“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

CUBAN PEWEE: NATURE’S LEAST SCARY TYRANT


Cuban Pewee Abaco 8

CUBAN PEWEE: NATURE’S LEAST SCARY TYRANT

Pasted Graphic
image.aspxThe CUBAN PEWEE Contopus caribaeus bahamensis, also known as the Crescent-eyed Pewee (see photos for details), is a tyrant. At 6″ long , the smallest tyrant you are likely to encounter in the Bahamas, but undoubtedly a member of the family Tyrranidae. These are the flycatchers, and include the larger LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER and the still larger Loggerhead and Gray Kingbirds. The Cuban Pewee is permanently resident on Abaco, and can be found in both pine woods and coppice. When returning to its perch after a flycatching sortie, this bird gives a characteristic flick of the tail.

The little bird below was in the edge of the coppice bordering the long sandy beach at Casuarina. Bruce Hallett, in his essential book  ‘Birds of the West Indies…’ notes that Cuban Pewees are ‘usually approachable’, so I decided to test this out. I was about 20 feet from the bird when I first saw it. By sliding one foot forward in the sand and pausing before moving the other foot, I got to within 5 feet of the bird, while it watched my approach with apparent indifference. Unlike some creatures, it did not seem discomfited by eye-contact. It responded when I made a faint clicking sound by rather sweetly putting its head on one side.  Then it began to fidget slightly – possibly feeling camera-shy. So I shuffled slowly back so as not to disturb it in its own territory.

The close-ups at the end clearly show the tiny hooked tip at the end of the upper beak – I imagine this somehow relates to the business of catching flies. Like other flycatchers, the Cuban Pewee has very distinctive whiskers around the base of the beak – again I presume this assists with feeding in some way, perhaps helping to sense the approach of an insect. Any expert views welcome via the comment box.

Cuban Pewee Abaco 1Cuban Pewee Abaco 7Cuban Pewee Abaco 6 Cuban Pewee Abaco 5 Cuban Pewee Abaco 4Cuban Pewee Abaco 9 Cuban Pewee Abaco 10It’s occasionally tempting to anthropomorphise such close encounters in terms of imputed human / creature empathy. Much best to resist that. But as I withdrew, leaving this little  bird undisturbed on its branch, I did experience a strange feeling of… [I must interrupt myself here. I'm a lawyer, so that's quite enough of that sort of nonsense]

“TO THE LIGHTHOUSE…” A TRIP TO HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, ABACO


A TRIP TO HOLE-IN-THE-WALL THROUGH THE NATIONAL PARK

You will need: One truck with plenty of fuel (for the return journey); courage, patience and determination; picnic; bird book – borrow the HALLETT (KS copy) from Club library; camera / binoculars; willingness to cope with and explore derelict buildings; good shoes if you want to walk from the lighthouse; life insurance if you want to climb the uninvitingly hazardous lighthouse stairs

Map credit as elsewhere

Like marriage, this expedition is not by any to be undertaken lightly or ill- advisedly… Driving to the lighthouse at Hole-in-the-Wall involves a 15-mile (each way) return journey on a track south from the Highway. It starts promisingly but gradually turns nasty as the track degenerates. Rental cars are banned; Sandy will have strong views about using the Club car… Realistically, it can only be done in a truck. We took a truck… I don’t want to be unduly off-putting but we were still considering turning back at mile 14. Especially at mile 14. The view is as shown below for most of the way, the trees thinning out as one nears the coast.An optimistically good stretch of track

During the journey, you pass through the heart of the National Park, breeding ground for the Abaco Parrots. Uniquely for this species, they nest on the ground in limestone holes, making them vulnerable to predators. Logging roads cross the track at regular intervals, and are a good place to pull in and look for the birds of the pine forest –from large red-tailed hawks through gray catbirds, loggerhead kingbirds and hairy woodpeckers down to small warblers. If you take a picnic with you, you’ll have an excellent opportunity to bird watch.Loggerhead Kingbird in the National Park

