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

12124591_10156120828430564_2098794849_o - Version 2

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’)

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)

CHRISTMAS-COLOURED BIRDS 2: ABACO PARROT


CHRISTMAS-COLOURED BIRDS 2: ABACO PARROT

A VERY HAPPY TO ALL FOLLOWERS OF ROLLING HARBOUR…

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

SEE YOU NEXT DECADE!

Abaco Parrot, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Credit: Nina Henry, photographed on Abaco, Bahamas for “The Birds of Abaco”

 

CHRISTMAS-COLOURED BIRDS 1: PAINTED BUNTING


PAINTED BUNTING Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

CHRISTMAS-COLOURED BIRDS 1: PAINTED BUNTING

PAINTED BUNTING Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

PAINTED BUNTING Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Credit: Tom Sheley, photographed at Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco, Bahamas for “The Birds of Abaco”

PAINTED BUNTING Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

 

‘LIKE’ THE CLAPPERS: ON THE RAILS IN ABACO


Clapper Rail preening, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

‘LIKE’ THE CLAPPERS: ON THE RAILS IN ABACO

CLAPPER RAILS Rallus crepitans are elusive birds of mangrove swamp and marsh, more frequently heard than seen. They tend to lurk around in foliage and are easy to overlook. They are creatures of the margins rather than open ground. You may come across one foraging secretively, beak-deep in the mud.

Clapper Rail stretching.Abaco Bahamas - Tom Sheley ("The Birds of Abaco" by Keith Salvesen, p80)

Tom Sheley’s wonderful photos featured here of a preening clapper rail were taken during our backcountry explorations to locate and photograph species for BIRDS OF ABACO.  By being  both patient and an early riser, Tom managed to capture this fine bird engaging in some quality grooming. The one below is ‘vocalising’ – known in rails as ‘rousing’ – in mid-preen.

Clapper Rail rousing.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Clapper rails are capable of swimming and even of flying if they choose to. However the most likely activities you are likely to observe will be skulking,  picking their way through marginal  vegetation, or (if you are lucky) doing some beak-deep foraging in the mud. Occasionally they run, a process that looks endearingly comical and which possibly gives rise to their name. 

Clapper Rail running, Abaco Bahamas (Erik Gauger))

Clapper Rail running, Abaco Bahamas (Sandy Walker)

It almost goes without saying nowadays, but the biggest threat to these rather charming inoffensive birds is habitat loss. Which is to say, mankind either directly or indirectly. Drive the bulldozers through the mangroves and marshland of sub-tropical coastal areas, chuck down a few acres of concrete… and the clappers will very soon become clapped out. As they will if the climate we are unarguably changing ruins their unobtrusive lives.

COMPULSORY LINGUISTIC STUDY

When I last wrote about this species its binomial name was Rallus longirostris ie simply ‘long-beaked rail’. Since then the increasingly frenetic annual turmoil of official AOU shuffling species about and messing with their names has resulted in the clapper rail being re-designated Rallus crepitans or ‘rattling / rustling rail’, I assume from the call. There are other rail-name innovations that, reading about them just now, made me crack open a beer instead of wanting to tell you about them.

OPTIONAL LINGUISTIC DIVERSION

“TO RUN LIKE THE CLAPPERS”. This phrase seems to be fairly recent, most likely originating as military (?Air Force) slang early in WW2 or possibly from earlier conflicts. Some suggest it is a rhyming slang bowdlerisation of ‘run like hell’ with ‘clapper(s)’ standing for ‘bell’, along the lines of the Cockney “I bought a brand new whistle” (whistle and flute = suit). Almost all plausible explanations relate to bells, and some argue that it simply reflects the rapid speed of the clapper of a vigorously rung handbell. This derivation as a link to the bird seems tenuous at best.

Photo credits:Tom Sheley, Sandy Walker, Erik Gauger, University of Amsterdam (print).

