‘Rolling Harbour: The Blog’ had humble beginnings – a dodgy structure built on foundations formed of an unpromising mix of ignorance and incompetence. Gradually it has come together, to the extent that it has just passed the 125,000 visits mark. Abaco is a small and uncrowded island, so the audience demographic [to use biz-speak] isn’t large. However the wildlife, scenery and lifestyle have turned out to have a wider appeal. 1/8 of a million people (or perhaps 1 crazy punter with repetitive strain injury from checking in unhealthily often) deserve a few of Abaco’s unique parrots in return.
I THANK YOU ALL
WHERE IT ALL BEGINS – AN UNDERGROUND NEST DEEP IN THE NATIONAL FOREST
EVENTUALLY THE CHICKS HATCH…
IN DUE COURSE THEY ARE READY TO BE CHECKED OVER AND RINGED
THEY HAVE NO FEAR OF THE ‘PARROT LADY’, SCIENTIST CAROLINE
SOON THEY ARE INDEPENDENT AND DISCOVERING THE JOYS OF GUMBO LIMBO BERRIES
KEEPING A BEADY EYE OUT…
…BUT NOT ALL THE TIME
‘HOW DO I LOOK AGAINST A BRIGHT BLUE SKY?’
PARROTS HAVING AN EARLY EVENING GET-TOGETHER AT BAHAMA PALM SHORES
‘GOODNESS ME, IS THAT THE TIME? I MUST FLY…’
Credits: Caroline Stahala, Melissa Maura, RH; recording and video RH
Abaco parrots. The only ground-nesting parrot species in the Bahamas. In the world, in fact. I’ve posted quite often about them – indeed they have their own page HERE – because, frankly, they are special and their story is one of encouraging success for intensive research and conservation programs. In 1492, Christopher Columbus was amazed by the vast number of parrots he saw in the Bahamas (not that the islands were called that then). In his journal he noted: “flocks of parrots darken the sun…” Not many years ago, parrot numbers on Abaco had dwindled to fewer than 1000 – below the critical point for sustaining a viable population. Extinction of the Abaco parrot loomed, accelerated by increasing habitat change, predation, and (*euphemistically*) ‘human intervention’. Thanks to the campaign of conservation, habitat preservation, anti-predation measures and vigilance, numbers have been restored to a sustainable level, perhaps as many as 4000. They are now a fairly common sight – and sound – in South Abaco. But not everyone who looks for them finds them, or even hears them. Especially not if they take pot luck in the vast areas of pine forest in the National Park, where they breed…
I’ve covered much of this ground before, but there is a slightly wider audience these days, so a few newcomers may be interested to learn about these lovely birds. The best thing is to have a look. All photos were taken by me during two early evenings in March.
The parrots are extremely agile, and have very strong feet and claws that enable them to move around in the tree-tops – or to hang upside down if they choose to. The next photo is a close-up a foot; below that is short video showing a parrot manoeuvring itself in a tree. You’ll also see how the birds use their beaks as an extra limb, so to speak. The uninspiring title shown is only because I forgot to label it ‘Abaco Parrot’ in the first place, and can’t find how to edit it…
In this image you can clearly see how their ‘opposable’ claws wrap round a branch
If you suspect that this one has had some ‘work’ done, you’d be right. I normally leave my photos largely alone, apart from cropping and maybe basic light balancing where needed. Sometimes an image is nearly there, but needs a bit of extra cosmetic business – but one can usually tell. The left wing? Hmmmmm (users of ‘noise reduction’ will know what I am talking about!).
The flocks of parrots are incredibly noisy. Sometimes they split into two or three groups, close together, and seem to compete in raucousness. Around 5.00 pm seemed to be the noisiest time. I took recordings of the racket, using the voice memo app on an iPh*ne, simply holding the phone with the speaker / mike end towards the parrots. Some come out pretty well – good enough to post on the excellentXENO-CANTObird sound site. Here is a recording, with the first few seconds transcribed into a sonogram. I made a ring tone from this recording for Caroline Stahala, the scientist who, with her team, looks after the birds. She’s been too polite to say whether she uses it or (more likely) not!
