LEUCOPHAEUS ATRICILLA: LAUGHING STOCK ON ABACO
Photos & vid, Keith Salvesen; Joke, most people on Earth (though not with illustrative pics)
Photos & vid, Keith Salvesen; Joke, most people on Earth (though not with illustrative pics)
HOW TYRANT FLYCATCHERS GOT THEIR NAME (feat. Myr’s artwork & RH photos…)
Happy Draw a Bird Day! To celebrate, I present, my first tyrant flycatcher drawing!
The Cuban Pewee, or Crescent-eyed Pewee, Contopus caribaeus, resides in Cuba and The Bahamas, and is occasionally sighted on the southeast coast of Florida. Keith Salvesen recently posted some lovely photos on his blog Rolling Harbour Abaco and he was cool with me using them for a Cuban Pewee drawing adventure.
I’m pleased that the bird in my drawing looks sweet-as-can-be and has a beautiful eye, and I like the colours and patterns of the branches and background. However, I’m not jazzed about the streakiness of the feathers. Hoping for more gentle feathery textures and easier control of varying grey shades, I grabbed 2H and HB graphite pencils and a kneaded eraser. I chose a different photo because that open bill is just marvellous! Clearly, Keith and the Cuban Pewees are good friends.
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There are 37 warbler species recorded for Abaco. They fall into three distinct categories. Surprisingly perhaps, only 5 species are permanently resident on Abaco, ie non-migratory. Then there are warblers that commute from the breeding grounds of North America to warmer climes in the Fall, returning in the Spring to breed. Some will be familiar – PALM WARBLER, AMERICAN REDSTART, BLACK-AND -WHITE WARBLER. Others, like the HOODED WARBLER, are less common. One or two are very rare indeed, such as the KIRTLAND’S WARBLERS that choose Abaco as a winter destination. Finally there are the so-called transients, warbler species that use the northern Bahamas as a stopover during their longer migratory flights, such as the BLACKPOLL WARBLER.
The 5 permanent residents obviously don’t migrate, so there is a chance to find them throughout the year. The pine forests would generally be the best place to start the quest. Importantly, 2 of the 5 species are endemic birds to the Bahamas and can be found nowhere else: BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT and BAHAMA WARBLER. The latter and the OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLER, are very range-restricted, and only found on Abaco and Grand Bahama.
PHOTO CREDITS Bruce Hallett (1, 3, 5, 8, 11); Gerlinde Taurer (2); Tom Sheley (4, 6, 7); Tom Reed (9); Alex Hughes (10, 11)
CHECKLIST CODES based on the complete checklist and codes for Abaco devised by Tony White with Woody Bracey for “THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO” by Keith Salvesen
By the end of day 2 during my recent stay at Sandy Point, I thought that I had had just about enough of the laughing gulls Leucophaeus atricilla. They are delightful of course, and (in small doses) a joy to listen to. But their incessant outbursts of humour were getting beyond a joke.
The next day, on the nearby jetty, the gulls were in full cry. A lone brown pelican stood on top of a piling, looking out to sea. A few Royal Terns turned their faces, characteristically, into the light wind. I wandered over and slowly walked down the jetty. This generated some laughter, but the birds were quite content to watch me edge slowly towards them.
Probably, the gulls feel safety in numbers. Maybe they hope the din will send you away. Or perhaps, if approached very carefully, they are simply curious. I got close to the birds, and one in particular caught my eye. It was plainly having a bad-feather day. I took it to be a non-breeding adult, but it lacked the white spots on the tail-feathers (primaries). Maybe it was a first winter juvenile. Whichever, it was happy to pose for me.
I realised, of course, that the jetty belonged to the birds, including the ruddy turnstones that had just joined the gang at the end of the jetty. I was the intruder in their world, and I had willingly visited their territory. So their racket was entirely their business, and absolutely none of mine**.
WHAT DO LAUGHING GULLS SOUND LIKE? ARE YOU OVERSENSITIVE?
I made a couple of short recordings of the gulls in full humour mode. If you have never heard them before, you might want to listen to the full 30 seconds. For anyone else there’s a convenient lull at around 15 secs before they kick off again.
