NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS: NEST + CHICKS = BUSY MAMA**


Northern Mockingbird Chicks being fed in nest, Abaco Bahamas (Melissa Maura)

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS: NEST + CHICKS = BUSY MAMA**

Anyone who has watched – and indeed heard – the behaviour of new chicks in a nest will recognise what is going on here. Four tiny Northern mockingbird chicks are passive and apparently dozy in the nest while they wait for one or other parent to fly back to fill their little faces.

Northern Mockingbird Chicks being fed in nest, Abaco Bahamas (Melissa Maura)

As soon as they see or sense the imminent arrival of parent, the clamour begins. Me me me. Feed me first. “Fill-a-mi-beek”. Straining and craning forwards and upwards, with gaping yellow mouths. Pushing and shoving for optimum positioning. It’s all a bit frantic in that confined space.

Northern Mockingbird Chicks being fed in nest, Abaco Bahamas (Melissa Maura)

Quite often, there’ll be a slightly smaller, less active chick at the back of the screeching pack… the best hope may be some leftovers or some food sprayed around in the mayhem. Then the parent bird flies off and the riot subsides. For a few minutes, anyway.

Northern Mockingbird Chicks being fed in nest, Abaco Bahamas (Melissa Maura)

The 2 chicks at the back haven’t quite got the hang of the tactics yet…

Northern Mockingbird Chicks being fed in nest, Abaco Bahamas (Melissa Maura)

The chick at the front – see him? – is out of the game..

As the photographer Melissa Maura wrote of this sequence: “A local avian staple seen in every Bahamian garden – the brilliantly musical Mockingbird. I followed this diligent Mamma for a few days in Abaco continually foraging for her 4 babies. Exhausting!”

* * Title / header: from the word ‘Mama’ onwards, there’s a notable absence of the role of `Papa’ in all this. He will have been the one to choose the territory and build the nest. His work complete, he can relax a bit in the knowledge that the chicks will fledge after only about a fortnight. Any Mama can cope with that, surely? Why interfere when it’s all going so well…

All great photos: Melissa Maura

PINE WARBLERS ON ABACO: PINUS ENVY


Pine Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

PINE WARBLERS ON ABACO: PINUS ENVY

The Pine Warbler Setophaga pinus is one of 5 year-round resident warblers on Abaco. The other 33 warbler species (including the recently recorded CANADA WARBLER) are migratory and at this time of year they will be in their summer breeding grounds. The co-resident warblers are the 2 endemics – Bahama warbler and Bahama Yellowthroat – plus the olive-capped warbler and the yellow warbler. You can see all 5 HERE. All are to be envied. First, they are all bright, attractive birds. Secondly, they live in the Bahamas all year round, without needing to undertake a long exhausting flight twice a year, unlike the rest of their warbler compadres. And indeed, unlike many of the human inhabitants of Abaco.

Pine Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

As the name strongly hints, the pine warbler is primarily a bird of the pine forests, of which Abaco has an abundance. The tall, straight trees were a vital local source of timber (cf SAWMILL SINK). As a historical note, felled pines were also exported to the UK to be made into the strong pit-props needed for coal-mines. 

Pine Warbler (immature), Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

Q. WHAT IS THE NORMAL RANGE OF THIS BIRD? A. THIS IS!

Pine Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Reed)

Pine warblers have a broad diet and forage methodically. Pine cones are a fertile source for food,  and those robust, stabby, slightly down-curved beaks are ideal for getting the seeds out of the cones. Equally, these warblers use their beaks to prise out insects from the rough pine trunks and branches.

Pine Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

WHAT OF THEIR NIDIFICATION?

The pine forest is obviously the preferred nesting habitat for these birds. On Abaco there are vast acres of forest, but I’m sure the warblers also nest in the smaller groups of pines found (for example) in or near some of the settlements; or around the edges of former sugar cane fields and the like. One nesting habit is slightly unusual – pine warblers tend to build their nests near the end of branches rather than near the trunk. I have no idea why – the trunk end of a branch looks far more secure **.

