BAHAMA ORIOLE: HABITAT FIND FOR A RARE GEM


Bahama Oriole, Andros (Dan Stonko / abcbirds.org)

BAHAMA ORIOLE: HABITAT FIND FOR A RARE GEM

c300 LEFT IN THE WORLD – AND ALL ON ANDROS

The future of the gorgeous endemic Bahama Oriole (Icterus northropi) hangs in the balance. IUCN Red Listed as ‘Critically Endangered’, the Oriole once lived on both Abaco and Andros. As recently as the 1990s, the species became extirpated on Abaco, leaving a small and fragile population in  fairly specific areas of Andros. These are places where the habitat is conducive to the orioles’ well-being, and in particular where they can safely breed and (with luck) replenish their depleted population.

Bahama Oriole, Andros (Michael Baltz / Bahama Oriole Project)

We hear a lot about habitat loss as a grave worldwide problem for an increasing number of species. Narrow that down to one species, one island, a few defined areas, and a tiny, barely sustainable population, then add mankind and his needs to the mix. Not much habitat degradation, clearances, predation or disease is needed to reduce 300 specimens to zero.

Bahama Oriole, Andros (Mary Kay Beach Dec 2018)

Which is where conservation and science come into play. The Bahamas archipelago benefits from an astonishing number of (broadly-speaking) environmental organisations that are involved in species and habitat protection, both terrestrial and marine. They range from international to Bahamas-wide and Governmental, to NFP organisations on the main islands, and on through local communities via citizen scientists to dedicated individuals. All are fighting a specific battle with a single aim; all face an increasing array of metaphorical weapons being deployed against them.

Bahama Oriole, Andros (Bahama Oriole Project FB header)

SO, ANY GOOD NEWS THEN?

Returning to the orioles – in many ways a perfect indicator bird species – recent research has led to an encouraging discovery.  The American Bird Conservancy (@ABCbirds) has just published the results of a new study in The Journal of Caribbean Ornithology. This involved several organisations –  Bahamas National Trust, the Bahama Oriole Project (@BahamaOrioleProject), UMBC Biology, and Birds Caribbean. It concerns new evidence about the nesting habits and habitats of the orioles that will have “…major implications for future conservation”.

The study is the outcome of the work of a dozen conservation specialists. In a coconut-shell, the orioles were thought to nest only in the coconut palms found near the coast. However the recent intensive research program reveals that ‘multiple pairs’ breed in the pines and the thatch palms of the forests, away from the coast. The implications of these new findings are significant, not least for a possible uplift in numbers and the way in which conservation measures can be adapted to the new discovery. For those wanting something more authoritative, the short Abstract of the study is given at the end. And if you’d like to read the whole article, click on the link below.

472-Article Text-1543-1-10-20180828

Bahama Oriole Andros (C Ward BNT)

THE MAIN CAUSES OF THE CRITICAL DECLINE ON ANDROS

  • Lethal Yellowing Disease of the coconut palms, prime nesting habitat for the oriole. In some areas the palms have been all but wiped out.
  • The arrival in the 1990s and spread of the Shiny Cowbird Molothrus bonariensis, a brood parasite that lays its eggs in the nests of other bird species
  • Habitat loss / development
  • Forestry work / forest fires
  • Feral cats and rodents
  • Disease has also been mentioned (but I haven’t actually pursued the specifics…)

Bahama Oriole, Andros (Thomas Nierle / Bahama Oriole Project)

WHEN & WHY DID THE ORIOLES VANISH FROM ABACO?

This is a classic ‘riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’. Various sources I have looked at use a formula such as “…became extirpated from Abaco in the 1990s”, or “disappeared for unknown reasons in the 1990s”. I’ve found no clear clue as to the cause – nor even when the last sighting of an oriole on Abaco was made. I haven’t found a single photo of one taken on Abaco at any time in history. To be fair the option of snapping everything with wings multiple times using a digital camera with a huge chip didn’t exist then. 

