BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE: A RARE SPECIES FOR ABACO


Black-legged Kittiwake (Dick Daniels / carolinabirds.org / Wiki

BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE: A RARE SPECIES FOR ABACO

I recently posted about the sighting of an entirely new bird species for Abaco, the CINNAMON TEAL. Almost at once, another species was sighted – not a new one, but in the next category of rarity, the V5 and V4. ‘Vagrant’ birds that have been credibly recorded on Abaco / in Abaco waters fewer than 5 times – and maybe only once – are classified as V5 or ‘accidentals’.  Birds seen a few times more than that, but irregularly and unpredictably (‘casuals’) are V4s. One such is the fine black-legged kittiwake, also known as the seahawk and a close relative of gulls.

Black-legged Kittiwake (Yathin S Krishnappa / Wiki)

During the Abaco Christmas Bird Count in December, avid birder Keith Kemp and a small group were checking the beach at Crossing Rocks. In due course he uploaded a list of birds seen, with selected images, to the excellent eBird site. This included a royal tern. Or make that “royal tern”.

Black-legged Kittiwake (Keith Kemp)It wasn’t long before sharp-eyed Bruce Purdy from Cornell contacted Keith to say “You shot a picture of an adult non-breeding black-legged kittiwake!!!!!!!!”. This was confirmed by Bruce Hallett, author of the definitive field guide to the birds of the Bahamas.

Black-legged Kittiwake (Keith Kemp)

As Bruce Purdy commented:

“This is the first kittiwake reported that I know of in the last 20 years.  Tony [White] shows a few reports but I don’t know if they were documented.  Probably not since most people just started carrying cameras, so you may have the first documented kittiwake… It is a great find”

So you are looking at (almost certainly) the first photographs of a kittiwake ever taken on Abaco. Actually, make that the Bahamas – no others are shown on eBird for the whole region; the nearest being a handful of sightings on the Florida coast.

STOP PRESS Keith’s sighting was in December 2017. The very day I pressed ‘publish’ on this post, January 30, two people immediately contacted me to say they had seen this bird in the Crossing dock area in Marsh Harbour! Thanks to Philip Sawyer and Nancy Albury for their sharp eyes and immediate response. Neither managed to get a photo, but two independent witnesses on one day in the same location make for a compelling ID. I imagine this is the same bird (rare enough as a single – the first in over 20 years – so exceptionally unlikely as a pair). Maybe there are rich fish pickings to be had in the MH harbour area.

Any further reports would be most welcome; a photo would earn the theoretical Kalik reward…

Black-legged Kittiwake (Keith Kemp)

These kittiwakes are a pelagic species, birds of the open sea. They spent most of their time over the ocean, where they live on fish. However, they return to land to breed – often on cliffs, and in large, noisy, nesting colonies. Here’s a very short idea of what that might look and sound like.

Keith’s Kittiwake was way out of its normal range. This map shows just how far.

I always like to include an image of a species under discussion, as it was depicted by one of the early pioneers such a Mark Catesby or (as here) Audubon.
Black-legged Kittiwake (Audubon)

I’ll round off the story with another great source for comparative images – especially as between sexes, ages and seasons – the Crossley guide. The image below comes from the guide to Britain & Ireland, where kittiwakes are not uncommon locally where there are cliffs. Keith’s bird was in winter (non-breeding) plumage, as seen below, top left.

Kittiwakes (Crossley ID Guide Britain / Ireland)

Credits: Dick Daniels / carolinabirds.org (1); Yathin S Krishnappa (2); Keith Kemp (3, 4, 5); RSPB Britain (video); Audubon (OS) (6); Crossley Guide (OS) (7); range map Wiki

AWESOME HURRICANES & MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDS


Magnificent Frigatebirds, Barbuda (Frantz Delcroix & Eric Delcroix)

AWESOME HURRICANES & MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDS

‘Awesome’ in its original (and biblical) sense of ‘inspiring awe and fear’, I mean – as with hurricanes; not as in ‘awesome cupcakes’. And Magnificent because that’s what frigatebirds effortlessly are.

