BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACO: GOOD IMPRESSIONS


Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACO: GOOD IMPRESSIONS

The Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii is similar to its slightly smaller cousin, the widespread Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottis. The range of Bahama Mockingbirds is not restricted to the Bahamas themselves, and includes areas of  Cuba, Jamaica and TCI, so despite the name they are not an endemic species to the Bahamas.  They are also occasional vagrants to the United States, especially – for reasons of proximity – southeastern Florida.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Peter Mantle

The Bahama Mockingbird is browner than the greyish Northern Mockingbird, and has distinctive streaking and spotting to its breast and undercarriage. This may extend to what you might describe as the bird’s ‘trouser legs’, though I’m sure there’s a more technically correct term.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Charlie Skinner

Both mockingbird species are found on Abaco. The NMs are ubiquitous in towns, settlements, gardens, coppice and pine forest, whereas BMs are shyer and tend to be found in the pine forest and well away from humans and their operations. When we were putting together The Birds of Abaco, I went on a birding trip with Abaco birding legend Woody Bracey and Ohio bird photographer Tom Sheley. We took a truck into the pine forest down a logging track south of Delphi, and they were quick to locate a bird, not least because one was sitting prettily on a branch singing lustily and unmistakably. It was well within range of Tom’s massive lens; more of a struggle for my modest camera (below). Caught the cobwebs, though…

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

I was astounded by the beauty and variety of the song. It consisted of very varied notes and phrases, each repeated 3 or 4 times before moving on to the next sounds in the repertoire. Here is a short 18 second example I recorded, using my unpatented iPhone method, for which see HERE.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Alex Hughes

For those with interest in birdsong, here is a longer 1:13 minute song from the same bird, with largely different sounds from the first recording made minutes earlier. There’s even a decent stab at imitation of a 1960s Trimphone™. Had we not had to move on to Sandy Point for an appointment with some cattle egrets and American kestrels, I could have stayed listening for far longer.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

THE ‘SUBSPECIES’ THAT WASN’T…

More recently, on a trip in backcountry to find Kirtland’s warblers – we saw 4 – the slow-moving truck jolted to halt in the middle of nowhere. This was because a Bahama Mockingbird was right by the track. I fired off some quick shots out of the window into a rather difficult light, to find that we appeared to have found a new subspecies, the scarlet-faced mockingbird.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

The reason was clear, however. The bird had been pigging out on some red berries, and had managed to collect plenty of the juice round the base of its beak. Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

SO WHAT DOES A NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD LOOK LIKE, THEN?

I photographed the Northern Mockingbird below in a garden at Casuarina. The species is far tamer than its cousin, and seen side-by-side they are clearly very different. The range maps show the stark contrast between the very limited range of the Bahama Mockingbird and the vast distribution of the Northern Mockingbird.

220px-Northern_Mockingbird-rangemap

Northern Mockingbird, Abaco 1

Photos Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 6); Peter Mantle (2); Charlie Skinner (3); Keith Salvesen (4, 7, 8, 9); Alex Hughes (5); Susan Daughtrey (10). Range maps eBird & wiki.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Susan Daughtry

WHY “ROLLING HARBOUR”? THIS MORNING’S VIEW…


Rolling Harbour, Abaco (Delphi Club Beach)Click to enlarge

MAGNIFICENT FLYING MACHINES: FRIGATEBIRDS


Magnificent Frigatebirds (m) - Michael Vaughn

MAGNIFICENT FLYING MACHINES: FRIGATEBIRDS

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

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

     CLICK LOGO TO VIEWmagnificent-frigatebird

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

magnificent-frigatebird

A MAN-O-WAR GALLERY

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

Juveniles being delinquentMagnificent Frigatebirds (juv) - Michael Vaughn

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

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

magnificent-frigatebird

10 MAGNIFICENT FACTS ABOUT FRIGATEBIRDS

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

Albin’s Magnificent FrigatebirdFrigatebird_Eleazar_Albin_1737

Audubon’s Magnificent FrigatebirdAudubon Frigatebird

Magnificent Frigatebird (m) - Michael Vaughn

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

Magnificent Frigatebird (m) - Michael Vaughn

SANDERLINGS: BATH TIME FUN AT DELPHI, ABACO


Sanderling Bath Time, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas - Keith Salvesen

SANDERLINGS: BATH TIME FUN AT DELPHI, ABACO

One of the pleasures of watching birds (as opposed to BIRDWATCHING, a more committed-sounding enterprise with its own Wiki entry, that may require equipment, books & mag subs…) is to spend some time observing them enjoying themselves. Perhaps you have a feeder, and like to watch the birds getting stuck into the seeds, carelessly flicking the husks around and throwing their ‘feeder shapes’ on the perches. Maybe you like to see the hummers, beaks deep into the little red plastic flowers on the rim of the sugar-water feeder, tiny bodies motionless and upright, wings a glistening blur of rapid movement in the sun. 

Sanderling Bath Time, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas - Keith Salvesen

Well, join me at Sanderling Bath Time on the Delphi Beach. We are the north end, where the exposed rocks of the reef curve round towards the beach. At low tide, there’s a sandbar bridge from beach to rocks. It is a perfect feeding area for shore birds. Sanderlings, ruddy turnstones, least sandpipers, Wilson’s plovers and the prized piping plovers forage happily together here.

Sanderling Bath Time, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas - Keith Salvesen

Towards mid-tide on the rise, the water begins to creep round the rocks and encroach onto the sandbar. At high tide, it is well under water and fish are back in residence. Small sharks sometimes hang in the waves just behind their breaking point over the shallow sand.  And so the tidal process repeats. But ± mid-tide is the time for the shore birds to bathe in the tidal pools that form – and become frothier as the water pours in. And it’s an excellent time to sit peacefully on the beach and watch the entertainment…

Sanderling Bath Time, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas - Keith SalvesenSanderling Bath Time, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas - Keith Salvesen

Substantial immersion is not out of the question…Sanderling Bath Time, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas - Keith SalvesenSanderling Bath Time, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas - Keith SalvesenSanderling Bath Time, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas - Keith Salvesen

These moments don’t last long. Soon the increasing force and height of the water spoils the fun, and the flock will suddenly take flight and move south a little way along the beach, away from the rocks. There’s the incoming tideline to play with – and more importantly, food to be uncovered with each incoming and retreating wave…Sanderling Bath Time, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas - Keith Salvesen

All photos © Rolling Harbour

“THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO” (2016)


Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco (Jacket)

“THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO”

In a box in the corner over there – no, there – are my last 6 copies of ‘The Birds of Abaco’. Peter Mantle probably has a few over here in the UK too. And there are definitely some remaining at Delphi HQ in a cupboard  just a few lurches away from the surprisingly popular ‘honesty bar’. But there aren’t a great many left now, so forgive me for drawing attention to the fact that the Season of Goodwill is upon us. And… ahem… there are only 24 more ‘sleeps’ until Christmas. 

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher vocalizing.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley aBlue-gray Gnatcatcher Tom Sheley

“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 – was Peter Mantle, the publisher. The work of 30 photographers is included. There was huge input from the very experienced project manager and from Bahamas bird experts. 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 Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Cuban Emerald (f) Keith Salvesen

The book launched to generous enthusiasm and support both on Abaco and beyond, which has continued ever since. We have been astonished by the positive responses to this unique publication for the Bahamas. There is a wider purpose to the book than as a photographic showcase for Abaco birds. All Abaco schools, colleges, libraries and local wildlife organisations have been given free copies for educational purposes. And a percentage of the profits is set aside for local wildlife causes. 

Abaco Parrot, Abaco Bahamas (Peter Mantle)Abaco (Cuban) Parrots Peter Mantle

Below are some facts and stats. Some people may well have seen these set out elsewhere, but a lot of new people have kindly tuned in to Rolling Harbour in the last 12 months or so, so I will repeat some of the details.

Short-billed Dowitcher, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Short-billed dowitchers Bruce Hallett

The Guide showcases the rich and varied bird life of Abaco, Bahamas and features both resident and migratory species including endemics rarities and unusual sightings.

The main features are as follows:

  • 272 pages with more than 350 photographs
  • 163 species shown in vivid colour – nearly two-thirds of all the bird species ever recorded for Abaco
  • Every single photograph was taken on Abaco or in Abaco waters
  • All birds are shown in their natural surroundings – no feeders or trails of seed were used
  • Several birds featured are the first ones ever recorded for Abaco or even for the entire Bahamas

Clapper Rail Abaco Bahamas Tom SheleyClapper Rail Tom Sheley

  • A total of 30 photographers, both experienced and local amateurs, contributed to the project
  • The book had the generous support of many well-known names of Abaco and Bahamas birding
  • A complete checklist of every bird recorded for Abaco since 1950 up to the date of publication was compiled specially for the book (6 new species have been recorded since then…)
  • A code was devised to show at a glance when you may see a particular bird, and the likelihood of doing so. Birds found at Delphi are also marked
  • Specially commissioned cartographer’s Map of Abaco showing places named in the book

