Painted Bunting, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)


South Abaco – the whole area south of Marsh Harbour – provides by far the best birding opportunities for a day of varied birding. A recent party led by birding guide Reginald Patterson included Charmaine Albury in the enthusiastic team. She sent me their checklist for the day – 40 species covering an impressive range of bird types. Here is the list, to which I have added some illustrative photographs.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot (Keith Salvesen)


1. Blackfaced Grassquit
2. Greater Antillean Bullfinch
3. Red-winged Blackbird
4. Gray Catbird
5. Abaco (Cuban) Parrots
6. Painted Bunting
7. Northern Mockingbird
8. La Sagra’s Flycatcher
9. Cuban Pewee
10. Yellow-throated Warbler

Western Spindalis, Abaco (Craig Nash)

11. Western Spindalis
12. West Indian Woodpecker
13. Cape May Warbler
14. Ovenbird
15. Eurasian Collared Dove
16. Common Ground Dove
17. Bananaquit
18. Red-legged Thrush
19. Turkey Vulture
20. Cuban Emerald Hummingbird
21. Thick-billed Vireo

Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)

BPS Duck Pond

22. Blue-winged Teal
23. Green-winged Teal
24. Common Gallinule

Common Gallinule, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)


25. Olive-capped Warbler
26. Yellow-rumped Warbler
27. Loggerhead Kingbird
28. Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)


29. Bahama Warbler
30. American Kestrel

American Kestrel, Abaco (Tom Reed)


31. White-cheeked (Bahama) Pintail
32. Great Egret
33. Great Blue Heron
34. Tricolored Heron
35. Lesser Yellowlegs
36. Solitary Sandpiper

White-cheeked (Bahama) Pintail, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)


37. Laughing gulls
38. Ruddy turnstone
39. Sanderlings
40. Royal terns

Sanderlings, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The checklist covers a broad range of birds that you might expect to see in habitats ranging from coppice to pine forest to water to shoreline. Most are permanent residents, with some winter residents (eg the painted bunting, Cape May warbler). Abaco specialities include the parrots of course, the West-Indian woodpecker and the olive-capped warbler.

And birds that might, on another day, be seen? Maybe the endemic Bahama Woodstar hummingbird and the endemic Bahama Swallow. At Gilpin Pond, black-necked stilts and perhaps a belted kingfisher. And at Sandy Point, brown pelicans fishing off the dock and the chance of white-tailed tropicbirds off-shore. But overall a ’40 day’ is a great day!

Great Egret, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

We are just back on Abaco last night, and without actually trying – and just from the balcony in about 20 minutes – we have scooped:

Turkey Vulture, Black-faced Grassquit, Bananaquit, Bahama Swallows, Loggerhead Kingbird, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, and Thick-billed Vireo – also Oystercatchers heard from the beach. Time to investigate further…

Credits: Tom Sheley (1); Keith Salvesen (2, 5, 8, 9); Craig Nash (3); Gerlinde Taurer (4, 6); Tom Reed (7); Nina Henry (10)


Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Danny Sauvageau


About 3 years ago, there was great excitement when a new bird species was recorded on Abaco. Not just recorded, but actually photographed too – the best of evidence. This was a fork-tailed flycatcher, and to no one’s great surprise another one has never been seen since. So sadly the STFC must go down in the records as a V5, a one-off vagrant. Until another one turns up, anyway. But there will never be another ‘first STFC ever‘ on Abaco. You can read about the new species HERE.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Danny Sauvageau

The sighting came quite soon after the publication of The Birds of Abaco, and instantly rendered the comprehensive checklist in the book out of date. In all, 6 new bird species have now been sighted on Abaco and in due course I need to amend the checklist to reflect the changes. And add ‘wild turkey’ to the also-ran column ‘Exotics Seen on Abaco.’

