BAHAMAS BIRDS FOR A NEW GENERATION


Red-tailed Hawk, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Red-tailed Hawk

BAHAMAS BIRDS FOR A NEW GENERATION

It is axiomatic that people tend towards birding – if at all – in later life. Not the scientists, of course: they must commit themselves to the study of natural history at an early age, collecting qualifications by degrees (as it were), through Masters, Field Work, their first posts, PhDs and beyond.

American Redstart (m), Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

American Redstart (m)

I didn’t take a very active interest in birds until the first time I investigated Central Park NYC and saw a blue jay. Followed by a cardinal… a red-tailed hawk… chickadees… American robins (or ‘Mercan rubbins‘, as I was informed). These were alien species for a European, and they awoke my interest.

Brown Pelican, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Brown Pelican

On later trips to NYC I have always spent a day in CP, wandering from end to end, spending time in the hotspots like The Ramble, the JO Reservoir, and the pretty Loch trail to the north, and wondering at the huge and expensive birding hardware toted by those around me (while knowing I didn’t want it). And then a visit to Prospect Park Brooklyn too, if I have the time. More recently came Abaco, and a whole new world of wildlife that has captivated me…

Hermit Thrush, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Hermit Thrush

This reminiscence by an oldster brings me to Chris Johnson, a young Bahamian man who will be familiar to many readers of this blog. I first encountered him when I was researching the Bahama Oriole and discovered that he, in his early teens, had found one on a trip to Andros and photographed it. It was a pleasure to be able to include the image in my article. 

Hooded Warbler, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Hooded Warbler

Since then, Chris’s birding and photographic skills have rapidly developed and his reputation is growing too. This summer he was one of 12 students chosen to attend Cornell University Lab of Ornithology for their Young Birder’s Event in Ithaca NY, a great tribute to his accomplishments and a wonderful opportunity too. It is worth noting that Chris is the first Bahamian to be invited to attend this event.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Loggerhead Kingbird

Chris is also beginning to make his own presentations, as he did recently to the Bird Club of New Providence. It won’t be long before he is leading bird groups – in fact, he is probably doing this already.

Another impressive feature of Chris’s birding is his photography. I have watched the progression online with interest. The crispness of his images, the composition and the right ‘take’ to make the best of each bird is wonderful, and he has a great eye for a neat shot – for example in the header image I have chosen, with its awareness of the effective use of dark and light.

Black-and-white Warbler, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Black-and-white Warbler

I should say that I have never met Chris, although we have occasionally been in touch. I am featuring him because I believe he and other young people of his age – Chris is 17 – are the future for birding, for wildlife, for species protection and for habitat conservation. The older generation will move on and the ‘middles’ may begin to take an interest in the birds around them. But Chris’s generation are the ones who can make a difference in the future. As things stand right now, they may have to. It’s a huge responsibility for them, but it’s one our generation is in the process of transferring to them.

Red-legged Thrush, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Red-legged Thrush

I hope you have enjoyed the small gallery of Chris’s photographs displayed here. If you are interested in the birds of the Bahamas, keep an eye on him and others like him. They need all the encouragement we can give them.

All photos: Chris Johnson, with thanks for use permission. Please do not ‘borrow’ any of these images without asking first. That would only be fair.

Antillean Nighthawk Chick (one of my favourites)Antillean Nighthawk chick, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

BROWN PELICANS: CLEARED FOR TAKE-OFF & LANDING


Brown Pelican (Phil Lanoue)

BROWN PELICANS: CLEARED FOR TAKE-OFF & LANDING

Brown Pelicans are permanent breeding residents on Abaco, and not uncommon in certain areas though not be any means throughout the island and the cays. If you come across a pair of them – or preferably a group – it’s well worth spending some time watching them in action. These are magnificent birds, unafraid of humans and happy to carry on fishing / plunge diving with an audience. 

Brown Pelican (Phil Lanoue)

The most reliable place I know of to watch the pelicans on Abaco is Sandy Point. You may find them on the dock, drying their wings on the pilings or diving off it for fish. At other times, they will be further out to sea where the sandbars stretch out into the ocean, taking off and gaining height before smashing straight down into the water.