Pine Warbler (immature), Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

DO YOU HAVE ANY ‘FUN FACTS’?

  • One source states that “The song of this bird is a musical trill. Their calls are slurred chips. I think we’ve all been there at some time, possibly when lunching at Pete’s Pub.

SLURRED CHIP Don Jones / Xeno-Canto

  • The longest pine in the world is the Benzodiazepine (14 letters)

** Milton Harris helpfully points out: “One theory on Pine Warbler nest location is that they are safer from predators by building at the end of a small branch.  Some other birds do the same.”

Photo Credits: Bruce Hallett (1, 3, 6); Alex Hughes (2); Tom Reed (4); Tom Sheley (5); Dick Daniels (7); Wiki (range map); Nat Geo (species drawings)

Pine Warbler (Dick Daniels wiki)

HOW FLAMINGOS WORK…


HOW FLAMINGOS WORK…

 

CREDITS: great photos from Inagua, Melissa Maura; vaguely interesting slo-mo movie, Keith Salvesen

 

BAHAMA ORIOLE: HABITAT FIND FOR A RARE GEM


Bahama Oriole, Andros (Dan Stonko / abcbirds.org)

BAHAMA ORIOLE: HABITAT FIND FOR A RARE GEM

RARE, PRECIOUS – AND FOUND ONLY ON ANDROS, BAHAMAS

The future of the gorgeous endemic Bahama Oriole (Icterus northropi) hangs in the balance. IUCN Red Listed as ‘Critically Endangered’, the Oriole once lived on both Abaco and Andros. As recently as the 1990s, the species became extirpated on Abaco, leaving a small and fragile population in  fairly specific areas of Andros. These are places where the habitat is conducive to the orioles’ well-being, and in particular where they can safely breed and (with luck) replenish their depleted population.

Bahama Oriole, Andros (Michael Baltz / Bahama Oriole Project)

We hear a lot about habitat loss as a grave worldwide problem for an increasing number of species. Narrow that down to one species, one island, a few defined areas, then add mankind and his needs to the mix. The wrong mix of habitat degradation, clearances, predation or disease could cause the Andros population to disappear as well.

Bahama Oriole, Andros (Mary Kay Beach Dec 2018)

Which is where conservation and science come into play. The Bahamas archipelago benefits from an astonishing number of (broadly-speaking) environmental organisations that are involved in species and habitat protection, both terrestrial and marine. They range from international to Bahamas-wide and Governmental, to NFP organisations on the main islands, and on through local communities via citizen scientists to dedicated individuals. All are fighting a specific battle with a single aim; all face an increasing array of metaphorical weapons being deployed against them.

Bahama Oriole, Andros (Bahama Oriole Project FB header)

SO, ANY GOOD NEWS THEN?

Returning to the orioles – in many ways a perfect indicator bird species – recent research has led to an encouraging discovery.  A new study in The Journal of Caribbean Ornithology published by researchers from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Bahamas National Trust collaborating on the Bahama Oriole Project (@BahamaOrioleProject) reveals new evidence about the nesting habits and habitats of the orioles that will have “…major implications for future conservation” (this work was funded in part by the American Bird Conservancy and Birds Caribbean).

The study is the outcome of the work of a dozen conservation specialists. In a coconut-shell, the orioles were thought to nest only in the coconut palms found near the coast. However the recent intensive research program reveals that ‘multiple pairs’ breed in the pines and the thatch palms of the forests, away from the coast. Indeed, these may prove to be the primary nesting locations. The implications of these new findings are significant, not least for a possible uplift in numbers and the way in which conservation measures can be adapted to the new discovery. For those wanting something more authoritative, the short Abstract of the study is given at the end. And if you’d like to read the whole article, click on the link below.

