WHAT’S IN A NAME? COMMON GALLINULE aka MOORHEN


Common Gallinule.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

WHAT’S IN A NAME? COMMON GALLINULE aka MOORHEN

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

WHAT IS A ‘GALLINULE’ WHEN IT’S AT HOME

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

WHAT IS A ‘MOOR’ WHEN IT’S ATTACHED TO A HEN?

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

HUMBLE HOUSE SPARROWS ON ABACO… & EVERYWHERE ELSE!


House Sparrow, Abaco  - Nina Henry

HUMBLE HOUSE SPARROWS ON ABACO… & EVERYWHERE ELSE!

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 GULLS ON ABACO


Ring-billed Gull ACH DSC_0451 copy

RING-BILLED GULLS ON ABACO

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

ABACO PARROTS: A GALLERY OF GORGEOUS


'Over the Moon'

‘Over the Moon’

ABACO PARROTS: A GALLERY OF GORGEOUS

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

BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS: A NEW BIRD SPECIES FOR ABACO


Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS: A NEW BIRD SPECIES FOR ABACO

In March 2014 “The Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco” was published. It contains a checklist of every species recorded for Abaco that was accurate on the day of publication. So it was with a mix of excitement (new species!) tinged slight disappointment (the book is already out of date by June!) that I heard reports of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks Dendrocygna autumnalis being seen on Abaco. Followed by photographs to prove it.

The first report came from Woody Bracey in his account of a day in the field on June 9th in which 40 bird species were seen. He concluded the report: “Most remarkable of these sighting were the 5 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. This species has been reported before on Andros and Grand Bahama but never on Abaco. 5 were seen clearly in flight with their bright white central upper wing patches, dark underbelly, red legs and bill and long neck. A Yellow-crowned Night Heron spooked 8 Parrots feeding in a Gumbo Limbo Tree when this small flock of whistling ducks flew by affording a good look coming, overhead and going. Unfortunately I did not get a photo even with camera in hand. They have bred in Cuba but not in the Bahamas”.

So, a clear sighting but no photographic evidence. Until the following morning, yesterday June 10 around breakfast time, when at the Delphi Club Lucy Mantle happened to notice some strange ducks right in front of the Club. She grabbed a camera (possibly her phone?) and took a couple of quick shots. Peter Mantle checked Hallett, the go-to field guide, and saw at once that these were not West Indian Whistling Ducks (a species found on Abaco). So he put the word about, adding Lucy’s photos. Hers are almost certainly the first ever images of this species on Abaco.

STOP PRESS 12 JUNE I’ve had an email from Woody Bracey saying that he first photos documenting the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were in fact taken Saturday June 7 on the Schooner Bay Dock by Glen Kelly. These photos are the ‘official documenting ones’ so I’m afraid that as things stand, Lucy moves to silver medal position and Tara to bronze…

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Delphi Club (Lucy Mantle) – first second species photo on Abaco?Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Delphi, Abaco (Lucy Mantle) v2

Tony White, compiler of the checklist, responded to Peter: “Congratulations! you are the first to document a new species on Abaco since the book and checklist came out. These are Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, casual visitors to the Bahamas. They are increasing rapidly in Florida and I think we can expect them to be breeding somewhere in the Bahamas in the next few years.There are two subspecies and they both have been seen in the Bahamas. I’ll let Woody try to figure out which these are. Thanks for being so alert and getting these photos”.

The birds must have moved gradually north during the day, and further sightings were reported online. Tara Lavallee took some photos of them in her yard a few miles north of Delphi and posted them on FB asking “Six of these beauties visiting my yard. Anyone know what they are?” 12-year old birder Chris Johnson was very quick off the mark with the correct ID as Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. Hector Morales had seen them flying over his house the previous day. I’ve seen no further reports, but I am really pleased to be able to feature Tara’s photos, which she kindly emailed earlier today. Her bird photography credentials are high – her wonderful photo of a Bahama Woodstar feeding from a flower takes up the whole of p43 of “The Birds of Abaco”.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco (Tara Lavallee) 2Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco (Tara Lavallee) 4Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco (Tara Lavallee) 3Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Abaco (Tara Lavallee) 5

This is what they sound like. If you hear this call – grab a camera!

Paul Marvin @ Xeno-Canto

The present range of this species is shown in the Cornell Lab graphic below.It seems that the range is starting to expand, and that these ones are most likely to be visitors from Florida. It remains to be seen whether these ducks will remain vagrant curiosities, or settle down and begin to breed on Abaco. There are plenty of them, and they are IUCN listed as ‘Least Concern’. It’s a gregarious species, so perhaps that increases the chances of having a breeding population on Abaco.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck Range Map

I’ll end with two excellent photos of the BBWD, taken by people who plainly had plenty of time to sort out and set up their equipment at their own pace, and not as the result of a totally unexpected and random arrival in the front yard!

Black-bellied Whistling Duck Alan D. Wilson, www.naturespicsonline.com Black-bellied Whistling Duck – Alan D. Wilson, http://www.naturespicsonline.com (Wiki)

Black-bellied Whistling Duck Dendrocygna autumnalis London_Wetland_Centre,_UK_-_Diliff Black-bellied Whistling Duck, London Wetland Centre, UK by Diliff  (Wiki)

Photo credits as shown, with special thanks to Lucy Mantle for her exclusive  ‘first'; to Tara for use permission and sending her originals; and an honourable mention to Chris Thomas for his powers of ID!

