Sandwich Tern (Danny Sauvageau)


Have you noticed how newspapers and periodicals increasingly seize every opportunity for a headline ending “…say Scientists”. It lends a spurious authority to any tenuous assertion, like “astronauts unlikely to find cheese on moon, say Scientists” (suggesting at least the faint possibility of some mature cheddar lodged in a crater). Or “Frooty-pops cereal may protect against ingrown toenails, say Scientists”.  To which the proper response is: “research reference please”. But it seems 37.9% of people are actually prepared to believe this tendencious stuff… say Scientists.

But I digress. To the business in hand. The Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis) is a smart-looking medium-sized tern. Its clearest ID signifier among terns is a sharp black beak with a yellow tip. Also, its black legs helpfully distinguish it from other tern species that have orange legs.Sandwich Tern (Sandy Point), Abaco - Bruce Hallett

The origin of the name for this species is an unexpected one. The Thaleasseus (formerly Sterna) simply refers to the sea (Gk). The Sandwich part is more complicated. It’s certainly nothing to do with a tasty filling for a sliced bread snack **. Other bird species such as Branta sandvicensis, an endemic Hawaiian goose, have the name because Hawaii was historically known as the Sandwich Islands. But Sandwich terns are not found there. In fact, the name comes from the town name of Sandwich, Kent UK (sand wic OE – ‘trading post by the sea’). The ornithologist who first described the bird in 1787, John Latham, just happened to live there. (And how fortunate for ornithology that he did not come from Pratts Bottom, also in Kent).

Sandwich Tern, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

Sandwich terns have a wide range around the world. As the range map below show, the most significant breeding area is Great Britain and northern Europe. On Abaco, the birds are uncommon summer residents. Both images above were taken on the main island, the top one at Sandy Point on the jetty (an excellent place for birdwatching, incidentally).Thalasseus_acuflavidus_and_Thalasseus_sandvicensis_map-location-2.svgSarnie Tern range

Like all the Thalasseus terns, the Sandwich tern plunge-dives for fish. I love the sight of diving terns. They hang high in the air as they scope out the water for fish, only to break free from the sky and smash down into the sea, often emerging with a silver prize. Here’s a wonderful photo of one that missed its meal – and one that succeeded.

Sandwich Tern (Danny Sauvageau)Sandwich Tern (Danny Sauvageau) An endearing characteristic of these terns can be seen during their courtship display. The male will catch a fish, then offer it to the female. Her acceptance of the gift signals her readiness to approve the male as a suitable mate. 

Of the  12 tern species recorded for Abaco most are summer residents, some of which breed on Abaco. The royals are the only permanent residents; and the Forster’s are the only winter residents. The other 4 species are transient in migration, or vagrant (arctic tern).

Tern Species on Abaco

As I have mentioned before, a very good source for easy ID to distinguish between different birds of the same family is to head off to BIRDORABLE. The drawings (cartoons!) may not be scientific, but they do highlight the most notable distinctions. Invaluable as a last resort. Or first resort, even! For similar-looking birds, compare the beaks and the legs. The composite below shows how simple it is.


Noisy neighbours? Put this short recording of a sandwich tern colony in the breeding season on a continous loop, and you have the makings of a powerful retaliatory weapon. They’ll be out within a fortnight…

Alex Lees / Xeno-Canto

** The food we call a sandwich was named after the 4th Earl of Sandwich. He found eating while playing cards inconvenient, so asked his valet for two slices of bread, requesting “and squash a tern between them, if you’d be so very kind…” The Sandwich Islands were also named after his Lordship by Captain James Cook, as a compliment for financially supporting an expedition there, say Historians…

Sandwich_Tern_(Sterna_sandvicensis)_(Ken Billington)

Credits: Danny Sauvageau (1, 4, 5); Bruce Hallet (2); Woody Bracey (3); Ken Billington (6); Alex Lees @ Xeno-Canto, Birdorable, wiki for range map & info, other magpie pickings of glistening facts


PIPL adult & chick (Jordan Rutter)


The last piping plover known to have left Abaco for the summer breeding grounds was the renowned ‘Tuna’, in early April. We can’t say where he ended up – there are no reported sighting of him this summer from the NJ beach where he was born, raised and banded – or from anywhere else. The unbanded Delphi contingent had left the beach by the end of March.

TunaPiping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Oct 10. Rhonda Pearce

Besides Tuna, of the named banded birds resighted on Abaco beaches last season (e.g. Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Jonesy, Bahama Mama, Benny, Bess), only the most distant visitor Bahama Mama returned to her original beach in Muskegon State Park. Her mate from last year (‘Little Guy’) had already shacked up with another bird, so BM did likewise. Carol Cooper reports that all birds had left the beach by July 23.

