‘CARRION SCAVENGING’: TURKEY VULTURES IN ABACO BAHAMAS


‘CARRION SCAVENGING’: TURKEY VULTURES IN ABACO BAHAMAS

Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) manage to be simultaneously majestic, hideous, revolting and socially vital, all packed into a single species… Right now there is a slew of online excitement about them, although it can’t be because it is ‘International Turkey Vulture Appreciation Day, which is on September 4th. Anyway, it’s always a good time to join a flock of admirers.

turkey-vulture

THE FACTS

The word ‘vulture’ derives from the latin word ‘vulturus‘ meaning ‘ripper’, ‘shredder’, or ‘very loud Metallica song*‘. 

TUVUs have very good eyesight, and an acute sense of smell that enables them to detect the scent of decay (from the release of the chemical ethyl mercaptan) from a distance. A breeding pair will raise two chicks, which revoltingly are fed by the regurgitation of all the rank… oh, you fill in the rest

These vultures are often seen in a spread-winged stance, which is believed to serve multiple functions that include drying the wings, warming the body, and baking bacteria. Possibly it also reduces the miasma of rotting meat that may surround them after a good meal.

TUVUs like best to perch on a vantage point – utility posts or wires are ideal.

You won’t ever hear them sing or call. They lack a SYRINX (the avian equivalent of a larynx), and their vocalisation is confined to grunting or hissing sounds. Here’s a hiss (at 10 / 15 secs).

10 SCAVENGED TURKEY VULTURE FACTS FOR YOU TO PICK OVER

  • One local name for TUVUs is ‘John Crow’
  • An adult  has a wingspan of up to 6 feet
  • Sexes are identical in appearance, although the female is slightly larger
  • The eye has a single row of eyelashes on the upper lid and two on the lower lid
  • TVs live about 20 years. One named Nero had a confirmed age of 37 
  • LEUCISTIC (pale, often mistakenly called “albino”) variants are sometimes seen
Leucistic TUVU
  • TUVUs are gregarious and roost in large community groups
  • They have few natural predators (perhaps for reasons of their hygiene deficiency)
  • Though elegant in flight, and users of thermals, they are ungainly on the ground and in take-off
  • The nostrils are not divided by a septum, but are perforated; from the side one can see through the beak
turkey-vulture

REVOLTING CORNER / DEPT OF ‘WAY TOO MUCH INFORMATION’ 

SQUEAMISH? THEN LOOK AWAY NOW

UNATTRACTIVE HABITS The Turkey Vulture “often defecates on its own legs, using the evaporation of the water in the feces and/or urine to cool itself, a process known as UROHIDROSIS. This cools the blood vessels in the unfeathered tarsi and feet, and causes white uric acid to streak the legs”. The droppings produced by Turkey Vultures can harm or kill trees and other vegetation. Maybe don’t park your nice car under one of their perching posts…

HORRIBLE DEFENCES The main form of defence is “regurgitating semi-digested meat, a foul-smelling substance which deters most creatures intent on raiding a vulture nest. It will also sting if the predator is close enough to get the vomit in its face or eyes. In some cases, the vulture must rid its crop of a heavy, undigested meal in order to take flight to flee from a potential predator”

DIETARY NOTES TUVUs tend to prefer recently dead creatures, avoiding carcasses that have reached the point of putrefaction. They will occasionally resort to vegetable matter – plants and fruit (you could view this as their side-salad). They rarely, if ever, kill prey – vehicles do this for them, and you’ll often see them on roadsides feeding on roadkill. They also hang around water, feeding on dead fish or fish stranded in shallow water. 

ECO-USES If you did not have birds like this, your world would be a great deal smellier and less pleasant place, with higher chance of diseases from polluted water and bacterial spread. TUVUs kept the highways clear and work their way round the town dumps recycling noisome items. Humans need them although, conversely, they don’t need humans.

FORAGING TUVUs forage by smell, which is uncommon in birds. They fly low to the ground to pick up the scent of ethyl mercaptan, the gas produced by the beginnings of decay in dead animals. Their olfactory lobe in the brain is particularly large compared to that of other animals.

SEX TIPS Courtship rituals of the Turkey Vulture involve several individuals gathering in a circle, where they perform hopping movements around the perimeter of the circle with wings partially spread. In humans, similar occasions are called ‘Dances’. A pair will fly, with the female closely following the male while they flap & dive… then they land somewhere private and we draw the veil…

turkey_vulture2
My favourite graphic of all time

Credits: Craig Nash (1); Keith Salvesen (2);  Nina Henry (3, 5, 6); amy-at-poweredbybirds (4); Charlie Skinner (7); Xeno-Canto / Alvaric (sound file); Birdorable (TUVU cartoon); depressingnature.com (puking TUVU); Source material OS & magpie pickings. Adapted and updated from a previous version written a while back

*As Metallica so appropriately wrote and sweatily sang (luckily there’s no verse referencing urination, defecation and puking). ALERT don’t actually play the video – the song hasn’t aged well! In fact… it’s terrible. Woe woe indeed…

The vultures come
See the vultures come for me
Fly around the sun
But now too late for me
Just sit and stare
Wait ’til I hit the ground
Little vultures tear
Little vultures tear at flesh

PLOVER APPRECIATION DAY 2021


Wilson’s Plover . Abaco . Bahamas (π Craig Nash)

As so often I have missed by 2 days a crucial ‘International Day of the… Whatever’. This time we are celebrating plovers. This group of little shorebirds is appreciated every September 16, and they are high up in my favourites list. Here are examples of the 6 species that you will find on Abaco. Of these, most significant are the piping plovers that chose Abaco beaches – more than 1000 miles from their home beaches in the north – as their migration destination for overwintering (in fact, they start to arrive from the end of July and have left by mid- March).

PLOVER GALLERY

PIPING PLOVER

Piping Plover . Abaco . Bahamas (π Sally Chisholm)
Piping Plover . Abaco . Bahamas (π Sally Chisholm)

WILSON’S PLOVER

Wilson’s Plover . Abaco . Bahamas (π Nina Henry)
Wilson’s Plover . Abaco . Bahamas (π Chris Johnson)

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER

Black-bellied Plover (winter plumage) . Abaco . Bahamas (π Tom Sheley)

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER

Semipalmated Plover . Abaco . Bahamas (π Alex Hughes)

KILLDEER

Killdeer . Abaco . Bahamas (π Bruce Hallett)

AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER

American Golden Plover . Abaco . Bahamas (π Alex Hughes)

PIPING PLOVERS

These rare little birds were the subject of a 5-year citizen science project on Abaco involving tracking banded birds sighted on Abaco beaches and tracing their origins to their home beach where the birds had hatched and and fledged. Much remarkable data was recorded, not least that many of the birds made the same journey from their home beach to Abaco and back in the spring 2, 3 and even 4 years running. Each time and at each end of the migration, they chose the same beach. Often the dates almost matched as well. You can find out more HERE

