BELLA MOTHS: COLOURFUL, POISONOUS & PROMISCUOUS


Day-flying_Bella_Moth_(Utetheisa_ornatrix) on Rattlebox Blossom (Bob Peterson, Florida)

BELLA MOTHS: COLOURFUL, POISONOUS & PROMISCUOUS

The BELLA MOTH Utetheisa ornatrix is also known as the ‘ornate moth’ or ‘rattlebox moth’ (a tall spiky plant of the species Crotalaria). The italianate ‘bella’ signifies beauty and all the many synonyms for it. These moths come in colours ranging from pink to red or orange, and yellow to white. Some have vivid coloration, others are less bright. Their black dot markings are broadly similar. Moths are often thought of as creatures of the night, so daytime would not be an auspicious time for moth-hunting. In fact there are many moth species that are active during the day (‘diurnal’), and the Bella Moth is one of them. 

Bella Moth, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 1

Bella Moth, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 2

DEFENSIVE WARNINGS

The bright coloration is (as in many species) nature’s way of saying ‘leave me alone’ and in particular, ‘I am very unpleasant to eat’. It is called APOSEMATISM.  The unpleasantness derives from toxins of the plants they feed on. This starts at the larval stage. The larvae feed on plants that contain poisonous alkaloids – in particular the yellow rattlebox plant – rendering them extremely unpalatable. both as larvae and adults. Bella adults in need of an alkaloid boost may cannibalise moth eggs, pupae or larvae to counter a deficiency. 

Ornate_moth_(Utetheisa_ornatrix) Charles J Sharp wiki

BELLA MOTH SEX LIVES: ‘IT’S COMPLICATED’

  • Sexual encounters are dictated by females, who compete with other females for males
  • Females seeking to mate always outnumber available males
  • A female bella will release powerful pheromones at dusk to lure males
  • Related females uniquely engage in collective pheromone release
  • This is termed “female pheromonal chorusing”, an irresistible draw for the males
  • Several males will give the female chemical ‘nuptial gifts’ of both poison and sperm
  • The female chooses the best of her various suitors and copulates with 4 or 5 of them
  • The whole process of multiple copulation may take up to 12 hours
  • In some way I don’t understand, she is then able to select her preferred sperm provider
  • The sperm of the other males is rejected and they go away disappointed
  • Humans: do not try any of this, whether at home, in the office, in public, or when driving

Utetheisa_ornatrix (Dumi, Jamaica)

Credits: Bob Peterson (1, 6); Keith Salvesen (2, 3); Charles J Sharp (4); open wings by Dumi (5)

Bella Moth (π Bob Peterson)

GULL-BILLED TERNS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS


Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 01

GULL-BILLED TERNS ON ABACO

The gull-billed tern Gelochelidon nilotica had a name upgrade from Sterna nilotica some years ago, and was awarded the honour of its own genus. 

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 04

Let’s be clear at the outset: there’s no such thing as a tern-billed gull. Which fortunately lessens the scope for species confusion. 

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 05

There are 12 species of tern recorded for Abaco. Only one, the royal tern, is a permanent resident. There is one winter resident, the Forster’s tern and there a 6 summer resident terns of varying degrees of commonness. The other 4 are transient or vagrant, and probably definitely not worth making a special trip to Abaco to find. The G-BT is designated SB3, a summer breeding resident that is generally uncommon, though may be more common in particular areas.

gull-billed-tern

TERN TABLE**Tern Species Abaco**I know! Too tempting…

gull-billed-tern

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 11

The bird gets its name from it short, thick gull-like bill. It’s quite large in tern terms, with a wingspan that may reach 3 foot. They lose their smart black caps in winter.

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 06

There are 6 species of G-BT worldwide, and it is found in every continent. While many terns plunge-dive for fish, the G-BT mostly feeds on insects in flight, and will also go after birds eggs and chicks. Small mammals and amphibians are also on the menu. The header image shows a G-BT with a small crab. I always imagined that they must eat fish. Surely they do? But I have looked at dozens of images online to find one noshing on a fish, with no success.

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 02

All photos were taken by Alex Hughes, a contributor to THE BIRDS OF ABACO, when he spent some time on Abaco some years ago in connection with the conservation of the Abaco Parrot and the preservation of the habitat integrity of their nesting area in the Abaco National Park

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 12

‘SEXING THE HUMMER’: A GENDER GUIDE TO ABACO’S HUMMINGBIRDS


 ‘SEXING THE HUMMER’
A GENDER GUIDE TO ABACO’S HUMMINGBIRDS

The drastic effects of Hurricane Dorian on Abaco’s birdlife continue, with recent reports suggesting that all species remain affected, and some severely so. However there are signs of a slow improvement, and this good news includes the two hummingbird species, the endemic Bahama Woodstar and the Cuban Emerald. A couple of recent posts on FB indicate that sightings of both these species have been a very welcome surprise. So, a good time to write about them and to show their beauty.

