THE MYSTERIOUS ‘ABACO PARROTS’ OF NASSAU


Nassau Parrots (1) Melissa Maura

THE MYSTERIOUS ‘ABACO PARROTS’ OF NASSAU

Where did they come from, and when did they arrive on New Providence? And how? The conventional wisdom is that the Cuban Amazon or rose-throated parrots (Amazona leucocephala) exist in the Bahamas only on South Abaco (from Marsh Harbour down to the National Park) and Inagua. The species is arguably (but not as yet officially) divisible into two subspecies. On Inagua, the parrots behave as you’d expect, including in their breeding and tree-nesting habits. Conversely, the parrots of Abaco nest underground in limestone holes and crevices in the National Park at the southern end of the island. This very distinctive habit makes them vulnerable to predators of course. On the other hand, there is good protection from the forest fires that pass rapidly and harmlessly  through the scrub above them, yet which would make tree-nesting extremely hazardous. It would be interesting to know if the parrots of Abaco have always done this; or whether they were originally tree nesters who adapted their behaviour to meet changed conditions in their habitat.

Nassau Parrots (2 of 5) Melissa Maura

WHEN DID THE PARROTS ARRIVE IN NASSAU?

The BAHAMA PARROTS OF NASSAU LOCATOR group was set up on Facebook in early 2012 by Shelley Cant-Woodside. Lynn Gape of the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) was also involved from that early stage. The stated purpose of the group was “to help locate the increasing reports of parrot sightings on NP in general and Nassau in particular”. This suggests an increased awareness of an existing intrusion of the colourful and noisy Cuban parrots, a species hard to mistake or ignore. At the other end of the time-scale for their arrival on NP, when omniscient and much-missed ornithologist Tony White published his comprehensive checklist for each Bahama island in his Birder’s Guide to the Bahama Islands (inc. TCI) in 1998, no record existed of a sighting of a Bahamas parrot on NP. Abaco and Inagua, yes. But nowhere else. So that gives less than a 14-year window for a parrot influx.

Nassau Parrots - Lynn Gape

SO HOW DID THEY GET TO NP?

There are realistically two possibilities. Either two or more captive parrots on NP (including a male and a female!) escaped or were released on NP; or were brought to NP and freed. Alternatively, says another theory, a flock of parrots in the Abaco National Park were caught up in a hurricane, and involuntarily relocated to the nearest land in the confusion. It could of course be both (Helpful Reader: “…or neither?”). Shelley tells me: I know that ARDASTRA GARDENS (Nassau Zoo) positively identified Bahama Parrots on New Providence as early as 2004, which is when I worked there. We were told at the time that some folks had purposely released them. I doubt that it is related to hurricanes”.

Nassau Parrots (Sandy Cunningham)

RELEASED BIRDS

This theory is by far the most likely one, and is supported by anecdotal evidence. Even so, it is not entirely straightforward. I don’t know what protection was afforded the parrots in the Bahamas in the early 2000s, but certainly there were captive birds; and indeed there was and is a market for this species of Amazona further afield – Cuba for example, and (to my huge surprise) the UK, where a single bird may be had for £380 ($500). But even assuming the existence of a few males and females, they would have needed to breed. And there are few, if any, contemporary reports of parrot nests in trees; or of chicks or juveniles. If these bright, noisy birds were new to Nassau around 2004, they must surely have attracted some attention if they were breeding and spreading from then on.

Nassau Parrots (3) Melissa Maura

HURRICANE MAELSTROM

I have taken a look at several Bahamas hurricanes and tropical storms between 2004 (the Ardastra ID) and 2012 (Locator page founded). Tracking and intensity information rules out most of them. It’s fair to say that the paths of the storms are almost invariably from the south / east veering west / northwards. You might think that a parrot flock could not be carried by hurricane 50 miles in the opposite direction, from the south of Abaco to New Providence. But perhaps disorientation and self-preservation play their parts – a psittacine instinct to fly away from the danger, in the opposite direction from its path, towards where the weather is calmer.

Hurricane Irene tracking pathHurricane Irene_2011_track

WHAT’S THE ANSWER, THEN?

To check the rival theories, I asked well-known scientist and parrot expert Caroline Stahala for her views. This authoritative opinion leads to the conclusion that the Parrots of Nassau result from escape, or release from captivity, perhaps supplemented by later importation.

