ENDANGERED SPECIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS (2): KIRTLAND’S WARBLER


Kirtland's Warbler Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

ENDANGERED SPECIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS (2): KIRTLAND’S WARBLER

The rare Kirtland’s warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii) is rightly prized both in its very specific breeding grounds and in its winter migration locations. Abaco is fortunate to be one of these, but they are extremely difficult to find, even with local knowledge. The latest IUCN Red List assessment of numbers of adult warblers (2018) gives a figure of 4,500 – 5,000. The species is categorised as ‘near-threatened’. Numbers are gradually increasing, thanks to a major recovery plan and intensive conservation measures in areas where they nest. 

WHERE THEY LIVE

SPRING & SUMMER Mostly, the KIWA population lives and breeds in very specific areas of Michigan and Ontario, where jack pines are found. As numbers have increased, the range has expanded more widely into Wisconsin and Ohio.

A Kirtland’s Warbler in the jack pines of Michigan (Vince Cavalieri)Kirtland's Warbler, Michigan (©Vince Cavalieri)

FALL & WINTER the population migrates to the Bahamas & TCI, where they tend to choose remote scrub and coppice areas to live until the spring when they return north in April. This range map shows the extremely specialist habitat choices of these migratory birds.

Kirtland's Warbler Range Map wiki

THE MAIN THREATS TO THE SPECIES

  • Mankind is the primary threat. The breeding areas are particularly vulnerable from deforestation and clearance of the jack pines that are essential for successful nesting and breeding – and therefore the survival – of the species
  • Encroachment by development is a major concern (as with so many species everywhere)
  • KIWAs are vulnerable to nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds in the breeding areas
  • Their winter habitat is mostly in remote or protected areas, but on Abaco a proposed development in the National Park where they live will probably wipe them out, if built   
  • Overall, habitat degradation at one end of the migration – in particular the breeding grounds – poses a serious risk to the species; at both ends, extinction could loom again

Kirtland's Warbler, Ohio (Tom Sheley)

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR?

  • Gray head with a blueish tinge, gray-brown back
  • Yellow throat & underside, with some dark streaking
  • Females are paler and more streaked
  • Split eye rings – white crescents above and below eyes
  • Frequent tail pumping and bobbing

Kirtland's Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)

WHAT DO THEY SOUND LIKE?

Some say ‘chip-chip-chip-too-too-weet-weet’. Elsewhere I have found it claimed that they produce ‘a loud tchip, with song an emphatic flip lip lip-lip-lip-tip-tip CHIDIP‘ (Arnott). I’m not a big fan of phonetic spelling for bird sounds. Here’s a sample for you to assess:

 Ross Gallardy / Xeno-Canto

Kirtland's Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

WHO WAS MR KIRTLAND?

Jared Potter Kirtland (1793-1877) portrait

Jared Potter Kirtland (1793-1877)

Jared P. Kirtland (1793 – 1877) was an Ohio scholar, doctor, judge, politician & amateur naturalist. He was a man of many and varied interests and talents, not-untypical of his time. In the field of natural history, Kirtland’s name lives on in his warbler & also in a couple of snake species.

The Bahamas Postal Service is commendably active in producing wildlife stamps

Credits: Bruce Hallett (1, 5, 6); Vince Cavalieri (2); Tom Sheley (3); Tony Hepburn (4); Birds of North America (range map); Ross Gallardy / Xeno-Canto (audio file); Birdorable (cartoon); BPS (KIWA stamp). Special thanks for all use permissions for images of this rare bird.

Kirtland's Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

ENDANGERED SPECIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS (1)


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

ENDANGERED SPECIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS (1)

May 15th is – was – Endangered Species Day worldwide. I missed it, of course I did. Typical. So, belatedly, here’s the first of a short series highlighting the Endangered Species of Abaco, Bahamas. It will include a couple of species formerly found on Abaco but now extirpated and hanging on in tiny numbers in specific habitats in the wider Bahamas archipelago. Regrettably, much of the endangerment has been caused, or substantially contributed to, by a dominant species that tends to prize self-interest over broader considerations.

ABACO PARROT

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

These gorgeous and beloved parrots nest uniquely in limestone ground burrows in the island’s protected National Park in the south of the island, a vast area of pine forest. They are the big success story of Abaco conservation. I was fortunate enough to become tangentially involved with the parrots just as years of patient research and intensive fieldwork were beginning to impact positively on a dwindling and barely sustainable population (fewer than 1000 birds). Adults and particularly the chicks in breeding season were very vulnerable to the attentions of feral cats, non-native racoons and rats. Nests were protected, cameras were deployed, and predators eradicated.  

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Nest & Chick, Bahamas (Caroline Stahala)

The work of scientists such as Caroline Stahala was (and still is) supported by local organisations such as Bahamas National Trust and Friends of the Environment Abaco. Local communities lent valuable encouragement and enthusiasm to the project. No one can fail to be uplifted by the sight of a flock of these parrots flying overhead, flaunting their bright green, red and blue feathers that flash in the sunlight. Even the sound of a flock squabbling in the trees like noisy children just let out of school is a joy. Here’s a sample, recorded at Bahama Palm Shores: see if you agree…

Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

10 years on, these gorgeous, raucous and intriguing birds have made a comeback, and the pleasure of their continuing visual and audible presence is hopefully secure. 

Credits: Nina Henry (1, 2); Caroline Stahala (3); Keith Salvesen (4) and audio clip

 

PAINTED BUNTING: PICTURE PERFECT ON ABACO (7)


PAINTED BUNTING: PICTURE PERFECT ON ABACO (7)

Painted Bunting, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Photo: Tom Sheley, taken at Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco

This wonderful and mood-brightening photo was taken by Tom while we were compiling an archive for my book BIRDS OF ABACO  It is one of the most memorable images of the very large number of photographs featured. Every one of them was taken on Abaco (photos taken ‘off-island’ were ruthlessly excluded); and each one in natural surroundings (no seed-trails, recorded calls and so on). Sadly the edition sold out well before Hurricane Dorian so we have been unable to replace any of the many lost copies. However, I am contemplating producing a pdf version of the pre-print draft (a Covid displacement activity). If that goes ahead I will devise a way to distribute it simply, and possibly in return for a modest donation towards the work of Abaco wildlife organisations.