Clapper Rail preening.Abaco Bahamas.3.12.Tom Sheley copy

YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD: A NEW SPECIES FOR ABACO, BAHAMAS


Yellow-headed Blackbird (R. Welker / Wiki)

YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD: A NEW SPECIES FOR ABACO, BAHAMAS

In the aftermath of the awesome (in its original meaning) power of the hurricane, Abaco is slowly rising from the remnants of its peaceful slow-paced beauty. The loss of human life, and the damage to survivors, to animals, to property and to precious possessions is unimaginable. By way of contrast, in the UK a flood that inconveniences a SUV owner in an affluent area may well make the local paper*; and possibly local TV news if the wait for a tow-truck takes an hour or so.

Yellow-headed Blackbird (Alan Vernon / Wiki)

BIRDS are providing some cheer and a welcome diversion for many islanders. On SocMed there are plenty of chats** going on daily about the parrots, emerging winter warblers, occasional shorebirds and so on. Feeders are back in use with seeds and nuts (nb please no peanuts). Photos are being taken, shared and enjoyed.

Over the last few days, red-winged blackbirds have been a visible and indeed audible presence in various settlements. Their characteristic ‘rusty gate-hinge’ call is unmistakeable, whether in the coppice or heard deep in the mangroves 4 miles off-shore from a skiff in the Marls. Let’s progress to a great discovery and a most perfect example  of ‘birds of a feather’ literally ‘flocking together’.

YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD

THE FIRST EVER SIGHTING & PHOTO ON ABACOYellow-headed Blackbird, Little Harbour Abaco (Bernard Albury)

The photograph above was taken on October 20 in Little Harbour, Abaco by Bernard Albury. A pair of red-winged blackbirds, male and female, were on the feeder in his garden. With them was a rather more colourful blackbirdy-type bird – a juvenile yellow-headed blackbird Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus. Bernard’s photo is the perfect example of how a quick shot with a phone can make all the difference between a vague description of a bird for ID (oriole? bobolink? weird warbler?), and having clear visual clues to work with.

Yellow-headed Blackbird (Tom Kerner / Wiki)

A NEW SPECIES REPORTED, YOU SAY? HOW CAN YOU POSSIBLY TELL?

The news of this exciting sighting quickly reached bird scientist Ancilleno Davis of (among many organisations) Birds Caribbean. ID was established, and the news soon spread via FB shares. This bird was a very long way east of its normal range, and I thought that it might possibly be a first for the entire Bahamas; probably a first for Abaco itself; and almost certainly the first photo of a YHBL. Then it was a question of cross-checking data in books such as Tony White’s comprehensive guide; online in specialist bird websites; and with the Bahamas bird experts such as Woody Bracey and author Bruce Hallett.

Tony White, [random], Bruce Hallett, Woody Bracey

SO WHAT’S THE ANSWER?

Simple. Bernard Albury has, in his own garden in Little Harbour, discovered the first Yellow-headed Blackbird ever recorded for Abaco. Furthermore, his photo is very probably the first-ever image (by which I mean only image) of a YHBL for the entire Bahamas. 

Yellow-headed Blackbird (Sibley)

BUT HOW CAN YOU TELL THERE HAVEN’T BEEN LOTS OF OTHERS?

The first step is to check an authoritative range map of the species in question. Audubon and Cornell are the go-to authorities for this purpose, though tbh  there’s a great deal to be said for using Wiki as a first port of call for a new bird and its details. People rarely bother to mess with the avian articles on Wiki, there’s not a lot of fun it it. For the Yellow-headed Blackbird, the sheer distance to Abaco makes a visit from one highly unlikely. The second step is to check online sightings reports uploaded to eBird by birders ranging from the enthusiastic amateur to the vastly experienced professional. For an unusual bird, the reports are invaluable in establishing relative rarity. The previous online reports for YHBL in the Bahamas were of a couple of sightings of single birds in the Freeport / West End area of Grand Bahama. These were in 2006 by bird expert Woody Bracey; and in 2012.

Map: incidence of Yellow-winged Blackbirds in Bahamas

Finally, cross-check in the most thorough bird guides of the area. In this case, Tony White included GB sightings YHBLs in his meticulous chart but none for Abaco. No other authority – Bruce Hallett for example – has noted a sighting report for Abaco; Woody also believes this to be a first, and he should know, having found the first ever Bahamas one in 2006.

I KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR NOW, WHAT DO THEY SOUND LIKE?

First, here’s the familiar call of a red-winged blackbird

Here are two examples of the much harsher call of the YHBL, described variously as “the worst song of any North American bird, a hoarse, harsh scraping”; and “an awful sounding raspy whine”.

Yellow-headed Blackbird (Dan Hackley Cornell / eBird)

Sample Headline* – ‘Deluge Ordeal “intolerable” says Local Financier’

Chats** – where the standard disclaimer ‘no pun intended’ would be wrong

Audubon's Blackbirds

CREDITS: First and foremost to Bernard Albury, but for whom… and Ancilleno Davis for his ID and initial shares; generally: Audubon, Cornell, eBird, Merlin, Xeno-Canto, Bird guys.

Images: R. Welker, Alan Vernon, Birdorable (cartoon), Bernard Albury, Tom Kerner, Sibley’s Guide online; Dan Hackley / Cornell / eBird, JJ Audubon, Brian Sullivan / Cornell / Macaulay Library

Sounds: Jim Berry, Xeno-Canto; Ted Floyd, Xeno-Canto

Yellow-headed Blackbird (ALLABOUTBIRDS CORNELL© Brian Sullivan / Macaulay Library )

BEAUTIFUL BIRDS OF ABACO, BAHAMAS (1): PRAIRIE WARBLER


BEAUTIFUL BIRDS OF ABACO, BAHAMAS (1): PRAIRIE WARBLER

The increasing flow of reports of recent bird sightings on Abaco seems to confirm the theory that in times of crisis and of recovery from disaster, people gain strength from the natural world that surrounds them. The bright flash of a parrots wings; the hoarse squawk of a West Indian Woodpecker; the unmistakable cheery call of the thick-billed vireo; the ‘peep’ of a shore-bird – all these can bring comfort in troubled times. 

Prairie Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer / Rolling Harbour)

Right now, social media on Abaco, and radiating far beyond, is alive with more encouraging news after the storm, not least about the gradual re-establishment of normality as utilities and services are restored, movement becomes more possible, and plans for repairing the past and designing the future can begin to be made.

Prairie Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer / Rolling Harbour)

This post features photos of Prairie warblers taken on Abaco by Gerlinde Taurer, contributor to THE BIRDS OF ABACO. It is the start of a short series that will focus on a single species and feature gorgeous photos, all taken on Abaco. These bright little warblers are common winter residents and in normal times their Fall arrival would be well under way – along with some 30 other species of warbler that make Abaco – and the Bahamas generally – their winter home. 

Prairie Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer / Rolling Harbour)

The rich diversity of the avian life of Abaco is truly astonishing: from residents to migratory species, from tiny to huge, from frequently encountered to very rare. Every bird (yes, even the reputedly ‘dull’ black-faced grassquits) has its own beauty and character. Even a small brown bird may have a lovely song.  In non-storm circumstances, it would not be unusual for an amateur birder to encounter upwards of 40 species during half a day in the field – especially with binoculars. I hope that on a shattered island, appreciation of the lively and varied birdlife is already making a small yet positive contribution to the recovery.

Credits: All photos taken by Gerlinde Taurer on Abaco (my own are suppressed for being, frankly, dross in comparison)

Prairie Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer / Rolling Harbour)

‘THE BIRDS OF ABACO’: HURRICANE DORIAN RELIEF


Abaco (Bahama) Parrot - Melissa Maura

‘THE BIRDS OF ABACO’: HURRICANE DORIAN RELIEF

ABACO, BAHAMAS has been all but destroyed by Hurricane Dorian. The horrendous scale of the disaster in human terms alone is only now becoming clear as the days pass and new tragedies are revealed. Many established relief funds – international, national and local – are being very generously supported for the benefit of those who have suffered so grievously. I am adding to the number through my specific link to Abaco and its wildlife.