“I know people like the ‘hurricane’ theory but there isn’t much support for it, especially since we did get reports through-the-grapevine that someone had released these birds. They did show up after a serious hurricane season Frances/Jeanne etc [2004] but thats probably because their housing in Nassau was damaged or the person who had them couldn’t take care of them properly. During hurricanes, parrots don’t fly away, they hunker down and ride out the storm. Amazon parrots absolutely do not like flying over large bodies of water, their wings are designed to be super manoeuverable in forests, not for distance flights, so the chance that they would fly over water during a hurricane is very very slim.  Not to mention a whole group of them (6-12)”. 

On the other hand, it’s not that simple. Lynn Gape (BNT) comments: “I heard the hurricane theory differently. I was told that someone thought that the parrots flew to Nassau with a flock of White Crowned Pigeons after one of the hurricanes. The thought being that although they do not like to fly over water, they were really in need of food and felt there would be strength in numbers for the flight”.

Nassau Parrots 3 (Neill Pritchard)

WHERE CAN I FIND THEM?

Almost all reported sightings have been in East Nassau. Occasional sightings have been reported outside that area but the overwhelming majority are within the RED oval on the map below, with the hotspot area within the ORANGE oval. I base this both on the Locator page and also the somewhat sporadic eBird reports.

Nassau Map 2 v2 jpg

SO THE NASSAU PARROTS MUST BE BREEDING, RIGHT?

Parrot sighting reports are increasing but that fact, as I have discovered on Abaco, does not necessarily suggest an increasing population. Increased citizen enthusiasm and awareness is also linked to increased bird reporting, as is the advent of simple reporting systems such as social media posts, eBird and so forth. However the impression I get from reading the Locator posts is that, while evidence of actual population growth is unclear, numbers may be being maintained despite an inevitable attrition rate. The Locator has sad images of 2 known casualties, causes of death unknown.

Nassau Parrots (Lynn Gape)

WHERE ARE THEY NESTING, THEN?

It seems that, unlike Abaco, there is no secluded forested area on NP with suitable limestone terrain to provide underground caves. Therefore the parrots must be finding other suitable cavities, the most obvious being in trees. As far as I can make out, there have been very few – if any – reports of juvenile parrots being seen. For that matter, there have been none of nesting behaviour either – a pair of parrots in a tree preparing a nest, taking turns on the eggs, foraging for food for the chicks, or squawking flying instructions at the fledglings**. So perhaps there is an unfrequented area of coppice on NP, some distance from the bustle of Nassau, where all this takes place in midsummer. By the time they put in an appearance in the town, they have already grown to young adulthood.

**COMMENT On the question of evidence of  nesting behaviour, Lynn Gape says: “I have seen four parrots in my garden, and they exhibited behaviour similar to what I have seen with adult and juvenile parrots on Inagua – calling for food, and adults feeding them. So possibly there may have been some successful breeding”. 

This recent photo (below) by Ian Coerbell shows the sort of tree cavity that according to Caroline Stahala might be a possible nesting site. She says:

“I did document a nesting pair of Abaco parrots in Nassau. The nest was in a tree cavity. However, as long as the birds have been there, the numbers do not seem to have increased. For some reason they aren’t very successful on NP. Melissa Maura rehabbed a young Abaco parrot that was found malnourished & dehydrated in Nassau. She ended up releasing it but we don’t know what happened to it.” 

Nassau Parrots : ?Nesting site (Ian Coerbell)

Cat Binks has commented that she believes there is a nesting location in an overgrown lot adjacent within the ‘hotspot’ area. She sees them most evenings, sometimes as many as six. Cat also confirms that “enthusiasm and awareness has increased… I’m getting daily feedback about fly-overs [in the hotpsot area]”.

A parrot and chick in a limestone cave nest on AbacoLimestone Holes & Abaco Parrots 09

HOW MANY OF THEM ARE THERE?

The BNT gave this estimate of numbers a few years ago: “There is a very small population (less than ten individuals) on the island of New Providence”. I suspect it is difficult to make a reliable estimate of numbers now. The birds are unbanded, and there is a considerable risk of double-counting when the sightings are of 2 or 3 at a time, in different locations over a very small area. I think it’s possible that the number has reached double figures, and that in any event it is not diminishing despite some casualties. 

