ABACO PARROTS, SURVIVAL & RESEARCH: POST-DORIAN UPDATE


Abaco Parrot, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

ABACO PARROTS: SURVIVAL & RESEARCH

A POST-DORIAN UPDATE

The unique and symbolic parrots of Abaco have become quite a focus of attention now that some kind of normality is returning to the devastated island. Utilities and supplies are being sorted out gradually (and with unavoidable setbacks). There are some signs of optimism in the air – and some parrots too.

Abaco Parrot, Bahamas (Erik Gauger)

SO, AFTER THE HURRICANE ARE THERE ANY PARROTS AROUND?

At Bahama Palm Shores, the most ‘parroty’ of all the communities in south Abaco, Tara Lavallee was the first to see – and photograph – a pair on Sep 25th, nearly 4 weeks after Dorian struck. Over the next 10 days, and thanks to Janene Roessler’s work, I compiled a record of reports and sightings and mapped them. There were 12 in all, from Crossing Rocks in the south to Winding Bay in the north (25 – 30 miles as the parrot flies). 

Abaco Parrot, Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian (Tara Lavallee)

THE FIRST POST-DORIAN PARROTS

ABACO PARROT SIGHTINGS MAP BETWEEN SEP 25 AND OCT 4

The interactive map works like this (in theory at least). You can expand the map using the cursor, double clicks, or 2 fingers until you have enlarged the target area sufficiently to click on the individual coloured parrots. For each one, the sighting details are given with as much information as was available. The colour key is this:

  • Maroon – First sighting 
  • Blue – sighting with some details (eg numbers)
  • Yellow – sighting with little detail
  • Purple – flocks of 10 +

Abaco Parrot, Bahamas (Craig Nash)

IS ANYONE LOOKING AFTER OUR PARROTS?

By the turn of the century the parrot population had become unsustainable, having fallen below 1000, and their extinction was imminent. Since then, many organisations (eg BNT) and people have been involved in the reversal of the decline through intensive anti-predation and conservation measures. All this work continues so that the future of the parrots is assured. The rough estimate pre-Dorian was of c4000 birds.

Abaco Parrots, Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

WHAT ABOUT NOW, AFTER THE STORM?

As I mentioned in a previous post, a survey team including Abaco’s former parrot scientist Caroline Stahala Walker (now with Audubon) were planning a trip to Abaco once access became possible. They have just arrived on-island, and will be assessing the effect of Dorian both on the wildlife and on the habitat. This will include the parrots, and other ‘signal’ birds too. I expect these will include the endemics, the speciality birds (eg the woodpeckers), and some shorebirds including (I hope) piping plovers. They will also bring feed and feeders and give advice about care of the birds.

Caroline wrote “I wanted to let everyone know we have a team going to Abaco for surveys and setting up feeders starting tomorrow. The logistics were tough enough to piece together but it certainly would not have happened without all of your help. I will post pictures and update after the trip, not sure what internet situation will be like while there. Thanks everyone! You made this happen.”

CAROLINE’S GO FUND ME PAGE: CLICK THE LOGO

Abaco Parrot, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Some years ago Caroline and I put together a tiny booklet about the parrots, mainly for the benefit of guests and visitors at the Delphi Club. We asked for $5 – 10 donations for the birds. There were 2 editions. Later, I turned it into an ‘moving booklet’ with added music (that you can turn off!). Some people may have seen this elsewhere online recently. The middle section on the parrot nests in the National park, the chick-care, and the associated breeding research may be of particular interest. The pics are cute!

Thanks to all who contacted me to say there was an issue with the version of this booklet originally posted – a ‘privacy settings’ problem, as it turned out. I’ve exchanged it for a different format version, which is also a bit clearer… 

Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 6); Erik Gauger (2); Tara Lavallee (3); Craig Nash (4); Peter Mantle (5, 7)

Thanks to Tara, Janene and Caroline

Abaco Parrots Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

ABACO BAHAMAS POST-DORIAN: HOPE & THE ICONIC PARROTS


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Craig Nash)

