INTERNATIONAL MANATEE DAY: BAHAMAS? WE GOTTEM!


West Indian Manatee, Bahamas (BMMRO / Charlotte Dunn / Keith Salvesen)

INTERNATIONAL MANATEE DAY: BAHAMAS? WE GOTTEM!

Manatees are apex ‘gorgeous marine mammals’. Gentle, inquisitive, brave, long-distance-but-rather-slow-swimming, grass-grazing miracle ur-elephant descendants. They never made it out of the sea in the Miocene epoch.

West Indian Manatee, Bahamas (BMMRO / Charlotte Dunn / Keith Salvesen)

Incongruous in a world of fast sharks, huge whales and leaping dolphins, they contentedly mooch around the seagrass beds. No one in the world has ever objected to or dissed a manatee. They bring only delight to the sea-world, and offer only charm to mankind.

West Indian Manatee, Bahamas (BMMRO / Charlotte Dunn / Keith Salvesen)

I’ve written quite often about the small number of manatees that inhabit the turquoise inner waters of the Bahamas. Almost all are named and some are tracked (until they lose their trackers). Their friendships and amorous hook-ups are recorded. Despite their relative scarcity in the Bahamas and a 16-month birth cycle, they produce manatee-lets and the family trees are very gradually growing.

West Indian Manatee, Bahamas (BMMRO / Charlotte Dunn / Keith Salvesen)

Gina and Calf, Bahamas (BMMRO)

IS THERE A DOWNSIDE FOR THESE APPARENTLY BLISSFUL AND PEACEFUL CREATURES?

Yes indeed. It’s mankind. Among the threats to the survival of these unusual, endearing, and legally protected creatures are, in no particular order:

  • Pollution of inshore waters and canals
  • Degradation of the (formerly limitless) sea-grass beds where they feed
  • Reduction or tainting of the fresh water sources that they need to survive
  • Understandable over-enthusiasm by admirers – especially in harbours – in dousing them with water from hoses and feeding them lettuce…
  • …and similar behaviours that may lead to a trusting dependance on humans
  • Unthinking or speed-selfish boat behaviour in or near harbours resulting in collisions
  • Simply not caring at all and carving them up, leaving often deep prop-scars. Few manatees escape at least a few of these. Some may not survive.

West Indian Manatee, Bahamas (BMMRO / Charlotte Dunn / Keith Salvesen)

Let’s celebrate this special day for manatees. Let’s hope that they can survive and prosper in these increasingly difficult and dangerous times for almost all species. Look at any of these photos… can we agree that these wonderful animals deserve care and protection.

All photos: Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO and research contributors

West Indian Manatee, Bahamas (BMMRO / Charlotte Dunn / Keith Salvesen)

OSPREYS: ID GUIDE TO THE BAHAMAS SUBSPECIES


Osprey, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

OSPREYS: ID GUIDE TO THE BAHAMAS SUBSPECIES

I have featured bird comparatives from time to time, not least because scope for confusion meant that I needed to investigate for my own peace of mind. These included the tyrant flycatchers; a number of superficially similar warbler species (mostly with yellow bits); varid vireos; all those heron-y / egret-y types and their disconcerting morphs (hello, white reddish egret).

Osprey P.h.carolinensis (CWFNJ)

And so to the magnificent osprey Pandion haliaetus. This time, the comparison is between two subspecies, broadly the North American P. h. carolinensis and the Caribbean P.h. ridgwayi. There is some overlap in Florida, and some evidence of interbreeding. In the northern Bahamas in particular there is also an overlap, so an osprey seen on Abaco could be either variety. You’ll probably be too excited watching it to care much which type it is, but this article will help you if you do…

The two ospreys shown below were photographed at Spanish Wells, Eleuthera by Barbara Crouchley. This is a ‘bingo’ photographic scoop, because each type of bird was found in the same region; now we can check out the differences between the two birds. 

The first is a North American bird. Note in particular its distinctive eye mask, and the clearly marked upper breast – more so in the female than the male (which may even be white). The overall impression of the upper-parts is dark brown. They are slightly larger than their cousins in the south.

Osprey P.h. Carolinensis, Eleuthera Bahama (Barbara Crouchley)

Osprey P.h. carolinensis

In this Caribbean bird, below, with its trophy fish, the eye-mask is absent and the facial / nape markings are less pronounced. Furthermore, the breast and under-parts are white in both sexes (though slight marking may be apparent in some birds). And  the impression is of lighter upper-parts, even allowing for variable lighting and distance when the photos were taken. Conveniently, there’s not much detectable difference between male and females in the respective populations.

Osprey P.h. Ridgwayi, Eleuthera Bahama (Barbara Crouchley)

Osprey P.h. ridgwayi

EXAMPLES OF P. h. carolinensis

Osprey P.h. Carolinensis, Florida (Danny Sauvageau)Osprey P.h. Carolinensis, Florida (Danny Sauvageau)Osprey P.h. Carolinensis, Florida (Danny Sauvageau)

EXAMPLES OF P. h. ridgwayi

Osprey P.h. ridgwayi, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry Cooper)Osprey P.h. ridgwayi, Abaco (Jim Todd)Osprey P.h. ridgwayi, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

THE EYES HAVE IT?

After I had looked into the noted distinctions I wrote “I’m going to stick my neck out here – I’ve not seen this mentioned anywhere, and I need to do some more comparative research”. When I saw Barbara’s pair of photos, I noticed that the eyes of the P.h.r were much paler compared with the bright orangey-yellow of P.h.c. This distinction is found in all the comparative photos above. The P.h.cs were photographed in Florida and further north and have the strikingly vivid eyes. The P.h.rs were photographed on Abaco and Grand Bahama at different times by different people. All have noticeably paler irises, more a light greeny-yellow.  

I haven’t seen this commented on since my original piece, but if anyone has a view it would be welcome.

UNDERWING DIFFERENCES

There’s a further comparison that can be made with the two subspecies in flight. Without going into technical and linguistic detail, the underwings of the P.h.cs are much darker than the Bahamas birds, whereas P.h.rs are notably paler and in some cases mostly white.  As an example, below is a distance shot I took when bonefishing out on the Abaco Marls, using a small pocket camera. This is definitely a local bird! Compare with the dramatic image below it, where the strong darker markings are all too evident. It’s a great shot with which to bring the lesson to an end.

Osprey P.h. ridgwayi, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen)

Osprey in flight with fish (Northside Jim)

Photo credits: Tom Sheley (1); CWFNJ (2); Barbara Crouchley (3, 4); Danny Sauvageau (5, 6, 7); Jim Todd (8); Linda Barry Cooper (9); Woody Bracey (10); Keith Salvesen (11); the inimitable Northside Jim (12). Thanks for all use permissions – also to Steve Connett for the idea!