This post is about the resilience of birds after extreme weather events, and their powers of recovery. As we all recall, last autumn large areas of the Caribbean region were devastated by those twin furies, Irma and Maria. Islands that received direct hits from these destructive hurricanes were trashed with unimaginable ferocity, at a massive human, infrastructure and ecological cost from which slow recovery is still in progress. Barbuda was one of those islands.

Magnificent Frigatebirds, Barbuda (Frantz Delcroix & Eric Delcroix)

This is the heartening story of a colony of frigatebirds on Barbuda, where in the aftermath of the storms BirdsCaribbean members offered to survey the effects of the storms in terms of the natural history of the region. These included Frantz Delcroix and Eric Delcroix, who spent time on Barbuda in mid-October, 6 weeks after Hurricane Irma.

Magnificent Frigatebirds, Barbuda (Frantz Delcroix & Eric Delcroix)

Their assignment was to visit Codrington Lagoon, Barbuda, to carry out a survey of the Magnificent Frigatebirds to check how – or if – the sanctuary and its population was recovering six weeks after Hurricane Irma hit. The boat trip to the colony must have been tense; there might have been little or no colony left to survey.

Magnificent Frigatebirds, Barbuda (Frantz Delcroix & Eric Delcroix)

As they neared the location, and to their delight, they saw hundreds of frigatebirds in flight, with bushes adorned with the bright red gular pouches the males. In all they estimated 1,710 frigatebirds were in the colony. In a count of seven bushes alone, 279 birds (83 females and 196 males) were counted. Amazingly, 90% of the females were on nests and some of the birds were observed courting and mating, with males even carrying nest materials.

Magnificent Frigatebirds, Barbuda (Frantz Delcroix & Eric Delcroix)

Before the hurricane, the 4,000–5,000-strong frigatebird colony had chicks in the nest. Surveys just after the hurricane found no surviving chicks and only around 300 birds. Now, one and a half months later, there were more than 1,700 frigatebirds starting a new breeding period with almost all of the females nesting!

Magnificent Frigatebirds, Barbuda (Frantz Delcroix & Eric Delcroix)

The team were of course deeply affected by the damage and desolation on Barbuda, and the suffering of its people. In a purely environmental context, the frigatebirds were a small sign of hope. As was noted at the time, “witnessing the power of nature—its ability to inflict such damage, but also how it can quickly rebound—was an extraordinary experience. So, we did not leave without hope. Nature is resilient!

Magnificent Frigatebirds, Barbuda (Frantz Delcroix & Eric Delcroix)

BirdsCaribbean is an excellent and wide-ranging organisation that deserves support. You can ‘like’ it or follow it on FB HERE, sign up for regular emails, volunteer to get involved or donate on the website HERE, and maybe even consider a contribution to its ongoing hurricane recovery efforts HERE

Special thanks to Frantz Delcroix and Eric Delcroix for permission to use some of their wonderful photos taken during the survey; and to use parts of their review (with some adjustment to apply to the specifics of this post). Many thanks also to Lisa Sorenson, Executive Director of BirdsCaribbean, for her kind support whenever the occasion has arisen! 

 

SEVEN NEW BIRD SPECIES ON ABACO


Black-bellied Whistling Duck (Keith Salvesen)

Black-bellied Whistling Duck June 2014

SEVEN NEW BIRD SPECIES ON ABACO

THE BIRDS OF ABACO was published very nearly 4 years ago. At the time, the checklist of species recorded for Abaco at the back of the book, so meticulously compiled by Tony White and Woody Bracey, was definitive for as long as records have existed (in practical terms, since 1950). The final new species included in the book was a Black-browed albatross amazingly spotted in Abaco waters from the BMMRO research vessel by a keen-eyed intern the previous summer.