 

BANANAQUITS: AHEAD OF THE CURVE?


Bananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour Abaco)

BANANAQUITS: AHEAD OF THE CURVE?

Bananaquits (Coereba flaveola) are small, colourful, and delightful birds of the coppice and garden. Besides their obvious attractiveness, the birds have in recent years enjoyed an uniquity: the status of being the sole species in the family Coerebidae.

Bananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

However this singular status has really been a kind of avian parking place due to past, present (and doubtless future) uncertainty of the right category for these birds. Like so many avian species these days, they are subject to the rigours and vagaries of continual reclassification by the ornithological powers-that-be.

Bananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Craig Nash)

Bananaquits are, broadly speaking, passerines – essentially birds that perch. The nominal ‘passer’ was specifically awarded to sparrows by BRISSON, a contemporary of Linnaeus. Recently, bananaquits have suffered mysterious migrations of their classification ranging from the generalised ‘passerine‘ to the vague incertae sedis (=uncertain group‘) to uncomfortable inclusion with tanagers / emberizids. 

Bananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

The debate over the appropriate classification for this pretty little bird (of which there are many subspecies in the broad Caribbean region) – rumbles on. A new way to confuse the issue is the suggestion that the bananaquit should be split into 3 species. In some areas, I believe this has happened at least informally.

Bananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Elsewhere there are doubters, sceptics, and champions of other group inclusions. The most obvious beneficiaries of all this will be dedicated birders, who may end up with two extra species to add to their ‘Lifer’ lists. Personally I’d like to think that the birds themselves will stay ahead of the curve in their own category, maintaining the mystery of their precise status while humans argue about what to call them. 

Bananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Erik Gauger)

CREDITS: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour (1); Gerlinde Taurer (2); Craig Nash (3, 7); Tom Sheley (4, 5); Erik Gauger (6). All birds photographed on Abaco, Bahamas

Bananaquit perched on yellow elder, the National flower of the BahamasBananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Craig Nash)

 

ABACO PARROT: THE UNIQUE, ICONIC, AMAZING AMAZONA


ABACO PARROT: THE UNIQUE, ICONIC, AMAZING AMAZONA

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Credit: Fabulous in-flight shot by Nina Henry (contributor to ‘Birds of Abaco’)

‘LIKE’ THE CLAPPERS: ON THE RAILS IN ABACO


Clapper Rail preening, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

‘LIKE’ THE CLAPPERS: ON THE RAILS IN ABACO

CLAPPER RAILS Rallus crepitans are elusive birds of mangrove swamp and marsh, more frequently heard than seen. They tend to lurk around in foliage and are easy to overlook. They are creatures of the margins rather than open ground. You may come across one foraging secretively, beak-deep in the mud.

Clapper Rail stretching.Abaco Bahamas - Tom Sheley ("The Birds of Abaco" by Keith Salvesen, p80)

Tom Sheley’s wonderful photos featured here of a preening clapper rail were taken during our backcountry explorations to locate and photograph species for BIRDS OF ABACO.  By being  both patient and an early riser, Tom managed to capture this fine bird engaging in some quality grooming. The one below is ‘vocalising’ – known in rails as ‘rousing’ – in mid-preen.

Clapper Rail rousing.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Clapper rails are capable of swimming and even of flying if they choose to. However the most likely activities you are likely to observe will be skulking,  picking their way through marginal  vegetation, or (if you are lucky) doing some beak-deep foraging in the mud. Occasionally they run, a process that looks endearingly comical and which possibly gives rise to their name. 

Clapper Rail running, Abaco Bahamas (Erik Gauger))

Clapper Rail running, Abaco Bahamas (Sandy Walker)

It almost goes without saying nowadays, but the biggest threat to these rather charming inoffensive birds is habitat loss. Which is to say, mankind either directly or indirectly. Drive the bulldozers through the mangroves and marshland of sub-tropical coastal areas, chuck down a few acres of concrete… and the clappers will very soon become clapped out. As they will if the climate we are unarguably changing ruins their unobtrusive lives.

COMPULSORY LINGUISTIC STUDY

When I last wrote about this species its binomial name was Rallus longirostris ie simply ‘long-beaked rail’. Since then the increasingly frenetic annual turmoil of official AOU shuffling species about and messing with their names has resulted in the clapper rail being re-designated Rallus crepitans or ‘rattling / rustling rail’, I assume from the call. There are other rail-name innovations that, reading about them just now, made me crack open a beer instead of wanting to tell you about them.

OPTIONAL LINGUISTIC DIVERSION

“TO RUN LIKE THE CLAPPERS”. This phrase seems to be fairly recent, most likely originating as military (?Air Force) slang early in WW2 or possibly from earlier conflicts. Some suggest it is a rhyming slang bowdlerisation of ‘run like hell’ with ‘clapper(s)’ standing for ‘bell’, along the lines of the Cockney “I bought a brand new whistle” (whistle and flute = suit). Almost all plausible explanations relate to bells, and some argue that it simply reflects the rapid speed of the clapper of a vigorously rung handbell. This derivation as a link to the bird seems tenuous at best.

Photo credits:Tom Sheley, Sandy Walker, Erik Gauger, University of Amsterdam (print).

Clapper Rail preening.Abaco Bahamas.3.12.Tom Sheley copy

“THE BIRDS OF ABACO”: BOOKMAKERS (& GAMBLERS?)


Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco (Jacket)

“THE BIRDS OF ABACO”: BOOKMAKERS (& GAMBLERS?)

THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO

163 SPECIES, 350+ PHOTOS, 30 PHOTOGRAPHERS, 272 PAGES

Black-necked Stilt, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

Black-necked Stilt – Alex Hughes

THE POST DORIAN PLANS

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, until 1 September 2019 when Dorian struck, Abaco was a prime birding location in the Bahamas archipelago, an island chain that stretches from the lower reaches of the temperate zone to the more exotic sub-tropical region. The judgement for ‘best birding location’ is both objective and subjective, and the criteria are flexible. However on any view Abaco scores highly in all avian categories: resident species, endemics, migratory birds, speciality species, vulnerable species, and extreme rarities.