PIONEER NATURALISTS: ABACO & BAHAMAS BIRDS


Wilson's Plover & Chick - Sandy Walker, Abaco Bahamas

Wilson’s Plover & Chick, Abaco, Bahamas (Sandy Walker)

PIONEER NATURALISTS: ABACO & BAHAMAS BIRDS

WHO’S WHO? POTTED BIOGRAPHIES!

Who were all the people – all men, I’m afraid – who are immortalised in the names of birds they first discovered or recorded or collected specimens of or wrote about? In various previous bird posts I gave brief bios of the specific naturalist for whom the particular species under consideration was named. In due course I decided to bring all those who relate to the Bahamas in general and Abaco in particular, together in one place. 

John James Audubon (Am Mus Of Nat Hist)

John James Audubon with his specimen gathering kit

This is an interesting moment to be revisiting and revising the earlier collection. There is a groundswell of demand for reappraisal of the many people whose endeavours and achievements in former times were honoured in paint, in stone, on paper, or by associative naming. However, ‘the past is a foreign country, they did things differently then’, to adapt L. P. Hartley. Suffice it to say that already, naturalists are under scrutiny for views and behaviours that were of their time and are now considered debatable or unacceptable. Audubon (above) – he of the shearwater, warbler and oriole – is one ornithologist whose scientific methods and wider perspectives are now in question. As far as I know, this applies to none of the others featured below.

ALEXANDER WILSON 1766 – 1813

Wilson’s plover, warbler, phalarope,snipe, storm-petrel

Alexander Wilson: The Scot Who Founded American Ornithology

Alexander Wilson, the ‘father of ornithology’, was a scottish poet and writer. He specialised in ballads, pastoral pieces, and satirical commentary on the conditions of weavers in the mills. The latter got him into trouble when he overstepped the mark by making a vicious written attack on one mill owner. He was arrested, convicted and sentenced to burn the work in public (fair enough, perhaps) and imprisoned (somewhat harsh). After his release, he sensibly emigrated to America in 1794.

Wilson's Plover, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Wilson’s Plover, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Wilson became a teacher in Pennsylvania, and developed his interests in ornithology and painting. His ambitious plan was to publish a collection of illustrations of all the birds of North America. He travelled widely, collecting, painting, and securing subscriptions to fund a nine-volume American Ornithology (1808–1814). Of the 268 species of birds illustrated, 26 had never previously been described. Wilson died during the preparation of the ninth volume, which was completed and published by George Ord. Wilson predated John James Audubon (though not by many years) and  is generally acknowledged to be the founder of American ornithology. It appears that Audubon himself may have thought otherwise…

For examples of Wilson’s American Birds, check out the excellent Virginia University records HERE 

Wilson's Phalarope, Abaco Bahamas (Craig Nash)

Wilson’s Phalarope, Abaco Bahamas (Craig Nash)

 

CHARLES LUCIEN BONAPARTE 1803 – 1853

Bonaparte, Charles Lucien (1803-1857)Bonaparte’s gull, Zenaida dove

Charles Lucien Bonaparte, 2nd Prince of Canino and Musignano was a French biologist and ornithologist. He was nephew of the Emperor Napoleon. He married his cousin Zenaïde, by whom he had twelve children. They moved from Italy to Philadelphia, by which time Bonaparte had already developed a keen interest in ornithology. He collected specimens of a new storm-petrel, later named after the Scottish ornithologist Alexander Wilson (see above).

Bonaparte's Gull, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Bonaparte’s Gull, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Bonaparte studied the ornithology of the United States, and updated Wilson’s American Ornithology. His revised edition was published between 1825 and 1833. He was a keen supporter of a (then little-known) ornithologist John James Audubon. Rather sweetly, he created the genus Zenaida named after his wife, and applied it to the White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica, Zenaida Dove Zenaida aurita and Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura. He himself was later honoured in the name ‘Bonaparte’s Gull’.

Zenaida Dove, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

Zenaida Dove, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

RAMON LA SAGRA (1798 -1871)

Mr La Sagra La Sagra’s Flycatcher

Ramón Dionisio José de la Sagra y Peris was a multi-talented man, being a Spanish botanist and also a writer, economist, sociologist, politician, anarchist, and founder of the world’s first anarchist journal El Porvenir (“The Future”). He lived in Cuba and became director of Havana’s Botanical Garden. His name lives on arguably more significantly in ornithological than in anarchist circles (actually, an ‘anarchist circle’ must surely be a contradiction in terms…).

La Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

A Cuban stamp commemorates the death of Juan Gundlach, the naturalist who chose La Sagra’s name to bestow on the flycatcher, and who himself is honoured in the name of the Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii 

Cuba Stamp La Sagra's Flycatcher

 

WILLIAM JOHN SWAINSON (1789 – 1855)

Mr SwainsonSwainson’s Hawk, Thrush & Warbler

Swainson was an English ornithologist, entomologist, conchologist, natural historian, and a gifted illustrator of the natural world. He was a pioneer of the new lithographic technology, which enabled quicker reproduction of his work than engraving. Swainson lent his name to a number of avian species, three of which may be found on Abaco – the Swainson’s Hawk, Thrush and Warbler. The hawk is a rare visitor; the thrush is a transient, passing through the Bahamas during migration; and the warbler is a hard-to-find winter resident. Below is the only known Swainson’s Hawk to be photographed on Abaco.

Swainson's Hawk, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Swainson’s Hawk, Abaco, Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

JOHN ISIAH NORTHROP (1861 – 91)

640px-Picture_of_John_Isaiah_NorthropBahama Oriole (Icterus northropi)

John Isiah Northrop, for whom the endemic BAHAMA ORIOLE Icterus northropi is named, entailed a bit more research. The link above will take you to my post about this very beautiful species that is sadly on the brink of extinction. Until recently it was found only on Abaco and Andros, but is now extirpated from Abaco and exists only in certain enclaves on Andros.

Bahama Oriole, Andros Bahamas (Mary Kay Beach)

Bahama Oriole, Andros Bahamas (Mary Kay Beach)

I can do no better than regurgitate the info provided by the University of Glasgow Library Research Annexe in relation to a fine  illustration from A Naturalist in the Bahamas (1910), reprinted in The Auk journal (below) at a time when Icterus northropi was still a mere subspecies:

The yellow and black Bahama Oriole (Icterus Northropi) is a bird species unique to the Bahamas. The bird was named for American ornithologist and zoologist, John Isiah Northrop (1861–91); the illustration comes from an account of the trip Northrop and his botanist wife, Alice, took to the Bahamas in 1889 which was published in his memory: A Naturalist in the Bahamas: John I. Northrop, October 12 1861-June 25, 1891; a memorial volume (Columbia University Press, 1910). It was edited and introduced by Henry Fairfield Osborn, professor of zoology at Columbia University where Northrop worked as a tutor and was killed in a laboratory explosion shortly (9 days) before the birth of his son John Howard Northrop (who became a Nobel prize-winning chemist)”.

