Limpkin, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)


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)


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


  • 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


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Delphi, Abaco (Craig Nash)


Today is the 46th Earth Day, a global event to encourage ecology and conservation, and to discourage the spoiling of the planet by mankind. What becomes lost now may never be retrieved. Plant a tree. Grow some bee- or butterfly-friendly flowers. Clear a patch of beach of plastic trash. Recycle stuff. That sort of thing. 

Atala Hairstreak Eumaeus atala – DelphiAtala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Gulf Fritillary Agraulis vanillae – Neem FarmGulf Fritillary, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

I’d lined up some horror-images of plastic-filled birds, entangled turtles, damaged reefs and so forth, of which I have a depressingly large archive. Then, in a spirit of *vogue word alert* positivity I scrapped that miserable idea and decided instead to celebrate some of the natural wonders that can be found on Abaco. 

BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT – one of Abaco’s 5 ENDEMIC BIRDSBahamas-Great Abaco_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer

CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD (f) preening – Gilpin PointCuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Some signal species serve as a continuing tribute to those who work to conserve them. The gorgeous ABACO PARROTS, now saved from the brink of extinction – and currently establishing a new colony on New Providence. The rare PIPING PLOVERS that find a safe home to spend their winters on Abaco’s beaches. The 5 ENDEMIC BIRD species. The WHALES & DOLPHINS that populate the waters. The west-indian MANATEES, until very recently almost unknown for Abaco yet now providing a curious addition to the scene as they visit their favourite haunts.

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALE (m) approaching the BMMRO research vesselBlainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 14 (Keith Salvesen

BOTTLENOSE DOLHIN, Sandy Point (about to dive under the boat)Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 7

Habitat protection has been provided over substantial areas on both land and sea by the creation of natural parks and preserves. These have very recently been extended by the establishment of 4 large PROTECTED AREAS for East Abaco Creeks, Cross Harbour, the Marls and the South Abaco Blue Holes, a wonderful reward for a great deal of hard lobbying by conservation organisations and by many concerned individuals. 

QUEEN ANGELFISHQueen Angelfish ©Melinda Stevens Riger / G B Scuba

BANDED CORAL SHRIMPBanded Coral Shrimp ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

Scientific research and conservation work is continuously carried out in Abaco waters. The CORAL REEFS that form the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world; the BLUE HOLES that lead to wonderful caves and cathedral caverns of crystal; the vast area of the MARLS and the species that rely on the mangrove swamps; the MANGROVES themselves: all these are watched over and monitored for ways to protect them best for future generations. 

PIPING PLOVER pair, Delphi (taken last month)Piping Plover pair, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

PIPING PLOVER on AbacoPiping Plover, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

I’ve mentioned trees and plants. There are a variety of well-known sources for both on Abaco – on the mainland, anyway, and maybe some cays. Any will advise on bee and butterfly attractants. Thinking of which, bird seed feeders and hummer sugar water feeders are cheap and guarantee the interest of garden and coppice birds, and during the winter months some brightly coloured migrants such as buntings and grosbeaks. 

HIBISCUS – DelphiHibiscus, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

 BOUGAINVILLEA  – DelphiBougainvillea, Delphi, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Bird of Paradise flower STRELITZIA – Marsh Harbour (seemingly on a steep slope!)Bird of Paradise Flower (Strelitzia) Abaco (Keith Salvesen)


RALPH’S CAVE South AbacoRalph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk)

Credits: all images RH except: Abaco parrot, Craig Nash; Bahama yellowthroat, Gerlinde Taurer; Angelfish & Shrimp, Melinda Riger; single piping plover, Bruce Hallett; Ralph’s Cave, Brian Kakuk


White Peacock Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 1


The white peacock (Anartia jatrophae) is not a rare butterfly in the northern Bahamas. However, until recently I had never – or never consciously – seen one before. Then we came across a few at the Neem Farm, all very frisky and mostly refusing to settle for more than 1/100 second. By the time I have remembered to remove my lens cap, they are 50 yards away.

White Peacock Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 2White Peacock Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 3White Peacock Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 4

I checked out these pretty but unassuming butterflies online because they seemed rather pale and anaemic. As far as I can make out this is because they were still in winter colouring; in summer they are more brightly marked. Here’s a photo of a dishevelled white peacock taken in June at Delphi by Charlie Skinner, which shows stronger colours.

White Peacock, Abaco DSC_4786 (Charlie Skinner)


Yes, of course, but interestingly, never ever in the field. The one below, non-anaemic and intact, was thoughtfully uploaded to Wiki by Greg Hume. He took it at a butterfly show, where presumably tatty butterflies are excluded…

WhitePeacock (Greg Hume)

Photos: Keith Salvesen 1 – 4; Charlie Skinner 5; Greg Hume 6


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


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)


Bahamas-Great Abaco_6568_Hairy Woodpecker_Gerlinde Taurer copy


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)

“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


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


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.


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



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 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




  • 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.



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


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)


Brown Pelican 1 (Phil Lanoue)


… 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