Brown Thrasher (Manjith Kainickara - Wiki)

Brown Thrasher Nov 2014

Within 3 months of publication, the checklist had been rendered out of date. A totally new species had touched down on Abaco – a small flock of 6 black-bellied whistling ducks. They worked their way up South Abaco from down by Crossing Rocks up to MH Airport via Schooner Bay, Delphi and Bahama Palm Shores. By then, numbers were down to 2. Soon even they disappeared, heading presumably from wherever the flock had intended to go in the first place. Maybe they got tired en route. Maybe their internal Satnav suffered a collective failure. Maybe senior BBWD had had a bright idea for a shortcut…

Masked Booby (Duncan Wright wiki)

Masked Booby January 2015

We are not talking here of rarities in global terms, but species that have never been seen before on Abaco. Or, if seen, went unremarked. Or, if remarked, without awareness of the significance! The advent of the current enthusiasm for birding in the Bahamas plus the ease with which a quick photo can be taken – on a phone for example – as evidence of a sighting and to aid a clear ID, may well increase the number of new species sightings in the future.

Pearly-Eyed Thrasher, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

Pearly-Eyed Thrasher March 2015

There’s the added benefit from the ease with which photos can be taken and distributed – people will no longer have to do any of the following:

  • Shoot birds and take them as samples (hello, J.J. Audubon & historical cohorts)
  • Pack a sketch pad & crayons to draw birds before they fly away (or from memory)
  • Rely on scribbled notes made in low light and a light drizzle
  • Listen to, or read, a query about a “sort of brownish medium sized bird with maybe a bit of yellow on the wings, and a black tail I think, but I didn’t get a very good look and oh yes it had sort of beady eyes and sounded a bit like ‘Kalik Kalik Kalik’ “. 
Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Abaco (Keith Kemp)

Buff-breasted Sandpiper Oct 2016

Over the 4 years, there have been a few birds that, although not ‘first evers’, are second or third ever – and the first ones with supporting photos. These include the fabulous scissor-tailed flycatcher; and the bald eagle that was sighted several times over south Abaco last year. I’ll return to these rarities another time. Let’s see the sixth new bird, from late last year.

Scaly-naped pigeon (Dick Daniels / carolinabirds.org wiki)

Scaly-naped pigeon Nov 2107

To complete the set, so to speak, 2017 ended with another gorgeous duck, the cinnamon teal. You can read more about all these birds using the following links to the relevant posts.

Cinnamon Teal (Dick Daniels / carolinabirds.org)

Cinnamon Teal Dec 2017

Credits: Keith Salvesen (1); Manjith Kainickara (2); Duncan Wright (3); Woody Bracey (4); Keith Kemp (5); Dick Daniels / carolinabirds.org / wiki (6, 7)

OSPREYS: ID GUIDE TO THE BAHAMAS SUBSPECIES


Osprey, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

OSPREYS: ID GUIDE TO THE BAHAMAS SUBSPECIES

I sometimes feature bird comparatives, not least because there is so much scope for confusion that I have to keep checking for myself. Tyrant flycatchers; a number of superficially similar warbler species (all with yellow bits); those vireos; all those heron-y / egret-y types and their disconcerting morphs (hello, white reddish egret).

Osprey P.h.carolinensis (CWFNJ)

And so to the magnificent osprey Pandion haliaetus. This time, the comparison is between two subspecies, broadly the North American P. h. carolinensis and the Caribbean P.h. ridgwayi. There is some overlap in Florida, and some evidence of interbreeding. In the northern Bahamas in particular there is also an overlap, so an osprey seen on Abaco could be either variety. You’ll probably be too excited watching it to care much which type it is, but this article will help you if you do…

The two ospreys shown below were recently photographed at Spanish Wells, Eleuthera by Barbara Crouchley. This is a ‘bingo’ photographic scoop, because each type of bird was found in the same region; now we can check out the differences between the two birds. 

The first is a North American bird. Note in particular its distinctive eye mask, and the clearly marked upper breast, more so in the female than the male (which may even be white). The overall impression of the upper-parts is dark brown. They are slightly larger than their cousins in the south.