Brown Pelican (Phil Lanoue)Brown Pelican (Phil Lanoue)

These wonderful images of pelicans taking off and landing are the work of professional photographer Phil Lanoue, whose work I am always excited to feature. He has the skills, the equipment and the eye to produce outstanding photographs, freezing birds in motion with complete clarity.

Brown Pelican (Phil Lanoue)

If anyone reading this knows of other locations on Abaco where pelicans can reliably be found, I’d be very pleased to hear more!

All great photos: © Phil Lanoue, with thanks as ever for use permission

Brown Pelican (Phil Lanoue)

BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLERS ON ABACO


Black-throated Blue Warbler (m), Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)

BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLERS ON ABACO

It’s warbler time of year on Abaco, and a good time to take a look at the Black-throated blue warbler Setophaga caerulescens. This small warbler has very particular breeding and overwintering ranges. In the summer they are found in the forests and woods of eastern North America. As the Fall approaches, they start to migrate south to the Caribbean and Central America. Abaco is one of their winter homes, as well as a likely transit stop on their way further south. Right now sightings are being reported on the mainland and the Cays.

Black-throated Blue Warbler (m), Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)

WHAT DO I LOOK OUT FOR?

Males and females are quite different in appearance (‘sexually dimorphic’), and could even be mistaken for distinct species. Males are a deep slate-blue above (hence caerulescens) with a striking black face and throat, and white underparts. They are unmistakeable, and unlikely to be confused with any other warbler. Females are basically grayish-olive above and pale yellow underneath. For ID, look for a white stripe above the eye, a pale arc below it. In addition, both sexes have a diagnostic white patch on the the wing, that I have seen referred to as a ‘handkerchief‘.**

Black-throated Blue Warbler (f), Abaco (Becky Marvil)

The legendary bird cartoon website Birdorable, featured often in these pages, as usual has a spot-on comparison of the sexes. TBH, this is a great resource for nailing a bird’s essential characteristics. You should check out its warblers in particular! Here’s their inimitably charming take on the BTBW gender comparison.

Black-throated Blue Warbler (m & f comparison) (Birdorable)

These pretty warblers can be seen in gardens, coppice, and woodland. Although mainly insect-eaters, sometimes catching them in flight, they also eat fruit and seeds especially in winter. BTBWs are territorial, and will defend their chosen space against all-comers, including their own species.

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

WHAT DO I LISTEN OUT FOR?

As I have mentioned before, I tend to find phonetic transcriptions of bird sounds rather baffling – and often not really how I hear them myself. This is especially with the ‘Oh-dear-oh-dear-I’ve-run-out-of-beer’ and ‘Have-a-little-Kalik-at-Pete’s’ kind. One source asserts: “The bird’s song can be described  as a buzzed zee-zee-zeeee with an upward inflection. Its call is a flat ctuk”. You be the judge…

SONG Etienne Leroy / Xeno-Canto

CALL Paul Marvin / Xeno-Canto

                        

Black-throated Blue Warbler (m) (Blaine Rothauser CWFNJ)

BTBW SEX LIFE – ANY GOOD GOSS?

Black-throated blue warblers are – and I say this with considerable reservations – mainly a monogamous species. However it turns out that they have complex patterns of vocalisations and behaviours at breeding time, including very promising-sounding ‘extra-pair copulation’ involving ‘heterospecific cuckoldry’. However, despite all my efforts in researching this phenomenon more thoroughly, merely reading the intricacies quickly crossed my boredom threshold, and my own ‘call’ soon became a ‘sonorous saw-like Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz‘.  Anyway these birds don’t breed on Abaco so I’ll spare you the details and move on.

Black-throated Blue Warbler (f) (Dax Roman / Birds Caribbean)

 IS MANKIND MASHING UP THEIR HABITAT?

BTBWs are fairly common birds within their range, with a large population. The usual stuff is happening with them in terms of habitat destruction & co at both ends of their migration. For some already threatened species (e.g. Kirtland’s Warblers), habitat degradation at either end of the migration (let alone both) presages a downward spiral in population. With BTBWs, I have read both that the population is decreasing; and in another source, slightly increasing. For now, let’s regard the welfare of the species as being stable. However, the current causes of species decline will doubtless continue, and many regard increasingly evident climate change as being a determining factor for the well-being of migratory species. The birds are not yet out of the woods, so to speak… and maybe never will be.