ABACO BAHAMAS POST-DORIAN: HOPE & THE ICONIC PARROTS

As the intensive Hurricane Dorian relief operation continues on a devastated Abaco, the extent of the destructive power of the huge storm is all too evident. Gradually restored communications and the availability of social media have circulated far and wide the awful photos and aerial views of the smashed island, and the tragic stories of loss and desolation. Accounts of astonishing courage, determination and generosity are for all to see. And, nearly 4 weeks later, we have early signs of recovery and grounds for hope in a stricken land.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Caroline Stahala Walker)

For the last 10 days or so, inquiries about Abaco’s birds and other wildlife have begun and are increasing daily. I take this as a sign that people are at last able to look slightly beyond the immediate horrors of the storm to the brighter horizon of the future. The iconic parrots are the principle concern, and finally – finally – I have some good news to bring. Here it is, in all its glory.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas post hurricane Dorian (Tara Lavallee)

I have been waiting anxiously to pick up the first reports of parrot sightings – or even of their raucous squawks. This iPhone photo was taken yesterday at Bahama Palm Shores by Tara Lavallee. You are looking at the first photograph of the parrots since the end of last month. This pair were apparently wary and jumpy – quite unlike the unselfconscious rowdy birds with which we are so familiar. There was a sighting near Casuarina, too. It looks as though the parrots are returning.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Caroline Stahala Walker)

WHERE HAVE THE PARROTS BEEN IN THE MEANTIME?

The parrots live and breed in the Abaco National Park right down in the south of the island. This is a vast area of pine forest that gives way to scrubland as it nears the coast. The assumption is that the approaching storm will have driven the parrots deep into the forest where, happily, they will have been some distance away from the destructive path of the hurricane. Many creatures can sense the approach of bad weather from changes in the air around them. This may trigger an instinct to head for home some time before the threat arrives. 

ONCE THEY GET THERE, WHAT DO THEY DO?

They lie low. The parrots have an additional and most unusual way to stay safe. They can avoid the dangers of adverse weather and even forest fires because they live and nest underground in limestone caves deep in the National Park.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Caroline Stahala Walker)

HOW RARE IS THAT?

The Abaco parrot (as opposed to its tree-nesting cousins in Inagua and in small numbers in Nassau) is unique in this respect, certainly in the northern hemisphere. There are half-a-dozen mostly inter-related species in the Antipodes that nest underground, but that is all. Even if the caves get flooded, limestone is a permeable rock and water will dissipate. And as for fires, the holes are deep enough for the flames to pass over them. Tree-dwellers are far more vulnerable.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Caroline Stahala Walker)

DOES THIS MEAN THE PARROTS ARE ALL SAFE?

It’s much too early to judge, because there is another vital component in their survival: the availability and sufficiency of suitable food. This is the factor that most worries those concerned with the parrots’ welfare – the BNT, the scientists and naturalists who helped to bring the species back from the edge of extinction, and organisations further afield such as Birds Caribbean. So it’s a question now of where they will find to feed; and beyond that, how they respond if they find their usual feeding haunts trashed. 

Feeding on Gumbo Limbo berries, a favourite snackAbaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

SIGHTING REPORTS

The signs are that the parrots are now emerging and looking for food. With luck their presence will become more noticeable. This is an important moment for collecting stats. They will help research into the effect of Dorian on the population including the wellbeing of the birds, their flocking behaviour, and the locations they now find to their liking. The fact that parrots have been seen at BPS, the parrot hotspot, is encouraging. 

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (from a photo by Craig Nash))

If anyone sees or even hears parrots over the next couple of weeks I’d welcome a report either directly or indirectly. The most helpful details are date, time, location and approx numbers (1, pair, a few, lots). Beyond that, behaviour notes are of interest – feeding, chattering, hanging round, being unsettled and so on. A photo is always a bonus, even a phone one. 

Parrot Crossing sign Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Do not doubt the resilience of these beautiful birds. Now that the threat of extinction has been removed through skilled  conservation, management and predator control, they will win through. If you doubt it, just look at this image below. It shows a nest in the immediate aftermath of hurricane Irene, with its occupant safe and sound as the parents forage for food and parrot scientist Caroline nips in with her camera.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Caroline Stahala Walker)

Credits: Craig Nash (1, 9); Caroline Stahala Walker (2, 4, 6, 7, 11); Tara Lavallee (3); Keith Salvesen (5, 10); Gerlinde Taurer (8); Melissa Maura (12)

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Melissa Maura)

THE SYMBOL OF A RESILIENT BAHAMAS: BAHAMA PARROTS


ABACO (BAHAMA) PARROT for Hurricane Dorian (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

THE SYMBOL OF A RESILIENT BAHAMAS

 THE BAHAMA PARROT

Hurricane Dorian makes landfall on Abaco later today. The island has been in an unwavering direct line for several days, gaining force to Cat. 4** while slowing down as it approaches. The skies have darkened, the seas are turbulent, danger to humans, wildlife, property, landscape is imminent.