 

JARED POTTER KIRTLAND 1793 –1877

260px-Jared_Potter_Kirtland_1793-1877Kirtland’s Warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii)

Jared Potter Kirtland was a naturalist, malacologist and politician, most active in Ohio where he served as a probate judge and in the Ohio House of Representatives. He was also a physician and co-founder of a University Medical School. Kirtland became one of America’s leading naturalists, with a particular interest in horticulture and sea shells. He published numerous natural history articles, and was a founder and president of the Kirtland Society of Natural History and the Cleveland Academy of Natural Science.

Kirtland's Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

Kirtland’s Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

Somewhere in amongst all this, he discovered or at least studied the warbler that was named after him. This rare ‘at risk’ bird breeds in small numbers only in certain areas of Michigan and Ohio, favouring jack-pine territory. The warblers overwinter in the Bahamas, including on Abaco. They a very hard to find – and to photograph, in my limited experience. We once made an expedition into remote backcountry scrubland and found 4 KIWAs within a couple of hours. My only photo to come out was of a small lemon obscured by twigs.

Kirtland's Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Unattributed Epic Fail)

Kirtland’s Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Unattributed Epic Fail)

If you want to fixate on a warbler species, this is the one. Wiki, very good on this sort of thing, has an excellent entry that will tell you all you need to know and far more besides: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kirtland%27s_warbler

Kirtland's Warbler (Tom Sheley)

Kirtland’s Warbler (Tom Sheley)

JOHN JAMES AUDUBON (1785 – 1851)

Audubon's Shearwater, Warbler, OrioleAudubon’s Shearwater, Warbler, Oriole

John James Audubon never went to Abaco. The nearest he got was probably in 1820, when he made a field trip to the southern states, including Florida; or in the 1830s when he made at least one trip to Key West. One technique that set him apart from contemporaries was his method of producing naturalistic (as opposed to ‘stuffed bird’) drawings. It involved killing birds using very fine shot, and then using wires to pose them naturally, according to his field sketches. This contrasted with the usual technique of using a stuffed specimen as a model.

Audubon's Shearwater (Dominic Sherony Wiki)

Audubon’s Shearwater (Dominic Sherony)

In my original post I stated that no birds found on Abaco were specifically named for Audubon but that ‘it is almost impossible to dip a toe into ornithological history without immediately stubbing it on Audubon’s name’. As it turns out, the shearwater has raised its profile for the northern Bahamas, but in the saddest of circumstances. Every 2 years or so, there is a phenomenon called ‘die-back’ that seems to affect the pelagic shearwaters, and large numbers are washed up on the shorelines, either dying or already dead. A few can be rescued; few of those survive. The causes are complex: I wrote about this season’s die-back HERE if you want to know more.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Since the last outing, I have found another more tenuous avian link between Abaco and Audubon / his namesake birds. The yellowed-rumped warbler, a summer migrant to Abaco, is considered to be a close cousin of the myrtle warbler and Audubon’s warbler.

Audubon’s master-work was his renowned Birds of America, arguably the most famous bird tome ever. There are about 120 sets of the original book still in existence. They were incredibly expensive to produce in contemporary terms; and in modern times a set sold for $11.5 million at Sotheby’s London in 2010, setting the unbeaten record for the world’s most expensive book sale. Recently there was great excitement over the sale of another set at Christie’s New York, but the sale price was far lower, a mere $7,922,500… 

Audubon Birds of America.jpg

Credits: Bird pictures as shown; Encyclopaedia of Cleveland History, American Museum of Natural History, Britannica, University of Glasgow Library, The Auk, Audubon Society, Wiki, Magpie pickings

SHARK ATTACKS – ABACO, BAHAMAS, & BEYOND


Shark! Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba

SHARK ATTACKS – ABACO, BAHAMAS & BEYOND

Over the last couple of weeks or so I have been getting a lot of hits for Shark Attack information. There have been 2 or 3 recent incidents including a tragic (and very rare) death in Maine, which may well account for this. The Shark Attack details I have accumulated and posted over the years are buried in an historical sub-sub-page, so to make things easier I have rechecked and updated the latest data resources and their links, and put them in a mainstream post. This is it.

DATABASE UPDATE 2020

INTERNATIONAL SHARK ATTACK FILE

PRIMARY RESOURCE

This resource is the portal to a mass of current, recent, and historical data, presented with authority and clarity. It provides undoubtedly the most comprehensive and accessible global shark-incident data of all.

Last year I included informative screen-shots taken from this site. For now I am confining the information to the most useful direct links. More work for the reader, perhaps, but also a better chance to explore and understand the hows, whens and wherefores of shark-related incidents – and how best to avoid the situation in the first place.

SITE LINK

https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/shark-attacks/

BAHAMAS-SPECIFIC

https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/shark-attacks/maps/na/bahamas-antilles/

The 2019 worldwide total of 64 confirmed unprovoked cases were lower than the most recent five-year (2014-2018) average of 82 incidents annually. There were five fatal attacks this year, two of which were confirmed to be unprovoked. This number is in line with the annual global average of four fatalities per year

MENU SELECTION

 Maps & Data    Contributing Factors    Shark Attack Trends 

What are the Odds?   Reducing Your Risk

For anyone thinking of entering waters where sharks live – eg scuba divers, spear-fishers, swimmers, boaters – with relatively little experience or knowledge, these links will be incredibly useful. Local knowledge is well worth having as well. A young friend of ours, an intern on Abaco, was warned against spearfishing at a particular location: “Fish there, you’ll get ate”. He did. He very nearly was.

“Humans are not on the menu of sharks. Sharks bite humans out of curiosity or to defend themselves”

The SRI produces a  downloadable Global Shark Attack File that provides:

  • A downloadable incident log by country
  • A downloadable incident log chronologically
  • A world map of encounters categorized by provoked vs. unprovoked, incidents involving boats, air & sea disasters and questionable incidents
  • To read any basic case report, open the Chronological file, click on the case number (column A) and the report will open as a pdf file

SHARK SPECIES (CONCISE OVERVIEW FOR EACH SHARK)

http://www.sharkattackfile.net/species.htm

BAHAMAS-SPECIFIC STATS

http://www.sharkattackdata.com/gsaf/place/bahamas

ABACO-SPECIFIC STATS

http://www.sharkattackdata.com/gsaf/place/bahamas/abaco_islands

Credits: All great shark photos – Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba; ‘Infest’ sticker design, Tracie Sugo

A FINAL THOUGHT

 

BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS


Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS

A while back, Black-faced Grassquits Tiaris bicolor were honoured by the American Ornithological Union with a classification change from emberizid to tanager. For the reasons that follow, the species regarded this both as scientific promotion and as merited status elevation. I invited an authoritative Spokesquit to explain why.

