RUFF & READY: YET ANOTHER BIRD FIRST FOR ABACO


Ruff, Grand Bahama, Bahamas (2015) Duncan Mullis

THE FIRST RUFF IN THE BAHAMAS

RUFF & READY: YET ANOTHER BIRD FIRST FOR ABACO

The list of new bird species recorded for the Bahamas in general and Abaco in particular continues to grow longer. At the end of August it was a CANADA WARBLER (now also recently seen on Grand Bahama and possibly New Providence). Now, a mere 4 weeks later, it’s a Ruff (Calidris pugnax), a mid-sized Eurasian shorebird that, it seems, has a tendency to ‘vagrate’ across the Atlantic from time to time.

Ruffs: the normal range

Ruff, (N. America) Dick Daniels

You have to take new birds as you find them, of course. First, you may not have a camera with you to record the sighting for posterity. Secondly, the bird may not be perched prettily on a twig or a small rock. In this instance the legendary Woody Bracey found his Ruff in the prosaic and arguably unattractive setting of the Treasure Cay dump. He didn’t have a camera, and when he next went back with a camera to check for the bird the ruff had gone…

Ruff (m, non-breeding) J.M.Garg

Woody’s bird, a female (known as a Reeve), was standing next to a Lesser Yellowlegs. They are much the same height, but there the similarity ends – Ruffs are unmistakably plumper and with a shorter bill. Woody has good reason to recognise these rare and occasional transatlantic visitors, having often seen Ruffs both during his time living in the UK, and also in Africa. I’ve seen the appearance described as “like a gravy-boat”, which is well up there with the least useful descriptions of a bird’s appearance I have come across. Looked at another way, we have a couple of gravy boats that have an occasional outing. Neither looks remotely like a ruff.

Ruff (Old Print) nederlandsche_vogelen wiki

IS THE ABACO RUFF A NEW SPECIES FOR THE WHOLE BAHAMAS?

Very nearly… but not quite. Only two previous Ruff sightings are recorded, in 2015 and 2018, and both in the same area on Grand Bahama, towards West End. And the only photo is from birder Duncan Mullis, who in 2015 took the first and maybe only one of a Reeve with a bunch of much smaller sanderlings (see also header image close-up).

The first ruff in the BahamasRuff - Grand Bahama, Bahamas (Duncan Mullis 2015)

WHAT SHOULD WE KNOW ABOUT RUFFS?

In the breeding season in particular, male ruffs are very different from the smaller reeves. They acquire a spectacular colourful plumage that includes a sort of ornamental collar (hence the name). They enhance their courtship rituals with elaborate displays designed to impress the reeves. These occur in chosen areas known as leks, places where strutting, preening and general competitive showing off occur to attract a mate. Such arenas are also created by a few other bird species – grouse, blackcock and peafowl, for example. The ruff’s lekking behaviour has some complex variations – including same-sex ‘copulation’ and polyandry – but sadly this isn’t the place to explore them in detail.

WHAT DOES A LEK LOOK LIKE?

Here are two males with very different breeding plumages, giving it their all at the lek… When Carl Linnaeus described the ruff in his Systema Naturae, he gave it the binomial name Tringa pugnax, the latter word meaning  ‘aggressive’ – the lek can also become a combat zone between competing males.

Ruff Lek (Arjan Haverkamp) wiki

This male has decided to vogue it and ‘strike the pose’ as it preensRuff - male preening (B.S.Thurner-hof, wiki)

Writing in The Spruce, a new multi-interest resource I discovered in researching this article, Melissa Mayntz describes succinctly some of the common behaviour seen at leks. This includes some (or all) of the following (baby-boomers and dad-dancers may recognise some of these moves):

  • Bowing, dipping, or bending
  • Head bobbing or quick turns and nods
  • Strutting, stomping, kicks, or similar footwork
  • Exaggerated wing postures, such as fluttering, drooping, or spreading wings
  • Tails fanned, flared, cocked, or spread
  • Chests puffed out, often to reveal air sacs or distinct plumage
  • Calling, songs, drumming, or booming sounds
  • Dance-like sequences with multiple movements, possibly coordinated between partners after a female shows an interest in a specific mate

To which I’d add aggressive male territorial rivalry within the lek, leading to physical attacks with beak, claws and wings. Meanwhile the females watch from the edge to assess their chosen mates. The illustration below shows this rather charmingly.

