SHARP-EYED & SHARP-BILLED: GREEN HERON ON ABACO


Green Heron.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

SHARP-EYED & SHARP-BILLED: GREEN HERON ON ABACO

Abaco has six ‘true’ heron species (putting aside the various egrets): Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. The Green Heron Butorides virescens is a permanent resident and is easily distinguishable from the other heron species. The header picture by Tom Sheley is one of many wonderful photographs he took for THE BIRDS OF ABACO, and is one of the most striking. This is a bird actively hunting, keeping very low with eyes fixed on the water, waiting for the chance to use that long sharp bill to snaffle its prey – small fish, frogs and aquatic insects.

RANGE MAP

Green Heron Range Map

There are thought to be 5 sub-species of green heron within the range, but this is a matter for anguished debate (not by me). However, the resident variety in the Bahamas has been designated Butorides virescens bahamensis since 1888 (Brewster), so I’m going along with that.

Green Herons are most likely to be seen in or near water – the margins of brackish ponds or amongst the mangroves, for example. Their foraging is mostly done in water, usually at dawn or dusk.Green Heron, Abaco Woody Bracey

You may encounter one on the shoreline or beach…GREEN HERON, Abaco - Nina Henry

…but they don’t always choose the most scenic locationsGreen Heron, Abaco Nina Henry

FASCINATING FACTOID

Green Heron are known to drop food, insects, or small objects such as stones on the water’s surface as bait to attract fish or other tasty creatures. They are thus classified as one of the animal kingdom’s  44 (?) TOOL-USING SPECIES, considered a sign of superior intelligence.

Green Herons may also be found perching in treesGreen Heron Abaco Tom ReedGreen Heron, Abaco Rick LoweGreen Heron, Abaco Peter Mantle

Occasionally they may be seen out at sea – this one from an offshore BMMRO research vesselGreen Heron Abaco BMMRO

The Golf Course at Treasure Cay is an excellent place to go bird-watching. There is always plenty of bird life on the 3 ponds there, the one on hole #11 being the biggest and most abundant. If you are going to bird there, call in first at the Clubhouse and ask for permission:  they are very kind about it, but they do need to know who is out on the course.  And since the pond is alongside the fairway, keep your wits about you – you are a potential target for the sliced drive… (ok, ok left-handers – hooked, then).

Green Heron, Abaco Charlie SkinnerGreen Heron, Abaco Charlie Skinner

The 2 images above are from Charlie Skinner, and show a green heron adult and chick putting the Golf Course drainage pipe to good use. Captions invited for the top  one. Birds often seen at this particular location include green heron, white-cheeked pintail (lots), common gallinule (moorhen), coot, Canada goose, least grebe, neotropic cormorant, and blue-winged teal. You may also see little blue heron and smooth-billed anis. Once I found a least bittern in the background of a teal photo – I didn’t notice it at the time, but when I checked the photos there it was in the reeds behind the ducks. Another good place to bird if you are in the TC area is White Sound.

Credits: Tom Sheley, Woody Bracey, Nina Henry, Tom Reed, Rick Lowe, Peter Mantle, Charlie Skinner, Wiki

POSTSCRIPT I’ve just commented HERE on the supposedly phonetic call-sounds attributed to birds to render them recognisable by man – the “What’s-for-dinner-Martha, what’s-for-dinner” and the “Give-me-a-drink-please…NOW” and so on. So when I was borrowing the range map from Wiki I was amused to see this: “The green heron’s call is a loud and sudden kyow; it also makes a series of more subdued kuk calls. During courtship, the male gives a raah-rahh call with wide-open bill, makes noisy wingbeats and whoom-whoom-whoom calls in flight, and sometimes calls roo-roo to the female before landing again. While sitting, an aaroo-aaroo courtship call is also given”. So there you go.

WHITE SOUND, ABACO: MANGROVES, MUD & (REALLY) GREAT EGRETS


Great Egret Abaco 7

WHITE SOUND, ABACO: MANGROVES, MUD & (REALLY) GREAT EGRETS

The piratically named Treasure Cay (aaarrrrrr…) is north of Marsh Harbour, and home to one of the larger communities on Abaco. It has a wonderfully long white sand beach, a golf course, condos and villas, a marina and a cheerful atmosphere. It is also one of the best areas in North Abaco for birding. There are the shorebirds, of course, and all the usual ‘settlement’ species. In addition, the golf course has freshwater ponds where you will find a wide variety of duck and other water species. NB Check in at the Club House and get permission first – amiably given if politely requested (see map below).