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Danny Sauvageau

The scissor-tailed flycatcher is another so-called ‘tyrant flycatcher’ with long streaming tail forks. I had a look at the checklist to see if the species was recorded for Abaco, and sure enough it is included as a V4, which is to say a very rare vagrant with maybe half-a-dozen sightings over the years. I’m not aware of any photos of one taken on Abaco. However, birding and photography authority Danny Sauvageau occasionally encounters these magnificent birds in Florida. His recent photos of the scissor-tailed flycatcher are so beautiful that you just have to see them. How wonderful if this exotic creature could find its way to the northern Bahamas more often. Until it does, it will remain what I term an ‘if only’ bird – one that is regretfully absent…

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Danny Sauvageau

All fantastic flycatcher fotos: Danny Sauvageau with many thanks – check online, you won’t see a better collection than this…; cartoon, Bordorable


Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Roger Neilson)



Abaco continues to enhance its reputation as a prime birding destination. New species. Rare species. Unusual species. Endangered species. Surprising species. Every year they turn up, whatever the season. And those, of course, are only the ones that get seen by someone who knows what they are or anyway what they might be. This is where the digital camera – or even a modern phone camera – trumps (oops… stepping into a political minefield) the old-fashioned method of collecting and identifying specialist birds. Which was, shoot them…

Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Roger Neilson)

Woody Bracey, Abaco’s ornithological eminence grise, is currently hosting a party of birders on Abaco. On a visit to one of the excellent birding hotspots of South Abaco, the group of 5 came across an totally unexpected wading species mixed in with a group of yellowlegs. At first, they were thought to be Marbled Godwits. Further consideration confirmed the 2 birds to be equally rare Hudsonian Godwits Limosa haemastica (HUGOs for short). Since then, at least one of the birds has been seen in the same location by birder Keith Kemp.



Extremely! Both species of godwit are exceptionally rare on Abaco and indeed in the Bahamas. They are officially classified as V5, which is to say vagrant / accidental visitors outside their normal range, with fewer than five records since… records began. In practical terms, the baseline is considered to be 1950. There must have been at least one previous sighting of a HUGO on Abaco, but Woody has never seen one before, nor does he know when the report was made. And he knows his godwits – he is the person who, some years ago, saw the MAGO on Abaco that accounts for its existence as a V5 in the complete checklist for Abaco.



These large shorebirds – a species of sandpiper – with their long, upturned bills, breed in Arctic or tundra regions, and winter in southern South America. Note in the photo above the contrast in size, bill and leg colouring compared to the yellowlegs they were mixing with. The Cornell range map below shows how remote the HUGO summer (red) and winter (blue) habitats are. And you can see clearly the two main migration routes – in the simplest terms, the central flyway and the eastern flyway. Neither route takes the birds directly over the Bahamas, although one can see how the occasional one might be blown off course and need a rest during its journey.

limo_haem_allam_mapHudsonian Godwit in flight, Abaco (Roger Neilson)


I checked the invaluable database EBIRD for HUGO reports over the last 10 years. The only previous report for the entire Bahamas was made by Bruce Purdy, who saw one one Grand Bahama (Reef Golf Course)… in 2007. Sightings in Florida over the period are scant. The most notable feature of the map clip below is that Bermuda has had a couple of HUGO visits, perhaps suggesting off-course birds finding an area of land to rest on in a vast expanse of open sea. Further afield, the birds are rare vagrants to Europe, and even to Australia and South Africa.

Hudsonian Godwit 10-year eBird sighting map

WHY ‘GODWIT’? OR HUDSONIAN? OR Limosa haemastica?

‘Godwit’ is said to derive from the bird’s call, in the same way as ‘Bobwhite’ and ‘Killdeer’ – so, these are birds that say their own name… The Hudson Bay area is one of the summer breeding grounds, and a place where the birds congregate for migration. ‘Limosa‘ derives from the Latin for mud (see header image); and ‘haemastica’ relates to their red breeding plumage, from the Ancient Greek for ‘bloody’. Bloody muddy. It’s not a great name, in truth. Let’s move swiftly on to what they sound like…

Doug Hynes / Xeno-Canto

Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Roger Neilson)

STOP PRESS As mentioned earlier, Keith Kemp found one of the HUGOs at the same location a couple of days later – a “lifer” for him and everyone else! Here are three images he posted on eBird.

Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Keith Kemp) Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Keith Kemp)Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Keith Kemp)

I always check a new species to see if it was depicted by Audubon. I didn’t expect him to have included the HUGO but I was wrong. He did, and with his characteristic slightly exaggerated elegance.


This post is rather special, because these are almost certainly the first photographs of a Hudsonian Godwit taken on Abaco – or indeed in the entire Bahamas. And very good they are, too.  So even if a lone HUGO was noted on Abaco 40 years ago pausing briefly on a rock before continuing its journey to Argentina, I consider this qualifies as a new sighting. It certainly does for the c21.

Hudsonian Godwit (Crossley ID Guide, Eastern Birds)  463px-hudsonian_godwit_from_the_crossley_id_guide_eastern_birds

Credits: special thanks to Woody Bracey, Roger Neilson, and Keith Kemp (Stop Press) for photos, information and use permissions; Cornell Lab – Range Map; open source Audubon; Doug Hynes / Xeno-Canto; Crossley ID Guides; wiki and sundry standard sources for snippets



Tony White, Birds of Abaco launch, Delphi Club 3

Tony White, Keith Salvesen, Bruce Hallett & Woody Bracey


Tony White passed away 2 days ago. The sad news has spread rapidly through the birding community and far beyond it. It is not my place to write a detailed appreciation of Tony’s life and achievements; others who have been his long-term friends, associates and birding companions are in a far better position to do so than I. However, I do have direct experience of Tony’s kindness, enthusiasm and pragmatism in connection with the compilation of The Delphi Club Book of the BIRDS OF ABACO

Tony with Caroline Stahala Walker, erstwhile parrot supremo of AbacoTony White with Caroline Stahala

It took 16 months or so from the initial idea of the project to the finished 30-contributor book and a launch party at the Delphi Club in March 2014. During that time I had amazing support from the birding elite of the Bahamas. The proposed book might well have been treated as misconceived fantasy by amateur hicks from out of town. Instead, we received nothing but courtesy, kindness, cooperation, and a willingness that the project should succeed.

Tony with Bruce Hallett (author of Birds of the Bahamas and TCI)Tony White, Birds of Abaco launch, Delphi Club 1

Tony was one of the invaluable experts on whom I knew I could rely. His emails were invariably cordial, helpful and to the point. When I asked if he would undertake a complete revision of the checklist for Abaco that appears in his indispensable book for Bahamas birders (see link below), he agreed without hesitation. In due course, and in conjunction with Woody Bracey, a new checklist for all birds recorded for Abaco – however rare – from 1950 until the day of publication was completed.

Tony in the field (Lynne Gape, BNT)Tony White in the filed (Lynne Gape)

When the book was launched Tony was there of course, his startlingly blue eyes bright with excitement. His friends Bruce Hallett and Woody Bracey, without whose help the book would never have been the avian showcase that it is, were also present. The contributions of all three were indispensable .

Tony after a Grand Bahama bird count (Erika Gates)Tony White

I have included some photos of Tony as we would all like to remember him, with thanks to Lynn Gape of the Bahamas National Trust and to Erika Gates, Grand Bahama.

Tony White, Bruce Hallett & Woody Bracey at “Birds of Abaco” launch; author aka RH (seated)Tony White, Birds of Abaco launch, Delphi Club V2


To read my original review of Tony’s magisterial book click HERE

To see Tony and Woody’s complete Abaco bird checklist, up to date as at March 2014, click CHECKLIST FV 06 table sun2 Since then, 5 new species have been recorded on Abaco.