Illustration of a lek by Johann Friedrich Naumann (1780–1857)Ruff Lek - Johannes Naumann

There’s a lot to be described about how ruff’s moult, but it’s not especially interesting for anyone but a moult specialist, so instead you can have a reminder of Ogden Nash’s last word on the topic: ‘The song of canaries / Never varies / And when they are moulting / They are pretty revolting…’ And we’ll leave migration as well, since basically that factor is N/A for our particular part of the world.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
JUST OUT OF CURIOSITY, CAN YOU EAT RUFFS / REEVES?
In former times ruffs were considered a delicacy and were eaten in large numbers. Often they would be fattened in pens in preparation for the table. I’ll finish with an old description: 
…if expedition is required, sugar is added, which will make them in a fortnight’s time a lump of fat: they then sell for two shillings or half-a-crown a piece… The method of killing them is by cutting off their head with a pair of ‘scissars’, the quantity of blood that issues is very great, considering the size of the bird. They are dressed like the Woodcock, with their intestines; and, when killed at the critical time, say the Epicures, are reckoned the most delicious of all morsels. Not a 21st century culinary trend I hope…

Ruffs in India (J. M. Garg)

Credits: Woody Bracey (sighting smarts); Duncan Mullis (1, 5); Dick Daniels (2); J.M.Garg (3, 9); Open Source / Wiki, prints (4, 8);  Arjan Haverkamp (6); B.S.Thurner-hof (7); Melissa Mayntz / The Spruce re Leks; debt to Wiki (and other O/S) for source material, photos, range map etc

PLOVER SKILLS: A GOOD ‘SPOT’ BY MRS RH


Little Ringer Plover, Normandy France (Keith Salvesen - crop)

PLOVER SKILLS: A GOOD ‘SPOT’ BY MRS RH

Still in France, il still fait beau etc, “le wee-fee” still a crockful of merde so picture posts not really possible. But there is a good ‘spot’ to report. Annoyingly (only slightly), not my own sighting but thanks to Mrs RH’s increasingly astute bird smarts on a stretch of the Seine estuary. Somewhere amidst the stones, sand, and puddles she noticed a tiny movement. And then expertly pointed out the mover by reference to a small pool and a larger pale rock. It was at least 100 feet away, a distance that I’d normally need an energetic egret to get my attention. But through the viewfinder I could just make out a tiny bird of ploverish appearance. Having downloaded my speculative distance shots taken for ID purposes, the bird turns out to be a Little Ringed Plover. Here is my sighting ID photo of the header crop showing more of the available view. Good ‘spot’ indeed!

Little Ringer Plover, Normandy France (Keith Salvesen)

Normal service resumes next week – unless we decide to stay here, which would be delightful though not exactly convenient or practical…

Photo credit: a joint effort I think…

“GOOD (GOOD GOOD GOOD) MIGRATIONS…”


Prairie Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

Prairie Warbler, Abaco

“GOOD (GOOD GOOD GOOD) MIGRATIONS…”

Just like the Beach Boys who like to ‘Get Around…’, so do birds. It gives them excitations. Me too. We have ended up in France, not so much migratory as ‘occasional rare visitors’ and anyway not as vagrants. The habitat is wonderful, the foraging is excellent, but the wi-fi is a crockful of merde.

PALM WARBLERPalm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Images take an age to upload so I am taking emergency measures. Today, it’s going to be a quick look at 4 common winter warblers you can easily find on Abaco. Then I’m back to the vin.

BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERBlack-and-White Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

If you’d like to know more about Abaco’s 37 warbler species (not including the very recent discovery of a Canada Warbler) click on this PDF and all shall be revealed.

AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO ABACO’S WARBLERS

YELLOW-THROATED WARBLERYellow-throated Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Becky Marvil)

Au revoir for the time being…

Photo credits: Gerlinde Taurer, Nina Henry, Bruce Hallet, Becky Marvil; Warbler Guide PDF © Rolling Harbour Megacorp Int.

COOTS FIGHTING & THE CARIBBEAN COOT DEFEATED


Coots Fighting (Phil Lanoue)

COOTS FIGHTING & THE CARIBBEAN COOT DEFEATED

These coot fight images are from Phil Lanoue, whom I have featured before. He is a master of bird sequences, magicking a whole avian story or drama in a few clear, sharp photos. These types of image are well beyond my skills and my camera limitations. Here are 2 males battling over a female which, by the final aggressive image in which dominance is asserted, has disappeared for the picture…

Coots Fighting (Phil Lanoue)Coots Fighting (Phil Lanoue)Coots Fighting (Phil Lanoue)

The other battle in Coot World occurred in 2016 when the endemic Caribbean Coot (formerly Fulica caribaea) was defeated by the combined forces of the American Coot (Fulica americana) and the all-powerful AOU, official arbiter of bird categorisation. They are now joined as a single species, the differences between the two types being considered insufficient to warrant separate species status. The familiar American version looks like this (note the red area on the shield above the beak):

American Coot - Bahamas - Great Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

The ex-Caribbean Coot, has white frontal shield that extends to the top of the head. When I was compiling ‘Birds of Abaco‘ in 2013, there was already a question mark over the separate species status, with many regarding it as a sub-species of the American Coot. I wrote: There is an intriguing debate, a small book in itself, about the existence as a distinct species of the Caribbean Coot, with its white frontal shield. Many field guides include it separately, some with the rider that it is ‘unrecorded in the Bahamas’. The Bahamas Bird Records Committee does not recognise it, and Hallett, among other experts, views it simply as an American Coot variant. The image below of the two coots together is included to illustrate the visible difference between the birds. The genetic debate is fortunately outside the scope of this book”. That said, I pigheadedly went ahead and included it as a separate species anyway… 

An ex-Caribbean coot, with its white frontal shield.  Since 2016, just another coot'Caribbean' (now American' Coot - white frontal shield - Abaco, Bahamas. Woody Bracey

The research that led to the reclassification was based on the fact that breeding biology suggests that different species favour their own species for breeding. Research by Douglas McNair and Carol Cramer-Burke indicated that there is little or no ‘reproductive isolation’ of the sort to be expected in different species. The coots had no particular preference in their choice of mate. Also, they sound alike.

American Coot (Keith Salvesen)

RELATED POSTS

COOT AND GALLINULE  FEET: THE (BIG) DIFFERENCES

HOW THE MOORHEN (= GALLINULE) GOT ITS NAME

American Coot.Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Credits: Phil Lanoue (1 – 4); Gerlinde Taurer (5); Woody Bracey (6); Keith Salvesen (7); Tom Sheley (8). Research inc. eBird Caribbean – an excellent resource to check out

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY – ABACO’S 33 SPECIES (1): LARGER BIRDS


Whimbrel numenius phaeopus (Andreas Trepte / wiki)

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY – ABACO’S 33 SPECIES (1)

LARGER BIRDS

Today, September 6th, is World Shorebirds Day. Every year, a Shorebird of the Year is selected by the organisers of this global event, and this year they have gone ‘large’. Perhaps in response to the declining populations of curlew species, they have chosen a fine representative – the whimbrel. Inconveniently – and although the whimbrel is a worldwide species – it is extremely rare on Abaco. In the definitive Abaco Checklist (see below), it is coded a TR4, i.e. a very uncommon transient with a handful of sporadic reports. Until last year, sightings were very few and far between. Then suddenly last autumn, they made a small migratory comeback. You can read about it HERE.

BLACK-NECKED STILT  Himantopus mexicanus  PR B 3Black-necked Stilt, Abaco - Tom Sheley Black-necked stilt, Abaco - Alex Hughes

Abaco is home to 33 shorebird species. Like the human residents of the main island and cays, some are permanent; some are winter residents arriving from the north to enjoy a warmer climate; and some are transients – visitors that pass through a couple of times a year on their way from and to their nesting habitats. 