ABSTRACT

The Bahama Oriole (Icterus northropi) is a Critically Endangered species endemic to The Bahamas and currently found only on the Andros island complex. With the elevation of the Bahama Oriole to full species status in 2011, research suggested that there were fewer than 300 individuals remaining in the global population. The Bahama Oriole was also termed a “synanthropic species” based on data suggesting that the species nested almost exclusively within anthropogenic residential and agricultural habitats in introduced coconut palms (Cocos nucifera). These conclusions were based on population surveys primarily confined to settled areas near the coasts. However, we documented multiple pairs of orioles with breeding territories deep in pine forests, and we present the first records of Bahama Orioles nesting in pine forests—in both a Caribbean pine (Pinus caribaea) and native understory Key thatch palms (Leucothrinax morrisii). Given the predominance of the pine forests on Andros, this newly documented breeding habitat has important implications for developing population estimates and future conservation plans for the Bahama Oriole.

640px-Picture_of_John_Isaiah_NorthropBahama Oriole Stamp birdtheme.orgCredits: Dan Stonko / American Bird Conservancy, Michael Baltz / Bahama Oriole Project; Mary Kay Beach; Bahama Oriole Project FB header; C Ward / BNT; Thomas Nierle / Bahama Oriole Project; Bahamas Postal Service; BNT; D Belasco / American Bird Conservancy

          ↑ Mr Northrop with his BirdBahama Oriole, Andros (D Belasco / abcbirds.org)

BAHAMA NUTHATCH: TINY, RARE, A HOP AWAY FROM ABACO…


brown-headed_nuthatch-david-hill-sc

BAHAMA NUTHATCH: TINY, RARE, A HOP AWAY FROM ABACO…

The Bahama Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla insularis) is one of the rarest birds in the Bahamas and – like the similarly rare BAHAMA ORIOLE on Andros – it is confined to one island only, Grand Bahama.  At best about 1000 – 1200 mature birds may inhabit the pine forests though current estimates vary, and that number may be optimistic. What is clear is that, for all the usual reasons (see below) the population is likely to be decreasing rather than growing.

bahamas_nuthatch-birdlife-org

Despite its  scarcity and size – this little bird is one of the smallest in the nuthatch family – the BANU is subject to much scientific debate in bird circles. Until a dozen years ago, it was simply considered to be a brown-headed nuthatch, a familiar enough bird in south-eastern USA. Then a research paper was published, which led to the bird being awarded subspecies status as the Bahama nuthatch S. p. insularis. Some argue further, that it should be considered a fully separate species and split from its cousin (as, recently, with the Bahama and Inagua woodstars in 2015). Others write as though this has already happened but as far as I can make out, it has not – though it might possibly happen once further researches have been completed and submitted (polite correction on this point welcome…).

bahama-nuthatch-owl-hole-rd-grand-bahama-bruce-purdy

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES TO JUSTIFY SEPARATE STATUS?

Close investigation of the Grand Bahama population showed a number of significant differences between the island and the US populations. Having read and digested all the relevant research (NOT! Abstracts, maybe…), I discovered that the main distinctions are:

  • A longer, heavier bill (compare the header image of a brown-headed nuthatch in South Carolina with the second one of a Bahama nuthatch).
  • Shorter wings
  • Whiter belly
  • Distinctively different vocalisations

bahama-nuthatch-grand-bahama-robert-norton

IUCN RED LIST STATUS

Whether the BANU is a sub-species of brown-headed nuthatch or a fully separate species, the bird is incredibly rare. The population may be unsustainable without intervention (as implemented to save the Abaco parrots) – and the threat of extinction looms even as the bird begins to attract international interest. In 2016 the IUCN listed the BANU as ENDANGERED, meaning essentially that it faces extinction. ‘Critically endangered’ is the only higher category. The main reasons given for the listing were the small population, found on only one island, and likely to continue declining as a result of habitat loss & invasive species

brown-headed-nuthatch-erika-gates-bahamas-weekly-article

 WHAT ARE THE MAIN THREATS TO THE SPECIES, I MEAN SUBSPECIES?

  • Habitat loss / degradation from development, logging, forest fires & hurricanes
  • Invasive / introduced / feral species such as corn snakes, raccoons & cats
  • Competition from other bird species in a limited area

brown-headed_nuthatch-matt-tillett-md_

HOW DO THESE BIRDS BEHAVE?

