A small tribute, in gallery form, to the unique ground-nesting Abaco Parrots. Brought back from the brink of extinction through care, skill and patience. Surviving forest fires, hurricanes, predators, incautious humans. Sweeping across the sky in raucous flocks. Squawking deafeningly in the gumbo limbo trees. Lighting up the sky with flashing green, red and blue. Noisy ambassadors for Abaco wildlife. Generally being fabulous creatures loved by everyone.
An additional treat is the inclusion of a few of parrot scientist Caroline Stahala’s wonderful photos of parrot nests in the limestone caves deep in the Abaco National Park, taken while she was researching and protecting them. In the past, I felt very privileged to be able to use them and it’s been a while since I featured any. Very few people will have seen anything like this, so today is a very good occasion to show nests, eggs and chicks.
Photographs by Nina Henry, Melissa Maura, Craig Nash, Peter Mantle, Caroline Stahala, Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour
Melissa Maura is well-known to many in the Bahamas, not least because of the wonderful work she does with injured or orphaned creatures. Thanks to the skills and compassion of Melissa and those who work with her, animals and birds of all kinds are saved from death or incapacitating injury. In the saddest cases, they are gently cared for until the inevitable occurs.
Melissa also takes terrific bird photographs, some of which I have featured in the past. Indeed my blog headline photograph is one of her parrots. I used to change the header from time to time, but this one is so cheerful that I decided to keep it in place. It always makes me smile.
Parrots are acrobatic creatures, happy to eat at all angles including completely upside down. Not just eat, though. Also bicker, flirt, play-fight, and see off rivals via inverted aggression. With the Abaco parrots, one of the benefits for the bystander is that the balancing act and consequent fluttering often reveals the spectacular blue of the birds’ wings.
In a row, it’s not unusual to see a parrot taking up a dominant position on a branch, leaving its opponent hanging on in an uncomfortably precarious position…
People often ask where on Abaco they are most likely to see the parrots. First, there are no parrots north of Marsh Harbour – they are all in South Abaco. Secondly, although they live and nest in the National Park at the southern end of the island, in practice it covers a very large area, much of it inaccessible and with the only ‘road’ something of a challenge for an ordinary vehicle (described HERE). I’d say that the single most reliable place to see the parrots is at Bahama Palm Shores. Simple turn into the north entrance, drive straight down to the end with the windows down, park up – and listen. If they are there, you’ll hear them for sure!
All photos Melissa Maura except #5, Keith Salvesen (also the sound file of parrots at BPS)
Mmmmm… gumbo limbo berries at Bahama Palm Shores. My favourite evening snack as we parrots head south to the National Park in the evening.
There’s a flock of about 60 of us tonight. I hope I’m left alone to get stuck in – there are plenty of trees to choose from here…
Uh oh! That was never going to happen. We are a noisy rowdy gang, and no one gets to eat alone for long…
This is really bad news… this guy’s hungry, and he’s swooped in higher up the branch, so he’s got an advantage.
Time to take a stand. I’m getting on a level with him. I was here first – these are MY berries… But he’s getting shouty. And there’s aggro in the air…
Right, I’m backing off here. I never did much like gumbo limbo berries, now I come to think of it… And he looks mean as hell. But wait – I’m not just going to back down. Let’s give him a little surprise to remember me by.
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.
These birds have cousins on Inagua that nest conventionally; and there are now a handful of NASSAU PARROTSon New Providence, of uncertain origin (click link for more on these).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
To be honest, the header image is not the sort of ‘fruity’ I had in mind, which was intended to have an entirely dietary connotation. I’m not quite sure what these two are up to – not procreation, I think, in that precarious situation. It looks non-aggressive… so maybe just having fun and… er… hanging out together.
Here are some Abaco parrots doing what they love to do in between group squawking sessions: gorge themselves on fruit, and getting at it any which way.
Upside down is really just a different angle to get at fruit
Noshing on berries
One in the beak, next one ready in the claw
Tackling something more substantial
And eventually out on a limb…
All great parrot photos by Melissa Maura, with thanks as always for use permission
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.
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 claws
All photos: Melissa Maura, with thanks as always – and for a great new parrot header image…
“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
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…
It’s Christmas. Season of Good Will. But what on earth is going on here…?
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
It’s been a while since the parrots of Abaco got a look-in hereabouts. Time to put that right. At the end of this gallery I will add some links to posts about the unique ground-nesting parrots of Abaco. Newcomers to this blog (I thank you both) may be interested to know that intensive conservation measures have brought this subspecies of the Cuban Parrot back from the brink of extinction – fewer than 1000 – to a sustainable and expanding population of around 4000.
For an overview of these lovely birds, I’ve made a slideshow presentation of a small booklet I put together in conjunction with scientist Caroline Stahala, who devoted several years to the research and protection of the parrots. Contents: parrots, nests, eggs, cute chicks, info, Sandy Walker with a fledgling on his lap.
Here is the noise of a flock of parrots at Bahama Palm Shores, an excellent place to find them. It’s one of the less raucous recordings that I have made! We normally go to the main (north) turning, drive straight down to the end, cut the engine and listen. I’ve usually been lucky in that immediate area around 5.00 p.m., though others may have discovered other good times of day.