RH 3 June 2016


Black-necked Stilt, Abaco (Alex Hughes) copy


Got  a spare couple of hours? Reluctant to go birding on the bird-reliable yet ambience-lite town dumps, where careful cropping will be needed to avoid including post-apocalyptic scenery in your hard-won photos of a Little Mulligatawny Owl? Then read on. I have mentioned Gilpin Point before as a great place for birding, and listed many of the species to be found there. It benefits from a large pond, a pristine shoreline, and a coppice environment with some pine forest thrown in. All the makings of an excellent birding location, with suitable habitat for a wide variety of species. Blue-winged Teal, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

On November 21st Reg Patterson, well-known Abaco birder and guide, was up early, and by 07.00 he was at Gilpin Pond where  he spent a couple of hours . He recorded 40 species in that time, from very large to very small. His checklist reveals a great cross-section of the birdlife to be found on Abaco. There might easily have been parrots there too, since Gilpin has become one of their daily chattering spots for a frank exchange of news and views. Sadly it seems that the beautiful and (now) rare SPOONBILL recorded there in early October has moved on.

Willet, Abaco

Here is Reg’s checklist, which I have illustrated with a variety of photos of the species he found, all taken on Abaco and many actually taken at Gilpin Point. There are plenty of other species that might easily have been seen there then – or perhaps later in the day (e.g. snowy egret, yellowlegs, kestrel, turkey vulture, red-legged thrush, cuban emerald, not to mention shorebirds and seabirds if some time was spent on the shore).


Blue-winged Teal (16) (see above)

White-cheeked Pintail (20)

White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)

Green-winged Teal (1)

Great Blue Heron (1)Great_Blue_Heron_Wading_2

Great Egret (1)

Little Blue Heron (2) 

Tricolored Heron (2)

Green Heron (2)Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)05

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (1)

Turkey Vulture (7)

Common Gallinule (1)

Black-necked Stilt (1) (and header)

Black-necked Stilt, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Spotted Sandpiper (1)

Willett (1) (see above)

Common Ground-Dove (1)

Smooth-billed Ani (8)

Bahama Woodstar (1)Bahama Woodstar (m), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Belted Kingfisher (1)

West Indian Woodpecker (7)

Hairy Woodpecker (1)Hairy Woodpecker, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

Peregrine Falcon (1)

Loggerhead Kingbird (4)Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco - Tom Reed

Thick-billed Vireo (7)

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (1)Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Red-legged Thrush (1)

Gray Catbird (4)

Northern Mockingbird (2)Northern Mockingbird, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Ovenbird (1)

Northern Waterthrush (6)

Bahama Yellowthroat (1)

Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Common Yellowthroat (1)

Cape May Warbler (3)

Black-throated Blue Warbler (1)Black-throated Blue Warbler (m), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Palm Warbler (2)

Prairie Warbler (2)

 Bananaquit (1)Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

 Black-faced Grassquit (6)

 Greater Antillean Bullfinch (4)

 Western Spindalis (7)

 Red-winged Blackbird (X)Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Gilpin Map 1 Gilpin Map 2 Gilpin Map 3

Credits: Alex Hughes (1 / header); Keith Salvesen (2, 4, 6, 7, 11, 12, 15 , 16); TBC (3, 5); Bruce Hallett (8, 14); Tony Hepburn (9); Tom Reed (10); Charles Skinner (13)



Black-necked Stilt, Abaco (Tom Sheley)


Right now, I’m doing daily checks on the indispensable EBIRD CARIBBEAN in relation to the ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH project (and incidentally if you encounter one or more on a beach near you, details would be very welcome – below is what to look out for!).

