WADING TO MAKE A COMEBACK: WHIMBRELS RETURN TO BAHAMAS


Whimbrel (Lip Kee wiki)

WADING TO MAKE A COMEBACK: WHIMBRELS RETURN TO BAHAMAS

It’s been many long years. Many checklists show the whimbrel Numenius phaeopus as a recorded bird for most of the Bahamas islands. On Abaco it is rated as a ‘TR4’ in Tony White’s magisterial checklist, which is to say a transient species in migration that is ‘casual, reported irregularly’. Elsewhere it is described as ‘rare / accidental’. This is only one step better than ‘vanishingly rare’. Prior to this year, the last documented sighting report I have found for Abaco was in 2000. Woody Bracey, renowned and persistent birder, last saw one there in 2002. We found no photos to use for “THE BIRDS OF ABACO”, not even as a snapshot in the supplement.

Frankly it was beginning to look as though the Bahamas whimbrel might be going… might already have gone… the way of the specimen below that I found last year in the Museum of Natural History in Dublin (it’s 109 years old). And the lovely whimbrel header picture is from elsewhere in the world. But suddenly…

Whimbrel (Dublin Natural History Museum) - Keith Salvesen

On August 20th this year, Keith Kemp, a regular birder on Abaco, encountered a whimbrel in the Cherokee Sound area. On the eBird map clip below, it is shown with the red marker, meaning a recent sighting. The blue marker is the 2000 sighting at Crossing Rocks. Keith didn’t get a photo, but he got the kudos of seeing the first Abaco whimbrel for 15 years!Whimbrel sightings Abaco

That was in August. On September 14th, Charmaine Albury went one better – she had her camera with her! Sandy Cay is a small islet to the southwest of Man-o-War Cay. There, in all it’s glory, was another whimbrel. She promptly shot it, luckily not in a Winsconsin dentist / Cecil the lion sense. She even managed to get a good in-flight shot.

Whimbrel, Sandy Cays, Abaco (Charmaine Albury) 2Whimbrel in flight, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)Sandy Cay Abaco jpg

And that might have been that for the Northern Bahamas for another 15 years. Except that the following day at West End, Grand Bahama, Linda Barry-Cooper went one better – she found 2 whimbrels together. Goodness knows how many decades have passed since the last sighting of a pair. Here they are.

Whimbrel, West End, Grand Bahama 1 Sep 2015 (Linda Barry Cooper) Whimbrel, West End, Grand Bahama 2 Sep 2015 (Linda Barry Cooper)     Whimbrel, West End, Grand Bahama 3 Sep 2015 (Linda Barry Cooper)

So that’s a massive influx of 4 whimbrels in the Northern Bahamas within one month. And who knows, maybe more to come. As for other Bahamas islands, a quick check on eBird for the last 10 years shows 3 on GB apart from Linda’s; a handful in the TCI; a couple on Inagua. And that’s it. Matt Jeffery says that on Andros one or two are seen every year as they pass through. And Eleuthera had a famous Whimbrel in 2011 called Chinquapin that had been fitted with a tracking device. It started its migration south, only to run slap into Hurricane Irene. After a doubtless severe buffeting it found safety on Eleuthera, where it was recaptured and cared for.  I think this goes beyond the usual concept of  ‘transient’ though it was undoubtedly ‘accidental’…

“…a shorebird, tracked using a satellite transmitter, flew through Hurricane Irene and survived. The bird, a whimbrel, left Southampton Island in northern Canada and reached the outer band of the huge storm as hurricane-force winds began pounding the Bahamas. The next day the whimbrel, nicknamed Chinquapin, migrated into the eye of the hurricane and landed on Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas” (π Repeating Islands). You can read more about Chinquapin’s epic adventure HERE

chinquapin_t607

If you are wandering on your favourite stretch of sand, idly beachcombing and keeping an eye out for Piping Plovers, here are the sounds that should make you stop in your tracks: the song and the extraordinary call of the new wave (hopefully) of whimbrels in the Bahamas…

SONG π Guillermo Funes Xeno-Canto

CALL π Stein Ø. Nilsen Xeno-Canto

Finally, having nothing to contribute personally to the great whimbrel comeback by way of Bahamas-made photos or sound recordings, I find I have actually photographed one in the UK. It was probably by mistake. The bird is certainly retreating rapidly. This is the only chance I shall ever have to fit it into a relevant post, so I claim writer’s prerogative to show it…

Whimbrel Pensthorpe 2010 copy

Credits: Charmaine Albury, Linda Barry-Cooper, Lip Kee (header), Lisa Paravisini (Chinquapin) and RH (the other pics); Xeno-Canto (recordings)

5 thoughts on “WADING TO MAKE A COMEBACK: WHIMBRELS RETURN TO BAHAMAS

  1. Pingback: Slender-billed curlew, extinct or alive? New research | Dear Kitty. Some blog

    • It’s shorebird migration mayhem out there! HGs have been – or at least one has been – recorded on Abaco. They are classed as V5 ie a vagrant that may have been seen once or twice in several decades! RH

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