I find the parrots very hard to nail in flight (see above), possibly because of a shutter-speed issue (mine, not the camera’s). I nearly junked the picture below, but I liked the clash of the parrot colours with the purple bougainvillea, so I spared it.
If anyone is interested in making a small contribution towards the continuing research into and protection of these birds, please have a look at myABACO WILDLIFE CHARITIESpage, where the relevant link to Parrots International can be found. Or visit doudoubirds, where you will find endearing Abaco Parrot prints by dou dou herself for sale in aid of the parrots. Or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If anyone had a problem with the Xeno-Canto sound file above, here is a simplified version of the recording
Time to write some more about Abaco’s most famous bird, the unique ground-nesting Amazon / Cuban parrot sub-species that makes Abaco its home, and breeds in the pine forests of the Abaco National Park in the south of the island. You’ll find lots of information and photos on the dedicated page ABACO PARROTS.
This post covers the 2012 breeding season, and highlights the success of scientist Caroline Stahala and her team in helping to secure the future of these rare endangered birds. The population had shrunk to around 2500 (or fewer) some years ago. More recently it had risen to 3000. An intensive conservation program, including anti-predation measures, has proved effective; and a systematic ringing program has enabled the team to keep a close eye on recovering parrot numbers. Caroline says that the population is now in the region of 4000, confirming an encouraging reversal of a dismal decline towards extinction for these beautiful birds.
ABACO PARROTS IN THE PINE FOREST
The parrots breed only in the pine forest, where they nest in quite deep holes in the limestone rock. This makes the nests and the areas round them vulnerable to predation from feral cats and rodents etc; but conversely it offers protection from the forest fires that would destroy tree nests.
The holes are often well concealed in the undergrowth and take some searching for…
Both parents are involved in the nesting and later chick care. The female lays 2 – 4 eggs.
The chicks hatch after an incubation period of around 26 days
Some of the nest holes are remarkably deep: the parent parrots clamber up and down the sides
The chicks grow the beginnings of feathers, remaining quite unattractive except to their parents
By coincidence, as I was producing the post above, Craig Layman at THE ABACO SCIENTIST was also ruminating on the topic of Abaco parrot breeding. He posted the comments below, which raise the very interesting question whether the Abaco parrots, with their increased population, may be starting to breed outside the National park. Caroline can probably answer this (see COMMENTS), but does anyone have any direct evidence to suggest a wider breeding habitat? I guess there would need to be a suitably pitted rock structure for the nests, and an absence of the usual cat- and rat-type predators that one might find nearer human populations. Answers welcomed via the comment box…
(Sort of) A Bahama Parrot Study
Posted by laymanc 26 Nov 2012
It isn’t really much of a study, but the only “science” I have been able to do over the last week with the continued turbidity of nearshore waters.
The Bahama parrot (more informationHERE andHERE)is one of the iconic Bahamas animals, and the main factor behind the establishment of theABACO NATIONAL PARKin southern Abaco. But my study has been conducted instead from my desk in Little Harbour. My main finding is simple: the range of the parrot has clearly expanded; it has now been a full calendar in which parrots have been in the area. Just a few days ago two dozen were squawking around the harbour. The key will be whether they begin nesting here as well – I havent heard reports of that yet. But if they do, the expanding nesting range will substantially increase long term viability of the parrot on Abaco. That ends my first ever Bahama parrot study (I really need more time in the water when I come back).
BEDRAGGLED ABACO PARROTS, & AN AMERICAN KESTREL TAKES OFF…
It’s a fine June day. Perfect for a morning out with Ricky Johnson, the omniscient leader of ABACO NATURE TOURS. Want parrots? He’ll take you to them. Want a Bahama Woodstar ‘pished’ from its deep cover into the open? He’s your man. And as for wrassling land crabs – see LANDCRAB andLANDCRAB: THE SEQUELWe set off from the Delphi Club in sunshine and hope…
Sure enough, we found the parrots at Bahama Palm Shores, so often a good bet. This was (Ricky said) a non-breeding flock, the breeders all being otherwise detained in the National Park with their nests and eggs. Out of nowhere, a sudden short, sharp downpour arrived, and 5 minutes later, everything – everyone – was soaked. And so, of course, were the parrots. At first I discounted the resulting photos for use. These lovely, rare birds are made to be seen in their bright cheerful livery of green, red and blue. These wet ones looked… black. I usually try to avoid doing much (or any) ‘work’ on my photos, but for these I tried changing the contrast a bit and realised that they looked rather appealing with their dark, damp feathers and unkempt appearance. So I’ve decided to use a few images. Here they are, then: some sodden parrots!
