Canada Goose, Abaco (Peter Mantle)


In normal parlance a ‘wild-goose chase’ is of course a futile search or a useless pursuit**. However, I bring you news of a successful chase after wild geese on Abaco – indeed the bagging of all four of the goose species recorded for Abaco. All are classed as winter residents, with rarity rated from ‘uncommon’ to ‘good grief, that’s a first’.  So I present them in the order of relative excitingness…


Greater White-fronted goose Abaco (Erik Gauger) smThis fine bird caused a bit of a stir. Not only was it a first for Abaco, the species had never before been recorded in the Bahamas. In February 2012, the goose was found at the pond at hole #11 on the Treasure Cay golf course, presumably having been blown off its normal migration route. This range map shows just how far. 


Erik Gauger managed to get the close shot above; Uli Nowlan got a few from further away, including a swimming view. I know of no other photographers of the bird (though Woody Bracey published a report about it). If there are any, I’d be pleased to hear about their photos – indeed to add them!

   White-fronted Goose, Abaco 2 (Uli Nowlan  White-fronted Goose, Abaco 1 (Uli Nowlan)


Equally rare on Abaco is the Ross’s Goose. Far to the east of its normal migration route,  one found its way to the Goose Magnet of Treasure Cay. The range map shows the very clear routes this species chooses for its migration.Ross's Goose, Abaco 1 (Uli Nowlan) Ross's Goose, Abaco 4 (Uli Nowlan)ross_goose_migration_map Ross's Goose, Abaco 2 (Uli Nowlan)


Another anserine visitor to Abaco – slightly more frequent than the two species above – is the Canada Goose. Again, Treasure Cay golf course exerted its powerful pull to drag this one from its usual route, where it happily took up residence. As you can see from the range map below, these geese have a widespread habitat and spend at least some of the year not that far from northern Bahamas, so it is less surprising that they turn up on Abaco from time to time.

CANADA GOOSE, Abaco (Kasia Reid)

Canada Goose, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)bran_cana_AllAm_map_new


Although a relatively unusual winter visitor to Abaco, and a good ‘get’ for any birder’s checklist, I was surprised to find that the snow goose is classed as more common than the Canada goose. Its usual habitat is further away; and its summer breeding territory is very far north. Again, when a snow goose drifts eastwards, Treasure Cay is its spiritual home… 

Snow Goose (imm), Abaco (Bruce Hallett) Snow Goose, Abaco (Tony Hepburn) sm2 Snow Goose, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Uli Nowlan)chen_caer_AllAm_map

Why geese are not found elsewhere on Abaco other than Treasure Cay is a mystery. The TC golf course water is presumably fresh, whereas other locations – Gilpin Pond on South Abaco for example, or the neglected ponds of the defunct ‘Different of Abaco’ – are distinctly brackish. Perhaps that makes all the difference.

Abaco’s Four Geese SpeciesAbaco's 4 goose species jpg

**WILD-GOOSE CHASE The etymology of the phrase is medieval, referring to a horse race in which pursuers try to follow an erratic ‘wild goose’ leader. Shakespeare used the term in Romeo and Juliet, with Mercutio saying “Nay, if our wits run the wild-goose chase, I am done; for thou hast more of the wild goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five.” Which was quite a good, if cumbersome, insult.

Credits: Photos – Peter Mantle, Erik Gauger, Uli Nowlan, Kasia Reid, Bruce Hallett, Tony Hepburn; Range maps – Cornell Lab for Ornithology


Abaco Parrot, Abaco Bahamas (Peter Mantle)


A new season – the seventh – of the Delphi Club is now underway. There are fish to be caught, poolside inactivities to relish, chef-prepared meals to eat and a capacious wine cellar to be explored. To which, add birds to be spotted. Delphi has turned out to be a superb place for birding – not a feature given prominence in the original prospectus… The Club’s remoteness and its rich mix of pine forest, coppice, gardens and a pristine one-mile beach ensure the prefect protected habitat for a vast number of bird species common, uncommon and rare.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher vocalizing.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley a

Eighteen months ago, “The Delphi Club Guide to THE BIRDS OF ABACOwas published. The originator of the idea – as with the entire Delphi project – was of course Peter Mantle, the publisher. The book took 16 months from conception to the arrival of three pallets of printed books on the dockside in Marsh Harbour, having travelled by a tortuous route from specialist printers in Italy. Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The book was launched at the Delphi Club in March 2014, to generous enthusiasm and support both on Abaco and beyond. 75% of the edition has been sold already. In addition, Abaco schools, libraries and wildlife organisations have been given copies for educational purposes. A percentage of profits is to be given to local wildlife causes. We couldn’t be more pleased with the response to this lavish book, a unique publication in the Bahamas. 

Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco (Jacket)

The incremental growth of social media is rapid. Blogs gain readers. Facebook and Twitter pages gain new friends and followers. The start of this new Delphi season is therefore a good moment to post a reminder about the book, illustrated with a few of the wonderful bird species featured. And… ahem… there are only 57 more ‘sleeps’ until Christmas. 

Short-billed Dowitcher, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

The Guide showcases the rich and varied bird life of Abaco, Bahamas and features both resident and migratory species including rarities and unusual sightings. The main features are as follows:

  • 272 pages with more than 350 photographs
  • 163 species shown in vivid colour – nearly two-thirds of all the bird species ever recorded for Abaco
  • Every single photograph was taken on Abaco or in Abaco waters
  • All birds are shown in their natural surroundings – no feeders or trails of seed were used
  • Several birds featured are the first ones ever recorded for Abaco or even for the entire Bahamas

Clapper Rail Abaco Bahamas Tom Sheley

  • A total of 30 photographers, both experienced and amateur, contributed to the project
  • The book has had the generous support of many well-known names of Abaco and Bahamas birding
  • A complete checklist of every bird recorded for Abaco since 1950 up to the date of publication was compiled specially for the book.
  • A neat code was devised to show at a glance when you may see a particular bird, and the likelihood of doing so. Birds found at Delphi are also marked.
  • Specially commissioned cartographer’s Map of Abaco showing places named in the book

Least Tern_ACH3672 copy

  • Informative captions intentionally depart from the standard field guide approach…
  • …as does the listing of the birds in alphabetical rather than scientific order
  • Say goodbye to ’37 warbler species on consecutive pages’ misery
  • Say hello to astonishing and unexpected juxtapositions of species

Abaco_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy

  • The book was printed in Florence, Italy by specialist printers on Grade-1 quality paper
  • Printing took pairs of printers working in 6 hour shifts 33 hours over 3 days to complete
  • The project manager and the author personally oversaw the printing

Smooth-billed Ani pair GT

  • The book is dedicated to the wildlife organisations of Abaco
  • A percentage of the proceeds of sale will be donated for the support of local wildlife organisations
  • A copy of the book has been presented to every school and library on Abaco

Piping Plover BH IMG_1919

The book is published by the Delphi Club (contact details below). The project was managed by a publishing specialist in art books. The author is the wildlife blogger more widely known on Abaco and (possibly) beyond as ‘Rolling Harbour’. Oh! So that would in fact be Mrs Harbour and myself. Well well! What are the chances? Painted Bunting male.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

The Delphi Club at Rolling Harbour
PO Box AB-20006, Marsh Harbour, Abaco, Bahamas
Tel: +1-242-366-2222
General Manager – Max Woolnough: +1-242-577-1698

Or email rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com with any queries or commentsAmerican Oystercatchers BH IMG_2000 copy 2

Images by Tom Sheley,  Bruce Hallett, Gerlinde Taurer, Tony Hepburn, Peter Mantle, RH

Cuban (Crescent-eyed) Pewee, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)"Birds of Abaco" flyer


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Abaco, Bahamas  (Keith Salvesen)


Well here’s a rum do. About four years ago, this somewhat minority interest blog emerged ‘mewling and puking’¹ into the world, guided by an incompetent male midwife whose basic training had been about 4 weeks of exposure to Abaco, its fishing, its wildlife, its geography and its history. ‘Bananaquit’ might as well have meant taking up a plantain-free diet. ‘Grassquit’ might have been the local word for ‘keep off the lawn’. And that’s before all the flowers. And the reef fish. And everything else that turned up during the storm-wracked voyage of discovery via polydamus swallowtails, manatees, spider wasps and batfish that led slowly to the calmer waters of ‘rather better informed (if no wiser)’. 

Anyway, at midnight last night some unknown person kindly made the 250,000th visit to the blog, a target that once seemed inconceivable. In the past month, the 1000th person also signed up as a follower, another source of amazement. The reality is that despite Abaco being a sparsely-populated microdot island in a huge world, there are a great many people on the island or associated with it who are passionate about it and its extraordinarily diverse natural history. That knowledge makes curating this blog both easy and pleasurable. 
RH Stats clip

I checked my stats for the last year to find out where hits from the top 10 countries – and for fun the bottom 1o – came from. Here’s the answer. Rather shamefully there was also a country I had never knowingly heard of, Palau (Micronesia). There follows a selection of a few photographs that have been popular over the years, mostly my own but the underwater ones are from Melinda Riger and Virginia Cooper of Grand Bahama Scuba.