We’ll have to wait some time before it is possible to tell what effects the devastating storm has had on the wildlife of the island and on its birding credentials…

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher vocalizing. Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Tom Sheley

BOOKMAKING

The Delphi Club Guide to THE BIRDS OF ABACO was published in March 2014. To say “I wrote it” would be a gross distortion of the truth: it was an entirely collaborative project. The originator of the idea – as with the entire Delphi Club project (now in new & expert hands) – was Peter Mantle. The book showcases the work of 30 photographers, including some outstanding contributions by islanders. There was huge input from the very experienced project manager (= Mrs RH, then of YUP) and from the top Bahamas bird experts – Woody Bracey, Tony White, Bruce Hallett, and Tony Hepburn, to name but 4. So although my name is on the cover, it is as a participant representing the contributions, camera skills and brainpower of many people.

Cuban Emerald (f) Gilpin, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (f) – Keith Salvesen

GAMBLERS?

The book project was something of a gamble. When planning began, social media – and the facility to reach a wide audience – was significantly less active than it was soon to become. The book was launched at Delphi to generous enthusiasm and support both on Abaco and beyond, but the extent of the interest (and sales) that might be generated more widely was unknown. We predicted it might be a slow-grower, so we were astonished by the immediate positive response to the guide. Perhaps it helped that there was a wider purpose to the book than as a photographic showcase for Abaco’s rich birdlife – we donated copies to all Abaco schools, colleges, libraries and local wildlife organisations for educational purposes. A significant percentage of the profits was set aside for local wildlife causes and duly distributed. 

Moving on just 5 years to this summer, the limited edition of 500 had all but sold out; and around 100 free copies had been donated – or deposited (as required by UK Law) in specified institutions: British Library; National Library of Scotland; National Library of Wales; Bodleian Library, Oxford; University Library, Cambridge; and Library of Trinity College, Dublin.

Brown Pelican, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Brown Pelican – Tom Sheley

PRESENT FOR THE FUTURE?

Six weeks after Dorian, a semblance of normality is returning to the stricken island. Daily snippets of optimism are of great significance: a lost pet found after many days; a trashed plant defiantly putting out a flower; a pair of parrots screeching past; a boat recovered; a building slightly less damaged than feared. Recovered possessions from flooded houses have brought mixed emotions – heart-rending losses of precious items, yet also the unexpected recovery of possessions believed lost or destroyed. And in that context but far less emotionally, I have now had quite a few requests for replacement copies of “Birds of Abaco”.

Short-billed Dowitcher, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Short-billed dowitchers – Bruce Hallett

SO, ARE THERE ANY REPLACEMENT BIRD BOOKS LEFT?

The position in a conch-shell is this:

  • There are now no copies still available on Abaco. Former HQ (and book storage / fulfilment facility) The Delphi Cub changed hands a year ago, and no longer carries a stock of the books. 
  • In the UK, Peter Mantle and I have about a dozen between us that are, in one way or another, ring-fenced.
  • That’s it, I’m afraid.
Bridled Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

Bridled Tern – Bruce Hallett

ARE YOU PLANNING TO REPRINT?

For several reasons, no – it’s not a viable proposition. Specifically:

  • the size & print-costs of such a large heavy (2 kgs) book
  • the specialist printing (eg in Italy) needed to retain the quality; and the associated shipping costs
  • the lack of any viable storage and / or fulfilment facilities on Abaco, or anywhere else suitable
  • the lack of a prominent ornithologically-minded literary-leaning benefactor with a kind smile & deep pockets
Black-throated blue warbler (Gerlinde Taurer)

Black-throated blue warbler – Gerlinde Taurer

CAN I STILL GET THE BOOK IN SOME OTHER FORM?

Yes! I hope. We are kicking around the following ideas in a general and inchoate way:

  • first, avoiding any system requiring storage or fulfilment (so, not a physical reprint)
  • using existing production material to create a Print-on-Demand book
  • turning the guide into an eBook (may be difficult / impossible with non-standard format)
  • most likely producing a full PDF (or similar) version for download and possibly printing
  • selecting sections – eg the definitive checklist – as individual downloads
  • considering other suggestions!

At the moment this is in the basket marked ‘non-urgent’, but the alternatives will be under active consideration.

Clapper Rail Abaco Bahamas Tom Sheley

Clapper Rail – Tom Sheley

The original flyer for the book"Birds of Abaco" flyer

Painted Bunting male.Abaco Bahamas.Tom SheleyPainted Bunting Tom Sheley

Photos: Alex Hughes (1); Tom Sheley (2, 4, 9, 10); Keith Salvesen (3, 11); Bruce Hallett (5, 7); Gerlinde Taurer (8);  Charmaine Albury, para-breakers 

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

ABACO PARROTS, SURVIVAL & RESEARCH: POST-DORIAN UPDATE


Abaco Parrot, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

ABACO PARROTS: SURVIVAL & RESEARCH

A POST-DORIAN UPDATE

The unique and symbolic parrots of Abaco have become quite a focus of attention now that some kind of normality is returning to the devastated island. Utilities and supplies are being sorted out gradually (and with unavoidable setbacks). There are some signs of optimism in the air – and some parrots too.

Abaco Parrot, Bahamas (Erik Gauger)

SO, AFTER THE HURRICANE ARE THERE ANY PARROTS AROUND?

At Bahama Palm Shores, the most ‘parroty’ of all the communities in south Abaco, Tara Lavallee was the first to see – and photograph – a pair on Sep 25th, nearly 4 weeks after Dorian struck. Over the next 10 days, and thanks to Janene Roessler’s work, I compiled a record of reports and sightings and mapped them. There were 12 in all, from Crossing Rocks in the south to Winding Bay in the north (25 – 30 miles as the parrot flies). 