Caroline points out that there is a good chance of interbreeding between feral Amazon species in Nassau that ‘hang out’ with the so-called Abaco parrots: “That would basically make the Bahama parrot population a hybrid and not of much conservation use. Having said that, I still think its really neat that the birds are there and I hope everyone enjoys seeing them in a natural setting. Hopefully we can find out more about them in the next few years”.   

Lynn comments: “With regards to the interbreeding with feral parrots that does not seem to be a problem at this time – we did at one time see them with a Yellow Nape Amazon but that bird has disappeared; and according to Caroline Stahala they will not breed with the Black-headed Parakeet. We thought that the birds did nest in a large tree right on Parliament Street. Caroline Stahala and Predensa Moore investigated but did not find conclusive proof. However the timing would correspond with the time when Melissa found and took care of the young parrot”.

Nassau Parrots 2 (Neill Pritchard

WHAT ARE THE HAZARDS FOR THE PARROTS?

Numerous, as you’d imagine, especially in an urban setting, though the birds may have adapted their behaviour to an extent to avoid some of the obvious dangers. There is evidence that some birds are already adapting to urban life, as this recent photo shows. Two parrots have teamed up with a black-hooded parakeet (presumably escaped or released from captivity) to investigate a vehicle and maybe play with the windshield wipers… Nassau Parrots *(with black-hooded parakeet) Tim Colclough

STOP PRESS Parrot in a Gumelemi tree, Skyline Heights, Nassau. A great shot by Linda J Clews, with thanks. The parrots have sadly stopped coming to her property since the clearance of coppice to make way for the golf course of the Baha Mar development – an example of the effects of habitat loss on wildlife.Cuban Amazon Parrot, Nassau (Linda J Clews)

ARE THEY PROTECTED, OR CAN WE CAGE THEM OR SHOOT THEM?

Yes, and no, and definitely not. According to the Bahamas National Trust “Bahama Parrots are protected under the Wild Birds (Protection) Act. It is illegal to harm or capture or offer this bird for sale. The Convention for the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) list the Bahama Parrot in Appendix 1 meaning that it is a species which is near extinction or very endangered”.

If anyone would like to know what a flock of these wonderful but uninhibitedly raucous birds sounds like, this is a short recording I made at Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco (an excellent hotspot for them incidentally). 

USEFUL LINKS

NASSAU PARROT LOCATOR

BNT PARROT FACT SHEET

ABACO PARROTS

A true Abaco Parrot at Bahama Palm Shores…
Abaco (Cuban) Parrot (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: Shelley Cant-Woodside and Caroline Stahala for information and advice; Locator page members for active or tacit use permissions; photos by Melissa Maura (1, 2, 5); Lynn Gape (3, 7); Sandy Cunningham (4); Neill Pritchard (6, 10); Ian Coerbell (8); Caroline Stahala (9); Tim Colclough (11); Linda Clews (12); Keith Salvesen (13)

A GALLERY OF GORGEOUS: ABACO BIRDS ON DISPLAY


Abaco Parrot (Duncan Mullis)

A GALLERY OF GORGEOUS: ABACO BIRDS ON DISPLAY

Occasionally I feature birds photographed elsewhere than on Abaco – GRAND BAHAMA, for example. Almost always they are birds that are recorded for Abaco but are rarely encountered there (and even more rarely photographed). The ROSEATE SPOONBILL, for one. Or they may be birds that have come very close to Abaco but not quite reached the island… the WOOD STORK for example.

Today, I am showcasing some birds photographed on Abaco by Duncan Mullis during a trip from Grand Bahama. My selections from his trip are chosen to showcase colourful birds, endemic birds, and favourite birds of mine. Yours too, I hope. 

ABACO (CUBAN) PARROTSAbaco Parrot (Duncan Mullis)Abaco Parrot (Duncan Mullis)

Two of the species were new to Duncan. One was the Bahama Mockingbird.

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDBahama Mockingbird, Abaco (Duncan Mullis)Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco (Duncan Mullis)

The other new species for Duncan was the PEARLY-EYED THRASHER. Until last March, this species had never been recorded on Abaco. Then one turned up in Treasure Cay and has stayed there ever since.  It is the latest of several ‘new species’ found on Abaco in the last couple of years. To read about the discovery by Woody Bracey click on the link above or below.

PEARLY-EYED THRASHERPearly-eyed Thrasher, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Duncan Mullis)

YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco (Duncan Mullis)

BAHAMA SWALLOW (ENDEMIC)Bahama Swallow, Abaco (endemic) (Duncan Mullis

SMOOTH-BILLED ANISmooth-billed Ani, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Duncan Mullis)

YELLOW WARBLERYellow Warbler, Abaco (Duncan Mullis)Yellow Warbler, Abaco (Duncan Mullis)

Credits: all photos by Duncan Mullis, with many thanks for use permission

ABACO PARROTS: BRIGHT GREEN, RED & BLUE = HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Pair (Melissa Maura)

ABACO PARROTS: BRIGHT GREEN, RED & BLUE = HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU

Painted buntings in the last post. And now some Abaco parrots. To adopt the joyous strangled yell of Noddy Holder (Slade, 1973, “Merry Christmas Everybody”)** “It’s….. CHRISTMASSSSSSS“. Abaco’s famous and unique ground-nesting parrots are about as seasonally festive as you could wish for. Bright, colourful, noisy and impossible to ignore. The run-up to Christmas is the perfect moment for a gallery of these fine birds that are making a very promising recovery from near-extinction thanks to intensive conservation measures over the last few years. There’s a caption competition at the end, too. Post your idea as a comment and there even may be something it it for the winner…

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Pair (Melissa Maura)Abaco Parrots (Peter Mantle)Abaco Parrot (Keith Salvesen)Abaco (Cuban) Parrot (Craig Nash)

INTERMISSION

Abaco / Cuban Parrot (Bruce Hallett)Abaco Parrot eating Gumbo Limbo fruit. Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)Abaco (Cuban) Parrot (Keith Salvesen)

CAPTION COMPETITION

It’s Christmas. Season of Good Will. But what on earth is going on here…?Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Pair (Melissa Maura)

Credits: Melissa Maura (1, 2, 9), Peter Mantle (3), Keith Salvesen / RH (4, 8), Craig Nash (5), Bruce Hallett (6), Tom Sheley (7); Audio recorded by RH & Mrs RH at Bahamas Palm Shores

**  FESTIVE MUSICAL DIGRESSION (OPTIONAL)

[youtube https://youtu.be/0A8KT365wlA]

A QUARTER OF A MILLION GLIMPSES OF ABACO…


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Abaco, Bahamas  (Keith Salvesen)

A QUARTER OF A MILLION GLIMPSES OF ABACO…

Well here’s a rum do. About four years ago, this somewhat minority interest blog emerged ‘mewling and puking’¹ into the world, guided by an incompetent male midwife whose basic training had been about 4 weeks of exposure to Abaco, its fishing, its wildlife, its geography and its history. ‘Bananaquit’ might as well have meant taking up a plantain-free diet. ‘Grassquit’ might have been the local word for ‘keep off the lawn’. And that’s before all the flowers. And the reef fish. And everything else that turned up during the storm-wracked voyage of discovery via polydamus swallowtails, manatees, spider wasps and batfish that led slowly to the calmer waters of ‘rather better informed (if no wiser)’. 

Anyway, at midnight last night some unknown person kindly made the 250,000th visit to the blog, a target that once seemed inconceivable. In the past month, the 1000th person also signed up as a follower, another source of amazement. The reality is that despite Abaco being a sparsely-populated microdot island in a huge world, there are a great many people on the island or associated with it who are passionate about it and its extraordinarily diverse natural history. That knowledge makes curating this blog both easy and pleasurable. 
RH Stats clip

I checked my stats for the last year to find out where hits from the top 10 countries – and for fun the bottom 1o – came from. Here’s the answer. Rather shamefully there was also a country I had never knowingly heard of, Palau (Micronesia). There follows a selection of a few photographs that have been popular over the years, mostly my own but the underwater ones are from Melinda Riger and Virginia Cooper of Grand Bahama Scuba.