The Bahamas National TrustBNTis one of several organisations in the Bahamas responsible for conservation across the widely scattered islands of the Bahamas. One of its tasks is to look after the birds and their habitat, and from time to time the Trust publishes articles about their work. The Abaco-related material below is taken from a much longer article by Predensa Moore and Lynn Gape that covers the whole area, and concerns the importance of Abaco as a prime Bird Area. This applies in particular to Little Abaco and the Northern Cays; and to the large area of South Abaco that incorporates the National Park. The bird images used show some Abaco speciality birds mentioned by the BNT in their material.
‘Rolling Harbour: The Blog’ had humble beginnings – a dodgy structure built on foundations formed of an unpromising mix of ignorance and incompetence. Gradually it has come together, to the extent that it has just passed the 125,000 visits mark. Abaco is a small and uncrowded island, so the audience demographic [to use biz-speak] isn’t large. However the wildlife, scenery and lifestyle have turned out to have a wider appeal. 1/8 of a million people (or perhaps 1 crazy punter with repetitive strain injury from checking in unhealthily often) deserve a few of Abaco’s unique parrots in return.
I THANK YOU ALL
WHERE IT ALL BEGINS – AN UNDERGROUND NEST DEEP IN THE NATIONAL FOREST
EVENTUALLY THE CHICKS HATCH…
IN DUE COURSE THEY ARE READY TO BE CHECKED OVER AND RINGED
THEY HAVE NO FEAR OF THE ‘PARROT LADY’, SCIENTIST CAROLINE
SOON THEY ARE INDEPENDENT AND DISCOVERING THE JOYS OF GUMBO LIMBO BERRIES
KEEPING A BEADY EYE OUT…
…BUT NOT ALL THE TIME
‘HOW DO I LOOK AGAINST A BRIGHT BLUE SKY?’
PARROTS HAVING AN EARLY EVENING GET-TOGETHER AT BAHAMA PALM SHORES
‘GOODNESS ME, IS THAT THE TIME? I MUST FLY…’
Credits: Caroline Stahala, Melissa Maura, RH; recording and video RH
Abaco parrots. The only ground-nesting parrot species in the Bahamas. In the world, in fact. I’ve posted quite often about them – indeed they have their own page HERE – because, frankly, they are special and their story is one of encouraging success for intensive research and conservation programs. In 1492, Christopher Columbus was amazed by the vast number of parrots he saw in the Bahamas (not that the islands were called that then). In his journal he noted: “flocks of parrots darken the sun…” Not many years ago, parrot numbers on Abaco had dwindled to fewer than 1000 – below the critical point for sustaining a viable population. Extinction of the Abaco parrot loomed, accelerated by increasing habitat change, predation, and (*euphemistically*) ‘human intervention’. Thanks to the campaign of conservation, habitat preservation, anti-predation measures and vigilance, numbers have been restored to a sustainable level, perhaps as many as 4000. They are now a fairly common sight – and sound – in South Abaco. But not everyone who looks for them finds them, or even hears them. Especially not if they take pot luck in the vast areas of pine forest in the National Park, where they breed…
I’ve covered much of this ground before, but there is a slightly wider audience these days, so a few newcomers may be interested to learn about these lovely birds. The best thing is to have a look. All photos were taken by me during two early evenings in March.
The parrots are extremely agile, and have very strong feet and claws that enable them to move around in the tree-tops – or to hang upside down if they choose to. The next photo is a close-up a foot; below that is short video showing a parrot manoeuvring itself in a tree. You’ll also see how the birds use their beaks as an extra limb, so to speak. The uninspiring title shown is only because I forgot to label it ‘Abaco Parrot’ in the first place, and can’t find how to edit it…
In this image you can clearly see how their ‘opposable’ claws wrap round a branch
If you suspect that this one has had some ‘work’ done, you’d be right. I normally leave my photos largely alone, apart from cropping and maybe basic light balancing where needed. Sometimes an image is nearly there, but needs a bit of extra cosmetic business – but one can usually tell. The left wing? Hmmmmm (users of ‘noise reduction’ will know what I am talking about!).
The flocks of parrots are incredibly noisy. Sometimes they split into two or three groups, close together, and seem to compete in raucousness. Around 5.00 pm seemed to be the noisiest time. I took recordings of the racket, using the voice memo app on an iPh*ne, simply holding the phone with the speaker / mike end towards the parrots. Some come out pretty well – good enough to post on the excellentXENO-CANTObird sound site. Here is a recording, with the first few seconds transcribed into a sonogram. I made a ring tone from this recording for Caroline Stahala, the scientist who, with her team, looks after the birds. She’s been too polite to say whether she uses it or (more likely) not!
I find the parrots very hard to nail in flight (see above), possibly because of a shutter-speed issue (mine, not the camera’s). I nearly junked the picture below, but I liked the clash of the parrot colours with the purple bougainvillea, so I spared it.
If anyone is interested in making a small contribution towards the continuing research into and protection of these birds, please have a look at myABACO WILDLIFE CHARITIESpage, where the relevant link to Parrots International can be found. Or visit doudoubirds, where you will find endearing Abaco Parrot prints by dou dou herself for sale in aid of the parrots. Or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If anyone had a problem with the Xeno-Canto sound file above, here is a simplified version of the recording