RUFF & READY: YET ANOTHER BIRD FIRST FOR ABACO


Ruff, Grand Bahama, Bahamas (2015) Duncan Mullis

THE FIRST RUFF IN THE BAHAMAS

RUFF & READY: YET ANOTHER BIRD FIRST FOR ABACO

The list of new bird species recorded for the Bahamas in general and Abaco in particular continues to grow longer. At the end of August it was a CANADA WARBLER (now also recently seen on Grand Bahama and possibly New Providence). Now, a mere 4 weeks later, it’s a Ruff (Calidris pugnax), a mid-sized Eurasian shorebird that, it seems, has a tendency to ‘vagrate’ across the Atlantic from time to time.

Ruffs: the normal range

Ruff, (N. America) Dick Daniels

You have to take new birds as you find them, of course. First, you may not have a camera with you to record the sighting for posterity. Secondly, the bird may not be perched prettily on a twig or a small rock. In this instance the legendary Woody Bracey found his Ruff in the prosaic and arguably unattractive setting of the Treasure Cay dump. He didn’t have a camera, and when he next went back with a camera to check for the bird the ruff had gone…

Ruff (m, non-breeding) J.M.Garg

Woody’s bird, a female (known as a Reeve), was standing next to a Lesser Yellowlegs. They are much the same height, but there the similarity ends – Ruffs are unmistakably plumper and with a shorter bill. Woody has good reason to recognise these rare and occasional transatlantic visitors, having often seen Ruffs both during his time living in the UK, and also in Africa. I’ve seen the appearance described as “like a gravy-boat”, which is well up there with the least useful descriptions of a bird’s appearance I have come across. Looked at another way, we have a couple of gravy boats that have an occasional outing. Neither looks remotely like a ruff.

Ruff (Old Print) nederlandsche_vogelen wiki

IS THE ABACO RUFF A NEW SPECIES FOR THE WHOLE BAHAMAS?

Very nearly… but not quite. Only two previous Ruff sightings are recorded, in 2015 and 2018, and both in the same area on Grand Bahama, towards West End. And the only photo is from birder Duncan Mullis, who in 2015 took the first and maybe only one of a Reeve with a bunch of much smaller sanderlings (see also header image close-up).

The first ruff in the BahamasRuff - Grand Bahama, Bahamas (Duncan Mullis 2015)

WHAT SHOULD WE KNOW ABOUT RUFFS?

In the breeding season in particular, male ruffs are very different from the smaller reeves. They acquire a spectacular colourful plumage that includes a sort of ornamental collar (hence the name). They enhance their courtship rituals with elaborate displays designed to impress the reeves. These occur in chosen areas known as leks, places where strutting, preening and general competitive showing off occur to attract a mate. Such arenas are also created by a few other bird species – grouse, blackcock and peafowl, for example. The ruff’s lekking behaviour has some complex variations – including same-sex ‘copulation’ and polyandry – but sadly this isn’t the place to explore them in detail.

WHAT DOES A LEK LOOK LIKE?

Here are two males with very different breeding plumages, giving it their all at the lek… When Carl Linnaeus described the ruff in his Systema Naturae, he gave it the binomial name Tringa pugnax, the latter word meaning  ‘aggressive’ – the lek can also become a combat zone between competing males.

Ruff Lek (Arjan Haverkamp) wiki

This male has decided to vogue it and ‘strike the pose’ as it preensRuff - male preening (B.S.Thurner-hof, wiki)

Writing in The Spruce, a new multi-interest resource I discovered in researching this article, Melissa Mayntz describes succinctly some of the common behaviour seen at leks. This includes some (or all) of the following (baby-boomers and dad-dancers may recognise some of these moves):

  • Bowing, dipping, or bending
  • Head bobbing or quick turns and nods
  • Strutting, stomping, kicks, or similar footwork
  • Exaggerated wing postures, such as fluttering, drooping, or spreading wings
  • Tails fanned, flared, cocked, or spread
  • Chests puffed out, often to reveal air sacs or distinct plumage
  • Calling, songs, drumming, or booming sounds
  • Dance-like sequences with multiple movements, possibly coordinated between partners after a female shows an interest in a specific mate

To which I’d add aggressive male territorial rivalry within the lek, leading to physical attacks with beak, claws and wings. Meanwhile the females watch from the edge to assess their chosen mates. The illustration below shows this rather charmingly.