CHECKLIST OF ALL 33 SHOREBIRDS

The definitive checklist of Abaco’s birds was compiled especially for the BIRDS OF ABACO by Bahamas Birding author and authority, the late and much missed Tony White, with Abaco’s bird expert Elwood Bracey. Below is the shorebird list, with a photographic selection of the larger and/or longer-billed shorebirds in checklist order. Yes, including an Abaco whimbrel.

The codes will tell you, for any particular bird, when you may see it (P = permanent, WR = winter resident, TR = transient, V = vagrant); whether it breeds (B) on Abaco; and your chance of seeing it, graded from easy (1) to vanishingly unlikely (5).

AMERICAN AVOCET Recurvirostra americana   WR 4
American Avocet, New Providence - Tony Hepburn

AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER  Haematopus palliatus PR B 2American Oystercatcher, Abaco 5.1 Tom Sheley

GREATER YELLOWLEGS  Tringa melanoleuca   WR 2Greater Yellowlegs LR. Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley.2.12 copy 2

LESSER YELLOWLEGS  Tringa flavipes  WR 3Lesser Yellowlegs.Evening on the Marls.Abaco Bahamas.2.13.Tom Sheley small2

WHIMBREL Numenius phaeopus TR4 (an Abaco one)

HUDSONIAN GODWIT Limosa haemastica [V5]

Like the whimbrel, this bird is another special bird to be able to include. Until last October, it was categorised as a V5, meaning that one or perhaps 2 vagrants had ever been seen on Abaco. Then one appeared on a pond and was spotted by Woody Bracey and, a few days later, by Keith Kemp – who even took confirmatory photos. You can read the story HERE.
Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Stewart Neilson)

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER  Limnodromus griseus  WR 1Short-billed Dowitcher (NB), Abaco - Bruce Hallett 

LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER  Limnodromus scolopaceus   WR 4Long-billed Dowitcher Mike Baird Wiki

WILLETT  Tringa semipalmata  PR B 2Willet.Abaco Bahamas.2.13.Tom Sheley small

WILSON’S SNIPE  Gallinago delicata   WR 3Wilson's Snipe, Abaco - Woody Bracey

RELATED POSTS

WHIMBREL

WILLET

BLACK-NECKED STILT

AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER

HUDSONIAN GODWIT

YELLOWLEGS

DOWITCHERS

Photo Credits: Andreas Trepte / Wiki (1);Tom Sheley (2, 5, 6, 7, 13); Alex Hughes (3);Tony Hepburn (4); Charmaine Albury (8, 9); Stewart Neilson / Wiki (10); Bruce Hallett (11); Mike Baird / Wiki (12); Woody Bracey (14)

FORAYS WITH MORAYS (4): THE GOLDENTAIL


Goldentail Moray Eel (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

FORAYS WITH MORAYS (4): THE GOLDENTAIL

The Goldentail Moray Eel Gymnothorax miliaris is one of the half-dozen moray species found in Bahamas waters. Adults range in length from about 1.5 to 2.5 feet, and they are creatures of the reefs and rocks of the western Atlantic. As far as I can make out, the goldentails are rather less common than green or spotted morays, the two main eel species of the Bahamas.

Goldentail Moray Eel (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

Like their moray cousins, goldentails likes to keep themselves to themselves, and lead largely solitary lives. That said, sometimes they have been observed hunting in a group. They live in holes, clefts, and caverns which they leave both during the day and at night to hunt for prey along the reefs, aided by an acute sense of smell. Their diet is mainly of crustaceans, mollusks, and small fishes. 

goldentail-moray-eel-istock-getty-images-2

ARE GOLDENTAILS DANGEROUS?

Like many other eels, goldentails secrete a protective mucus that contains a toxin, making them unattractive prey for large predators such a groupers and barracudas. They are also associated with ciguatera poisoning, the active ingredients of which are found in the mucus coating. They are sometimes found in aquariums – the associated sites give a warning of painful bites, because they have backwards-pointing teeth (aka prey traps) – see header image for a clear view of this.