ABACO’S 38 WARBLERS: AN ILLUSTRATED ID GUIDE


Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (©Tom Sheley)

Olive-capped Warbler (resident species), Abaco Bahamas (©Tom Sheley)

ABACO’S 38 WARBLERS: AN ILLUSTRATED ID GUIDE

IT’S STARTED The great winter migration of warblers and their imminent arrival in The Bahamas is underway. Any day now – if not already – the ‘winter’ (in fact autumn & early spring as well) warblers will be arriving on Abaco. There are 38 warbler species recorded for the main island and the cays. For years, it was just 37. Then in 2018 a CANADA WARBLER was seen and photographed by well-known Bahamas birder Chris Johnson. It was a first for Abaco – and the first-ever report for the Bahamas as well. You’ll find the story HERE.
This article is updated from an earlier one written pre-Dorian and the situation will undoubtedly be different now, especially with the transients and rare species. Consider it as a historical record of the prolific warbler species recorded for Abaco and more generally the northern Bahamas before the hurricane struck. The 5 permanent resident warbler are still resident. Many migrants and possibly all transients have sadly not been recorded since, and the rarest perhaps never will be. The hope must be that at least the most common winter warblers will continue to arrive, and in increasing numbers.Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

First-ever Canada Warbler for Abaco & the entire Bahamas: Aug 2018 (Chris Johnson)

Canada Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (1st record) (Chris Johnson) Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy
Hooded Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Hooded Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

The guide divides the original 37 species (excluding the Canada warbler) into categories, with a code for each bird to show:
  • Resident status – permanent / breeding, migratory or transient
  • Frequency – likelihood of seeing each species in its season, rated from 1 (very likely) to 5 (extreme rarities, maybe recorded only once or twice since c1950 when recording began)
Bahama Warbler (endemic), Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

Bahama Warbler (endemic), Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

Numerically, the division breaks down into 3 categories of warbler:
  • 5 permanent residents (PR) that breed on Abaco (B), of which two are ENDEMIC
  • 21 winter residents (WR) ranging from ‘everyday’ species to extreme rarities like the very vulnerable Kirtland’s Warbler that needs a specific winter habitat that Abaco can provide 
  • 11 transients, most of which you will be very lucky to encounter
Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

The photos that follow show an example of each warbler, where possible both (1) male and (2) taken on Abaco. Where I had no Abaco images – especially with the transients – I have used other mainstream birding resources and Wiki. All due credits at the foot of the post.
Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO ABACO’S WARBLERS

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

5 PERMANENT RESIDENTS

BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT Geothlypis rostrata PR B 1  ENDEMIC

Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

BAHAMA WARBLER Setophaga flavescens PR B 1  ENDEMIC

Bahama Warbler - endemic Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

YELLOW WARBLER Setophaga petechia PR B 1 

Yellow Warbler, sunrise, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Shelley)

OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLER Setophaga pityophila PR B 1 

Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

PINE WARBLER Setophaga pinus PR B 1 

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

WINTER RESIDENTS  (COMMON)

OVENBIRD Seiurus aurocapilla WR 1 

OVENBIRD_Bahamas-Great Abaco_6639_Ovenbird_Gerlinde Taurer 2

WORM-EATING WARBLER Helmitheros vermivorum WR 2 

Worm-eating Warbler.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH  Parkesia noveboracensis WR 1 

BAHAMAS - Northern Waterthrush - Oct 2010 Becky Marvil

BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER Mniotilta varia WR 2 

Black & White Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

COMMON YELLOWTHROAT Geothlypis trichas WR 1 

Common Yellowthroat.Gilpin Pond.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley copy

AMERICAN REDSTART  Setophaga ruticilla WR 1 

Bahamas-Great Abaco_6334_American Redstart_Gerlinde Taurer copy

CAPE MAY WARBLER Setophaga tigrina WR 1 

Cape May Warbler (m), Abaco - Bruce Hallett

NORTHERN PARULA Setophaga americana WR 1 

Northern Parula, Abaco - Woody Bracey

BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER Setophaga caerulescens WR 2 

Black-throated Blue Warbler (m), Abaco - Bruce Hallett

PALM WARBLER  Setophaga palmarum WR 1 

Palm Warbler, Abaco - Peter Mantle

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER Setophaga coronata WR 2 

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco - Keith Salvesen (RH)

YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER Setophaga dominica WR 1 

Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

PRAIRIE WARBLER Setophaga discolor WR 1 

Bahamas-Great Abaco_6609_Prairie Warbler_Gerlinde Taurer copy 2

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

 WINTER RESIDENTS  (UNCOMMON TO RARE)

LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH Parkesia motacilla WR 3 

Louisiana waterthrush William H. Majoros WIKI

BLUE-WINGED WARBLER Vermivora cyanoptera WR 3

Blue-winged Warbler, Abaco (Becky Marvil)

Blue-winged Warbler. talainsphotographyblog

SWAINSON’S WARBLER  Limnothlypis swainsonii WR 4 

Swainson's Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

NASHVILLE WARBLER Oreothlypis ruficapilla WR 4 

Nashville Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

HOODED WARBLER Setophaga citrina WR 3 

Hooded Warbler, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

KIRTLAND’S WARBLER Setophaga kirtlandii WR 4 

Kirtland's Warbler (m), Abaco - Woody Bracey

MAGNOLIA WARBLER Setophaga magnolia WR 3 

Magnolia warbler, Abaco - Craig Nash

BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER Setophaga virens WR 3 

Black-throated Green Warbler - talainsphotographyblog

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

TRANSIENTS

PROTHONOTARY WARBLER Protonotaria citrea TR 3 

Prothonotary Warbler, Abaco - Ann Capling

TENNESSEE WARBLER Oreothlypis peregrina TR 4 

Tennessee Warbler Jerry Oldenettel Wiki

ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER  Oreothlypis celata TR 4 

Orange-crowned Warbler dominic sherony wiki

CONNECTICUT WARBLER Oporonis agilis TR 4 

Connecticut Warbler Central Park NYC 10000birds.com

KENTUCKY WARBLER Geothlypis formosa TR 4 

Kentucky_Warbler Steve Maslowski wiki - Version 2

BAY-BREASTED WARBLER Setophaga castanea TR 4 

Bay-breated warbler MDF Wiki

BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER Setophaga fusca TR 4

Blackburnian Warbler Mdf wiki

CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER Setophaga pensylvanica TR 4

