BAHAMA WOODSTARS: JEWELS IN ABACO’S CROWN


Bahama Woodstar Hummingbird, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

BAHAMA WOODSTARS: JEWELS IN ABACO’S CROWN

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.

BIRD POLL FV2

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

 

“HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU”: DO SOMETHING GREEN!


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Delphi, Abaco (Craig Nash)

“HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU”: DO SOMETHING GREEN!

Today is the 46th Earth Day, a global event to encourage ecology and conservation, and to discourage the spoiling of the planet by mankind. What becomes lost now may never be retrieved. Plant a tree. Grow some bee- or butterfly-friendly flowers. Clear a patch of beach of plastic trash. Recycle stuff. That sort of thing. 

Atala Hairstreak Eumaeus atala – DelphiAtala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Gulf Fritillary Agraulis vanillae – Neem FarmGulf Fritillary, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

I’d lined up some horror-images of plastic-filled birds, entangled turtles, damaged reefs and so forth, of which I have a depressingly large archive. Then, in a spirit of *vogue word alert* positivity I scrapped that miserable idea and decided instead to celebrate some of the natural wonders that can be found on Abaco. 

BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT – one of Abaco’s 5 ENDEMIC BIRDSBahamas-Great Abaco_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer

CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD (f) preening – Gilpin PointCuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Some signal species serve as a continuing tribute to those who work to conserve them. The gorgeous ABACO PARROTS, now saved from the brink of extinction – and currently establishing a new colony on New Providence. The rare PIPING PLOVERS that find a safe home to spend their winters on Abaco’s beaches. The 5 ENDEMIC BIRD species. The WHALES & DOLPHINS that populate the waters. The west-indian MANATEES, until very recently almost unknown for Abaco yet now providing a curious addition to the scene as they visit their favourite haunts.

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALE (m) approaching the BMMRO research vesselBlainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 14 (Keith Salvesen

BOTTLENOSE DOLHIN, Sandy Point (about to dive under the boat)Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 7

Habitat protection has been provided over substantial areas on both land and sea by the creation of natural parks and preserves. These have very recently been extended by the establishment of 4 large PROTECTED AREAS for East Abaco Creeks, Cross Harbour, the Marls and the South Abaco Blue Holes, a wonderful reward for a great deal of hard lobbying by conservation organisations and by many concerned individuals. 

QUEEN ANGELFISHQueen Angelfish ©Melinda Stevens Riger / G B Scuba

BANDED CORAL SHRIMPBanded Coral Shrimp ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

Scientific research and conservation work is continuously carried out in Abaco waters. The CORAL REEFS that form the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world; the BLUE HOLES that lead to wonderful caves and cathedral caverns of crystal; the vast area of the MARLS and the species that rely on the mangrove swamps; the MANGROVES themselves: all these are watched over and monitored for ways to protect them best for future generations. 

PIPING PLOVER pair, Delphi (taken last month)Piping Plover pair, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

PIPING PLOVER on AbacoPiping Plover, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

I’ve mentioned trees and plants. There are a variety of well-known sources for both on Abaco – on the mainland, anyway, and maybe some cays. Any will advise on bee and butterfly attractants. Thinking of which, bird seed feeders and hummer sugar water feeders are cheap and guarantee the interest of garden and coppice birds, and during the winter months some brightly coloured migrants such as buntings and grosbeaks. 

HIBISCUS – DelphiHibiscus, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

 BOUGAINVILLEA  – DelphiBougainvillea, Delphi, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Bird of Paradise flower STRELITZIA – Marsh Harbour (seemingly on a steep slope!)Bird of Paradise Flower (Strelitzia) Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU!

RALPH’S CAVE South AbacoRalph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk)

Credits: all images RH except: Abaco parrot, Craig Nash; Bahama yellowthroat, Gerlinde Taurer; Angelfish & Shrimp, Melinda Riger; single piping plover, Bruce Hallett; Ralph’s Cave, Brian Kakuk

“FIVE YEARS HARD LABOUR” (NOT!) & A PARROT TO PROVE IT…


Abaco Parrot 12:15

“FIVE YEARS HARD LABOUR” (NOT!) AND A PARROT TO PROVE IT

I was reading about sea cucumbers online when a small golden Trophy flashed up on my screen, top right. It was mine genial host ‘WordPress’ to remind me that today is the fifth anniversary of this blog. Good grief! Time flies when you are having fun. 