Goldentail Moray Eel (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)
 
CAN YOU EAT THESE FISH?

Well I wondered that too, so I checked. The answer seems to be yes, if you real really want to. Comments on forums include:

  • “Yes they are edible, I just ate one few weeks ago. Some parts are little bony and skinning it is a bitch. But the meat is very soft and white, delicious. Deep fry works”. 
  • “After eating our moray eel something changed. The next morning, we were decidedly feeling ill. I won’t get into the details, but let’s just say that “gastrointestinal effects”
  • “…symptoms (of ciguatera) include gastronomic effects, and neurological effects which include headaches, numbness, paresthesia, muscle ache, and even hallucinations”.
  • “Before you can eat one you have to kill it. They are amazingly hard to kill. I would skip it.”
  • “I would rather eat a shoe”

So I’ll be moving straight on to the next course, please. Or just a Kalik would do, thanks.

goldentail-moray-eel-istock-getty-images-3

RELATED POSTS

SPOTTED MORAY EELS

GREEN MORAY EELS

goldentail-moray-eel-istock-getty-images-1.

Credits: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba (1, 2, 4); iStock / Getty Images (3, 5, 6)

 

 

 

 

CANADA WARBLER: A NEW BIRD FOR ABACO & BAHAMAS


Canada Warbler Cardellina canadensis - Abaco Bahamas (1st record) - Christopher Johnson

The first Canada Warbler recorded for Abaco AND Bahamas (Christopher Johnson)

CANADA WARBLER: A NEW BIRD FOR ABACO & BAHAMAS

As reliable as seasonal clockwork, the migratory warblers are swarming south from their summer breeding grounds to warmer climes for the winter. In the case of Abaco, this amounts to 32 warbler species to add to the 5 resident breeding species (Bahama Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Olive-capped Warbler, Pine Warbler & Bahama Warbler. 37 warblers in total.

Abaco's 37 warbler species - permanent residents (Keith Salvesen)

Well, now make that 38. On August 28th, young birder Christopher Johnson was out with well-known birding sage Woody Bracey when he saw something small and yellow hopping about in the coppice. On closer examination – and he took the photos to prove it – it was not just one of the many familiar yellowy winter warblers, but a completely new species recorded for Abaco and (more significantly) the entire Bahamas. It was a Canada Warbler, Cardellina canadensis (Linn. 1766) aka Wilsonia canadensis.

Canada Warbler Cardellina canadensis - Abaco Bahamas (1st record) - Christopher Johnson

The photo above is one of 3 that Christopher managed to take. In many respects it is typical of a field photograph: a small bird, at a distance, zero’d into focus through a small gap in the leaves and branches of thick coppice. Sharp bird, blurry surroundings. The trick is not to end up with a wonderful clear shot of a green leaf on its twig, with a small yellow blur in the background. (I perfected this ill-advised technique with my only photo of a Kirtland’s warbler).

Canada Warbler - Birdorable

WHERE WAS THIS BIRD DISCOVERED?

One of the features of the excellent birding to be found on Abaco is that some of it can be carried out in unexpected places. Town dumps are a classic example, though photos have to be taken with care to avoid unsightly rubbish-based settings. The Abaco Big Bird Poultry Farm area is another. This little bird was found there.

Abaco Map - Little Harbour / Marsh Harbour / Bird Site (KS)Canada Warbler Cardellina canadensis - Abaco Bahamas (1st record) - Christopher Johnson

Canada Warbler - Birdorable

SO WHERE WOULD IT NORMALLY BE FOUND? 

In summer, roughly 80% of CAWAs live and breed in Canada; 20% in the northern US. They spend a relatively short summer there. In the early Fall they fly down to South America. From the range map below, it looks as though their flight path would naturally take them right over the Bahamas to get to their destination. In fact, their journey is quite different. Following the central ‘bend’ of the Americas, they fly at night along a southwesterly route to the Texas coast, then on to southern Mexico and beyond.