Chestnut-sided Warbler talainsphotographyblog - Version 2

BLACKPOLL WARBLER Setophaga striata TR 3 

Blackpoll Warbler avibirds.com

WILSON’S WARBLER Cardellina pusilla TR 4 

Wilson's Warbler Michael Woodruff wiki

YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT Icteria virens TR 4 

Yellow-breasted Chat Emily Willoughby wiki

PHOTO CREDITS (1 – 37) Bruce Hallett (Header, 3, 9, 12, 14, 17, 21, 22); Tom Reed (1, 4); Cornell Lab (2); Tom Sheley (7, 10); Alex Hughes (5); Gerlinde Taurer (6, 11, 18);  Becky Marvil (8, 20a); Woody Bracey (13, 24); Peter Mantle (15); Keith Salvesen (16); William H. Majoros wiki (19); talainsphotographyblog (20b, 26, 34); Charmaine Albury (23); Craig Nash (25); Ann Capling (27); Jerry Oldenettel wiki (28); Dominic Sherony wiki (29); 10000birds (30); Steve Maslowski wiki (31);  MDF wiki (32, 33); Avibirds (35); Michael Woodruff wiki (36); Emily Willoughby wiki (37)

CHECKLIST 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

WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER . ABACO . BAHAMAS


WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER Melanerpes superciliaris

West Indian Woodpecker . Abaco . Bahamas (π Keith Salvesen)

The WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER Melanerpes superciliaris is one of Abaco’s specialist birds. Islanders and regular visitors will be familiar with the sight – and indeed the raucous sound – of these beautiful birds. They are commonly found throughout Abaco and the cays. Possibly their rarity across the wider Bahamas is underestimated. The only other island where these birds are found is San Salvador. Formerly resident on Grand Bahama, they are believed to be extirpated there. Abaco is very fortunate to enjoy their noisy company.

WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAIL . ABACO . BAHAMAS


BAHAMA DUCKAnas bahamensis

Photos taken on Abaco by Gerlinde Taurer, a major contributor to “Birds of Abaco”

YELLOW WARBLERS on ABACO BAHAMAS


YELLOW WARBLER (female) Setophaga petechia

Photos taken on Abaco by Gerlinde Taurer, a major contributor to “Birds of Abaco”

SPIDER WASPS & TARANTULA HAWKS: STEP AWAY FROM THIS INSECT


Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk Abaco Bahama (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

SPIDER WASPS  & TARANTULA HAWKS (PEPSIS WASPS)

I learn today that this week is Insect Week (or, as it may prefer, The International Week for Insect Appreciation and Protection). I’m all for it. There are annual Days for almost any creature you can think of – Warthogs; Fruit Bats; Porcupine Fish, and so on. There are few whole Weeks devoted to an entire taxonomic class. Here is an insect I wrote about several years ago. It’s an aggressive-looking creature that I found in the coppice on South Abaco. I could only get a partial shot of the insect, and I wondered whether to try to reach it and get a more complete shot. Perhaps I could have, but very fortunately for for me (as I later found out) I didn’t touch it.

Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk Abaco Bahama (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

This creature turned out to be a Spider Wasp (aka Pepsis Wasp), of the Pompilidae family. The insect is familiarly known as a Tarantula Hawk, for reasons given in unsparing detail below. For it turns out that this creature would be the hardest bastard insect on Planet Bastard in the Galaxy Bastardium. 

Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk - TheCrotalusfreak

It’s lucky that I didn’t try to try to collect it to keep in a small box as a pet.  Note, for start, the scary eating apparatus… and it’s not for nibbling leaves as I had thought, but chopping up small insects. The leg claws and barbs are for pinning down its prey. You would not believe how unpleasant these little buddies are –  and that’s before we even mention the sting…

SPIDER WASPS IN ACTION

These wasps are known in some countries as “horse-killers”. The Pepsis wasp is a sub-species, and is called Tarantula Hawk because it hunts tarantulas and uses them in a most ingenious and cruel way… NB the BNT have rightly pointed out that these insects are unaggressive to humans. If you leave them alone, they will spare you. I’ve also read that “The tarantula hawk is relatively docile and rarely stings without provocation” Now read on to see if it might be sensible to provoke one or not.

Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk - astrobradley

SCARY CRITTERS & LIVING LARDERS

(Trigger Warning: this is really rather gross)

SPIDER WASPS are ‘solitary’ insects that feed on ground spiders / tarantulas by stinging them to paralyse them, then eating them. In the most sinister way, the females also make use of spiders for breeding purposes. Hear this! They build a nest in a burrow, find a spider (a tarantula for choice), paralyse it with their sting, drag it to the nest and lay a single egg on its abdomen. Then they seal up the burrow. 

Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk mshandro

When the egg hatches, the larva chews a hole on the spider’s abdomen and enters a living larder. It gradually eat its host as it grows. The spider’s vital organs are left till last, so that the spider stays alive as long as possible until the larva has reached full-size. After several weeks, the larva spins a cocoon and pupates (often over winter). Finally, the wasp becomes an adult, bursts Alien-like from the spider’s abdomen (deftly evading Ripley), and tunnels out of the burrow… 

Do NOT try this at home or more than 10 yards from a medical centre Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk _ Paul Nylander

SPIDER WASPS: MORE FEARFUL FACTS

  • Their hunting improves with experience – the more spiders they eat, the quicker they find, attack & kill them
  • Males use ‘perch territories’ to scan for receptive females from a tall plant or other vantage point, a behaviour known as HILL-TOPPING
  • Adult wasps also feed on a variety of plants for nectar & pollen. They may become intoxicated on fermented fruit, which affects their ability to get around (I think we’ve all been there at some time…)
  • The female Pepsis gets her spider in two main ways: approaching a tarantula causing it to rear up defensively on its legs, thus exposing its abdomen to the sting or
  • She locates a tarantula’s burrow, using her sense of smell. She tricks the spider into emerging by tweaking the web at the burrow’s entrance or ‘intruding’ (see video below)
  • The wasp uses her long stinger to stab her prey. The poison rapidly paralyses the spider. She then drags it to her burrow, lays her egg onto the tarantula’s abdomen, seals the burrow and leaves. Job done
  • The hooked claws and barbs on the wasps’ long legs are weapons for grappling with victims
  • The stinger of a female tarantula hawk can be up to 7 mm (1/3 inch) long – and the sting is among the most painful insect stings in the world (see below)
  • Only the females sting (males may pretend to) because the stinger is linked to the ovipositor (egg-laying organ)
  • You can distinguish females from males by the curled antennae of the female. Mine was therefore female
  • The Pepsis wasp has (unsurprisingly) very few predators, though apparently roadrunners and bullfrogs may tackle them

Here is a hypnotically fascinating 3-minute video of the life-or-death struggle

SPIDER WASP  –v-  TARANTULA 

THE STING

The sting of these wasps is among the most painful of any insect, though the most intense pain lasts on a few minutes. Entomologist Justin Schmidt bravely submitted himself to the stings of various insects and described this pain as “…immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything, except, perhaps, scream. Mental discipline simply does not work in these situations.” 