Top 10                                                                   Bottom 10
Top 10 countries jpg   Bottom 10 countries jpg

Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas  (Keith Salvesen)Western Spindalis, Abaco, Bahamas  (Keith Salvesen)Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco, Bahamas  (Keith Salvesen)Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco  (Keith Salvesen)Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)French Angelfish (juv), Bahamas (Melinda Riger)Four-eyed Butterflyfish ©Melinda Riger @GBSCowfish ©Melinda Riger @ GB ScubaOctopus ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama ScubaNassau Grouper, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)Blacktip Shark ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba copy 2Curly-tail Lizard, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Atala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Bird of Paradise Flower (Strelitzia) Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Hibiscus : Polydamus Swallowtail, Delphi Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Yellow Elder Hope Town, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)


The most popular searches – omitting posts about hurricanes, which always generate a lot of traffic – have concerned Abaco Parrots, Lignum Vitae, Sea Glass, the Loxahatchee poster series, Tarantula Hawk Wasps, Sea Biscuits / Urchins, Yellow Elder, Parrotfish, Shipwrecks, Hutias, Hole-in-the-Wall, Lionfish, Remora, and Abaco Maps. The most leftfield search of all was ‘How dispose of dead bodies?’, by someone who had clearly strayed into the wrong category of website…

ABACO FACTS (including likelihood of adverse shark encounter or shipwreck)    
ABACO FOOD & DRINK (cook hog / bonefish; clean a conch; sip an Abaco cocktail / Goombay Smash)

It would be strange to end this little celebration without a tip of the hat to Peter Mantle, old friend and genial doyen of the Delphi Club, for his wholehearted encouragement and support for the production and publication of THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO. This hefty tome, published in March 2014, showcases the wonderful and varied avian life on Abaco and has proved very popular – indeed well beyond our expectations. Although I appear nominally as author on the cover, it is in fact an extraordinary collaborative effort by some 30 people. The book’s success further demonstrates the commitment of Abaconians and other who love the island to Abaco’s rich natural heritage in an age of  rapid change; and provides another good incentive for me to continue with the blog. Next stop: 500,000!

¹ © W. Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet Act 2 Sc. 7

dcbg2ba-jacket-grab-for-pm-v2-copyShark Gif


Common Gallinule.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley


Names can be a hassle. My own, when not my alter ego Rolling Harbour (from a long line of Harbours), was a act of Baptismal Folly for which I cannot be held responsible. I could have changed it by Deed Poll were I seriously bothered, but I am aware that there are far worse names out there and at least mine reflects my scandi-scottish origins I suppose.

Common Gallinule, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

The Moorhen has had a far worse time of it. Over many decades its name has been changed, changed back and changed again. Partly it’s to do with a continuing debate over the New World and Old World subspecies – or as it now stands, separate species. Even that status has changed around over time. It’s enough to give the poor creature an ID crisis.

Bahamas-Great Abaco_7551_Common Gallinule_Gerlinde Taurer copy

The Common Gallinule Gallinula galeata, as it has been known since 2011, is a bird of the rail family. The AOU decreed its divorce from the Common Moorhen after due consideration of the evidence and it is now lumbered with the less familiar and user-friendly Gallinule name.

Common Gallinule, Abaco - Peter Mantle

Note the yellow legs and large feet (unwebbed)

Moorhens (I’m using this as a comfortable nickname, aware that I am flying in the face of progress) are usually seen swimming serenely around ponds or picking their way through marshy ground as they forage. They have an aggressive side, hissing loudly if they feel threatened and fighting to preserve their territory or nest. Nestlings have been observed clinging to a parent as it flies to safety with its offspring as passengers.

Bahamas-Great Abaco_7536_Common Gallinule_Gerlinde Taurer copy


I wondered what the word ‘Gallinule’ actually means? What is the derivation? The BINOMIAL NOMENCLATURE (basically = scientific name in Latin) of most species is largely unintelligible unless you have some knowledge of Latin. But most birds end up with a useful, often descriptive, everyday name. Red-tailed Hawk. Least Tern. Yellow Warbler. Painted Bunting. You know what to expect with those. But a ‘Gallinule’ could as easily be a french cooking receptacle or delicious dish. Or a grim and slimy horror from Tolkien. Or maybe something / someone out of Harry Potter. Sleuthing online reveals that the word is a modern Latin construct of the c18, derived from the Latin diminutive word for a ‘hen’. So it’s simply a hen. As in Moorhen.

