AMERICAN KESTRELS ON ABACO: ‘LET US PREY…’


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AMERICAN KESTRELS ON ABACO: ‘LET US PREY…’

To be honest, I haven’t done these fine birds justice. Barely a mention of them for 3 years. Too much else on the land and in the water to choose from. I posted some of my photos from an outing to Sandy Point HERE. And the kestrel kinsman MERLIN got some attention a while later. Time to make amends with some more AMKE.

american-kestrel-abaco-charles-skinner

As many or most of the images show, utility wires (also posts) are a favourite perch for kestrels. They get an unimpeded view of the only thing that really matters in their lives – outside the breeding season, of course – PREY.

american-kestrel-abaco-2-peter-mantle

In my experience it’s quite rare to see AMKEs on the ground – unless they are in the act of ripping up some hapless rodent pinned to the earth. I was with photographer Tom Sheley when he captured this fine bird in the grass. 

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Tom also took this outstanding photo, on an overcast day, of a kestrel feeding its fledgeling a large insect.american-kestrel-feeding-fledgling-2-delphi-club-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheley

Treasure Cay and its surrounding area makes for a good day’s birding. Although South Abaco, below Marsh Harbour, is the go-to location, TC has plenty of scope for a great variety of species from shore birds to songbirds – including the occasional Kirtland’s warbler. The golf course pond at hole #11 is well worth checking out (with permission at the club house, rarely declined unless there’s an event of some sort). So is the large brackish lake system where you may well find herons and egrets. There’s been a rare (for Abaco) pearly-eyed thrasher there recently. And you may find yourself being watched by a kestrel from a vantage point.

american-kestrel-treasure-cay-abaco-bahamas-6-13-tom-sheley

A richly-coloured specimenAMERICAN KESTREL, Abaco -Nina Henry

A kestrel in streamlined flight, with its feet tucked tightly under its bodyamerican-kestrel-abaco-tom-reed

Bird on the Wireamerican-kestrel-abaco-peter-mantle-copy

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION

One of Leonard Cohen’s standards, and a song covered by almost everyone from Johnny Cash to Heathen Gonads*, Bird on the Wire was on the album Songs from a Room (1969). It was a favourite of Cohen’s, who once said “I always begin my concert with this song”. Covers range from the excellent via good, interesting, and strange to outright bizarre. Joe Bonamassa’s take on it (as Bird on a Wire) on Black Rock, is certainly… unusual**.

Credits: Bruce Hallett (1, 10); Charles Skinner (2); Peter Mantle (3, 9); Tom Sheley 4, 5, 6); Nina Henry (7); Tom Reed (8)

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*not really .    **shows originality & ingenuity -vs- dents his purist bluesman credentials

“HARRY POTTER & THE MAGIC BAND” REVISITED: THE LEGEND LIVES ON


PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

“HARRY POTTER & THE MAGIC BAND” REVISITED

THE LEGEND LIVES ON

by ROWLING HARBOUR

It was a bright sunny morning and the sand on the beach was warm under Harry Potter’s bare feet. Although by now an experienced flyer, his recent adventures during his epic 1000-mile journey had left him very tired. All his friends that had undertaken the same long flight were tired too. Now they were enjoying a quiet, peaceful time away from all the dangers they had somehow survived during their scary expedition (see Harry Potter and the Migration of Fear). It would be a long time, Harry said to himself – maybe as long as 6 months – before he wanted to have another adventure like that. He wondered when Ron Peeplo and Hermione Plover would arrive… 

_Piping_Plover_on_the_Fly (USFWS Mountain-Prairie wiki)

But the little group on a remote shoreline on Abaco were not as safe as they thought. Unknown to the happy, sleepy plovers on the beach, they were already being stalked by two creatures. This determined pair had one sole aim – to find plovers, to catch them and to carry out scientific experiments on them. That’s three aims, in fact. The editor would surely fix that error later (No – ed.). Would Harry and his friends soon find themselves in mortal peril from these formidable adversaries, these beasts with huge brains, armed with the latest technology? What magical powers would be needed to combat the imminent danger creeping stealthily towards them? The male definitely had a spine-chilling look about him; the female appeared less daunting – but might therefore be all the more dangerous…

