JUST HANGING AROUND: PIPING PLOVERS ON THE DELPHI BEACH, ABACO


Piping Plovers, Delphi, Abaco A (Keith Salvesen)7

JUST HANGING AROUND: PIPING PLOVERS ON THE DELPHI BEACH, ABACO

I’ve posted quite a few times about PIPING PLOVERS (PIPL) on Abaco, not least because of the five-month Rolling Harbour ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH that preceded the 4-year census in January 2016. These little guys are tiny, rare and threatened – by predators, humans, domestic animals, beach vehicles, habitat loss and the other usual factors.

Ha! I’ve found meat-string!Piping Plovers, Delphi, Abaco A (Keith Salvesen)5

In many of their summer breeding grounds, these are the hazards they face annually as they struggle to increase the world population from a precarious 8000 to a more sustainable number. The signs are promising. Intensive conservation projects by organisation such at CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION, NEW JERSEY have ensured protection in the breeding grounds, resulting in a (probable) increased population estimate once the census stats are analysed.

My left leg is moving too fast…Piping Plovers, Delphi, Abaco A (Keith Salvesen)6

In the places the pipers overwinter such as the northern Bahamas, they find relatively safe havens. Abaco is one favoured place; and the beach at Delphi is home to a number of these little birds annually. Usually by the time we are here in March, they have set off on their 1000+ mile flights north to the breeding areas on the Atlantic Coast, the Great Lakes and the Great Plains. However this year, there is a pair right here, right now – hanging out on the beach, hanging around when most other PIPL are all already gone.

Check out my breeding plumage, get ready for me on the NJ shorelinePiping Plovers, Delphi, Abaco A (Keith Salvesen)2

These pictures were taken a couple of evenings ago as the plovers poddled and paddled back and forth along the tidal margin. I didn’t try to get too close – I didn’t want to risk disturbing their happy evening stroll. You’ll see that the male is already in his breeding plumage, with smart black chinstrap, monobrow and orange ‘n’ black beak. I take the other bird to be a female though maybe it’s a first-winter male (comment invited).

Piping Plovers, Delphi, Abaco A (Keith Salvesen)8 Piping Plovers, Delphi, Abaco A (Keith Salvesen)1 Piping Plovers, Delphi, Abaco A (Keith Salvesen)4 Piping Plovers, Delphi, Abaco A (Keith Salvesen)3

All photos: RH, with the camera he has since dropped in the sea (by falling in. Don’t ask)

“KNOCK ON WOOD”: HAIRY WOODPECKERS FOR GOOD LUCK


Bahamas-Great Abaco_6568_Hairy Woodpecker_Gerlinde Taurer copy

“KNOCK ON WOOD”: HAIRY WOODPECKERS FOR GOOD LUCK

Delphi is an excellent place for woodpeckers. The Lodge itself has its own resident WEST INDIAN WOODPECKERS, who generally raise two broods a year in the nest boxes under the eaves. The coppice and pinewoods along the one-mile drives are home to the smaller Hairy Woodpeckers Picoides villosus, where they too nest annually. There’s a particular tall dead tree on the guest drive that is used every year, and from early March it is the first place I check for signs of occupation. If evident, I take it as a sign of good luck (and hope it extends to my fishing).

Hairy Woodpecker, Abaco (Alex Hughes) Hairy Woodpecker, Abaco (Bruce Hallett) Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi, Abaco (Peter Mantle)I can’t believe I haven’t featured a hairy woodpecker for more than 2 years. As we prepare for our forthcoming trip to Abaco HQ and the consequent plethora of photos (95% of which will be deleted), here is a small gallery of males (red caps) and females, some of them taken at Delphi. Check out those huge claws of the one below at her nest on the dead tree mentioned above.