A few years back, Erika Gates, well-known Grand Bahama birder and guide, wrote an excellent article in her ‘Bird Talk’ column published in the Bahamas Weekly. It includes this description:

The Bahama Nuthatch exhibits several highly unusual and endearing behaviors. It is one of the very few bird species that conducts co-operative breeding, in which young males assist with nest construction, nest sanitation as well as feeding of the female sitting on the eggs, nestlings and fledglings. It is also one of the few birds known to utilize a tool. On occasion, it uses a bark chip, held in its bill, to pry off bark portions during foraging for insects and grub.

brown-headed_nuthatch-dick-daniels-nc-wiki

SO IF I’M IN THE PINE FOREST ON G B, WHAT DO I LISTEN OUT FOR?

Sadly, there are no available recordings of a BANU**. As their vocalisation is one of the factors that differentiates them from the brown-headed nuthatch, it’s clearly not very helpful to illustrate what the latter sound like. But I am going to anyway, because they can’t be that different. It’s probably just a Bahamian accent. I have read somewhere that it sounds a bit like a squeezed rubber duck toy.

Paul Marvin / Xeno-Canto

** Feb 2018 I have just been contacted by Jeff Gerbracht, who has very kindly sent me a recording he made on Grand Bahama in 2011 on a trip with Bruce Hallett (a familiar name to regular readers of this site) and uploaded to the indispensable Macaulay Library. I must have overlooked it when I wrote the post. The links below are to the recording and to the species checklist from that occasion, including a photo taken by Rudy Sawyer, the third member of the party.

And yes, comparison shows that the 2 nuthatches do indeed have “distinctively different vocalisations” (see above); and that the Bahama nuthatch does not sound anything like a squeezed rubber duck…

brown-headed_nuthatch-matt-tillett-md_5

WHY MIGHT THESE BIRDS TURN UP ON ABACO?

Well, I’m being a bit romantic and optimistic here. But let’s look at the official distribution map from Birdlife International. Not so very far for even a small bird to travel. There are even some small cays as stepping stones. And just think of the thousands of acres of pine forest on Abaco, much of it remote and completely undisturbed. Maybe… if a breeding pair could just… you catch my drift? 

bahama-nuthatch-distribution-birdlife-org

Here is another instructive map, this time from eBird. These are the only BANU sightings ever recorded, and all since 2010. These birds are tiny. There are very few of them, spread over a wide area. They live in pine trees, and are to an extent camouflaged against them. You’d be very very fortunate to find one at all, let alone get a decent photo of it… Let’s hope you can spot one while they are still around.

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ANYTHING ELSE WE SHOULD KNOW?

I have written elsewhere (in fact, HERE) about the ornithologist James Bond and his connection with Ian Fleming’s hero. The very rare first edition** of Bond’s seminal Birds of the West Indies was published in 1936. In it, he described the BANU and suggested it was a subspecies of the brown-headed nuthatch. A man way ahead of his time. 

PLEASE STOP NOW. ANY LAST WORDS?

“The species may become extinct unless Bahamians are willing to take action to save it. As the rarest bird in the Bahamas, and one of the rarest birds in the world, the nuthatch will become a high-profile symbol of conservation efforts (or their failure) in the Bahamas”. RESEARCHGATE

Photo credits: David Hill (BHNU) 1; Birdlife.org (BANU) 2; Bruce Purdy (BANU) 3; Robert Norton (BANU) 4; Erika Gates / Bahamas Weekly (BANU) 5; Matt Tillett (BHNU) 6, 8; Dick Daniels (BHNU) 7

Sound: Paul Marvin / Xeno-Canto

Addendum Feb 2018: Jeff Gerbracht for a BANU sound recording and species checklist

Research credits: Birdlife International /Birdlife.org; Birding Community E-Bulletin, Nov 2008; Research Gate; IUCN; The Bahamas Weekly / Erika Gates; eBird; American Birding Association (and a bonus point for its brown-headed nuthatch behaviour article wittily entitled “Sex in the Sitta”)

**The edition of James Bond usually described as the first edition (indeed in the book itself) was published in 1947. You might pick one up for $100 or so (try Abe.com), as I did. Don’t get one without a dust-jacket. It’s a treasure, and an affordable slice of avian history. A 1936 edition will probably be well north of $2000… 

