PIED-BILLED GREBES: LESS COMMON THAN THE LEAST


Pied-billed grebe, Abaco (Tom Sheley)

PIED-BILLED GREBES: LESS COMMON THAN THE LEAST

There are two grebe species recorded for Abaco. The LEAST GREBE is the most common; the pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) is rarer. These small birds, often called dabchicks, are marsh and pond dwellers. They are sometimes found in brackish or even salt water.

Pied-billed grebe, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

The pied-billed grebe is somewhat larger than the least grebe. In the breeding season, they have a distinctive black beak-ring. In the header image, the bird is just starting to acquire the ring. Their dark eyes also distinguish them from the golden-eyed least grebe; and their beaks are pale rather than dark.

Least grebe with golden eyes and dark beakLeast Grebe, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Pied-billed Grebe for comparisonPied-billed grebe, Abaco (Linda Barry Cooper)

These birds have lobes on each toe rather than webbed feet. This helps them to paddle and to dive – which is how they mainly forage. They can stay under water for up to half a minute, often surfacing some distance from the entry point. This is one method they use to avoid danger – especially as they don’t fly with much enthusiasm.

Pied-billed grebe, Abaco (MDF wiki)

Grebes rather endearingly carry their young on their backs until the chicks are old enough to fend for themselves. The main threat to the species is habitat loss, especially of wetlands. The decline in local populations of this once-prolific bird is such that in some places they classified as threatened or endangered.

Pied-billed grebe, Abaco (Dori / wiki)

The pied-billed grebes’ call has been rendered thus: a “whooping kuk-kuk-cow-cow-cow-cowp-cowp.” If that helps you at all. If not, try this clip:

Michel St Martin / Xeno-Canto

Credits: Tom Sheley, Tony Hepburn, Keith Salvesen (least grebe), Linda Barry-Cooper, MDF / wiki, Dori / wiki; Sound file, Xeno-Canto; Cartoon, Birdorable

LEAST (BUT NOT LAST) SANDPIPERS ON ABACO


Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

LEAST (BUT NOT LAST) SANDPIPERS ON ABACO

There are 23 sandpiper species recorded for Abaco. Of those, 4 or 5 are vanishingly rare vagrants recorded once or twice in recent history (i.e. since about 1950).

Discounting those, the ones you are likely to encounter range from the large  (whimbrel, yellowlegs, dowitchers, stilts) to the small. Or, in the case of the least sandpiper, the least big of all. They are bigly little. Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

The binomial name of the least sandpiper – Calidris minutilla – is an apt clue to their size, the second part being Latin for “very small”. On Abaco, they are fairly common winter visitors, and each season a handful of them make their home on the beach at Delphi, where these photos were taken. Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Along with their small sandpiper compadres such as SANDERLING, these busy, bustling birds of the shoreline are the ones known as “peeps” (also as stints). Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Least Sandpipers breed in the northern tundra areas of North America. Like many or most shorebirds, newly hatched chicks are able to fend for themselves very quickly. It sounds unlikely I know, but within a couple of weeks or so they have fledged. Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

The birds forage on mudflats, in the tideline on beaches, and in wrack. They will probe into soft sand, sometimes the full length of their beak. They will even burrow right under weed to get at the concealed goodies. Their diet consists mainly of small crustaceans, insects, and snails.Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: All photos by Charles Skinner (contributor to “The Birds of Abaco”) except the wrack-burrowers above, by Keith Salvesen (also on the Delphi Beach).

Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

A GREAT EGRET MAKES A SPLASH…


A GREAT EGRET MAKES A SPLASH…

I’m quite a  fan of bird action sequences. Top quality ones, I mean, not the rubbishy ones that I have tried to accomplish with either (a) a camera I understand but is not sophisticated enough for such use; or (b) a more serious camera that I never got the hang of, was secretly a bit ‘overawed by’ (= scared of), and which met a watery end when I was photographing sanderlings on the beach while standing in the sea…

Among the photographers who kindly let me use their images from time to time are a couple who are especially adept with sequential shots. One is Danny Sauvageau, a Floridian who combines great bird photography with a tireless capacity for tracking down banded birds at migration time. Here is his Great Egret catching breakfast.

Credits: All fantastic photos by Danny Sauvageau, with thanks as ever for use permission; cartoon, the very excellent Birdorable

 

AFTER THE STORM: ALL THINGS BRIGHT & BEAUTIFUL


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot (Melissa Maura)

ABACO PARROT

AFTER THE STORM: ALL THINGS BRIGHT & BEAUTIFUL

For tens of thousands of people, the past 2 weeks have been dominated by one cruelly aggressive female: Irma. In terms of a lucky escape, Abaco’s gain was elsewhere’s pain. Recently, only the vivid Wunderground trackers I have posted have stood out from the bleakness of the ominous clouds, pounding waves, and sluicing rain. With the prospects for Hurricane Jose wandering around in the mid-Atlantic looking increasingly good, it’s time for a look at something more cheerful.

Birds can lighten the spirit. As yet, I’ve seen few reports of how the birds on Abaco have fared, but the ones I have seen have been encouraging. A west-indian woodpecker back on his usual tree; a piping plover foraging on the beach at Winding Bay, even as the storm raged; bird business more or less as usual at Delphi. No news yet of Abaco’s iconic parrots, which will have most likely headed to the National Park for cover. They usually manage OK. The header image is a tip of the hat to them, their raucous beauty, and their healthy recovery from near-extinction over the last few years.

Here’s a small gallery of some of Abaco’s most colourful and striking birds for some light relief. Have a nice day!