Cuban Emerald (male) Abaco (Charlie Skinner)

The subject matter of this post is not as indelicate as the title might imply; nor is it a ‘hands-on’ practical guide for intimate examinations of tiny birds. In particular it does not publicise some recently discovered louche activity involving unfeasibly large motor vehicles. It’s all about plumage and recognition. And there are only two species – and two genders for each one – to wrestle with. So here are the adult male and female Bahama Woodstars and Cuban Emeralds in all their glory…

BAHAMA WOODSTAR (Calliphlox evelynae)

Bahama Woodstar (male), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)
Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)
Bahama Woodstar (female), Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)
Bahama Woodstar (female), Abaco (Tom Sheley)

 

CUBAN EMERALD (Chlorostilbon ricordii)

Cuban Emerald (male), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)
Cuban Emerald (male), Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)
Cuban Emerald (male), Delphi, Abaco (Peter Mantle)

Cuban Emerald (female), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)
Cuban Emerald (female), Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)
Cuban Emerald (female) Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)
Cuban Emerald (female) Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

And finally, a brilliant Woodstar photo taken by Tom Sheley, birdman and generous fishing partner, that I spans the boundary between wildlife photography and art. 

Bahama Woodstar female. Abaco Bahamas . Tom Sheley

Header Image: Keith Salvesen

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?): THE FROGFISH


Frogfish (Adam Rees, Scuba Works)

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?): THE FROGFISH

I have just been lightly involved in a long online thread showcasing the weirdest / most science fiction-y creatures around the world. Trust me, there are plenty. There were quite a few duplications. My own contribution was the frogfish, which no one else had nominated. They are so special – and so weird – that I am reposting my article about them. Don’t miss the last video!

frogfish-anglerfisch

This ‘WTF?’ series started with a relatively conventional species, the REMORA. It has been getting progressively more bizarre. We moved onto an omnium gatherum of WEIRDO FISHES, then the remarkable LETTUCE SEA SLUG, and most recently the BATFISH. Time to ramp up the stakes: with many thanks to scuba expert Adam Rees for use permission for his terrific photos, I present… the FROGFISH.

Frogfish (Adam Rees, Scuba Works)

The frogfish is a kind of anglerfish found in almost all tropical and subtropical oceans and seas. There are about 50 different species worldwide, covering an astonishing range of strange appearances. They generally live on the sea floor around coral or rock reefs. In size they vary from tiny to about 15 inches long – although ‘long’ is a flexible concept because they are to an extent shape-changers in height and width.Frogfish (Adam Rees Scuba Works)

FROGFISH SUPERPOWERS YOU MAY WISH TO HAVE

  • INVISIBILITY CLOAK . Frogfish are masters of disguise and camouflage. This enables them to catch their prey with minimal effort and also to avoid predators. Their camouflage methods – broadly known as ‘aggressive mimicry’ – include
    • Ability to change colour for days or even weeks to mimic their surroundings
    • Getting covered in algae and other organic matter that matches their habitat or
    • Looking inherently like a plump rock or in some cases, plant

Fear for the life of the spider crabFrogfish (Adam Rees, Scuba Works)

  • IRRESISTIBLE ATTRACTION
    • A sort of frontal dorsal fin called an illicium to which is attached a
    • Lure called an esca which may mimic a worm, shrimp or small fish etc and which is
    • Retractable in many species and
    • Regenerates if it gets mislaid

The ‘dollop of cream’ thing is the esca. Note the characteristic large mouthFrogfish (Adam Rees, Scuba Works)

Spot the escaFrogfish (wiki)

  • BUOYANCY CONTROL & SHAPE-SHIFTING
    • Most frogfish have a ‘gas bladder’ to control their buoyancy.
    • Some species can change shape or even inflate themselves by sucking in quantities of water in a so-called defensive ‘threat display’.

frogfish-black

Frogfish (Adam Rees Scuba Works) Frogfish (Adam Rees Scuba Works)

HOW DO FROGFISH REPRODUCE? 

Although not conventionally attractive creatures, frogfish clearly manage to reproduce. Little is known about the techniques in the wild, but one is probably ‘with care’, especially for a male frogfish who may not survive for long if he hangs around after fertilisation has taken place. It has been noted that females tend to select far smaller males to fertilise their huge numbers of eggs, perhaps for that very reason.

Frogfish (Adam Rees, Scuba Works)

FROGFISH FEEDING SKILLS – GOOD OR BAD?

When deploying the lure, potential prey that comes too close to that wide mouth stands no chance. A frogfish will strike in a fraction of a second. Frogfishes have voracious appetites for crustaceans, other fish, and even each other. I can do no better than borrow this vivid description of a feeding frogfish:

“When potential prey is first spotted, the frogfish follows it with its eyes. Then, when it approaches within roughly seven body-lengths, the frogfish begins to move its illicium in such a way that the esca mimics the motions of the animal it resembles. As the prey approaches, the frogfish slowly moves to prepare for its attack; sometimes this involves approaching the prey or “stalking” while sometimes it is simply adjusting its mouth angle. The catch itself is made by the sudden opening of the jaws, which enlarges the volume of the mouth cavity up to twelve-fold, pulling the prey into the mouth along with water. The attack can be as fast as 6 milliseconds. The water flows out through the gills, while the prey is swallowed and the oesophagus closed with a special muscle to keep the victim from escaping. In addition to expanding their mouths, frogfish can also expand their stomachs to swallow animals up to twice their size.

images

HOW DO FROGFISHES GET AROUND? SWIM? WALK? CRAWL?