Illustration of a lek by Johann Friedrich Naumann (1780–1857)Ruff Lek - Johannes Naumann

There’s a lot to be described about how ruff’s moult, but it’s not especially interesting for anyone but a moult specialist, so instead you can have a reminder of Ogden Nash’s last word on the topic: ‘The song of canaries / Never varies / And when they are moulting / They are pretty revolting…’ And we’ll leave migration as well, since basically that factor is N/A for our particular part of the world.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
JUST OUT OF CURIOSITY, CAN YOU EAT RUFFS / REEVES?
In former times ruffs were considered a delicacy and were eaten in large numbers. Often they would be fattened in pens in preparation for the table. I’ll finish with an old description: 
…if expedition is required, sugar is added, which will make them in a fortnight’s time a lump of fat: they then sell for two shillings or half-a-crown a piece… The method of killing them is by cutting off their head with a pair of ‘scissars’, the quantity of blood that issues is very great, considering the size of the bird. They are dressed like the Woodcock, with their intestines; and, when killed at the critical time, say the Epicures, are reckoned the most delicious of all morsels. Not a 21st century culinary trend I hope…

Ruffs in India (J. M. Garg)

Credits: Woody Bracey (sighting smarts); Duncan Mullis (1, 5); Dick Daniels (2); J.M.Garg (3, 9); Open Source / Wiki, prints (4, 8);  Arjan Haverkamp (6); B.S.Thurner-hof (7); Melissa Mayntz / The Spruce re Leks; debt to Wiki (and other O/S) for source material, photos, range map etc

PLOVER SKILLS: A GOOD ‘SPOT’ BY MRS RH


Little Ringer Plover, Normandy France (Keith Salvesen - crop)

PLOVER SKILLS: A GOOD ‘SPOT’ BY MRS RH

Still in France, il still fait beau etc, “le wee-fee” still a crockful of merde so picture posts not really possible. But there is a good ‘spot’ to report. Annoyingly (only slightly), not my own sighting but thanks to Mrs RH’s increasingly astute bird smarts on a stretch of the Seine estuary. Somewhere amidst the stones, sand, and puddles she noticed a tiny movement. And then expertly pointed out the mover by reference to a small pool and a larger pale rock. It was at least 100 feet away, a distance that I’d normally need an energetic egret to get my attention. But through the viewfinder I could just make out a tiny bird of ploverish appearance. Having downloaded my speculative distance shots taken for ID purposes, the bird turns out to be a Little Ringed Plover. Here is my sighting ID photo of the header crop showing more of the available view. Good ‘spot’ indeed!

Little Ringer Plover, Normandy France (Keith Salvesen)

Normal service resumes next week – unless we decide to stay here, which would be delightful though not exactly convenient or practical…

Photo credit: a joint effort I think…

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY – ABACO’S 33 SPECIES (1): LARGER BIRDS


Whimbrel numenius phaeopus (Andreas Trepte / wiki)

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY – ABACO’S 33 SPECIES (1)

LARGER BIRDS

Today, September 6th, is World Shorebirds Day. Every year, a Shorebird of the Year is selected by the organisers of this global event, and this year they have gone ‘large’. Perhaps in response to the declining populations of curlew species, they have chosen a fine representative – the whimbrel. Inconveniently – and although the whimbrel is a worldwide species – it is extremely rare on Abaco. In the definitive Abaco Checklist (see below), it is coded a TR4, i.e. a very uncommon transient with a handful of sporadic reports. Until last year, sightings were very few and far between. Then suddenly last autumn, they made a small migratory comeback. You can read about it HERE.

BLACK-NECKED STILT  Himantopus mexicanus  PR B 3Black-necked Stilt, Abaco - Tom Sheley Black-necked stilt, Abaco - Alex Hughes

Abaco is home to 33 shorebird species. Like the human residents of the main island and cays, some are permanent; some are winter residents arriving from the north to enjoy a warmer climate; and some are transients – visitors that pass through a couple of times a year on their way from and to their nesting habitats. 

CHECKLIST OF ALL 33 SHOREBIRDS

The definitive checklist of Abaco’s birds was compiled especially for the BIRDS OF ABACO by Bahamas Birding author and authority, the late and much missed Tony White, with Abaco’s bird expert Elwood Bracey. Below is the shorebird list, with a photographic selection of the larger and/or longer-billed shorebirds in checklist order. Yes, including an Abaco whimbrel.

The codes will tell you, for any particular bird, when you may see it (P = permanent, WR = winter resident, TR = transient, V = vagrant); whether it breeds (B) on Abaco; and your chance of seeing it, graded from easy (1) to vanishingly unlikely (5).