Schmidt produced his SCHMIDT STING PAIN INDEX The pain scale, based on 78 species, runs from 0 to 4, with 4 awarded for the most intense pain. Spider Wasps of the species Pepsis – i.e. Tarantula Hawks – have a sting rating of 4.0, described as “blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath” Only the bite of the Bullet Ant – and the sting of the Warrior Wasp – is ranked higher, with a 4.0+ rating, vividly described as pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel”

LIGHT RELIEF AFTER THE PAIN

1. In 1989, New Mexico chose the Tarantula hawk wasp as the official state insect. The choice seems to have been left to schoolchildren and I’m guessing here (or gender-stereotyping) but I suspect it was the boys’ choice that won…

2. Tarantula Hawk is a “psychedelic progressive metal band” from San Diego, Ca. Their short discography includes their debut Tarantula Hawk (CD/LP, 1998); Burrow (Live CD, 2000, self-released); and Untitled. The cover of their debut provides the perfect ending for this post, vividly depicting the colour and texture of the swirling fiery pain you could experience (and I don’t really mean from listening to the music…) 

UNDOUBTEDLY PAINFUL EXPERIENCE

ARGUABLY PAINFUL STING

Mr Gordon Sumner

AN ENJOYABLE STING

Credits:  Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour (1, 2, 7); TheCrotalusfreak (video clip) (3);  astrobradley (4);  mshandro (5); Paul Nylander (6)


Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk Abaco Bahama (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

ABACO PARROTS for WORLD PARROT DAY


A small tribute, in gallery form, to the unique ground-nesting Abaco Parrots. Brought back from the brink of extinction through care, skill and patience. Surviving forest fires, hurricanes, predators, incautious humans. Sweeping across the sky in raucous flocks. Squawking deafeningly in the gumbo limbo trees. Lighting up the sky with flashing green, red and blue. Noisy ambassadors for Abaco wildlife. Generally being fabulous creatures loved by everyone.

An additional treat is the inclusion of a few of parrot scientist Caroline Stahala’s wonderful photos of parrot nests in the limestone caves deep in the Abaco National Park, taken while she was researching and protecting them. In the past, I felt very privileged to be able to use them and it’s been a while since I featured any. Very few people will have seen anything like this, so today is a very good occasion to show nests, eggs and chicks.

Photographs by Nina Henry, Melissa Maura, Craig Nash, Peter Mantle, Caroline Stahala, Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO by KEITH SALVESEN – a few copies now available


Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco (Jacket)

THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO

BIRDS OF ABACO was launched at the Delphi Club, Abaco, Bahamas in March 2014. I thought all copies had been sold or donated ages ago. In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in 2019, a number of Abaconians asked if I could replace their ruined copies. Sadly I could not. Or so I thought. A current blitz to clear our house (40 years-worth of stuff) has unearthed 2 boxes of the book, so I have decided to sell them. Scroll to the end for further details. First, though, check out these birds… Blue-gray Gnatcatcher vocalizing.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley a The originator of the idea for the book – as with the entire Delphi Club project – was Peter Mantle, the publisher. He took a risk based on my (then) quite feeble Rolling Harbour blog about the birds and other attractions of the island. The 2kg book took 16 months from conception to the arrival of three pallets of printed books on the dockside in Marsh Harbour, having travelled by a tortuous route from specialist printers in Italy. Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) As part of the project, Abaco schools, libraries and wildlife organisations were given copies for educational purposes. A percentage of profits was given to local wildlife causes. We quickly sold a great many copies,  and couldn’t have been more pleased with the response to the book, a unique publication for the Bahamas. The captions (below) about the book and content were written much nearer the time, so I’ll leave them as they are. I hope you enjoy the photos even if you don’t want a copy! Short-billed Dowitcher, Abaco (Bruce Hallett) The Guide showcases the rich and varied bird life of Abaco, Bahamas and features both resident and migratory species including rarities and unusual sightings. The main features are as follows:
  • 272 pages with more than 350 photographs
  • 163 species shown in vivid colour – nearly two-thirds of all the bird species ever recorded for Abaco
  • Every single photograph was taken on Abaco or in Abaco waters
  • All birds are shown in their natural surroundings – no feeders or seed trails were used
  • Several birds featured are the first ones ever recorded for Abaco or even for the entire Bahamas
Clapper Rail Abaco Bahamas Tom Sheley
  • A total of 30 photographers, both experienced and amateur, contributed to the project
  • The book has had the generous support of many well-known names of Abaco and Bahamas birding
  • A complete checklist of every bird recorded for Abaco since 1950 up to the date of publication was compiled specially for the book.
  • A neat code was devised to show at a glance when you may see a particular bird, and the likelihood of doing so. Birds found at Delphi are also marked.
  • Specially commissioned cartographer’s Map of Abaco showing places named in the book
Least Tern_ACH3672 copy
  • Informative captions intentionally depart from the standard field guide approach…
  • …as does the listing of the birds in alphabetical rather than scientific order
  • Say goodbye to ’37 warbler species on consecutive pages’ misery
  • Say hello to astonishing and unexpected juxtapositions of species
Abaco_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy
  • The book was printed in Florence, Italy by specialist printers on Grade-1 quality paper
  • Printing took pairs of printers working in 6 hour shifts 33 hours over 3 days to complete
  • The project manager and the author personally oversaw the printing
Smooth-billed Ani pair GT
  • The book is dedicated to the wildlife organisations of Abaco
  • A percentage of the proceeds of sale will be donated for the support of local wildlife organisations
  • A copy of the book has been presented to every school and library on Abaco
Piping Plover BH IMG_1919

The book is published by the Delphi Club. The project was managed by a publishing specialist in art and architecture books. The author is the wildlife blogger more widely known on Abaco and (possibly) beyond as ‘Rolling Harbour’. Oh! So that would in fact be Mrs Harbour and myself. Well well! What were the chances?

BOOK LAUNCH BAHAMAS BIRDING ROYALTY (Tony White, Bruce Hallett, Woody Bracey), A COMMONER… & AN EMBARRASSING AMOUNT OF REFRESHMENT 

Painted Bunting male.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

BOOK SALE DETAILS 2021
I am pricing the books at $120 inc. shipping. They are in England, heavy, and expensive to post. 1/3 of the price will be the flight of the birds across the Atlantic. If you would like a copy and do not already have my contact details, email me at rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com
American Oystercatchers BH IMG_2000 copy 2

Photos: Tom Sheley (3,4,9,10),  Bruce Hallett (6,8), Gerlinde Taurer (1,7), Tony Hepburn (5), Keith Salvesen (2,11)

Cuban (Crescent-eyed) Pewee, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

THE ORIGINAL FLYER

"Birds of Abaco" flyer

BANANAQUIT (Coereba flaveola) Abaco, Bahamas


Bananaquit . Delphi . Abaco . Bahamas

Bananaquits (Coereba flaveola) are small, colourful, and delightful birds of the coppice and garden. They have also managed to generate one of the most complicated taxonomic conundrums in the whole of bird land. I’ll spare you the varied classification details, which include warbler, bunting, tanager, monotype (unique), and the uncomfortably vague incertae sedis (= ‘uncertain group‘).