Top 10                                                                   Bottom 10
Top 10 countries jpg   Bottom 10 countries jpg

Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas  (Keith Salvesen)Western Spindalis, Abaco, Bahamas  (Keith Salvesen)Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco, Bahamas  (Keith Salvesen)Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco  (Keith Salvesen)Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)French Angelfish (juv), Bahamas (Melinda Riger)Four-eyed Butterflyfish ©Melinda Riger @GBSCowfish ©Melinda Riger @ GB ScubaOctopus ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama ScubaNassau Grouper, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)Blacktip Shark ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba copy 2Curly-tail Lizard, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Atala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Bird of Paradise Flower (Strelitzia) Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Hibiscus : Polydamus Swallowtail, Delphi Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Yellow Elder Hope Town, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

SEARCH TERMS

The most popular searches – omitting posts about hurricanes, which always generate a lot of traffic – have concerned Abaco Parrots, Lignum Vitae, Sea Glass, the Loxahatchee poster series, Tarantula Hawk Wasps, Sea Biscuits / Urchins, Yellow Elder, Parrotfish, Shipwrecks, Hutias, Hole-in-the-Wall, Lionfish, Remora, and Abaco Maps. The most leftfield search of all was ‘How dispose of dead bodies?’, by someone who had clearly strayed into the wrong category of website…

A FEW OF THE MOST POPULAR POSTS / PAGES
SEA SHELLS
SPIDER WASPS & TARANTULA HAWKS: DON’T MESS WITH THESE GUYS    
ABACO FACTS (including likelihood of adverse shark encounter or shipwreck)    
ABACO MAPS    
LIGNUM VITAE – BAHAMAS NATIONAL TREE    
YELLOW ELDER – THE BAHAMAS NATIONAL FLOWER    
SEA URCHINS & SEA BISCUITS – BEACHCOMBING TREASURES ON ABACO    
ABACO FOOD & DRINK (cook hog / bonefish; clean a conch; sip an Abaco cocktail / Goombay Smash)
ABACO & HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, BAHAMAS: A SHORT HISTORY IN MAPS    
PINEAPPLES: SYMBOLS OF WELCOME & WEALTH (ALSO, DELICIOUS)    
ABACO ISLAND BOA: THE ONLY ABACO SNAKE    
WHALES & DOLPHINS    
ABACO PARROTS    
FLORA

It would be strange to end this little celebration without a tip of the hat to Peter Mantle, old friend and genial doyen of the Delphi Club, for his wholehearted encouragement and support for the production and publication of THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO. This hefty tome, published in March 2014, showcases the wonderful and varied avian life on Abaco and has proved very popular – indeed well beyond our expectations. Although I appear nominally as author on the cover, it is in fact an extraordinary collaborative effort by some 30 people. The book’s success further demonstrates the commitment of Abaconians and other who love the island to Abaco’s rich natural heritage in an age of  rapid change; and provides another good incentive for me to continue with the blog. Next stop: 500,000!

¹ © W. Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet Act 2 Sc. 7

dcbg2ba-jacket-grab-for-pm-v2-copyShark Gif

CARIBBEAN ENDEMIC BIRD FESTIVAL: NASSAU BIRDERS VISIT ABACO


DSC00298_3

CARIBBEAN ENDEMIC BIRD FESTIVAL: NASSAU BIRDERS VISIT ABACO

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

FESTIVE BIRDING ON ABACO WITH GUEST BIRDER VELMA


Abaco Parrot, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

FESTIVE BIRDING ON ABACO WITH GUEST BIRDER VELMA

Velma Knowles is a resident of Nassau but originates from Abaco, where her grandparents lived. She is a keen photographer and birder, and recently spent a few days ‘back home’ on Abaco, staying on Man-o-War Cay during that strange ‘Christmas to New Year’ period that people have begun to refer to uncomfortably as ‘Twixmas’. Which I guess goes well with ‘Winterval’, if that neologism to describe the festive season rocks your sleigh. 

Obviously, Velma had her camera with her; and a bit of quality birding was built into her schedule. Man-o-War has been having a prolific winter season, birdwise, with plenty of interesting migratory species passing through or settling there till Spring. But who would be content with a random warbler from the North, when there are Abaco’s specialist birds to encounter. Many of the birds featured – all are permanent residents – were seen on Man-o-War; others on the main island, though not actually at Delphi. Every bird shown can readily be found at Delphi, except perhaps for the Royal Tern, hence a few mentions. Let’s see how Velma did during her brief visit. (Spoiler Alert: very well indeed!).