Common Gallinule, Abaco Woody Bracey


This does not refer to a wide swathe of open upland country, often covered in heather and gorse, where in the UK (especially in Scotland) every August 12 thousands of grouse are traditionally shot. It stems from an honest Old English word for a marshy or swampy area, Mor. It was used from early mediaeval times and itself comes from Saxon and Germanic roots. So perhaps calling the Common Gallinule a [Common] Marsh Hen would be more helpful… Or – hey! – why not have American Moorhen and Eurasian Moorhen, a perfectly valid differentiation used quite satisfactorily for other species…?

Common Gallinule (nonbreeding adult).Abaco Bahamas.2.12.Tom Sheley

Adult non-breeding plumage

There’s more on the naming of birds generally and Moorhens specifically in a couple of amusingly-written sources I came across. The first is from NEMESIS BIRD written by Alex Lamoreaux in 2011, called Goodbye Moorhen, Hello Gallinule. The second is from the excellent 10000BIRDS.COM entitled Moorhen Mania – the splitting and renaming of the Common Moorhen

Common Gallinule (Leucistic?) - Tony Hepburn

The bird above with a striking colouring and orange beak was photographed by the late Tony Hepburn. He believed it to be an unusual LEUCISTIC moorhen with reduced pigmentation, a condition that has similarities with ALBINISM

BAHAMAS - Common Gallinule, Abaco, TC GC Hole 11 - Becky Marvil

At some stage I am planning a companion Coot post. I won’t need to go on and on about that name. It may not be descriptive but it is short and simple, and everyone knows where they stand with it. Until they decide to rename it a Cotellinule…

Gallinule © Hans Hillewaert

Credits: Tom Sheley, Bruce Hallett, Peter Mantle, Gerlinde Taurer, Woody Bracey, Tony Hepburn, Becky Marvil, Hans Hillewaert, Nemesis Bird, 10000birds.com

     common-gallinule     common-gallinule     common-gallinule     common-gallinule     common-gallinule     common-gallinule


House Sparrow, Abaco  - Nina Henry


The House Sparrow is one of the most successful, adaptive and prolific species in the world. THE most, in fact. It is found on every continent (except Antarctica… but I bet there are in fact a few of them pecking around the Ross Ice Shelf for crumbs). It is indigenous to Europe and Asia, and has been introduced elsewhere.  So to any birds or people  that say house sparrows are boring and common, I would point out that they are world record-holders… 

People tend not to photograph house sparrows. Their domesticity and familiarity have rather tended to breed contempt. Besides, there are more impressive birds to capture. In compiling BIRDS OF ABACO, it was surprisingly hard to get hold of sparrow images. We had to take some ‘in-house’ photos as back-up. Although the house sparrow comes into the broad birding category ‘LBJ’ (‘Little Brown Job’), it’s really a bit unfair. The males in particular deserve a second look (then you can go and find some painted buntings if you wish…).House Sparrow, Abaco - Nina Henry

One of the strangest birding features in the UK in the last 20 years has been the virtual elimination of the house sparrow from London and its inner suburbs. Until recently, there were loveable ‘Cockerny Sparrers’ everywhere. Then suddenly the population began to decline, and the rate of loss accelerated quickly. I haven’t seen one in London for years – not in our garden, not in the green squares, not in the trees, not in noisy squawking crowds in Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. Suddenly a bird that was so common that its presence was taken completely for granted has now become high on any birder’s ‘get’ list for London, and a joy to see…  To read a short article on the possible reasons for the decline CLICK HERE. The trouble is that most theories could be applied to other major cities where there are still thriving populations – New York, for example.