** UPDATE just before landfall today, Dorian strengthened to a rare and very dangerous Cat. 5 hurricane. This is when not just property and land is threatened, but life itself. Early reports are of flooding and structural damage. Now is not the moment to pick through the information filtering through. Better to assess the impact after the storm has passed on to the north-west, where it is currently headed via Grand Bahama.

When we first became involved with Abaco, the parrot numbers were believed to be fewer than 1000, a barely sustainable population. An intensive, continuing conservation program over several years has seen the numbers treble or more. This recovery is as much due to the resilience of the species as to human intervention. 

The parrots will be lying low in the National Park, some in the limestone caves they nest in during the breeding season. As humans take equivalent protective measures we are watching from a thankfully safe distance. We wish the very best of luck to our friends, and to all on the island and its cays during the next 48 hours.

Abaco Parrots in limestone cave, breeding season (Caroline Stahala)

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)

THE ‘ABACO’ PARROTS OF NASSAU: FEEDING TIME


Abaco (Cuban) Parrots in Nassau - Melissa Maura

THE ‘ABACO’ PARROTS OF NASSAU: FEEDING TIME

New Providence, Bahamas – specifically in Nassau itself – now has a small population (c.15) of Cuban parrots. Their origin is debated, since the only known Bahamas breeding populations of these birds are on Abaco (underground nesting in limestone caves) and Inagua (conventional nesting).  There’s more on the (probable) provenance of the New Providence birds HERE and HERE.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrots in Nassau - Melissa MauraAbaco (Cuban) Parrots in Nassau - Melissa Maura

Whatever the location, the nesting arrangements or the precise origin, one fact is certain: these beautiful birds are prodigious eaters of fruit. Here are a couple of the Nassau parrots tucking in with relish on a sunny day. Soon they will fly off to other fruit trees nearby, emitting their loud excited squawks, to continue their day of feeding…

Note the wide businesslike spread of the clawsAbaco (Cuban) Parrots in Nassau - Melissa Maura

All photos: Melissa Maura, with thanks as always – and for a great new parrot header image…

LIMESTONE CAVES ON ABACO: WELL WORTH LOOKING INTO…


Abaco Parrot nest (Caroline Stahala)

LIMESTONE CAVES ON ABACO: WELL WORTH LOOKING INTO…

I have written several posts in the last few months featuring Brian Kakuk’s amazing photos of the underwater caves of Abaco. These caves, mostly beneath Abaco’s pine forests, are fabulous treasures of rock and crystal. A recent post example can be seen HERE. I have also featured some of the famous Blues Holes of Abaco from time to time, for example HERE. So now it’s time to turn attention to ‘land caves’, the dry(ish) limestone holes and caverns that are dotted around Abaco, especially in the South, and bear witness to aeons of geological development through erosion.

The coppice and extensive pine forests are pitted with holes of widely varying sizes. I’m way out of my depth here, geology-wise (polite corrections invited), but this sort of landscape is I believe known as KARST. This term presumably includes Abaco’s ‘dry’ holes, the blue holes and the substantial network of underwater caverns. Small examples can readily be found in easily accessible places such as non-dense coppice. We were very surprised when we pushed our into the coppice bordering the Delphi Club guest drive and took a closer look at a hole. Although the weather was hot and dry at the time, you will see that the hole has some form of micro-climate, with damp walls and interior and wet-climate plants like small ferns and forms of what I take to be moss and algae.

ONE OF MANY LIMESTONE HOLES BESIDE THE DRIVES AT DELPHILimestone Hole, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

A HOLE NEAR HOLE-IN-THE -WALL – LARGER INSIDE THAN IT LOOKS 

Limestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco01  Limestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco03

THE CAVE-DWELLERS OF ABACO: THE FABULOUS PARROTS

Among the best-known special residents of Abaco are the ground-nesting parrots, gorgeous birds that I have often featured in the past – see the parrot page HERE. Not so long ago, their numbers had reduced to an unsustainable population – fewer than 1000 – that faced extinction. The creation of the National Park covering the pine forests where they breed, coupled with a vigilant and intensive conservation program, have reversed the trend. There is now a sustainable breeding population again, exceeding 3000 birds.  

