LARK SPARROW: EXTREMELY RARE VISITOR TO ABACO


Lark Sparrow (Nature Pics Online / Wiki)

LARK SPARROW: EXTREMELY RARE VISITOR TO ABACO

There’s a category of bird in the Bahamas known as a ‘V5’. The V stands for vagrant: a ‘foreign’ bird that ends up on Abaco by pure mischance. Whether through meteorological mishap (a storm for example) or navigational error, a bird that ought by rights to be found elsewhere turns up. That’s the first part of the rarity. The second part is that someone actually sees it, knows what it is (or may be) and reports it.

Lark Sparrow (Francesco Veronesi / Wiki)

The 5 part of V5 means that historically there may have been one, perhaps two previous reports of that species. Ever. More than 5 separate sightings, and the bird slips into the far less exclusive V4 category. The only category rarer than a V5 is an H. This stands for hypothetical, a bird that has been ‘credibly reported’ but where further confirmation is needed. Often, that never comes.

Lark Sparrow, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp / Christopher Johnson)

The lark sparrow (Chondestes grammacus) is a fairly large sparrow, familiar enough in parts of the US and Canada. Until this August, there had only been a couple of reports on Abaco since records began. I’m not aware of any photographs from those sightings. Then in August, birder Keith Kemp was at Bahama Palm Shores bird-spotting with his keen-eyed nephew Christopher, who saw a sparrow-like bird fly into low grass near the beach. Keith managed to take a couple of photos of it, and later on checked his bird guides for ID… and lo! a lark sparrow. These are most likely the first photos of the species ever taken on Abaco – and there’s nothing like a photo, however hard to take, to provide confirmation of a sighting.

Lark Sparrow, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp / Christopher Johnson)

Photo Credits: NaturePicsOnline / Wiki (1); Francesco Veronesi / Wiki (2); Keith Kemp with Christopher Johnson, Abaco (3, 4)

 

BELTED KINGFISHERS: PROFICIENT PISCATORS


Belted Kingfisher (Phil Lanoue)

BELTED KINGFISHERS: PROFICIENT PISCATORS

The belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) is an unmistakable winter visitor to Abaco. With its impressive crest and an adult wingspan approaching 2 ft, these fine birds are far larger than the irridescent kingfisher species found in Europe.

Belted Kingfisher (Phil Lanoue)

CARL LINNAEUS himself first documented the belted kingfisher in the mid c18, giving the specific name ‘alcyon’, a word of both Latin & Greek origin. The familiar phrase ‘Halcyon days‘, meaning a time of calm, is used more than once by Shakespeare; it references a calm period of weather supposedly occurring at kingfisher nesting time.

Belted Kingfisher (Phil Lanoue) Belted Kingfisher (Phil Lanoue)

The breeding grounds of the belted kingfisher are in Canada and the northern US, on coasts or near inland waters. They migrate further south in winter, to the southern US, Central America and West Indies. However vagrants have been found as far afield as the UK.

Belted Kingfisher (Phil Lanoue)

WHERE CAN I FIND THEM ON ABACO?

I have seen BKs when fishing out on the Marls, either perched on dead branches looking for fish, or in the mangroves, or in flight. There’s quite often one to be seen at Gilpin Pond, but always – for me, anyway – on the far side and out of practical range of my somewhat modest camera… Sandy Point is another place I have seen them. But these are common birds in winter, so anywhere near water where there are good perches to prospect for fish could be promising for a sighting. Sadly I’ve never actually seen a kingfisher on Abaco plunge-dive for fish, let alone eating a fish. And NB they are exceedingly hard to photograph at the best of times, especially in flight. Which is why I am very pleased to feature some more wonderful shots by photographer Phil Lanoue.

Belted Kingfisher (Phil Lanoue)

GENDER IDENTIFICATION

The kingfishers shown so far are all males, and basically blue and white. The (slightly) larger adult females can easily be identified by their very visible russet chest band. This colouring in fact extends under the wings, where it is harder to see in a perched bird.

