EARLY BIRDS ON ABACO: CHARLES CORY’S EXPEDITIONS 1891


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EARLY BIRDS ON ABACO: CHARLES CORY’S EXPEDITIONS 1891

Before the explorations of the american ornithologist Charles Cory towards the end of the c19, there had been few if any serious attempts to record the birds of the Bahama Islands, especially the sparsely populated ones such as Abaco. The english naturalist Mark Catesby had published his  wonderful The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands as early as 1754, which of course included some birds, but it was far from avian-specific. During the 1880s, Cory forsook the golf course (his other passion – he even competed in the 1904 Olympics but, as it is intriguingly put, “…did not finish…”) to concentrate on birds. He commenced his research for his List of the Birds of the West Indies, published in 1886. The scope was wide, including Antilles, Jamaica, Cuba, Hispaniola and the Bahamas. The book simply listed birds by family, giving the bird names in Latin, and the locations where they were found. It’s scarcely an enticing read, and the ‘print on demand’ copy I obtained for about $15 is frankly horrid.00199p1

In 1891, Cory and his colleague Mr C.L. Winch paid more specific attention to the Bahamas, visiting several islands, taking specimens and recording their findings. Cory subsequently published these in the ornithological journal of record, The Auk, established in 1884 as a quarterly peer-reviewed scientific journal and the official publication of the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU).  I’m not clear whether Cory actually accompanied Winch throughout the voyages, or whether they covered the islands separately. In any event, the first visit to Abaco took place in March 1891, when Mr Winch took specimens and recorded the species he encountered.00161p1

Cory : Winch 1891 March jpg

To save you the bother of taxing your brain with Latin  taxonomies (in some cases out-of-date), the species recorded are shown below. Every one of these species might be seen during a March visit nowadays.

COLUMN 1 Semipalmated Plover; Common Ground Dove; Turkey Vulture; Smooth-billed Ani; Belted Kingfisher; Hairy Woodpecker; Bahama Woodstar; Cuban Emerald; La Sagra’s Flycatcher; Loggerhead Kingbird; Greater Antillean Bullfinch; Black-faced Grassquit; Western Spindalis; Thick-billed Vireo; Black-whiskered Vireo

COLUMN 2 Bananaquit; Black & White Warbler; Kirtland’s Warbler; Yellow Warbler; Prairie Warbler; Yellow-rumped Warbler; Yellow-throated Warbler; Common Yellowthroat; Bahama Yellowthroat; Northern Waterthrush; Ovenbird; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher; Gray Catbird; Northern Mockingbird;  Red-legged Thrush

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In June they were back on Abaco; or at least, Mr Winch had returned. This time, the list of species was somewhat different, as one might expect in the summer season. It contains one particular curiosity: the Bahama Oriole. This fine bird was sadly extirpated from Abaco in the 1990s, and may now only be found on Andros. There are reckoned to be only about 300 left, so the species is on the brink of extinction.Bahama Oriole.jpg (Wiki)

Charles Cory 1857 – 1921Charles Barney Cory 1857-1921 (Wiki)Cory List copy jpg

COLUMN 1 Red-tailed Hawk; Mourning Dove; Common Nighthawk; Cuban Emerald; Bahama Woodstar; West Indian Woodpecker; Hairy Woodpecker; La Sagra’s Flycatcher; Cuban Pewee; Loggerhead Kingbird; Gray Kingbird; Bahama Oriole; Red-winged Blackbird

COLUMN 2  Greater Antillean Bullfinch; Western Spindalis; Thick-billed Vireo; Bahama Swallow; Bahama Yellowthroat; Pine Warbler; Olive-capped Warbler; Yellow-throated Warbler; Bananaquit; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher; Northern Mockingbird; Red-legged Thrush

Cory published his findings in The Auk
The Auk 1891

A regrettable ‘print-on-demand’ purchaseCory

Illustrations by John James Audubon 1785 – 1851 (who never visited Abaco)00422p1

For anyone with eyelids still open, you can read more about Bahamas birds and The Auk journal HERE

‘THE AUK’ JOURNAL: SUMMER BIRDS ON ABACO & IN THE BAHAMAS 1905


THE AUK

A Quarterly Journal of Ornithology

 

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

BAHAMAS BIRDS PAPER 1905