While we were damply watching the parrots, Ricky spotted an American Kestrel near the top of a tree. Heads swivelled. It was some way away, but we could see it looking a bit dejected, huddled in the palm fronds. Then suddenly, just as I pressed the camera button, the kestrel stretched itself upright, raised its wings, and launched itself into the sky. The two photos below are frankly of marginal quality (on a high “blur setting”, as you might say) but the second one has caught the rain-drenched kestrel’s take-off about as well as a point ‘n’ shoot at that distance could…
THE AUK is a quarterly journal published by the AOU specialising in promoting the scientific study of birds by means of original peer-reviewed reports. It has been in continuous publication since 1884, and can lay claim to be a (the?) foremost journal in its field. Here is the front page of the first volume of the journal
The 1905 Vol 22 No. 2 contains a 22 page study by Glover M Allen entitled SUMMER BIRDS IN THE BAHAMAS. If you aren’t a particularly dedicated birder, my advice is ‘look away now’ and move on to a page, post or other occupation that interests you more. For the remaining 2 of you, stay tuned in. I thank you both. It will be worth it…
The article was published at a time when ornithological survey of the Bahamas was in its infancy. Cory’s famous list of birds collected from the islands had been published a mere 15 years earlier. Allen details his time spent with 2 companions – much of it on Abaco – as they investigated birdlife and recorded their findings. That aspect comprises the first part of the article. The second part is equally fascinating: their list of bird species, with commentary, remarks and comparisons thrown in, together with some of the local names for the birds. Some of these are still in use, others perhaps long-forgotten. Is a Least Tern still known as a ‘Kill-’em-Polly’? Here are some highlights for busy people:
FLAMINGO / SPOONBILL Of particular interest is the recording of the apparently imminent loss of the flamingo (“fillymingo”) from the Northern Bahamas – a single colony only still surviving on the Abaco Marls by 1905. Allen and his group found only one roseate spoonbill, also on the Marls (we were also lucky enough to see a single spoonbill on the Marls in June)
BAHAMA PARROT Those who follow the fortunes of these fine birds on this blog or elsewhere will be especially interested in the following extract, which suggest that at the start of the c20, the species had all but died out on Abaco:“Amazona bahamensis (Bryant). We were interested to learn through the captain of our schooner, that a few parrots still exist on Great Abaco. He told us of having seen a flock near Marsh Harbor the year before (1903) and in previous years had some- times observed a flock in late summer at that part of the island. We learned that at Acklin’s Island about 14o miles south of Nassau, parrots still nest in numbers and the young birds are regularly taken from the nest when fledged,and bronght to Nassau to be sold as pets” I will be posting about the parrots later this month, but suffice to say here that the current estimate for Abaco parrots is now around 4000 birds, a significant increase since conservation measures and a predator control program were started some years ago.
BAHAMA WOODSTAR These endemic hummingbirds, now taking second place to the in-comer Cuban Emerald, were plainly everywhere then: “On all the islands and cays, wherever there was bush or tree growth, this humming- bird occurred”
“PARAKEETS” There seems to have been a significant population of these, known then as ‘Bahama Grassquits’. What species were – or are -these? The description doesn’t quite match the ‘quit family candidates we are familiar with today.
OTHER SPECIES Avian taxononomy, with its frequent official changes of classification, is a confusing area… but it seems that in 1905 there were then 2 distinct species of Spindalis (now, one); and 3 Mockingbird varieties (now, two). But of course there may simply have been a naming adjustment since the article was published…
For those who have stayed awake till now, your prize is the following link to the whole 22-page (small pages!) article
RESULTSHere are the results of the recent Abaco Favourite Bird Poll, with apologies for an intermission in activity around here. We were away for a few days somewhere that turned out to be sunny, returning late last night to near-zero temperatures…
THE POLLstarted with five birds, but the Tropicbird was removed after a week having failed to chart. To begin with, it looked as though the parrots would stay way out in front, but the smallest rival gained ground, flew past and won the title.