Osprey P.h. Carolinensis, Eleuthera Bahama (Barbara Crouchley)

Osprey P.h. carolinensis

In this Caribbean bird with its trophy fish, the eye-mask is absent, and the facial / nape markings are less pronounced. Furthermore, the breast and under-parts are white in both sexes (though slight marking may be apparent in some birds). And  the impression is of lighter upper-parts, even allowing for variable lighting and distance when the photos were taken. Conveniently, there’s not much detectable difference between male and females in the respective populations.

Osprey P.h. Ridgwayi, Eleuthera Bahama (Barbara Crouchley)

Osprey P.h. ridgwayi

EXAMPLES OF P. h. carolinensis

Osprey P.h. Carolinensis, Florida (Danny Sauvageau)Osprey P.h. Carolinensis, Florida (Danny Sauvageau)Osprey P.h. Carolinensis, Florida (Danny Sauvageau)

EXAMPLES OF P. h. ridgwayi

Osprey P.h. ridgwayi, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry Cooper)Osprey P.h. ridgwayi, Abaco (Jim Todd)Osprey P.h. ridgwayi, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

I’m going to stick my neck out here – I’ve not seen this mentioned anywhere, and I need to do some more comparative research. When I saw Barbara’s pair of photos, I immediately noticed that the eyes of the P.h.r were paler than the bright orangey-yellow of P.h.c. This distinction carries on through the comparative photos above: the P.h.cs were photographed in Florida and further north and have strikingly vivid eyes. The P.h.rs were photographed on Abaco and Grand Bahama at different times by different people. All have noticeably paler irises, more a light greeny-yellow. 

I’d welcome any views on this rash amateur theory. Preferably supportive ones…

UNDERWING DIFFERENCES

There’s a further comparison that can be made with the two subspecies in flight. Without going into technical and linguistic detail, the underwings of the P.h.cs are much darker than the Bahamas birds, whereas P.h.rs are notably paler and in some cases mostly white.  As an example, below is a distance shot I took when bonefishing out on the Abaco Marls, using a pocket camera. This is definitely a local bird! Compare with the dramatic image below it, where the strong darker markings are all too evident. It’s a great shot with which to bring the lesson to an end.

Osprey P.h. ridgwayi, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen)

Osprey in flight with fish (Northside Jim)

Photo credits: Tom Sheley (1); CWFNJ (2); Barbara Crouchley (3, 4); Danny Sauvageau (5, 6, 7); Jim Todd (8); Linda Barry Cooper (9); Woody Bracey (10); Keith Salvesen (11); the inimitable Northside Jim (12). Thanks for all use permissions – also to Steve Connett for the idea!

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 14: ARROW CRABS


Arrow Crab (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 14: ARROW CRABS

It’s been a while since the last in the WTF? series, which is dedicated to the wilder, less conventionally fish-shaped side of reef life – those creatures that you may come across, blink into your face-mask,  and silently mouth the words ‘What’s That Fish?’ (that’s what it looks like you are saying, anyway).

Arrow Crab (Adam Rees)

Let’s meet some Arrow Crabs Stenorhynchus seticornis, one of the very few creatures surely to have a triangular body plus a huge pointy nose (rostrum), supported on long skinny legs. To which add, they wear tiny blue gloves on their two front claws.

Arrow Crab (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

These crabs are coral reef dwellers and mostly stay concealed during the day. Their body is protected by a carapace, and the rostrum has serrated edges like a tiny rasp or file. I haven’t found a definitive reason for this gadget, but I suspect it is more for probing than for piercing or fighting.

Arrow Crab (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

There’s a considerable colour variation among these crabs, as these images show. The body may even have blue iridescent lines (#2, above). And those claws may be any of 50 shades of blue…

Arrow Crab (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Arrow crabs are most active at night. They eat feather-duster worms (illus.) and similar invertebrates such as bristle worms.