BAHAMA ORIOLE: ABACO’S LOST ENDEMIC SPECIES


Bahama Oriole ABC : D. Belasco

BAHAMA ORIOLE: ABACO’S LOST ENDEMIC SPECIES

FEWER THAN 300 LEFT IN THE WORLD – AND ALL ON ANDROS

Having just posted about the endangered NASSAU GROUPER and its protection by the introduction of a 3-month closed season, it’s time to focus on a rare, beautiful and vulnerable bird, the Bahama Oriole (Icterus northropi). It is IUCN Red Listed as ‘Critically Endangered’. ENDEMIC to the Bahamas, this bird lived only on Abaco and Andros. Not any more. Now you’ll only find them on Andros, the species having been lost to Abaco in very recent memory. The 1990s, in fact. And on Andros, this lovely bird is now struggling against the threat of extinction and is found only in limited areas in very small numbers. The most optimistic population estimate I have found puts the total as fewer than 300 individuals… the consensus puts the likely total in the region of 250. Bahamas Oriole, Andros (Binkie Van Es)1 Bahamas Oriole, Andros (Binkie Van Es)2

THE SPECIES

In 2010, the Greater Antillean Oriole Icterus dominicensis was separated by the AMERICAN ORNOTHOLOGISTS’ UNION into 4 species, one being the Bahama Oriole. As the BNT wryly put it, “New species are always a source of excitement… but in this case the intrigue is overshadowed by a sense of alarm and urgency”. For by then this new species ‘in its own right’ was limited to certain parts of Andros, in small and diminishing numbers. It had already vanished from some areas – especially in North Andros – were it had formerly been abundant. The best estimates suggested 250 individual birds. Bahama Oriole - Harold Brewer (via PM) - Version 3

WHEN & WHY DID THEY VANISH FROM ABACO?

This is a classic ‘riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’. Various sources I have looked at use a formula such as “…became extirpated from Abaco in the 1990s”, or “disappeared for unknown reasons in the 1990s”. I’ve found no clear clue as to the cause – nor even when the last sighting of an oriole on Abaco was made. I haven’t found a photo of one taken on Abaco, although to be fair the option of snapping everything with wings several times using a digital camera with a large chip didn’t exist then. In the next para a number of crucial factors in the more recent decline of the Andros population are given; but as far as I can determine, some at least did not apply in the 1990s, or certainly not to the same extent. Maybe it was a combination of a degree of habitat loss and the gradual decline of a small population that could not breed prolifically enough to sustain the future population **. Bahama_Oriole (Mxmerce Wiki)

THE MAIN CAUSES OF THE CRITICAL DECLINE ON ANDROS

Lethal Yellowing Disease of the coconut palm, prime nesting habitat for the oriole. In some areas on Andros (e.g. Staniard Creek), the palm has been all but wiped out. 

The arrival and spread of the Shiny Cowbird Molothrus bonariensis, a brood parasite that lays its eggs in the nests of other bird species such as the yellow warbler, the black-whiskered vireo… and the oriole. The cowbird reached Andros in the mid-1990s. The first Abaco report that I have found is from 1999 (so presumably, as the oriole was already gone from the island by then, they were not a factor).  The cowbird is a summer resident on Abaco, though still relatively uncommon; and its range continues to expand northwards. Some might argue that the cowbird should be discouraged from spreading on Abaco right now for the sake of the indigenous warbler and vireo populations – before it is too late.

Habitat loss / island development (although Birdlife International notes “…the planting of coconut palms in residential areas has allowed the species to spread into human settlements”). Other factors put forward include forestry work, forest fires, diseases, rodents and feral cats – problems that affect many other birds such as the Abaco parrot. Bahamas Oriole (BNT / Carlton Ward) The photo below is a pleasure to include in this post. It was taken earlier this year on Andros by Christopher Johnson of Nassau. And here’s the thing. He is 13, and an avid birder. I’m sure he likes his X-Box time, but he certainly knows plenty about birds too. He’s quick off the mark with offering IDs – correct ones – for birds online, and when he saw this bird he knew the significance of it and managed to get some good shots too. This is my favourite, the oriole ‘vocalising’. See below for its song. Here is Christopher’s brief but enthusiastic field report: Awesome trip to Andros this past weekend! Was amazed to see the Bahama Oriole and its nest — feeling great”. Bahama Oriole, Andros (Christopher Johnson) 2

Bahama Oriole taken during a BMMRO research trip on AndrosBahama Oriole, Andros (BMMRO)

 Paul Driver / Xeno Canto

A GLIMMER OF HOPE?

