SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER PICTURES FOR TWITCHERS


Short-billed Dowitcher Bahamas (Erika Gates)

SHORT-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 SBDs, and has kindly let me feature them.

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)

SHORT OR LONG – 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

PALM WARBLERS: ‘HEADS-UP FOR BUTTERBUTTS’


Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett / Tom Sheley)

PALM WARBLERS: ‘HEADS-UP FOR BUTTERBUTTS’

I realise that the title of this post has its unattractive aspects. This is a family blog, and we try to keep references to ‘butts’ and so forth to a minimum. But like it or not, the Palm Warbler is one of two species** that have acquired the nickname ‘butterbutt’.  They weren’t even consulted; birders just went ahead with it without checking how they’d feel about it.

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

On the other hand, it’s easy to see how this minor linguistic outrage came about. It’s there for all to see, right under the bird’s… erm… stern. That flash of vivid yellow, together with the pale speckled front, a rusty brown cap and striking eye-stripe, is diagnostic for this Abaco winter resident species.

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

The ‘heads-up’ is because right now they are among you. In the gardens, on the grass, on the tracks, in the coppice, in the casuarinas. And they have an endearing habit of bobbing their… tails, let’s say, as they forage. Palm Warblers are inclined to be fairly inquisitive and tame, so if you are careful, they may stay around to let you watch them. 

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

The PW above must, I think, have been photographed at the very end of the winter season, just before it headed north from Abaco. The strong colours suggest this guy is getting into the breeding mood. Compare him with the picture below, taken by the same photographer during the same period, of a slightly less garish stage of breeding plumage. But it’s on its way…

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

As often as not, a palm warbler will be fairly easy to spot. Not always, though. You may have to work a bit to locate one half-hidden in foliage. Its posterior may not even be visible.

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

Luckily, PWs are common enough in winter to give you a chance to shoot them in the open, as it were. Perched on a branch works just fine to capture the essential characteristics.

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

Keep an eye out for these pretty little warblers. They are enjoyable to watch, and relatively easy to get a photo of at close quarters. Just make sure you get the butterbutt into the picture.

** The other butterbutt bird is the descriptively-named YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, though its buttery bits are on the topside so there’s no risk of confusion (I photographed this one from a pool-side lounger, a distance shot at the top of a tree with a small camera – but it captures the essentials!)

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: Bruce Hallett (1)*; Gerlinde Taurer (2, 7); Nina Henry (3, 4, 5); Peter Mantle (6); Keith Salvesen (8, 9)

* Possibly Tom Sheley – all I have got on the filename is ‘Fruit Farm’ so I can’t be sure of the photographer’s ID – apologies

 Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

ABACO PARROTS FOR THE NEW YEAR!


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

ABACO PARROTS FOR THE NEW YEAR!

Red, green, blue, and a touch of snowy white. The colours of Christmas, sort of. We are past all that for another year, but for those on Abaco the unique, ground-nesting Abaco parrots Amazona leucocephala flash those same colours throughout the year.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Craig Nash)

These birds have cousins on Inagua that nest conventionally; and there are now a handful of NASSAU PARROTS on New Providence, of uncertain origin (click link for more on these).

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

The parrots are only found in South Abaco, between Marsh Harbour and the National Park where they live and breed in limestone holes in the forest floor. 

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Caroline Stahala)

You are most likely to hear these birds before you see them, as they make their way daily north in the morning and back again in the evening.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Despite the racket they make, finding the parrots in the National Park is a bit ‘needle-in-haystack’. Instead, try the Gilpin Point point area, and coppice areas to the north. They pass back and forth over Delphi, pausing to squabble noisily, almost daily. I have made several recordings of them – here’s one example.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

Far and away the best location is Bahama Palm Shores, where the mix of dense coppice with their favourite gumbo limbo trees and the open gardens is much to their liking. And frankly, it’s a great place for birding anyway, even if you blank for the parrots. 

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Just think: a dozen years ago, these fine birds were sliding towards extinction, with an unsustainable population of fewer than 900. Conservation efforts and in particular attention to habitat protection and predator control have resulted in population increases year-on-year, and the total now stands at around 5000 adults.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

I’ve posted quite a lot about these parrots over the years, so if you are already familiar with them, I hoped you felt free to skip the text, and simply to admire these wonderful creatures. 

Credits: Gerlinde Taurer, Craig Nash, Tom Sheley, Caroline Stahala, Keith Salvesen, Peter Mantle, Nina Henry, Erik Gauger; audio recording Keith Salvesen

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Erik Gauger)

BEHOLD! SOME BUNTING(S) FOR AN ABACO CHRISTMAS


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

BEHOLD! SOME BUNTING(S) FOR AN ABACO CHRISTMAS

painted-bunting copy

BUNTING  /ˈbʌntɪŋ/  (Noun)

[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

imagesimagesimages

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 straight from a child’s paintbox make for a spectacular bird to grace the festive season. These are migratory winter residents, and the first reports of the bright and beautiful males on Abaco started to appear in November. Some will stay around until March.

                                                           painted-buntingimagespainted-bunting copy

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

                                                        painted-buntingimagespainted-bunting copy

The two wonderful photos below 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

painted-bunting copy

This is probably my last post until after Christmas, what with one thing and another, so it’s a good opportunity to wish a very Happy Christmas or [insert preferred seasonal appellation] to everyone who visits Rolling Harbour and especially those who, having done so, return for more!