THANKS to all who took part by voting and or commenting – a gratifying number, enough to make for a reasonably accurate result. It would be nice to know what bird the voters in the last category would have chosen instead of the candidates on offer…
THE OTHER POLLwas designed to find out if people were finding that the ongoing woodpecker saga is becoming (has become?) tedious or is providing a modicum of entertainment. Of relatively few responses (nb I did not vote), the result speaks for itself. I will take voting abstention / inertia to indicate either indifference or tolerance, and continue as and when a new drama occurs.
Caroline Stahala has emailed me with some excellent parrot news of daily sightings around the Club and in the coppice along the drives. It sounds as though, if we are very lucky, Caroline might take us to the nest sites when we are at Delphi in May…
TWO ABACO PARROTS ON THE DEAD TREE BY THE DELPHI FRONT DRIVE
“As far as current parrot news. Well, they are all around the lodge at the moment. I can hear the parrots each day right on cue at 7:30 in the morning and then again just after 4pm. They have been foraging in the fruiting hardwoods in the area, especially the Gumbo Limbo (Bursera simaruba). I am attaching a picture of a small flock I saw right on the drive in front of the house. A couple of pictures are close up of the parrots and the ones with the Delphi signs do have parrots in them, see if you can find them. They have even been spotted just behind the pool. Let’s hope they decide to make this a habit. I am currently working on getting the summer field season organized… writing reports and grant applications is the necessary evil in order to have a summer field season”
PARROTS IN THE COPPICE BY THE DELPHI DRIVE (TOP LEFT)
A CLOSE-UP OF THE FLOCK – THERE ARE 6 VISIBLE (ONE IS PEEPING)
BAHAMA WOODSTARS LEAD VOTE NOW POLL CLOSES 29 FEBRUARY
This could be fun. Unless no one bothers to participate. I’ve just found out how to do this, having wondered for a while what the little widget did. There may be some way for you to put your own choice, but I am a slow learner. Another time maybe. For now, you can positively opt out of the nominated birds – your very own protest vote. Or you can all just ignore the whole thing, as I rather fear may happen… If this prototype bombs, I’ve only wasted a couple of hours, after all…
UPDATE:After a week, the order is (1) Bahama Woodstar (2) Abaco Parrot (3) Western Spindalis (4=) Banaquit and ‘Sorry…’The poor Tropicbird got no votes and has been removed…
In August 2011 the Bahamas National Trust published a documentary about the resident Abaco and Inagua populations of this Cuban Parrot subspecies. It features research scientist Caroline Stahala, and contains plenty of information about these birds, their nesting and breeding habits, and the problems they face from predation. In places, some of the devastation caused by the extensive forest fires in March 2011 is still evident (see images in earlier POST). If you want to know more about these attractive (but noisy) birds, the documentary video below covers a great deal in 8 minutes…
ABACO PARROT SUPPORTER ‘DOU DOU BIRDS’ runs a monthly bird-centric writing contest. Not content with sculpting a cute miniature clay ABACO PARROT with all proceeds of sale going to the parrots, she has now showcased the AP for her New Year writing competition. To see her Post, & indeed if you want to take part CLICK LOGO==>>& to see the AP in her shop window CLICK LOGO==>>
WELCOME BACK! Normal service is resumed after the family festivities of Christmas, with only the precious gift of a fractured wrist for rh to spoil an otherwise lovely few days. Immediately, I can report excellent parrot news… DOU DOU, an avid birder and sculptor of most engaging miniature birds, has taken up the cause of the Abaco Parrot. We have been corresponding for a while about this, and I now reproduce her latest post, with the link to her site below
BIRD SCULPTURE – ABACO PARROT
“Help, the cats are eating my babies!” said the parrot. And it’s true. These parrots are endangered – only 1000 of them left. A woman named Caroline is trying to save them from the feral cats that have invaded their island in the Bahamas. Let’s help her out! All proceeds from the sale of this parrot are going to Parrots International, which supports Caroline’s work.