In the same way that urgent conservation measures were put in place to halt and then reverse the critical decline of the Abaco parrot population, similar projects are in place for the Bahama Oriole on Andros. One proposal is to establish a ‘captive breeding’ program leading to reintroduction and reinforcement of the wild population. According to the American Bird Conservancy, this could even include reintroduction on Abaco… So perhaps in a decade or two, this fine bird will once again become firmly established as one of the birds of Abaco. Bahamas Oriole, Andros (Binkie Van Es)3 As I said in my Nassau Grouper post, a country’s attitude can to a degree be gauged by the pride with which it features its wildlife and natural resources in its stamps (I used North Korea for adverse comparison). In 2009 The Bahamas Postal Service even issued a ‘Rare Birds’ set featuring the Bahama Oriole.. I rest my case. Bahama Oriole Stamp birdtheme.org

♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦

WHO WAS THE EPONYMOUS MR NORTHROP?

640px-Picture_of_John_Isaiah_Northrop

The comprehensive answer is provided by the University of Glasgow Library Research Annexe in relation to a fine  illustration from A Naturalist in the Bahamas (1910), reprinted in The Auk journal (below) at a time when Icterus northropi was still a mere subspecies: The yellow and black Bahama Oriole (Icterus Northropi) is a bird species unique to the Bahamas. The bird was named for American ornithologist and zoologist, John Isiah Northrop (1861–91); the illustration comes from an account of the trip Northrop and his botanist wife, Alice, took to the Bahamas in 1889 which was published in his memory: A Naturalist in the Bahamas: John I. Northrop, October 12 1861-June 25, 1891; a memorial volume (New York: Columbia University Press, 1910). It was edited and introduced by Henry Fairfield Osborn, professor of zoology at Columbia University where Northrop worked as a tutor and was killed in a laboratory explosion shortly (9 days) before the birth of his son John Howard Northrop (who became a Nobel prize-winning chemist). Icterus Northropi illustrated in A Naturalist in the Bahamas (plate 1)

RELATED MATERIAL

“Rediscovering the Bahama Oriole” Erik Gauger, author of the excellent Notes from the Road and photographic contributor to the Birds of Abaco has a good tale of the pursuit of the apparent sighting of a Bahama Oriole on Abaco 2o years after its (supposed?) extirpation. You can read it HERE The Auk Read more about this journal and the birding history of the Bahamas HERE There is a Care2Action ‘Save the Bahama Oriole Before It Is Too Late’ petition HERE. It seems to have stalled somewhat, so it would be good to generate some more signatories. ** Mathematically inclined? Find out about the application of the stochastic process to the oriole’s situation. In a nutshell, this concerns the combined effect of several random adverse factors on sustainability, given that the oriole’s already very small population, very limited range and particular habitat requirements militate against breeding expansion, and therefore increase the likelihood of extinction. We can only hope this is not an inevitability…

Image, audio and research credits: American Bird Conservancy, Binkie van Es, BNT / Carlton Ward, Birdlife International, Christopher Johnson, Cornell Neotropical, Harold Brewer, MxMerce, birdtheme.org, Wiki, Xeno Canto / Paul Driver; Uni of Glasgow / Roger Herriott

“BEAUTIFUL BAHAMA BIRDS”: NEW BAHAMAS BIRD BOOK REVIEW


ABACO PARROTS MM 2

“Over the Moon” (Abaco Parrot / Melissa Maura)

“BEAUTIFUL BAHAMA BIRDS”: NEW BOOK REVIEW

Published 2014 ~ 128pp ~ $20, available from the BNT

A fine new book on the birds of the Bahamas has recently been published by the BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST and BIRDSCARIBBEAN. Compiled and edited by well-known Bahamas bird guide CAROLYN WARDLE  with the BNT’s Lynn Gape and Predensa Moore, this slim book is packed with valuable information. It doesn’t set out to be an exhaustive field guide, a task already fully covered by Bruce Hallett’s indispensable Birds of the Bahamas and the TCI. Nor is it anything like my own photographic tome ‘Birds of Abaco’, differing in scope and intention, and weighing a mere 225 gms as opposed to 2 kilos! Beautiful Bahama Birds is eminently a book for the pocket, day bag or backback, to be carried along with your Hallett.