TOPO & STEG PIC JPG   piping-plover

Suddenly, Harry felt a terrible foreboding. Fear ruffled his neck feathers and his little left foot started drumming impatiently on the sand. He’d felt like this several times before, like that time a Dark Lord had driven a SUV straight at him on that nesting beach many miles away, the one where he cracked out (see Harry Potter and the Vehicle of Dread). And when the massive dog came and sniffed round the nest when he was a tiny chick (see Harry Potter and the Hound of Horror). Instinctively, he grabbed a magic meat-string from the damp sand, ate it, and took to the air… only to be caught up in some sort of fearsome spider’s web (a mist net – ed.). He was trapped. He struggled bravely, piping out his anger at this cruel trick. But it was no good – he was caught fast, and wriggling only seemed to make it even worse. The massive creatures were running towards him fast, shouting in triumph – they had got Harry exactly where they wanted him – at their mercy…

A Mist Net (if unsuccessful, A Missed Net)Mist Net jpg

Just as Harry had started to believe that his last moment had arrived, an amazing thing happened. Instead of dispatching him with a swift blow to head, as a Dark Lord might have done, he was gently removed from the net and softly held in the female’s hands. His instant fear that she might crush him to a horrible mangled pulp rapidly lessened. Why, she was even talking to him. And those voices. They sounded not so much fearsome as friendly. But were they lulling him into  false sense of security, only to wreak an evil vengeance upon him? (*Spoiler Alert* No – ed.).

Steph the Egger with captive Harry Potter, & wearing the cap of the mysterious ‘Delphi Club’PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

Then suddenly things got worse. Much worse. Harry was slowly wrapped in a large white blanket and laid on something that wasn’t sand. Something hard. What were they planning to do with him now. He heard the male – Harry had now concluded that he must be dealing with the Avian Overlord himself, the infamous Todd of Pover, first cousin of Severus Snipe – mutter an incantation: “54 grams. Pretty good. 54 grams. Have you got that”. Yes, they’d taken his dignity and his weight but there had been no pain. Yet. Harry began to relax a little.

PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

Meanwhile, Steph the Egger was making a strange rattling sound. As Harry was unwound from his shroud he suddenly saw a box filled to the brim with exotic jewels of the most opulent colours glistening in the sunlight. At once, he knew he had to have one of them. A beautiful pink one. One to wear on his leg. One that he could keep for ever. One that would always mean ‘Harry Potter’. That very one on the top. Just there. With the magic number 22 on it in black writing. And Harry started to breathe a special silent Piping Spell: ‘Please pick me up… in your hand… and fit the Magic Two-Two Band…’ 

PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

And, miraculously, the spell began to work. First, Harry was gently held as the Magic Band was put round his right leg. At the top, just where he wanted it. Harry shut one eye and repeated the spell.PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

Then despite an awful wound from an earlier battle, the Todd of Pover made sure the band was secure and would never come off. It would be there forever – the Harry Potter ID band. By this time Harry didn’t even mind the indignity of being turned upside down.PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

Finally, it was done. Really, the jewel was more like a flag than a band. But Harry knew instinctively that it would take a massive effort for his story to be rewritten to make this clear from the start, so he decided to let it pass. Band. Flag. What did it matter. It was his prize, gloriously his. 

And then he was passed to Steph the Egger. Harry presumed she got her name for her ability to find nesting birds in that other place he had flown South from. And now, here she was, holding him tenderly, talking to him and telling him how cool he looked. Even her bright red claws did not seem so frightening now. Except… WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO HIM NOW?

PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

Suddenly, Steph the Egger stood up and Harry found himself several feet above the safe warm sand. Steph held him out in front of her and then, in an instant, he was free… Free to fly away with his beautiful pink jewel band, his special number, and an intuition that wherever he might be, and whoever saw him, they would always know that he was Harry Potter for as long as he lived. Against all odds he had gained… THE MAGIC BAND.

PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

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POSTSCRIPT & UPDATE FEB 2017

Harry returned to Abaco on his magic Quidditch stick (no he jolly didn’t, he just flew. OK? Do stop now please – ed.) for his 3rd winter on Long Beach Abaco. He was sighted as follows:

  • 23 Nov  Long Beach, with Pf #36 & Pf #50, also 3rd year returners, & several other banded returners. Keith Kemp
  • 06 Dec  Still in the same group, except Pf #50 absent. Todd Pover
  • 23 Jan  In the same group, Pf #50 still absent. Todd Pover

Harry-Potter-pf22-Long Beach, Abaco, Keith Kemp 19-11-16

PREVIOUS HISTORY

Harry was banded Pf #22 on February 7th 2015 at Long Beach, Abaco, towards the end of his 1st winter there. No one knows where he spent his has spent his summers. He has not been reported anywhere other than Abaco – i.e. along his migration route. All that can be said with certainty is that every 12 months he turns up on the same beach, Long Beach Abaco, in the same place (it is a very Long Beach). 5 other PIPL were originally pink-banded with Harry by a joint National Audubon, Virginia Tech, BNT, and CWFNJ team (pink being the colour used for Bahamas birds). Of those 6, 3 have returned to the same beach twice, and the other 2 once. Some of them have also been tracked to their breeding grounds and on their migrations. And somehow they have all found their way back to the same place on Abaco to overwinter together again for the 2016-17 season.