Belted Kingfisher (Teddy Llovat) Belted Kingfisher (Michael L Baird)

AUDUBON:  A GUIDE TO THE BELTED KINGFISHER

Birding folk are familiar with the excellent presentations of individual bird species in the go-to guides such a Sibley and Peterson. However it always interests me that the images in my small and incredibly cheapo book of Audubon illustrations often give a very good depiction of a particular bird. He was the first naturalist to portray birds in action as opposed to rather stiff poses. Check out the plate below with the photos here.

Belted Kingfisher (Audubon)

BIRDORABLE’S TAKE*

Belted Kingfisher (Birdorable)

Belted Kingfisher (Bruce Miller)

* BIRDORABLE cartoons are seriously good at reducing birds to their essentials. Try out their many warblers and you’ll see what I mean.

Photo Credits: Phil Lanoue (1 – 6), with thanks as ever for use permission; Teddy Lovatt (7); Michael L Baird (8); Audubon (9);  Bruce Miller (10); Birdorable – Cartoon

ABACO BALD EAGLE(S): NEW SIGHTINGS


Bald Eagle - Poquoson, Virginia - Brian Lockwood

ABACO BALD EAGLE(S): NEW SIGHTINGS

In March, I posted about a bald eagle spotted by a Delphi fisherman out on the Marls near Big Pine Point HERE – a very rare sighting indeed. The only previous Abaco sightings were sporadic, of a single bird, and all since 2000 (see below). 

In May, there was another bald eagle sighting, also on the Marls, this time by Danny Sawyer while out fishing; in the Power Plant area; and ‘Kelly’s Mom’ reported one from the Lubbers Quarters / Tahiti Beach area.

In September came the first photo ever of an Abaco bald eagle, taken by Carol Rivard Roberts in the Cross Harbour area from a considerable distance. 

And now, November, Delphi West & East fisherman, most entertaining boat partner, and friend Howard Pitts from Little Harbour has emailed to say that he saw a bald eagle “off the Cherokee Rd near the cell tower” in the last couple of days. 

BALD EAGLE SIGHTINGS REPORTED ON ABACO SINCE c1950 (= ‘ever’)

  • 2000 December, location unknown – info from Woody Bracey
  • 2001  December – Chicken Farm area – Betsy Bracey
  • 2002 December – over Marls opposite Treasure Cay – Woody Bracey
  • 2004 Autumn – south of Lynard Cay (after hurricane) – Cheryl Noice
  • 2014  Date unknown – circling the power plant – LC
  • ===================================
  • 2017  March – Big Pine Point, Marls – James Cheesewright
  • 2017  Early May – Power plant area – LC
  • 2017  May – Marls – Danny Sawyer
  • 2017  May  – Lubbers / Tahiti Beach area – ‘Kelly’s mom’
  • 2017  September – Cross Harbour – Carol Rivard Roberts (with photo)
  • 2017  November – Cherokee Road – Howard Pitts

Italics = a report in comments on Danny’s FB page; Blue = added reports to me

So now for 2017 we have 6 sightings, including the first sighting with verification by photo. As I said previously, “there really is no mistaking a bald eagle. For obvious reasons it is surely one of the most recognisable raptors of all. And the only Abaco candidates for confusion would be a turkey vulture or an osprey. There’s very little scope for confusion with either”.

A THEORY

I suspect that the 2017 sightings are all of the same lone bird that has somehow strayed over to Abaco and finds the available prey good, and the location congenial. Also, he is undisputed king of the skies. I imagine his daily hunting range is a wide one, which would explain the varied sighting locations. I’m sticking with this theory unless and until 2 eagles are seen together.

 ABACO BALD EAGLE CHALLENGE

Carol Rivard Roberts is the winner of the challenge I set – the first person to capture an Abaco bald eagle on camera. She carries off the traditional yet strangely theoretical and / or symbolic Rolling Harbour bottle of Kalik, and the Kudos that attaches to it.