The only other breeding Cuban parrot population in the Bahamas is found on Inagua, where they nest conventionally in trees. There is a very small non-breeding population on New Providence. Abaco’s cave-dwelling subspecies of the cuban parrot is unique. Here’s an insight into how they live, deep in the pine forest, during the summer breeding season, with many thanks to Caroline Stahala, the scientist who spent some 10 years researching and protecting the parrots.

PARROT NEST HOLES: VULNERABLE TO PREDATORS, PROTECTED FROM FOREST FIRESLimestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala) Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala)

PARROTS MAY NEST DEEP – OR SHALLOW. Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala)Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala)

THE BREEDING SEASON: NEST, EGGS, HATCHLINGS, FLEDGELINGS…Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots 08Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala)Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala)Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala)

HOW BIG DO THE ‘DRY’ HOLES GET?

TBH my personal experience is somewhat limited. I believe there are large, sea-scoured caves along rocky parts of the south coast, but those are rather different from the eroded ground holes discussed here. As so often I rely on Mrs RH – far more intrepid than me – and her exploring skills. The cave shown below is right down at the far south of Abaco, at Hole-in-the-Wall, hidden in the coppice along the ‘Soldier Road’ from the T-junction (we are talking rough tracks here – very – not proper roads) towards the lighthouse. 

Soldier Road Sign, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco

Limestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco15Limestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco16Limestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco06Limestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco13

The rock is far more colourful than you  might expectLimestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco09

Credits: Caroline “The Parrot Lady” Stahala; Mrs RH for investigating the last cave and taking the camera with her; RH the rest; Woody Bracey for our great day of birding at Hole-in-the-Wall and his local knowledge of the area… 

ABACO PARROT CHICKS FOR 2014, TOP POSTS & A DODO…


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 8

ABACO PARROT CHICKS FOR 2014, TOP POSTS & A DODO…

The dawn of a New Year shimmers just below the horizon, with all its bright promise for the future. It  provides a convenient excuse to peer symbolically into the limestone holes of the remarkable ABACO PARROT to take a peek at some newly hatched eggs and the tiny chicks that will, by next spring, look like the handsome bird at the top of the page…Abaco Parrot Nest 3 Abaco Parrot Nest 4 Abaco Parrot Nest 5

This website is not overly preoccupied with stats, but I have had a quick look to see which posts were the most popular during 2013. Here, for better or worse (I didn’t make the choices…), are the top dozen, introduced by the cutest chick of the year, a Wilson’s plover calling for its mum…Tiny Wilson's Plover for 2014

ABACO ARTS & CRAFTS    
SEA SHELLS    
LIGNUM VITAE – BAHAMAS NATIONAL TREE    
YELLOW ELDER – THE BAHAMAS NATIONAL FLOWER    
ABACO FOOD & DRINK (cook hog / bonefish; clean a conch; sip an Abaco cocktail / Goombay Smash)    
FLORA    
ABACO MAPS    
SPIDER WASPS & TARANTULA HAWKS: DON’T MESS WITH THESE GUYS    
PINEAPPLES: SYMBOLS OF WELCOME & WEALTH (ALSO, DELICIOUS)    
SHARKS & RAYS    
ABACO & HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, BAHAMAS: A SHORT HISTORY IN MAPS    
ABACO PARROTS    
 

So! Farewell then 2013. Like the Curate’s egg, you were good in parts – indeed, many parts of you were excellent. Now, like Raphus cucullatus, you will become extinct, leaving remains and memories behind you… Thanks to all loyal followers of this site for sticking with it and its eccentricities (especially the musical digressions). If you wound up here by chance, mistyped g@@gle search or sheer misfortune, cheers… A very Happy New Year to you all! 

Dodo AMNH NYCPhoto taken at the American Museum of Natural History – there’s also a dodo skeleton in the Oxford University Museum of natural History

Credits: Parrot nests – Caroline Stahala (the scientist i/c parrots); the rest – RH