DOVE LOVE: APPRECIATING PIGEONS ON ABACO


White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

DOVE LOVE: APPRECIATING PIGEONS ON ABACO

Monday was International Pigeon Appreciation Day 2016, apparently. I’m not a huge fan of limitless species being accorded their own special day each year: “Celebrate International Plankton Day – Be Kind to your Favourite Protozoa!” or “Global Millipede Day: Take an Arthropod for a Walk!”.

White-crowned Pigeon (& header image)White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

I’m not sure where pigeons come in all this. In many cities feral pigeons are considered vermin – yet people love to feed them, even the ones with rotted feet and one eye. Especially those ones. Pigeons may be pests in crop fields, yet HEROES in wartime. They may be decorative, yet are, regrettably, good sport and delicious.

White-winged doveWhite-winged Dove, Abaco Bahamas - Tom SheleyWhite-winged Dove, Abaco - Tony Hepburn

I’ve decided to take a broad view with pigeons and doves (there’s no significant difference), and not to be sniffy about Columba and their special day. They are pretty birds and they deserve it. So I’m featuring some Abaco pigeons and doves to enjoy, representing every species found on Abaco – and a bonus dove from New Providence at the end.

Eurasian Collared DoveCollared Dove, Abaco - Keith Salvesen / Rolling HarbourEurasian Collared Dove, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

The Columbidae of Abaco: all permanent breeding residentsPigeons : Doves Abaco

Common Ground Dove (Tobacco Dove)Common Ground Dove, Abaco 1 (Tom Sheley)Common Ground Dove, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

SPORT REPORT

PROTECTED SPECIES From a sporting and culinary point of view, the following pigeons and doves are protected by law at all times: Common Ground (Tobacco) Dove; Keywest Quail-Dove

SHOOTING IN SEASON The following have open season from roughly mid-September until March: Zenaida Dove; White-crowned Pigeon; Eurasian Collared Dove; Mourning Dove

UNPROTECTED – NO DESIGNATED CLOSED SEASON White-winged Dove (but why? they are fairly uncommon on Abaco); Rock Pigeon.

Zenaida DoveZenaida Dove, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Zenaida Dove, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Key West Quail-Dove

The second bird of this pair was recently photographed by Milton Harris at the north end of Elbow Cay. More details HERE Key West Quail Dove, Nassau, Woody BraceyKey West Quail-Dove, Elbow Cay, Abaco (Milton Harris) 1a

Rock PigeonRock Pigeon, Sandy Point, Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley 2bRock Pigeon NYC (keith Salvesen)

Mourning DoveMourning Dove, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

The birds shown above represent the 8 species found on Abaco. However, not far away in New Providence, there is a beautiful pigeon that has not yet made its way over to Abaco and has yet to be introduced there. I am ambivalent about the deliberate introduction of alien species, because of the frequently very real risks to native species in terms of territory, habitat, food sources and so forth. But where there is no detectable threat to the local species, perhaps there is no great harm. I’d certainly like to see these lovely birds flying around – if possible, as a protected species…

Pied Imperial Pigeon (Nassau)Pied Imperial Pigeon 1, Nassau (Woody Bracey) Pied Imperial Pigeon 2, Nassau (Woody Bracey).JPG

Photo credits: Gerlinde Taurer (1); Alex Hughes (2); Tom Sheley (3, 7, 13); Tony Hepburn (4); Keith Salvesen (5, 8, 14); Bruce Hallett (6, 9, 10); Woody Bracey (11, 16, 17); Milton Harris (12); Charles Skinner (15)

“KNOCK ON WOOD”: HAIRY WOODPECKERS FOR GOOD LUCK


Bahamas-Great Abaco_6568_Hairy Woodpecker_Gerlinde Taurer copy

“KNOCK ON WOOD”: HAIRY WOODPECKERS FOR GOOD LUCK

Delphi is an excellent place for woodpeckers. The Lodge itself has its own resident WEST INDIAN WOODPECKERS, who generally raise two broods a year in the nest boxes under the eaves. The coppice and pinewoods along the one-mile drives are home to the smaller Hairy Woodpeckers Picoides villosus, where they too nest annually. There’s a particular tall dead tree on the guest drive that is used every year, and from early March it is the first place I check for signs of occupation. If evident, I take it as a sign of good luck (and hope it extends to my fishing).

