WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRDS: EFFORTLESS ELEGANCE


White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus catesbyi, Abaco Bahamas (Sally Chisholm)

WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRDS: EFFORTLESS ELEGANCE

I am interrupting my intended sequence of posts (I try to plan ahead a bit…) to bring you some gorgeous white-tailed tropicbirds (Phaethon lepturus catesbyi) seen within the last week near the Low Place on Man-o-War Cay. There were 6 in the group, flying high, flying low, circling, dipping down, flirting  – all of this taking place just offshore.

White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus catesbyi, Abaco Bahamas (Sally Chisholm)

Sally Chisholm, Abaco birder and photographer, was with Todd Pover of CWFNJ, engaged in the final piping plover count of the season before the birds return to their summer breeding grounds [check out ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH if you are interested]. Sally and Todd were distracted from the matter in hand as the group of tropicbirds glided and swooped through the air. It was a free demonstration of beautiful flying skills that can be matched by few other species.

White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus catesbyi, Abaco Bahamas (Sally Chisholm)

It became obvious that courtship was involved. As Sally vividly describes it, “The birds were observed for more than 15 minutes making wide circles, at times flying out of sight across towards Great Abaco and coming back flying low over the same area on MOW. Two birds would interact with a lot of “keck-keck-keck”, and then one of the pair flew down to land several times in the same crevice of the iron shore. It first appeared that the bird was landing for food but none of the photos showed anything carried. The display looked to be one of courtship and was amazing to watch”.

White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus catesbyi, Abaco Bahamas (Sally Chisholm)

TROPICAL TOPICS

  • WTTR plunge-dive for fish and squid, sometimes submerging completely
  • Or they swoop and skim their prey from the surface
  • Another technique to take flying fish in the air (I’d love to see that…)
  • WTTR have no fixed breeding season, and may nest year-round
  • Nesting is colonial or in pairs in a particular area, or even in isolation
  • Pre-mating behaviour involves courtship displays (as here)
  • A pair will fly together, one above the other then…
  • …the higher bird bends its tail down to touch tail of lower bird and [veil drawn]
  • They nest in crevices, holes in rock, on ledges, on the ground under vegetation
  • Chicks are fed by both parents using regurgitation
  • The same site may be re-used for several years by the same pair

White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus catesbyi, Abaco Bahamas (Sally Chisholm)

Credits: All photos, Sally Chisholm except the fantastic nest shot, Melissa Maura (many thanks to both for use permission – I’ve never got a decent photo of one); Audubon NA

White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus catesbyi, Abaco Bahamas (Melissa Maura)

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS ON ABACO


Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco (Tom Sheley)

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS ON ABACO

The sounds are unmistakeable – a discordant chorus of soft chuckling noises like tongue-clicks as the RWTs flock into a bush, interrupted by harsh, metallic calls like rusty metal gate-hinges being forced open. Or maybe a lone bird mournfully repeating its eerie call from the mangroves far out on the Marls as the bonefishing skiffs slip silently along the shoreline. No other species sound quite like Agelaius phoeniceus.

Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco (Tom Sheley)

The handsome males sport flashy epaulets, most clearly visible in flight or in display – for example to impress a prospective mate. Again, they are unlikely to be confused with another species.

Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

The females, as is often the way, are less showy. I have just read that they are ‘nondescript’, which is unnecessarily harsh I reckon. Here are a couple of examples.

And the darker brown ones that are clearly not handsome black males? These are young males in their first season, before they move on to the full adult male plumage. Previously I had designated them females (as I had assumed) until very gently corrected by the legendary Bruce Hallett. Not only was Bruce an essential part in the production of the Birds of Abaco, he also keeps a benign eye on my posts and occasionally steps in to clarify IDs etc.  I took the first male juvenile at Casuarina, when I also made the sound recording (below). The second was at Delphi – and with some ‘light’ issues, I notice…

Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Fledglings are kind of cute…Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco (Tom Sheley))

SO WHAT DO THEY SOUND LIKE?