Reports of any further sightings would be very welcome, with photographs a bonus…

Bald Eagle - Poquoson, Virginia - Brian Lockwood

Credits: all brilliant eagle photos by very kind permission of Brian Lockwood, taken in his backyard in Poquoson, Va. except tiny distant Abaco eagle by Carol Rivard Roberts; amusing cartoon, Birdorable

SANDERLINGS ON DELPHI BEACH, ABACO BAHAMAS


Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

SANDERLINGS ON DELPHI BEACH, ABACO BAHAMAS

Looking back through some bird photo folders from last year, I came across these sanderlings that I photographed on the beach at Delphi. These little birds are far from rare, but watching a flock of them scuttling back and forth on the sand, in and out of the tide, is always a treat. And as you will notice, when they are foraging in earnest they not only stick their bills into the sand right up to the base… they go for total immersion of the head!

Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

All photos: Keith Salvesen, Rolling Harbour Abaco

NEW BIRD FOR ABACO, BAHAMAS: SCALY-NAPED PIGEON


Scaly-naped Pigeon (Jean Lopez YT)

NEW BIRD FOR ABACO, BAHAMAS: SCALY-NAPED PIGEON

The scaly-naped pigeon (Patagioenas squamosa), also known as the red-necked pigeon, is found throughout most of the Caribbean. Except for the Bahama islands – if indeed they are considered Caribbean, which strictly and geographically they are not – even though for some purposes such as passport requirements they may be.

Scaly-naped Pigeon (Dick Daniels, Carolina Birds.org)

Until the last year or so, this pigeon species had not been recorded in the Bahamas. Then sightings began to be recorded on Inagua and TCI – not so very far north of their normal range – and mostly within the last 4 weeks. Since bird records began, they had never been reported further north in the Bahamas, until a few days ago on Abaco.Scaly-necked pigeon (postdlf wiki)

The scaly-naped pigeon is so called because the plumage on the back of its maroon-coloured neck looks somewhat… erm… scaly (hence the Latin squamosa in the binomial name): close-up below.  Notice also the bright, ringed eyes. 

 Scaly-necked pigeon's scaly neck, Abaco, Bahamas

These pigeons mainly feed on fruits and seeds, and usually hang out in small groups or mix in with other dove and pigeon species. They can be wary and flighty, like many of the family Columbidae. Here’s a short (30 secs) video of one preening.

IS THERE PHOTOGRAPHIC PROOF OF AN ABACO ONE?

This is slightly tricky, I’m afraid. Right now, it is pigeon shooting season on Abaco. Several birds shot in South Abaco turned out not to be white-crowned pigeons or a WCP / dove cross,  and Woody Bracey was asked to ID photos taken of the deceased birds. The neck close-up above is from one of them… The full photos are a bit sad for a generally cheerful blog so I’ve not used them. At times like these, I have to remind myself that historically, natural historians obtained their specimens of our feathered friends by shooting them. Here are 3 portraits of John James Audubon as a young, middle-aged, and elderly man with his specimen-collecting equipment of choice.

 John James Audubon & gun John James Audubon & gun John James Audubon & gun

WHY HAVE THESE PIGEONS TURNED UP ON ABACO NOW?

The likeliest cause of the sightings this year on Inagua / TCI, and the current influx on South Abaco, is the recent extreme weather, especially Hurricanes Irma and Jose. It seems improbable that a mere whim to fly several hundred miles north from Hispaniola or Puerto Rico would account for the presence of these birds. One of the SNPs shot on Abaco has been retained as a specimen and preserved in a freezer. Woody is contemplating risking an expedition into the target area – a dangerous mission during the shooting season. He has invited any takers to join him, advising people to wear orange clothing to distinguish them from pigeons…

Scaly-naped Pigeon - Barbados

Scaly-naped pigeons are featured on stamps from Barbados (shown) and Barbuda. Like the Bahamas, the Caribbean countries have an excellent record for featuring their wildlife on stamps. You can read more about Bahamas wildlife stamps HERE