Bananaquit . Abaco . Bahamas . Yellow elder (National Flower)

Luckily, they are oblivious to all this controversy. Whatever their family background, Bananaquits will always be one of the most appealing small birds you’ll ever encounter. They are certainly high in the rankings of my own generalised designation ‘pretty little bird’ (Avis bellusparvus)

Photos: 1. Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour; 2 & 3 Craig Nash

Bananaquit . Abaco . Bahamas

ATLANTIC SPOTTED DOLPHINS . ABACO BAHAMAS


Atlantic Spotted Dolphins . Abaco Bahamas . BMMRO

ATLANTIC SPOTTED DOLPHINS – ABACO, BAHAMAS

There’s never ever a wrong time for dolphins to have some fun in the water. It’s what they expect. It’s what we (if we are lucky enough to see them) expect. It’s what they expect that we expect if we are out in a boat – hence the joyful bow-riding, the rapid crossing back and forth. From time to time there’s a single dolphin in a group that takes the opportunity to show off. In the deeper water off the southern tip of Abaco, in sight of the lighthouse, this is a good example of such carefree behaviour.

There’s more excitement to be found in this group. If you look carefully at #3 in the gallery, you’ll see a very small dorsal fin. There’s a calf in the group, being guided and watched over by two adults. Imagine being out there in a boat and encountering this group. That would in itself be something to show off about…

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins . Abaco Bahamas . @BMMRO
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins . Abaco Bahamas . BMMRO

All photos © Charlotte Dunn / Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO). Please support the work of this specialist Bahamas marine mammal research team and help to preserve these increasingly vulnerable creatures LINK

YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER


I have just been asked about image rights for a Yellow-bellied sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius featured in BIRDS OF ABACO so I have gone back to the archive. The photograph below was taken by Gerlinde Taurer, a significant contributor to the book. On Abaco the sapsucker is the only migratory woodpecker species, a fairly common winter resident. The two other woodpecker species – West Indian and Hairy – are year-round residents. Like its woodpecker cousins, the sapsucker drills holes in trees. The dual purpose is to release the sap (which it eats); and so to attract insects (which it also eats). A two-course meal, if you like. They’ll also eat insects on an undrilled tree, and even ‘hawk’ for them in flight. They sensibly balance their diet with fruit and berries. This is without doubt the best image of a YBS I have come across.

Credit: Gerlinde Taurer for Birds of Abaco

SEAHORSES: PREHENSILE TALES FROM THE REEF


Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

SEAHORSES: PREHENSILE TALES FROM THE REEF

It’s a while since I showcased these astonishing little creatures. Adam Rees of SCUBA WORKS is a diver who combines great underwater experience with wonderful photographic skills. Here is a showcase for some of Adam’s seahorse photography and the amazing detail he captures. If these images don’t make you want to get your head underwater and explore the reefs, I can’t think what will…

Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

RANGE MAP by NAT GEO

Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

shlifecycle-e1313548153493

Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)
Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

Seahorse by Alex Konahin

All fantastic photos: Adam Rees / Scuba Works; Range Map, Nat Geo; Lifecycle diagram, Seahorserun; Seahorse GIF, Alex Konahin

TOPICAL FISHES: WHOLLY ANGELS


The images below show the three species of angelfish commonly found among the coral reefs of the Bahamas. These were photographed by diver Melinda Riger in the waters round Grand Bahama. The Queen, French and Gray Angels are shown in both adult and juvenile forms.

Queen Angelfish
Queen Angelfish (juv.)
French Angelfish
French Angelfish (juv.)
Gray Angelfish
Gray Angelfish (juv. to adult phase)

All photos: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

CHRISTMAS TREE WORMS: SEASONAL SPIROBRANCHES


Christmas Tree Worm (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

CHRISTMAS TREE WORMS: SEASONAL SPIROBRANCHES

music-notes-clip-art-png-musicDeck the Reefs with Worms Like Christmas Trees… Fal-La-La-etc-etc ” is a traditional Carol familiar to all. Well, most. Ok, some, then. Oh right – maybe with different words? Anyway, now is the perfect time to take a look at these remarkable subsurface symbols of seasonal good cheer (nb they are wonderful animals not gorgeous plants).

christmas-tree-worm-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba

10 CHRISTMAS TREE WORM FACTS TO PONDER

  • The 2 colourful spirals are not the worm, but complex structures for feeding & respiration
  • The spirals act as specialised mouth extensions for ‘filter-feeding’
  • Prey is trapped by the feathery tentacles & guided by cilia (microscopic hairs) to the mouth
  • The tentacle things are radioles and act as gills for breathing as well as prey traps
  • It is not believed that prey slide down the spiral to their doom, like on a helter-skelter

Christmas Tree Worm (Neil Hobgood Wiki)Christmas Tree Worm (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

  • The actual worm lives in a sort of segmented tube, with extremely limited mobility skills
  • It contains digestive, circulatory & nervous systems – and a brain in the middle of it all
  • The worm also has a tiny drainage tube (I think I have this right) for excretion etc
  • They embed themselves into heads of coral such as brain coral. And stay there
  • And yes, the Christmas trees are retractable… (see below for some action)

spirobranchus_giganteus_orange_christmas_tree_worm-nick-hobgood-wiki

HOW DO THE WORMS… YOU KNOW…  ERM… REPRODUCE?

This is a delicate area. They are very discreet, but as far as I can make out they eject gametes from their what-I-said-above. There are mummy and daddy worms, and their respective gametes (eggs and spermatozoa) drift in the current and into each other to complete the union. The fertilised eggs develop into larvae, which settle onto coral and burrow into it as their parents did, build their protective tubes, and the process begins again.

christmas_tree_worm-nick-hobgood-wiki

YOU DON’T REALLY UNDERSTAND THESE CREATURES, DO YOU?

I won’t lie. I found it hard to work out how the CTWs function in practice. There are plenty of resources showing them in their full glory, but that only takes one so far. Then I came across a short video that shows it all brilliantly simply (except for the reproduction part).

The worms, in their coral burrows, hoist their pairs of ‘trees’. You can easily see small particles – zooplankton – drifting in the water, and the radioles swaying to catch potential food. Suddenly it all makes sense (except the repro bit – I haven’t found footage of that).  Next: the New Year Worm (there is no Easter worm).