*******************

Hi, human friends, I’m a black-faced grassquit  and I have a couple of observations to make on behalf of BFGs, if I may. First, we seem to be universally described by you as ‘common’, whereas we are actually quite refined in our behaviour. Secondly, the words most used to portray us are ‘dull’ and ‘drab’. And ‘stubby’. Well, excuse me… I – we – ask you to give us a second look. Maybe check out these images for a start.

black-faced-grassquit-adult-male-eating-berry-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheleyblack-faced-grassquit-foraging-berry-2-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheley

Unsurprisingly we were very excited when the perceptive classifications committee of the American Ornithological Union gave us an upgrade. That’s the way we saw it anyway. For many years we were classified under the heading emberizidae. 

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Black-faced Grassquit, Abaco (Tom Reed)

We kept company with some buddies like the handsome Greater Antillean Bullfinches, but also with a lot of New World sparrows, with whom we (frankly) never felt entirely comfortable. Annoyingly chirpy, for a start.

Black-faced Grassquit - Treasure Cay, Abaco (Becky Marvil)Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Peter Mantle)

And so we officially became a type of tanager. They even reckon (rather late in the day, in my view) that we are closely related to Darwin’s finches. So, we are “common”, huh? Now we get to be with other birds that are dome-nesters like us. And how about this – we’ll be in the same list as some really cool birds…

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)

How’s this for a colourful gang to be joining: scarlet tanager, summer tanager, rose-breasted grosbeak, indigo bunting, painted bunting – these are our new cousins. BFGs “dull” and “drab”? I don’t think so.

Black-faced Grassquit female, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

6 UNDULL FACTS ABOUT BFGS

  • Make grassy dome-nests (like Bananaquits) and line them with soft grasses
  • Both sexes build the nest together
  • Both share egg-sitting duties and later chick-feeding & maintenance
  • Though quite gregarious by day, for some reason they tend to roost alone
  • They have a short ‘display’ flight with vibrating wings and a strange buzzing call
  • Otherwise, their flight is ‘weak, bouncy & fluttering’ (Whatbird assessment)

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

THE EVERYDAY TWITTERING SONG 

THE DISPLAY BUZZING SONG 

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Tom Reed)Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Photo Credits: Alex Hughes (1, 10); Tom Sheley (2, 3); Bruce Hallett (4, 9); Tom Reed (5, 11); Becky Marvil (6); Peter Mantle (7); Gerlinde Taurer (8); Keith Salvesen (12); Larry Towning (13). Other Credits: ABA, AOU, Whatbird? (sound files)

Black-faced Grassquit (m) Lubbers Quarters, Abaco (Larry Towning).jpg

ROLLING HARBOUR? TROLLING HARBOUR!


Black-necked Stilt, Abaco, Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

ROLLING HARBOUR? TROLLING HARBOUR!

My troll friend is back! It’s been quite a long time since the last outbreak – congratulations on your growing self-control – but it’s good to know you still have it in you. In a way I consider your dogged trawls through my posts awarding coveted ‘One Star’ (= ‘Very Poor’) reviews, something of a plus. Your indiscriminate and equally low opinion of sequential blocks of posts suggests that you don’t actually read them, so I like to speculate what draws you here. You have the option of never visiting at all, of course, but that may not have occurred to you. Possibly you hate wildlife and / or conservation issues? Or have a phobia about nice photos. Or a lack of empathy for birds. Maybe you hold strong views that you feel are totally valid yet differ from the ones you perceive hereabouts. Possibly you need to see a counsellor?

Black-necked Stilt, Abaco, Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

You doubtless will be pleased to see this post (and keen to award it a single star) expecting me to mind your somewhat negative and persistent attentions. Presumably in some weird way you hope that you have got to me. I’ve been doing this for nearly 10 years and I can assure you not. I could in fact have removed my star ratings at any time, but then I’d miss your badges of honour and you’d miss your fun. If I may make a personal comment, though,  right now the least important thing in the world you could be doing is to troll a wildlife blog. When you have a tranquil moment, would you like to try to find something better to do with your time? Maybe something positive for someone else?

Credits: all gorgeous black-necked stilt photos taken by Alex on Abaco.

Black-necked Stilt, Abaco, Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS: PICTURE PERFECT ON ABACO (13)


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Treasure Cay Abaco (Becky Marvil)

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS: PICTURE PERFECT ON ABACO (13)

Polioptila caerulea PR|B|1

A delicate featherweight gnatcatcher that has characteristic full eye-rings. The long tail may
be cocked when perching, often as a territorial assertion. They are capable of hovering briefly over shrubs to feed on insects, but mostly they ‘hawk’ for insects on the wing (“Birds of Abaco”).

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley) a

Credits: Becky Marvil (1); Tom Sheley (2, 3)

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

ENDANGERED SPECIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS (2): KIRTLAND’S WARBLER


Kirtland's Warbler Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

ENDANGERED SPECIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS (2): KIRTLAND’S WARBLER

The rare Kirtland’s warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii) is rightly prized both in its very specific breeding grounds and in its winter migration locations. Abaco is fortunate to be one of these, but they are extremely difficult to find, even with local knowledge. The latest IUCN Red List assessment of numbers of adult warblers (2018) gives a figure of 4,500 – 5,000. The species is categorised as ‘near-threatened’. Numbers are gradually increasing, thanks to a major recovery plan and intensive conservation measures in areas where they nest. 

WHERE THEY LIVE

SPRING & SUMMER Mostly, the KIWA population lives and breeds in very specific areas of Michigan and Ontario, where jack pines are found. As numbers have increased, the range has expanded more widely into Wisconsin and Ohio.

A Kirtland’s Warbler in the jack pines of Michigan (Vince Cavalieri)Kirtland's Warbler, Michigan (©Vince Cavalieri)

FALL & WINTER the population migrates to the Bahamas & TCI, where they tend to choose remote scrub and coppice areas to live until the spring when they return north in April. This range map shows the extremely specialist habitat choices of these migratory birds.

Kirtland's Warbler Range Map wiki

THE MAIN THREATS TO THE SPECIES

  • Mankind is the primary threat. The breeding areas are particularly vulnerable from deforestation and clearance of the jack pines that are essential for successful nesting and breeding – and therefore the survival – of the species
  • Encroachment by development is a major concern (as with so many species everywhere)
  • KIWAs are vulnerable to nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds in the breeding areas
  • Their winter habitat is mostly in remote or protected areas, but on Abaco a proposed development in the National Park where they live will probably wipe them out, if built   
  • Overall, habitat degradation at one end of the migration – in particular the breeding grounds – poses a serious risk to the species; at both ends, extinction could loom again

Kirtland's Warbler, Ohio (Tom Sheley)

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR?

  • Gray head with a blueish tinge, gray-brown back
  • Yellow throat & underside, with some dark streaking
  • Females are paler and more streaked
  • Split eye rings – white crescents above and below eyes
  • Frequent tail pumping and bobbing

Kirtland's Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)

WHAT DO THEY SOUND LIKE?

Some say ‘chip-chip-chip-too-too-weet-weet’. Elsewhere I have found it claimed that they produce ‘a loud tchip, with song an emphatic flip lip lip-lip-lip-tip-tip CHIDIP‘ (Arnott). I’m not a big fan of phonetic spelling for bird sounds. Here’s a sample for you to assess:

 Ross Gallardy / Xeno-Canto

Kirtland's Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

WHO WAS MR KIRTLAND?