I have illustrated this review with photos of sample pages of the book, invariably the best way to give a clear impression of this kind of publication. Apologies that some of my images are a bit wonky, my copy being new and individual pages being hard to keep flat…

Beautiful Bahama Birds 1 Beautiful Bahama Birds 2

The photographs throughout the book are mainly the work of Linda Huber and the late Tony Hepburn. I was fortunate enough to be able to use some of Tony’s photographs for my own book, given with unreserved generosity; it is a fitting tribute to him that his images have now been published in Beautiful Bahama Birds, and that it  is dedicated to him.Beautiful Bahama Birds 3

An idea of the broad scope and of the book and its usefulness to the birder can be gained from the contents pages, which I reproduce here. Click to enlarge them. The book is arranged in 3 parts: Let’s Go Birding; Field Guide to 60 Common Birds; and Conservation Now.

Beautiful Bahama Birds 4Beautiful Bahama Birds 5b

PART 1 offers plenty of useful information and practical advice about birding in general (I wish I could have read this before I started my own book!). Anyone who loves birds will benefit from this whole section, even if they would not call themselves a birder – especially Chapter 3 ‘Getting Closer to Bird Life’.

Beautiful Bahama Birds 6  Beautiful Bahama Birds 7

PART 2 All 5 Bahama endemics are featured in the main section, which is handily divided  very broadly into ‘waterbirds’ and ‘land birds’. Some birds are commonly found on most islands; some have more limited range: for example the Bahama Oriole is now found only on Andros; and breeding populations of the Cuban Parrot are found only on Abaco and Inagua (the increasing number of sightings on New Providence give some hope for a breeding population there too). I’ve chosen the parrot because the underground-nesting subspecies on Abaco is so special; and the Flamingo and Bahama Oriole, both very sadly extirpated from Abaco in recent memory.

The illustrations by Tracy Pederson and Kristin Willams are clear and highlight well the identifiers for each species. Where necessary, species variations are shown, for example between sexes, breeding / non-breeding plumage and adult / immature. This can be a confusing and even fraught area (as I constantly find), which this book usefully addresses.  Some birds in flight are also shown to aid ID.

   Beautiful Bahama Birds 8 Beautiful Bahama Birds 9

Beautiful Bahama Birds 10

PART 3 covers the National Parks, important birding areas of the Bahamas, conservation matters, and a charming section on birds in Bahamian culture. Appendices include lists of Bahamas native plants and their importance for wildlife; National Parks and Protected Areas; important birding areas of the Bahamas; a Checklist; a Bibliography; and a user-friendly Index (not all are…).

 Beautiful Bahama Birds 13 Beautiful Bahama Birds 12

A good Checklist is a vital ingredient for any birder, whether visitor or local. Here, all the species occurring on the islands are shown on the left and their residential status and range throughout the islands across the top. Thus at a glance you can tell whether a given species is found on a particular island and when it may be found there. You would know not to look for Turkey Vultures on Eleuthera at any time; and that the black-bellied plover is a winter resident throughout the region and not to be seen during your trip in June…  I also like the tick-boxes on the left for species collectors.

Beautiful Bahama Birds 11

Overall I have thoroughly enjoyed this small book and unreservedly recommend it. It does not replace Hallett, but it complements it. Furthermore, I’m sure the straightforward style and presentation will appeal to bird-loving non-birders and also to younger birders – it may even encourage some out into the field! On p.20 the recommended reading list includes books that would appeal to young readers and links to appropriate websites, a thoughtful touch. I have learnt, or been reminded of, much from reading this book a couple of times. It is a welcome addition to the relatively sparse avian literature for the Bahamas, a prime birding region that is home to an astonishingly wide variety of birds including rare, threatened and vulnerable species like the Parrots, the Kirtland’s Warbler and the Piping Plover.