Hairy Woodpecker female. Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copyHairy Woodpecker male. Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copyBahamas-Great Abaco_5247_Hairy Woodpecker_Gerlinde Taurer copyHairy Woodpecker, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

I photographed this female last year in a tree near the swimming pool. I watched it for some time, but it must have been camera shy, because although quite unconcerned by my presence, it never came right out into the open. Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

MUSICAL DIGRESSION (OPTIONAL)
“Knock on Wood”, the 1966 hit for Eddie Floyd, was co-written with the amazing Steve Cropper (‘house guitarist’ for Stax). It has been much-covered over the years, none more unexpectedly than by David Bowie on his 1974 Live album (also released as a single). Here is the originator, in a live performance. 
Credits: Gerlinde Taurer (1, 7), Alex Hughes, Bruce Hallett, Peter Mantle, Tom Sheley (5, 6), Tony Hepburn, Keith Salvesen

FRIGATEBIRDS aka MAN-O-WAR BIRDS: TRULY MAGNIFICENT


Magnificent Frigatebird (m) with inflated 'gular sac' (neck pouch) - Athena Alexander / Jet Eliot

FRIGATEBIRDS aka MAN-O-WAR BIRDS: TRULY MAGNIFICENT

I have a feeling that today’s header image may be one of the best I have been fortunate enough to be able to use. Certainly in the top ten. This is a male frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) in the breeding season, with his extraordinary inflatable GULAR POUCH fully blown up. He is at his most chest-burstingly dashing, at least to female frigatebirds, and this great capture by photographer Athena Alexander from the excellent blog of JET ELIOT, shows one of the wonders of the bird world. A glimpse of his mate can be seen just behind his head, but frankly he has made the story his own! And just look at the size of his wings. If a bird can steal limelight, he has effortlessly done so.

COURTSHIP DISPLAY

The image below shows the male enacting his courtship display. Jet Eliot describes it thus: “During courtship display this balloon-like sac takes about 20 minutes to fully inflate.  It is featherless, scarlet red, and tight as a drum.  It’s so big it distorts him. When he’s ready and has a suitable audience of females flying overhead, he points his face skyward and rapidly beats his wings against the balloon, creating a low, booming sound”. The male’s pouch is not entirely inflated. A female is nestled under the his protective wing. Presumably she has been won over and mating will soon occur once the performance ends. Or maybe she’s bored with the whole routine – she looks rather as though she has seen it all before…frigatebird-displaying

magnificent-frigatebird

NESTING

Even on the nest, males are keen to be in the picture. Not for them the ‘absentee father’ role, out fishing the entire day. Instead, they share chick-care duties, looking after the single enormous, fluffy chick. An adult pair stays together for the year, forsaking all other. Chick care takes a long time from egg to fledging and beyond – so much so that frigatebirds only breed every other year, and always produce a single egg. For this reason, habitat destruction of breeding grounds has a far greater effect on population numbers than for birds that breed annually.Magnificent Frigatebird (m) and chick on nest - Athena Alexander / Jet Eliot

magnificent-frigatebird

10 MAGNIFICENT FACTS ABOUT FRIGATEBIRDS

  • Magnificent Frigatebirds are the largest of several frigatebird species around the world
  •  They are found in tropical and subtropical watersimgres
  • Females have white fronts that make them easily distinguishable in flight
  • An adult’s wingspan is 7+ feet, with the largest wing-area / bodyweight ratio of any bird
  • Frigatebirds can remain in flight and far out to sea for many days
  • They are KLEPTOPARASITES and will rob other seabirds of their food
  • Their diet is mainly fish & squid snatched from the water’s surface; also seabird chicks
  • They nest in colonies, producing a single egg every other season
  • They don’t actually land on water, as they don’t float; and they are 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 and pre-dated AUDUBON

Frigatebird_Eleazar_Albin_1737

magnificent-frigatebird

NAMING THE FRIGATEBIRD: A POTTED HISTORY

  • Columbus encountered them on his first voyage in 1492, but knew them by their Spanish name rabiforçado or ‘fork-tail’.
  • The use of the name ‘frigatebird’ was first recorded in 1667 and referenced the frigate warship, a powerful sea-vessel
  • ‘Man-o-War Bird’ was the name given to the bird by English mariners in the Caribbean, being the colloquial name given by sailors to a frigate.