Abaco Parrot, Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian (Tara Lavallee)

THE FIRST POST-DORIAN PARROTS

ABACO PARROT SIGHTINGS MAP BETWEEN SEP 25 AND OCT 4

The interactive map works like this (in theory at least). You can expand the map using the cursor, double clicks, or 2 fingers until you have enlarged the target area sufficiently to click on the individual coloured parrots. For each one, the sighting details are given with as much information as was available. The colour key is this:

  • Maroon – First sighting 
  • Blue – sighting with some details (eg numbers)
  • Yellow – sighting with little detail
  • Purple – flocks of 10 +

Abaco Parrot, Bahamas (Craig Nash)

IS ANYONE LOOKING AFTER OUR PARROTS?

By the turn of the century the parrot population had become unsustainable, having fallen below 1000, and their extinction was imminent. Since then, many organisations (eg BNT) and people have been involved in the reversal of the decline through intensive anti-predation and conservation measures. All this work continues so that the future of the parrots is assured. The rough estimate pre-Dorian was of c4000 birds.

Abaco Parrots, Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

WHAT ABOUT NOW, AFTER THE STORM?

As I mentioned in a previous post, a survey team including Abaco’s former parrot scientist Caroline Stahala Walker (now with Audubon) were planning a trip to Abaco once access became possible. They have just arrived on-island, and will be assessing the effect of Dorian both on the wildlife and on the habitat. This will include the parrots, and other ‘signal’ birds too. I expect these will include the endemics, the speciality birds (eg the woodpeckers), and some shorebirds including (I hope) piping plovers. They will also bring feed and feeders and give advice about care of the birds.

Caroline wrote “I wanted to let everyone know we have a team going to Abaco for surveys and setting up feeders starting tomorrow. The logistics were tough enough to piece together but it certainly would not have happened without all of your help. I will post pictures and update after the trip, not sure what internet situation will be like while there. Thanks everyone! You made this happen.”

CAROLINE’S GO FUND ME PAGE: CLICK THE LOGO

Abaco Parrot, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Some years ago Caroline and I put together a tiny booklet about the parrots, mainly for the benefit of guests and visitors at the Delphi Club. We asked for $5 – 10 donations for the birds. There were 2 editions. Later, I turned it into an ‘moving booklet’ with added music (that you can turn off!). Some people may have seen this elsewhere online recently. The middle section on the parrot nests in the National park, the chick-care, and the associated breeding research may be of particular interest. The pics are cute!

Thanks to all who contacted me to say there was an issue with the version of this booklet originally posted – a ‘privacy settings’ problem, as it turned out. I’ve exchanged it for a different format version, which is also a bit clearer… 

Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 6); Erik Gauger (2); Tara Lavallee (3); Craig Nash (4); Peter Mantle (5, 7)

Thanks to Tara, Janene and Caroline

Abaco Parrots Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

BEAUTIFUL BIRDS OF ABACO, BAHAMAS (1): PRAIRIE WARBLER


BEAUTIFUL BIRDS OF ABACO, BAHAMAS (1): PRAIRIE WARBLER

The increasing flow of reports of recent bird sightings on Abaco seems to confirm the theory that in times of crisis and of recovery from disaster, people gain strength from the natural world that surrounds them. The bright flash of a parrots wings; the hoarse squawk of a West Indian Woodpecker; the unmistakable cheery call of the thick-billed vireo; the ‘peep’ of a shore-bird – all these can bring comfort in troubled times. 

Prairie Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer / Rolling Harbour)

Right now, social media on Abaco, and radiating far beyond, is alive with more encouraging news after the storm, not least about the gradual re-establishment of normality as utilities and services are restored, movement becomes more possible, and plans for repairing the past and designing the future can begin to be made.

Prairie Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer / Rolling Harbour)

This post features photos of Prairie warblers taken on Abaco by Gerlinde Taurer, contributor to THE BIRDS OF ABACO. It is the start of a short series that will focus on a single species and feature gorgeous photos, all taken on Abaco. These bright little warblers are common winter residents and in normal times their Fall arrival would be well under way – along with some 30 other species of warbler that make Abaco – and the Bahamas generally – their winter home. 

Prairie Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer / Rolling Harbour)

The rich diversity of the avian life of Abaco is truly astonishing: from residents to migratory species, from tiny to huge, from frequently encountered to very rare. Every bird (yes, even the reputedly ‘dull’ black-faced grassquits) has its own beauty and character. Even a small brown bird may have a lovely song.  In non-storm circumstances, it would not be unusual for an amateur birder to encounter upwards of 40 species during half a day in the field – especially with binoculars. I hope that on a shattered island, appreciation of the lively and varied birdlife is already making a small yet positive contribution to the recovery.

Credits: All photos taken by Gerlinde Taurer on Abaco (my own are suppressed for being, frankly, dross in comparison)

Prairie Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer / Rolling Harbour)

ABACO BAHAMAS POST-DORIAN: HOPE & THE ICONIC PARROTS


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Craig Nash)

ABACO BAHAMAS POST-DORIAN: HOPE & THE ICONIC PARROTS

As the intensive Hurricane Dorian relief operation continues on a devastated Abaco, the extent of the destructive power of the huge storm is all too evident. Gradually restored communications and the availability of social media have circulated far and wide the awful photos and aerial views of the smashed island, and the tragic stories of loss and desolation. Accounts of astonishing courage, determination and generosity are for all to see. And, nearly 4 weeks later, we have early signs of recovery and grounds for hope in a stricken land.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Caroline Stahala Walker)

For the last 10 days or so, inquiries about Abaco’s birds and other wildlife have begun and are increasing daily. I take this as a sign that people are at last able to look slightly beyond the immediate horrors of the storm to the brighter horizon of the future. The iconic parrots are the principle concern, and finally – finally – I have some good news to bring. Here it is, in all its glory.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas post hurricane Dorian (Tara Lavallee)

I have been waiting anxiously to pick up the first reports of parrot sightings – or even of their raucous squawks. This iPhone photo was taken yesterday at Bahama Palm Shores by Tara Lavallee. You are looking at the first photograph of the parrots since the end of last month. This pair were apparently wary and jumpy – quite unlike the unselfconscious rowdy birds with which we are so familiar. There was a sighting near Casuarina, too. It looks as though the parrots are returning.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Caroline Stahala Walker)

WHERE HAVE THE PARROTS BEEN IN THE MEANTIME?