Jared Potter Kirtland (1793-1877) portrait

Jared Potter Kirtland (1793-1877)

Jared P. Kirtland (1793 – 1877) was an Ohio scholar, doctor, judge, politician & amateur naturalist. He was a man of many and varied interests and talents, not-untypical of his time. In the field of natural history, Kirtland’s name lives on in his warbler & also in a couple of snake species.

The Bahamas Postal Service is commendably active in producing wildlife stamps

Credits: Bruce Hallett (1, 5, 6); Vince Cavalieri (2); Tom Sheley (3); Tony Hepburn (4); Birds of North America (range map); Ross Gallardy / Xeno-Canto (audio file); Birdorable (cartoon); BPS (KIWA stamp). Special thanks for all use permissions for images of this rare bird.

Kirtland's Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT: PICTURE PERFECT ABACO (10)


Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT

The Bahama Yellowthroat Geothlypis rostrata  is one of 5 bird species endemic to the Bahamas. Three other endemics found on Abaco are the Bahama Woodstar, Bahama Warbler and Bahama Swallow. The fifth is the endangered Bahama Oriole, now only found in very small numbers on Andros. They once lived on Abaco, but are unrecorded there since the 1990s and are considered extirpated. You can find out more about all these endemic birds together in a nest HERE.

Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

I’m fond of these birds with their striking Zorro masks. It is one of the few species that I am able to imitate with sufficient accuracy to draw one out of the coppice. Their call is usually described as a ‘wichety-wichety‘. I realise that the talent to mimic it has no other use in life. Here’s a short recording I made – the Yellowthroat is the first and last call of the sample, with other species in between.

Photo Credits: Gerlinde Taurer (1, 2); Bruce Hallett (3,); sound recording Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco, Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

 

EASTER BUNNY: OUT STANDING IN ITS FIELD


EASTER BUNNY: OUT STANDING IN ITS FIELD

Rabbit, Dorset UK (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Well, strictly more lying down than standing I suppose, not least because it had sensed me. When I was one-and-twenty* rabbits were a-plenty… and I might have shot it with a bun gun. Then I decided that shooting with a camera was the better way forward. 

*Nod to A.E.Housman; also to my erstwhile online natural scientist friend who led an outdoorsy life and blogged as ‘Out Standing in my Field’, a self-referencing ID never bettered.

KILLDEER: PICTURE PERFECT ON ABACO (2)


KILLDEER: PICTURE PERFECT ON ABACO (2)

Killdeer, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett / Birds of Abaco)

For the time being, while things are a bit crazy, I’ll be posting single / pairs of images that in my view are so excellent that they stand alone without needing any comment from me, annoying wordplay, or musical digressions. All have been taken on Abaco Bahamas. Only some will be my own – the bar is set at a DSLR height that exceeds my camera skills. 

Credit: Bruce Hallett

ON THE WING: BLACK-NECKED STILTS, ABACO, BAHAMAS


Black-necked Stilt in flight, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

ON THE WING: BLACK-NECKED STILTS, ABACO, BAHAMAS

Black-necked stilts Himantopus mexicanus may be the most elegant shorebirds you will ever see. They are permanent residents on Abaco and not uncommon where they are found. It could be on a beach; more likely it will be in or around brackish ponds. It won’t be in the pine forest or coppice.

Black-necked Stilt in flight, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

The rather disorganised stilt flying in the header image rather undercuts my claim for elegance, I realise. The image above of the bird at full stretch against a background of waves gives a much better idea of the beauty of this species. 

Black-necked Stilt in flight, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

Gilpin Pond is a good place to see stilts, and in summer they nest around the perimeter. A word of warning: they may be aggressive in the breeding season. I got too near a nest once and the female shouted at me then flew straight at my head. I hadn’t even realised there was a nest there until this happened, so her actions rather give the game away.

Black-necked Stilt in flight, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

In common with some smaller shorebird species – for example, plovers and killdeer – the stilts have another defensive method to protect their young, a so-called ‘distraction display’. When their nest is under threat,  one of the adults will pretend to have a damaged or broken wing and so be unable to fly. It will flutter feebly along the ground, moving further and further away from the nest, diverting attention from it. It’s an amazing sight to watch the tactic in action. Check out this video to see examples of this behaviour.

Credits: all photos by Alex Hughes, one of the photographic contributors to The Birds of Abaco; video Nat Bel

CORAL REEFS AND HURRICANE DAMAGE ON ABACO BAHAMAS


Reef Corals, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

CORAL REEFS AND HURRICANE DAMAGE ON ABACO BAHAMAS

The spectacular coral reef chains of the Bahamas include the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world. Abaco’s reef system stretches from Little Harbour to beyond the northern end of the mainland, as Sandy Estabrook’s map shows. Inside the reef: the Sea of Abaco. Beyond the reef and the next landfall east: Western Sahara, south of the Canary Islands.Abaco Map Sandy Estabrook
A rainbow effect of filtered sunlight on sea fansReef Corals, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)
Since the devastation of Abaco by Hurricane Dorian last September, a number of surveys have been carried out. Some of these relate to the impact of the storm on the natural world – the damaged forest and coppice, the bird-life including the Abaco specialities, and the marine life including marine mammals, fish, and reef structures and environments.
Reef Corals, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)
A recent assessment by the Perry Institute for Marine Sciences (PIMS) in Abaco and Grand Bahama waters has been carried out on the coral reefs to determine the extent to which the vulnerable structure, ecology and environment has been damaged. Some details have just been published in the Nassau Guardian in an article by Paige McCartney. The LINK is below.
Reef Corals, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)
DAMAGE FINDINGS IN BRIEF
  • 25 – 30% of the 29 reef sites surveyed are devastated
  • factors include damage from debris, silt burial, and bleaching
  • uprooted casuarina trees were caught in the storm surge, causing damage
  • in particular, corals have been smashed and reef structure destroyed
  • there is biomass loss – basically reduced populations of fish & other organisms

Reef Corals, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

RAYS OF LIGHT
Although the reef systems of both islands have been significantly damaged, in other areas little damage was found. Moreover, in some areas the storm had washed away some types of seaweed that are harmful to the reefs. The hope is that restoration of the damaged areas can be achieved with careful management.
Reef Corals, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)
WHAT CAN BE DONE NOW?
Action towards restoration and future protection includes:
  • removal of debris and other deleterious matter (eg silt)
  • cutting back the non-native, invasive casuarinas from the shoreline
  • restoration programs (recent successes with ‘coral farming’ could be vital)
  • extending marine protected areas
  • developing a rapid response protocol to meet extreme situations

Reef Corals, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

The reports ends with some welcome news: Government departments have recently proposed putting $5 million towards a coral restoration project on Abaco, including the establishment of a and-based aquaculture facility to support coral growth in nurseries. Let’s hope that becomes a reality.