Treasure Cay also has a large area of bays, brackish inlets and lagoons, including – to continue the pirate theme – Galleon Bay, Brigantine Bay, Cannon Bay and Gun Powder Creek. And also White Sound. This can be reached by luck (which may run out) or good management (ask for directions; wait for me to get back the map I have lent to someone and post a grab from it). Drive (with care) along the uneven track beside the lagoon and there is a good chance you will see Great Egrets in the mangrove islands dotted around the middle of the water. This is what to look out for…Great Egret, White Sound, Abaco

Zoom in a bit, and you’ll see two more egrets on the far side of the clump of mangroves. It’s a colony… in the end we were able to count 9 birds on this one mangrove island.Great Egret Abaco 1

One of the loveliest features of these fine birds in breeding season is the way that even a slight breeze will blow their long plumes away from their bodies like streamersGreat Egret Abaco 2Great Egret Abaco 3

We were some way from the birds, as these rather indifferent photos suggest, so we decided to try and get closer. The water was fairly low, leaving expanses of firm-looking marly mud around the edge. There was an apparent causeway to an overgrown rocky outcrop that would enable us to get closer to a vantage point without being spotted. As it turned out, the mud was only… ankle deep. It could have been messier. And we had a chance to see at close quarters the remarkable way in which mangrove entanglements develop.

Great Egret Abaco 4 Great Egret Abaco 5

We reached the outcrop muddier and slightly wiser, and clambered up through the scrubby and scratchy bushes to the top, nothing if not intrepid. My wading stick came in handy for beating a rough path. And by adopting strange stances in the manner of someone trying to pick up a faint cellphone signal, we could peer through the foliage to establish whether we were indeed a bit closer to the egrets.Great Egret Abaco 6

The answer was yes. But there was another obstacle, familiar to all fellow ‘focus fail’ offenders. Shooting a bird through a hole in a bush straight in front of you is complicated. You get a vivid detailed  frame of greenery, with a blurry centre of unintentional and unwanted BOKEH instead of the intended subject. A lens entension (the poor man’s zoom that I use) tends to make it worse. So you’ll have to make do with these pictures for now, until you can visit White Sound and get your own with your natty Nikon. Great Egret Abaco 11Great Egret Abaco 9Great Egret Abaco 8

My favourite ‘stance’ shotGreat Egret Abaco 10

That wasn’t the end of the adventure. After we had squidged our way back through the slightly smelly mud, we moved further along the sound, to find a further egret colony on the far shore just in time to watch them from afar as they took flight.Great Egret Abaco 12 Great Egret Abaco 13 Great Egret Abaco 14

TREASURE CAY, LOCATIONS OF WHITE SOUND & THE GOLF CLUB, &  SOME PIRATICAL NAMESTreasure Cay Map

TREASURE CAY IN RELATION TO OTHER ABACO PLACESAbaco Egret Map 1 jpg

When leaving Treasure Cay, visitors receive a friendly reminder to return, in terms reminiscent of, yet far nicer than, a Scottish Tourist Board brochure. Maybe this reflects the historic significance of the Scots in the history of the Bahamas, to the extent that there is even a Bahamas tartan. 

Bahamas TartanHaste Ye Back...

TC Map credit: Abaco Estate Services. They send me emails, so I guess they won’t mind publicity here

OUT FOR A DUCK: FINDING WHITE-CHEEKED (BAHAMA) PINTAILS ON ABACO


White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 9

OUT FOR A DUCK: FINDING WHITE-CHEEKED (BAHAMA) PINTAILS ON ABACO

Hunt them. Then when you have found them, shoot them. But only with a camera, obviously… These attractive dabbling ducks are far too pretty for anything more controversial than watching and enjoying. Many moons ago I posted about them HERE, but I’m a bit cannier since then, and even have my own photos now…

NOTE Within hours of posting this, I was alerted (thanks, Tony W) to the inadvisability of (a) using the word ‘hunting’ in the title; and (b) the opening 2 sentences. (a) has been changed to the neutrally vanilla ‘finding’. (b) remain but with this warning: “It is illegal to shoot white-cheeked pintail in the Bahamas“. While I don’t imagine the readers of a blog like this will already have rushed to the gun cabinet, packed up a cartridge bag, added a couple of Kaliks and headed off  with extreme pintail population decrease in mind, I expect a  g**gle search for ‘hunting & shooting sweet small ducks’ could indeed provoke the odd (to very odd) person to assume it is open season for pintails. It isn’t. It never is.

White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 1

The white-cheeked pintail Anas Bahamensis is also known as the Bahama Pintail. It is a gregarious species, often found in large numbers on lakes and ponds. An excellent place to see them on Abaco is at the pond by Hole 11 at Treasure Cay golf course. Don’t all rush at once – and if you do follow up the hint, check in  at the Clubhouse to get permission – there may be a competition in progress… You’ll see many other waterbird species there, and I will do a follow-up post about them. Do mind your head – if someone yells ‘fore’ they will probably not be counting duck species.White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 3

The male and female of the species are very similar. However, in the image below there’s one bird that stands out from the others… and I don’t mean the American Coot. Near the bottom right is a LEUCISTIC variant of the Bahama Duck, a genetic condition similar to albinism.White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 5

Here is a close-up of the same duck on dry land. These variants are known as Silver Bahama Pintails. They are worth more than the standard version. You can see some good comparative pictures and find out more at MALLARD LANE FARMSWhite-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 7

 Here is a more extreme wiki-example of a silver bahama pintail
220px-White-cheeked_Pintail_white_morph_RWD