Feather-duster worm (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

Arrow Crab Meal

Like certain types of shrimp, they also have a symbiotic relationship with anemones, whereby they make use of an anemone to benefit from the food it captures – and possibly for cover too. They are protected from anemone stings, whereas some of their predators are not.

This was the place where I was going to tell you about the arrow crab’s private life, but, well… “it’s complicated”. Briefly it is: male passes sperm-filled capsule to female; she uses it in some way whereby it fertilises her eggs; she then ‘broods’ the eggs in one of her ‘swimming legs’; the eggs hatch into larvae and swim off to eat plankton; each one then grows & moults, repeating the process until it has reached adult form. On balance, humans have arguably perfected a preferable method.

Arrow Crab (Nick Hobgood / Wiki)

Arrow Crabs are apparently popular aquarium creatures, although they sound to me rather a disagreeable challenge. They can move quickly on those long legs, and it seems as if they inclined to be aggressive to other inhabitants of the tank. As far as I can make out, it’s best not to put 2 of them together: they certainly won’t be doing the sperm capsule thing described earlier… 

Arrow Crab (Adam Rees)

Master of Disguise

Photo credits: Melinda Riger / G B Scuba (1, 3, 4, 5, 6); Adam Rees / Scuba Works (2, 8, 9); Nick Hopgood,Wiki (7); Chuck Elliot – video

Arrow Crab (Adam Rees)

LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER PICTURES FOR TWITCHERS


Short-billed Dowitcher Bahamas (Erika Gates)

LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER PICTURES FOR TWITCHERS

It’s about 3 years since I featured dowitchers. There are two types, short-billed and long-billed. They are disconcertingly similar, especially if you are only looking at one bird with no comparator. However, on Abaco a good rule of thumb is that if you see a dowitcher it will almost certainly be a SBD, a common winter resident. The LBD is a rare visitor to the Northern Bahamas. And if you just happen to be wrong? Well, so might anyone else be…

Short-billed Dowitcher Bahamas (Erika Gates)

I’m returning to the topic because recently Erika Gates, well-known bird authority and guide on Grand Bahama, took some excellent photos of some LBDs, and has kindly let me feature them. These birds are very unusual on Abaco, not least because they prefer fresh water rather than brackish, which is in short supply on the island and cays.

Short-billed Dowitcher Bahamas (Erika Gates)

 Phoenix Birder / Xeno Canto

Short-billed Dowitcher Bahamas (Erika Gates)

HOW DID THE DOWITCHER GET ITS NAME?

I had assumed that the strange name for these birds was onomatopoeic, in the same way that a Killdeer is supposed to call “Kill…Deer”; and a Bobwhite, an interrogative “Bob…White?”. When I tried to check this online, I found that the usually valuable primary sources for bird info were silent on the topic. In the end, I tracked down a Merriam Webster entry that simply said “probably of Iroquoian origin; akin to Oneida tawístawis. First Known Use: 1841”. Me neither!

Short-billed Dowitcher Bahamas (Erika Gates)

LONG OR SHORT – HOW ON EARTH DO I TELL? 

1. HELPFUL(ISH) WAYS

  • On Abaco, if you see a Dowitcher the overwhelming likelihood is that it’s a SBD
  • The species prefer different habitats, with the LBS preferring freshwater even in coastal regions
  • The SBD prefers coastal areas, shorelines and brackish / muddy ponds
  • The SBD’s call is said to be “mellower” than the LDB – though unless you have heard both for comparison, that’s not a very useful identifier
  • The body shapes are apparently subtly different, in ways I can only begin to guess
  • In breeding plumage, the species have perceptible colour / pattern differences (if you have binoculars?)

Short-billed Dowitcher Bahamas (Erika Gates)

 2. CONFUSING / UNHELPFUL FACTORS
  • LBDs may occasionally join SBDs that are foraging on open tidal flats
  • Bill length may not help, there’s an overlap – some SBDs may have longer bills and vice versa.
  • There are theories about bill-length / head size comparison as a field ID method. Do they work? Only if you get it right, I guess.
  • “Winter plumage of both species is very similar” (grey). Both are only in the Bahamas in winter. So, not a lot of help.

