LARK SPARROW: EXTREMELY RARE VISITOR TO ABACO


Lark Sparrow (Nature Pics Online / Wiki)

LARK SPARROW: EXTREMELY RARE VISITOR TO ABACO

There’s a category of bird in the Bahamas known as a ‘V5’. The V stands for vagrant: a ‘foreign’ bird that ends up on Abaco by pure mischance. Whether through meteorological mishap (a storm for example) or navigational error, a bird that ought by rights to be found elsewhere turns up. That’s the first part of the rarity. The second part is that someone actually sees it, knows what it is (or may be) and reports it.

Lark Sparrow (Francesco Veronesi / Wiki)

The 5 part of V5 means that historically there may have been one, perhaps two previous reports of that species. Ever. More than 5 separate sightings, and the bird slips into the far less exclusive V4 category. The only category rarer than a V5 is an H. This stands for hypothetical, a bird that has been ‘credibly reported’ but where further confirmation is needed. Often, that never comes.

Lark Sparrow, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp / Christopher Johnson)

The lark sparrow (Chondestes grammacus) is a fairly large sparrow, familiar enough in parts of the US and Canada. Until this August, there had only been a couple of reports on Abaco since records began. I’m not aware of any photographs from those sightings. Then in August, birder Keith Kemp was at Bahama Palm Shores bird-spotting with his keen-eyed nephew Christopher, who saw a sparrow-like bird fly into low grass near the beach. Keith managed to take a couple of photos of it, and later on checked his bird guides for ID… and lo! a lark sparrow. These are most likely the first photos of the species ever taken on Abaco – and there’s nothing like a photo, however hard to take, to provide confirmation of a sighting.

Lark Sparrow, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp / Christopher Johnson)

Photo Credits: NaturePicsOnline / Wiki (1); Francesco Veronesi / Wiki (2); Keith Kemp with Christopher Johnson, Abaco (3, 4)

 

MAPPING ABACO: BELLIN’S MAP 1764


Bellin Map 1764 - Carte des Isles Lucayes

MAPPING ABACO: BELLIN’S MAP 1764

Jacques Nicolas Bellin (1703 – 1772) was a French naval hydrographer & geographer. He was a prolific mapmaker, especially of French territories, and was noted for his meticulous technique and attention to detail. He was elected to the Royal Society; and in due course was appointed Official Hydrographer of the French King.

Bellin Map 1764 - Carte des Isles Lucayes

In 1764, Bellin’s Petit Atlas Maritime was published. I am featuring one sheet from the atlas, the “Carte des Isles Lucayes”. The whole work came as a 5-volume set of map sheets, containing a total of 580 detailed charts. As you will see here, this copperplate engraving can be found in various forms: plain black & white; hand-washed or hand-coloured; or grandly multicoloured. These variations are the consequence of the distinction of Bellin’s work, which led to repeated re-publication in the c18 and beyond. Additionally, his work was admired and copied abroad.

Bellin Map 1764 - Carte des Isles Lucayes

Bellin’s map contains plenty of information – including depth markings and advised shipping routes – though some of the topography might be considered debatable by modern standards. As you look more closely, some of the details are startling. For example, on New Providence (see above) the only place-name is simply designated ‘Ville’, as though the settlement there lacked the significance to merit a name. And look at it now… Andros is completely name-free, with not even a Ville marked – as is Grand Bahama for that matter, though a few Cays are named. Let’s turn to Abaco.
Bellin Map 1764 - Carte des Isles Lucayes
This section of the Bellin map also appears in my Abaco mapping article relating to HOLE-IN-THE-WALL. This geographical feature at the southern extremity of Abaco (now sadly blown apart by HURRICANE SANDY after millennia) was an important navigational landmark for shipping  by c17. The name, in French here, underwent a number of changes of the centuries, as you can see using the HITW link above.
Also of note is that at least Abaco was credited with a single named location – Little Harbour, the first settlement to feature on early maps, and the only one for a surprisingly long time. I imagine the position of this inlet and the safe anchorage it could provide for relatively large vessels became well-known. Like Hole-in-the-Wall, it was of seafaring significance.
A c18 mariner, looking at Bellin’s map in contemplation of a trip to the Isles Lucayes, might conclude that the seas around Abaco and Grand Bahama might be treacherous. The profusion of rocky areas and the indication of depth changes around the islands and cays suggest caution would be needed for a voyage. And as we know, throughout history ships have been wrecked in these seas – a situation somewhat improved (but not entirely eliminated) when the three ABACO LIGHTHOUSES were built.
Bellin Map 1764 - Carte des Isles Lucayes
RELATED POSTS
Credits: Library of Congress; Barry Ruderman Cat.; OS auctions inc eBay (!)