 

ALL THINGS BRIGHT… CHEERFUL GARDEN BIRDS AT DELPHI, ABACO


ALL THINGS BRIGHT… CHEERFUL GARDEN BIRDS AT DELPHI, ABACO

It’s not necessary to prowl around the coppice or lurk in the pine forest to see beautiful birds. They are on the doorstep, sometimes literally. Especially if there are full seed feeders and hummingbird feeders filled with sugar water for the Cuban Emeralds, Bahama Woodstars and other birds with pointy beaks (Bananaquits, for example). Here are are a few from the gardens immediately around the Delphi Club.

PAINTED BUNTINGS (f & m)DSC_0204 copy - Version 2

PAINTED BUNTING (m) WITH BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS (m & f)Painted Bunting SW - V2 jpg

PAINTED BUNTING (f)DSC_0168 copy

WESTERN SPINDALIS (m)Western Spindalis edit DSC_0098

THICK-BILLED VIREO (m)TBV edit

This is a TBV recording made with my iPhone.

For details how to record birds (or indeed animals. Or people) with a smart phone and embed the results as an mp3, CLICK HERE 

CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD (m)Cuban Emerald DSC_0095

A PAIR OF CAPE MAY WARBLERS

These little birds are autumn / winter visitors, though I have seen one at Delphi in June – it must have like it there and decided to stay on. Strangely, though originally named for one found on Cape May in the c19, there wasn’t another one recorded there for another 100 years…

CMW 33 copy 2CMW 2 copy 2

ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK (m)Rose-breasted Grosbeak

INDIGO BUNTING (m)Indigo Bunting

BANANAQUIT (m)DSC_0078

THE DELPHI CLUB, ABACOThe Delphi Club, Abaco, BahamasCredits: Mainly Sandy Walker; a couple from Peter Mantle; DCB by RH

QUIS PHOTOGRAPHIET IPSOS PHOTOGRAPHERES? [INSULA ABACO]


RH vig

QUIS PHOTOGRAPHIET IPSOS PHOTOGRAPHERES? [INSULA ABACO]*

Who indeed does photograph the people who take the photographs? Here is a small gallery of photographers on Abaco caught in the act of shooting wildlife, so to speak. And if anyone has ever seen – or been – a photographer photographing photographers photographing other photographers, trust me, that is one stage beyond weird.

RH on a nature trek with Ricky JohnsonWildlife Photography on Abaco 1

Mrs RH goes right off-piste & ends up on the golf course at TC  [good birding there in fact]Wildlife Photography on Abaco 3

RH (who uses a stick – or ‘cane’, if that isn’t too ’50 shades’) takes a collapsible wading stick on these occasions. Since he, too, is collapsible it is sometimes helpful to have a seat while photographing. Not elegant, though, and not especially comfortable. Cheers, Clare, for capturing the indignity…Wildlife Photography on Abaco 8

Mrs RH zooms in on a possibly rare bird… as it turned out, a female grassquit!Wildlife Photography on Abaco 4

RH sort of looks the part but the backpack is crammed full of food & drink, not equipment, and he is looking for shade for a picnic at CasuarinaWildlife Photography on Abaco 6

PM challenges RH to a ‘camera-off’ duel at Nancy’s, Sandy Point, and proves that his is the biggest…Wildlife Photography on Abaco 7

Ace birder and photographer from Ohio, Tom, arrives at Delphi and puts PM’s puny equipment to shame – and with Camo for extra cool. Even the tripod legs.Wildlife Photography on Abaco 11

Sandy Walker, General Manager of Delphi and man of many parts, turns out to own a snappy NikonWildlife Photography on Abaco 12

PM & RH engaged in a ridiculous challenge to photograph various items on the beach. Both lost, even though they had devised the rules…Wildlife Photography on Abaco 10

The professionals Tom and Woody (‘Birdman of Abaco’) Bracey get serious with Bahama Mockingbirds in the pine forest. The red bandana is to attract the endemic Bahama Woodstar hummingbirds.Wildlife Photography on Abaco 13

However at Sandy Point they seem to have forgotten their cameras…Wildlife Photography on Abaco 14

Tom returning to the truck after filming an evening festival of dozens of nighthawks on the wingWildlife Photography on Abaco 15

Out in the field… or scrubland – with 2 camerasWildlife Photography on Abaco 21

PM takes aim…Wildlife Photography on Abaco 20

RH subdues an unruly Yellow Elder (Bahamas national flower) for a close-upWildlife Photography on Abaco 18

*This titular nod to the phrase ‘quis custodiet ipsos custodes’ (‘who is guarding the guardians’) is open to objection on the ground of illogicality. It’s a Latin tag with a greek-derived verb and noun forms jocularly inserted. A ‘photograph’ is, literally, ‘light writing’ in Greek. So ‘quis lux-scribit ipsos lucis-scriptores’ is the best solution I can offer… Let’s have that Elder flower to end on a light note Yellow Elder Hope Town, Abaco 2

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Photographees: Peter Mantle, Sandy Walker, Tom Sheley, Woody Bracey, Mrs RH, RH

Photographers: Clare Latimer, Brigitte Bowyer, Mrs RH, RH

Photographers of photographers photographing photographers: none that we were aware of