ABACO PARROTS

A first ‘get’ for anyone’s Abaco checklist, and hence the header image. Not available on the Cays, so a trip to the ‘mainland’ and the wild pine forest and coppice of South Abaco is called for (they don’t venture north of Marsh Harbour). Rescued from the brink of extinction by careful conservation measures, the newly regenerating population of these unique underground-nesting parrots is gradually spreading, making them easier to find. During the day, Bahamas Palm Shores is a likely spot, as are locations to the south, including Delphi and the area around Crossing Rocks down to Gilpin Point. 

Abaco Parrot, Abaco (Velma Knowles)Abaco Parrot pair, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

BAHAMA WOODSTAR

Abaco’s lovely endemic hummingbird, rather pushed around by the brash incomer Cuban Emerald and therefore tending to avoid  them (though both can be found at Delphi). The MALE CUBAN EMERALD has a striking purple throat aka ‘gorget’; the female (below) encountered by Velma has a more delicate colouring.

Bahama Woodstar, Abaco (Velma Knowles)Bahama Woodstar, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

CUBAN EMERALD

Unlike the Woodstar, these pretty iridescent green hummers are not endemic yet are more frequently encountered. They fly and change direction with astonishing speed, and are feeder-keen! Your sugar-water feeder will also attract Bananquits (pointy curved beak for the little holes) and West Indian Woodpeckers (long tongue) – and possibly Woodstars.Cuban Emerald, Abaco (Velma Knowles)Cuban Emerald, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER   

Splendid and occasionally noisy birds that nest in boxes under the eaves at Delphi. They produce two families a year. Velma writes “It has been a long wait but I finally saw this lifer, the West Indian Woodpecker. This bird is only found in The Bahamas, Cuba and the Cayman Islands. Awesome call!”West-Indian Woodpecker, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

WESTERN SPINDALIS

Velma writes “One of my targeted birds, the Western Spindalis, formerly called the stripe-headed tanager. On the way from the airport we spotted him on the side-of-the-road. Now that’s island-birding!”Western Spindalis, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

 BANANAQUIT

One of my own  favourite small birds. Irresistably cheery, busy and ubiquit(-ous) Bananaquit, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

THICK-BILLED VIREO

Velma writes “Such a beautiful call… the Thick-billed Vireo. We heard a number of these guys on our bird-walks. The Thick-billed Vireo is a Caribbean endemic, being restricted to The Bahamas, the Caymans, the Turks and Caicos, two islands off of Cuba and one off of Haiti (though it has been reported in Florida)”Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH

The adult male’s striking colour patches are orange-red; the female’s are more yellow. They are greedy at the feeder and rank high up in the pecking order, where smaller birds defer to them. One local name for them is ‘Police Bird’: the adult male’s colouring matches that of a Bahamian Police Officer’s uniform.

Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERON (juvenile)  Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

ROYAL TERNRoyal Tern, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

ROYAL TERN SYNCHRONISED DIVING SCHOOL, LONG DOCK, CHEROKEE

At 770 feet, this dock is the longest in the entire BahamasRoyal Terns at Long Dock, Cherokee, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

All photos: Velma Knowles, with thanks for use permission

“BEAUTIFUL BAHAMA BIRDS”: NEW BAHAMAS BIRD BOOK REVIEW


ABACO PARROTS MM 2

“Over the Moon” (Abaco Parrot / Melissa Maura)

“BEAUTIFUL BAHAMA BIRDS”: NEW BOOK REVIEW

Published 2014 ~ 128pp ~ $20, available from the BNT

A fine new book on the birds of the Bahamas has recently been published by the BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST and BIRDSCARIBBEAN. Compiled and edited by well-known Bahamas bird guide CAROLYN WARDLE  with the BNT’s Lynn Gape and Predensa Moore, this slim book is packed with valuable information. It doesn’t set out to be an exhaustive field guide, a task already fully covered by Bruce Hallett’s indispensable Birds of the Bahamas and the TCI. Nor is it anything like my own photographic tome ‘Birds of Abaco’, differing in scope and intention, and weighing a mere 225 gms as opposed to 2 kilos! Beautiful Bahama Birds is eminently a book for the pocket, day bag or backback, to be carried along with your Hallett.