Hairy Woodpecker, Abaco (Alex Hughes) Hairy Woodpecker, Abaco (Bruce Hallett) Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi, Abaco (Peter Mantle)I can’t believe I haven’t featured a hairy woodpecker for more than 2 years. As we prepare for our forthcoming trip to Abaco HQ and the consequent plethora of photos (95% of which will be deleted), here is a small gallery of males (red caps) and females, some of them taken at Delphi. Check out those huge claws of the one below at her nest on the dead tree mentioned above.

Hairy Woodpecker female. Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copyHairy Woodpecker male. Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copyBahamas-Great Abaco_5247_Hairy Woodpecker_Gerlinde Taurer copyHairy Woodpecker, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

I photographed this female last year in a tree near the swimming pool. I watched it for some time, but it must have been camera shy, because although quite unconcerned by my presence, it never came right out into the open. Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

MUSICAL DIGRESSION (OPTIONAL)
“Knock on Wood”, the 1966 hit for Eddie Floyd, was co-written with the amazing Steve Cropper (‘house guitarist’ for Stax). It has been much-covered over the years, none more unexpectedly than by David Bowie on his 1974 Live album (also released as a single). Here is the originator, in a live performance. 
Credits: Gerlinde Taurer (1, 7), Alex Hughes, Bruce Hallett, Peter Mantle, Tom Sheley (5, 6), Tony Hepburn, Keith Salvesen

WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRD: ABACO’S MOST ELEGANT BIRD


White-tailed Tropicbird, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRD: ABACO’S MOST ELEGANT BIRD

A competition to decide the most elegant bird found on Abaco (of 350+ recorded species) is a simpler task than it sounds. Colourfulness doesn’t come into (sorry, painted bunting, Abaco parrot & co). Nor cuteness, rarity, popularity and so on. Some birds don’t make the starting line at all (but we love you, ungainly limpkins and raucous clumsy-flying Anis). Best to judge from a different viewpoint: is there one bird that in flight is invariably beautiful to watch, in a way that can make you catch your breath…?

White-tailed Tropicbird, Abaco (Alex Hughes)White-tailed Tropicbird, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

The caribbean white-tailed tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus catesbyi) is one of six types of tropicbird found worldwide. It is named after pioneering naturalist MARK CATESBY, who predated John James Audubon. Click the link to find out more about him. Catesby’s depiction (below) of a ‘Phaeton’ must be one of the earliest.

Catesby’s TropicbirdTropicbird - Mark Catesby jpg

IMG_0413

In the Bahamas, tropicbirds are summer resident only and breed on the islands. Abaco is fortunate to have several breeding colonies, not all in remote or inaccessible places. Female tropicbirds lay a single egg directly onto the ground or on rocky ledges and in rocky holes. One might suppose that such limited egg production with a somewhat high-risk nesting policy, coupled with modern problems such as habitat destruction, might affect numbers. However, these fine birds seem to be doing well, and are IUCN-listed ‘Least Concern’.

This tropicbird on Abaco has found a safe place to nest in a rocky holeWhite-tailed Tropicbird on nest, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

Tropicbirds have a variety of local names in the Caribbean, for example ‘longtail’ and ‘bosun bird’ (after their screeching call). They plunge-dive for fish, but are inexpert swimmers. This is a factor I am prepared to overlook in the elegance contest. They were born to fly high, not to paddle about.