The parrots live and breed in the Abaco National Park right down in the south of the island. This is a vast area of pine forest that gives way to scrubland as it nears the coast. The assumption is that the approaching storm will have driven the parrots deep into the forest where, happily, they will have been some distance away from the destructive path of the hurricane. Many creatures can sense the approach of bad weather from changes in the air around them. This may trigger an instinct to head for home some time before the threat arrives. 

ONCE THEY GET THERE, WHAT DO THEY DO?

They lie low. The parrots have an additional and most unusual way to stay safe. They can avoid the dangers of adverse weather and even forest fires because they live and nest underground in limestone caves deep in the National Park.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Caroline Stahala Walker)

HOW RARE IS THAT?

The Abaco parrot (as opposed to its tree-nesting cousins in Inagua and in small numbers in Nassau) is unique in this respect, certainly in the northern hemisphere. There are half-a-dozen mostly inter-related species in the Antipodes that nest underground, but that is all. Even if the caves get flooded, limestone is a permeable rock and water will dissipate. And as for fires, the holes are deep enough for the flames to pass over them. Tree-dwellers are far more vulnerable.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Caroline Stahala Walker)

DOES THIS MEAN THE PARROTS ARE ALL SAFE?

It’s much too early to judge, because there is another vital component in their survival: the availability and sufficiency of suitable food. This is the factor that most worries those concerned with the parrots’ welfare – the BNT, the scientists and naturalists who helped to bring the species back from the edge of extinction, and organisations further afield such as Birds Caribbean. So it’s a question now of where they will find to feed; and beyond that, how they respond if they find their usual feeding haunts trashed. 

Feeding on Gumbo Limbo berries, a favourite snackAbaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

SIGHTING REPORTS

The signs are that the parrots are now emerging and looking for food. With luck their presence will become more noticeable. This is an important moment for collecting stats. They will help research into the effect of Dorian on the population including the wellbeing of the birds, their flocking behaviour, and the locations they now find to their liking. The fact that parrots have been seen at BPS, the parrot hotspot, is encouraging. 

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (from a photo by Craig Nash))

If anyone sees or even hears parrots over the next couple of weeks I’d welcome a report either directly or indirectly. The most helpful details are date, time, location and approx numbers (1, pair, a few, lots). Beyond that, behaviour notes are of interest – feeding, chattering, hanging round, being unsettled and so on. A photo is always a bonus, even a phone one. 

Parrot Crossing sign Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Do not doubt the resilience of these beautiful birds. Now that the threat of extinction has been removed through skilled  conservation, management and predator control, they will win through. If you doubt it, just look at this image below. It shows a nest in the immediate aftermath of hurricane Irene, with its occupant safe and sound as the parents forage for food and parrot scientist Caroline nips in with her camera.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Caroline Stahala Walker)

Credits: Craig Nash (1, 9); Caroline Stahala Walker (2, 4, 6, 7, 11); Tara Lavallee (3); Keith Salvesen (5, 10); Gerlinde Taurer (8); Melissa Maura (12)

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Melissa Maura)

STICKING TOGETHER: BIRDS OF A FEATHER ON ABACO


Smooth-billed Ani Pair, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer / Birds of Abaco)

Smooth-billed Anis, Abaco – Gerlinde Taurer

STICKING TOGETHER: BIRDS OF A FEATHER

In times of trouble, of grief and of despair, humans have an instinct to rally round for the greater good. Right now, I am very conscious that on Abaco – and indeed Grand Bahama – there is little or no time or mental space for overmuch concern about the wildlife. I am safely distanced from the tragedies and dire misfortunes of the countless individuals, families and communities affected by Hurricane Dorian. In this post I simply offer some images of birds – all photographed on Abaco – that are bonded together as adults or adult and chick, as symbolic of the huge combined human efforts on Abaco to comfort, restore, and rebuild a shattered island.

Northern Bobwhite pair, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Northern Bobwhites, Abaco backcountry – Tom Sheley

Piping Plovers, Delphi Beach, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Piping Plover, Delphi Beach Abaco – Keith Salvesen

Abaco (Bahama) Parrots, Bahamas - Peter Mantle

Abaco Parrots – Peter Mantle

Neotropic Cormorants, Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas - Bruce Hallett

Neotropic Cormorants, Treasure Cay, Abaco – Bruce Hallett

Common Gallinule Adult & Chick, Abaco Bahamas - Tom Sheley

Common Gallinule adult & chick, Abaco – Tom Sheley

Wilson's Plover adult & chick, Abaco Bahamas - Sandy Walker

Wilson’s Plover adult & chick, Abaco Bahamas – Sandy Walker

American Oystercatcher pair, Abaco Bahamas - Tom Sheley

American Oystercatchers, Abaco Bahamas – Tom Sheley

CREDITS: Gerlinde Taurer (1); Tom Sheley (2, 6, 8); Keith Salvesen (3, 8); Peter Mantle (4); Bruce Hallett (5); Sandy Walker (7)

Sanderlings, Delphi Beach, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Sanderlings, Delphi Beach, Abaco Bahamas – Keith Salvesen

‘THE BIRDS OF ABACO’: HURRICANE DORIAN RELIEF


Abaco (Bahama) Parrot - Melissa Maura

‘THE BIRDS OF ABACO’: HURRICANE DORIAN RELIEF

ABACO, BAHAMAS has been all but destroyed by Hurricane Dorian. The horrendous scale of the disaster in human terms alone is only now becoming clear as the days pass and new tragedies are revealed. Many established relief funds – international, national and local – are being very generously supported for the benefit of those who have suffered so grievously. I am adding to the number through my specific link to Abaco and its wildlife.

Black-necked Stilt, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

GO FUND ME BIRDS

For obvious reasons, the GFM page (in edited form here) has a rather more formal , explicatory tone than I would usually use.