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

imagesimagesimagesimagesPainted Bunting, Abaco Bahamas

CINNAMON TEAL: ANOTHER NEW BIRD FOR ABACO


Cinnamon Teal (Michael L Baird, Wiki)

CINNAMON TEAL: ANOTHER NEW BIRD FOR ABACO

Picture the scene. You take a camera to photograph the winter ducks on a local pond on South Abaco. Suddenly you notice something strange and out of place out there. Something unfamiliar. It’s a duck for sure; but not one you’ve ever seen before in your life. Maybe it’s one you know about. Maybe you have no idea what it is at all, and have to identify it later on from a book or online. Anyway, you take some shots before it dabbles off into the overgrown margins of the pond, and leave with a modest air-punch: it’s a “lifer”. 

Keith Kemp, principal monitor for Abaco Piping Plover Watch, has just had this experience. There, on the local pond with the blue-winged teal, was a stranger. For him, a “lifer”. And as it turns out, for Abaco also a “lifer”. The only record of one I have found for the Bahamas is a single vagrant sighted on Andros (see range map below). Here are Keith’s unique photos of Abaco’s first Cinnamon Teal.

Cinnamon Teal, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp)Cinnamon Teal, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp)Cinnamon Teal, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp)Cinnamon Teal, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp)

The cinnamon teal (Spatula cyanoptera) is a dabbling duck species found in western North America, and in South America. They live in and around marshes and ponds, feeding mostly on pond-weed and plants, along with any attached aquatic insects. On the range map below, note the single red dot in the Bahamas denoting the single vagrant sighting on Andros.

The duck is named for the overall colouring of the adult male has a cinnamon-red head and body; and it has startlingly noticeable orange-red eyes . The adult female, as is so often the way, is rather less showy –  a mottled brown, with a pale brown head, brown eyes, and a grey bill.  For those who like comparisons, it resembles a female blue-winged teal, a few of which are shown above (not the ones with the white stripe on the face, which are male blues). 

Cinnamon Teal pair(andeansolitaire wiki)

Since the publication of BIRDS OF ABACO in 2014, with its comprehensive checklist of all recorded species since 1950, several new species have been sighted on Abaco. The latest was only last month – the SCALY-NAPED PIGEON. Now we have a new species of duck. Conveniently, there’s no other ‘regular’ duck species quite like it. So if you see a pretty cinnamon-coloured duck on a pond near you, you’ll be looking at the newest ‘Bird of Abaco’. And if you do see one, please share the news!

Cinnamon Teal (Dick Daniels, carolinabirds.org Wiki)

Credits: Michael L Baird (1); Keith Kemp (2, 3, 4, 5,); ‘andeansolitaire’ (6); Dick Daniels / carolinabirds.org (7); special thanks to Terry Sohl / sdakotabirds.com for use permission for his range map; cartoon by the inimitable Birdorable

BARN OWLS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS


Barn Owl, Abaco Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

Barn Owl, Abaco, Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

BARN OWLS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS

The Barn Owl (Tyto alba) is the only owl you are likely to see – and hear – on Abaco. The species is permanently resident, which is a good start in that sighting opportunities exist year-round. Although they are not at all common they can be found in particular locations, for example around Treasure Cay and Little Harbour; also on Elbow Cay, Lubbers Quarters (4 birds right now) and Man-o-War Cay (a while back). There are two other owl species recorded for Abaco: the rare Burrowing Owl (see link below for details); and the Northern Saw-whet Owl, a vanishingly rare vagrant recorded a handful of times that I don’t propose to feature unless and until it decides to visit Abaco more frequently…

Barn Owl (Birdorable)

I wrote about Barn Owls on Abaco many moons ago. I don’t usually rehash previous posts, but I am returning to the topic because of a recent barn owl sighting on Elbow Cay that caused interest, excitement and some speculation. 

Barn Owl, Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas (Becky Marvil)

Barn Owl, Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas (Becky Marvil)

The shrill wheezing cry of the Barn Owl – known in some places as the ‘screech owl’ (which, strictly, is a different owl species) – is unmistakeable. Barn owls also make an intimidating hissing noise. Mainly nocturnal, they fly noiselessly like white ghosts in the night. If you are lucky enough to see one in the daytime, you’ll be struck by the beautiful heart-shaped face and (if close enough) the delicate markings.

 Patrik Aberg Xeno-Canto

Both photos above were taken on Abaco. Woody Bracey’s header image is featured inTHE BIRDS OF ABACO“. Becky Marvil’s photo was taken near Treasure Cay. I’ve never seen a barn owl on Abaco, but  I’ve been lucky enough to get close to them in the UK. For those who have never seen one, here are a few of my own images that show what wonderful birds they are. They were photographed at a raptor rescue centre, so I am not going to pretend that these shots were taken in the wild. That would never do. 

Barn Owl (Keith Salvesen)Barn Owl Dorset (Keith Salvesen) Barn Owl Dorset (Keith Salvesen)Barn Owl 4 (Keith Salvesen)

This close-up of the barn owl above shows the typical speckling on its pure white front, and the beautiful wing patterns. Amazingly for such a large bird, an adult weighs a mere 350g or so. As a comparison, The Birds of Abaco book weighs 2kg!

Barn Owl close-up (Keith Salvesen)

This fluffy baby barn owl had been rescued and was being cared for in a sanctuary before being returned to the wild. Whimsy is rarely permitted  in this blog, but seriously, folks – cuteness overload!Barn Owl 6 (Keith Salvesen)

RELATED POSTS

 OWLS OF ABACO (2) – BURROWING OWLS

BURROWING OWLS ON ELBOW CAY

Credits: Woody Bracey, Becky Marvil, Keith Salvesen, Patrik Aberg /  Xeno-Canto (audio), RSPB (video), Birdorable (Cartoon)

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)