White-tailed Tropicbird, Abaco (Alex Hughes)White-tailed Tropicbird, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

THE STORY OF TB THE TROPICBIRD

A couple of years ago, a tropicbird chick was rescued by a dive boat and given to Melissa Maura, well-known for her animal magic, to care for. She nurtured ‘TB’, giving him a soft bed and providing him with a swimming pool. To begin with, it looked as though he might not be able to fly at all, but as he became stronger he started to flap his wings.

White-tailed Tropicbird, Bahamas (Melissa Maura)White-tailed Tropicbird, Bahamas (Melissa Maura)

Then it was time to go to the beach, get acquainted with sand and sea, and practise flying. I have some pathetic photos of an exhausted TB lying flat out on the sand after his initial attempts to fly. But Melissa and TB persevered with the flying practice and in due course TB began to get the hang of it. Finally, the great day arrived. Melissa and a friend took TB down to the beach and launched him into the air. He took off, flying strongly away, never to return. A moment of triumph mixed with poignance.

  White-tailed Tropicbird, Bahamas (Melissa Maura) White-tailed Tropicbird, Bahamas (Melissa Maura)White-tailed Tropicbird, Bahamas (Melissa Maura)

You are very welcome to propose a rival in the elegance stakes in the comment box!

Credits: Main photos Alex Hughes; TB images Melissa Maura

White-tailed Tropicbird, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

GULL-BILLED TERNS ON ABACO


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

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 04

For those (me) who need a reminder about the whole family / genus / species taxonomic maze, here is a reminder. The example used is man. Or stickman, anyway.3958555126_4f85d9fa5b

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 four are transient or vagrant, and probably not worth making a special trip to Abaco to find. The GBT is designated SB3, a summer breeding resident that is generally uncommon, though might be more common in particular areas.

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) 03

There are 6 species of GBT worldwide, and it is found in every continent. While many terns plunge-dive for fish, the GBT 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 GBT with a small crab. I imagine 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. Does anyone have a ‘caught-in-the-act’ photo?

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 06Gull-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 a while back 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

‘CHECK OUT THE WEB’: SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS ON ABACO


Semi-Palmated Plover, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

‘CHECK OUT THE WEB’: SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS ON ABACO

“Semipalmated”. You what? Come again? Ehhhh? My reactions to the word until embarrassingly recently. In fact until the steep learning curve involved in writing a bird book made some all of the terminology clearer. Plovers and sandpipers both have semipalmated versions, and I’ll take the semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) first.

Semipalmated Plover, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR?

A small shorebird with a grey-brown back and wings, a white underside with a single black neck band, and orange legs. They have a brown cap, a white forehead, a black eye mask and a short black bill with an orange base to it. And feet to be discussed below.Semi-palmated Plover WB P1001211 copySemipalmated Plover, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

WHERE DO THEY LIVE?

Their summer home and breeding habitat is on the beaches and flats of northern Canada and Alaska. They nest in scrapes on the ground right out in the open. In the Autumn these little birds set off on long journeys south to warmer climes until Spring: the coasts of the southern states, Caribbean and South America. On Abaco, they are fairly common in certain areas including the beach at Delphi. Like other plovers, these  birds are gregarious and will mix in with other shorebirds – which can make them hard to pick out in the crowd.Semipalmated Plover, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

GET ON WITH THE ‘SEMIPALMATED’ BIT, PLEASE

‘Semipalmated’ refers to the partial webbing between their toes. There are different degrees of palmation, as these handy graphics demonstrate:

Semipalmate: in practice, very hard so see in the field e.g. plovers & sandpipers semipalmate

Palmate: full webbing across the ‘front’ 3 toes, e.g. gulls

palmate

Totipalmate: all toes are fully webbed e.g. cormorants

totipalmate

Nonpalmate: please supply own imagination 

Gregarious flight: there are sandpipers in the mix (clue: long bills)Semipalmated Plover, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

WHAT DO THESE BIRDS EAT?

Semipalmated plovers are much like any other small shorebird foraging on beaches and foreshores. They eat insects, crustaceans and worms. Here is a bird in a promising place for its preferred diet.