A WHOLE FESTIVAL OF CHRISTMAS TREE WORMSChristmas Tree Worms (Neil Hobgood Wiki)

Credits: Melinda Riger (Grand Bahama Scuba); Nick Hobgood; Betty Wills; Video by ‘Super Sea Monkey’; Reef Collage by RH; MarineBio; Wikibits & Magpie Pickings

Happy Christmas to all those who put up with RH with such fortitude over the years
blue_christmas_tree_worm-betty-wills-wiki

“I GET AROUND”: PIPING PLOVER TUNA’S GUEST POST (3)


Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Oct 10. Rhonda Pearce

“I GET AROUND”: PIPING PLOVER TUNA’S GUEST POST (3)

ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH was an amateur ‘citizen science’ conservation program to help investigate the winter season migrations of a tiny shore bird. It started in August 2015 and ended with Hurricane Dorian Sept 1st 2019. TUNA was the first banded bird we found, a summer chick that had completed a 1000+ mile flight when aged about 3 months. During the season, Tuna’s life on Abaco was monitored, in particular by Rhonda Pearce who bonded with the little bird and took lots of photos. Tuna asked, in a whimsical way, if I would make space for a Guest Post. I recently re-posted the first HERE . This is the third instalment.

Hi again, readers of Mr Harbour’s blog. Tuna still here. This is part 3 of my diary.  I’m 4½ months old now, and getting on famously here on Abaco. Especially now the big wind and waves have gone away [Hurricane Joaquin – ed]. Someone called me ‘Abaco’s favourite plover’, which really fluffed up my feathers. I’ve started to explore a bit and meet more birds just like me*. Turns out they are all Travellers from the North too – what are the chances? [in winter, 100% – ed]

Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda Pearce 1

*How do I know what I look like? Well it’s easy. When I am chomping meat strings in the sunshine on the edge of the water, there’s a picture of me in the water doing the exactly same thing at the same time only upside down. Like these two friends of mine here.

PiPl 5x WB 23.10.15 min

I do a lot of running about on the beach. Back and forth. Up and down. Into the water and out again. It’s a busy life. And I’ve only got little legs. In case anyone worries that Michelle’s 4 smart rings hurt me or get in the way, I never feel them. They are just a part of who I have always been since she picked me up the day after I cracked out and added the bird-bling.

Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda Pearce 2

I’ve met lots of birds that are different from me, too. Some live here all the time, others are Travellers from the North as well. I’m relying on Mr RH here to show you some of the guys I hang out with these days. We all kind of mix up and if you don’t try to find meat strings where the bigger birds want to find them, it’s very friendly. Actually they are all bigger than me!

Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Wilson’s Plover (all on Abaco)Sanderling, Abaco (Craig Nash) Semi-palmated Plover, Abaco (Tony Hepburn) Ruddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)  Wilson's Plover, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

I’ve made my first trip to a different beach. I decided to fly round and explore, and I saw lots more sand so I flew there and stayed a couple of days. Like a little holiday. A nice man [monitor Keith Kemp] saw me there and told Mr RH about my coloured bands. That’s how he knew I’d moved and he told my friend Rhonda so she didn’t go looking for me on my home beach and get worried that I wasn’t there. Then I flew back there after a couple of days and Rhonda found me there again yesterday.

PiPl r band wb 22.10.15 b V2 copy

 

Tuna on his vacation from Watching Bay to Winding Bay. Note meat string in #1PiPl l band wb 22.10.15 b - V2 copy

                                                     piping-plover                   piping-plover                  piping-plover

I’ve got a new game I’ve been playing when Rhonda comes to see me. She sits down on the beach and puts shells all round her in the sand. So I come over and have a look at them (once I pecked the cloth thing she sits on. Urrch! It wasn’t food). Then she uses that thing that makes a plover noise [the focus sound on her camera – ed] and I put my head on one side to listen. Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda PearcePiping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda Pearce 1Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda Pearce 1

There’s another reason I put my head on one side. Sometimes really really big birds fly over the beach. Huge dark ones. I like to keep an eye on them. I think they may be trouble. So I put my head on one side so I know exactly where they are in the sky until I feel safe.

This is me back on my beach after my trip. Green on Blue (L); Black on Grey (R) = TUNAPiping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda Pearce 1

This is a New Friend on my beach, one of 3. They don’t have smart legs  but they are Travellers from the North like me. In this game I lie low in a hole in the sand and my NF rushes at me kicking sand up like a crazy bird. Fun, huh?Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda Pearce 1

More news from me soon. Cheeps from Tuna.

 

TUNA’S FIRST 4½ MONTHS

  • JUN 10        Hatched Edwin B. Forsythe NWR (Holgate Center), New Jersey
  • JUN 11         Banded & measured by Michelle Stantial
  • JUL 05         Fledged
  • AUG 28       First sighted on Abaco – preliminary ID
  • SEP 16         Seen again on the same beach – ID confirmed
  • SEP 22         Last sighting before Hurricane Joaquin
  • SEP 28         Paula (Tuna’s mother) re-sighted on Joulter Cays, Andros
  • OCT 03        Tuna safely back on the beach again after Hurricane Joaquin
  • OCT 20-23  Expedition to Winding Bay (ID there on Oct 22)
  • OCT 24        Found back on Watching Bay beach

PIPL Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco. 1 bird. Banded. Rhonda Pearce 2 copy copy

NOTE If you ever wondered why birds are banded and what on earth use it is, the answer is in this story. Banding & tagging enables detailed research at both ends of the migration which in turn enables protection of the species and conservation of threatened habitats. There are only 8000 PIPL left. Degradation of the breeding grounds or the overwintering grounds – let alone both – may result in extinction. This seems to have been a good summer for the piping plover; let’s hope the winter treats them well so that this summer’s chicks like Tuna will be able to breed safely next year.

This Diary extract shows how an individual banded bird’s movements can be monitored within its chosen area, so that a picture can be formed of its habitat choices, location changes, and range.

Credits: photos Rhonda Pearce, Keith Kemp, Craig Nash, Tony Hallett, Keith Salvesen; thanks to bander Michelle Stantial, birder & ‘Tuna Watcher’ Rhonda Pearce, CWFNJ & cohorts, Matt Jeffery and all other providers of info snippets; Birdorable for the cartoon; and Xeno-Canto for the recording

“THEY FOUND MY MUM ON ANDROS”: PIPING PLOVER TUNA’S GUEST POST (2)


Piping Plover Tuna, banded in NJ, on Abaco 1 (Rhonda Pearce)

“THEY FOUND MY MUM ON ANDROS”: PIPING PLOVER TUNA’S GUEST POST (2)

ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH was an amateur ‘citizen science’ conservation program to help investigate the winter season migrations of a tiny shore bird. It started in August 2015 and ended with Hurricane Dorian Sept 1st 2019. TUNA was the first banded bird we found, a summer chick that had completed a 1000+ mile flight when aged about 3 months. During the season, Tuna’s life on Abaco was monitored, in particular by Rhonda Pearce who bonded with the little bird and took lots of photos. Tuna asked, in a whimsical way, if I would make space for a Guest Post. I recently re-posted the first HERE . This is the second instalment.