**In the UK there’s a thing where someone buys an attractive cottage next to the c15 village church. Then they discover that the clock chimes. And the bell-ringers practise their art on Monday and Thursday evenings. And on Sunday all hell breaks loose, especially if there is Sunday cricket on the village green in the mix. And the occasional ball being hit into the flowerbed. So, complaints are made to the Council, noise abatement orders are sought, legal letters fly round the Parish. And everyone hates the newcomers. Adopting village life with no research? Way to go!
All photos + audio clip: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour
When I first got a GoPro, I made a mistake. What I really needed was a GoAm. My level of sophistication in Camera-world lines up just above the ‘incompetent’ mark. So, in taking footage of a partial sperm whale skeleton on the sea floor in Abaco last week, I have found several total duds – as if I have confused the ‘take’ button with the ‘on-off’ button. Indeed, as I obviously did.
These photographic deficiencies are matched by my well-documented feeble swimming skills that improve only slightly with a snorkel and mask. And I am not legally permitted within 25 metres of Scuba equipment in all but landlocked countries.
The footage of the whale skeleton worked out quite well in the end, considering the directional uncertainties caused by my swimming technique. In trimming the ends, I found I had taken quite a lot of underwater footage directed upwards to the surface rather than downwards on the cetacean remains. Probably, I was gasping for air.
I’m not sure that any of these stills count as photography at all. But as my finger hovered over the trashcan sign, it crossed my mind that there was (possibly) a strange beauty in these random outtakes. So I clipped and cropped to see how that might work. I wait to see the feedback (if any). If my number of followers drops below 50%, I will have to delete the dross swiftly, with due apologies.
I’ll be posting the story behind the sperm whale skeleton in due course. Meanwhile, these clips are an interim curiosity. And that’s probably putting it at its highest…
All photos taken at Sandy Point, Abaco Bahamas – Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour
I’m just back from Abaco. Mostly, it was about Marine Mammals (i.e. whales, dolphins, manatees) and the biennial Retreat for the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO). There was still time for some birding in Sandy Point, though. It’s a good place at any time for bird-watching BUT the settlement is rather remote. Specifically it is the terminus of the single 120-mile Highway that stretches south from Little Abaco in the north. Then the tarmac abruptly runs out and gives way at once to white sand. If that doesn’t halt you, you’ll wish your vehicle was amphibious…
Loggerhead kingbirds, with their hooky flycatcher beaks, cresty hair and dashing yellowish undersides, are intriguing companions. If they get interested in you (or maybe your camera bleep, as I have discovered), they will accompany you on a walk, flying ahead until you catch up, then doing it again. And if they are ‘hawking’ for flies from a favourite perch, they are fun to watch and… a big bonus… they won’t stop because you are spectating.
Like all the Bahamas flycatchers, from the little cuban pewee upwards, the Kingbirds have a charming way of cocking their head to one side or dropping it down towards their chest. Slightly posey, always endearing.
OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION
‘Bird on the Wire’ was originally sung by Judy Collins, though written by Leonard Cohen. His own definitive version from 1968’s ‘Songs from a Room‘ is arguable the best known recording and preceded several hundred later cover versions. LC is a really “difficult” artist, however. Many will agree with his expressed view that the song is ‘a prayer and an anthem’. Others might say that it is simply growly dirge-like maundering. The (then-modish) mouth-harp twangling in the background may also be an opinion-divider. Since I have shoehorned Cohen’s song title into my blog title, you might as well have the song too, for contemplation. Is it a life-affirming ‘upper’ or a funereal ‘downer’? You be the judge!
Photos: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour, Sandy point, Abaco.
I’ve been checking out jetties at Sandy Point, of which there are several. They look a bit rickety but are in fact sound except for having to step rounds piles of (empty) conch shells and occasional evidence on the timbers of recent fish-cleaning. This is a time of Laughing Gulls, and I have been recording their raucous hilarity. I may add a couple of sound files when I’ve downloaded them.
Right now, ruddy turnstones and laughing gulls seems to have formed a team of jetty birds, with a few royal terns in the mix and (as here) a random sanderling. The turnstones like to lie down in the hot sun on the jetty, possibly because it’s a bit breezier than on the burning sand of the beach.
Exhausted from turning stones
The jetties also attract pelicans, which use them to sun themselves and also to fish from. I will post about these remarkable birds another time. The largest flock of them I have seen so far is 5, one with a gold ‘breeding crown’.
All photos: Keith Salvesen