You may need to turn up the volume a bit. You will also here a lot of dove noise and, in the background, the sound of waves lapping onto the shore.

Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Photo Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 2, 4, 5, 8); Alex Hughes (3); Keith Salvesen (6, 7, 9 & audio)

 

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACO: GOOD IMPRESSIONS


Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACO: GOOD IMPRESSIONS

The Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii is similar to its slightly smaller cousin, the widespread Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottis. The range of Bahama Mockingbirds is not restricted to the Bahamas themselves, and includes areas of  Cuba, Jamaica and TCI, so despite the name they are not an endemic species to the Bahamas.  They are also occasional vagrants to the United States, especially – for reasons of proximity – southeastern Florida.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Peter Mantle

The Bahama Mockingbird is browner than the greyish Northern Mockingbird, and has distinctive streaking and spotting to its breast and undercarriage. This may extend to what you might describe as the bird’s ‘trouser legs’, though I’m sure there’s a more technically correct term.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Charlie Skinner

Both mockingbird species are found on Abaco. The NMs are ubiquitous in towns, settlements, gardens, coppice and pine forest, whereas BMs are shyer and tend to be found in the pine forest and well away from humans and their operations. When we were putting together The Birds of Abaco, I went on a birding trip with Abaco birding legend Woody Bracey and Ohio bird photographer Tom Sheley. We took a truck into the pine forest down a logging track south of Delphi, and they were quick to locate a bird, not least because one was sitting prettily on a branch singing lustily and unmistakably. It was well within range of Tom’s massive lens; more of a struggle for my modest camera (below). Caught the cobwebs, though…

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

I was astounded by the beauty and variety of the song. It consisted of very varied notes and phrases, each repeated 3 or 4 times before moving on to the next sounds in the repertoire. Here is a short 18 second example I recorded, using my unpatented iPhone method, for which see HERE.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Alex Hughes

For those with interest in birdsong, here is a longer 1:13 minute song from the same bird, with largely different sounds from the first recording made minutes earlier. There’s even a decent stab at imitation of a 1960s Trimphone™. Had we not had to move on to Sandy Point for an appointment with some cattle egrets and American kestrels, I could have stayed listening for far longer.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

THE ‘SUBSPECIES’ THAT WASN’T…

More recently, on a trip in backcountry to find Kirtland’s warblers – we saw 4 – the slow-moving truck jolted to halt in the middle of nowhere. This was because a Bahama Mockingbird was right by the track. I fired off some quick shots out of the window into a rather difficult light, to find that we appeared to have found a new subspecies, the scarlet-faced mockingbird.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

The reason was clear, however. The bird had been pigging out on some red berries, and had managed to collect plenty of the juice round the base of its beak. Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

SO WHAT DOES A NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD LOOK LIKE, THEN?

I photographed the Northern Mockingbird below in a garden at Casuarina. The species is far tamer than its cousin, and seen side-by-side they are clearly very different. The range maps show the stark contrast between the very limited range of the Bahama Mockingbird and the vast distribution of the Northern Mockingbird.

220px-Northern_Mockingbird-rangemap

Northern Mockingbird, Abaco 1

Photos Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 6); Peter Mantle (2); Charlie Skinner (3); Keith Salvesen (4, 7, 8, 9); Alex Hughes (5); Susan Daughtrey (10). Range maps eBird & wiki.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Susan Daughtry

BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO: AN UPGRADE


Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO: AN UPGRADE

Hi, human friends, I’m a black-faced grassquit Tiaris bicolor and I have a couple of observations to make on behalf of BFGS, if I may. First, we seem to be universally described 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.

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

And I have some news for you. The perceptive classifications committee of the American Ornithological Union recently gave us an upgrade. That’s the way we see it anyway. For many years we have been classified under the heading Emberizidae. 