Hello again, readers of Mr Harbour’s blog. My name is Tuna. This is the second part of my diary. Last time he called it an ‘autobiography’, but that was a bit pompous of him, I think. It’s 4 months now since I cracked out and after my long trip from that place [the Holgate Unit of the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey – ed.], I’m having a good time on Abaco – see my picture above. Michelle, who put my 4 cool rings on when I was one day old, would be proud of me I think.

Since my last post some things have been happening to me. There I was, safely on my nice beach [Watching Bay, Cherokee Sound – map below] when the wind started to get scary and the sea kept coming further up the beach. And a whole lot more splashy [it was Hurricane Joaquin – ed.]. So I just hid at the back of the beach until it got better again. I knew if that nice lady came back to see me it would mean I could come out again. And she did. So I did. I showed her my bands so she’d know it was me. Green on blue; black on gray. That’s me and no other bird.

Piping Plover Tuna, banded in NJ, on Abaco 2 (Rhonda Pearce)

Showing Rhonda my bands so she knows mePiping Plover Tuna, banded in NJ, on Abaco 3 (Rhonda Pearce)

Mr Harbour wrote and told people about how I was ok after a big storm. He said:

“TUNA THE PIPL: UNRUFFLED BY HURRICANE JOAQUIN” Oct 3. Despite big seas & high winds reaching N Baha on the fringes of the hurricane, Tuna has returned safely to Watching Bay. Photos clearly showing bands. π Rhonda Pearce”

A lot of people [c2000] read about this and Michelle said “yay!!! go tuna!!!”, so maybe people had been a bit worried about me. People passed the story round. What ever a ‘Chorlito Valiente’ is, it sounds good and I’m glad to be one. I’m doing just fine, thank you… 

IMG_5013 copy

                                                       piping-plover                     piping-plover                    piping-plover

Since then I had THE BEST NEWS. My mum Paula has been found! She’s gone to a different beach that’s not very close to here [Joulter Cays, Andros – 100 miles]. She’s got a different leg thing called a “UR Green Flag PE2” and somebody saw her! I’m so excited (and I hope my dad Ross is safe too). She was in a crowd of 32 other birds just like her, and a lot of other birds friends too. 

Joulter Cays, Andros, Sep 28. Thousands of shorebirds including over 100 PIPL. Including Paula.Piping Plovers & other shorebirds, Joulter Cays Andros

Tuna’s mum Paula, one of a group of 32 piping plovers on Joulter CaysPaula

UR Green Flag PE2 aka Paula

12124591_10156120828430564_2098794849_o - Version 2

Joulter Cays, pinpointing Paula’s exact position 25.304095; -78.126642Joulter Cays, Andros (PIPL Paula)

I hope if I get that feeling again that I need to fly a long way, my mum gets it too. And my dad. Then we might all end up on the same beach where I cracked out! But I’m planning to stay on my own beach for now. More news from me soon. Cheeps from Tuna.

Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco jpg

TUNA’S FIRST FOUR MONTHS

  • JUN 10      Hatched
  • JUN 11      Banded & measured
  • JUL 05       Fledged
  • AUG 28     First sighted on Abaco – preliminary ID
  • SEP 16       Seen again on the same beach – ID confirmed
  • SEP 22       Last sighting before Hurricane Joaquin
  • SEP 28       Paula re-sighted on Joulter Cays, Andros
  • OCT 03      Tuna safely back on the beach again after Hurricane Joaquin

PIPL Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco. 1 bird. Banded. Rhonda Pearce 2 copy copy

NOTE If you ever wondered why birds are banded and what on earth use it is, the answer is in this story. Banding & tagging enables detailed research at both ends of the migration which in turn enables protection of the species and conservation of threatened habitats. There are only 8000 PIPL left. Degradation of the breeding grounds or the overwintering grounds – let alone both – may result in extinction. This seems to have been a good summer for the piping plover; let’s hope the winter treats them well so that this summer’s chicks like Tuna will be able to breed safely next year.

This Diary extract shows that not only can an individual banded bird’s migration movements be monitored, but also (with a bit of luck) a parent or sibling – even though they may chose to overwinter in quite different places. It is of particular significance if they then return to the same area in summer for breeding.

For details of all this season’s PIPL sightings, check out ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH 

TUNA’S DIARY (1)

EDWIN B FORSYTHE NWR

CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION of NJ

Credits: thanks to bander Michelle Stantial, birder Rhonda Pearce, CWFNJ & cohorts, Matt Jeffery and all other providers of info snippets; Birdorable for the cartoon; and as ever Xeno-Canto for the recording

“I’M WITH THE BAND…” PIPING PLOVER TUNA’S GUEST POST – revisited


 Tuna the Piping Plover: from New Jersey to Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

“I’M WITH THE BAND…” PIPING PLOVER TUNA’S GUEST POST 1

ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH was an amateur ‘citizen science’ conservation program to help investigate the winter season migrations of a tiny shore bird. It started in August 2015 as a winter-season supplement to the serious scientific research carried out annually in the summer breeding grounds and during winter trips by Conserve Wildlife Foundation New Jersey and related organisations. The data collected by APPW during the 2015-16 season turned out to be significant, so much so that the Watch continued for 5 years until Hurricane Dorian struck in September 2019. There were a few sightings after that, but the lasting changes for the island and its people precluded bird-watching.

TUNA was the first banded bird we found, a summer chick that had completed a 1000+ mile flight when aged about 3 months. During the season, Tuna’s life on Abaco was monitored, in particular by Rhonda Pearce who bonded with the little bird and took lots of photos. Tuna asked, in a whimsical way, if I would make space for a Guest Post. This was the first.

Hello, readers of Mr Harbour’s blog. My name is Tuna. This is the first part of my autobiography, and I’m only just 3 months old. I’ve already made a 1000-mile journey to Abaco for reasons I don’t quite understand. Maybe because it’s nice and warm here. This is my story so far.

I was born on June 10th in the Holgate Unit of the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey. If I’d known then what  ‘beautiful’ was, this would have been it.

StationPhoto2

My dad is called Ross. My mum is called Paula. I had a brother but suddenly he stopped being there. We didn’t see him again, I never knew why. Anyway, the day after I was born a very kind lady called Michelle (Stantial, CWF-NJ) picked me up and sort of cuddled me in her fingers. I was weighed and measured. She also put coloured rings on my top bits of leg. I had blue & green on one leg and black & gray on the other. Very smart. A chic chick. It was very quick and it didn’t hurt at all. After that I never really thought about them again, they just were part of me. As I grew bigger they sort of grew with me.