This is what you will find when (if?) you reach the end of the road…

Park here. Mind the rocks. Far from advisable to continue further…


Hole-in-the-wall Lighthouse and outbuildings

The Entrance

No sign of renovation in Spring 2010

Land’s End – the southern tip of Great Abaco, and a good place for whale-watching

The internal staircase – access is easy, the door isn’t even kept shut let alone locked

THE UNEXPECTED REWARD for our endurance was to find, beside the path back to the car, a small group of Bahama Woodstars. This is the endemic species of hummingbird, and they are rare where there are the Cuban Emerald imports (at Delphi, for example). The ones we saw were all female – the males are iridescent green with a purple front. They were amazingly unafraid of us, flying back and forth around us,  and quite happy to perch almost within arms’ reach and watch us watching them. They were completely enchanting, and cheered us up for the forthcoming journey back – fortunately it gets easier – and a picnic by a logging road once the track-terror had subsided.

STOP PRESS: Courtesy of batfa242 / Panoramio who braved the dodgy-looking spiral staircase in the lighthouse, here is a fantastic shot of ‘Land’s End’ taken across the lamp and through the glass. Many thanks for permission to use this – it makes me regret not having had the spirit of adventure to make the climb… Double-click for a very detailed view, including the in-built fresnel lens… (and see HOPE TOWN LIGHTHOUSE post)

POST SCRIPT: I am very grateful to Marinas.com for permission to download this wonderful aerial image of Hole-in-the-Wall lighthouse and its outbuildings, looking towards the southern tip of Abaco. They have generously enabled a completely cost and watermark-free download. I have added the © detail. Thanks, guys. 

A STROLL ROUND THE DELPHI GARDENS ON ABACO


There is a wealth of birdlife on the Delphi doorstep. You don’t even have to go out of the front gateway to find it. You’ll hear a great many more birds than you ever see – many are small and very hard to spot in the bushes, even when you can hear loud chirrups. Here are a few examples of what you might see, all taken within the Club precincts

TURKEY VULTURES, ever present, wheeling above the bay, sometimes in flocks of 20 or more. Their grace in flight is slightly spoiled by the knowledge that their heads are red, wrinkled, bald and… frankly unattractive. You may also see them hunched on a dead branch along the drive (second photo) LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRDS, one of several types of ‘Tyrant Flycatcher’, so-called because of their robust attitude to defending their territory. The first one is on the far side of the pool; the second is taken from the verandah.

 WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER, resident initially under the verandah eaves before moving to the upscale nesting box further along. Often seen during the day in the gardens, sometimes shouting raucously: the second photo is near the pool

ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH (previously wrongly ID’d as American Redstart – thanks CN) I’d never seen one of these before, nor indeed heard of them. This one was photographed in the trees along the drive while I was in fact looking for another bird altogether…

THICK-BILLED VIREO, one of several vireo species. Believe me, they are much less blurry in real life than here… They chirp a lot and seem quite tame.

BANANAQUIT My second favourite bird (after the western spindalis). Smart black and white heads, yellow underparts, and a sharply curved beak used to pierce the base of flowers for nectar. They aren’t choosy though, and eat insects and fruit too. Very chirpy, and VERY hard to see in the bushes, even when you can clearly hear exactly where you think it must be… Look for moving foliage. This one was in the shrubs by the main staircase.They sound like this (credit Xeno-canto.org)


NORTHERN MOCKING BIRD at a distance… above the skiff park. We heard it singing melodiously. ID (in close up – click on image for a marginally better view) from cocked and slightly spread tail, and (you won’t see this) white wing markings. This species is apparently beginning to displace the larger but unaggressive Bahama Mockingbird.

NORTHERN PARULA Small yellow warbler, of which there are many types. This is the one that unwisely tried to fly into the Great Room through the plate glass, and had to be revived by Sandy. It perked up quite quickly, and flew off none the worse for its encounter either with the glass or Sandy…

HUMMINGBIRDS are a fascinating topic in themselves, and I’ll post about them separately. There is the Cuban Emerald and the endemic Bahama Woodstar, both of which can be seen at Delphi (though the latter are rare where the former predominate). There is a 3rd type of hummer on Abaco, which I will leave you with for now: