VORACIOUS VIREOS: A TALE OF GREED ON ABACO


Black-whiskered Vireo (juvenile), Abaco (Charles Skinner)

VORACIOUS VIREOS: A TALE OF GREED ON ABACO

Lo, the tiny fluffy BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO fledgling, so innocent and coming close to aborbs (but for being frankly a little unkempt). Yet few would guess that beneath that delightfully virtuous exterior rages the appetite of a  MONSTER

Excuse me, I’m getting a little peckish…Black-whiskered Vireo (juvenile), Abaco (Charles Skinner)

That’s fine, son, I’ll go and get you a little snack…

Whaaaaa… Hungreeeee…Black-whiskered Vireo (juvenile), Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Whaaaaa…. want MORE…

Black-whiskered Vireo (juvenile), Abaco (Charles Skinner)Black-whiskered Vireo (juvenile), Abaco (Charles Skinner)

And more…

And another one… keep ’em coming

Whaaaaa… more…               NO, son, you’ve had quite enough for one meal…Black-whiskered Vireo (juvenile), Abaco (Charles Skinner)

This one’s ALL for me…

All great photos by Charles Skinner, who must have had a fun time watching the entertainment. Although we intentionally featured very few juveniles in THE BIRDS OF ABACO, one of these shots insisted on being included…

MARK CATESBY, PIONEER NATURALIST: NEW BOOK


MARK CATESBY, PIONEER NATURALIST: NEW BOOK

Exactly two years ago, I wrote about the publication of a lavish limited edition facsimile of Mark Catesby’s renowned work The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands in 4 volumes to mark the 300th anniversary of Catesby’s arrival in the New World. Unsurprisingly, the cost of the set was prodigious (a rather nice car) – but only a fraction of the cost of a vanishingly rare original set (a rather nice house). Reader, I didn’t buy one.

Now the CATESBY MEMORIAL TRUST has produced an excellent and inexpensive illustrated introduction to Catesby’s great work that will transport you back through the centuries to the earliest days of natural historical research by Europeans abroad. It’s worth remembering that Catesby antedated the more famous John James Audubon (1785-1851) by a whole century.

Catesby’s signature

The new book has over 40 illustrations from Catesby’s The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. These are paired with relevant extracts from the work, and there is additional commentary. Click on Catesby’s Tropicbird below for a sample of the book.

Click me for book sample!

To buy the book – it’s $25 – click HERE

Mark Catesby - 'Bahama Titmous' (Bananaquit)

Mark Catesby – ‘Bahama Titmous’ (Bananaquit)

MARK CATESBY? JUST REMIND ME…

Mark Catesby (1683 – 1749) was a pioneering English naturalist and artist who published his magnum opus based on a number of expeditions he undertook from 1712 onwards. His was the first ever published account of the flora and fauna of North America, and the 2 volumes (with a supplement) included some 220 colour plates of the creatures and plants of land and sea that he had come across. After his travels, Catesby spent some 20 years producing his masterwork and died soon after, perhaps from the sheer effort of it all.

Red-legged Thrush in Gumbo Limbo Tree (HM QE2)

Red-legged Thrush in Gumbo Limbo Tree

AND HIS RELEVANCE TO THE BAHAMAS IS…?

On behalf of the Royal Society Catesby undertook expeditions, first to Carolina and then more widely in America and eventually in the Bahamas. On these trips he drew and painted detailed pictures of birds, fish, turtles, flowers and corals, many of which are familiar in the Bahamas to this day – and a few of which are included here.

Mark Catesby - Angelfish

Mark Catesby – Angelfish

Flamingo Head + Gorgonian Coral (HM QE2)

Flamingo Head & Gorgonian Coral

Mark Catesby - plate 139 Hawksbill Turtle

Mark Catesby – Hawksbill Turtle

Mark Catesby (Black-faced Grassquit)

Mark Catesby (Black-faced Grassquit)

RELATED POSTS

CHARLES CORY & ABACO 1891

THE PIONEERS (Wilson, Audubon, et al)  

MR SWAINSON (on his 224th Birthday)

Bahama Finch (Western Spindalis)

RELATED BOOK

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Information about the Catesby Commemorative Trust and the book The Curious Mister Catesby can be found HERE. I have the book: it is wonderful, but as an amateur I find it quite a difficult read, and I have to take it in small chunks.

For anyone tempted to look further into the importance of this ground-breaking naturalist, the CCT produced a 50 minute film that is well worth watching if you are interested to know more.

Credits: HM QE2, Catesby Commemorative Trust, National Geographic, Mariners’ Museum Library, sundry open source info-&-pic-mines inc. Wiki, Addison Publs, 

“Illuminating natural history is so particularly essential to the perfect understanding of it”   (Mark Catesby)

ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS REVISITED


Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco (Sandy Walker)

ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS REVISITED

In 2014 I wrote about finding myself – with others on a birding expedition – in the midst of dozens of nighthawks as they swooped and dived (dove?) while hawking for flies. “The birds were quite unperturbed by our presence, and from time to time would zoom past within inches of our heads, making a swooshing noise as they did so”. You can find the post at FAST FOOD ON THE WING.

Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco (Stephen Connett)

Nighthawks catch flying insects on the wing, and mostly forage at dawn and dusk – or (more romantically) at night in a full moon. 

Antillean Nighthawk (Stephen Connett)

Besides aerial feeding displays, nighthawks may also be seen on the ground, where they nest. I say ‘nest’, but actually they hardy bother to make an actual nest, but just lay their eggs on bare ground. And, more riskily, this may well be out in the open rather than concealed. The eggs – usually 2 – hatch after 3 weeks or so, and after another 3 weeks the chicks fledge.

  Antillean Nighthawk Egg (Stephen Connett) Antillean Nighthawk Egg (Stephen Connett)

Fortunately their colouring enables them to blend in with the landscape – a good example of bird camouflage in natural surroundings.

Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

The photos above are from Sandy Walker (header), Stephen Connett – to whom special thanks for use permission for his great nighthawk and egg images – and the last one by bird legend and author of the locus classicus The Birds of the Bahamas (without which no trip to the Bahamas is complete), Bruce Hallett.

Antillean Nighthawk Chordeiles gundlachii, is a species of nightjar. These birds have local names such as ‘killa-ka-dick’, ‘pi-di-mi-dix’, ‘pity-pat-pit’, or variations on the theme, presumably onomatopoeic. Pikadik-(dik) will do for me. See what you reckon from these recordings (excuse the thick-billed vireo – I think – in the background):

Andrew Spencer / Xeno-Canto

ODD FACT

I have read in several sources that no one knows where these migratory birds spend winter; or else that winter season data is ‘scarce’. So no sensible range maps exist, for example. If you read this, and have antillean nighthawks (as opposed to common nighthawks) all round you in winter, please tell someone – you may hold the key to an ornithological mystery…

As so often, the Bahamas Philatelic Bureau leads the way with natural history stamps. The 15c Antillean Nighthawk above featured in a 2001 bird set. You can see dozens more very excellent Bahamas bird, butterfly, fish, flower and other wildlife stamps HERE.

Find out about Juan Gundlach, Cuban Natural Historian (he of the Antillean Nighthawk and the Bahama Mockingbird for example) HERE

 

 

Credits: Sandy Walker (1);  Stephen Connett (2, 3, 4, 5); Bruce Hallett (6); Andrew Spencer / Xeno-Canto (audio files); Audubon (7); Sibley / Audubon (8)

IN A CLASS OF ITS OWN: THE LIMPKIN


Limpkin wading (Michael Vaughn)

IN A CLASS OF ITS OWN: THE LIMPKIN

The Limpkin has a special status: it is in a Class of its own. Actually, it is in a Family of its own in terms of strict Linnean classification. It is in the Class ‘bird’ and the Order ‘crane and rail’. But there is no other creature in its Family or Genus. So it’s on its own, bird-wise. None like it anywhere. It is ‘monotypic’. 

Limpkin (Michael Vaughn)

These snail eaters are said to be named for their somewhat lame walking method on their long legs. Their long downcurved bills are shaped to act rather like tweezers when feeding on snails. I’ve never managed to get very close to one – they seem to be quite secretive. But boy, can you hear them when they decide to go for it. If you ever hear this sound – quite possibly at night – now you’ll know what creature is making it…

Jerome Fischer / Xeno-Canto

Limpkin wading (Michael Vaughn)

TEN LIMPID LIMPKIN FACTS TO ENTHRAL YOUR FRIENDS

  • The Limpkin has its own ‘monotypic’ family – a one-off species of bird
  • They eat snails and molluscs (also insects, worms & frogs), using their beaks to snatch them
  • They may leave piles of discarded shells in their favourite feeding sites
  • The birds are ungainly and awkward: ‘limpkin’ probably derives from their limping gait
  • Males and females have the same plumage (males being slightly larger)
  • The beak acts like tweezers – slightly open and closing at the tip – for tweaking snails etc
  • Territory is defended aggressively, with ‘ritualized charging and wing-flapping’ at intruders
  • Sex lives: they are monogamous; or polyandrous (a male and more than one female. Tsk.)
  • They use ‘courtship feeding’ – males will catch and shell a snail and then feed it to a female
  • They are also known as the ‘Crying Bird’ for their bizarre shrieking call, as used in films**

Limpkin (Michael Vaughn)

** Specifically, as a generic jungle noise in Tarzan films; and apparently for the hippogriff in one of the Harry Potter films.

 Credits: All main photos, Michael Vaughn taken in Florida – with thanks for use permission; teaching resource Schmoop for the Linnean infographic; audio file Jerome Fischer / Xeno-Canto
Limpkin (Michael Vaughn)

SCOOP (2): AMAZING BLACK SKIMMERS & CHICKS


Black Skimmers and chicks - Danny Sauvageau

SCOOP (2): AMAZING BLACK SKIMMERS & CHICKS

Last year I posted about an avian scoop, when black skimmers (Rynchops niger) were actually photographed on Abaco. These wonderful birds are classified WR 4 for Abaco, which means uncommon winter residents (ie roughly September until April). Now I look into it further on the indispensable eBird, there are actually quite a few reported sightings most years on Abaco – especially on the Cays. Furthermore the sightings cover most months except midsummer. So maybe they aren’t so rare after all. But I couldn’t track down any workable Abaco skimmer photographs until Charmaine Albury managed to take a few last Autumn, which led to the gift post title SCOOP. Because that is just how they feed. 

Black Skimmer feeding - Danny Sauvageau

Danny Sauvageau is a dedicated birder in Florida, and a brilliant photographer with it. From time to time I feature his work when his camera skills cover a species found on Abaco but for which Abaco images are scarce (or non-existent). All these photographs were recently taken in Pinellas County, Fl., and I’m really grateful to Danny for permission for occasional use of his exceptional photos. 

Black Skimmers - Danny Sauvageau

At the moment, the breeding season is well under way, with the hungry chicks being fed as fast as they can swallow. And this is how that looks, thanks to Danny and his immense talent. 

Black Skimmers and chicks - Danny SauvageauBlack Skimmers and chicks - Danny SauvageauBlack Skimmers and chicks - Danny SauvageauBlack Skimmers and chicks - Danny SauvageauBlack Skimmers and chicks - Danny SauvageauBlack Skimmers and chicks - Danny SauvageauBlack Skimmers and chicks - Danny Sauvageau

All photos by © Danny Sauvageau, with thanks

And finally… I’d be really pleased to hear about any Abaco skimmer sightings (and I’ll keep an eye on eBird). Bonus points and a theoretical Kalik for photographs!

Black Skimmers skimming - Danny Sauvageau

RED-LEGGED THRUSHES: MAKING EYE-CONTACT ON ABACO


Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

RED-LEGGED THRUSHES: MAKING EYE-CONTACT ON ABACO

I see it is ‘literally’** years since I last wrote about these lovely, accessible birds, the only permanent resident breeding thrush species on Abaco (out of 8). The post – OL’ RED-EYES IS BACK – featured mainly my own photos, plus one by Mrs RH. With a whole lot of more recent photos, it’s time to revisit these cheery birds. I promised something brighter after two rather sombre shearwater die-off posts – (incidentally, a far wider problem than just in the Bahamas, including NC & Cape May). Here it is.

A RED-LEGGED, RED-EYED GALLERY

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

Many of the birds shown here were photographed in or around the grounds of Delphi. More recently, they have to an extent been displaced by red-winged blackbirds which are of course very fine birds but in large numbers sound (may I say this? Is this just me?) quite irritating after a while. Whereas the thrush of course has a sweet and melodious song, like this (my own recording – turn up the vol):

Mr & Mrs Harbour’s Handiwork at DelphiRed-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (S Salvesen)

As I may have mentioned before (impatient reader: ‘yes, yes, you did’), the eyes of the RLT are at least as prominent a feature as their legs. Lots of birds have red legs. Very few have such remarkable bright, fiery eye-rings, even in a youngster.

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Charles Skinner)Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Charles Skinner)

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Erik Gauger)

This photo from birdman Tom Sheley is my favourite – a perfect compositionRed-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

** This means it really is literally years (4), not in the modern modified sense of ‘not actually literally’, as  in “I am literally dying of hunger”. Unless you are exceptionally unfortunate, while you have the breath to say you are, you are literally not doing so…

FUN FACT

There is quite literally no song since 1950 with the word ‘thrush’ in the title. Hard to fathom why… One or two songs have a thrush buried away in the lyrics somewhere. Blackbirds have done rather better in this respect… 

Photo Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 11); Peter Mantle (2, 4); Gerlinde Taurer (3); Mr & Mrs Harbour (5, 6, 7); Charles Skinner (8, 9); Erik Gauger (10). Lo-fi audio recording: RH

SHEARWATER DIE-OFF ON ABACO: UPDATE


Great Shearwater (part of a die-back event on Abaco) - Dick Daniels

SHEARWATER DIE-OFF ON ABACO: UPDATE

A week ago I posted about the reports of dead and dying Audubon’s shearwaters being washed up on various beaches on the Abaco mainland in and around Cherokee Sound and down to Bahama Palm Shores. I included some advice about how to deal with these poor birds. You can find the post HERE.

Piping plover monitor Rhonda Pearce found a couple of struggling shearwaters in the seaAudubon's Shearwater - part of a die-back event on Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

The very next day, reports began to emerge of another species, great shearwaters, being found dead or in a distressed state just off-shore or washed up on beaches. Reports were fewer, but covered a wider area, including a bird in a very poor condition at Delphi. Great shearwaters were the ones involved in the die-back event 2 years ago. 

Audubon's Shearwater - part of a die-back event on Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

Keith Kemp, who made one of the earlier Audubon shearwater reports, found a young great shearwater in trouble in the sea while he was out in a kayak off Cherokee Point. He rescued it and took all sensible precautions to nourish it and make it comfortable but sadly it did not last the night. He has frozen the bird as a specimen in case analysis will help to explain this die-off event.

Great Shearwater - part of a die-back event on Abaco (Keith Kemp)

As I wrote before, these birds of the open ocean may become weakened and exhausted if fishing conditions become adverse. They will drift weakly with the tide, dying at sea or washing up in a very poor state in the tideline or on beaches.  Their prospects of survival if rescued is sadly very slim – I have not yet heard of a success, though I would love to…

Great Shearwater (part of a die-back event on Abaco) - Dick Daniels

Thankfully, during the past week, reports have gradually diminished. I’ve not seen one for a couple of days. With any luck, the current die-off is now over and will not be repeated for several years. However, another one will certainly happen, I’m afraid – maybe in 5 to 10 years time, the usual gap. Twice in two years has made for very bleak, distressing news.

A more cheerful post will be next, I promise. Meanwhile, any further reports or comments would be welcome.

Photo credits: Dick Daniels (1, 5), Rhonda Pearce (2, 3); Keith Kemp (4)