaco (defined loosely for avian purposes as south from Marsh Harbour). Most are attractive places to be; a few (e.g. the town dump) less so, requiring additional skills to avoid taking your long-awaited ‘life bird’ in a pool of grossness…

Always a good bet, Gilpin Point near Crossing Rocks is definitely worth a visit at almost any time, especially the brackish pond just inland from the shoreline. Bear in mind it is (a) a longish private road (we got a puncture down there once…*) and (b) it is private land. However Perry Maillis is always welcoming to tidy birders who bring only enthusiasm and take only pictures. Plus he very kindly changed our wheel! At the end of this post is a rough list of birds I have seen at Gilpin, with one or two that I know have also been seen there (photographic evidence!)

*I realise I should say we got a ‘flat’, but to me that would mean we had obtained an apartment. We are indeed “nations divided by a common language” (Attrib variously to Wilde, Shaw & Churchill)

We found this small Green Heron quite easily. We’d watched it fly onto a stump in the pond near the jetty, then fly closer to the shoreline. By tiptoeing onto the jetty, we could see it perched close to the water, inspecting it with a fierce and predatory eye. Both eyes, in fact. 

Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)01

The hunting technique is deceptively simple. Note the long sharp stabbing beak. Note the large feet and claws for gripping securely Here’s how it is done. As a fish is sighted, so the heron leans forward, beak closer to the water, more streamlined to look at.Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)02

As the prey unwittingly approaches the bird slowly tilts further forward unless its beak almost touches the water, the quicker to strike…Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)03 Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)04

The actual strike is so rapid that it is barely possible to see with the naked eye, let alone to photograph it clearly. For me and my little Pentax, anyway. But the end result is rarely in doubt, with a small fish struggling but securely held. It will be down the heron’s gullet in a matter of seconds.Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)05

I left the heron as it settled slowly back into ‘scanning the water mode’ while I went to look at some Lesser Yellowlegs nearbyGreen Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)06

I returned a few minutes later. Scanning was still in progress, and the bird started the gradual ‘leaning forward’ process as it sighted a fishGreen Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)08

Get ready to spearfish…Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)10

Epic success for the heron, epic fail for the photographer…Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)09

“Ha ha Mr Human with your funny black clicky thing hanging round the thing that attaches your head to your body. I was too quick for you. Who hasn’t got the hang of shutter speed yet? Eh? I win the fish. I win the game…”Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)11

ROUGH GILPIN CHECKLIST

Species we have found on and around the pond include Black-necked Stilts, Little Blue Heron, Great Blue Heron, Tri-colored Heron, Snowy Egret, Reddish Egret, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Sora, hordes of White-cheeked Pintails, Northern Pintails, Lesser Yellowlegs, Belted Kingfisher, Turkey Vulture, Smooth-billed Ani, American Kestrel, Bahama Woodstar, Cuban Emerald, Mucovy Duck (pets!)  and – for the first time this year – Green heron. As a bonus, Gilpin has become a regular stop for flocks of Abaco Parrots. Other species found there include American Flamingo, Brown Pelican, DC Cormorants and Limpkin. I’ve no doubt there are shorebirds on the beach such as Wilson’s Plovers, various gulls to be identified, and passing tropicbirds & magnificent frigatebirds high over the water.

VOLUNTARY MUSICAL DIGRESSION

‘The Hunter’ is a well-known Albert King / Stax song from 1967 with elements reminiscent of many blues songs and lyrics before that. The best known versions are probably the one by Free (‘Tons of Sobs’ 1968), which is un-improvable and definitive; and the doff of the cap by Led Zeppelin towards the end of ‘How Many More Times’… However ‘Pacific Gas and Electric’ made a pretty good stab at the song, also in the late ’60s

RELATED POSTS  

SHARP-EYED SHARP BILLED

A FACEFUL OF FISH

All photos RH; Music ‘borrowed’  from a CD into iTunes, converted to MP3 and ‘re-borrowed’ for present non-commercial purposes. And it did say “FREE” on it in large letters…

GREEDY GREEN HERON & A FACEFUL OF FISH


Green Heron eating fish (Binkie van Es)

GREEDY GREEN HERON & A FACEFUL OF FISH

The Green Heron Butorides virescens is one of 6 heron species found on Abaco. I wrote a detailed post about them last summer HERE, with some wonderful Abaco images (none taken by me…). Since then, I got in touch with Binkie van Es, who had photographed the increasingly rare Bahama Oriole on Andros. Small areas of  the island are the last remaining habitat of a lovely bird that until recently was one of Abaco’s prized endemics. You can see some excellent pictures of them HERE (none mine either!) and read the sad story of their population decline towards extinction.