magnificent-frigatebird

A MAN-O-WAR GALLERY

A female frigatebird hunts for food among the mangroves on AbacoMagnificent Frigatebird.Abaco Bahamas.2.12.Tom Sheley 2

A female frigatebird soars high over Marsh HarbourMagnificent Frigatebird, Marsh Harbour, Abaco - Tom Reed

This male has taken off before his gular pouch has had time to deflate fullyFrigatebirds (m) 2 Michael Vaughn

An osprey escorts a female frigatebird from his territory to a different bit of sky…Frigatebird & Osprey Michael Vaughn

Juvenile frigatebirdFrigatebird (juv) Michael Vaughn

A fully-inflated male with a droopy one who needs to get started quick if he’s going to get a mateFrigatebirds (m) 1 Michael Vaughn

ARE FRIGATEBIRDS ANY USE TO MAN OR BEAST?

Yes, emphatically so, to man anyway. Mariners through the ages have used frigatebirds as indicators of nearby land – not necessarily visible, but within sailing distance. And fishermen through the ditto have used them as reliable indicators of where fish are to be found. As an example from personal experience on Abaco, going fishing out of Casuarina into the deep waters of the open sea, the sight of high-flying frigatebirds signals ‘get ready to fish’. They are scouting around for fish, and so are you. But they know where the fish are. Follow them and you will may be rewarded. Because where there are fish for seabird predators, there are fish for the large fish predators – mahi mahi, tuna and wahoo, for example. This is not my main type of fishing, but each time we have been out in those waters – with the Delphi Club often a still-visible speck on the horizon – the frigatebirds have led us to good catches of mahi mahi (= dorado or ‘dolphin’). Last year, under the watchful gaze of the frigatebirds, in a heart-stopping moment I jumped a wahoo. If that sounds slightly rude, it isn’t – and I didn’t catch it anyway. It just leapt vertically right out of the water without taking the goodies…

STOP PRESS Cheryl Wile Ferguson sent me a great photo of a female MF being sociable with humans in the Galapagos. She hitched a ride for 2 hours during a sea crossing…Magnificent Frigatebird (f) hitching a boat ride (Cheryl Wile Ferguson)

Audubon’s Magnificent FrigatebirdAudubon Frigatebird

Credits: first and foremost to Athena Alexander and Jet Eliot for use permission for images 1 – 3 (taken on Galapagos) and much invaluable info; as ever to Tom Sheley (4), Tom Reed (5) and Michael Vaughn (6,7,8,9) for their photos; Cartoon from Birdorable; other images open source; magpie pickings for facts and figures; and some limited personal experience (regrettably but unsurprisingly all my photos of frigatebirds flying, diving, triumphantly catching fish etc are too crap to use)

“A PELICAN GOES INTO A LOW DIVE AND…”


Brown Pelican 1 (Phil Lanoue)

“A PELICAN GOES INTO A LOW DIVE AND…”

… is a promising start to a pelican-based variant on the “Man walks into a Bar…” joke. But in fact there’s a serious point to all this, illustrated with a set of Phil Lanoue’s wonderful ‘bird sequence’ photos. The Brown Pelican is a permanent breeding resident on Abaco, not exactly common but locally quite easy to find. For example, certain docks are often used by them as diving platforms as they feed. Sandy Point is a good place for this. At Delphi we see them passing over the bay, flying high with slow, heavy wing-beats, but sadly I have yet to see one fishing off the rocks there.