Least Tern, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)Least Tern Tony Hepburn

  • Informative captions intentionally depart from the standard field guide approach…
  • …as does the listing of the birds in alphabetical rather than scientific order
  • Say goodbye to ’37 warbler species on consecutive pages’ misery
  • Say hello to astonishing and unexpected juxtapositions of species

Abaco_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copyBahama Yellowthroat Gerlinde Taurer

  • The book was printed in Florence, Italy by specialist printers on Grade-1 quality paper
  • Printing took pairs of printers working in 6 hour shifts 33 hours over 3 days to complete
  • The project manager and the author personally oversaw the printing 

Smooth-billed Ani pair, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)Smooth-billed Anis Gerlinde Taurer

  • The book is dedicated to the wildlife organisations of Abaco
  • A percentage of the profits is put by for the support of local wildlife organisations
  • A copy of the book has been presented to every school, college and library on Abaco

Piping Plover, Abaco - Bruce HallettPiping Plover Bruce Hallett

The book is published by the Delphi Club (contact details below). The project was managed by a publishing specialist in art books. The author is the wildlife blogger more widely known on Abaco and (possibly) beyond as ‘Rolling Harbour’. Oh! So that would in fact be Mrs Harbour and myself. Well well! What were the chances? 

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

The Delphi Club at Rolling Harbour
PO Box AB-20006, Marsh Harbour, Abaco, Bahamas
Tel: +1-242-366-2222
General Manager – Max Woolnough: +1-242-577-1698
delphi.bahamas@gmail.com

Or email rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com with any queries or comments

American Oystercatcher, Abaco - Tom SheleyAmerican Oystercatcher Tom Sheley

Photos: Tom Sheley,  Bruce Hallett, Gerlinde Taurer, Tony Hepburn, Peter Mantle, Keith Salvesen

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

USEFUL LINKS

DELPHI CLUB BAHAMAS

ABACO BIRDS. COM

ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH

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

*BIRDWATCHER ALERT* A BIG DAY FOR BIRDS EVERYWHERE!


Sanderling Trio, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 5

Sanderling, Delphi Beach, Abaco

*BIRDWATCHER ALERT* A BIG DAY FOR BIRDS EVERYWHERE!

It’s here again – GBD, the second Global Big Day. A chance for anyone and everyone to participate in a worldwide celebration of birds at just the level you choose.

Global Big Day Flyer (Cornell Lab)

No need to try to cover 100 square miles in a day and record 300 species. Unless you want to, of course. You could as easily spend an hour or two in a garden. In a clearing in the coppice. Down a track in the pine forest. Sitting on the beach with a cooler full of beer. Whatever suits you. 

Western Spindalis, Delphi, AbacoWestern Spindalis, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

As the second Saturday in May, today also happens to be the official IMDB – International Migratory Bird Day – for the U.S. and Canada (the Caribbean is in October – reversed migration routes. Geddit?).

IMBD 2016 poster

However, this post is not primarily about that event, but rather an encouragement to people to join in with some easygoing birding today. And if you happened to want to do it tomorrow, that’s OK too! If you want to send me your checklist (iphone photo should be fine), please do. Or send 2 or 3 best photos, and I’ll post my favourites – though preferably rather than post to my FB page, email to rollingharbour.delphiATgmail.com .

Palm Warbler, Delphi: a migratory warbler. Unlikely to be on Abaco – all hightailed north by nowPalm Warbler, Abaco 3 (Keith Salvesen)

Wherever you happen to be, just take a little time to look for some birds. There are plenty of places you can rule out straight away. Indoors for example. So it means being in the fresh air. And it’s probably best to set an hour or so as a minimum target time to spend on the task.

Green Heron hunting (successfully) – Gilpin Point pond, AbacoGreen Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)05

WHAT DO I NEED?

Keep it simple. A pen that works. A spare pen just in case. A note book or even a large sheet of paper. Binoculars maybe. Camera if you are that way inclined. Sustenance. Maybe a friend for a joint effort. Possibly a bird book. If you have a North American one, it will help with most of the species you are likely to encounter. 

Antillean Bullfinch, Delphi, AbacoGreater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

In an ideal world you would then upload your checklist officially to eBird by May 17 so that your findings can be included in the global statistics. Or you could pass your record to a local birding group to upload for you. Or just have a bit of fun, why not, and see how many different birds you can find (even if you can’t put a name to them). Last year 268 Caribbean species were recorded. Imagine if one of yours was the only one of its kind to be seen?