The publication of the PIMS report and its findings gives some hope of recovery for the fragile reef environment of the northern Bahamas. Other factors may reverse the optimism of course, not least the accelerating warming of the seas and the exponentially expanding pollution problem such as this, recently reported

This has been an opportunity to revisit the clear waters around Abaco where Melinda Rogers of Dive Abaco took these astonishing photos of coral on the local reefs. If the coral is destroyed or dies, this is what our children and their children will be be missing.

Click the brain coral to link to the Nassau Guardian Article

All photos, Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco; Map, Sandy Estabrook; Nassau Guardian / Paige McCartney; Perry Institute for Marine Sciences (PIMS)

Reef Corals, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

‘EGYPTIAN MUMMY’ (aka MOTHER GOOSE) & HER BROOD


Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

‘EGYPTIAN MUMMY’ (aka MOTHER GOOSE) & HER BROOD

This post has little to do with Abaco, and only a tenuous connection with the Bahamas. It is about birds, though, so I’ll justify it that way. This is today’s news and these are photos I took this morning in a park that is less than 10 minutes walk from our house. The reason? I’d heard that goslings had been seen at the small lake there, remarkably early in the year for any bird.

Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca Gosling (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

I had expected that this rumour related to the Canada geese that lord it over the smaller waterfowl (moorhens, coots, mallards, tufted ducks and so on). What I saw, as I got close to the lake, was a pair of Egyptian geese Alopochen aegyptiaca. And, true to the report, they had goslings with them. There were 10 in all and they were jointly and severally (as we lawyers say) totally adorbs and charmsy.

Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

These are birds of Africa, but – like Canada geese – have spread far and wide mainly as the result of introduction by man. The Egyptians considered them sacred and featured them in hieroglyphs. Modern man has deemed them ornamental (cf peafowl) and removed them from their home to pastures new. Geese are robust, so they adapted in their new environment with relative ease. 

Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

As with many other transferred species, birds inevitably escaped from their ‘owners’ and feral populations soon became established. In Abaco terms, this is exactly what happened with the peafowl that were brought to the ‘Different of Abaco’ fishing lodge. The birds survived its demise, lived and bred in the increasingly wild grounds, and are now many generations on.

Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

At some stage, the Egyptian goose was introduced in Florida, where it thrived. Nowadays it is not a particularly unusual bird there.  It remains one of the birds of south-east US that has never made the relatively short journey to Abaco. There are however a handful of reports from Grand Bahama, New Providence and Eleuthera, so northern Bahamas is in range.

Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

It’s probably only a matter of time before these geese turn up on Abaco. Five years ago, the first BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS were found, a flock of 6 seen several times as they progressed from Crossing Rocks north to the airport. There are still the occasional sightings of these ducks, the last about 2 weeks ago north of Marsh Harbour. The Egyptian goose is a fine bird and part of me (the part that doesn’t disapprove of avian introductions) hopes that they do occasionally undertake the journey from the flocks in Florida. 

Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

All photos: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour Abaco

That’s all, folksEgyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

BABY SPERM WHALE, ABACO, BAHAMAS: HOPE FOR A NEW DECADE


Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

BABY SPERM WHALE, ABACO, BAHAMAS

HOPE FOR A NEW DECADE 

Looking back at 2019, one of the most enjoyable posts to put together featured an adult sperm whale with a neonate calf. The wonderful photos were obtained last summer during 2 research trips in the deeper water off the south coast of Abaco by the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) It seems fitting to greet the new decade with a revised version of my original post. There’s optimism in these images, and more generally in the recovery in some areas of the savagely depleted whale populations of past decades. I’d like to think that a smiling baby whale holds out hope for the 2020s.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

These are just some of the BMMRO research team’s images and footage of the baby sperm whale investigating the underwater world it has just been born into. Hopefully it will flourish and live for decades. If it does not, the overwhelmingly likely cause will be mankind, either directly or indirectly. 

CREDITS: Brilliant close-up footage plus the clips I have taken from it – Charlotte Dunn / Diane Claridge / BMMRO. 

DONATE: If you are touched by the magic of this little Bahamas sperm whale, may I invite you to consider making a donation to BMMRO for its research and conservation work – a scientific commitment that reaches far beyond the waters of the Bahamas. The system is set up to process donations from just $10 upwards, and every cent is used to further the work of BMMRO. Please click the logo below to reach the right page directly.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

 

BRAIN WAVES: UNDERSEA CORAL MAZES & LABYRINTHS


BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

BRAIN WAVES: UNDERSEA CORAL MAZES & LABYRINTHS

The name ‘brain coral’ is essentially a no-brainer. How could you not call the creatures on this page anything else. These corals come in wide varieties of colour, shape and – well, braininess – and are divided into two main families worldwide. 

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

Each ‘brain’ is in fact a complex colony consisting of genetically similar polyps. These secrete CALCIUM CARBONATE which forms a hard carapace. This chemical compound is found in minerals, the shells of sea creatures, eggs, and even pearls. In human terms it has many industrial applications and widespread medicinal use, most familiarly in the treatment of gastric problems. 

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

The hardness of this type of coral makes it a important component of reefs throughout warm water zones world-wide. The dense protection also guarantees (or did until our generation began systematically to dismantle the earth) –  extraordinary longevity. The largest brain corals develop to a height of almost 2 meters, and are believed to be several hundred years old.

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

HOW ON EARTH DO THEY LIVE?

If you look closely at the cropped image below and other images on this page, you will see hundreds of little tentacles nestled in the trenches on the surface. These corals feed at night, deploying their tentacles to catch food. This consists of tiny creatures and their algal contents. During the day, the tentacles are retracted into the sinuous grooves. Some brain corals have developed tentacles with defensive stings. 

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

THE TRACKS LOOKS LIKE MAZES OR DO I MEAN LABYRINTHS?

Mazes, I think. The difference between mazes and labyrinths is that labyrinths have a single continuous path which leads to the centre. As long as you keep going forward, you will get there eventually. You can’t get lost. Mazes have multiple paths which branch off and will not necessarily lead to the centre. There are dead ends. Therefore, you can get lost. Check out which type of puzzle occurs on brain coral. Answer below…**

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

CREDIT: all amazing underwater brain-work thanks to Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco; Lucca Labyrinth, Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

** On the coral I got lost straight away in blind alleys. Therefore these are mazes. Here is a beautiful inscribed labyrinth dating from c12 or c13 from the porch of St Martin Cathedral in Lucca, Italy. Very beautiful but not such a challenge.

Labyrinth (Maze), Porch Lucca Cathedral (Keith Salvesen)

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD: A NEW SPECIES FOR ABACO, BAHAMAS


Yellow-headed Blackbird (R. Welker / Wiki)

YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD: A NEW SPECIES FOR ABACO, BAHAMAS

In the aftermath of the awesome (in its original meaning) power of the hurricane, Abaco is slowly rising from the remnants of its peaceful slow-paced beauty. The loss of human life, and the damage to survivors, to animals, to property and to precious possessions is unimaginable. By way of contrast, in the UK a flood that inconveniences a SUV owner in an affluent area may well make the local paper*; and possibly local TV news if the wait for a tow-truck takes an hour or so.