Piping Plover, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

It occurred to me to check out the contention that Abaco is Numero Uno birding destination in the Bahamas (though sadly lacking the flamingoes, except for vagrants; and the Bahama oriole, now extirpated and confined to select areas of Andros). Sure enough, Abaco has 42 out of the top 100 birding hotspots. In the map below, gray pointers indicate a few observations, blue means 50+ and green represents 100+. Nowhere has yet achieved the flame-red pointer – the ultimate hotspot accolade…

Abaco Birding Hotspots Map (eBird)

People often ask where best to go for quality birding on Abaco. The answer depends of course on the season and on what they are after – for example shorebirds or warblers; parrots or absence of parrots and so on. The Abaco 42 are listed below. There are a couple points to make about the hotspot list:

  • There is a degree of duplication, eg Gorda Cay / Castaway Cay being shown as separate entries, as is Angelfish Point / Angel Fish Point
  • Also, the data gathered by eBird is entirely dependent on regular uploads of checklists. Inevitably the birders will mostly be regulars, with their own preferred beats or perhaps with an interest limited to the area where they live. Some records show long gaps – sometimes a couple of years – between reports. So the eBird data can only give an overview, not a precise record of actual observations or birding effort and success. 

Bahama Woodstar male 3.1.Abaco Bahamas.2.12.Tom Sheley copy

In very general terms, and assuming a broad birding interest, I would recommend the Treasure Cay area; in and around Marsh Harbour; the stretch east of the Highway that takes in Bahama Palm Shores, the Abaco Neem Farm, Delphi, Crossing Rocks & Gilpin Point; the National Park; and Sandy Point. I’m sure there will be other views, but I am thinking primarily of the visitor who has but a single day to spare from a packed schedule of fishing, swimming, sunbathing, eating and drinking… [nb as a soi-disant photographer I’m not so keen on the dumps and landfill. Yes, the birding can be good. No, I don’t want to feature rubbish in my already rubbish photos…]

American Oystercatcher4.1.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley RH 2

Here’s the eBird list, omitting all the non-Abaconian hotspots. Clicking on the links will take you straight to the relevant location’s latest reports and show some of the species seen there. I haven’t checked every link, but spot-checks suggest they work ok…

3 Treasure Cay GC

4 Abacos–Citrus Farm near Treasure Cay

5 Abaco–Sandy Point

8 Angel Fish Point

10 Marsh Harbour

12 Abaco–Crossing Rocks

13 Abacos–Treasure Cay Dump

14 Abacos–Treasure Cay West Side

18 Abaco Cays IBA–Great Guana Cays

20 Abacos–Treasure Cay Sunset Ridge and vicinity

22 Robert’s nursery, ponds and marls overlook

23 Abaco–Bahama Palm Shores

28 Abaco Cays IBA–Green Turtle Cay

32 Gilpin Point

35 Hope Town, Elbow Cay

37 Big Bird

38 Castaway Cay

41 Man-o-war Cay

44 Abaco National Park IBA

45 Marsh Harbour–Landfill

52 Island Homes–Beach

57 Abaco Beach Resort

60 North Atlantic Abaco Cays IBA

62 North dump (Abaco)

65 Marsh Harbour

69 Cherokee Sound

70 Great Guana Cay

72 Green Turtle Cay Sand Spit

73 Angelfish Point

81 Green Turtle Cay

82 Track north of Hwy

86 Southern Abaco IBA

87 Abaco Neem farm

88 Marsh Harbor Airport

89 Abaco–Crown Haven

91 Little Abaco IBA

92 Abaco–Hole-in-the-Wall

93 Camp Abaco

94 Little Harbour

96 Castaway Cay

97 Cooper’s Town

98 Crossing Rock / Island Homes

Bahamas-Great Abaco_4846_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy





Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)11

Credits: Tom Sheley, Bruce Hallett, Gerlinde Taurer, RH




THE CARIBBEAN ENDEMIC BIRD FESTIVAL (CEBF) is a Caribbean-wide festival that aims to heighten awareness for birds generally in the region. It is sponsored by the excellent BIRDS CARIBBEAN organisation – click the link to see what it is all about. Birds, obviously, but from the points of view both of promoting and of preserving the rich avian variety throughout the Caribbean.