Bahamas Pink Band 52PIPL Pink Band 52, Abaco (Walker Golder)

As for Bahamas ‘Pink Bands’ – winter-banded birds – the BAHAMAS SHOREBIRD CONSERVATION INITIATIVE has posted a wonderful interactive map produced by Audubon which shows the astonishing extent of the migration undertaken by these little birds. Unfortunately none of last winter’s Abaco ‘pink numbers’ are shown as resighted. You can reach this great resource by clicking the image below. This will take you to the original – I am trying to work out how best to embed the map in my sidebar.

Click me!Pink band PIPL map (Audubon : BSCI)

Reports of migrating PIPL are beginning to come in and will accelerate over the next few weeks. First with a Bahamas report is Linda Barry-Cooper (West End Ecology Tours), who spotted 3 at Sandy Cay, West End, Grand Bahama on July 21 (‘10.00 a.m., high water’). With a modest fanfare of greeting, here are those first Bahamas birds of the season.

Piping plovers, West End, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)Piping plovers, West End, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)Piping plovers, West End, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)


Last season was an important one for having a bird count on Abaco, with the four-yearly census taking place in January. I started The Watch rather nonchalantly, but it quickly picked up enthusiasm and momentum and in the end it was of significant use for the official bird count. Here are the compressed stats for the from the end of July 2105 to January 2016. You will see – possibly with some surprise – that in only 5 months 3.83% of the total presumed piping plover population in the world was found on Abaco. And of course that’s only a total from sightings on certain beaches, mostly easily accessible, by a relatively small number of monitors. How many more were there on the all the unexplored expanses of beach, or indeed out on the Marls?


The question is whether to continue the watch this coming season. If so, best to get it sorted before the first birds arrive any day now. I have decided  to carry on, but – since it isn’t a census year –  with a lighter touch this time (it’s a time-consuming process and there’s other stuff going on in my life.) Accordingly I would welcome reports of all Abaco sightings. If you are in doubt whether what you are seeing is a piping plover or some other shorebird, a photo or even a phone pic for ID would be great. The most helpful information to give is:

  • Date and time
  • Single bird or number of birds (if countable) or an estimate
  • Whether banded or not
  • If so, details of the banding: band or flag, colours, visible numbers etc
  • If at all possible, photos of the bird and its legs… I am able to enhance apparently dim or fuzzy pictures to some extent, so don’t worry if you don’t get a perfect shot.
  • If possible, state of tide – high, low, half-way, coming in, going out
  • Also, what the bird is doing – foraging, sleeping, rushing round in circles etc
  • Finally, location as accurately as possible. Area, name of beach, whereabouts (middle, east end, south end etc)

Piping Plover (juv) CT (Danny Sauvageau)

If you are one of the volunteer beach monitors from last year, I will be emailing you. If you’d like to monitor your own or a favourite beach, I’d love to hear from you.


Piping Plover, Abaco - Charmaine Albury

Photo Credits: Jordan Rutter, Rhonda Pearce, Linda Barry-Cooper x 3, Danny Sauvageau, Charmaine Albury



Turkey Vulture, Lubbers Quarter, Abaco (Larry Towning)


Lubbers Quarters is a Cay off the southern tip of Elbow Cay, and home to the excellent Cracker P’s restaurant. Also, home to Larry Towning, who takes terrific sunrise and sunset photos, among other subjects that include birds. He recently happened upon a Turkey Vulture sitting on a POISONWOOD stump (do not rush to try that – you may not sit down again for weeks). I like the immediacy of these. Most TUVU shots – by me, anyway – are (a) flying – usually coming out as silhouettes; or (b) atop a utility post with wires in the way, or (c) on the ground scavenging something revolting in the way of carrion. This bird is only dreaming about doing that.

“WARTS AND ALL…”Turkey Vulture, Lubbers Quarter, Abaco (Larry Towning)

The nostrils are not divided by a septum, but are perforated; from the side one can right see through (and as I have previously noted, some humans also suffer from MSS  – missing septum syndrome. They tend to sniff a lot)Turkey Vulture, Lubbers Quarter, Abaco (Larry Towning)

LUBBERS QUARTER CAY        Lubbers Quarters Map

NOT SAD… JUST THINKING ABOUT DEAD DECAYING THINGS TO EATTurkey Vulture, Lubbers Quarter, Abaco (Larry Towning)

To read much more about Turkey Vultures, find a bundle of interesting facts and learn about their sex lives and frankly disgusting habits with urine and vomit, check out ‘CARRION SCAVENGING‘.