Scaly-naped Pigeon

Credits: Woody Bracey for the heads-up for the Abaco sightings; Jean Lopez (header still from a Youtube video); Dick Daniels / Carolinabirds.org; Cornell Lab / Neotropical Birds (range map); neck close-up from Abaco via Woody Bracey; ‘postdlf’ wiki; Felipe at Aves Puerto Rico; open source & wiki for all else 

Scaly-naped Pigeon (Jean Lopez)

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

‘RAISE AWARENESS’: SPOTTED EAGLE RAYS


Spotted Eagle Rays, Abaco, Bahamas (Gabrielle Manni)

Spotted Eagle Rays – Abaco, Bahamas

‘RAISE AWARENESS’: SPOTTED EAGLE RAYS

Mention of rays may conjure up thoughts of the familiar southern stingrays that populate the bright shallows and colourful reefs of the Bahamas. But there are other ray species out there gracefully patrolling the coral reefs – and one of these species is the spotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari).

Spotted Eagle Rays, Abaco, Bahamas (Catherine / Tara Pyfrom)

These fish (for that is what they are) are not uncommon. In fact they are found in tropical oceans worldwide (though there is a taxonomic distinction between the Atlantic version and the Pacific / Indo-Pacific ones). Note the concentration in the Caribbean sea.

Spotted Eagle Rays, Grand Bahama, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

Spotted eagle rays obviously have spots, but they are not notably eagle-like to look at. In fact, their snouts resemble a duck’s bill, and in some place they are less glamorously known as the duckbill ray. The ‘eagle’ part relates to the way in which they use their wings and appear to be soaring as they glide effortlessly through the water (see videos below).

Spotted Eagle Rays (Lazlo-photos Wiki)

Despite their global presence, these rays are categorised as ‘near-threatened’ on the IUCN Red List. Aside from vulnerability to predators including many types of shark, the rays may be caught as bycatch. In some areas they suffer entanglement in shark nets. And unsurprisingly there is a trade for them for large commercial aquariums. For the Atlantic species, Florida has taken a lead by banning fishing for, landing, buying or trading in spotted eagle rays. 

Spotted Eagle Rays, Abaco, Bahamas (Gabrielle Manni)

10 ESSENTIAL FACTS ABOUT SPOTTED EAGLE RAYS

  • They have 2 – 6 venomous barbed spines at the base of the tail
  • Adults are among the largest rays, with a 10 ft wingspan
  • They can leap clear of the water, and may do this more than once at a time
  • Occasionally they land in boats, to the consternation of all concerned
  • Their main diet is small fish and crustaceans, & sometimes octopuses
  • Their broad snouts are used to dig food out of the seabed as they forage
  • The rays are basically shy but may be curious of divers & snorkellers
  • They suffer from parasites, both externally and in their gills
  • Ray sex is quite physical, yet actual mating is brief (up to 90 secs…)
  • The female hatches her eggs internally, then her ‘pups’ are born live a year later

SPOTTED EAGLE RAY PUP

                          

Spotted Eagle Ray (John Norton Wiki)

 VIDEO SHOWCASE
These 3 short videos demonstrate the grace and beauty of spotted eagle rays as they glide elegantly around the reefs. The first (50s) was taken off Grand Bahama by Fred Riger (Melinda’s husband, for those who follow the underwater forays hereabouts); then one by Stephen Dickey (2:12) ; and finally one from Wildscreen Arkive (2:00).

WEIRD CREATURE CORNER

I have a lot of time for these cards produced by ‘Weird ‘n’ Wild Creatures’. In their unique style they are simple, educative and often give information nuggets not found elsewhere. The link is to their 4th series, Monsters of the Deep.

 

Photo credits: Gabrielle Manni (1), (5); Catherine & Tara Pyfrom (2); Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba (3); Lazlo-photos Wiki (4); Wiki (baby ray thumbnails); John Norton Wiki (6); Jacob Robertson Wiki (7); Weird ‘n’ Wild Creatures – card images. Videos as credited in text.

Spotted Eagle Ray, TCI (Jacob Robertson, Wiki)