Binkie kindly gave use permission for some of his other photos. I especially like this sequence of a green heron getting more than he bargained for in his choice of lunch. In the end greed overcomes a formidably large snack, but it’s a hard one to swallow…

I caught me a handsome fish to take to my dining areaGreen Heron eating fish (Binkie van Es)

Think this ain’t going to be easy? Just you watch!Green Heron eating fish (Binkie van Es)

See? I just sort of slurp it in like… so. Practice makes perfect.
Green Heron eating fish (Binkie van Es)

Busy… can’t really talk right nowGreen Heron eating fish (Binkie van Es)

Nmmpphh Grfffffff Mmpphphphph Rmmmmmmmph!Green Heron eating fish (Binkie van Es)

Ulppppp! Green Heron eating fish (Binkie van Es)

No Green Heron was harmed in the photographing of this sequence. Sadly I can’t say the same for the fish, which despite its size had met its match… 

Credits: All photos Binkie van Es, with thanks

SHARP-EYED & SHARP-BILLED: GREEN HERON ON ABACO


Green Heron.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

SHARP-EYED & SHARP-BILLED: GREEN HERON ON ABACO

Abaco has six ‘true’ heron species (putting aside the various egrets): Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. The Green Heron Butorides virescens is a permanent resident and is easily distinguishable from the other heron species. The header picture by Tom Sheley is one of many wonderful photographs he took for THE BIRDS OF ABACO, and is one of the most striking. This is a bird actively hunting, keeping very low with eyes fixed on the water, waiting for the chance to use that long sharp bill to snaffle its prey – small fish, frogs and aquatic insects.

RANGE MAP

Green Heron Range Map

There are thought to be 5 sub-species of green heron within the range, but this is a matter for anguished debate (not by me). However, the resident variety in the Bahamas has been designated Butorides virescens bahamensis since 1888 (Brewster), so I’m going along with that.

Green Herons are most likely to be seen in or near water – the margins of brackish ponds or amongst the mangroves, for example. Their foraging is mostly done in water, usually at dawn or dusk.Green Heron, Abaco Woody Bracey

You may encounter one on the shoreline or beach…GREEN HERON, Abaco - Nina Henry

…but they don’t always choose the most scenic locationsGreen Heron, Abaco Nina Henry

FASCINATING FACTOID

Green Heron are known to drop food, insects, or small objects such as stones on the water’s surface as bait to attract fish or other tasty creatures. They are thus classified as one of the animal kingdom’s  44 (?) TOOL-USING SPECIES, considered a sign of superior intelligence.

Green Herons may also be found perching in treesGreen Heron Abaco Tom ReedGreen Heron, Abaco Rick LoweGreen Heron, Abaco Peter Mantle

Occasionally they may be seen out at sea – this one from an offshore BMMRO research vesselGreen Heron Abaco BMMRO

The Golf Course at Treasure Cay is an excellent place to go bird-watching. There is always plenty of bird life on the 3 ponds there, the one on hole #11 being the biggest and most abundant. If you are going to bird there, call in first at the Clubhouse and ask for permission:  they are very kind about it, but they do need to know who is out on the course.  And since the pond is alongside the fairway, keep your wits about you – you are a potential target for the sliced drive… (ok, ok left-handers – hooked, then).

Green Heron, Abaco Charlie SkinnerGreen Heron, Abaco Charlie Skinner

The 2 images above are from Charlie Skinner, and show a green heron adult and chick putting the Golf Course drainage pipe to good use. Captions invited for the top  one. Birds often seen at this particular location include green heron, white-cheeked pintail (lots), common gallinule (moorhen), coot, Canada goose, least grebe, neotropic cormorant, and blue-winged teal. You may also see little blue heron and smooth-billed anis. Once I found a least bittern in the background of a teal photo – I didn’t notice it at the time, but when I checked the photos there it was in the reeds behind the ducks. Another good place to bird if you are in the TC area is White Sound.

Credits: Tom Sheley, Woody Bracey, Nina Henry, Tom Reed, Rick Lowe, Peter Mantle, Charlie Skinner, Wiki

POSTSCRIPT I’ve just commented HERE on the supposedly phonetic call-sounds attributed to birds to render them recognisable by man – the “What’s-for-dinner-Martha, what’s-for-dinner” and the “Give-me-a-drink-please…NOW” and so on. So when I was borrowing the range map from Wiki I was amused to see this: “The green heron’s call is a loud and sudden kyow; it also makes a series of more subdued kuk calls. During courtship, the male gives a raah-rahh call with wide-open bill, makes noisy wingbeats and whoom-whoom-whoom calls in flight, and sometimes calls roo-roo to the female before landing again. While sitting, an aaroo-aaroo courtship call is also given”. So there you go.