This little parrot measures 3.5 x 1.5 x 1.5 inches. You can buy itHERE from me and I will send the money to Parrots International or you can use “Other” to check out, send me proof you donated at least $30 to Parrot’s International, and I will send you a code that gives you $30 discount on this parrot so you will just pay for shipping – I will verify that a donation was made.
More about this exciting development in due course – other ideas are afoot… Abaco Parrot conservation is strongly supported by the Delphi Club, Abaco; and the research scientist heading the project, Caroline Stahala, is delighted with dou dou’s initiative in helping to raise the profile of her conservation work and in contributing to the funding received throughPARROTS INTERNATIONAL
This organisation allocates funding for the research into the Abaco Parrots and their conservation. You can now pay direct by Paypal or Credit Card (with gift tax benefits depending where you live). Please remember use the “Note to Seller” box to specify‘ABACO PARROTS / CAROLINE STAHALA’
Here is a clip taken from the excellent websiteTHE ABACO SCIENTIST, with the kind permission of Dr Craig Layman of FIU. The brief summary of the South Abaco Bird Count 2011 by Elwood D. Bracey is of great interest, not least for the Delphi Club, from where guided Nature Tours take place and where there is a lot of enthusiasm for the birdlife of the island. 75 separate species were recorded this year, including all the known Abaconian endemics.
It is also a very fine photo of a male Bahama Woodstar courtesy ofBIRD FORUM
Reluctant as I am to give Ricky even more publicity that he gets already – including passim in this blog – his Nature Tours are seriously good, and his knowledge and enthusiasm for the flora, fauna, geology and history of Abaco are unrivalled. If you want to see a parrot close-up, understand a blue hole or learn which trees and shrubs are poisonous (and which are the antidotes) he is undoubtedly your man. He will even show you birds where you have completely failed to see any & believe there are none
This is one of a number of sequential images posted by cfinke3856 on the website Webshots. It seems to have been taken in 2004, and shows 4 Abaco parrots in a pine tree (location unspecified – the National Park, maybe?). They look pleasingly convivial, and they provide a chance to roll out the newly created rh parrot logo
Normally I would have cleared permission for use (and slight cropping) and given a click-through link so you could see the rest of the (similar) images. However, the website is a nightmare. A pop-up offered me the chance – apparently a near-certainty – of winning $10,000, and froze my cursor when I tried to delete it. Twice. Other untempting offers were made in a rage-inducing way. So I’ll spare you all that, warn you briskly off the site, and apologise to Mr or Ms Finke for ‘borrowing’ the image, duly credited but in tiny writing…
[Note: this post replaces the preliminary, typo-ridden and imageless draft that subscribers may have received, for which I stupidly pressed the 'publish' button rather than 'save draft'... Not the 1st time, either... Sorry]
Scientist Caroline Stahala has spent 10 years researching the Abaco population of the Bahama parrot. Her aim is to develop understanding of their behaviour so that conservation and management strategies for this rare sub-species can be optimised. Particular protection problems arise because Abaco parrots, uniquely, nest underground. Their main vulnerability is to predation by feral cats, racoons and rodents which kill adults, chicks and fledglings in the nest
Predator monitoring and control programs have been in place for several years, removing surprising numbers of feral cats prior to and during the breeding season. Prevention techniques have been refined as predation data has accumulated. In 2011 for the first time motion-sensitive cameras were used, positioned near the openings of vulnerable active nests (shallow or with large openings), monitored 24/7 with infra-red night-time flash. Constant technical adjustments were needed to determine optimum filming distance and memory card size, and to avoid ‘false triggers’ (eg wind)
A great deal of vital data was collected, particularly at night when predation can’t otherwise be effectively monitored. Feral cats were the most frequent visitors, followed by rodents. No racoons were recorded, so these may be less of a threat than expected. One northern mockingbird (above) was caught on film up to no good. It it seems that the camera flash itself may act as a deterrent, something that bears further study. There is also new evidence that some predators approach a nest and ‘case the joint’ for later use. All this data will make it possible to target predator control preventatively, rather than in the sad aftermath of predation – a great step forward.