Frogfishes do not in fact move around a great deal. Using their camo advantages, they prefer to lie on the sea floor and wait for prey to come to them. As mentioned in the quote above, they may slowly approach prey using their pectoral and pelvic fins to “walk” along the sea bottom. They can swim using their tail fin (or in some species by simple ‘jet propulsion’ by forcing water out of their gills) but rarely do so – they don’t feed on the move, and they are adapted to the sea floor environment where they food is readily available. However their “walking” ability is limited to short distances.

frogfish-anglerfisch

DO FROGFISH HAVE OTHER COLOUR SCHEMES?

Indeed they do. In stark contrast to the camo species, some frogfishes are highlighter bright. Here are two of my favourite photos by Adam that show this clearly. I’ve no idea if these are a male and female. I suspect they are different species. I think the brown one is a striated frogfish and the other is… a yellow frogfish. Some people keep these creatures in  aquaria, but apparently it is impossible to sex them, and they have to be kept on their own for everyone’s peace of mind…

Frogfish (Adam Rees Scuba Works) Frogfish (Adam Rees Scuba Works)

FROGFISH INFOGRAPHICS

frogfishFrogfish Infographic 'Monsters of the Deep'

FROGFISH VIDEOS

These two videos, from Lester Knutsen and Daan Van Wijk respectively, show some of the characteristics I have written about above. Both are short and both are fascinating.

To read more about frogfishes and for some fabulous photos I highly recommend the website FROGFISH.CH You can reach the main page(s) but the link seem to be broken so I have not been able to contact Teresa Zubi, whose site it is. She clearly has a sense of humour and uses a neat pair of gifs which I hope she won’t mind my using…

Credits: All main photos, Adam Rees  of Scuba Works with many thanks; wiki for ‘spot the esca’, red quote & basic info; videos Lester Knutsen & Daan Van Wijk; Teresa Zubi for website & gifs; infographics, authors u/k

Frogfish Tee Shirt

ABACO PARROTS: CHRISTMAS-COLOURED BIRDS


🎼 …and a parrot in a gumbo limbo tree…🎶 🎵

 ABACO PARROTS: CHRISTMAS-COLOURED BIRDS

A VERY HAPPY FESTIVAL OF FESTIVITY TO ALL FOLLOWERS OF ROLLING HARBOUR…

…AND TO EACH AND EVERY RANDOM DROP-BY TOO…

…AND HOPE, HEALTH & HAPPINESS &  FOR 2022

Abaco Parrot, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Credits: Gerlinde Taurer & Nina Henry: photographed on Abaco, Bahamas for “The Birds of Abaco”

 

CHRISTMAS BUNTING(S) . ABACO . BAHAMAS


BUNTING(S) FOR AN ABACO CHRISTMAS

painted-bunting copy

BUNTING  /ˈbʌntɪŋ/  (Noun)

  1. A small New World songbird of the cardinal subfamily
  2. Flags and other colourful festive decorations

painted-buntingimagesimagesimagespainted-bunting copy

PAINTED BUNTINGPainted Bunting, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Few birds radiate Yuletide vibes better than Painted Buntings, with their perfect festive colours. Here is a seasonal flock of them to enjoy. A very happy Christmas to those who kindly continue to visit Rolling Harbour, despite the unavoidable absence from the Bahamas of the Harbourmaster.

painted-buntingimagesimagesimagespainted-bunting copyPainted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

painted-buntingimagesimagesimagespainted-bunting copy

Painted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

                                                           painted-buntingimagespainted-bunting copy                                                     

Painted Bunting reflection, Laguna Seca.South TX Tom SheleyPainted Bunting dip reflection LR.Laguna Seca.South TX. 4.16.13.Tom Sheley

 

painted-buntingimagesimagesimagespainted-bunting copy

Painted Bunting.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

GREAT EGRETS: NOBLE (YET MISNAMED) HERONS


Great Egret, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

GREAT EGRETS: NOBLE (YET MISNAMED) HERONS

The Great Egret is actually a heron rather than an egret. It’s a Great Heron. All egrets are members of the heron family Ardeidae, but the converse is not true. As long ago as 1758, Linnaeus awarded the bird the binomial name Ardea alba i.e. ‘Heron white‘. Why it should have been so hard to stick to that authoritative nomenclature, I can’t imagine. Perhaps in time all heron and egret species became so hopelessly confusing for people that it ceased to matter much what they were called.

Great Egret, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Maybe it was that type of carelessness that led to people from the mid-c19 onwards eyeing up GREGs as a source of hat feathers and other decorative necessities. As with flamingos and many other beautiful avian species, mankind’s millinery and other fashion needs were satisfied at the expense of gorgeous plumage. Actually, at the cost of the birds’ lives: they were simply shot in huge numbers. 

Great Egret, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Healthy populations were decimated; for some species they never recovered. For others, the great egret among them, the passage of time and the passing of fashions – backed in many cases with conservation programs – have successfully restored the populations. In 1953 the National Audubon Society, which was formed at least in part to discourage the killing of birds for their feathers, took a decisive step in the cause of the great egret by making the bird the emblem of the organisation.

Great Egret, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Photo Credit: Nina Henry photographed all the egrets in this post. Her wonderful images of this magnificent egret heron made a significant contribution to the “BIRDS OF ABACO” project.