BAHAMAS STAMPS & ABACO BIRDS: ‘IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF PHILATELY’


BAHAMAS STAMPS & ABACO BIRDS: ‘IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF PHILATELY’ 

The Bahamas produces frequent issues of wildlife stamps. Mostly birds, but also reef fish and sea creatures, animals, butterflies and flowers. I am gradually collecting an album of Bahamas wildlife stamps on a PHILATELY page. I’ve been having a look at a 16-bird issue from 1991 which reflects the wide diversity of species extremely well. Here is the set, with comparative photos of each bird. All but one were taken on Abaco, the rare Burrowing Owl being the exception. All the other 15 birds may be found on Abaco as permanent residents, either easily or with a bit of a look and some luck. I personally have not seen the Clapper Rail (though I saw a SORA) or the rarer Key West Quail-Dove.

bah199101l                       GREEN HERON, Abaco (Nina Henry)

 

bah199102l                       Turkey Vulture Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

bah199103l                      Osprey - Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen)

bah199104l                      Clapper Rail, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

bah199105l                     Royal Tern Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

bah199106l                     BAHAMAS - Key West Quail-dove (Becky Marvil)

bah199107l                    Smooth-biled Ani, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

bah199108l                    Burrowing Owl (Keith Salvesen)

bah199109l                  Hairy Woodpecker, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

bah199110l                   Mangrove Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn) copy

bah199111l                   Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

bah199112l                 Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

bah199113l                 Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Susan Daughtrey)

bah199114l                 Bahama Yellowthroat vocalizing.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

bah199115l                 Western Spindalis Abaco (Janene Roessler)

bah199116l                  Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

 The bird list and image credits

 Green Heron                     Butorides virescens               Nina Henry

Turkey Vulture                   Cathartes aura                        RH (Delphi)

Western Osprey                Pandion haliaetus                   RH (Marls)

Clapper Rail                      Rallus longirostris                  Erik Gauger

Royal Tern                         Thalasseus maximus              RH (Marls)

Key West Quail-Dove      Geotrygon chrysia                 Becky Marvil

Smooth-billed Ani            Crotophaga ani                      Bruce Hallett

Burrowing Owl                  Athene cunicularia                RH (UK)

Hairy Woodpecker             Picoides villosus                   Tony Hepburn

Mangrove Cuckoo             Coccyzus minor                     Tony Hepburn

*Bahama Mockingbird     Mimus gundlachii                 RH (National Park)

Red-winged Blackbird      Agelaius phoeniceus            RH (Backcountry, South Abaco)

Thick-billed Vireo              Vireo crassirostris               Susan Daughtrey

*Bahama Yellowthroat       Geothlypis rostrata            Tom Sheley

Western Spindalis              Spindalis zena                       Janene Roessler

Greater Antillean Bullfinch  Loxigilla violacea            Bruce Hallett

* Endemic species for Bahamas

STAMPS            http://freestampcatalogue.com            Tony Bray

EIGHT BIRDIES (BUT NO EAGLES) AT TREASURE CAY GOLF COURSE, ABACO, BAHAMAS


GARETH & KASIA’S GUIDE TO THE BIRDIES OF TREASURE CAY GOLF COURSE

Gareth Reid, master chef of the Delphi Club and Kasia of ABACO BEACHCOMBING fame have put together some excellent material about the bird-life to be found on Treasure Cay golf course. I’ve never been there myself, but I already knew from a recent comment from Dr Elwood Bracey of TC that the birdlife on the golf course is very varied and exciting. 

Gareth writes: I am a keen golfer and my girlfriend loves nature and wildlife so sometimes to cover both bases we spend our day off at Treasure Cay Golf Club.  Whilst I play, Kasia twitches! 

Treasure Cay golf course is 20 odd miles north of Marsh Harbour a challenging little track with a lovely mixture of short Par 4s interesting par 5s and a couple of really testing Par 3s. It was designed by Dick Wilson of Doral fame and has matured into today’s layout of tight fairways framed by dense island vegetation.

Birdlife on the course is supported by the three lakes, beside the fourth and fifteenth greens and to the right of the eleventh fairway. Species  include North American Coots, Moorhens, Canada Geese, Snow Geese, Mallard Ducks, White Cheeked Pintails, Anis, Northern Mocking Birds, Ibis  and Palm Warblers. We have also spotted a Belted Kingfisher and an Osprey both enjoying  a light lunch of fresh fish.

So next time you come visit Abaco why not take the trip to Treasure Cay with a bag full of sticks a few balls and tees, hopes of birdies and dreams of eagles and if your swing lets you down at least you got those cute coots. The Delphi Club can provide packed lunches, or you can eat at TC – try Coco Bar (fish and chips, burgers etc) or Treasure Sands (upmarket  bar restaurant with pool) 

BAHAMA (WHITE-CHEEKED) PINTAILS AT TC GC & OTHER SPECIES

(The slideshow was meant to showcase just Pintails but apparently has to include all the other images)

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CANADA GOOSE

GREAT BLUE HERON

GREEN HERON

WHITE IBIS  

SMOOTH-BILLED ANI

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD

PALM WARBLER 

 

KASIA PERFECTS HER DRIVING AT TC GC