GENDER NOTE

In fact it isn’t clear if HP is male or female (see below). He might be Harriet Potter. But I have played safe and stuck with the gender implied by his given name…

Harry Potter Pf #22 on Long Beach Abaco, 3 Dec 2015, a year after (s)he was banded there PIPL PINK22 Dec 3 2015 Long Beach Abaco 2 (Stephanie Egger) copy

STEPH THE EGGER EXPLAINS THE NAME, NUMBER & QUIDDITCH PIC

“I helped band this piping plover, and called him “Harry Potter.” I know 22 isn’t Harry’s quidditch number (07), but 22 is for my birthday when I mostly seem to be down in Abaco.”

DISCLAIMER RE HEADER IMAGE I don’t suggest making silly photos of all “named” birds as this is an endangered species that we should certainly take very seriously. That said, I do think that names help people connect to the species and it also aids the researchers in ID’ing (my personal opinion)”.

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Credits: Stephanie the Egger, The Todd of Pover, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey & co-banding teams, Keith Kemp, USFWS Mountain-Prairie (PIPL in flight), Birdorable, Rowling Harbour, and star of the show Harry Potter Pf 22 UR. Apologies to JKR for feeble pastiche.

MAGNIFICENT FLYING MACHINES: FRIGATEBIRDS


Magnificent Frigatebirds (m) - Michael Vaughn

MAGNIFICENT FLYING MACHINES: FRIGATEBIRDS

It’s almost exactly one year since I last posted about the Magnificent Frigatebird aka Man-o-War Bird (Fregata magnificens). You can read about their courtship displays, gular pouches, nesting habits, names, uses to mankind (if any), and 10 magnificent facts about them HERE. I’ve included some truncated facts below.

Now is a good time to revisit these wonderful sky pirates, for 2 reasons. The first is that photographer Michael Vaughn has produced some outstanding images of the species. The second is that I have just watched a characteristically superb BBC David Attenborough prog showing frigatebirds robbing tropicbirds of fish – despite them being lodged in the tropicbirds’ throats (for safekeeping…). Here’s the link to the sequence.

     CLICK LOGO TO VIEWmagnificent-frigatebird

Film clip: MF has TB by the leg & shakes it until the fish  (circled) drops outMagnificent Frigatebird steals fish from Tropicbird (BBC clip)

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A MAN-O-WAR GALLERY

A male in flight (a most unusual shot, taken from above)Magnificent Frigatebird (m) - Michael Vaughn

Juveniles being delinquentMagnificent Frigatebirds (juv) - Michael Vaughn

A female in flight: the white front is the invariable distinguishing featureMagnificent Frigatebird (f) - Michael Vaughn

Maybe a bit of rivalry going on here….?Magnificent Frigatebird (f) - Michael Vaughn

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10 MAGNIFICENT FACTS ABOUT FRIGATEBIRDS

  • The largest of several frigatebird species around the world
  • Found in tropical and subtropical waters
  • Females have white fronts – easily distinguishable from males in flight
  • Adult wingspan is 7+ feet = largest wing-area / bodyweight ratio of any bird
  • Can remain in flight and far out to sea for many days
  • KLEPTOPARASITES – will rob other seabirds of their food
  • Diet: mainly fish & squid from the water’s surface; seabird chicks
  • Nest in colonies, producing a single egg every other season
  • Don’t land on water, as they can’t float; and feeble at walking on land
  • One of the earliest depictions of a frigatebird is by Eleazar Albin in 1737. He was a naturalist contemporary of MARK CATESBY & pre-dated AUDUBON

Albin’s Magnificent FrigatebirdFrigatebird_Eleazar_Albin_1737

Audubon’s Magnificent FrigatebirdAudubon Frigatebird

Magnificent Frigatebird (m) - Michael Vaughn

Credits: Michael Vaughn for all photos; cartoon from Birdorable; Mr Albin and Mr Audubon for ornithological awesomeness; TV CLIP bbc.co.uk  © copyright 2009 BBC

Magnificent Frigatebird (m) - Michael Vaughn

“THE DIET OF WORMS”: WORM-EATING WARBLERS ON ABACO


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“THE DIET OF WORMS”: WORM-EATING WARBLERS ON ABACO

The little worm-eating warbler (Helmitheros vermivorum) is unique. Not because of its worm-eating propensities or its warbler-ishness (or the combination), but because it is the only species currently classified in the genus Helmitheros. The Swainson’s warbler was once in the same genus, but the WEWA saw off the competition.