Bananaquit, Delphi, AbacoBananaquit, Abaco 2 (Keith Salvesen)

WHY DO IT?

The stats gleaned from this initiative, and others like it (‘Shorebird Day’; ‘Warbler Day’ etc) are a good indicator of the state of health of the bird population both in general and by location. Perhaps an area previously having worrying low numbers for a particular species will show an encouraging upswing, indicating a successful breeding season and  / or effective habitat protection initiatives. Or maybe one species will show an unexpectedly low figure, indicating a need for research and the instigation of protection measures. 

Red-tailed Hawk giving me ‘The Look’Red-tailed Hawk 2 NYC (Keith Salvesen)

So every return made for every region in the world is significant; and if you can add 20 species to the count, you will be adding to the vast fund of accumulated knowledge that in the long term helps to preserve the birds that surround us.

Let the count begin…

Royal Tern, The Marls, Abaco – taken while fishing. Camera + rod. Cool, huh?)Royal Terns Abaco (2) 2 (Keith Salvesen)

All photos: Keith Salvesen, taken on Abaco (ok, you got me there, not the red-tailed hawk, which is a cheat and was taken in Central Park NYC. Never got this close on Abaco. But I like it anyway)

“ONE OF A KIND”: LIMPKINS ON ABACO


Limpkin, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

“ONE OF A KIND”: LIMPKINS ON ABACO

It’s 07.50 and we are trundling up the one-mile Delphi drive towards the highway in a truck towing the skiff for a day of fishing out on the Marls. We are ‘first boat out’, so the driveway has been peaceful for a while. Suddenly, some way ahead, a dark shape detaches itself from the margin of the coppice and steps into the roadway. Large. Dark brown. Kind of awkward looking. Long legs. Long decurved bill. And the bird I’ve been waiting to see for a long time. A limpkin.

My first sighting of one of the Delphi limpkinsLimpkin, Delphi, Abaco (RH) 1

Grabbing the small point ‘n’ shoot I take fishing (far cheaper to drown than an iPh@ne), I leaned out of the open window and fired off some optimistic shoots at the bird, on full (yet feeble) zoom. For what they are worth**, here are a few – and will you look at the toes on the creature!

Limpkin, Delphi, Abaco (RH) 2  Limpkin, Delphi, Abaco (RH) 3Limpkin, Delphi, Abaco (RH) 4  Limpkin, Delphi, Abaco (RH) 6

Limpkins (Aramus guarauna) have lived near the top end of the Delphi drive for several seasons, but they and I have never coincided. I haven’t even heard their weird screaming call. The guides sometimes see them when they first arrive each day, but limpkins are very shy, unsociable birds that keep themselves to themselves. Unless you see them cross a track, you might never notice them. To make matters more difficult, they are mainly “nocturnally and crepuscular”, so they are not generally active during the day.

Limpkin at Gilpin PointLimpkin Gilpin Point, Abaco (Troy Mailis)

ONE OF A KIND

The limpkin is a species of long-billed, long-legged wading bird, and is unrelated to herons, cranes and rails despite appearances. In fact, it has the honour to be the sole member of its taxonomic family. They may be found near ponds, in mangroves, in dense coppice or on the edge of pinewoods. They move jerkily, with a flickering tail and, as with any ID-cooperative bird, to see one is to know one.

Juvenile limpkin220px-Limpkin_Juvenile

TEN LIMPID LIMPKIN FACTS TO ENTHRAL PUNTERS AT PETE’S PUB

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

Range maparam_guar_AllAm_map

Olivia Patterson of Friends of the Environment kindly sent me this video that she posted on their FB page a while back with the comment: “Do you know what a limpkin sounds like? There are a pair of them which live around the FRIENDS office. Check out this video to hear them calling out for each other. See if you can spot the limpkin! (hint… look at the pine tree on the left). Limpkins typically live near wetlands and eat snails”.

Limpkins call mainly at dusk in the night, or at dawn. The frankly somewhat tedious and repetitive cry has been phonetically rendered as “kwEEEeeer orklAAAar“, if that helps you to remember it! The racket has even achieved fame in films: it has been used for jungle sound effects in Tarzan films; and more recently for the HIPPOGRIFF in the film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Favourite food – the apple snail220px-Limpkin-snail2

** I’m not ashamed to use my more pathetic photos when context permits…

Credits: Header, Tony Hepburn; 5 rubbish photos from a moving truck, RH; Gilpin Point, Troy Maillis; 3 other images wiki (uncredited); range map, Cornell; video, Olivia Patterson / FOTE; general long-billed rootling around for info, with a nod to wiki.

A good wing-shake