** anyone remember those?

CREDITS Photos: Gerlinde Taurer (1, 2); Becky Marvil (3); Bruce Hallett (4); Blaine Rothauser / CWFNJ (5); @daxroman / Birds Caribbean (7); Paul Reeves / Birds Caribbean (8).  Range Map, Wiki; Cartoons,  Birdorable; Video, Cornell Lab for Ornithology

Black-throated Blue Warbler (m) (Paul Reeves / Birds Caribbean)

ABACO PARROT ACROBATICS


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Acrobatics (Melissa Maura)

ABACO PARROT ACROBATICS

Melissa Maura is well-known to many in the Bahamas, not least because of the wonderful work she does with injured or orphaned creatures. Thanks to the skills and compassion of Melissa and those who work with her, animals and birds of all kinds are saved from death or incapacitating injury. In the saddest cases, they are gently cared for until the inevitable occurs.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Acrobatics (Melissa Maura)

Melissa also takes terrific bird photographs, some of which I have featured in the past. Indeed my blog headline photograph is one of her parrots. I used to change the header from time to time, but this one is so cheerful that I decided to keep it in place. It always makes me smile.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Acrobatics (Melissa Maura)

Parrots are acrobatic creatures, happy to eat at all angles including completely upside down. Not just eat, though. Also bicker, flirt, play-fight, and see off rivals via inverted aggression. With the Abaco parrots, one of the benefits for the bystander is that the balancing act and consequent fluttering often reveals the spectacular blue of the birds’ wings. 

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Acrobatics (Melissa Maura)

In a row, it’s not unusual to see a parrot taking up a dominant position on a branch, leaving its opponent hanging on in an uncomfortably precarious position…

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Acrobatics (Keith Salvesen))

People often ask where on Abaco they are most likely to see the parrots. First, there are no parrots north of Marsh Harbour – they are all in South Abaco. Secondly, although they live and nest in the National Park at the southern end of the island, in practice it covers a very large area, much of it inaccessible and with the only ‘road’ something of a challenge for an ordinary vehicle (described HERE). I’d say that the single most reliable place to see the parrots is at Bahama Palm Shores. Simple turn into the north entrance, drive straight down to the end with the windows down, park up – and listen. If they are there, you’ll hear them for sure!

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Acrobatics (Melissa Maura)

All photos Melissa Maura except #5, Keith Salvesen (also the sound file of parrots at BPS)

RUFF & READY: YET ANOTHER BIRD FIRST FOR ABACO


Ruff, Grand Bahama, Bahamas (2015) Duncan Mullis

THE FIRST RUFF IN THE BAHAMAS

RUFF & READY: YET ANOTHER BIRD FIRST FOR ABACO

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

Ruffs: the normal range

Ruff, (N. America) Dick Daniels

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

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

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

Ruff (Old Print) nederlandsche_vogelen wiki

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

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

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

WHAT SHOULD WE KNOW ABOUT RUFFS?

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

WHAT DOES A LEK LOOK LIKE?

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

Ruff Lek (Arjan Haverkamp) wiki

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruffs in India (J. M. Garg)

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

“GOOD (GOOD GOOD GOOD) MIGRATIONS…”


Prairie Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

Prairie Warbler, Abaco

“GOOD (GOOD GOOD GOOD) MIGRATIONS…”

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

PALM WARBLERPalm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

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

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

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

AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO ABACO’S WARBLERS

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

Au revoir for the time being…

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

REAL THREATS, ALARMING PHOTOS: OSPREYS IN PERIL


THE THREATS ARE REAL AND THESE PHOTOS SHOULD ALARM YOU!

I rarely – in fact almost never – lift an entire article from elsewhere and plant it wholesale here. I make an exception today. Ben’s article is so relevant, so well put together, so compelling and so scary in its implications that it can’t be ignored. No individual is to blame. We all are. Mankind generally – and pretty much all of it in my lifetime. Walk any beach in Abaco, however secluded. There it all is, under your feet. Find a dead seabird? Chances are it will have significant amounts of plastic inside it. Seen those wretched images of turtles with plastic bags hanging out of their mouths? It’s going to get worse…

Now see how things are with our bird partners in New Jersey and their beautiful ospreys.