BELTED KINGFISHERS: PROFICIENT PISCATORS


Belted Kingfisher (Phil Lanoue)

BELTED KINGFISHERS: PROFICIENT PISCATORS

The belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) is an unmistakable winter visitor to Abaco. With its impressive crest and an adult wingspan approaching 2 ft, these fine birds are far larger than the irridescent kingfisher species found in Europe.

Belted Kingfisher (Phil Lanoue)

CARL LINNAEUS himself first documented the belted kingfisher in the mid c18, giving the specific name ‘alcyon’, a word of both Latin & Greek origin. The familiar phrase ‘Halcyon days‘, meaning a time of calm, is used more than once by Shakespeare; it references a calm period of weather supposedly occurring at kingfisher nesting time.

Belted Kingfisher (Phil Lanoue) Belted Kingfisher (Phil Lanoue)

The breeding grounds of the belted kingfisher are in Canada and the northern US, on coasts or near inland waters. They migrate further south in winter, to the southern US, Central America and West Indies. However vagrants have been found as far afield as the UK.

Belted Kingfisher (Phil Lanoue)

WHERE CAN I FIND THEM ON ABACO?

I have seen BKs when fishing out on the Marls, either perched on dead branches looking for fish, or in the mangroves, or in flight. There’s quite often one to be seen at Gilpin Pond, but always – for me, anyway – on the far side and out of practical range of my somewhat modest camera… Sandy Point is another place I have seen them. But these are common birds in winter, so anywhere near water where there are good perches to prospect for fish could be promising for a sighting. Sadly I’ve never actually seen a kingfisher on Abaco plunge-dive for fish, let alone eating a fish. And NB they are exceedingly hard to photograph at the best of times, especially in flight. Which is why I am very pleased to feature some more wonderful shots by photographer Phil Lanoue.

Belted Kingfisher (Phil Lanoue)

GENDER IDENTIFICATION

The kingfishers shown so far are all males, and basically blue and white. The (slightly) larger adult females can easily be identified by their very visible russet chest band. This colouring in fact extends under the wings, where it is harder to see in a perched bird.

Belted Kingfisher (Teddy Llovat) Belted Kingfisher (Michael L Baird)

AUDUBON:  A GUIDE TO THE BELTED KINGFISHER

Birding folk are familiar with the excellent presentations of individual bird species in the go-to guides such a Sibley and Peterson. However it always interests me that the images in my small and incredibly cheapo book of Audubon illustrations often give a very good depiction of a particular bird. He was the first naturalist to portray birds in action as opposed to rather stiff poses. Check out the plate below with the photos here.

Belted Kingfisher (Audubon)

BIRDORABLE’S TAKE*

Belted Kingfisher (Birdorable)

Belted Kingfisher (Bruce Miller)

* BIRDORABLE cartoons are seriously good at reducing birds to their essentials. Try out their many warblers and you’ll see what I mean.

Photo Credits: Phil Lanoue (1 – 6), with thanks as ever for use permission; Teddy Lovatt (7); Michael L Baird (8); Audubon (9);  Bruce Miller (10); Birdorable – Cartoon

ABACO BALD EAGLE(S): NEW SIGHTINGS


Bald Eagle - Poquoson, Virginia - Brian Lockwood

ABACO BALD EAGLE(S): NEW SIGHTINGS

In March, I posted about a bald eagle spotted by a Delphi fisherman out on the Marls near Big Pine Point HERE – a very rare sighting indeed. The only previous Abaco sightings were sporadic, of a single bird, and all since 2000 (see below). 

In May, there was another bald eagle sighting, also on the Marls, this time by Danny Sawyer while out fishing; in the Power Plant area; and ‘Kelly’s Mom’ reported one from the Lubbers Quarters / Tahiti Beach area.

In September came the first photo ever of an Abaco bald eagle, taken by Carol Rivard Roberts in the Cross Harbour area from a considerable distance. 