472-Article Text-1543-1-10-20180828

Bahama Oriole Andros (C Ward BNT)

THE MAIN CAUSES OF THE CRITICAL DECLINE ON ANDROS

  • Lethal Yellowing Disease of the coastal coconut palms, until very recently (see above) believed to be the prime nesting habitat for the oriole. In some areas the palms have been all but wiped out. The recent findings in the forests have clearly reduced the impact of this specific problem
  • The arrival in the 1990s and spread of the Shiny Cowbird Molothrus bonariensis, a brood parasite that lays its eggs in the nests of other bird species*
  • Habitat loss / development
  • Forestry work / forest fires
  • Feral cats and rodents
  • Disease within the population is also cited as a contributory cause 

*The date of this arrival seems to correspond to when the orioles were extirpated from Abaco. However, see next para.

Bahama Oriole, Andros (Thomas Nierle / Bahama Oriole Project)

WHEN & WHY DID THE ORIOLES VANISH FROM ABACO?

This is a classic ‘riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’. Various sources I have looked at use a formula such as “…became extirpated from Abaco in the 1990s”, or “disappeared for unknown reasons in the 1990s”. However, Abaco birding expert Elwood ‘Woody’ Bracey comments (see below) that Bahama Orioles were last formally recorded on Abaco in 1973 by researcher Duncan Everette and his partner who were banding warblers in Southern Abaco in what is now the Abaco National Park. At that time, the Shiny Cowbird was only rarely found on Abaco, if at all.

I’ve found no clear clue as to the cause – nor even when the last evidences sighting of an oriole on Abaco was made. I haven’t found a single photo of one taken on Abaco at any time in history. To be fair the option of snapping everything with wings multiple times using a digital camera with a huge chip didn’t exist then. As to past history, Kevin Omland of @BahamaOrioleProject says that there are at least 9 specimens in museums around the world collected from Abaco in the 1800s and early 1900s.

eBird map showing Bahama Oriole sightings distribution in c21

ABSTRACT

The Bahama Oriole (Icterus northropi) is a Critically Endangered species endemic to The Bahamas and currently found only on the Andros island complex. With the elevation of the Bahama Oriole to full species status in 2011, research suggested that there were fewer than 300 individuals remaining in the global population. The Bahama Oriole was also termed a “synanthropic species” based on data suggesting that the species nested almost exclusively within anthropogenic residential and agricultural habitats in introduced coconut palms (Cocos nucifera). These conclusions were based on population surveys primarily confined to settled areas near the coasts. However, we documented multiple pairs of orioles with breeding territories deep in pine forests, and we present the first records of Bahama Orioles nesting in pine forests—in both a Caribbean pine (Pinus caribaea) and native understory Key thatch palms (Leucothrinax morrisii). Given the predominance of the pine forests on Andros, this newly documented breeding habitat has important implications for developing population estimates and future conservation plans for the Bahama Oriole.

640px-Picture_of_John_Isaiah_NorthropBahama Oriole Stamp birdtheme.orgCredits: Dan Stonko / American Bird Conservancy, Michael Baltz / Bahama Oriole Project / Kevin Omland; Mary Kay Beach; Bahama Oriole Project FB header; C Ward / BNT; Thomas Nierle / Bahama Oriole Project; Bahamas Postal Service; BNT; D Belasco / American Bird Conservancy; Handbook of World Birds (drawing)

          ↑ Mr Northrop with his Bird

Bahama Oriole, Andros (D Belasco / abcbirds.org)

WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRDS: EFFORTLESS ELEGANCE


White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus catesbyi, Abaco Bahamas (Sally Chisholm)

WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRDS: EFFORTLESS ELEGANCE

I am interrupting my intended sequence of posts (I try to plan ahead a bit…) to bring you some gorgeous white-tailed tropicbirds (Phaethon lepturus catesbyi) seen within the last week near the Low Place on Man-o-War Cay. There were 6 in the group, flying high, flying low, circling, dipping down, flirting  – all of this taking place just offshore.

White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus catesbyi, Abaco Bahamas (Sally Chisholm)

Sally Chisholm, Abaco birder and photographer, was with Todd Pover of CWFNJ, engaged in the final piping plover count of the season before the birds return to their summer breeding grounds [check out ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH if you are interested]. Sally and Todd were distracted from the matter in hand as the group of tropicbirds glided and swooped through the air. It was a free demonstration of beautiful flying skills that can be matched by few other species.

White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus catesbyi, Abaco Bahamas (Sally Chisholm)

It became obvious that courtship was involved. As Sally vividly describes it, “The birds were observed for more than 15 minutes making wide circles, at times flying out of sight across towards Great Abaco and coming back flying low over the same area on MOW. Two birds would interact with a lot of “keck-keck-keck”, and then one of the pair flew down to land several times in the same crevice of the iron shore. It first appeared that the bird was landing for food but none of the photos showed anything carried. The display looked to be one of courtship and was amazing to watch”.

White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus catesbyi, Abaco Bahamas (Sally Chisholm)

TROPICAL TOPICS

  • WTTR plunge-dive for fish and squid, sometimes submerging completely
  • Or they swoop and skim their prey from the surface
  • Another technique to take flying fish in the air (I’d love to see that…)
  • WTTR have no fixed breeding season, and may nest year-round
  • Nesting is colonial or in pairs in a particular area, or even in isolation
  • Pre-mating behaviour involves courtship displays (as here)
  • A pair will fly together, one above the other then…
  • …the higher bird bends its tail down to touch tail of lower bird and [veil drawn]
  • They nest in crevices, holes in rock, on ledges, on the ground under vegetation
  • Chicks are fed by both parents using regurgitation
  • The same site may be re-used for several years by the same pair

White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus catesbyi, Abaco Bahamas (Sally Chisholm)

Credits: All photos, Sally Chisholm except the fantastic nest shot, Melissa Maura (many thanks to both for use permission – I’ve never got a decent photo of one); Audubon NA

White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus catesbyi, Abaco Bahamas (Melissa Maura)

KIRTLAND’S WARBLERS: DESERVING PHILATLEY…


Kirtland's Warbler, Abaco, Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

KIRTLAND’S WARBLERS: DESERVING PHILATLEY…

As I have mentioned before, the BAHAMAS POSTAL SERVICE has an exceptionally good record for producing wonderful, colourful stamps showcasing the abundant wealth of natural history in the archipelago. Birds, reef fish, turtles, marine mammals, butterflies, plants and flowers – all these and more have featured on the stamps of the Bahamas for many years. There’s quite a collection of them on a display page of their own HERE.

Quite by chance I recently came across a significant philatelic tribute to one of the rarest Bahamas winter visitors, the Kirtland’s Warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii): a complete commemorative sheet of stamps. Reader I bought it (= ‘won’ it on eBay – $2.75!). Produced in conjunction with the WWF, it is a model of conservationist sensitivity.

The sheet of 16 stamps depicts 4 x 4 KIWA variations: a female at the nest; a singing male; a female feeding young; and a juvenile feeding in the Jack pines of its summer habitat, prior to its long Fall migration to Abaco and the Bahamas.

Kirtland’s Warbler in the Abaco National Park: you need to know where to look to find oneKirtland's Warbler, Abaco, Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

I am not a stamp collector, but I do appreciate it when countries take the trouble to showcase their flora and fauna among the notable people, sporting heroes, modes of transport and Harry Potter characters. As I say, the Bahamas is very good in this respect.

A Kirtland’s Warbler on Green Turtle Cay: the first recorded sighting on one of the CaysKirtland's Warbler, Elbow Cay Abaco Bahamas (Sally Chisholm)

You can find out more about these rare and vulnerable little warblers, including the first ever recorded on a Cay in Abaco, using these links:

KIRTLAND’S WARBLERS: ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW

KIWA ON GREEN TURTLE CAY: A FIRST FOR ABACO

In the breeding grounds in very limited areas of Michigan and Ohio, the KIWAs are carefully monitored. Vince Cavalieri is a bird expert in those parts, and his bird below was photographed in the heartland of their preferred summer habitat. Vince wrote the following caption:

In 1987 the Kirtland’s Warbler was a hair’s breadth from extinction. A century of fire suppression and encroachment into their habitat by the brown-headed cowbird had reduced its already small population to a tiny number of birds in just a few Michigan counties. A prescribed fire that got out of control may have saved them, creating enough habitat that it gave conservationists enough time to figure out how to save them (highly prescriptive habitat creation and cowbird control). Today their comeback has been so successful that they have been proposed for removal from the endangered species list. They still remain the stuff of birding legend. A tiny range mostly restricted to north central Michigan, a big beautiful warbler with a loud and cheerful song, easy to see and confiding once found. A bird worthy of long travel to check off your list.

Kirtland's Warbler, Michigan (Vince Cavalieri)

Here are a couple more ‘summer birds’ to admire

Kirtland's Warbler (kiwa-jeol-trick-fwsh-snowmanradio-wiki) Kirtland's Warbler (Andrew C, Ohio wiki)

Credits: Woody Bracey (1, 2); Sally Chisholm (3); Vince Cavalieri (4); Joel Trick FWSH (5); Andrew C (Wiki) (6);  Birdorable (cartoon); BPS and eBay (KIWA stamps)  

SANDHILL CRANE: ABACO’S NOVELTY BIRD (2)


Sandhill Crane Antigone canadensis Abaco, Bahamas (Christopher Johnson) SANDHILL CRANE: ABACO’S NOVELTY BIRD (2)

In mid-December, Kaderin Mills of the Bahamas National Trust saw Abaco’s first-ever reported Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis) in the Fox Town area of North Abaco. Woody Bracey was quickly onto the news and in the afternoon he took photos of the bird. I posted about this exciting (because a new species is always exciting) event, with details about its significance plus facts, maps etc HERE

Sandhill Crane Antigone canadensis Abaco, Bahamas (Erika Gates / Martha Cartwright)

Six weeks later, the crane is still in residence. In the meantime a number of birders have been to see the new novelty bird for Abaco in what has become a small but significant birding hotspot right at the top end of the island, in area round the Church, the Primary School, and the Clinic. The crane is now firmly on the eBird map for the Bahamas.

    

Sandhill Crane Antigone canadensis Abaco, Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

This elegant visitor seems to be quite tame and unfazed by its new fame. People watch while it forages for invertebrates in the grass, pausing to check on bystanders before resuming its feeding. It tolerates the presence of humans without showing fear, let alone flying away.

Sandhill Crane Antigone canadensis Abaco, Bahamas (Erika Gates / Martha Cartwright)

The call of the Sandhill Crane sounds like this:

To test its reaction, a recording was played and immediately the crane responded and called out to the (apparent) co-crane. The bird has also (rather sadly?) been seen by locals by the door of the Church, looking at its reflection and even making pecking motions at it. A lonely crane, maybe.

.Sandhill Crane Antigone canadensis Abaco, Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

This bird is likely to remain disappointed by any expectation or hope of company. With any luck in the Spring, the instinctive call to the north (Canada and nearby US) will persuade it to migrate back to sandhill habitat to join a flock in the summer breeding grounds.

Sandhill Crane Antigone canadensis Abaco, Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

It is always a somewhat melancholy occurrence when a fine bird like this – or like last season’s lone BALD EAGLE – takes a wrong turn on their migration or perhaps get blown off course and finds itself on its own, species-wise. This bird seems to be taking it in its (longish) stride, however, and it has become something of a celebrity avian for the local folk. It will be interesting to find out when the migration urge finally encourages its flight away from its unusual overwintering habitat.

Credits: Chris Johnson (1); Erika Gates / Martha Cartwright (2, 4); Elwood ‘Woody’ Bracey (3, 5, 6); Audubon (7); Ian Cruickshank / Xeno Canto (audio); Birdorable (cartoon); and a tip of the hat to the School Principal, to Kadie Mills, and to Uli Nowlan who uploaded her sighting to eBird.

Sandhill Crane Antigone canadensis (Audubon Birds)