Worm-eating Warbler, Man-o-War Cay Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

SO WHAT IS A HELMITHEROS THEN, IF IT’S SO SPECIAL?

The word is Greek, meaning something like ‘grub-hunter’. And the Latin-derived vermivorum reflects the diet of a VERMIVORE – an eater of worms. But this description is, like a worm, somewhat elastic. It includes caterpillars, larvae, grubs, spiders and similar creatures. But whereas there are other warbler vermivores there is only one Helmitheros.

worm-eating_warbler_Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren wiki

SOME WORM-EATING FACTS TO DIGEST

  • WEWAs are sexually monomorphic. Males & females are indistinguishable for most of the year
  • They can only be reliably sexed at the height of the breeding season
  • Don’t ask. OK, a magnifying glass may be needed
  • These birds are believed to eat earthworms only rarely. Moth larvae are their best treat
  • They are ground-nesting birds, one of only 5 new-world warblers to do this
  • Like some shore-birds, adults may feign injury to lure predators away from the nest
  • They are vulnerable to nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds** & feral cats
  • Fires, deforestation, habitat change & diminished food resources are also threats to the species
  • As are pesticides, which destroy the primary food source and are in any case potentially toxic

**cowbirds are luckily very uncommon on Abaco but are spreading their range at an alarming rate and pose a potential threat to many Bahamas bird species

Worm-eating Warbler, Man-o-War Cay Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

DISTRIBUTION & CONSERVATION STATUS

The breeding range of the worm-eating warbler covers much of the eastern half of the US as far south as the Gulf Coast. It winters in the West Indies, Central America and southeastern Mexico. There is no overlap between summer and winter habitat. Because of the vulnerability of this ground-nesting species to a number of threats (see FACTS above), they are now IUCN listed as ‘Special Concern’ in New Jersey.389px-helmitheros_vermivorum_map-svg

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WHAT DO THEY SOUND LIKE?

In this case the song and call, as transposed into human, really does sound like the bird itself. The song is a rapid squeaky trill; and the calls for once do actually sound like ‘chip’ or ‘tseet’. See what you think.

Paul Marvin / Xeno-Canto

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THE (ORIGINAL) DIET OF WORMS – A DIGRESSION

Studied European history? Had a laugh over The Diet of Worms in 1521? This was an assembly (or ‘diet’) of the Holy Roman Empire that took place in the City of Worms. There had already been several. This one resulted in an edict concerning Martin Luther and protestant reformation, with the consequence that… [sorry, nearly nodded of there. Just as I did at this stage at school I expect] 

worm-eating_warbler

It is always instructive to look at Audubon’s fine depictions from the early c19. Here is his WEWA. Notice that it is here called Sylvia vermivora. So he had the worm-eating part, but the first part of the name rather strangely relates to a group of old-world warblers. No, I’ve no idea why.

worm_eating_warbler_audubon-copy

Credits: Photos – Tom Sheley (1); Charmaine Albury (2, 4, 6); Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren (3, 7); Tom Friedel (5). Research material – CWFNJ / Michael J Davenport; Tom Fegely / The Morning Call; assorted magpie pickings & open source

PIP THE PLOVER VARIES HER DIET…


Piping Plover, West End, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

PIP THE PLOVER VARIES HER DIET…

Hi guys, that’s me, Pip, in the picture above. I live in North America in the summer. That’s where I was born. I fly down south to somewhere warm for the winter. Like many migratory humans, my chosen place is the Bahamas. It’s got some great empty, safe beaches and the weather is (mostly) lovely. Unless a Big Wind happens. The tide-line is cram-full of meat-strings (these would be worms. Ed). There are great patches of weed larder to work through. It suits me very well, just like lots of other shore birds. It’s why some of us return every year.

I’ve just got one point to raise, if you wouldn’t mind. There’s a mass of plastic (and other) crap out there on the beaches. It washes in on every tide. I know it isn’t Bahamian crap, but has come from many miles away. But Mr Harbour has done some work with my portrait to identify what’s in the seaweed I’m feeding on that might be harmful. He enhanced it and picked out just the things he’s certain shouldn’t be there. All the blue bits, for a start. And who knows what else is under the weed that I can’t even see to avoid. The shoreline and the wrack line is my dining area. I might easily eat some of the small bits by mistake. I think I must do that quite often. That would be bad – too much plastic crap and I’ll be ill. Or die. There are only about 8000 of us in the whole big wide world. If 80 of us die from plastic ingestion, that’s one per cent. The loss has to be made up next breeding season before we can even begin to increase our population. 

Just sayin!

PIPL & beach crap

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

chris-jordan-inside-albatrossPhoto: Chris Jordan, who studies birds killed by trash

BLACKPOLL WARBLERS ON ABACO: UNCOMMON TRANSIENTS


Blackpoll Walbler dendroica_striata_mn-cephas-wiki

BLACKPOLL WARBLERS ON ABACO: UNCOMMON TRANSIENTS

The Blackpoll Warbler Setophaga striata is a “TR3” on Abaco. Which is to say, the species is classified as an uncommon transient in its migration, and as such it is rarely seen on Abaco. Apart from anything else the window of opportunity of seeing one in the Fall or in Spring is limited by the length of time they pause on Abaco to catch their breath. Also, they are small birds that do not draw attention to themselves. They hang around in the coppice foliage rather than parading out in the open; and their call is a tiny ‘tsip‘ sound (as with so many other small birds…). 

Blackpoll Warbler, Man-o-War Cay, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

Fortunately, on Abaco’s warbler magnet Man-o-War Cay, alert birder Charmaine Albury was out and about with her camera to record a sighting. I should say that during the writing of THE BIRDS OF ABACO, I never managed to obtain a single image – however poor – of a Blackpoll Warbler actually taken on Abaco (a qualification for inclusion) from any of the many sources I used. So sadly, this pretty warbler does not feature in the book.

Blackpoll Warbler, Man-o-War Cay, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

The summer breeding area for blackpolls covers northern North America from Alaska through most of Canada, the Great Lakes region and New England. In the fall, they fly South to the Greater Antilles and the northeastern coasts of South America. The summer and winter areas are very distinct, as the distribution map shows:

dendroica_striata_map-svg

Despite their diminutive size**, blackpoll warblers generally undertake their  long-distance migration – often over open water – non-stop or with a single stopover.  Their migration has been the subject of many scientific studies. One of the longest distance non-stop overwater flights ever recorded for a migratory songbird was made by a BLWA. Which all goes to explain why the species is so rarely seen along the migration route: unlike many migrating birds, they make few, if any, stops along the way.

Blackpoll Warbler, Man-o-War Cay, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

Of the many stats I have read through, I chose one to demonstrate the stamina of these little birds. In one study, an number were fitted with tiny geolocators. These revealed an average migration journey of around 1600 miles, with the non-stop trip being completed in 3 days by at least one bird.

f1-medium

“Transoceanic migration by a 12 g songbird”

The maps above show blackpoll warbler migrations recorded for 5 birds in a study that indicates that, while a direct overwater route is preferred in the fall migration, the return journey in spring is more leisurely, and overland (it looks as though only 3 birds made it home).

The study quoted is by William V. DeLuca, Bradley K. Woodworth, Christopher C. Rimmer, Peter P. Marra, Philip D. Taylor, Kent P. McFarland, Stuart A. Mackenzie, D. Ryan Norris (

Blackpoll Warbler, Man-o-War Cay, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

** I came across the statement that “The blackpoll warbler… attains the weight of a ball point pen”. I find this an unhelpful comparison. I know what is meant, but I find it hard to think of a ball of feathers in terms of a writing instrument. Maybe it’s just me? [Astute Reader: I’m afraid so…]

YOU MENTIONED THAT THEY GO ‘TSIP’. WHAT DOES THAT EVEN SOUND LIKE?

Credits: header image of a summer bird, Cephas; all other photos by Charmaine Albury, taken on Man-o-War Cay Abaco; birdsong Xeno-Canto / wikimedia commons

REDDISH EGRET (WHITE MORPH): A FISHY TALE…


Reddish Egret (White Morph) Hunting - Danny Sauvageau

REDDISH EGRET (WHITE MORPH): A FISHY TALE…

And one with a happy ending! There’s something very satisfying about an expert birder /  photographer’s capture of a perfect sequence, as these fantastic photos show. It not something I’ve ever achieved, not having the skill, the equipment or (probably) the patience required to get a sequence of perfect shots. Instead – and as a guest post while we are having some downtime somewhere nice – it’s a pleasure to feature this reddish egret stalking its prey, photographed  by Danny Sauvageau. #4 has it all – drama, movement, clarity and triumph captured in a fraction of a second.

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All photos by ace Floridian birding photographer Danny Sauvageau (with thanks)