And now, November, Delphi West & East fisherman, most entertaining boat partner, and friend Howard Pitts from Little Harbour has emailed to say that he saw a bald eagle “off the Cherokee Rd near the cell tower” in the last couple of days. 

BALD EAGLE SIGHTINGS REPORTED ON ABACO SINCE c1950 (= ‘ever’)

  • 2000 December, location unknown – info from Woody Bracey
  • 2001  December – Chicken Farm area – Betsy Bracey
  • 2002 December – over Marls opposite Treasure Cay – Woody Bracey
  • 2004 Autumn – south of Lynard Cay (after hurricane) – Cheryl Noice
  • 2014  Date unknown – circling the power plant – LC
  • ===================================
  • 2017  March – Big Pine Point, Marls – James Cheesewright
  • 2017  Early May – Power plant area – LC
  • 2017  May – Marls – Danny Sawyer
  • 2017  May  – Lubbers / Tahiti Beach area – ‘Kelly’s mom’
  • 2017  September – Cross Harbour – Carol Rivard Roberts (with photo)
  • 2017  November – Cherokee Road – Howard Pitts
  • STOP PRESS… NEW REPORTS 
  • 2017 November – Bahama Palm Shores / 8-mile beach – Steve Roessler
  • 2017 November – Tilloo Bank – Laurie Schreiner (with photo)

Italics = a report in comments on Danny’s FB page; Blue = added reports to me

So now for 2017 we have 6 sightings, including the first sighting with verification by photo. As I said previously, “there really is no mistaking a bald eagle. For obvious reasons it is surely one of the most recognisable raptors of all. And the only Abaco candidates for confusion would be a turkey vulture or an osprey. There’s very little scope for confusion with either”.

A THEORY

I suspect that the 2017 sightings are all of the same lone bird that has somehow strayed over to Abaco and finds the available prey good, and the location congenial. Also, he is undisputed king of the skies. I imagine his daily hunting range is a wide one, which would explain the varied sighting locations. I’m sticking with this theory unless and until 2 eagles are seen together.

 ABACO BALD EAGLE CHALLENGE

Carol Rivard Roberts is the winner of the challenge I set – the first person to capture an Abaco bald eagle on camera. She carries off the traditional yet strangely theoretical and / or symbolic Rolling Harbour bottle of Kalik, and the Kudos that attaches to it.

Reports of any further sightings would be very welcome, with photographs a bonus…

Bald Eagle - Poquoson, Virginia - Brian Lockwood

Credits: all brilliant eagle photos by very kind permission of Brian Lockwood, taken in his backyard in Poquoson, Va. except tiny distant Abaco eagle by Carol Rivard Roberts; amusing cartoon, Birdorable

SANDERLINGS ON DELPHI BEACH, ABACO BAHAMAS


Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

SANDERLINGS ON DELPHI BEACH, ABACO BAHAMAS

Looking back through some bird photo folders from last year, I came across these sanderlings that I photographed on the beach at Delphi. These little birds are far from rare, but watching a flock of them scuttling back and forth on the sand, in and out of the tide, is always a treat. And as you will notice, when they are foraging in earnest they not only stick their bills into the sand right up to the base… they go for total immersion of the head!

Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

All photos: Keith Salvesen, Rolling Harbour Abaco

NEW BIRD FOR ABACO, BAHAMAS: SCALY-NAPED PIGEON


Scaly-naped Pigeon (Jean Lopez YT)

NEW BIRD FOR ABACO, BAHAMAS: SCALY-NAPED PIGEON

The scaly-naped pigeon (Patagioenas squamosa), also known as the red-necked pigeon, is found throughout most of the Caribbean. Except for the Bahama islands – if indeed they are considered Caribbean, which strictly and geographically they are not – even though for some purposes such as passport requirements they may be.

Scaly-naped Pigeon (Dick Daniels, Carolina Birds.org)

Until the last year or so, this pigeon species had not been recorded in the Bahamas. Then sightings began to be recorded on Inagua and TCI – not so very far north of their normal range – and mostly within the last 4 weeks. Since bird records began, they had never been reported further north in the Bahamas, until a few days ago on Abaco.Scaly-necked pigeon (postdlf wiki)

The scaly-naped pigeon is so called because the plumage on the back of its maroon-coloured neck looks somewhat… erm… scaly (hence the Latin squamosa in the binomial name): close-up below.  Notice also the bright, ringed eyes. 