It made for an exciting first full day of my life, June 11. Here are some pictures of Michelle doing this with other chicks from the same region so you can see how gentle she was. The chicks’ names were Meg, Joe and Nod. Mr Northside Jim watched them every day and took photos of them to record how they grew up. You can read about us and the other shorebirds, Ospreys and Peregrine Falcons  of LBI NJ HERE

Meg being picked up for measuring and bandingpicking-up-piping-plover chick1 π Northside Jim LBI NJ

Banding Meg with a unique colour combo for IDpiping-plover-chick-banding-lbi π Northside Jim LBI NJ

Beak and leg measuringpiping-plover-chick-measurement π Northside Jim LBI NJ

I grew very quickly and my mum and dad showed me how to get food for myself. They looked after me in the nest and kept an eye on me when I went for a wander. Soon I was trying out my wings to see what would happen. Nothing. 

This isn’t me but was taken quite near my bit of beach. Can you see the other chick?Piping Plovers Conserve Wildlife Foundation NJ

It’s fun exploring the big world but it’s dangerous for little birds. I lost several friends along the way. That’s how my brother disappeared I think. As you grow bigger the world seems to get smaller. Which is weird.piping-plover-sit-in-dune π Northside Jim LBI NJmeg-beach-pea PIPL chick π Northside Jim LBI NJ

I got good at finding my own food, going further away from the nest and trying out the water. My wings seemed to be starting to work a bit. Quite soon I felt nearly ready to have a go at flying.Piping Plover (juv) CT (Danny Sauvageau)

On July 5 I managed to fly. Yup, I fledged and I flew. That was only 25 days after I cracked out. Mum and Dad had been talking about making a journey, a long one, and wondering when I would be ready for it. This was puzzling. I liked it where we were. But something was telling me I needed to fly somewhere else for some reason. Then one day I just took off and headed south…

_Piping_Plover_on_the_Fly (USFWS Mountain-Prairie wiki)

After several days of flying and landing in new places to rest and flying again, I reached a place that I knew was exactly right. I don’t know how, but something told me that it would be a good place to stay until I needed to move again. So I landed on a beach called Watching Bay on Abaco. I’d travelled 1000 miles from where I cracked out, and I wasn’t even 3 months old. Cool, huh?

EBF NWR to Cherokee Map jpg

There were some other birds on the beach, including one just like me except she didn’t have any coloured rings. Ha! There were very few humans apart from a few taking a walk. On Aug 28 one lady stopped and pointed something at me. I wonder why? She kept her distance so I wasn’t scared.

August 28 Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco. Rhonda Pearce’s photos led to provisional ID of Tuna
#10 Aug 28. Watching Bay, Cherokee Abaco. 1 bird. Banded. Rhonda Pearce 2#10 Aug 28. Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco. 1 bird. Banded. Rhonda Pearce 1

There was plenty to eat on the beach, and it was quite sheltered from the wind. It seemed safe. I liked it a lot and decided to stay there

Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco jpg

On Sep 16 I saw the same lady again, and she saw me. She was very careful not to get me worried, and she pointed that thing at me again. Then she walked away. I hope she comes back. She seems nice.

Sept 16 Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco. Rhonda’s new photos led to confirmed ID of Tuna

Tuna the Piping Plover: from New Jersey to Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) Tuna the Piping Plover: from New Jersey to Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) Tuna the Piping Plover: from New Jersey to Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)  #19 PIPL Bands close-up jpg

I’m planning to stay on this beach for now. More news from me soon. Cheeps from Tuna.

PIPL Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco. 1 bird. Banded. Rhonda Pearce 2 copy copy

TUNA’S FIRST THREE MONTHS

  • JUN 10     Hatched
  • JUN 11      Banded & measured
  • JUL 05       Fledged
  • AUG 28     First sighted on Abaco – preliminary ID
  • SEP 16       Seen again on the same beach – ID confirmed
  • SEP 22       Last sighting before Hurricane Joaquin
  • OCT 03      Back on the beach again after Hurricane Joaquin

STOP PRESS Tuna’s mother Paula was re-sighted on Sep 28 on Joulter Cays, Andros

NOTE If you ever wondered why birds are banded and what on earth use it is, the answer is in this story. Banding & tagging enables detailed research at both ends of the migration which in turn enables protection of the species and conservation of threatened habitats. There are only 8000 PIPL left. Degradation of the breeding grounds or the overwintering grounds – let alone both – may result in extinction. This seems to have been a good summer for the piping plover; let’s hope the winter treats them well so that this summer’s chicks like Tuna will be able to breed safely next year.

For details of all this season’s PIPL sightings, check out

ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH 

EDWIN B FORSYTHE NWR

CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION of NJ

Credits: huge thanks for info and fab photos to Michelle Stantial, Northside Jim, Danny Sauvageau and Rhonda Pearce for the strands to weave this (slightly creative) tale; to USFWS Mountain-Prairie for the PIPL in flight; as always Xeno-Canto for bird sound recordings non pareil; oh, and Meg, Joe & Nod

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ROLLING + TROLLING


Reddish Egret (white morph ) Danny Sauvageau

Reddish Egret (white morph)

TROLLING

The hot news hereabouts is that my troll friend is back. I mention it not because it remotely bothers me but so that he? she? they? they all? will know that I have noticed. That must be the point. If I didn’t notice, all that effort working through my posts of the last 3 months would be wasted. Where’s the joy in that? So it’s kindest to let you know that I know that you know that I know. And well done you  – it’s your second outing this year. It’s been twice a year for about 4 years, so it may be that the medication periodically wears off. Time for a top up, you may think. Meanwhile, you are more than welcome to comment on any post you find disagreeable or offensive. Natural History can be so aggravating, can it not?

Reddish Egret (white morph ) Phil Lanoue

Reddish Egret (white morph)

Reddish egret credits: white morphs – Danny Sauvageau and Phil Lanoue; standard version in full breeding plumage at Crossing Rocks Abaco – Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco, Bahamas - Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

Reddish Egret dark morph (breeding plumage)

 

WHALE TALES FROM BMMRO, ABACO BAHAMAS


Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

WHALE TALES FROM BMMRO, ABACO BAHAMAS

These photos of tailing sperm whales Physeter macrocephalus were taken in the last month or so off the coast of South Abaco, close to the HQ  of BMMRO (Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation) at Sandy Point.

Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

The powerful tails, or flukes, of the sperm whale are the largest of any whale species relative to body size. As the whales prepare for a deep dive, the flukes are the last thing you’ll see…

Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Marine mammals can be identified by individual characteristics such as tears to the fluke (whales – see header image), dorsal fin (dolphins) or ‘paddle’ (manatees). Many will be sighted and recorded, and later seen regularly, often for many years. Family dynasties can even be traced down the generations.

Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

The whale above is in the final stages of a dive, just before the fluke slides beneath the surface and vanishes. The dramatic moments that precede this, with the unforgettable sight of water pouring off the spread tail – are over. The hunt for deep-down squid has begun in earnest.

BMMRO research boat, Sandy Point Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour))

BMMRO Research RIB (with Harry)

Main Photos: Charlotte Dunn/ BMMRO

Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)