DOCUMENTING THE PRESENCE OF PLASTICS IN OSPREY NESTS

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager http://www.conservewildlifenj.org

U.S. Coast Guard assists NJ Fish & Wildlife with recovering an entangled osprey on a channel marker in Cape May Harbor, Summer 2018. photo by Kathy Clark/ENSP

BEN WURST WRITES As I work to finalise data from this summer’s osprey surveys, I wanted to look back and highlight an important observation: more plastic is being found and recovered from active osprey nests. I guess it’s no surprise when you hear that “18 billion pounds of plastic waste flows into the oceans every year from coastal regions.

The alarming trend is also becoming more deadly for ospreys, and other marine life who ingest it. While it might not seem like a lot, this year a total of four young ospreys were found dead from being entangled in plastic. In my books, one dead osprey is too many! This is not a natural cause of death! Luckily, there were several other entanglements that were prevented, but this trend is likely to get worse. We hope that these photos will help you to do all that you can to help prevent it from becoming a growing threat to ospreys and other marine wildlife, who might ingest plastics.

Ospreys are an indicator species. We can’t stress that enough. The health of their population can be directly linked to their surrounding environment. When we poisoned the land with persistent pesticides, the ospreys told us. When we overfished menhaden, the primary prey item of ospreys during the nestling period, the ospreys told us. When we use and discard plastics with no care, the ospreys will tell us…

From the land, where they collect nesting material, to the water, where they forage for prey. The growing presence of plastics on land and in water, highlights need to restrict single use plastics, balloon releases, and for any single use plastic fee to directly fund cleanups of plastic waste. It’s no surprise that ospreys use plastic items in their nests. It’s now become a common resource for them which looks similar to natural nesting material and collects in the same areas where they gather nest material. The more plastics in the world means more plastics in osprey nests!

When out on the marsh or on the beach, if you look around you’ll find plastic. According to the Clean Ocean Action 2017 Beach Sweep report (for the first time since the sweeps began in 1985) 84.45% of items collected on the beach were plastic (including foam). Another alarming trend is the growth in balloons found on the beach. In 2017, a total of 4,137 were found. Next time your down the shore, try to determine the difference between a white single use plastic bag and bleached sea lettuce, or white balloon ribbon and bleached eelgrass… Please don’t ever release balloons!

The most deadly piece of plastic litter for ospreys this year was monofilament or fishing line. The four ospreys that were found dead died from being entangled in monofilament. Fishing line is typically brought into a nest while attached to a stick or branch. It then becomes part of the nest and can easily get wrapped around a nestlings leg, foot or wing. This is not an isolated event. It happens throughout the range of ospreys (here are just a few that made the news). Please dispose of your fishing line appropriately! Single strand monofilament can even be collected and mailed to Berkley (a manufacturer of fishing line) for recycling/reuse!

Sadly, this is only the beginning. Plastics don’t biodegrade and this is becoming a chronic issue. Almost all osprey nests in New Jersey contain some type of plastic (next year we are planning to add data fields to our nest survey datasheets to keep better track of how many nests contain plastic). It’s still too early to see the effects of plastics as as they bioaccumulate in the food chain of predatory animals, like the osprey, but we hope that we can prevent this. We can all help by reducing our use of single use plastics. Here are some simple ways that you can help:

  1. Never release balloons! Talk to your friends/family about where balloons actually wind up.
  2. Reduce your dependence/consumption of single use plastics: bring your own reusable bag, water bottle, and coffee cups. Buy beverages in glass or aluminum containers. When eating out or getting take out, ask for no single use plastic items and/or bring your own container for leftovers. Support a Surfrider Foundation Ocean Friendly Restaurant!
  3. Reuse or repurpose things that can’t be recycled. Opt into free recycling programs for hard to recycle items through Terracycle, a NJ based waste reduction company.
  4. Pick up plastic litter. Participate in coastal cleanups (the next COA Beach Sweep is on 10/20!). Dispose of trash responsibly.

Thank you to all of our volunteers, especially our Osprey Project Banders, and those who’ve helped to reduce plastic debris in our environment!

CREDIT: Ben Wurst and his team at http://www.conservewildlifenj.org for the article. Photos as credited in the text. We are Bahamas partners of this organisation in Piping Plover research on the shores of Abaco and our annual Abaco Piping Watch

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