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

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

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

Last year, it became official. We are really a type of Tanager. They reckon 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’s 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)

STOP PRESS The day after I had pressed the ‘publish’ button on this post, I came across a great shot by Larry Towning of a BFG on Lubbers Quarters Cay, Abaco (think ‘Cracker P’s Restaurant’). An excellent addition of a bird from a small cay, showing its bright lower-wing flash.Black-faced Grassquit (m) Lubbers Quarters, Abaco (Larry Towning).jpg

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) plus Larry Towning. Other Credits: ABA, AOU, Whatbird? (sound files)

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)

THICK-BILLED VIREOS: ABACO’S ONLY PERMANENT RESIDENT VIREO


Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco 2 Tom Reed

THICK-BILLED VIREOS: ABACO’S ONLY PERMANENT RESIDENT VIREO

Hard to know why I haven’t got round to featuring these little vireos before. Unlike the other 7 vireo species found on Abaco seasonally or as transients, the Thick-billed Vireo Vireo crassirostris is an ever-present permanent resident of the coppice and scrub; and their unmistakeable repeating song can be heard almost everywhere. It was the first bird song I heard on Abaco, and therefore the TBV was the first bird I learned to ID. I’ve got quite a soft spot for them, really.Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Craig Nash)

Although TBVs are very easy to hear and track to a general area of coppice, I find actually seeing the bird creating the noise quite hard – let alone getting a clear camera shot. They always seem to be lurking several feet further away, deeper in the foliage, than the sound suggests. I’ve had some fun making TBV song iPhone recordings along the Delphi drive, practising the technique. If you want to know more about recording and converting to MP3 CLICK HERE.

One of my favourite images, from Gerlinde Taurer: a ‘shouty’ bird. We used it for ‘BIRDS OF ABACO‘.Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco  (Gerlinde Taurer 2)

I also love this perky little guy with a great beady-eyed pose taken by Bruce HallettThick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Bruce Hallett 2)

Here’s a clip of song, which I’m sure will be immediately familiar to Bahamians:

Paul Driver / Xeno Canto

Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

The main signifiers for this species, which in combination distinguish the TBV from the other vireo species on Abaco, are:

  • Two white wing bars
  • Yellow patch – usually quite prominent – between eye and beak
  • Thick bill – which immediately rules it out of being one of the 37 warbler species on Abaco…

Text book TBVThick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Becky Marvil 2).jpg

There are marked colour variations in the species according to maturity, season and to an extent gender (though m & f are quite similar). Here’s one that is causing wing-bar confusion by only showing traces. It also has quite dark upper parts.

Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

This is a very yellow TBVThick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Bruce Hallett 1)Whereas this one has rather anaemic colorationThick-billed Vireo, Abaco Bahamas .Tom SheleyFinally, this pretty TBV is very delicately markedThick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

RELATED POSTS

BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO

PHILADELPHIA VIREO

Credits: Tom Reed (1), Craig Nash (2), Gerlinde Taurer (3), Bruce Hallett (4, 8), Tom Sheley (5, 9), Becky Marvil (6), Alex Hughes (7), Tony Hepburn (10); Paul Driver / Xeno Canto

“FAIR GAME” ON ABACO: THE ATTRACTIVE BUT SADLY DELICIOUS WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON


White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)

 “FAIR GAME” ON ABACO: THE ATTRACTIVE BUT SADLY DELICIOUS WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON

Fishing is the mainstay of Abaco’s sporting life, but hunting runs it a close second. Whether it’s the hog hunters plunging down remote backcountry tracks with their dogs or the shooters plying their trade, there is plenty on the hunter’s menu. The WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON Patagioenas leucocephala is one of the species that’s fair game in season. The bright white of its crown rather gives away its position. A permanent resident on Abaco, this pigeon is quite commonly found.