So I packed in the sea cucumbers and decided to post a single image that stands for much of what this blog has been about over the five years – the promotion of Abaco’s wildlife, ecology and conservation in particular; and of the attractions of main island and its cays in general. The excellent contemporary bluesman Seasick Steve (such a great name) has an album called “I started with nothing and I’ve still got most of it left”. This blog was started on a whim from nothing, with a near-zero knowledge base and me blundering about in the darkest blogosphere. It’s still pretty dark out there, but I seem to have got the hang of a few things along the way. My thanks to the 1100+ followers and the 300,000+ people who have hit the site over the five years. Without you guys and the encouragement I have received, the whole exercise would have ground pointlessly to a halt at an early stage… Instead, Rolling Harbour will keep on erratically rolling along.

Let the parrots have their say…

(Photo & sound recording from Bahama Palm Shores, RH)

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 RARE SPOONBILL VISITS GILPIN POND, ABACO


Roseate Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)4

A RARE SPOONBILL VISITS GILPIN POND, ABACO

In past posts I have mentioned what an excellent birding place Gilpin Point has become. There’s the large pond; and right beside it, dunes, the other side of which is a fine secluded beach and the ocean. The place is a magnet for birds of all shapes and sizes, from brown pelicans down to the tiny endemic Bahama woodstars. There are water birds, wading birds, shorebirds and coppice birds. It has become a place where Abaco parrots regularly congregate. You can reach the Gilpin FB page HERE.

A while back, there was a rare visitor, a Flamingo that stayed a few months then disappeared again. It was in some ways a sad reminder of past flamingo glory days, when they were commonly found on Abaco. Now they are confined to Inagua apart from the occasional vagrant. For more on the the topic, with wonderful photos by Melissa Maura of the breeding season on Inagua, click HERE. Another rare vagrant – formerly quite plentiful on Abaco – was recently found at Gilpin by Keith Kemp, who skilfully managed to get photos of it from some distance away: a Roseate Spoonbill.

Roseate Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)2

I have featured spoonbills before in a post IN THE PINK, but the photos were taken on New Providence by Woody Bracey. I had no Abaco spoonbill photos. To be fair, we did once see one while we were bonefishing far out on the Marls. It was on the edge of the mangroves a good distance away, and the pale pink tinge caught my eye. My photo with an iPhone 4 (the one with the risibly cr@p camera – remember?) was so utterly pathetic that I dumped it (the photo, I mean, but the phone soon followed). But we knew what we had seen, and that was enough.

roseate-spoonbill                roseate-spoonbill               roseate-spoonbill

STOP PRESS 1 I should add that a friended visited the pond after the side-effects of Hurricane Joaquin had receded, and the spoonbill had gone. So the spoonbill alone would not make the journey worthwhile!

STOP PRESS 2 A check of eBird reveals that a handful of spoonbills have been reported in Northern Bahamas this year, about 6 in all. Almost none before that. I have the impression that birding intensity in The Bahamas, coupled with the ease of uploading reports to eBird, will increasingly make a difference to the incidence of sightings of uncommon and rare species, cf the recent WHIMBRELS of Grand Bahama.

Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)3

GILPIN POINT LOCATION

Gilpin Point is just south of Crossing Rocks. The brackish pond – sometimes an alarming reddish colour that I assume is algal – is just inland from the shoreline and provides a wonderful haven for birds. It’s a long mile from the highway. There is no vehicle nor even human traffic apart from occasional birders and walkers. Please note that the drive and the property are private. However Perry Maillis is always welcoming to tidy birders who (as I have written elsewhere) bring only enthusiasm and take only photographs (though a picnic on the beach is worth considering. And maybe a swim…). 