House Sparrow, Abaco - Peter Mantle

It has to be said that the female house sparrow is undeniably less… er… flamboyant than the male, as is the case with most (all?) avians. But they are still pretty birds, in much the same way that a female black-faced grassquit has subtle coloration if you look closely. I took the photo below at MH Airport while hanging around for a plane. The bird wasn’t perched at a very good angle for a memorable shot, or so I thought until I noticed its little wrinkly feet and sharp claws…

House Sparrow (f), Abaco Keith Salvesen

The delicate patterns of the female house sparrow 
House Sparrow (f), Abaco Bruce Hallett copy

A juvenile. Cute, yes, but I’m sorry, it really is quite dull at this stage…House Sparrow (juv), Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Credits: Nina Henry x 2, Peter Mantle, Moi, Bruce Hallett, Charles Skinner


Ring-billed Gull ACH DSC_0451 copy


The Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis is a common winter gull, familiar to all in its adult form because of its… er… ringed bill that distinguishes it from all the other gull species found in the northern Bahamas. There are other differences, obviously, but this beak-related signifier provides the easiest method of ID. To be honest, you may find one anywhere – out to sea, on the shore, inland, or perhaps hanging out at one of the dumps that they are attracted to. This last preference is one shared with many species, but while the dumps may provide good birding venues, the photographic backgrounds and general ambience may be somewhat unattractive… Here are 3 great photos by Nina Henry of these gulls where they look best, near the shoreline.

STOP PRESS Nov 18 Woody Bracey reports from Treasure Cay “I had my first for the fall here in Treasure cay yesterday – one adult and 1 immature. It’s nice to have them back”. So keep an eye out – the ring-billeds are back on Abaco…

Ring-Billed Gull, Abaco (Nina Henry)Ring-Billed Gull, Abaco (Nina Henry)Ring-Billed Gull, Abaco (Nina Henry)

The Latin name of these gulls refers to the Delaware River, Pennsylvania, which is on their migration route. But there must have been dozens of other towns along the route with equal claim to have a bird named after them. Why Delaware took the honours, I cannot explain… and thinking about it has inserted the old song in my brain “What did Delaware, boys? What did Delaware? She wore a brand New Jersey…” etc etc**. So I’ll get on and show some more RBGs to get it out of my head. Here are 3 stages of development from Bruce Hallett.

JuvenileRing-billed Gull (juv), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

First winterRing-billed Gull (1st winter), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

AdultRing-billed Gull, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Laughing Gulls are gregarious creatures, and are quite often found in a group with some other seabird in the middle of the crowd – often a larger one. Here is a ring-billed gull standing proudly in the throng, while the laughing gulls snooze in the sun on the jetty. Ring-billed Gull + Laughing Gulls, Abaco (Peter Mantle)

Photo Credits: Tony Hepburn (1), Nina Henry (2,3,4), Bruce Hallett (5,6,7), Peter Mantle (8)

** If you want to remind yourself – or inflict on yourself for the first time – the entire US-State-related pun-encrusted jingle CLICK DELAWARE DITTY


'Over the Moon'

‘Over the Moon’


It’s been a while since the parrots of Abaco got a look-in hereabouts. Time to put that right. At the end of this gallery I will add some links to posts about the unique ground-nesting parrots of Abaco. Newcomers to this blog (I thank you both) may be interested to know that intensive conservation measures have brought this subspecies of the Cuban Parrot back from the brink of extinction – fewer than 1000 – to a sustainable and expanding population of around 4000.

For an overview of these lovely birds, I’ve made a slideshow presentation of a small booklet I put together in conjunction with scientist Caroline Stahala, who devoted several years to the research and protection of the parrots. Contents: parrots, nests, eggs, cute chicks, info, Sandy Walker with a fledgling on his lap.

Bahamas-Great Abaco_6419_Rose-throated Parrot_Cuban Parrot_Gerlinde Taurer Abaco Parrot Craig Nash.Cuban Parrot Abaco Abaco Parrot eating Gumbo Limbo fruit. Abaco Bahamas 2.12 copy

Here is the noise of a flock of parrots at Bahama Palm Shores, an excellent place to find them. It’s one of the less raucous recordings that I have made! We normally go to the main (north) turning, drive straight down to the end, cut the engine and listen. I’ve usually been lucky in that immediate area around 5.00 p.m., though others may have discovered other good times of day.

Abaco Parrot, Peter Mantle Abaco Parrot Keith Salvesen.Rolling Harbour Abaco
Bahama Parrot 1-Nina Henry sm Cuban Parrot Bruce Hallett IMG_7681ABACO (CUBAN) PARROT Abaco (Cuban) Parrot -  Charlie SkinnerAbaco (Cuban) Parrot -  Charlie SkinnerABACO PARROTS Unique parrots in pictures, video & sound

ABACO PARROTS Rare nesting footage

ABACO PARROTS Conservation & anti-predation programs 

Credits: Melissa Maura (brilliant header!), Gerlinde Taurer, Craig Nash, Tom Sheley, Peter Mantle, RH, Nina Henry, Bruce Hallett, Charlie Skinner, and Caroline Stahala