As part of the CEBF celebrations this month, a birding group from New Providence came to Abaco to explore the birdlife. The expedition group included several well-known local bird experts, all the better for locating and identifying species and ensuring a comprehensive checklist could be compiled. Also in the group was photographer Linda Huber, whose photos you will undoubtedly have seen in Bahamas publications, including the recently published small guide BEAUTIFUL BAHAMA BIRDS (click to see my review and further details – highly recommended for any birder from novice up). Here are a few of Linda’s photos of some of the birds seen during the expedition, a gallery that shows the extraordinary diversity of species to found in a short time on Abaco.

Apologies to those who received a ‘false start’ draft of this post. It was lunchtime, I was hungry, I pressed ‘Save Draft’… or thought I had. Why is the ‘Publish’ button so close? Oh. Right. I see. It’s not its fault, it’s mine…

Western Spindalis Spindalis zena             Abaco Parrot Amazona leucocephala bahamensis                       DSC00210_2  DSC00216_2

Bahama Yellowthroat Geothlypis rostrata                   Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachiiDSC00298_3 DSC00317_2

Bahama Warbler Setophaga flavescens                         Black-faced Grassquit Tiaris bicolorDSC00356_3 DSC00381_3

                                                        Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia                                                                DSC00371_2 DSC00378_2

Bahama Swallow Tachycineta cyaneoviridis              Cuban Pewee Contopus caribaeus bahamensis  DSC00399_3 DSC00413_2

Olive-capped Warbler Dendroica pityophila            Pearly-eyed Thrasher Margarops fuscatusDSC00422_2 DSC00501_3

                              West Indian Woodpecker Melanerpes superciliaris                                             DSC00475_2  DSC00278_3

                                                      Canada Goose Branta canadensis                                                                             DSC00566 DSC00642_2

White-cheeked Pintails Anas bahamensis                   Caribbean Coot Fulica caribaea     DSC00612_2 DSC00627_3

Muscovy Duck Cairina moschata                                   European Starling Sturnus vulgaris        DSC00639_2  DSC00524_2

Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor                    La Sagra’s Flycatcher Myiarchus sagrae lucaysiensisDSC00675_2 DSC00694_2_2

Cuban Emerald Chlorostilbon ricordii                        Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea DSC00721_2 DSC09484_2

The gallery above includes a number of specialist birds and others of particular interest. In brief:

  • 3 of the 4 ENDEMIC SPECIES found on Abaco (omitting only the Bahama Woodstar)
  • The famous, incomparable and indeed unique ground-nesting ABACO PARROT
  • 4 ‘local’ subspecies of birds also found beyond the Bahamas
  • 1 of only 5 resident warblers, the Olive-capped (of 37 recorded for Abaco)
  • The most recent addition to the birds recorded for Abaco PEARLY-EYED THRASHER
  • The WEST-INDIAN WOODPECKER, now found only on Abaco and (rarely) San Salvador
  • 2 or 3 introduced or domestic species (if that Muscovy Duck was at Gilpin Point it’s a pet!)
  • The debatable ‘Caribbean Coot’, about which it has been written**  The American Coot is familiar to all, but controversy surrounds the Caribbean Coot with its all-white frontal shield. Some authorities say it is a separate species; others say it is a true subspecies of the American Coot; some claim it is simply a local variant. Bond (1947) treats them as distinct species. The image below shows the two species together. They coexist contentedly and are indifferent to the debate.

American & 'Caribbean' Coot (Tony Hepburn)

The group on a Logging Track in the Abaco National ParkDSC00349

The New Providence Birding Group Expedition to AbacoDSC00706_3

 Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival Flyer

CREDITS All photos Linda Huber (with many thanks for use permission) except the pair of coots (Tony Hepburn) and the singing Bahama Yellowthroat in the BNT Flyer (Bruce Hallett)

** Keith Salvesen, The Birds of Abaco p22