BOOK LINKS

RH BOOK REVIEW PAGE

BIRDER’S GUIDE TO THE BAHAMA ISLANDS (Tony White)

JAMES BOND (LICENSED TO WATCH BIRDS…)

SAN SALVADOR BIRDS

DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO

ABACO’S ENDEMIC BIRDS: MAKING A CASE FOR PROTECTION


Bahama Yellowthroat on Abaco - Tom Reed

Bahama Yellowthroat on Abaco – Tom Reed

 ABACO’S ENDEMIC BIRDS: MAKING A CASE FOR PROTECTION

I recently wrote a post showcasing the 4 Bahamas endemic bird species found on Abaco: swallow, warbler, woodstar hummingbird, and yellowthroat. You can read it and see some great photos HERE. Sadly, the magnificent oriole, extant on Abaco for centuries, was extirpated in the 1990s. You can still see them but only on Andros; and the population there is barely sustainable – there are only 260 remaining. Still, on Abaco there remain four of the endemic species to conserve and care for.

The Bahamas National Trust BNT has produced 6 brief but informative illustrated ‘cards’ about the Bahamas endemics. They deserve a wide audience, especially in view of the threats to some species for reasons that include habitat loss and increasing development. New Providence lost its subspecies of Bahama Yellowthroat within the last 20 years. Let’s hope that Abaco can hold onto its speciality birds for the future. 

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FIVE STARS: BAHAMAS ENDEMIC BIRDS (FOUR FROM ABACO)


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Bahama Yellowthroat (Gerlinde Taurer)

FIVE STARS: BAHAMAS ENDEMIC BIRDS (FOUR FROM ABACO)

The Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival is underway. You can find out more on the CARIBBEAN BIRDS FESTIVALS Facebook page. Abaco is fortunate to be home to 4 of the 5 endemic Bahamas species. The fifth, the beautiful BAHAMA ORIOLE Icterus northropi, was found on both Abaco and Andros until the 1990s, when it sadly became extirpated from Abaco. Now found only on Andros, there are thought to be fewer than 300 Orioles left – a barely sustainable number. The species is unsurprisingly IUCN listed as critically endangered. Here’s a picture of one as a reminder of what Abaco is now missing…

Bahama_Oriole (Wiki)

Bahama Oriole

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Abaco’s four endemic species are the tiny Bahama Woodstar hummingbird, the Bahama Yellowthroat, the Bahama Warbler (since 2011), and the Bahama Swallow. All are of course permanent breeding residents on Abaco and its outer Cays. None is exclusive to Abaco; all are relatively plentiful. The Woodstar is perhaps the hardest to find, not least because it competes territorially with the Cuban Emerald hummingbird. Even Woodstars can be found easily in some areas – Man-o-War Cay is a good place for them, for example. Here are some striking images of these four endemic bird species taken from the archives for “The Birds of Abaco” published last month. 

BAHAMA WOODSTAR Calliphlox evelynae 

Bahama Woodstar male 3.1.Abaco Bahamas.2.12.Tom Sheley copy

Bahama Woodstar (m) (Tom Sheley)

Bahama Woodstar (f) TL IMG_3213 2

Bahama Woodstar (f) Tara Lavallee

BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT Geothlypis rostrata

Bahama Yellowthroat vocalizing.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Bahama Yellowthroat (Tom Sheley)

Bahama Yellowthroat (M) BH IMG_0675 copy

Bahama Yellowthroat (Bruce Hallett)

BAHAMA WARBLER Setophaga flavescens

Bahama Warbler BH IMG_8398 copy - Version 2

Bahama Warbler (Bruce Hallett)

Bahama Warbler WB P1001012 copy

Bahama Warbler (Woody Bracey)

BAHAMA SWALLOW Tachycineta cyaneoviridis

Bahama Swallow CN

Bahama Swallow (Craig Nash)

bahama-swallow EG  copy

Bahama Swallow (Erik Gauger)

“The Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco”  was published as limited edition of 500 and has only been for sale for 8 weeks or so exclusively through the Delphi Club. Yesterday, we passed a happy milestone in that short time as the 250th copy was sold. Complimentary copies have also been donated to every school and relevant education department on Abaco to tie in with the excellent policy of teaching children from an early age the value of the natural world around them, the importance of its ecology, and the need for its conservation. The cover bird for the book was easy to choose – it just had to be a male Woodstar in all his glory with his splendid purple ‘gorget’. 