Brown pelicans feed by diving for fish. By contrast, White Pelicans (a rarity on Abaco) feed in a quite different way. They forage communally and cooperatively by coralling fish and picking them off from the surface or just below it. A quick online search shows very little evidence of white pelicans diving for food or indeed just for the hell of it. But have a look now at a Brown Pelican landing and going straight into a low dive… to catch a meal.**

Brown Pelican 2 (Phil Lanoue)Brown Pelican 3 (Phil Lanoue)Brown Pelican 4 (Phil Lanoue)

I unreservedly recommend Phil’s website HERE for the consistently excellence of his photography, especially his action sequences; and for the way he captures the mood with apposite commentary.

**I completely realise that this is totally lame as the punchline for a bar-room joke

ECHINODERMS, DOLLAR DOVES & PETRIFIED BISCUITS


Sand Dollar Doves (Keith Salvesen) 6

Sand Dollar from Abaco containing 5 miniature white doves…

ECHINODERMS, DOLLAR DOVES & PETRIFIED BISCUITS

Echinoderms (Gr. ‘Hedgehog Skin’) comprise a large variety of sea creatures characterised (mostly) by radial symmetry, often five-way. For Abaconians, the most frequently encountered are starfish, sea urchins, sand dollars and sea biscuits. I am going to look at two particular aspects of dollars and biscuits, conscious that my illustrative photos of white objects were stupidly taken against a white background.

DOLLAR DOVES

I’m sure all Bahamians know or are aware of at least one version of the famous ‘Sand Dollar’ poem, in which the various characteristics of the test (the skeleton of the creature) are given religious significance. One verse of the poem may be puzzling: “Now break the centre open And here you will release The five white doves awaiting To spread good will and peace”.

Recently, Senior Granddaughter (10 this week) was looking at some Abaco sand dollars in her unfeasibly huge collection of shells. She picked one up, shook it and it rattled. She said a friend at school had told her that a rattling sand dollar has ‘doves’ inside it, and asked if we could break it open and see. I’ve learnt that it is useless to argue with her – she has the tenacity of a trial lawyer – so we did. This is what we found.

Sand Dollar with a spiky interior like a white cave with stalagmites and stalagtitesSand Dollar Doves (Keith Salvesen) 4

Five white doves (in fact, the separated parts of the creature’s feeding apparatus)Sand Dollar Doves (Keith Salvesen) 1

Two broken pieces showing where the doves are centrally locatedSand Dollar Doves (Keith Salvesen) 5

A single dove (best viewed the other way up for full-on doveliness)Sand Dollar Doves (Keith Salvesen) 3

The photo below, from Pinterest, shows the ‘mouth’ with its 5 dove-parts intact, an arrangement called ‘Aristotle’s Lantern’.

Sand Dollar : Aristotle's Lantern : Doves (Pinterest)

PETRIFIED BISCUITS

In common parlance ‘petrified’ is an extreme version of ‘terrified’. Literally, it means ‘turned to stone’ (L. Petrus, a rock). It is descriptive of a state of fossilisation, where an animal skeleton or dead wood or plant matter turns over aeons into stone. Undaunted by her Doves discovery, SG (a most inquisitive girl) also discovered a box containing random stones and fossils. She found these two items:

Fossilised sea biscuitsPetrified Sea Biscuit (Keith Salvesen) 1

A closer look at the pair of rocksPetrified Sea Biscuit (Keith Salvesen) 5 Petrified Sea Biscuit (Keith Salvesen) 4

The undersides of the fossils above – looking like stones but with some tell-tale small holesPetrified Sea Biscuit (Keith Salvesen) 2 Petrified Sea Biscuit (Keith Salvesen) 3

A close-up of the pale biscuitPetrified Sea Biscuit (Keith Salvesen) 6

Sea biscuits as everyone knows them, on the beach at Delphi – skeletons but not yet fossilsSea Biscuits, Delphi, Abaco (Clare Latimer) copy

A ‘modern’ sea biscuit in close-upSea Biscuit, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) copy

FUN FACT

Florida has an unofficial but proposed State Fossil, the ‘Sea Biscuit (Eocene Age)’. I didn’t know it before, but it turns out that around 40 States have State Fossils. Whatever next? State Bacteria?