Painted Bunting, Abaco, Bahamas - Tom SheleyBananaquit, Abaco, Bahamas - Keith SalvesenWestern Spindalis, Abaco, Bahamas - Craig NashWhite-cheeked (Bahama) Pintail, Abaco, Bahamas - Keith SalvesenCuban Emerald Hummingbird, Abaco, Bahamas - Keith SalvesenBahama Woodstar, Abaco, Bahamas - Tom SheleyBlack-necked Stilt, Abaco, Bahamas - Tom SheleyCuban Pewee, Abaco, Bahamas - Keith SalvesenOsprey, Abaco, Bahamas - Tom SheleyBahama Yellowthroat, Abaco, Bahamas - Gerlinde Taurer

Photo Credits: Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Melissa Maura; Painted Bunting, Tom Sheley; Bananaquit, Keith Salvesen; Western Spindalis, Craig Nash; White-cheeked (Bahama) Pintail, Keith Salvesen; Cuban Emerald (f), Keith Salvesen; Bahama Woodstar, Tom Sheley; Black-necked Stilt, Tom Sheley; Cuban Pewee, Keith Salvesen; Osprey, Tom Sheley; Bahama Yellowthroat, Gerlinde Taurer. Storm tracker, Wunderground

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY, PIPING PLOVERS & IRMA


Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau)

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY, PIPING PLOVERS & IRMA

Sept 6 2017. World Shorebirds Day dawns, even as the huge Cat 5 Hurricane Irma makes landfall over the small islands of the eastern Caribbean. Irma’s path has been relentlessly westwards, for sure – but the path has been unnervingly variable. The tracking reports showed Abaco successively as being in line for a direct hit; then taking a sideswipe from the south; then completely clear of the cone prediction; then within the northern edge… and today, a right hook to the east suggests again that Abaco will take a hit from irma (though as a predicted Cat 4 or maybe 3).

Hurricane Irma Tracking Path Sept 6th 2017 Wunderground

Far down the list of concerns in such a situation come shorebirds. Most if not all the islands that Irma will affect have wonderful shorebirds, both permanent and migratory. On Abaco my personal preoccupation is for the tiny Piping Plovers and our citizen scientist annual 6-month WATCH. Generally, the birds manage to find some cover at the back of the beaches to hunker down until the worst is past. But generally the beach populations are rather different after the storm, as birds scatter and take cover. 

Well, except this little guy who decided to take a windy bath on the Long Dock at Cherokee during Hurricane Matthew as it passed over Abaco last October (and props to Keith Kemp for braving the elements to get this shot!)

Birds are resilient and resourceful. Humans too. But nature unleashed with full force is a terrifying prospect. From a safe distance of 4250 miles from Marsh Harbour, thoughts and best wishes from Rolling Harbour will be with all those in the path of Irma over the next few days. 

Piping plovers on the Delphi Beach, at a more peaceful timePiping Plover, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Photos: Danny Sauvageau, Keith Kemp, Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour; Graphic by Wunderground

BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS: FEEDING TIME


Black-faced Grassquits: feeding time (Charles Skinner)

BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS: FEEDING TIME…

Not a feeding frenzy exactly, but persistence pays off. However, this little bird found that dad had eventually had enough of the nurturing bit…

URGENT – feed meeeeeeeeeeBlack-faced Grassquits: feeding time (Charles Skinner)

[*THINKS* can’t reply, I’ve got my mouth full…]

The good-thing hand-over

No! You’ve had quite enough for one snack…

Feeding sequence by Charlie Skinner.

*No birds were hurt -not even their pride or dignity – in the photographing of this heavily anthropomorphised sequence…*

 

CLAPPER RAILS ON ABACO: A SMALL SHOWCASE


Clapper Rail, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley / Birds of Abaco)

CLAPPER RAILS ON ABACO: A SMALL SHOWCASE

Just over 3 years ago, THE BIRDS OF ABACO was published and launched at the Delphi Club. The book was intended to showcase the wonderful and varied bird life on Abaco – home to endemics, permanent residents, seasonal residents, and a wide variety of migrating transients. The book has been most generously received and supported – though I have to report that already its definitive checklist (dating from 1950) has become outdated with the recording of 6 additional species on Abaco, featured elsewhere in this blog.

Clapper Rail, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley / Birds of Abaco)

Tom Sheley was one of the main photographic contributors to the book, and I had the good fortune to coincide with one of his trips to Abaco, when he was armed with significant photographic weaponry; and to accompany him on some of his photographic day trips (not including the early morning ones, in my case). This clapper rail is one of my favourites of his photo sequences of a bird being a bird – preening, stretching, calling – in its own habitat.

Clapper Rail, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley / Birds of Abaco)

My one regret about my involvement  in producing the book (it took 16 months) and more generally in the wildlife of Abaco is that I have entirely failed to progress to sophisticated (expensive) photographic equipment capable of producing images the quality of Tom’s. Yes, I’ve moved on from compacts (ha!) to bridge cameras (Panasonic Lumix + lens extender), and some results ‘make the cut’. But my move up to a Canon SLR was mainly disastrous, and when eventually I inadvertently drowned it (I overbalanced while photographing shorebirds from breaking waves. Total immersion. Total stupidity.) I felt an unexpected sense of relief. A blessing really – I never understood it, nor in my heart of hearts (if I’m honest) really wanted to… But my feeble struggle made me realise and appreciate the enormous skill of those like Tom who take ‘National Geographic’ quality photographs. It’s not just the equipment – it’s knowing exactly how to use it, and often in a split second…

Clapper Rail, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley / Birds of Abaco)

Photos by Tom Sheley – with thanks for the adventures