Photo credit: Larry Towning; Tropicat (Poisonwood link)


Bahama Woodstar Hummingbird, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)


Abaco is spoilt for birds. What other island in the word has its very own population of ground-nesting parrots? (Clue: none). How many others provide a secluded winter home for the rare Kirtland’s Warbler? Or a safe habitat for piping plovers – more than 300 individual birds recorded last year, nearly 4% of the total population? Or host 32 warbler species in the winter to supplement the 5 resident species? Or record a visit from a black-browed albatross? Or enjoy 4 out of 5 of the Bahamian endemic species (no longer the Bahama Oriole sadly, now confined to specific areas of Andros). 

Bahama Woodstar Hummingbird, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

A while back I held a poll for Abaco’s favourite bird, with about 10 contenders. Some were quick to point out that their own personal favourite was not an option, but I had to take a fairly broad brush approach. On the podium, gold went to the Bahama Woodstar; silver to the parrot; and bronze to the western spindalis. I’m in a genial mood today, having caught a fair-sized wild brown trout on my third (part) day of stalking it (over 2 weeks), on the smallest fly in my box (size 18). I put it straight back of course. Respect! So in a spirit of cordiality, here are some epic shots of Abaco’s democratically elected favourite bird… at least according to the poll.


The two images above were taken by the legendary Bruce Hallett, author of the go-to field guide for the Bahamas, which no birder should be without. Many of his wonderful photos  appear in THE BIRDS OF ABACO, and he was a steady guiding hand during the preparation of the book. 

This brilliant photo of a female woodstar was taken by Tara Lavallee of Bahama Palm Shores, and for composition, clarity, colour and sheer charm it was a must for inclusion in the book.

Bahama Woodstar, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

Another major photographic contributor was Tom Sheley. I had the pleasure of spending time on Abaco with Tom during expeditions deep into backcountry to find and photograph birds. He had two cameras, one with a long lens. The other had a very long lens. The results he obtained – showcased in the book – were outstanding. His woodstar graces the front cover.

Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Tom also took a delicate little study of a female woodstar feeding, one of my favourite photosBahama Woodstar female, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Credits: Bruce Hallett, Tara Lavallee, Tom Sheley



Piping Plover chick in the hand for banding (CWFNJ)


piping-ploverHappy July 4th to all those for whom the date has special significance (aside from it being plenty of people’s birthday). I’m celebrating the occasion by exercising my personal independence with a post that wrote itself. Mary Lenahan has done all the hard graft. Her photos and captions of a day in the field with her student Alex, in the company of CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION NJ savants Todd Pover and Michelle Stantial merely needed to be arranged in traditional Rolling Harbour format, with a few additional comments.


piping-plover“My student Alex and I were invited by Todd Pover (Conserve Wildlife of NJ Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager) to help out with some piping plover work in Avalon the other morning. We were lucky to observe the plover family from afar and close up as Michelle Stantial (Wildlife Biologist from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry) and her technicians collected data on the week old plover chicks. What a thrill when we were able to release the fluffy chicks back to their parents in the Avalon dunes! Alex even took the time to help Todd take down a plover predator exclosure and to retrieve a balloon from the beach. What a fantastic and life changing experience for a budding scientist and her bird-nerd teacher. It is my hope that these endangered plovers overcome the many threats and obstacles they face and survive to migrate to their wintering grounds in the Bahamas”.

RH NOTE: 5 of the identified banded piping plovers that overwintered on Abaco were from NJ preserves. 2 of them (including the famous ‘Tuna’) were actually banded by Michelle herself last summer, with Emily Heiser.

Alex and Michelle Stantial discuss the bands on a piping plover chickPiping Plover chick in the hand for banding (CWFNJ)

Alex cradles a 1 week old chick before releasing him/her back to its parentsAlex and Michelle Stantial discuss the bands on the piping plover chick

Piping Plover chick in the hand for banding (CWFNJ)

Michelle Stantial places two fuzzy fluff balls into Mary’s hands for release!Piping Plover chick in the hand for banding (CWFNJ)

Fuzzy babiez!Piping Plover chick in the hand for banding (CWFNJ) Piping Plover chick in the hand for banding (CWFNJ)

Go find your parents! Piping Plover chick in the hand for banding (CWFNJ)

piping-ploverThese tiny birds, weighing a couple of grams maybe, were one week old. Already, they were nearing their own independence: still learning the arts of life from their parents, but fast becoming mini autonomous units too. To give you an idea how fast they develop, the first “fall” PIPL found on Abaco last year were spotted by Woody Bracey on July 31 on Green Turtle Cay mudflats – 6 birds in a group. Tuna, born in June, was first seen on Abaco in August, having undertaken a journey of well over 1000 miles.

ANSWERS the answers to the questions are as follows: ‘no’; ‘no’; and ‘not in the slightest’.

QUESTIONS the questions are: ‘don’t the parents reject a chick that has been handled during weighing, measuring and banding’?; ‘aren’t the chicks terrified and traumatised by the whole process’?; and ‘don’t the bands hamper their foraging / flying abilities or otherwise cause lifelong alarm and despondency’? 