Another excellent place for pintails is in the Crossing Rocks area of South Abaco. Strictly, it is on private land. And legally too, for that matter. So I won’t pinpoint these pintails publicly. There is a wonderful variety of waterbird life there. I have seen great egrets, little blue herons, yellow-crowned night herons, belted kingfishers and elegant BLACK-NECKED STILTS there, besides several duck species. I have also seen a sora there (twice), a small, furtive rail that skulks in the reeds and foliage at the edge of the water, profoundly hoping that you won’t notice it… If you are birding on Abaco from Delphi, ask Peter or Sandy for the location. Or else contact me.White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 6

“On Reflection…”White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 2

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

BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS


Black-faced Grassquit Abaco 7

BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS

BFGs. Birds of the coppice, garden, feeder… and beach (see below). I posted some images last year HERE and now I have a few more, taken recently. Although their name is promising at first glance, the Title pun-value of these little birds is low, so I’ve left it… While the males are indeed black-faced, and often -chested too, the females are a drab brown. Until you look closely. Then you’ll see the olive shades, and the pretty yellow streaks on the wings.

A YOUNG FEMALE BFG ENJOYING THE BEACH AT TREASURE CAYBlack-faced Grassquit Abaco 4Black-faced Grassquit Abaco 3

BFGs AT DELPHIBlack-faced Grassquit Abaco 1Black-faced Grassquit Abaco 2

A MALE BFG AT BAHAMA PALM SHORESBlack-faced Grassquit Abaco 6 Black-faced Grassquit Abaco 5

AMERICAN ROBINS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS – A RECENT AND RARE SIGHTING


I am prompted to write this post after Brigitte Carey, commenting on a photograph of mine of a European robin, commented  “We actually have reports of one single robin on Elbow Cay. We think he was blown off course by the very strong winds we had a few weeks ago. He has been sighted in separate spots on Elbow Cay in the last couple of weeks. Poor guy…he’ll have a lonely life here!”

I wondered what other evidence exists of their presence on Abaco as occasional visitors – the northern Bahamas are not within their usual migratory range – so I did a bit of research

AMERICAN ROBIN DISTRIBUTION MAP

YELLOW – summer-only range

GREEN – all year-round

BLUE – winter-only migration range

I’ve checked various online databases – Avibase, e-bird for example –  for reported sightings. The evidence is that reports are very scarce indeed. Of course that does not necessarily reflect actual sightings, which are presumably more numerous. Overall however, American Robins certainly seem rare enough on Abaco, even though their full range includes nearby Florida. Which is why the recent reports Brigitte refers to are so significant.Fortunately the spotter Michele S put her brief Elbow Cay / Hope Town sighting report onto e-bird: “After a gale, saw two on the lawn in front of the Lighthouse” This was on Sunday 4 March 2012 at 9.30 a.m, and it would seem they were blown over to Abaco during the high winds. Brigitte will be pleased to hear that there were in fact two of them, so loneliness won’t be a problem… Apart from that very recent sighting, there is a recorded sighting on Man-o-War Cay in 1983; and one on Green Turtle Cay in 2008. Avibase suggests no sightings on South Abaco [except perhaps Marsh Harbour]. The species is however included in the checklist for Little Abaco. If any reader has seen an American robin on Abaco, it would be great to know when and where (using the COMMENT box below), and I will add the details to this post.

NEW – 2012 sightings at TC! Thanks to Elwood D. Bracey MD of Treasure Cay for his comments – and please contact him (or use the COMMENT box) if you can help with his valiant quest to reach the magic 200 species seen – he’s on 170 now:  

“As a birder living on Abaco for the past 20 years I’ve seen over 20 robins here, sometimes as many as 6 in North Abaco at once. This year I had 2 in Treasure Cay and 3 in Crown Haven. They appear on average once every other year. While notable I feel they are almost annual… why some years and not others I’m not sure.

Cedar Waxwings, Dickcissels, and Ruby-crowned kinglets are similar. This year we had our first Swainson’s Hawk for the Caribbean at the organic vegetable farm in North Abaco. It’s still here as is the Canada Goose on the #11 hole at TC Golf Course. It’s nice we have these vagrants and makes for interesting birding. I’m trying for a big year in the Bahamas (no one has ever had over 200 species in 1 year and I’m at 170 so far so if anyone has any unusual sightiongs please call me at 365-8305) [RH note: with only 196 recorded Abaco species on Avibase, this may be difficult to achieve...]. There was a pair of Wood Ducks on the TC GC which I missed. I did find 3 Kirtland’s Warblers [RH note: red-listed as 'near-threatened', and only 'rare / accidental' on Abaco] near Hole-in-the- Wall in January. Clean lenses and fast focusing!”

Photo Credits for the above images to good old Wiki

Here’s my own photo of an American Robin in Central Park NYC – I didn’t get very close…

These ARs are exhibited in the Museum of Natural History, NYC

Finally, here are 2 European robins for comparison. They are far smaller than the American version, roughly the size of a vireo

This is the photograph that Brigitte commented on – a robin’s Spring song – that I took a few days ago