Bahama Woodstar (m) BH IMG_0917 copy

Bahama Woodstar (m) Bruce Hallett

JACKET GRAB JPG

Image credits as shown; otherwise, ‘cover bird’ by Tom Sheley, Bahama Oriole from Wiki and CEBF flyer from the Bahamas National Trust

EARLY BIRDS ON ABACO: CHARLES CORY’S EXPEDITIONS 1891


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EARLY BIRDS ON ABACO: CHARLES CORY’S EXPEDITIONS 1891

Before the explorations of the american ornithologist Charles Cory towards the end of the c19, there had been few if any serious attempts to record the birds of the Bahama Islands, especially the sparsely populated ones such as Abaco. The english naturalist Mark Catesby had published his  wonderful The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands as early as 1754, which of course included some birds, but it was far from avian-specific. During the 1880s, Cory forsook the golf course (his other passion – he even competed in the 1904 Olympics but, as it is intriguingly put, “…did not finish…”) to concentrate on birds. He commenced his research for his List of the Birds of the West Indies, published in 1886. The scope was wide, including Antilles, Jamaica, Cuba, Hispaniola and the Bahamas. The book simply listed birds by family, giving the bird names in Latin, and the locations where they were found. It’s scarcely an enticing read, and the ‘print on demand’ copy I obtained for about $15 is frankly horrid.00199p1

In 1891, Cory and his colleague Mr C.L. Winch paid more specific attention to the Bahamas, visiting several islands, taking specimens and recording their findings. Cory subsequently published these in the ornithological journal of record, The Auk, established in 1884 as a quarterly peer-reviewed scientific journal and the official publication of the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU).  I’m not clear whether Cory actually accompanied Winch throughout the voyages, or whether they covered the islands separately. In any event, the first visit to Abaco took place in March 1891, when Mr Winch took specimens and recorded the species he encountered.00161p1

Cory : Winch 1891 March jpg

To save you the bother of taxing your brain with Latin  taxonomies (in some cases out-of-date), the species recorded are shown below. Every one of these species might be seen during a March visit nowadays.

COLUMN 1 Semipalmated Plover; Common Ground Dove; Turkey Vulture; Smooth-billed Ani; Belted Kingfisher; Hairy Woodpecker; Bahama Woodstar; Cuban Emerald; La Sagra’s Flycatcher; Loggerhead Kingbird; Greater Antillean Bullfinch; Black-faced Grassquit; Western Spindalis; Thick-billed Vireo; Black-whiskered Vireo

COLUMN 2 Bananaquit; Black & White Warbler; Kirtland’s Warbler; Yellow Warbler; Prairie Warbler; Yellow-rumped Warbler; Yellow-throated Warbler; Common Yellowthroat; Bahama Yellowthroat; Northern Waterthrush; Ovenbird; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher; Gray Catbird; Northern Mockingbird;  Red-legged Thrush

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In June they were back on Abaco; or at least, Mr Winch had returned. This time, the list of species was somewhat different, as one might expect in the summer season. It contains one particular curiosity: the Bahama Oriole. This fine bird was sadly extirpated from Abaco in the 1990s, and may now only be found on Andros. There are reckoned to be only about 300 left, so the species is on the brink of extinction.Bahama Oriole.jpg (Wiki)

Charles Cory 1857 – 1921Charles Barney Cory 1857-1921 (Wiki)Cory List copy jpg

COLUMN 1 Red-tailed Hawk; Mourning Dove; Common Nighthawk; Cuban Emerald; Bahama Woodstar; West Indian Woodpecker; Hairy Woodpecker; La Sagra’s Flycatcher; Cuban Pewee; Loggerhead Kingbird; Gray Kingbird; Bahama Oriole; Red-winged Blackbird

COLUMN 2  Greater Antillean Bullfinch; Western Spindalis; Thick-billed Vireo; Bahama Swallow; Bahama Yellowthroat; Pine Warbler; Olive-capped Warbler; Yellow-throated Warbler; Bananaquit; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher; Northern Mockingbird; Red-legged Thrush

Cory published his findings in The Auk
The Auk 1891

A regrettable ‘print-on-demand’ purchaseCory

Illustrations by John James Audubon 1785 – 1851 (who never visited Abaco)00422p1

For anyone with eyelids still open, you can read more about Bahamas birds and The Auk journal HERE