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

The Bahamas hunting season for this species is between the end of September and March. Here is the relevant extract from the excellent BNT HUNTERS GUIDE, a very useful publication packed with information that is well worth a look at. WCP BNT Hunters Guide

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Unfortunately, this pigeon is no longer as prolific as it once was, and is now IUCN-listed ‘near-threatened’. Hunting is one reason. Habitat loss is another. And apparently in Florida (the only US State that has these birds), car-strike is a major cause of population decline (with time, they may learn to fly higher. Unless it’s too late for the species by then…).

White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

The balance of species preservation and the perceived need of humans to encroach on habitat or their wish to shoot for the pot, is a always a hard one to judge. ‘Near-threatened’ sounds bad, but it’s probably not until the next stage is reached – ‘vulnerable’ or ‘endangered’ – that there is real cause for concern. But as the title says (props to Peter Mantle for this pithy observation, duly incorporated into the WCP entry in THE BIRDS OF ABACO) these inoffensive pigeons are indeed ‘sadly delicious…’

White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)Photo credits: Gerlinde Taurer, Alex Hughes, Tony Hepburn plus BNT for the hunters guide

 

LHUDE SING, CUCCU! THE MANGROVE CUCKOO ON ABACO


 Mangrove Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

LHUDE SING, CUCCU! THE MANGROVE CUCKOO ON ABACO

Summer is icumen in, that’s for sure. Has already cumen in, to be accurate. The approach of summer is the time when cuckoos tend to sing loudly (not lewdly, as the old lingo might suggest). The YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, recently featured, is one. The MANGROVE CUCKOO (Coccyzus minor) is another. Before I get on to some gorgeous pictures (none taken by me!), let’s have a sample of how this species sounds. The call has been described in various ways, for example as “gawk gawk gawk gawk gauk gauk”. I’m not so sure. And I can’t think of a sensible way to write it out phonetically. So I won’t. Please try, via the comment box…

Jesse Fagan / Xeno-Canto

Cornell Lab / Allaboutbirds  

MANGROVE CUCKOO, Abaco (Alex Hughes)Mangrove Cuckoo with insect.Delphi Club, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

You will notice that all three birds above have got fat insects in  their beaks. A lot of photos in the archive show feeding mangrove cuckoos. Maybe that’s when they are most likely to break cover, for they are quite a shy species.  Their preference is for caterpillars and grasshoppers, but they are happy to eat other insects, spiders, snails, lizards and (with a nod to an all-round healthy diet) fruit.

Mangrove Cuckoo, Delphi Club, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley) copyMangrove Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer) Mangrove Cuckoo, Abaco Alex Hughes

Delphi is lucky to have some of these handsome birds lurking in dense foliage along the drives – the guest drive in particular. Some of these photographs were taken there. Occasionally you may see one flying across a track ahead of a vehicle, flashing its distinctive tail. It’s significant that only the last of these photos shows the bird right out in the open – the rest are all deeper in the coppice.

Mangrove Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn) copyMangrove Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)  copyCredits: Bruce Hallett, Alex Hughes,  Tom Sheley, Gerlinde Taurer and the late Tony Hepburn; Audio – Xeno-Canto & Cornell Lab. All photos taken on Abaco!

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“SEVEN GOOD TERNS DESERVE AN AUTHOR”: BIRDS OF ABACO


Royal Terns Abaco (2) 4

“SEVEN GOOD TERNS DESERVE AN AUTHOR”: BIRDS OF ABACO

A total of 12 tern species have been recorded on Abaco and in Abaco waters. Ever. Some are permanently resident, some are winter visitors, some arrive for the summer and one or two – for example the Arctic Tern – are one-off or vanishingly rare sightings. A few are commonplace, some you may see if you know where to look or are lucky, some would not be worth making a special trip to Abaco to find…

Here are 7 tern species that all feature in the newly published “Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco”. A cunning code devised by Bahamas ornithologist Tony White tells you when they are around (PR, WR, SR = permanent, winter, summer resident; TR means transient) and the likelihood of seeing one at the appropriate time (1 = very likely to 5 = next to no chance). B means ‘breeds on Abaco’.