The field work on the beach involves more than measuring and banding the chicks. Exclosures erected to exclude predators from the nest areas need to be regularly checked, and removed when the time is right (below)

Piping Plover nest exclosure, New Jersey (CWFNJ)

Alex finds a stray balloon very close to plover nest. BALLOONS BLOW and should never be released into the environment! This balloon could have been mistaken as food by a turtle or a whale, becoming trapped in the animal’s stomach, causing it to become very ill and die. The strings of balloons have been found tangled around the necks, bodies and legs of birds, causing pain, injury and death. Don’t release balloons or better yet, don’t buy them! Alex finds a deflated balloon on a plover beach





Many thanks to Mary Lenahan, Michelle Stantial, Todd Pover and of course Alex for being happy to share their experiences! And Birdorable for the little guys…


Anhinga eating fish (Phil Lanoue)


Anhingas are so-called ‘darters’. You won’t have seen one on Abaco. Or else, if you have, you’ve had a rare avian treat. These cormorant-like birds are far from unusual in Florida, all round the Gulf of Mexico, on Cuba and generally in the West Indies, and throughout the northern parts of South America. But somehow they have only very rarely bothered to wing their way across the relatively short expanse of water that separates their usual stamping ground in Florida and the northern Bahamas. I very rarely post about non-Abaco birds, unless for comparison. However, on the slender basis that one or two anhinga sightings have been made on Abaco since 1950 (they are classified as V5, i.e. vanishingly rare vagrants) , I am including PHIL LANOUE’S wonderful photo of one trying to get a gob-stoppingly large spiny fish down its throat. And making that an excuse to show more of his wonderful bird photos, including one of his renowned sequences.


By way of contrast to the anhinga above, this brown pelican has opened wide, but has disappointingly little to show for his huge gulp. Just a tiddler, and it really doesn’t look like it will manage to jump out of that capacious gullet…

Brown Pelican fishing (Phil Lanoue)

Here’s a better meal: a great egret has got hold of a massive shrimp. It won’t have any trouble getting it down…Great Egret eating fish (Phil Lanoue)


As the great egret above demonstrates, fish are not the only prey species for the ‘fish-eating’ birds. These cormorants are happily mixing up their diet.Cormorant - varied diet 1 (Phil Lanoue)Cormorant - varied diet 3 (Phil Lanoue)

I’ll take a side-order of salad with that…Cormorant feeding (Phil Lanoue)Cormorant - varied diet 5 (Phil Lanoue)


Regrettably, the cormorant with the eel, above, decided to play with its food before eventually swallowing it. Here are three more images from Phil’s sequence of the Eel Meal.

Chucking my dinner around a bitCormorant - varied diet 4 (Phil Lanoue)

Wearing my food as a hatCormorant eating eel (Phil Lanoue)

My whole meal seems to have gone to my head…Cormorant - varied diet 6 (Phil Lanoue)

All phantastic photos by Phil. Check out his website


Bananaquit, Abaco (Char Albury)


This is the best job in the world (#it’snotajob #it’sapastime #duh!yougetpaidinajob). I get to choose what to write about and what photos to use. And it’s all enjoyable, interesting, and totally new (to me) within the last 10 years. Bananaquits are another favourite small bird of mine. Charmaine Albury takes great Abaco wildlife photos – birds, butterflies, insects, shells and more – on Man-o-War Cay and beyond. It’s time to showcase some of her bananaquit photos. Let’s go!

Bananaquit, Abaco (Char Albury)Bananaquit, Abaco (Char Albury)Bananaquit, Abaco (Char Albury)

Juvenile bananaquits have their own totally adorbz qualities, as I have observed BEFORE.

Bananaquit juvenile, Abaco (Char Albury) Bananaquit juvenile, Abaco (Char Albury) Bananaquit juvenile, Abaco (Char Albury) Bananaquit juvenile, Abaco (Char Albury)

Bananaquit juvenile, Abaco (Char Albury)

As the juveniles grow, their colouring becomes stronger until eventually they are hardly distinguishable from their parentsBananaquit juvenile, Abaco (Char Albury)Bananaquit, Abaco (Char Albury)Bananaquit, Abaco (Char Albury)

Bananaquits are readily attracted to gardens. They can used their sharp curved beaks to drink from hummingbird feeders. Or why not try Charmaine’s idea for a free-to-make bananaquit bar – look how successful it is!

Bananaquit, Abaco (Char Albury)

You’ll find several posts about bananaquits, none particularly recent. For an ‘in-house’ gallery of these bright little birds, click HERE

All photos Charmaine Albury, with thanks for use permission. You’ll notice that the images are watermarked or named, which is because Char’s images are available for sale. Let me know if you are interested in any of the photos featured here…