Overall, during the 2011 breeding season none of 55 nests monitored was lost due to predation. In previous years, the attrition rates have been around 25%. The use of cameras avoids any disturbance of the parrots and chicks and provides round-the-clock monitoring. If the cameras / flash are in themselves deterrents, that is a simple method of predation control. The new banding project means that it is now possible to be certain whether same parrot (or pair) is using the same nest cavity each year – and of course individuals can more readily be identified
Finally, Caroline confirms that the parrots weathered Hurricane Irene well. She was still monitoring the breeding territory then, and when she returned to check active nests after the storm, she found the chicks and fledglings safe in their nest cavities
Abaco Parrot chick safe and sound - the first post-Irene image
Peter Mantle reports that a recent ferocious 4-day storm caused further havoc in the gardens, which had just about recovered from the depredations of Hurricane Irene. Even fishing was impossible. Yes, it really was that bad. However, the birds seem remarkably resilient to everything the weather gods throw at them. Parrots are plentiful around the club and are seen and / or heard almost daily. Peter also says“We had a spectacular exhibition yesterday of a peregrine repeatedly dive-bombing (for fun, we think) several turkey vultures in high wind, with another peregrine cruising nearby.”
Caroline Stahala has given me a West Indian Woodpecker update. These charming if noisy birds have been a bit of a leitmotif of this blog. We met their early reluctance to use the perfectly nice nesting box provided for them; their eventual moving in; their use of the club vehicles’ wing-mirrors for vanity purposes; their attempts to raise 2 broods of chicks with varied success (that’s a deliberate euphemism); and stoutly resisting the force of Irene. The male woodpecker is still using the nesting box for roosting. The breeding season is long over, but perhaps next season his home in the eaves of the verandah will be tempting for a mate… And finally, the hummingbirds are plentiful – so as Caroline says, “now is a good time to be birdwatching…”
The past week has been rightly dominated by concerns for family and friends, for homes and property, for the swift restoration of communications, and for many other human interests. The consequences of Irene for Abaco’s wildlife has taken its appropriate place lower down in the priorities, but there are obvious concerns for the loss of habitat through destruction and defoliation, consequent problems with food supply and so on.
The Abaco parrots are a potent symbol of recovery from near-disaster, with the conservation programme annually leading to breeding success in the wild and numbers on the increase. Recently – it seems a while ago now – I posted about the progress of this year’s chicks and fledglings: seeABACO PARROT CHICKS Caroline Stahala, who heads the conservation project, has now sent the first report on how the chicks have fared through the hurricane:
“…I have been out checking on the unfledged chicks and I am finding that most of the nests that should have been active still are. This means chicks are still in the nest. I am attaching a photo of one of the chicks that I found post hurricane. It seems that the parrots did well through the hurricane now I hope they are able to find enough food until spring…”
In my earlier post today – seeABACO 31 AUG POST-IRENE – I mention at the end that I feel my unexpected transformation into a storm commentator and information provider is coming to its natural end. I can’t think of a more appropriate image for taking my leave from hurricane duties than this little parrot fledgling. It’s an emblem of Abaco, and a symbol for the future after the storm. Thanks for reading the blog, following it and for all contributions and encouragement over the past week. rollingharbour
Abaco Parrot chick safe and sound - the first post-Irene image
CAROLINE STAHALA has provided some truly outstanding photos derived from her scientific research work during the summer into the breeding of Abaco Parrots in the National Park. By their very nature, these pictures of direct human contact with these lovely birds must be exceptionally rare, and I am really grateful to Caroline for allowing me to showcase them in this blog.
1. Adult Abaco parrots in the National Park pine forest. One is wearing a band on its leg from last year’s ringing programme (CLICKimages to enlarge)
2. A bag of 3 parrot chicks, at different stages of maturity, in the process of banding. You can see the band on the leg of the little baldunfeathered one
3. Two timed shots of adult Abaco parrots, one of which is going down the inside of their burrow into the nest while the other keeps a lookout
4. Caroline is assisted with writing up her data records by one of her protégés
5. A unique photograph (I haven’t been able to locate another similar image) of a newly-banded Abaco parrot fledgling contentedly perched on a human hand
6. This photograph of Sandy Walker (Delphi Club) is captioned ‘Sandy and Chick’, and I really don’t think I can improve on that!Thanks Caroline for these amazing images – it’s a privilege to be able to post them