Semipalmated Plover, Abaco (f, nb) Bruce Hallett FV

ANYTHING ELSE TO LOOK OUT FOR?

Like other plover species – Wilson’s and Killdeer for example – a semipalmated will  use the ‘broken wing’ ploy to lure a predator away from a nest and the eggs or chicks in it. As it flops about pathetically on the sand looking vulnerable, it actually moves gradually further away from the nest. If it comes to the crunch it is able to take wing rapidly, leaving a very puzzled predator behind.Semipalmated_Plover,_broken_wing_display (D Gordon E Robertson)

Semipalmated plovers flying with 2 sandpipersSemi-palmated Plover AH IMG_0612 jpg

Credits: Alex Hughes (1, 6, 9, 10); Woody Bracey (2, 3); Tony Hepburn (4); Charles Skinner (5); Bruce Hallett (7); D Gordon E Robertson (8);  Bird foot infographics people.eku.edu AH IMG_1637 copy

GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH: ABACO’S “POLICE BIRD”


Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH: ABACO’S “POLICE BIRD”

Following my last gloomy post about the widely-reported die-off of the poor, exhausted migratory great shearwaters, let’s turn with relief to a cheerful bird known to all and admired in coppice and garden: the Greater Antillean Bullfinch Loxigilla violacea. These pretty birds are easy to find and to identify. They love feeders, and they are responsive to ‘pishing’, that irritating (?) noise that birders make to unseen avians in the coppice to persuade them to reveal themselves. Adult males are black with bright red accessories (hence “police bird”); females are paler with orangey accessories; and juveniles look a bit scruffy and patchy. Here’s a GAB gallery to enjoy.

Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 4 Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 5Greater Antillean Bullfinch immature with snail 2.Delphi Club.Abaco (Tom Sheley)Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Great Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco  (Tom Sheley) 1Great Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Charles Skinner)Great Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)GAB BH IMG_9208 copy 2

Credits: Erik Gauger (1); Alex Hughes (2, 3); Tom Sheley (4, 6); Keith Salvesen (5); Charles Skinner (7); Gerlinde Taurer (8); Bruce Hallett (9)

 

SANDERLING ON ABACO: A PERFECT PEEP FOR THE NEW YEAR


Sanderling Pair, Abaco (Craig Nash)

SANDERLING ON ABACO: A PERFECT PEEP FOR THE NEW YEAR

Various matters have kept me from the Blogosphere over the last week, so this is the first post for 2015. And what gorgeous little birds to have to hand for it – the Sanderling Calidris alba, a small sandpiper or ‘stint’ that is a common and welcome winter sight on the shorelines of Abaco, as in many other parts of the world. Who can resist these little guys, the ‘wave chasers’ that work along the shoreline, rapidly following the surf as food is exposed on the tide. Sometimes they will actually run into the ripples of an incoming wave to snap up a morsel of food, before scuttling back up the beach. They have been likened to clockwork toys. Amusing and cheering little birds to watch, so here is a gallery of them to enjoy and to welcome in the new year.

Sanderling in the Surf, Abaco (Craig Nash)Sanderling, Abaco (Craig Nash)  Sanderling, Abaco (Alex Hughes)1Classic Sanderling foraging area in the wet sand left by the retreating tideSanderling, Abaco (Alex Hughes)4The birds are small and fly fast: a clear ‘in-flight’ photo is a great achievementSanderling, Abaco (Alex Hughes)2 Sanderling, Abaco (Alex Hughes)3 Sanderling.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley1 Sanderling.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley2

This sandpiper was taken by the late Tony Hepburn on Abaco. It has been ringed in its summer breeding grounds, and feeds in wave-softened sand with the tidal foam still visible all around it.Sanderling, Abaco (Tony Hepburn) copy

This made me chortle… Sanderling Lonelyheart!photo

Credits: Craig Nash (1 – 3); Alex Hughes (4 – 7); Tom Sheley (8 – 9); Tony Hepburn (10)