Great Egret, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER . ABACO . BAHAMAS


WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER Melanerpes superciliaris

West Indian Woodpecker . Abaco . Bahamas (π Keith Salvesen)

The WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER Melanerpes superciliaris is one of Abaco’s specialist birds. Islanders and regular visitors will be familiar with the sight – and indeed the raucous sound – of these beautiful birds. They are commonly found throughout Abaco and the cays. Possibly their rarity across the wider Bahamas is underestimated. The only other island where these birds are found is San Salvador. Formerly resident on Grand Bahama, they are believed to be extirpated there. Abaco is very fortunate to enjoy their noisy company.

WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAILS and BAHAMA DUCKLINGS


White-cheeked Pintail / Bahama Pintail Ducklings (Tom Sheley)

WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAILS and BAHAMA DUCKLINGS

The white-cheeked (‘Bahama’) pintail Anas bahamensis (aka ‘Bahama duck’) is everyone’s favourite dabbling duck. Or at least it ought to be. And when there are ducklings swimming with the adults, there is no emoticon yet devised that will convey the extremes of cuteness achieved.

White-cheeked Pintail / Bahama Pintail Ducklings (Charles Skinner)
White-cheeked Pintail / Bahama Pintail Ducklings (Charles Skinner)
White-cheeked Pintail / Bahama Pintail Ducklings (Charles Skinner)
White-cheeked Pintail / Bahama Pintail Ducklings (Tom Sheley)
White-cheeked Pintail / Bahama Pintail Ducklings (Charles Skinner)
White-cheeked Pintail / Bahama Pintail Ducklings (Tom Sheley)
White-cheeked Pintail / Bahama Pintail Ducklings (Charles Skinner)

Credits: all absolutely adorbs  photos are by Tom Sheley & Charles Skinner

White-cheeked Pintail / Bahama Pintail Ducklings (Charles Skinner)

“I GET AROUND”: PIPING PLOVER TUNA’S GUEST POST (3)


Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Oct 10. Rhonda Pearce

“I GET AROUND”: PIPING PLOVER TUNA’S GUEST POST (3)

ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH was an amateur ‘citizen science’ conservation program to help investigate the winter season migrations of a tiny shore bird. It started in August 2015 and ended with Hurricane Dorian Sept 1st 2019. TUNA was the first banded bird we found, a summer chick that had completed a 1000+ mile flight when aged about 3 months. During the season, Tuna’s life on Abaco was monitored, in particular by Rhonda Pearce who bonded with the little bird and took lots of photos. Tuna asked, in a whimsical way, if I would make space for a Guest Post. I recently re-posted the first HERE . This is the third instalment.

Hi again, readers of Mr Harbour’s blog. Tuna still here. This is part 3 of my diary.  I’m 4½ months old now, and getting on famously here on Abaco. Especially now the big wind and waves have gone away [Hurricane Joaquin – ed]. Someone called me ‘Abaco’s favourite plover’, which really fluffed up my feathers. I’ve started to explore a bit and meet more birds just like me*. Turns out they are all Travellers from the North too – what are the chances? [in winter, 100% – ed]

Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda Pearce 1

*How do I know what I look like? Well it’s easy. When I am chomping meat strings in the sunshine on the edge of the water, there’s a picture of me in the water doing the exactly same thing at the same time only upside down. Like these two friends of mine here.

PiPl 5x WB 23.10.15 min

I do a lot of running about on the beach. Back and forth. Up and down. Into the water and out again. It’s a busy life. And I’ve only got little legs. In case anyone worries that Michelle’s 4 smart rings hurt me or get in the way, I never feel them. They are just a part of who I have always been since she picked me up the day after I cracked out and added the bird-bling.

Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda Pearce 2

I’ve met lots of birds that are different from me, too. Some live here all the time, others are Travellers from the North as well. I’m relying on Mr RH here to show you some of the guys I hang out with these days. We all kind of mix up and if you don’t try to find meat strings where the bigger birds want to find them, it’s very friendly. Actually they are all bigger than me!

Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Wilson’s Plover (all on Abaco)Sanderling, Abaco (Craig Nash) Semi-palmated Plover, Abaco (Tony Hepburn) Ruddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)  Wilson's Plover, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

I’ve made my first trip to a different beach. I decided to fly round and explore, and I saw lots more sand so I flew there and stayed a couple of days. Like a little holiday. A nice man [monitor Keith Kemp] saw me there and told Mr RH about my coloured bands. That’s how he knew I’d moved and he told my friend Rhonda so she didn’t go looking for me on my home beach and get worried that I wasn’t there. Then I flew back there after a couple of days and Rhonda found me there again yesterday.

PiPl r band wb 22.10.15 b V2 copy

 

Tuna on his vacation from Watching Bay to Winding Bay. Note meat string in #1PiPl l band wb 22.10.15 b - V2 copy

                                                     piping-plover                   piping-plover                  piping-plover

I’ve got a new game I’ve been playing when Rhonda comes to see me. She sits down on the beach and puts shells all round her in the sand. So I come over and have a look at them (once I pecked the cloth thing she sits on. Urrch! It wasn’t food). Then she uses that thing that makes a plover noise [the focus sound on her camera – ed] and I put my head on one side to listen. Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda PearcePiping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda Pearce 1Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda Pearce 1

There’s another reason I put my head on one side. Sometimes really really big birds fly over the beach. Huge dark ones. I like to keep an eye on them. I think they may be trouble. So I put my head on one side so I know exactly where they are in the sky until I feel safe.

This is me back on my beach after my trip. Green on Blue (L); Black on Grey (R) = TUNAPiping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda Pearce 1

This is a New Friend on my beach, one of 3. They don’t have smart legs  but they are Travellers from the North like me. In this game I lie low in a hole in the sand and my NF rushes at me kicking sand up like a crazy bird. Fun, huh?Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Rhonda Pearce 1

More news from me soon. Cheeps from Tuna.

 

TUNA’S FIRST 4½ MONTHS

  • JUN 10        Hatched Edwin B. Forsythe NWR (Holgate Center), New Jersey
  • JUN 11         Banded & measured by Michelle Stantial
  • JUL 05         Fledged
  • AUG 28       First sighted on Abaco – preliminary ID
  • SEP 16         Seen again on the same beach – ID confirmed
  • SEP 22         Last sighting before Hurricane Joaquin
  • SEP 28         Paula (Tuna’s mother) re-sighted on Joulter Cays, Andros
  • OCT 03        Tuna safely back on the beach again after Hurricane Joaquin
  • OCT 20-23  Expedition to Winding Bay (ID there on Oct 22)
  • OCT 24        Found back on Watching Bay beach

PIPL Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco. 1 bird. Banded. Rhonda Pearce 2 copy copy

NOTE If you ever wondered why birds are banded and what on earth use it is, the answer is in this story. Banding & tagging enables detailed research at both ends of the migration which in turn enables protection of the species and conservation of threatened habitats. There are only 8000 PIPL left. Degradation of the breeding grounds or the overwintering grounds – let alone both – may result in extinction. This seems to have been a good summer for the piping plover; let’s hope the winter treats them well so that this summer’s chicks like Tuna will be able to breed safely next year.

This Diary extract shows how an individual banded bird’s movements can be monitored within its chosen area, so that a picture can be formed of its habitat choices, location changes, and range.

Credits: photos Rhonda Pearce, Keith Kemp, Craig Nash, Tony Hallett, Keith Salvesen; thanks to bander Michelle Stantial, birder & ‘Tuna Watcher’ Rhonda Pearce, CWFNJ & cohorts, Matt Jeffery and all other providers of info snippets; Birdorable for the cartoon; and Xeno-Canto for the recording

“THEY FOUND MY MUM ON ANDROS”: PIPING PLOVER TUNA’S GUEST POST (2)


Piping Plover Tuna, banded in NJ, on Abaco 1 (Rhonda Pearce)

“THEY FOUND MY MUM ON ANDROS”: PIPING PLOVER TUNA’S GUEST POST (2)

ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH was an amateur ‘citizen science’ conservation program to help investigate the winter season migrations of a tiny shore bird. It started in August 2015 and ended with Hurricane Dorian Sept 1st 2019. TUNA was the first banded bird we found, a summer chick that had completed a 1000+ mile flight when aged about 3 months. During the season, Tuna’s life on Abaco was monitored, in particular by Rhonda Pearce who bonded with the little bird and took lots of photos. Tuna asked, in a whimsical way, if I would make space for a Guest Post. I recently re-posted the first HERE . This is the second instalment.

Hello again, readers of Mr Harbour’s blog. My name is Tuna. This is the second part of my diary. Last time he called it an ‘autobiography’, but that was a bit pompous of him, I think. It’s 4 months now since I cracked out and after my long trip from that place [the Holgate Unit of the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey – ed.], I’m having a good time on Abaco – see my picture above. Michelle, who put my 4 cool rings on when I was one day old, would be proud of me I think.

Since my last post some things have been happening to me. There I was, safely on my nice beach [Watching Bay, Cherokee Sound – map below] when the wind started to get scary and the sea kept coming further up the beach. And a whole lot more splashy [it was Hurricane Joaquin – ed.]. So I just hid at the back of the beach until it got better again. I knew if that nice lady came back to see me it would mean I could come out again. And she did. So I did. I showed her my bands so she’d know it was me. Green on blue; black on gray. That’s me and no other bird.

Piping Plover Tuna, banded in NJ, on Abaco 2 (Rhonda Pearce)

Showing Rhonda my bands so she knows mePiping Plover Tuna, banded in NJ, on Abaco 3 (Rhonda Pearce)

Mr Harbour wrote and told people about how I was ok after a big storm. He said:

“TUNA THE PIPL: UNRUFFLED BY HURRICANE JOAQUIN” Oct 3. Despite big seas & high winds reaching N Baha on the fringes of the hurricane, Tuna has returned safely to Watching Bay. Photos clearly showing bands. π Rhonda Pearce”

A lot of people [c2000] read about this and Michelle said “yay!!! go tuna!!!”, so maybe people had been a bit worried about me. People passed the story round. What ever a ‘Chorlito Valiente’ is, it sounds good and I’m glad to be one. I’m doing just fine, thank you… 

IMG_5013 copy

                                                       piping-plover                     piping-plover                    piping-plover

Since then I had THE BEST NEWS. My mum Paula has been found! She’s gone to a different beach that’s not very close to here [Joulter Cays, Andros – 100 miles]. She’s got a different leg thing called a “UR Green Flag PE2” and somebody saw her! I’m so excited (and I hope my dad Ross is safe too). She was in a crowd of 32 other birds just like her, and a lot of other birds friends too. 

Joulter Cays, Andros, Sep 28. Thousands of shorebirds including over 100 PIPL. Including Paula.Piping Plovers & other shorebirds, Joulter Cays Andros

Tuna’s mum Paula, one of a group of 32 piping plovers on Joulter CaysPaula

UR Green Flag PE2 aka Paula

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Joulter Cays, pinpointing Paula’s exact position 25.304095; -78.126642Joulter Cays, Andros (PIPL Paula)

I hope if I get that feeling again that I need to fly a long way, my mum gets it too. And my dad. Then we might all end up on the same beach where I cracked out! But I’m planning to stay on my own beach for now. More news from me soon. Cheeps from Tuna.

Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco jpg

TUNA’S FIRST FOUR MONTHS

  • JUN 10      Hatched
  • JUN 11      Banded & measured
  • JUL 05       Fledged
  • AUG 28     First sighted on Abaco – preliminary ID
  • SEP 16       Seen again on the same beach – ID confirmed
  • SEP 22       Last sighting before Hurricane Joaquin
  • SEP 28       Paula re-sighted on Joulter Cays, Andros
  • OCT 03      Tuna safely back on the beach again after Hurricane Joaquin

PIPL Watching Bay, Cherokee, Abaco. 1 bird. Banded. Rhonda Pearce 2 copy copy

NOTE If you ever wondered why birds are banded and what on earth use it is, the answer is in this story. Banding & tagging enables detailed research at both ends of the migration which in turn enables protection of the species and conservation of threatened habitats. There are only 8000 PIPL left. Degradation of the breeding grounds or the overwintering grounds – let alone both – may result in extinction. This seems to have been a good summer for the piping plover; let’s hope the winter treats them well so that this summer’s chicks like Tuna will be able to breed safely next year.

This Diary extract shows that not only can an individual banded bird’s migration movements be monitored, but also (with a bit of luck) a parent or sibling – even though they may chose to overwinter in quite different places. It is of particular significance if they then return to the same area in summer for breeding.

For details of all this season’s PIPL sightings, check out ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH 

TUNA’S DIARY (1)

EDWIN B FORSYTHE NWR

CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION of NJ

Credits: thanks to bander Michelle Stantial, birder Rhonda Pearce, CWFNJ & cohorts, Matt Jeffery and all other providers of info snippets; Birdorable for the cartoon; and as ever Xeno-Canto for the recording

THREE ‘HALLOWEEN-COLOURED’ BIRDS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS


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THREE ‘HALLOWEEN-COLOURED’ BIRDS ON ABACO

Black and orange seem to have become – perhaps always have been – the colours most associated with Halloween. At one time in its history this annual fright-fest was simply ‘Holy Evening’, the one that preceded All Saints’ Day. It was once one of the most significant festivals in the religious calendar. Now it is all broomsticks, spiders, cobwebs, huge grinning fruit, and tiny sweets for small children.

As for the colour-scheme, I suppose black is for the witches, their cats, bats and the night; and orange for fire and pumpkins. Ghosts, being invisible, are beyond the scope of this post. In nature, surprisingly few creatures and plants have a predominantly black and orange livery. Some birds. A salamander of two. A few flowers.  The odd fish. And of course the monarch butterfly.

I spent a small amount of time checking which birds found on Abaco are true Halloween species, though obviously none of my go-to bird books had a ‘scare factor 50’ species entry in the index. I had to allow for some white markings, reasoning that white is not a colour but rather an absence of colour… That left 3 qualifying species (and even then some troublemakers might argue that the precise borderline between orange and yellow is debatable…) and one failed candidate, included only because of the spectacular photograph.

AMERICAN REDSTART

The Redstart Setophaga ruticilla is a species of warbler and a common winter resident on Abaco. They are mostly seen in the coppice and in gardens. They’ll be around right now – watch out for them fanning their tails. The males are black with orange markings; the females have yellow markings instead of orange and are therefore ineligible for this post. Sorry.

American Redstart (m) Abaco (Craig Nash) American Redstart (m) Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer) American Redstart (m) Abaco (Tom Sheley)

BALTIMORE ORIOLE

These Orioles Icterus galbula are rather less common winter visitors. A few are reported most years, but you’d probably only come across one by accident. Many are completely black and orange apart from white wing bars. However, there’s no doubt that others are more of a yellowy-orange.

Baltimore Oriole (pinterest) copyBaltimore Oriole (mdf-wiki)Baltimore Oriole (Brezinski-wiki)

WESTERN SPINDALIS

The handsome, colourful Spindalis zena is one of my favourite birds. Top five. The spindalis is a common permanent resident, and I am determined to make it qualify as a Halloween bird even though (arguably) plenty of its surface area is neither black nor orange. Apologies to purists.

Western Spindalis, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Western Spindalis (m) Abaco (Craig Nash) Western Spindalis (m) Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)

BOBOLINK (disallowed)

A possible Halloween candidate is the bobolink Dolichonyx oryzivorus. which is a transient species found from time to time on Abaco as they migrate from north to south (fall) and back again (spring).  Disqualified because it spends so little time in Abaco; and because even my rather lax approach to categorisation recognises that the ‘orange’ is not very orange; and there’s not a great deal of it. Special credit mention, however, to Jim Carroll / Cornell Lab / Macaulay Library for this outstanding image)

No birds were hexed, vexed, tricked or even treated in the making of this post 

Credits: Craig Nash (1, 5), Gerlinde Taurer (2, 6), Tom Sheley (3), Keith Salvesen (4), pinterest, wiki (MDF, Brezinski), Jim Carroll / Cornell / Macaulay, Charmaine Albury (monarch butterfly), Birdorable (cartoon) & an unknown Angry Bird pumpkin carver

BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS


Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS

A while back, Black-faced Grassquits Tiaris bicolor were honoured by the American Ornithological Union with a classification change from emberizid to tanager. For the reasons that follow, the species regarded this both as scientific promotion and as merited status elevation. I invited an authoritative Spokesquit to explain why.

*******************

Hi, human friends, I’m a black-faced grassquit  and I have a couple of observations to make on behalf of BFGs, if I may. First, we seem to be universally described by you as ‘common’, whereas we are actually quite refined in our behaviour. Secondly, the words most used to portray us are ‘dull’ and ‘drab’. And ‘stubby’. Well, excuse me… I – we – ask you to give us a second look. Maybe check out these images for a start.

black-faced-grassquit-adult-male-eating-berry-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheleyblack-faced-grassquit-foraging-berry-2-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheley

Unsurprisingly we were very excited when the perceptive classifications committee of the American Ornithological Union gave us an upgrade. That’s the way we saw it anyway. For many years we were classified under the heading emberizidae. 

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Black-faced Grassquit, Abaco (Tom Reed)

We kept company with some buddies like the handsome Greater Antillean Bullfinches, but also with a lot of New World sparrows, with whom we (frankly) never felt entirely comfortable. Annoyingly chirpy, for a start.

Black-faced Grassquit - Treasure Cay, Abaco (Becky Marvil)Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Peter Mantle)

And so we officially became a type of tanager. They even reckon (rather late in the day, in my view) that we are closely related to Darwin’s finches. So, we are “common”, huh? Now we get to be with other birds that are dome-nesters like us. And how about this – we’ll be in the same list as some really cool birds…

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)

How’s this for a colourful gang to be joining: scarlet tanager, summer tanager, rose-breasted grosbeak, indigo bunting, painted bunting – these are our new cousins. BFGs “dull” and “drab”? I don’t think so.

Black-faced Grassquit female, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

6 UNDULL FACTS ABOUT BFGS

  • Make grassy dome-nests (like Bananaquits) and line them with soft grasses
  • Both sexes build the nest together
  • Both share egg-sitting duties and later chick-feeding & maintenance
  • Though quite gregarious by day, for some reason they tend to roost alone
  • They have a short ‘display’ flight with vibrating wings and a strange buzzing call
  • Otherwise, their flight is ‘weak, bouncy & fluttering’ (Whatbird assessment)

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

THE EVERYDAY TWITTERING SONG 

THE DISPLAY BUZZING SONG 

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Tom Reed)Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Photo Credits: Alex Hughes (1, 10); Tom Sheley (2, 3); Bruce Hallett (4, 9); Tom Reed (5, 11); Becky Marvil (6); Peter Mantle (7); Gerlinde Taurer (8); Keith Salvesen (12); Larry Towning (13). Other Credits: ABA, AOU, Whatbird? (sound files)

Black-faced Grassquit (m) Lubbers Quarters, Abaco (Larry Towning).jpg

ROLLING HARBOUR? TROLLING HARBOUR!


Black-necked Stilt, Abaco, Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

ROLLING HARBOUR? TROLLING HARBOUR!

My troll friend is back! It’s been quite a long time since the last outbreak – congratulations on your growing self-control – but it’s good to know you still have it in you. In a way I consider your dogged trawls through my posts awarding coveted ‘One Star’ (= ‘Very Poor’) reviews, something of a plus. Your indiscriminate and equally low opinion of sequential blocks of posts suggests that you don’t actually read them, so I like to speculate what draws you here. You have the option of never visiting at all, of course, but that may not have occurred to you. Possibly you hate wildlife and / or conservation issues? Or have a phobia about nice photos. Or a lack of empathy for birds. Maybe you hold strong views that you feel are totally valid yet differ from the ones you perceive hereabouts. Possibly you need to see a counsellor?

Black-necked Stilt, Abaco, Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

You doubtless will be pleased to see this post (and keen to award it a single star) expecting me to mind your somewhat negative and persistent attentions. Presumably in some weird way you hope that you have got to me. I’ve been doing this for nearly 10 years and I can assure you not. I could in fact have removed my star ratings at any time, but then I’d miss your badges of honour and you’d miss your fun. If I may make a personal comment, though,  right now the least important thing in the world you could be doing is to troll a wildlife blog. When you have a tranquil moment, would you like to try to find something better to do with your time? Maybe something positive for someone else?

Credits: all gorgeous black-necked stilt photos taken by Alex on Abaco.

Black-necked Stilt, Abaco, Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

CUBAN PEWEE: PICTURE PERFECT ABACO (12)


CUBAN PEWEE: PICTURE PERFECT ABACO (12)

Cuban Pewee, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

The Cuban pewee Contopus caribaeus bahamensis (sometimes called the crescent-eyed pewee) is the smallest of the four so-called ‘tyrant’ species found on Abaco. These flycatchers are tiny compared with their kingbird cousins. You can clearly see the tiny hooked tip at the end of the upper beak, which helps to trap caught insects.

Like other flycatchers, the Cuban pewee has distinctive whiskers around the base of the beak. These are in fact feathers that have modified into bristles. They act as tactile sensors that help detect and target aerial insects. The pewee will then dart from its perch to intercept some passing tasty winged morsel (known sometimes as ‘hawking’), returning to the branch to swallow the snack.

Of all small unassuming brownish birds – and there are a great many – I consider the pewee to be one of the prettiest. It is also rewarding to photograph, being inquisitive by nature and as likely to pose for the camera as to fly away.

Photo: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour Abaco

 

PAINTED BUNTING: PICTURE PERFECT ON ABACO (7)


PAINTED BUNTING: PICTURE PERFECT ON ABACO (7)

Painted Bunting, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Photo: Tom Sheley, taken at Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco

This wonderful and mood-brightening photo was taken by Tom while we were compiling an archive for my book BIRDS OF ABACO  It is one of the most memorable images of the very large number of photographs featured. Every one of them was taken on Abaco (photos taken ‘off-island’ were ruthlessly excluded); and each one in natural surroundings (no seed-trails, recorded calls and so on). Sadly the edition sold out well before Hurricane Dorian so we have been unable to replace any of the many lost copies. However, I am contemplating producing a pdf version of the pre-print draft (a Covid displacement activity). If that goes ahead I will devise a way to distribute it simply, and possibly in return for a modest donation towards the work of Abaco wildlife organisations.

 

KILLDEER: PICTURE PERFECT ON ABACO (2)


KILLDEER: PICTURE PERFECT ON ABACO (2)

Killdeer, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett / Birds of Abaco)

For the time being, while things are a bit crazy, I’ll be posting single / pairs of images that in my view are so excellent that they stand alone without needing any comment from me, annoying wordplay, or musical digressions. All have been taken on Abaco Bahamas. Only some will be my own – the bar is set at a DSLR height that exceeds my camera skills. 

Credit: Bruce Hallett

RUDDY TURNSTONES: PICTURE PERFECT ON ABACO (1)


RUDDY TURNSTONES: PICTURE PERFECT ON ABACO (1)

Ruddy Turnstone, the Marls, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

I very rarely – almost never –  publish single or pairs of images, not least because I enjoy the bits of research and writing that cover a topic more thoroughly. However, today I was going through the photographic archive from my book BIRDS OF ABACO and came across these RUTUs photographed on the Marls by contributor Tom Sheley.

TBH turnstones are among the easiest shorebirds to photograph. They are pleasingly tame, so you can get quite close to them without ruffling their feathers. They aren’t tiny and they are pretty and quite colourful. And they are fairly abundant and so not hard to locate… but they make it hard to get a really good bright, clear photo. Or is that just me…? Anyway, Tom definitely has the camera skills required.

Ruddy Turnstone, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

ON THE WING: BLACK-NECKED STILTS, ABACO, BAHAMAS


Black-necked Stilt in flight, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

ON THE WING: BLACK-NECKED STILTS, ABACO, BAHAMAS

Black-necked stilts Himantopus mexicanus may be the most elegant shorebirds you will ever see. They are permanent residents on Abaco and not uncommon where they are found. It could be on a beach; more likely it will be in or around brackish ponds. It won’t be in the pine forest or coppice.

Black-necked Stilt in flight, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

The rather disorganised stilt flying in the header image rather undercuts my claim for elegance, I realise. The image above of the bird at full stretch against a background of waves gives a much better idea of the beauty of this species. 

Black-necked Stilt in flight, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

Gilpin Pond is a good place to see stilts, and in summer they nest around the perimeter. A word of warning: they may be aggressive in the breeding season. I got too near a nest once and the female shouted at me then flew straight at my head. I hadn’t even realised there was a nest there until this happened, so her actions rather give the game away.

Black-necked Stilt in flight, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

In common with some smaller shorebird species – for example, plovers and killdeer – the stilts have another defensive method to protect their young, a so-called ‘distraction display’. When their nest is under threat,  one of the adults will pretend to have a damaged or broken wing and so be unable to fly. It will flutter feebly along the ground, moving further and further away from the nest, diverting attention from it. It’s an amazing sight to watch the tactic in action. Check out this video to see examples of this behaviour.

Credits: all photos by Alex Hughes, one of the photographic contributors to The Birds of Abaco; video Nat Bel

ABACO PARROT: THE UNIQUE, ICONIC, AMAZING AMAZONA


ABACO PARROT: THE UNIQUE, ICONIC, AMAZING AMAZONA

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Credit: Fabulous in-flight shot by Nina Henry (contributor to ‘Birds of Abaco’)