 Scaly-necked pigeon's scaly neck, Abaco, Bahamas

These pigeons mainly feed on fruits and seeds, and usually hang out in small groups or mix in with other dove and pigeon species. They can be wary and flighty, like many of the family Columbidae. Here’s a short (30 secs) video of one preening.

IS THERE PHOTOGRAPHIC PROOF OF AN ABACO ONE?

This is slightly tricky, I’m afraid. Right now, it is pigeon shooting season on Abaco. Several birds shot in South Abaco turned out not to be white-crowned pigeons or a WCP / dove cross,  and Woody Bracey was asked to ID photos taken of the deceased birds. The neck close-up above is from one of them… The full photos are a bit sad for a generally cheerful blog so I’ve not used them. At times like these, I have to remind myself that historically, natural historians obtained their specimens of our feathered friends by shooting them. Here are 3 portraits of John James Audubon as a young, middle-aged, and elderly man with his specimen-collecting equipment of choice.

 John James Audubon & gun John James Audubon & gun John James Audubon & gun

WHY HAVE THESE PIGEONS TURNED UP ON ABACO NOW?

The likeliest cause of the sightings this year on Inagua / TCI, and the current influx on South Abaco, is the recent extreme weather, especially Hurricanes Irma and Jose. It seems improbable that a mere whim to fly several hundred miles north from Hispaniola or Puerto Rico would account for the presence of these birds. One of the SNPs shot on Abaco has been retained as a specimen and preserved in a freezer. Woody is contemplating risking an expedition into the target area – a dangerous mission during the shooting season. He has invited any takers to join him, advising people to wear orange clothing to distinguish them from pigeons…

Scaly-naped Pigeon - Barbados

Scaly-naped pigeons are featured on stamps from Barbados (shown) and Barbuda. Like the Bahamas, the Caribbean countries have an excellent record for featuring their wildlife on stamps. You can read more about Bahamas wildlife stamps HERE

Scaly-naped Pigeon

Credits: Woody Bracey for the heads-up for the Abaco sightings; Jean Lopez (header still from a Youtube video); Dick Daniels / Carolinabirds.org; Cornell Lab / Neotropical Birds (range map); neck close-up from Abaco via Woody Bracey; ‘postdlf’ wiki; Felipe at Aves Puerto Rico; open source & wiki for all else 

Scaly-naped Pigeon (Jean Lopez)

DOLPHINS: JUST AS SMART AS YOU ARE…


Bottlenose Dolphin (Brian Lockwood)

DOLPHINS: JUST AS SMART AS YOU ARE…

Anyone watching David Attenborough’s astounding new Blue Planet 2 series will already have got the strong message that dolphins are smart, sociable, and joyous creatures. Brian Lockwood from Porquoson VA – and recently become an Abaco resident – knows a smart way to get out on the water to watch them at close quarters: a jetski. Here are a few of the outstanding photos he has recently taken of dolphins doing what they love to do, and what humans love them to do. 

Bottlenose Dolphin (Brian Lockwood)

Bottlenose Dolphin (Brian Lockwood)

Bottlenose Dolphin (Brian Lockwood)

The hint of a quote in the heading of this post is based on something the inimitable Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, once claimed: “When I see a dolphin I know it’s just as smart as I am…”.  The only slight problem with this comparative assessment is that there may have been times when the good Captain was conceivably on, or adjacent to, a different planet. Times when the dolphins might actually have got the intellectual upper hand.

Bottlenose Dolphins (Brian Lockwood) Bottlenose Dolphins (Brian Lockwood) Bottlenose Dolphins (Brian Lockwood)

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION FOR THE WEEKEND

There are plenty of excellent songs name-checking dolphins somewhere in the lyrics. Rather fewer with ‘dolphin’ in the title. Yes, there’s the Tim Buckley song (or the Beth Orton version of it). The insipid Firefall one? Nah! Then I remembered the Byrds and their ‘Dolphin’s Smile’. Never a single. Originally buried on “Side 2” of Notorious Byrd Brothers. Slightly obscure? Makes a change, so here it is, complete with its evocative yet synthetic ‘dolphin chatter’ intro.

Credits: all the wonderful dolphins taken by Brian Lockwood, with thanks for use permission

Bottlenose Dolphins (Brian Lockwood)