Short-billed Dowitcher Bahamas (Erika Gates)

DOES THE DOWITCHER HAVE ANY PRACTICAL APPLICATION?

Yes! In Scrabble you can form a stonking 315 words from just those 9 letters, all permitted under Scrabble rules (though not my own house rules, which forbid ridiculous 2 and 3 letter words that sound invented for the purpose of winning at Scrabble). Apart from the full 9 letter original, there’s one 8 letter word – ‘witherod’, a type of viburnum plant; and 13 words of 7 letters, of which I’d say 8 are in common though not everyday usage. I’ll leave you to work out the remaining 301 words…

Credits: Erika Gates, with many thanks for use permission; the excellent Xeno Canto / Phoenix Birder for the sound file

SOUTHERN STINGRAYS: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (41)


Southern Stingrays, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

SOUTHERN STINGRAYS: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (41)

Anyone who has scuba-dived or snorkelled around the bright coral reefs of the Bahamas, or hunted bonefish out on the Abaco Marls will have come across Southern Stingrays Dasyatis americana. And there are certain places (eg Manjack Cay) where you can actually feed them – and not come to any harm

Southern Stingrays, Manjack Cay, Bahamas (Samantha Regan)

FEED THEM? AREN’T THESE GUYS LETHALLY DANGEROUS CREATURES?

Southern Stingrays, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The name that always comes to mind in connection with stingrays is poor Steve Irwin, the charismatic Australian wildlife expert who was tragically ‘stung’ over his heart as he swam close over a ray while filming underwater. But this was, it would appear, a dreadful combination of circumstances with a terrible outcome.

Southern Stingrays, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The ray’s stinger is in fact an erectile venomous barbed spine near the base of the tail and not on the end of it (as one might expect). But these creatures are not out to harm you – though of course when you are in their environment you should accord them the respect that they merit.

Southern Stingray (Tomas Willams, wiki)

If you are walking / wading in the water, avoid the risk of accidentally treading on a ray. Best to shuffle your feet forward in the sand; if there’s a half-concealed ray feeding or resting on the bottom nearby, it will swim away peacefully. I took the photo below while bonefishing on the Marls; the ray directly ahead slowly makes off as the skiff drifts closer. The next one is of a ray with its young – completely aware of us as we glide past to one side, but not especially bothered.

Southern Stingrays, Bahamas  (Keith Salvesen)Southern Stingray adult and young, Bahamas  (Keith Salvesen)

If you are swimming, snorkelling or diving, don’t get too close – especially by swimming directly over a ray (apparently Steve Irwin’s mistake, so that he was struck right in the chest by the stinger when the ray reacted).

Southern Stingrays, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Enough of the potential dangers. The southern stingray is a magnificent creature, as Melinda’s wonderful photographs show. She spends half her life underwater and I’m not aware that she has had a problem with a ray. 

Southern Stingrays, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Like many larger sea creatures, stingrays need help with their personal care – the removal of parasites, dead skin and so forth. And so they make use of the services offered by small fish like gobies, wrasses and shrimps at a CLEANING STATION. Here are 2 photos of rays doing just that. You can see the tiny fish by the reef, going about their work. There’s a mutual benefit in this symbiotic relationship, in which it is understood that the cleaners are unharmed. Indeed, they will often enter the mouths and gills of a fish to clean… including the teeth. So there’s dental hygiene on offer too…

Southern Stingrays, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Southern Stingrays, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

RELATED POSTS

YELLOW STINGRAY

GRACE WITH ATTITUDE

TAKEN TO THE CLEANERS

Photo Credits: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba, except for the feeding photo (cheers, Samantha Regan), the ‘specimen’ from Tomas Willems (Wiki) and my two noted above