Yellow-headed Blackbird (Alan Vernon / Wiki)

BIRDS are providing some cheer and a welcome diversion for many islanders. On SocMed there are plenty of chats** going on daily about the parrots, emerging winter warblers, occasional shorebirds and so on. Feeders are back in use with seeds and nuts (nb please no peanuts). Photos are being taken, shared and enjoyed.

Over the last few days, red-winged blackbirds have been a visible and indeed audible presence in various settlements. Their characteristic ‘rusty gate-hinge’ call is unmistakeable, whether in the coppice or heard deep in the mangroves 4 miles off-shore from a skiff in the Marls. Let’s progress to a great discovery and a most perfect example  of ‘birds of a feather’ literally ‘flocking together’.

YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD

THE FIRST EVER SIGHTING & PHOTO ON ABACOYellow-headed Blackbird, Little Harbour Abaco (Bernard Albury)

The photograph above was taken on October 20 in Little Harbour, Abaco by Bernard Albury. A pair of red-winged blackbirds, male and female, were on the feeder in his garden. With them was a rather more colourful blackbirdy-type bird – a juvenile yellow-headed blackbird Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus. Bernard’s photo is the perfect example of how a quick shot with a phone can make all the difference between a vague description of a bird for ID (oriole? bobolink? weird warbler?), and having clear visual clues to work with.

Yellow-headed Blackbird (Tom Kerner / Wiki)

A NEW SPECIES REPORTED, YOU SAY? HOW CAN YOU POSSIBLY TELL?

The news of this exciting sighting quickly reached bird scientist Ancilleno Davis of (among many organisations) Birds Caribbean. ID was established, and the news soon spread via FB shares. This bird was a very long way east of its normal range, and I thought that it might possibly be a first for the entire Bahamas; probably a first for Abaco itself; and almost certainly the first photo of a YHBL. Then it was a question of cross-checking data in books such as Tony White’s comprehensive guide; online in specialist bird websites; and with the Bahamas bird experts such as Woody Bracey and author Bruce Hallett.

Tony White, [random], Bruce Hallett, Woody Bracey

SO WHAT’S THE ANSWER?

Simple. Bernard Albury has, in his own garden in Little Harbour, discovered the first Yellow-headed Blackbird ever recorded for Abaco. Furthermore, his photo is very probably the first-ever image (by which I mean only image) of a YHBL for the entire Bahamas. 

Yellow-headed Blackbird (Sibley)

BUT HOW CAN YOU TELL THERE HAVEN’T BEEN LOTS OF OTHERS?

The first step is to check an authoritative range map of the species in question. Audubon and Cornell are the go-to authorities for this purpose, though tbh  there’s a great deal to be said for using Wiki as a first port of call for a new bird and its details. People rarely bother to mess with the avian articles on Wiki, there’s not a lot of fun it it. For the Yellow-headed Blackbird, the sheer distance to Abaco makes a visit from one highly unlikely. The second step is to check online sightings reports uploaded to eBird by birders ranging from the enthusiastic amateur to the vastly experienced professional. For an unusual bird, the reports are invaluable in establishing relative rarity. The previous online reports for YHBL in the Bahamas were of a couple of sightings of single birds in the Freeport / West End area of Grand Bahama. These were in 2006 by bird expert Woody Bracey; and in 2012.

Map: incidence of Yellow-winged Blackbirds in Bahamas

Finally, cross-check in the most thorough bird guides of the area. In this case, Tony White included GB sightings YHBLs in his meticulous chart but none for Abaco. No other authority – Bruce Hallett for example – has noted a sighting report for Abaco; Woody also believes this to be a first, and he should know, having found the first ever Bahamas one in 2006.

I KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR NOW, WHAT DO THEY SOUND LIKE?

First, here’s the familiar call of a red-winged blackbird

Here are two examples of the much harsher call of the YHBL, described variously as “the worst song of any North American bird, a hoarse, harsh scraping”; and “an awful sounding raspy whine”.

Yellow-headed Blackbird (Dan Hackley Cornell / eBird)

Sample Headline* – ‘Deluge Ordeal “intolerable” says Local Financier’

Chats** – where the standard disclaimer ‘no pun intended’ would be wrong

Audubon's Blackbirds

CREDITS: First and foremost to Bernard Albury, but for whom… and Ancilleno Davis for his ID and initial shares; generally: Audubon, Cornell, eBird, Merlin, Xeno-Canto, Bird guys.

Images: R. Welker, Alan Vernon, Birdorable (cartoon), Bernard Albury, Tom Kerner, Sibley’s Guide online; Dan Hackley / Cornell / eBird, JJ Audubon, Brian Sullivan / Cornell / Macaulay Library

Sounds: Jim Berry, Xeno-Canto; Ted Floyd, Xeno-Canto

Yellow-headed Blackbird (ALLABOUTBIRDS CORNELL© Brian Sullivan / Macaulay Library )

ABACO BAHAMAS POST-DORIAN: HOPE & THE ICONIC PARROTS


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Craig Nash)

ABACO BAHAMAS POST-DORIAN: HOPE & THE ICONIC PARROTS

As the intensive Hurricane Dorian relief operation continues on a devastated Abaco, the extent of the destructive power of the huge storm is all too evident. Gradually restored communications and the availability of social media have circulated far and wide the awful photos and aerial views of the smashed island, and the tragic stories of loss and desolation. Accounts of astonishing courage, determination and generosity are for all to see. And, nearly 4 weeks later, we have early signs of recovery and grounds for hope in a stricken land.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Caroline Stahala Walker)

For the last 10 days or so, inquiries about Abaco’s birds and other wildlife have begun and are increasing daily. I take this as a sign that people are at last able to look slightly beyond the immediate horrors of the storm to the brighter horizon of the future. The iconic parrots are the principle concern, and finally – finally – I have some good news to bring. Here it is, in all its glory.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas post hurricane Dorian (Tara Lavallee)

I have been waiting anxiously to pick up the first reports of parrot sightings – or even of their raucous squawks. This iPhone photo was taken yesterday at Bahama Palm Shores by Tara Lavallee. You are looking at the first photograph of the parrots since the end of last month. This pair were apparently wary and jumpy – quite unlike the unselfconscious rowdy birds with which we are so familiar. There was a sighting near Casuarina, too. It looks as though the parrots are returning.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Caroline Stahala Walker)

WHERE HAVE THE PARROTS BEEN IN THE MEANTIME?

The parrots live and breed in the Abaco National Park right down in the south of the island. This is a vast area of pine forest that gives way to scrubland as it nears the coast. The assumption is that the approaching storm will have driven the parrots deep into the forest where, happily, they will have been some distance away from the destructive path of the hurricane. Many creatures can sense the approach of bad weather from changes in the air around them. This may trigger an instinct to head for home some time before the threat arrives. 