SO HOW OLD MIGHT A PETRIFIED BISCUIT BE?

The fossil biscuits I have looked at, from Florida to Madagascar, are said to come from three specific historic epochs – from the oldest, Jurassic (145m – 201m years ago),  to Eocene (34m – 56m) and Pleistocene (0.01m – 2.6m). 

HOW DOES THAT HELP ANYBODY? BE MORE PRECISE

By all means. Here is an excellent Geochart that gives an idea of the time span. A Jurassic sea biscuit would be more than 145m years old. So maybe the next plan should be to take the 2 petrified sea biscuits plus SG to a museum to see if we can get an idea of their age…geotimescale

All photos ‘in-house’ except the Delphi biscuits, Clare Latimer & the single biscuit Rhonda Pearce; Geochart to be credited asap, mislaid the source…

SMALL ABACO BIRDS TO MAKE THINGS BETTER


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)

SMALL ABACO BIRDS TO MAKE THINGS BETTER

Bad day. I know about random outage outrage and so on, but really… The router died, unmourned. Bought another. Wasted 2 hours trying to make it work. Turns out to be ‘defective’, which is to say broken. Or another B word. Bought another. Almost lost the will to live. I have the briefest window in which to check emails etc before it, too, checks out of the Mac Hotel. The ONLY SOLUTION (apart from Kalik in copious quantities, sadly not available where I am right now), is to look at some pretty birds taken in the gardens round the Delphi Club. Mmmmm. Feeling better now. Deep breaths… and… relax…

Bananaquit, Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)La Sagra flycatcher, Abaco 1 (RH)Cuban Emerald, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco (RH)

All pics by a rather stroppy RH

STOP PRESS Exactly 24 hours after excitedly unwrapping the (second) new router, after a convoluted and Kafkaesque series of phone calls to various techie centres, headily mixed with wine, beer, tears and tantrums, I combined some of the info from each and miraculously the recalcitrant beast sprang to life. For how long, though? Router advice given: $100 ph + exes

BRIGHT & BEAUTIFUL BUNTING FOR AN ABACO CHRISTMAS


Painted Bunting.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheleyimagesimagesimagesimages

BRIGHT & BEAUTIFUL BUNTING FOR AN ABACO CHRISTMAS

BUNTING  /ˈbʌntɪŋ/  (Noun)

[Yay! A Christmas gift of a puntastic avian / festive double-meaning]
  1. A small New World songbird of the cardinal subfamily
  2. Flags and other colourful festive decorations

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PAINTED BUNTINGPainted Bunting, Abaco (Erik Gauger)
Painted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)Painted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

It’s hard to imagine a more Christmasy little bird than the Painted Bunting. Bright blue, red, green primary colours make for a spectacular small bird to grace any garden or feeder. There are other bunting species and close relations – e.g. grosbeaks – on Abaco. A common factor is the little fat beak and voracious seed greed…

                                                           painted-buntingimagespainted-bunting copy

Feeders at the Delphi Club. The first is of a female & a male PABU feeding together (RH). The second is a male PABU with a pair of black-faced grassquits (Sandy Walker)Painted Buntings (M & F), Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Painted Bunting, Delphi, Abaco (Sandy Walker)

                                                        painted-buntingimagespainted-bunting copy

The next two wonderful photos are by Tom Sheley, a major photographic contributor to THE BIRDS OF ABACO. They were taken in Texas, not on Abaco, but I include them because of Tom’s strong connection with the birdlife of Abaco; and because on any view they are fantastic shots…
Painted Bunting reflection LR.Laguna Seca.South TX. 4.16.13.Tom SheleyPainted Bunting dip reflection LR.Laguna Seca.South TX. 4.16.13.Tom Sheley

Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 7, 8), Erik Gauger (2), Tara Lavallee (3, 4), Keith Salvesen (5) Sandy Walker (6); Birdorable Cartoons

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