The header picture shows a line up of Royal Terns perched characteristically facing the breeze on a dead tree far out on the Marls. I took it while we were out bonefishing, and our guide Ishi very tolerantly poled nearer to the birds so I could get a better shot at them with the sun behind me. The ones shown are in an intermediate stage between non-breeding plumage and full breeding plumage, when the ‘caps’ are black. One (shown below) had the full black cap.

BRIDLED TERN (SR B 2)Bridled Tern, Bruce Hallett

CASPIAN TERN (TR 4)Caspian Tern Woody Bracey

GULL-BILLED TERN (SR 3)Gull-billed Tern Alex Hughes

ROSEATE TERN (SR B 2)Roseate Tern Woody Bracey

ROYAL TERN (PR 1)Royal Terns RH / KS

SANDWICH TERN (SR 4)Sandwich Tern Woody Bracey

LEAST TERN (SR B 1)Least Tern Tony Hepburn

The other 5 species recorded are: Sooty Tern, Black tern, Common Tern, Arctic Tern and Forster’s Tern

Photo Credits: Bruce Hallett, Woody Bracey, Alex Hughes, RH

Abaco Bird Code jpg

ABACO BIRD ID CHALLENGE (FOR NON-EXPERTS): THE SOLUTION


ABACO BIRD ID CHALLENGE (FOR NON-EXPERTS ONLY): THE SOLUTION

This small bird (Oh. I’ve given away the size already) was photographed in June. I was looking through a batch of downloaded photos recently. When I saw it again, I knew at once which bird species it belonged to – but not the specific make. I did some research and came up with the answer. I’d nailed the ID – or thought I had. The photo was a long shot which I had to enlarge to see the markings more clearly, hence a lower overall quality. I sent the jpeg to an officially  avian-knowledgeable person for confirmation (hi, Alex!). The reply was swift. No, not the bird ‘swift’, I mean it was quick. It turns out that I was, as so often, completely wrong. Barking up the wrong tree. Chirping in the wrong nest. Perched on the wrong branch…

I’d say there are two definitely plausible candidates, and you may even think of others. So what bird is it? You can click on it to enlarge it. Please join in and give your answer using ‘leave a comment’ (tiny letters at the end of this post) or email rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com  Or, if you are seeing this on Facebook, please reply on that.

UPDATE Thanks for emails. Opinion is divided, but one of the 2 candidates is definitely ahead… I’ll leave this over the weekend

SOLUTION Of the few replies, most were right. One or 2 were (wrongly) with me – I reckoned it was a SWAINSON’S WARBLER. No one suggested turkey vulture. The correct ID, and the reasons for it, were provided by Alex Hughes, to whom thanks: “The first bird is a BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO.  The black supercilium going through the eye and the heavy bill are good marks, which can resemble a Swainson’s Warbler, but a clinching mark here is the yellow wash underneath the tail at the rear of the bird”.

While I am dealing with mystery birds, I posted photos of a very sweet little JUVENILE  BANANAQUIT about a month ago. At the end I added a photo, which again has since been positively identified (thanks again, Alex)

“Finally, this bird was a distance shot. At the time, it looked larger than a bananaquit – more Loggerhead Kingbird-sized. Before I had downloaded the image and could see it clearly [rather than on the screen on the back of the camera], I’d wondered about a mangrove cuckoo. Then I saw at once that it didn’t tick the right boxes. So I decided it must just be a huge bananaquit with an orange rather than yellow front. If it’s anything else (a rare hybrid spindalisquit?), please say so!” It is a indeed bananaquit, but in my limited experience I have never seen one with a spindalis-orange front. Can anyone say if that is a common colouring on Abaco, or unusual?