I have illustrated this review with photos of sample pages of the book, invariably the best way to give a clear impression of this kind of publication. Apologies that some of my images are a bit wonky, my copy being new and individual pages being hard to keep flat…

Beautiful Bahama Birds 1 Beautiful Bahama Birds 2

The photographs throughout the book are mainly the work of Linda Huber and the late Tony Hepburn. I was fortunate enough to be able to use some of Tony’s photographs for my own book, given with unreserved generosity; it is a fitting tribute to him that his images have now been published in Beautiful Bahama Birds, and that it  is dedicated to him.Beautiful Bahama Birds 3

An idea of the broad scope and of the book and its usefulness to the birder can be gained from the contents pages, which I reproduce here. Click to enlarge them. The book is arranged in 3 parts: Let’s Go Birding; Field Guide to 60 Common Birds; and Conservation Now.

Beautiful Bahama Birds 4Beautiful Bahama Birds 5b

PART 1 offers plenty of useful information and practical advice about birding in general (I wish I could have read this before I started my own book!). Anyone who loves birds will benefit from this whole section, even if they would not call themselves a birder – especially Chapter 3 ‘Getting Closer to Bird Life’.

Beautiful Bahama Birds 6  Beautiful Bahama Birds 7

PART 2 All 5 Bahama endemics are featured in the main section, which is handily divided  very broadly into ‘waterbirds’ and ‘land birds’. Some birds are commonly found on most islands; some have more limited range: for example the Bahama Oriole is now found only on Andros; and breeding populations of the Cuban Parrot are found only on Abaco and Inagua (the increasing number of sightings on New Providence give some hope for a breeding population there too). I’ve chosen the parrot because the underground-nesting subspecies on Abaco is so special; and the Flamingo and Bahama Oriole, both very sadly extirpated from Abaco in recent memory.

The illustrations by Tracy Pederson and Kristin Willams are clear and highlight well the identifiers for each species. Where necessary, species variations are shown, for example between sexes, breeding / non-breeding plumage and adult / immature. This can be a confusing and even fraught area (as I constantly find), which this book usefully addresses.  Some birds in flight are also shown to aid ID.

   Beautiful Bahama Birds 8 Beautiful Bahama Birds 9

Beautiful Bahama Birds 10

PART 3 covers the National Parks, important birding areas of the Bahamas, conservation matters, and a charming section on birds in Bahamian culture. Appendices include lists of Bahamas native plants and their importance for wildlife; National Parks and Protected Areas; important birding areas of the Bahamas; a Checklist; a Bibliography; and a user-friendly Index (not all are…).

 Beautiful Bahama Birds 13 Beautiful Bahama Birds 12

A good Checklist is a vital ingredient for any birder, whether visitor or local. Here, all the species occurring on the islands are shown on the left and their residential status and range throughout the islands across the top. Thus at a glance you can tell whether a given species is found on a particular island and when it may be found there. You would know not to look for Turkey Vultures on Eleuthera at any time; and that the black-bellied plover is a winter resident throughout the region and not to be seen during your trip in June…  I also like the tick-boxes on the left for species collectors.

Beautiful Bahama Birds 11

Overall I have thoroughly enjoyed this small book and unreservedly recommend it. It does not replace Hallett, but it complements it. Furthermore, I’m sure the straightforward style and presentation will appeal to bird-loving non-birders and also to younger birders – it may even encourage some out into the field! On p.20 the recommended reading list includes books that would appeal to young readers and links to appropriate websites, a thoughtful touch. I have learnt, or been reminded of, much from reading this book a couple of times. It is a welcome addition to the relatively sparse avian literature for the Bahamas, a prime birding region that is home to an astonishingly wide variety of birds including rare, threatened and vulnerable species like the Parrots, the Kirtland’s Warbler and the Piping Plover.

BOOK LINKS

RH BOOK REVIEW PAGE

BIRDER’S GUIDE TO THE BAHAMA ISLANDS (Tony White)

JAMES BOND (LICENSED TO WATCH BIRDS…)

SAN SALVADOR BIRDS

DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO