“ON THEIR WAY”: THE PIPING PLOVER MIGRATION HAS BEGUN…


PIPL adult & chick (Jordan Rutter)

“ON THEIR WAY”: THE PIPING PLOVER MIGRATION HAS BEGUN…

The last piping plover known to have left Abaco for the summer breeding grounds was the renowned ‘Tuna’, in early April. We can’t say where he ended up – there are no reported sighting of him this summer from the NJ beach where he was born, raised and banded – or from anywhere else. The unbanded Delphi contingent had left the beach by the end of March.

TunaPiping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Oct 10. Rhonda Pearce

Besides Tuna, of the named banded birds resighted on Abaco beaches last season (e.g. Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Jonesy, Bahama Mama, Benny, Bess), only the most distant visitor Bahama Mama returned to her original beach in Muskegon State Park. Her mate from last year (‘Little Guy’) had already shacked up with another bird, so BM did likewise. Carol Cooper reports that all birds had left the beach by July 23.

Bahamas Pink Band 52PIPL Pink Band 52, Abaco (Walker Golder)

As for Bahamas ‘Pink Bands’ – winter-banded birds – the BAHAMAS SHOREBIRD CONSERVATION INITIATIVE has posted a wonderful interactive map produced by Audubon which shows the astonishing extent of the migration undertaken by these little birds. Unfortunately none of last winter’s Abaco ‘pink numbers’ are shown as resighted. You can reach this great resource by clicking the image below. This will take you to the original – I am trying to work out how best to embed the map in my sidebar.

Click me!Pink band PIPL map (Audubon : BSCI)

Reports of migrating PIPL are beginning to come in and will accelerate over the next few weeks. First with a Bahamas report is Linda Barry-Cooper (West End Ecology Tours), who spotted 3 at Sandy Cay, West End, Grand Bahama on July 21 (‘10.00 a.m., high water’). With a modest fanfare of greeting, here are those first Bahamas birds of the season.

Piping plovers, West End, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)Piping plovers, West End, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)Piping plovers, West End, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH

Last season was an important one for having a bird count on Abaco, with the four-yearly census taking place in January. I started The Watch rather nonchalantly, but it quickly picked up enthusiasm and momentum and in the end it was of significant use for the official bird count. Here are the compressed stats for the from the end of July 2105 to January 2016. You will see – possibly with some surprise – that in only 5 months 3.83% of the total presumed piping plover population in the world was found on Abaco. And of course that’s only a total from sightings on certain beaches, mostly easily accessible, by a relatively small number of monitors. How many more were there on the all the unexplored expanses of beach, or indeed out on the Marls?

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The question is whether to continue the watch this coming season. If so, best to get it sorted before the first birds arrive any day now. I have decided  to carry on, but – since it isn’t a census year –  with a lighter touch this time (it’s a time-consuming process and there’s other stuff going on in my life.) Accordingly I would welcome reports of all Abaco sightings. If you are in doubt whether what you are seeing is a piping plover or some other shorebird, a photo or even a phone pic for ID would be great. The most helpful information to give is:

  • Date and time
  • Single bird or number of birds (if countable) or an estimate
  • Whether banded or not
  • If so, details of the banding: band or flag, colours, visible numbers etc
  • If at all possible, photos of the bird and its legs… I am able to enhance apparently dim or fuzzy pictures to some extent, so don’t worry if you don’t get a perfect shot.
  • If possible, state of tide – high, low, half-way, coming in, going out
  • Also, what the bird is doing – foraging, sleeping, rushing round in circles etc
  • Finally, location as accurately as possible. Area, name of beach, whereabouts (middle, east end, south end etc)

Piping Plover (juv) CT (Danny Sauvageau)

If you are one of the volunteer beach monitors from last year, I will be emailing you. If you’d like to monitor your own or a favourite beach, I’d love to hear from you.

CONTACT

Piping Plover, Abaco - Charmaine Albury

Photo Credits: Jordan Rutter, Rhonda Pearce, Linda Barry-Cooper x 3, Danny Sauvageau, Charmaine Albury

 

“TUVU” (TURKEY VULTURE) ON LUBBERS QUARTERS, ABACO


Turkey Vulture, Lubbers Quarter, Abaco (Larry Towning)

“TUVU” (TURKEY VULTURE) ON LUBBERS QUARTERS, ABACO

Lubbers Quarters is a Cay off the southern tip of Elbow Cay, and home to the excellent Cracker P’s restaurant. Also, home to Larry Towning, who takes terrific sunrise and sunset photos, among other subjects that include birds. He recently happened upon a Turkey Vulture sitting on a POISONWOOD stump (do not rush to try that – you may not sit down again for weeks). I like the immediacy of these. Most TUVU shots – by me, anyway – are (a) flying – usually coming out as silhouettes; or (b) atop a utility post with wires in the way, or (c) on the ground scavenging something revolting in the way of carrion. This bird is only dreaming about doing that.

“WARTS AND ALL…”Turkey Vulture, Lubbers Quarter, Abaco (Larry Towning)

The nostrils are not divided by a septum, but are perforated; from the side one can right see through (and as I have previously noted, some humans also suffer from MSS  – missing septum syndrome. They tend to sniff a lot)Turkey Vulture, Lubbers Quarter, Abaco (Larry Towning)

LUBBERS QUARTER CAY        Lubbers Quarters Map

NOT SAD… JUST THINKING ABOUT DEAD DECAYING THINGS TO EATTurkey Vulture, Lubbers Quarter, Abaco (Larry Towning)

To read much more about Turkey Vultures, find a bundle of interesting facts and learn about their sex lives and frankly disgusting habits with urine and vomit, check out ‘CARRION SCAVENGING‘.

Photo credit: Larry Towning; Tropicat (Poisonwood link)

BAHAMA WOODSTARS: JEWELS IN ABACO’S CROWN


Bahama Woodstar Hummingbird, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

BAHAMA WOODSTARS: JEWELS IN ABACO’S CROWN

Abaco is spoilt for birds. What other island in the word has its very own population of ground-nesting parrots? (Clue: none). How many others provide a secluded winter home for the rare Kirtland’s Warbler? Or a safe habitat for piping plovers – more than 300 individual birds recorded last year, nearly 4% of the total population? Or host 32 warbler species in the winter to supplement the 5 resident species? Or record a visit from a black-browed albatross? Or enjoy 4 out of 5 of the Bahamian endemic species (no longer the Bahama Oriole sadly, now confined to specific areas of Andros). 

Bahama Woodstar Hummingbird, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

A while back I held a poll for Abaco’s favourite bird, with about 10 contenders. Some were quick to point out that their own personal favourite was not an option, but I had to take a fairly broad brush approach. On the podium, gold went to the Bahama Woodstar; silver to the parrot; and bronze to the western spindalis. I’m in a genial mood today, having caught a fair-sized wild brown trout on my third (part) day of stalking it (over 2 weeks), on the smallest fly in my box (size 18). I put it straight back of course. Respect! So in a spirit of cordiality, here are some epic shots of Abaco’s democratically elected favourite bird… at least according to the poll.

BIRD POLL FV2

The two images above were taken by the legendary Bruce Hallett, author of the go-to field guide for the Bahamas, which no birder should be without. Many of his wonderful photos  appear in THE BIRDS OF ABACO, and he was a steady guiding hand during the preparation of the book. 

This brilliant photo of a female woodstar was taken by Tara Lavallee of Bahama Palm Shores, and for composition, clarity, colour and sheer charm it was a must for inclusion in the book.

Bahama Woodstar, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

Another major photographic contributor was Tom Sheley. I had the pleasure of spending time on Abaco with Tom during expeditions deep into backcountry to find and photograph birds. He had two cameras, one with a long lens. The other had a very long lens. The results he obtained – showcased in the book – were outstanding. His woodstar graces the front cover.

Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Tom also took a delicate little study of a female woodstar feeding, one of my favourite photosBahama Woodstar female, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Credits: Bruce Hallett, Tara Lavallee, Tom Sheley

 

JACKKNIFE FISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH 30


Jackknife Fish ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

JACKKNIFE FISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH 30

The rather uncomfortably ‘double-k’  Jackknife fish is one of 3 types of similar drumfish subspecies of Equetus found in Bahamas waters. The others are the High Hat and the SPOTTED DRUMFISH – the first fish featured in this series. Each of these drumfish species has juveniles that are elegant and delicate, becoming more conventionally fishlike as they grow to adulthood, as the final image shows.

Jackknife fish (juv) ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

I always want to stick a hyphen in to separate each k: jack-knife fish. I think it’s an English thing. I have seen, at the other extreme, ‘jack-knifefish’, which looks most weird of all. Checking online, jackknife fish wins by a distance as the correct spelling. 

Jackknife Fish (juv) ©Melinda Riger @GB Scuba

These little fish, typically between 6 and 9 inches, inhabit the coral reefs of the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, Florida and the Bahamas. Juveniles eat plankton and similar organism, graduating to small crabs and shrimps as adults.

Jackknife Fish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

A FULLY GROWN JACKKNIFE FISH (NOAA)Jackknife fish adult_NOAA_Photo_Library

Like other drumfishes, the jackknife can produce ‘croaking’ or ‘drumming sounds. This involves the fish beating its abdominal muscles against its swim bladder. There’s a lot more to it than my rather simplistic summary, but it’s probably as much as anyone needs or wants to know… The primary reason is believed to relate to mating. Other reasons include ‘low-level aggression’, and keeping in touch with each other in turbid waters.  I prefer the unscientific theory that sheer happiness makes them croak. Here’s a short video of a happy juvenile Jack knife fish (that’s yet another spelling variant…)

RELATED POSTS

Credits: Melinda Riger / GrandBahama Scuba; NOAA

INDEPENDENCE DAY… FOR TINY FUZZY FLUFF BALLS


Piping Plover chick in the hand for banding (CWFNJ)

INDEPENDENCE DAY… FOR TINY PIPING FLUFF BALLS

piping-ploverHappy July 4th to all those for whom the date has special significance (aside from it being plenty of people’s birthday). I’m celebrating the occasion by exercising my personal independence with a post that wrote itself. Mary Lenahan has done all the hard graft. Her photos and captions of a day in the field with her student Alex, in the company of CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION NJ savants Todd Pover and Michelle Stantial merely needed to be arranged in traditional Rolling Harbour format, with a few additional comments.

    BIRDS IN THE HAND

piping-plover“My student Alex and I were invited by Todd Pover (Conserve Wildlife of NJ Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager) to help out with some piping plover work in Avalon the other morning. We were lucky to observe the plover family from afar and close up as Michelle Stantial (Wildlife Biologist from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry) and her technicians collected data on the week old plover chicks. What a thrill when we were able to release the fluffy chicks back to their parents in the Avalon dunes! Alex even took the time to help Todd take down a plover predator exclosure and to retrieve a balloon from the beach. What a fantastic and life changing experience for a budding scientist and her bird-nerd teacher. It is my hope that these endangered plovers overcome the many threats and obstacles they face and survive to migrate to their wintering grounds in the Bahamas”.

RH NOTE: 5 of the identified banded piping plovers that overwintered on Abaco were from NJ preserves. 2 of them (including the famous ‘Tuna’) were actually banded by Michelle herself last summer, with Emily Heiser.

Alex and Michelle Stantial discuss the bands on a piping plover chickPiping Plover chick in the hand for banding (CWFNJ)

Alex cradles a 1 week old chick before releasing him/her back to its parentsAlex and Michelle Stantial discuss the bands on the piping plover chick

Piping Plover chick in the hand for banding (CWFNJ)

Michelle Stantial places two fuzzy fluff balls into Mary’s hands for release!Piping Plover chick in the hand for banding (CWFNJ)

Fuzzy babiez!Piping Plover chick in the hand for banding (CWFNJ) Piping Plover chick in the hand for banding (CWFNJ)

Go find your parents! Piping Plover chick in the hand for banding (CWFNJ)

piping-ploverThese tiny birds, weighing a couple of grams maybe, were one week old. Already, they were nearing their own independence: still learning the arts of life from their parents, but fast becoming mini autonomous units too. To give you an idea how fast they develop, the first “fall” PIPL found on Abaco last year were spotted by Woody Bracey on July 31 on Green Turtle Cay mudflats – 6 birds in a group. Tuna, born in June, was first seen on Abaco in August, having undertaken a journey of well over 1000 miles.

ANSWERS the answers to the questions are as follows: ‘no’; ‘no’; and ‘not in the slightest’.

QUESTIONS the questions are: ‘don’t the parents reject a chick that has been handled during weighing, measuring and banding’?; ‘aren’t the chicks terrified and traumatised by the whole process’?; and ‘don’t the bands hamper their foraging / flying abilities or otherwise cause lifelong alarm and despondency’? 

The field work on the beach involves more than measuring and banding the chicks. Exclosures erected to exclude predators from the nest areas need to be regularly checked, and removed when the time is right (below)

Piping Plover nest exclosure, New Jersey (CWFNJ)

Alex finds a stray balloon very close to plover nest. BALLOONS BLOW and should never be released into the environment! This balloon could have been mistaken as food by a turtle or a whale, becoming trapped in the animal’s stomach, causing it to become very ill and die. The strings of balloons have been found tangled around the necks, bodies and legs of birds, causing pain, injury and death. Don’t release balloons or better yet, don’t buy them! Alex finds a deflated balloon on a plover beach

RELATED LINKS

ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH

CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION NJ

BALLOONS BLOW

Many thanks to Mary Lenahan, Michelle Stantial, Todd Pover and of course Alex for being happy to share their experiences! And Birdorable for the little guys…

BIRDS: BIG MOUTHFULS, VARIED DIETS & PLAYING WITH FOOD…


Anhinga eating fish (Phil Lanoue)

BIRDS: BIG MOUTHFULS, VARIED DIETS & PLAYING WITH FOOD…

Anhingas are so-called ‘darters’. You won’t have seen one on Abaco. Or else, if you have, you’ve had a rare avian treat. These cormorant-like birds are far from unusual in Florida, all round the Gulf of Mexico, on Cuba and generally in the West Indies, and throughout the northern parts of South America. But somehow they have only very rarely bothered to wing their way across the relatively short expanse of water that separates their usual stamping ground in Florida and the northern Bahamas. I very rarely post about non-Abaco birds, unless for comparison. However, on the slender basis that one or two anhinga sightings have been made on Abaco since 1950 (they are classified as V5, i.e. vanishingly rare vagrants) , I am including PHIL LANOUE’S wonderful photo of one trying to get a gob-stoppingly large spiny fish down its throat. And making that an excuse to show more of his wonderful bird photos, including one of his renowned sequences.

BIG MOUTHFULS

By way of contrast to the anhinga above, this brown pelican has opened wide, but has disappointingly little to show for his huge gulp. Just a tiddler, and it really doesn’t look like it will manage to jump out of that capacious gullet…

Brown Pelican fishing (Phil Lanoue)

Here’s a better meal: a great egret has got hold of a massive shrimp. It won’t have any trouble getting it down…Great Egret eating fish (Phil Lanoue)

VARIED DIETS

As the great egret above demonstrates, fish are not the only prey species for the ‘fish-eating’ birds. These cormorants are happily mixing up their diet.Cormorant - varied diet 1 (Phil Lanoue)Cormorant - varied diet 3 (Phil Lanoue)

I’ll take a side-order of salad with that…Cormorant feeding (Phil Lanoue)Cormorant - varied diet 5 (Phil Lanoue)

PLAYING WITH FOOD

Regrettably, the cormorant with the eel, above, decided to play with its food before eventually swallowing it. Here are three more images from Phil’s sequence of the Eel Meal.

Chucking my dinner around a bitCormorant - varied diet 4 (Phil Lanoue)

Wearing my food as a hatCormorant eating eel (Phil Lanoue)

My whole meal seems to have gone to my head…Cormorant - varied diet 6 (Phil Lanoue)

All phantastic photos by Phil. Check out his website https://phillanoue.com

BANANAQUITS ON ABACO (GUEST PHOTOS)


Bananaquit, Abaco (Char Albury)

BANANAQUITS ON ABACO (GUEST PHOTOS)

This is the best job in the world (#it’snotajob #it’sapastime #duh!yougetpaidinajob). I get to choose what to write about and what photos to use. And it’s all enjoyable, interesting, and totally new (to me) within the last 10 years. Bananaquits are another favourite small bird of mine. Charmaine Albury takes great Abaco wildlife photos – birds, butterflies, insects, shells and more – on Man-o-War Cay and beyond. It’s time to showcase some of her bananaquit photos. Let’s go!

Bananaquit, Abaco (Char Albury)Bananaquit, Abaco (Char Albury)Bananaquit, Abaco (Char Albury)

Juvenile bananaquits have their own totally adorbz qualities, as I have observed BEFORE.

Bananaquit juvenile, Abaco (Char Albury) Bananaquit juvenile, Abaco (Char Albury) Bananaquit juvenile, Abaco (Char Albury) Bananaquit juvenile, Abaco (Char Albury)

Bananaquit juvenile, Abaco (Char Albury)

As the juveniles grow, their colouring becomes stronger until eventually they are hardly distinguishable from their parentsBananaquit juvenile, Abaco (Char Albury)Bananaquit, Abaco (Char Albury)Bananaquit, Abaco (Char Albury)

Bananaquits are readily attracted to gardens. They can used their sharp curved beaks to drink from hummingbird feeders. Or why not try Charmaine’s idea for a free-to-make bananaquit bar – look how successful it is!

Bananaquit, Abaco (Char Albury)

You’ll find several posts about bananaquits, none particularly recent. For an ‘in-house’ gallery of these bright little birds, click HERE

All photos Charmaine Albury, with thanks for use permission. You’ll notice that the images are watermarked or named, which is because Char’s images are available for sale. Let me know if you are interested in any of the photos featured here…