AMERICAN AVOCET Recurvirostra americana   WR 4
American Avocet, New Providence - Tony Hepburn

AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER  Haematopus palliatus PR B 2American Oystercatcher, Abaco 5.1 Tom Sheley

GREATER YELLOWLEGS  Tringa melanoleuca   WR 2Greater Yellowlegs LR. Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley.2.12 copy 2

LESSER YELLOWLEGS  Tringa flavipes  WR 3Lesser Yellowlegs.Evening on the Marls.Abaco Bahamas.2.13.Tom Sheley small2

WHIMBREL Numenius phaeopus TR4 (an Abaco one)

HUDSONIAN GODWIT Limosa haemastica [V5]

Like the whimbrel, this bird is another special bird to be able to include. Until last October, it was categorised as a V5, meaning that one or perhaps 2 vagrants had ever been seen on Abaco. Then one appeared on a pond and was spotted by Woody Bracey and, a few days later, by Keith Kemp – who even took confirmatory photos. You can read the story HERE.
Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Stewart Neilson)

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER  Limnodromus griseus  WR 1Short-billed Dowitcher (NB), Abaco - Bruce Hallett 

LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER  Limnodromus scolopaceus   WR 4Long-billed Dowitcher Mike Baird Wiki

WILLETT  Tringa semipalmata  PR B 2Willet.Abaco Bahamas.2.13.Tom Sheley small

WILSON’S SNIPE  Gallinago delicata   WR 3Wilson's Snipe, Abaco - Woody Bracey

RELATED POSTS

WHIMBREL

WILLET

BLACK-NECKED STILT

AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER

HUDSONIAN GODWIT

YELLOWLEGS

DOWITCHERS

Photo Credits: Andreas Trepte / Wiki (1);Tom Sheley (2, 5, 6, 7, 13); Alex Hughes (3);Tony Hepburn (4); Charmaine Albury (8, 9); Stewart Neilson / Wiki (10); Bruce Hallett (11); Mike Baird / Wiki (12); Woody Bracey (14)

LEAST BUT NOT LAST: TINY SANDPIPERS ON ABACO


Least Sandpipers Calidris minutilla, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

LEAST BUT NOT LAST: TINY SANDPIPERS ON ABACO

Least Sandpipers Calidris minutilla, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

Least Sandpipers Calidris Minutilla are the smallest ‘peeps’ to be found on Abaco. There are plenty of other sandpiper species, but none so tiny as these. Take a look at the image above. See them? All 3 of them? Just look at their size in comparison with the mangrove stems.

Least Sandpipers Calidris minutilla, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

I took these photos from the sharp end of a skiff a few days ago, way out on the Marls and with a fishing rod tucked under one arm. We were on a drift along the shoreline, and these little guys were foraging on the water’s edge as we silently floated past.

Least Sandpipers Calidris minutilla, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

They were quite unperturbed by our presence, being far too busy feeding to be bothered with us. I have usually seen these little birds on the beach, busy in the wrack-line rootling out goodies. There, they look very small – but not nearly as tiny as when foraging among the mangrove stems.

Least Sandpipers Calidris minutilla, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

I debated whether to do some cropping to magnify the details on the page, so to speak, but then I decided that these very sweet creatures deserved their own space without the indignity of close inspection. Context is all.

Least Sandpipers Calidris minutilla, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

These mini-sandpipers may be Least by name, but they are very far from last in my personal list of favourite peeps. There are some down on the beach right now, but there’s some cloud cover today… I’ll wait for the sun to catch them in the best light.

Least Sandpipers Calidris minutilla, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

SPOT THE LEAST SANDPIPER

Least Sandpipers Calidris minutilla, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

All photos: Keith Salvesen

SANDERLINGS ON DELPHI BEACH, ABACO BAHAMAS


Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

SANDERLINGS ON DELPHI BEACH, ABACO BAHAMAS

Looking back through some bird photo folders from last year, I came across these sanderlings that I photographed on the beach at Delphi. These little birds are far from rare, but watching a flock of them scuttling back and forth on the sand, in and out of the tide, is always a treat. And as you will notice, when they are foraging in earnest they not only stick their bills into the sand right up to the base… they go for total immersion of the head!

Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

All photos: Keith Salvesen, Rolling Harbour Abaco

SANDERLINGS ON ABACO: GOTTA LOVE ‘EM


sanderling-on-delphi-beach-abaco-keith-salvesen-7

SANDERLINGS ON ABACO: GOTTA LOVE ‘EM

Sanderlings. Wind them up with the concealed key under their left wing, and they will charge up and down the beach for an hour or two, pausing only to rip some small unsuspecting mollusk or crustacean from its sandy bed. These birds are tiny. And smart. They know all about how a retreating tide will expose the goodies. They are even happy to plunge their heads right under water (#2). They’re not really jumpy, if you don’t push your luck or have a dog with you. The best ploy of all is to find a flock near the tideline, choose a place to lie comfortably in dry sand (with a camera, I mean, otherwise you may look look a bit strange), and wait for them to come into range. Usually they are so busy, what with all that rushing around and feeding, that they will ignore you. So the hard part, after you have taken some photos, is catching the little so-and-sos to wind them up again…

sanderling-on-delphi-beach-abaco-keith-salvesen-1sanderling-on-delphi-beach-abaco-keith-salvesen-3sanderling-on-delphi-beach-abaco-keith-salvesen-2