I suspect that, as with many migratory birds, the occasional specimen takes a wrong turn on its route south, or is blown off-course by a storm. Maybe a few such vagrants pass through further east – even over the Bahamas perhaps – each year, as ‘vagrants’. But in reality their tiny size in the dense foliage of the land masses means that only a fluke sighting could result. So Christopher’s sighting will be recorded as a V5 – a vanishingly rare vagrant with only a single sighting (cf Abaco’s BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS).

canada-warbler-f-emmett-hume-wiki1

Canada Warbler - Birdorable

Q. DO MALES & FEMALES LOOK MUCH THE SAME? A. NO

Based on the Macaulay Library pictures below, the Abaco CAWA must be a female or an immature male. In comparing photos of this species (which I had never come across before) I have noticed one thing. The yellow lore (the area between the base of the beak and the eye) extends to include the top of the bird’s otherwise white eye-ring. This is found in both the male and the female. Now I need to check other eye-ringed species to see if this feature is a unique identifier or not…

Canada Warbler - Birdorable

WHAT DO I LISTEN FOR (JUST IN CASE…)?

The two sounds to listen for are the chirpy scrap of song and the ‘chip’ call.

WHAT IS THE CAWA’S CONSERVATION STATUS?

The CAWA is IUCN-listed as being of ‘least concern’. That of course is very far from saying it is of no concern at all. Surveys are already showing a gradual population decline in the breeding grounds. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has assessed the CAWA as ‘threatened’. Dull as it is to keep repeating the point, this species like most others faces all the usual threats to its existence, mostly man-made and during my lifetime…

  • Deforestation, habitat destruction and intrusion, development etc etc
  • Problems arising from acid rain and pollution
  • The uncontrolled spread of the tree-destroying woolly adelgid, an import from Asia
  • Oh, and all those damn deer browsing the understory a bit. Blame them!

Canada Warbler - Birdorable

ARE THERE ANY FUN FACTS ABOUT THIS BIRD?

Well, confusion about its name, maybe, though that’s more ‘interesting’ than ‘fun’, I think. In 1760, a French zoologist named Brisson gave a name to a warbler specimen from Canada. It was “Le gobe-mouche cendré de Canada”, ie ‘The Canadian Ash-gray Flycatcher’. Because he needed a conventional Latin name for the bird, he put together the name Muscicapa Canadensis Cinerea. This did not fit in with the binomial system of taxonomy (nor was it a very good description of the bird), and the name was accordingly rejected by the wonderfully named International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. Linnaeus (to cut a longer story short) sorted it all out in his next edition of Systema Naturae in 1766, with the binomial name Muscicapa canadensis. In due course the genus Muscicapa was changed to Cardellina. 

THAT WASN’T A WHOLE LOT OF FUN. IS THERE MORE?

Well, there were more naming shenanigans when John James Audubon illustrated a female Canada warbler in Birds of America nearly a century later. Plate 73 (below) was entitled “Bonaparte’s Flycatching-Warbler—Muscicapa bonapartii.” He’d slipped in the name of ornithologist (and nephew of the more famous Emperor) CHARLES BONAPARTE, he of the BONAPARTE’S GULL. This version did not stick. However the CAWA acquired another ‘tribute’ name, an alternative that is still in use: Wilsonia canadensis. This tip of the hat is to another ornithologist ALEXANDER WILSON, of Wilson’s Plover fame. 

Canada Warbler / Bonaparte's Flycatching Warbler (J J Audubon)

canada-warbler-m-william-h-majoros-wiki

Photo Credits: Christopher Johnson (1, 2, 3); Emmet Hume / Wiki (4); Male / Female CAWAs, David Turgeon & Bob Edelen, Macaulay Library; Audubon Plate 73, OS; William H Majoros / Wiki. Sound Files, Ian Davies & Andrew Spencer / Xeno-Canto; Abaco Resident Warbler Chart, Keith Salvesen;, Cartoon by Birdorable; Range Map, Cornell U.