Sally and I were founder members of the Delphi Club, Abaco and retain strong connections with the island and the community. I run a conservation program for rare migratory plovers that overwinter on Abaco; and I am involved with BMMRO & its marine mammal research.



‘THE BIRDS OF ABACO’, of which I am the author, was published in 2014. The book was designed by Sally and published by Peter Mantle / The Delphi club. By the end of last year the edition had sold out, and all planned educational donations to schools, libraries and relevant organisations had been completed. 

Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)
However, I have a couple of dozen books left in the UK.  Through this fundraiser, I am offering a copy of the book in exchange for a donation of $150 (or the equivalent). The resulting fund (minus the cost of fulfilment from the UK) will be added to the funds achieved by the Delphi Club through their DORIAN RELIEF FUND .

A higher donation is of course encouraged; and please note, it is not compulsory to receive a bird book.  Smaller donations are extremely welcome too, and for those of $50+ I will offer the donors a high-res PDF of a bird of their choice from a selection of several significant species found on Abaco; or a PDF of the complete bird species checklist for Abaco. That’s voluntary too.

Cuban Pewee, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)


The original price of this large photographic book was $145. It showcases the wonderful birds of Abaco with contributions from 30 photographers. Almost all are either residents of Abaco, or have strong connections with – and affection for – the island and its cays. 

The books can be sent to Bahamas, USA, Canada and Europe. For any other destination, please contact me before you make a donation. Books will not be dispatched before October.

Reddish Egret, breeding colours - Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)
Please note that the Delphi Club does not have a stock of books and is not directly involved with this fundraiser. Please contact me with any inquiries, even though the Club details are shown on the pre-publication flyer below.

Keith Salvesen

Rolling Harbour Abaco

Photo Credits: Melissa Maura – Abaco Parrot (1); Alex Hughes – Black-necked Stilt (2); Sally Salvesen – book jacket (3); Tom Sheley – Olive-capped Warbler (4); Keith Salvesen – Cuban Pewee; Reddish Egret in breeding plumage (5, 6)

ABACO’S 38 WARBLERS: AN ILLUSTRATED ID GUIDE (Pt 1)


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

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

ABACO’S 38 WARBLERS: AN ILLUSTRATED ID GUIDE (Pt 1)

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’ / ‘Fall’ (late summer & 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. Exactly a year ago, a CANADA WARBLER was seen and photographed by well-known 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.

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

Canada Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (1st record) (Chris Johnson)

Canada Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (1st record) (Chris Johnson)

This post is the first of 3 warbler posts for the Fall. A while back I compiled a basic (in retrospect) guide to Abaco’s warbler species. I’ll give a link and pdf in due course once I have rechecked (improved? rewritten?) it. [Note: of no value on eBay, @m@z@n or anywhere else]. Many of the warblers are far from easy to distinguish from each other. For example, many males have yellow or yellow-and-black plumage. The females are invariably less colourful – often brownish or olive – than the males (as are juveniles), and that can lead to confusion – and not only by me, I think.

Hooded Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Hooded Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

The guide divides the original 37 species into categories, with a code for each bird to show. You’ll see below the codes relating to each of the 5 resident species:

  • 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 once or twice since c1950
Bahama Warbler (endemic), Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

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

Numerically, the division of the 38 breaks down into 3 categories:

  • 5 permanent residents (PR) that breed on Abaco (B), of which two are ENDEMIC
  • 21 winter residents (WR) ranging from ‘everyday’ species to rarities like the rare, vulnerable Kirtland’s Warbler (now under threat from proposed development)
  • 12 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 used in this series were almost all taken on Abaco / the Cays. There’ll be examples of the male of each warbler species, with some females for contrast. Where I have no Abaco / Baha images – especially with the transients – I have used other mainstream birding resources and Wiki. All due credits will be given at the foot of each post.

Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

The warblers shown above are a mix of warbler species on Abaco: resident / endemic, winter migrants, and transient / vagrant. Time to take a look at the first category, the Bahamas-loving resident species that live and breed on Abaco

5 PERMANENT RESIDENTS

BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT Geothlypis rostrata PR B 1  ENDEMIC

Bahama Yellowthroat (endemic), Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

Bahama Yellowthroat (endemic), Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

BAHAMA WARBLER Setophaga flavescens PR B 1 ENDEMIC

Bahama Warbler (endemic), Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

Bahama Warbler (endemic), Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

YELLOW WARBLER Setophaga petechia PR B 1 

Yellow Warbler, sunrise, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Yellow Warbler, sunrise, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLER Setophaga pityophila PR B 1 

Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

PINE WARBLER Setophaga pinus PR B 1 

Pine Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Pine Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

In Part 2: Winter migrants from common to rare

PHOTO CREDITS Tom Sheley (1, 9, 11); Chris Johnson (2, 3); Alex Hughes (4); Nina Henry (5); Gerlinde Taurer (6, 7); Bruce Hallett (8, 10); Photos mainly from the archive collected for“THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO” by Keith Salvesen

GULAR SACS: SCRATCHING THE SURFACE OF AN IN-DEPTH VIEW…


Brown Pelican, Gular Pouch / Sac (Phil Lanoue)

Large mouth, tiny snack…

GULAR SACS: SCRATCHING THE SURFACE OF AN IN-DEPTH VIEW…

A half-way intelligent microbe would make a better job of getting the internet into our home than the current ISP that nominally serves, at some expense, Maison Harbour. So I am restricted to posting 2 fantastic photos of gular pouches as a tempter for things to come when the dimwits in charge of the ‘provision’ of ‘service’ of ‘internix’ locate the act that they need to get together.

Spoiler Alert: ‘Gular Sacs’ has nothing to do with modern jazz. You need to go somewhere else for that…

Photo credits (if they load in the next fortnight or so): Phil Lanoue; Franz Delcroix – with thanks for use permission

Frigate bird male, gular pouch /sac (Frantz Delcroix)

WAVE CHASERS: SANDERLING POOL TIME ON ABACO


Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

WAVE CHASERS: SANDERLING POOL TIME ON ABACO

It’s often a hard decision whether to include a short piece of video footage in a post. By short, I mean less than a minute. On the one hand, there is usually a good reason for inclusion, even if only aesthetic. On the other, it simply takes up more time for busy people who may prefer to flick through an article and enjoy some nice images along the way. Today, you can have the best of both worlds.

Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Sanderlings are definitively ‘peeps’, a group name that embraces the smallest and squeakiest sandpiper species. They are the wave chasers, the tiny birds that scuttle along the beach, into the retreating tide for a snack from the sand, and back to the beach again as the waves creep in. Their little legs and feet move in a blur, and many people immediately think of wind-up clockwork toys as they watch the birds in action.

Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

One of the joys of being a sanderling is that rock pools fill and empty diurnally. At some time during daylight, there’s the certainty of a quick dip. I was lying on the beach when I took this short video, so that I didn’t spook the birds. I was equipped with a smallish camera (I drowned it the following day. By mistake I mean) but I kept my distance rather than try to get closer and spoil their joyful bathing.

I caught these little birds at a critical moment. You can tell that the tide is coming in fast. The peeps are becoming edgy, and weighing up the joys of immersion in a pool with the less enjoyable prospect of being washed out of the pool by the next wave. Within a minute or so, they had all flocked down the shoreline for a foraging session.

Waves and incoming tide getting a little too close for comfort on the edge of the pool…Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Next to the migratory PIPING PLOVERS that favour Abaco as their winter home, the wave chasers are my favourite shorebirds. My keenness on them killed my camera. I went out into the incoming waves to get shots back at the beach with the sun behind me. Great idea until I lost my balance with, as they say, hilarious consequences. Lesson learnt – never turn your back on waves.

Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

All photos © Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour taken on the beach at Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas

Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

TINY PIPING PLOVER CHICKS CAN SWIM! WHO KNEW?


TINY PIPING PLOVER CHICKS CAN SWIM! WHO KNEW?

Birds never cease to astonish and delight. Baby birds contain additional magic ingredients such as adorbium and cuteite. Ten days ago, a whole new level of spectator infatuation was effortlessly induced in the piping plover conservation team at Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

The episode took a grand total of 35 seconds… For that is the time it took for three tiny piping plover chicks to get from one side of a small stretch of water to the other. By swimming! They had been spotted doing this the previous day, so the team were prepared. This was no one-off water-based miracle.

WATCH THIS CLIP AND BE UTTERLY ASTOUNDED AND ENCHANTED…

WHY DID THE PLOVER CHICKS CROSS THE WATER?

Alicia Pensarosa, amazed conservationist and photographer, later posted her video captioned “Mom and Dad plover fly to the other side first and then pipe at them to swim over. I think they do this to get to a better foraging area and to be less disturbed from beach crowds. They have been making their trek over in the morning and then come back in the afternoon (both on busy and quiet beach days)“.

WHY THE BIG SURPRISE ABOUT SWIMMING SHORE BIRDS?

Because as it turns out, very very few people have seen this behaviour before with the tiniest shorebirds. Alicia’s post on FB unsurprisingly has racked up loads of Likes, Loves, WOWs, OMGs and other enthusiastic emoticons. Plus plenty of shares. Plus a whole lot of comments and replies. In the interests of research I have examined these. One person once saw snowy plover chicks take a dip. Only two people had seen PIPL chicks do so. I’m pretty sure Michelle Stantial, pre-eminent PIPL scientist, has seen this phenomenon too. But overwhelmingly the responses can be summarised by the words ‘Who Knew?’ 

And now, assuming you watched the video (and if not, why not? and please scroll back and do so forthwith), you know it too. Here’s my current favourite chick to end with.

Keith, son of Squid and Sophie, sibling of Abaco and Cherokee (for which, see HERE)

CREDITS: Alicia Pensarosa for the report, the great video and her work with PIPL; Illustrative chicks courtesy of ace PIPL photographer Northside Jim Verhagen of LBI; and Todd Pover / Conserve Wildlife Foundation New Jersey

‘A SADNESS OF SHEARWATERS’ ON ABACO: UNWELCOME NEWS


Audobon's_Shearwater - Dominic Sherony wiki

‘A SADNESS OF SHEARWATERS’ ON ABACO

If you are walking your favourite beach on Abaco right now, it’s quite possible you may see – or may already have seen – a very poorly seabird. Or one that is dead, I’m afraid. These are Audubon’s Shearwaters, also known as Dusky Petrels. They are the only permanent resident shearwater species on Abaco. Three others (Cory’s, Great and Sooty) are rare transients; and the last – the Manx – is a very rare off-course vagrant.

Each sad bird is part of a tragic and recurrent phenomenon, a so-called die-off event. As in previous years, a few of the birds that succumb may be Great Shearwaters mixed in with the Audubon’s. I first became aware of this problem in June 2015 and wrote two detailed posts about the situation. This bleak time lasted for about a week, and many reports came in from the mainland and the cays from Green Turtle Cay right down to Crossing Rocks, all duly mapped to get the overall picture. 

audubons-shearwater-abaco-keith-kemp

There was thankfully no such problem in 2016, but in 2017 – also in June – there was another die-back event involving a large number of Audubon’s shearwaters (Puffinus lherminieri) appearing in the tideline and on beaches. Many were already dead. Some are still alive, but in a very poor state. The prospects for recovery for birds that were captured and cared for were not good.