VIDEO 1 In which we notice the scuttling and scooting around of sanderlings on a mission

sanderling-on-delphi-beach-abaco-keith-salvesen-4sanderling-on-delphi-beach-abaco-keith-salvesen-5sanderling-on-delphi-beach-abaco-keith-salvesen-6

VIDEO 2 In which we admire bathtime in a tide-pool and assorted comings & goings…

All photos and movies RH

A NEW BIRD FOR ABACO: BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER


tryngites_subruficollis_-tim-lenz-wiki-sm

A NEW BIRD FOR ABACO: BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER

I’d best make it clear at the outset that, in the very narrowest sense, the buff-breasted sandpiper (Calidris subruficollis) is not strictly a new bird on Abaco. Tony White’s authoritative official checklist for Abaco, valid back to 1950 or so, does actually include the species. It is classified as a ‘V5’, which is to say a vagrant that is vanishingly rare – indeed may only have been sighted on Abaco once or perhaps twice before. Ever. The only category rarer than V5 is H for hypothetical, which essentially means that there is some unconfirmed report of a bird that it might not be outrageous to suppose might be blown onto Abaco. A penguin, therefore, would not qualify even for an H. 

buff-breasted-sandpiper-abaco-keith-kemp-1

A few days ago, beyond a shadow of a doubt this small shorebird was seen on Abaco by Keith Kemp, and photographed by him too. He is having an excellent year with his birding: this may well be the jewel in the crown for him. So even if one of these little guys was once spotted on an Abaco twig in 1961, Keith is definitely the first person to get a photo!

UPDATE (next day!) Abaco birder-in-Chief Woody Bracey has solved the mystery of the previous sighting – it was he himself who saw a BBSP “years ago” at the less-than-glamorous yet excellent-for-birding Marsh Harbour ‘Dump’.

buff-breasted-sandpiper-abaco-keith-kemp-2

As it happens, some weeks ago a BBSP was also spotted at West End, Grand Bahama by Linda Barry-Cooper. I featured a guest post from her about the fall birds in that region HERE. Woody Bracey also says that he and Bruce Hallett saw 2 BBSPs at West End early this season. Erika Gates and Martha Cartwright saw one on the GB Reef golf course at the end of August. So these birds are around in the northern Bahamas, and perhaps it’s not such a surprise after all that one should have gone on a little expedition to Abaco to check out the undeniable joys of Winding Bay.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

The buff-breasted sandpiper is a long-distance migrant, breeding mainly in the open arctic tundra of North America, and overwintering mostly in South America, especially Argentina. Its route takes it overland – the central flyway – rather than over coasts, but as it happens, as a species it is a bit of a wanderer. These birds a regularly found in Europe – including the UK – and although I am sure a sighting there must generate a great deal of excitement, they are not considered extremely rare. They have even been found, very occasionally, in South Asia and Australasia. 

tryn_subr_allam_map

So maybe it’s no surprise that the odd one turns up on Abaco. Maybe they do so every year, but only the keenest eye will spot one. And after all, there are many remote beaches on Abaco that are only very occasionally – if ever – visited by humans. Perhaps that’s where the BBSPs congregate…

buff-breasted_sandpiper_tryngites_subruficollis_magnus-manski-wiki-sm

In the breeding season, males collect on display grounds, or “leks,” to attract females. This helpful description comes from Audubon: “The leks are spread out, each male defending an area of up to several acres. The male displays by raising one wing, showing off the white underside. If females approach, the male spreads both wings wide, points its bill up, and shakes its body. One male may mate with several females; the male takes no part in caring for the eggs or young.” Typical, huh?

buff-breasted-sandpiper-mario-suarez-porras-wiki-sm

CONSERVATION STATUS

The BBSP is another bird that has been hit badly by the passage of time. By which I mean, of course, by mankind. At one time they were deemed ‘abundant’. Around 100 years ago a serious decline set in, not least because people were shooting them during their migration. Nonetheless, in 1988 the IUCN assessment was ‘lower Risk/least concern’. Then another slide began. By 2000 it was  ‘lower Risk/near threatened’. Since 2004 it has been ‘near threatened’. Why? Largely because the habitat for migrating and wintering birds has been destroyed or degraded. 

WHAT DO I LISTEN OUT FOR?

Xeno-Canto / Bernabe Lopez-Lanus

The BBSP page from the excellent Crossley ID guides (available via WikiMedia Commons)618px-buff_breasted_sandpiper_from_the_crossley_id_guide_eastern_birds

Credits: Tim Lenz, Keith Kemp, Magnus Manski, Linda Barry-Cooper, Cornell Lab (range map), Mario Porras, Crossley Guides, Bernabe Lopez-Lanus @ Xeno-Canto, Audubon, Wiki.