Helpful location mapsGilpin Map 1 Gilpin Map 2 Gilpin Map 3

WHAT SPECIES MIGHT BE FOUND AT GILPIN?

A brief list includes regular visits from parrots. It’s the only place we have found a furtive little sora skulking in the reedy margins. It’s a reliable spot for herons and egrets of every kind, white-cheeked (Bahama) pintails by the score, black-necked stilts and lesser yellowlegs. Occasionally a northern pintail, ruddy duck or merganser. Turkey vultures. Limpkins. We’ve seen belted kingfishers, Bahama woodstars, cuban emeralds, american kestrels, Bahama swallows, doves, pigeons, western spindalis and many more coppice birds besides. One flamingo. One spoonbill. Pelicans have been seen on the rocks on the beach. Shorebirds include turnstones, sundry plovers & sandpipers, and oystercatchers. You may well see tropicbirds and frigate birds off-shore, and assorted gulls and terns. I can’t personally be more species-specific  because I have never ‘shorebirded’ properly there, but I have noticed an impressive mix…

When we launched THE BIRDS OF ABACO at the Delphi Club, we were delighted that Pericles was able to come to the party. He took a few photos and I’m sure he won’t mind my including a small gallery to end with, featuring a couple of the Gilpin entries in his signed copy.

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Bahamas birding nobility: Tony White with Caroline Stahala; Woody Bracey & Bruce Hallett
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Credits: Keith Kemp for the great spoonbill photos; Perry for the Delphi photos

ABACO’S BIRDING HOTSPOTS (42 OF THE BAHAMAS TOP 100)


Black-necked Stilt, Abaco (Tom Sheley)

ABACO’S BIRDING HOTSPOTS (42 OF THE BAHAMAS TOP 100)

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

RELATED POSTS

AUDUBON’S ‘PRIORITY BIRDS’ ON ABACO

ABACO BIRDS FOUND IN NYC (& VICE VERSA)

THE BIRDS OF ABACO”

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

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

BAHAMA PINTAILS ON ABACO (WITH YELLOWLEGS PHOTOBOMB)


Bahama (Whitecheeked) Pintail with Lesser Yellowlegs, Gilpin Point, Abaco

BAHAMA PINTAILS ON ABACO (WITH YELLOWLEGS PHOTOBOMB)

I’m not going to pretend that these are particularly meritorious bird photos in any way. We were at Gilpin Point pond, always a good place to see birds and now an area that has regular parrot fly-pasts (and hang-around-squawkings). It’s the only place we have found a furtive little sora creeping guiltily around the reedy margins. It’s a reliable spot for herons and egrets of all kinds, white-cheeked (bahama) pintails by the score, black-necked stilts and lesser yellowlegs. Occasionally a northern pintail. I’ve seen belted kingfishers, bahama woodstars, cuban emeralds, american kestrels, spindalis and many more coppice birds besides. Pelicans have been seen on the rocks on the beach. Always worth a try! One day perhaps I’ll make a checklist… **

A ‘Preening of Pintail’ with a lesser yellowlegs feeding happily (if blurrily) behind themBahama (Whitecheeked) Pintail with Lesser Yellowlegs, Gilpin Point, Abaco

Less than a minute earlier… PHOTOBOMBBahama (Whitecheeked) Pintail with Lesser Yellowlegs, Gilpin Point, Abaco

The photobomb was a complete surprise, but I managed to snap the more elegant landing…Bahama (Whitecheeked) Pintail with Lesser Yellowlegs, Gilpin Point, Abaco

** As a postscript, I see that Pericles Maillis posted on eBird his very brief bird count at Gilpin pond and on the beach a couple of days after I posted this. He saw

  • 3 Blue-winged Teal (‘first sighting of bw teal for 2015 migration’)
  • 20 White-cheeked (Bahama) Pintail
  • 1 Great Blue Heron
  • 1 Snowy Egret
  • 2 Tricolored Heron
  • 5 Green Heron
  • 2 Killdeer
  • 2 Ruddy Turnstone
  • 10 Laughing Gull
  • 1 Caribbean Dove
  • 8 House Sparrow

Pics: RH