Audubon's shearwater - Kinlarak / wiki

Two years on, and the melancholy cycle is repeating itself. A few days ago, Melissa Maura, an expert in the care and recovery of creatures of all kinds, posted an alert and some sound advice:

A heads-up to all Island folk that it appears to be a summer when exhausted Shearwaters (pelagic seabirds) are washing up on our beaches in Eleuthera and Abaco. I have had two calls in 24 hours. Should you find one, understand that it will be in a severe state of exhaustion and stress and that excessive handling will kill it. Please put in a safe pen on a sandy surface, with shallow pan of fresh water and try locate either fresh fish (important) or squid from a bait shop. This may have to be administered by gently opening the beak and inserting one inch long piece of fish every couple of hours until stable. Ideally they need tube feeding, but very few folk can do this. Please contact me on private message if you find any…

An exhausted Audubon’s Shearwater, now being cared for by Melissa Maura

WHY DOES THIS SHEARWATER DIE-OFF HAPPEN?
This is a periodic phenomenon that looks to be settling into a 2-year cycle in the Northern Bahamas (Eleuthera is also affected). The cause is probably a combination of factors, very likely stemming from prevailing mid-summer climate conditions and/or the effect of climate change. This can lead to a shortage of food far out in the ocean where the birds spend their days. This in turn leads to weakness and exhaustion as the birds try to find food. The birds may then land (or fall) in the sea, to be washed ashore in a very bad state, or dead. In 2017, well-known bird expert Woody Bracey noted a correlation between poor fishing conditions out at sea, and an unusual absence of the frigatebirds that are a sure sign of a healthy fish population.
Shearwater washed up on the beach at Winding Bay a couple of days ago
ARE PLASTICS A CONTRIBUTORY FACTOR?
As we must all accept by now, most if not all these birds will unavoidably have ingested some of our discarded plastic.  However, that in itself would not explain the simultaneous deaths of many birds of one type in a specific area, at exactly the same time of year, and for a few days only. 
Audubon's Shearwater (Neotropical Birds / Cornell / Brian Sullivan)
WHAT ELSE CAN BE DONE?
The dead birds will be quickly removed by the turkey vultures. If you do find one, you might want to bury it. The prognosis for sick birds is not that good. They may have been carried a long way from open sea and they will be exhausted and starved. Those that are strong enough may recover naturally; but most will sadly die, being too weak and emaciated to survive. There is no available facility able to deal with a large number of very poorly or dying birds.
The most practical advice I can give is:
(1) move the bird gently into the shade if in the sun
(2) provide clean water in a shallow dish
(3) offer finely chopped fish BUT no bread (it’s very bad for birds)
(4) if this seems to be working, then carry on until the bird is strong enough to fly (this may be quite a commitment)
(5) do not reproach yourself if a bird you try to help dies. Many will be in such bad shape by the time they are washed up that they are unlikely to survive whatever steps you take
(6) remember that this a part – a sad part – of the life-cycle of these birds, and (as with other species), a degree attrition is an inevitable aspect of natural life
I’d be interested to hear any other accounts of this year’s dieback, especially of any recovery stories. By all means do this as a comment, or email me, DM, or FB.
Credits: thanks to those  on Abaco who have been reporting this event over the last few days; Dominic Sherony (1); Melissa Maura (2, 5); Keith Kemp (3); Kinlarak / wiki (4); Rhonda Pearce (6); Brian Sullivan / Neotropical Birds / Cornell  (7); )Richard Crossley / Crossley Guides for the composite picture

‘TERN, TERN, TERN’: THE UN-NOTORIOUS BYRD COUSINS


Royal Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

‘TERN, TERN, TERN’: THE UN-NOTORIOUS BYRD COUSINS

There are twelve (12!) species of tern – ‘swallows of the sea’ – that to a greater or lesser extent may be found on Abaco. Whether they will actually  be visible at any given time is less certain, though. For a start, the only resident species is the lovely Royal Tern, available at many locations on Abaco and the cays throughout the year.

ROYAL TERNS Thalasseus maximus PR1

Royal Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Royal Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

In the slightly less commonly-found category are the summer migrant terns that, by definition, are only in residence for around half the year. Four of these are fairly common in certain areas, and actually breed on Abaco; these include arguably the prettiest of all, the bridled tern. The other two tern species (gull-billed and sandwich) are more rare and as far as I can make out do not breed locally; or perhaps only rarely. 

LEAST TERN Sternula antillarum SR B 1

LeastTern, Abaco Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)

BRIDLED TERN Onychoprion anaethetus SR B 2

BridledTern, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)BridledTern, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

ROSEATE TERN Sterna Dougallii SR B 2

Roseate Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

SOOTY TERN Onychoprion anaethetus SR B 2

Sooty Tern, Duncan Wright wiki

GULL-BILLED TERN Gelochelidon nilotica SR 3 

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)Gull-billed Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

SANDWICH TERN Thalasseus sandvicensis SR 4

Sandwich Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)Sandwich Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

There is one rare winter resident migratory tern species. I had to check when the last one was recorded for Abaco. It was of course only in January this year, when ace birder-photographer Sally Chisholm saw one at Treasure Cay and managed to photograph it for posterity.

FORSTER’S TERN Sterna forsteri  WR 4

Forster's Tern (Dick Daniels)Forster's Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Sally Chisholm)

The final four ‘Abaco’ terns are very much the occasional visitors. Three of them pass over the Bahamas on their longer migration, but may make a pit-stop around Abaco to take on fuel. Likelihood of sighting one? Slender but not impossible… The fourth, the Arctic Tern, is a very rare vagrant, a bird well away from its usual home or migration route as the result of storms or faulty satnav or sheer happenstance. Don’t travel to the Bahamas intent on seeing one.

CASPIAN TERN Hydroprogne caspia TR 4

Caspian Tern Abaco Bahamas (Woody Bracey)Caspian Tern Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp)

As for the remaining three species, they are the transient black tern and common tern; and the vanishingly rare vagrant  Arctic tern (the clue is in the name). No photos of any of these I’m afraid, so here’s a handy checklist instead. 

     ELECTIVE MUSICAL DIGRESSION

Written by Peter Seeger a few years earlier, Turn x 3 was released in 1965, the title track on the second album from the Byrds. At a rather febrile time in US history (Vietnam, draft riots, black civil rightists v cops and so on), this unusually palliative and thoughtful song with its religious connotations to some extent stood for peace and hope in a time of turmoil.

PS the somewhat laboured title of this post shoehorns in the name of another Byrds album, ‘The Notorious Byrd Brothers’

Photo credits: Keith Salvesen (1, 2, 3, 5, 18); Tony Hepburn (4); Alex Hughes (10, 11); Bruce Hallett (6, 7, 12); Woody Bracey (8, 13, 16); Duncan Wright (9); Dick Daniels (14); Sally Chisholm (15); Keith Kemp (17)

Royal Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

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)