Black-necked Stilt, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

GO FUND ME BIRDS

For obvious reasons, the GFM page (in edited form here) has a rather more formal , explicatory tone than I would usually use.

Sally and I were founder members of the Delphi Club, Abaco and retain strong connections with the island and the community. I run a conservation program for rare migratory plovers that overwinter on Abaco; and I am involved with BMMRO & its marine mammal research.



‘THE BIRDS OF ABACO’, of which I am the author, was published in 2014. The book was designed by Sally and published by Peter Mantle / The Delphi club. By the end of last year the edition had sold out, and all planned educational donations to schools, libraries and relevant organisations had been completed. 

Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)
However, I have a couple of dozen books left in the UK.  Through this fundraiser, I am offering a copy of the book in exchange for a donation of $150 (or the equivalent). The resulting fund (minus the cost of fulfilment from the UK) will be added to the funds achieved by the Delphi Club through their DORIAN RELIEF FUND .

A higher donation is of course encouraged; and please note, it is not compulsory to receive a bird book.  Smaller donations are extremely welcome too, and for those of $50+ I will offer the donors a high-res PDF of a bird of their choice from a selection of several significant species found on Abaco; or a PDF of the complete bird species checklist for Abaco. That’s voluntary too.

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


The original price of this large photographic book was $145. It showcases the wonderful birds of Abaco with contributions from 30 photographers. Almost all are either residents of Abaco, or have strong connections with – and affection for – the island and its cays. 

The books can be sent to Bahamas, USA, Canada and Europe. For any other destination, please contact me before you make a donation. Books will not be dispatched before October.

Reddish Egret, breeding colours - Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)
Please note that the Delphi Club does not have a stock of books and is not directly involved with this fundraiser. Please contact me with any inquiries, even though the Club details are shown on the pre-publication flyer below.

Keith Salvesen

Rolling Harbour Abaco

Photo Credits: Melissa Maura – Abaco Parrot (1); Alex Hughes – Black-necked Stilt (2); Sally Salvesen – book jacket (3); Tom Sheley – Olive-capped Warbler (4); Keith Salvesen – Cuban Pewee; Reddish Egret in breeding plumage (5, 6)

WAVE CHASERS: SANDERLING POOL TIME ON ABACO


Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

WAVE CHASERS: SANDERLING POOL TIME ON ABACO

It’s often a hard decision whether to include a short piece of video footage in a post. By short, I mean less than a minute. On the one hand, there is usually a good reason for inclusion, even if only aesthetic. On the other, it simply takes up more time for busy people who may prefer to flick through an article and enjoy some nice images along the way. Today, you can have the best of both worlds.

Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Sanderlings are definitively ‘peeps’, a group name that embraces the smallest and squeakiest sandpiper species. They are the wave chasers, the tiny birds that scuttle along the beach, into the retreating tide for a snack from the sand, and back to the beach again as the waves creep in. Their little legs and feet move in a blur, and many people immediately think of wind-up clockwork toys as they watch the birds in action.

Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

One of the joys of being a sanderling is that rock pools fill and empty diurnally. At some time during daylight, there’s the certainty of a quick dip. I was lying on the beach when I took this short video, so that I didn’t spook the birds. I was equipped with a smallish camera (I drowned it the following day. By mistake I mean) but I kept my distance rather than try to get closer and spoil their joyful bathing.

I caught these little birds at a critical moment. You can tell that the tide is coming in fast. The peeps are becoming edgy, and weighing up the joys of immersion in a pool with the less enjoyable prospect of being washed out of the pool by the next wave. Within a minute or so, they had all flocked down the shoreline for a foraging session.

Waves and incoming tide getting a little too close for comfort on the edge of the pool…Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Next to the migratory PIPING PLOVERS that favour Abaco as their winter home, the wave chasers are my favourite shorebirds. My keenness on them killed my camera. I went out into the incoming waves to get shots back at the beach with the sun behind me. Great idea until I lost my balance with, as they say, hilarious consequences. Lesson learnt – never turn your back on waves.

Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

All photos © Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour taken on the beach at Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas

Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)