ONCE THEY GET THERE, WHAT DO THEY DO?

They lie low. The parrots have an additional and most unusual way to stay safe. They can avoid the dangers of adverse weather and even forest fires because they live and nest underground in limestone caves deep in the National Park.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Caroline Stahala Walker)

HOW RARE IS THAT?

The Abaco parrot (as opposed to its tree-nesting cousins in Inagua and in small numbers in Nassau) is unique in this respect, certainly in the northern hemisphere. There are half-a-dozen mostly inter-related species in the Antipodes that nest underground, but that is all. Even if the caves get flooded, limestone is a permeable rock and water will dissipate. And as for fires, the holes are deep enough for the flames to pass over them. Tree-dwellers are far more vulnerable.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Caroline Stahala Walker)

DOES THIS MEAN THE PARROTS ARE ALL SAFE?

It’s much too early to judge, because there is another vital component in their survival: the availability and sufficiency of suitable food. This is the factor that most worries those concerned with the parrots’ welfare – the BNT, the scientists and naturalists who helped to bring the species back from the edge of extinction, and organisations further afield such as Birds Caribbean. So it’s a question now of where they will find to feed; and beyond that, how they respond if they find their usual feeding haunts trashed. 

Feeding on Gumbo Limbo berries, a favourite snackAbaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

SIGHTING REPORTS

The signs are that the parrots are now emerging and looking for food. With luck their presence will become more noticeable. This is an important moment for collecting stats. They will help research into the effect of Dorian on the population including the wellbeing of the birds, their flocking behaviour, and the locations they now find to their liking. The fact that parrots have been seen at BPS, the parrot hotspot, is encouraging. 

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (from a photo by Craig Nash))

If anyone sees or even hears parrots over the next couple of weeks I’d welcome a report either directly or indirectly. The most helpful details are date, time, location and approx numbers (1, pair, a few, lots). Beyond that, behaviour notes are of interest – feeding, chattering, hanging round, being unsettled and so on. A photo is always a bonus, even a phone one. 

Parrot Crossing sign Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Do not doubt the resilience of these beautiful birds. Now that the threat of extinction has been removed through skilled  conservation, management and predator control, they will win through. If you doubt it, just look at this image below. It shows a nest in the immediate aftermath of hurricane Irene, with its occupant safe and sound as the parents forage for food and parrot scientist Caroline nips in with her camera.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Caroline Stahala Walker)

Credits: Craig Nash (1, 9); Caroline Stahala Walker (2, 4, 6, 7, 11); Tara Lavallee (3); Keith Salvesen (5, 10); Gerlinde Taurer (8); Melissa Maura (12)

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Melissa Maura)

HIDDEN DEPTHS: LIFE ON ABACO’S CORAL REEFS


Reef Coral Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco)

HIDDEN DEPTHS: LIFE ON ABACO’S CORAL REEFS

Nearly 4 weeks after the devastation of Hurricane Dorian, the island and its cays are beginning to emerge gradually from the wreckage and the desolation. The extent of the disaster on the ground is clear, not least from the aerial photos – first drone, then plane, and now Google – of ‘before’ and ‘after’. 

Reef Coral Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco)Reef Coral Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco)

At the stage, it isn’t possible to determine the extent to which the underwater world has been affected. The storm surge was huge and the waves were savage. The progress of the storm was slow (and it went on to stall over equally damaged Grand Bahama). Who knows the effect on the corals and other reef life for which Abaco is renowned.

Reef Coral Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco) Reef Coral Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco)

This pictorial post is a reminder of how things were below the surface of Abaco waters before Dorian struck. If it lifts spirits to any degree, I shall be glad.

Reef Coral Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco) Reef Coral Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco)

All these photos are by Melinda Rodgers who, with Capt Keith, are DIVE ABACO. Many will know how badly they have fared, being in the heart of Marsh Harbour. We wish them a speedy return to the wonderful enterprise they have run for many years. I’m pleased to be able to show the beauty of the reefs in happier times from their archive.

Reef Coral Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco)Reef Coral Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco)

Credits: Melinda Rodgers /  Dive Abaco

Reef Coral Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco)

‘THE BIRDS OF ABACO’: HURRICANE DORIAN RELIEF


Abaco (Bahama) Parrot - Melissa Maura

‘THE BIRDS OF ABACO’: HURRICANE DORIAN RELIEF

ABACO, BAHAMAS has been all but destroyed by Hurricane Dorian. The horrendous scale of the disaster in human terms alone is only now becoming clear as the days pass and new tragedies are revealed. Many established relief funds – international, national and local – are being very generously supported for the benefit of those who have suffered so grievously. I am adding to the number through my specific link to Abaco and its wildlife.

Black-necked Stilt, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

GO FUND ME BIRDS

For obvious reasons, the GFM page (in edited form here) has a rather more formal , explicatory tone than I would usually use.

Sally and I were founder members of the Delphi Club, Abaco and retain strong connections with the island and the community. I run a conservation program for rare migratory plovers that overwinter on Abaco; and I am involved with BMMRO & its marine mammal research.



‘THE BIRDS OF ABACO’, of which I am the author, was published in 2014. The book was designed by Sally and published by Peter Mantle / The Delphi club. By the end of last year the edition had sold out, and all planned educational donations to schools, libraries and relevant organisations had been completed. 

Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)
However, I have a couple of dozen books left in the UK.  Through this fundraiser, I am offering a copy of the book in exchange for a donation of $150 (or the equivalent). The resulting fund (minus the cost of fulfilment from the UK) will be added to the funds achieved by the Delphi Club through their DORIAN RELIEF FUND .

A higher donation is of course encouraged; and please note, it is not compulsory to receive a bird book.  Smaller donations are extremely welcome too, and for those of $50+ I will offer the donors a high-res PDF of a bird of their choice from a selection of several significant species found on Abaco; or a PDF of the complete bird species checklist for Abaco. That’s voluntary too.

Cuban Pewee, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)


The original price of this large photographic book was $145. It showcases the wonderful birds of Abaco with contributions from 30 photographers. Almost all are either residents of Abaco, or have strong connections with – and affection for – the island and its cays. 

The books can be sent to Bahamas, USA, Canada and Europe. For any other destination, please contact me before you make a donation. Books will not be dispatched before October.

Reddish Egret, breeding colours - Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)
Please note that the Delphi Club does not have a stock of books and is not directly involved with this fundraiser. Please contact me with any inquiries, even though the Club details are shown on the pre-publication flyer below.

Keith Salvesen

Rolling Harbour Abaco

Photo Credits: Melissa Maura – Abaco Parrot (1); Alex Hughes – Black-necked Stilt (2); Sally Salvesen – book jacket (3); Tom Sheley – Olive-capped Warbler (4); Keith Salvesen – Cuban Pewee; Reddish Egret in breeding plumage (5, 6)