AFTER THE STORM: ALL THINGS BRIGHT & BEAUTIFUL


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot (Melissa Maura)

ABACO PARROT

AFTER THE STORM: ALL THINGS BRIGHT & BEAUTIFUL

For tens of thousands of people, the past 2 weeks have been dominated by one cruelly aggressive female: Irma. In terms of a lucky escape, Abaco’s gain was elsewhere’s pain. Recently, only the vivid Wunderground trackers I have posted have stood out from the bleakness of the ominous clouds, pounding waves, and sluicing rain. With the prospects for Hurricane Jose wandering around in the mid-Atlantic looking increasingly good, it’s time for a look at something more cheerful.

Birds can lighten the spirit. As yet, I’ve seen few reports of how the birds on Abaco have fared, but the ones I have seen have been encouraging. A west-indian woodpecker back on his usual tree; a piping plover foraging on the beach at Winding Bay, even as the storm raged; bird business more or less as usual at Delphi. No news yet of Abaco’s iconic parrots, which will have most likely headed to the National Park for cover. They usually manage OK. The header image is a tip of the hat to them, their raucous beauty, and their healthy recovery from near-extinction over the last few years.

Here’s a small gallery of some of Abaco’s most colourful and striking birds for some light relief. Have a nice day!

Painted Bunting, Abaco, Bahamas - Tom SheleyBananaquit, Abaco, Bahamas - Keith SalvesenWestern Spindalis, Abaco, Bahamas - Craig NashWhite-cheeked (Bahama) Pintail, Abaco, Bahamas - Keith SalvesenCuban Emerald Hummingbird, Abaco, Bahamas - Keith SalvesenBahama Woodstar, Abaco, Bahamas - Tom SheleyBlack-necked Stilt, Abaco, Bahamas - Tom SheleyCuban Pewee, Abaco, Bahamas - Keith SalvesenOsprey, Abaco, Bahamas - Tom SheleyBahama Yellowthroat, Abaco, Bahamas - Gerlinde Taurer

Photo Credits: Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Melissa Maura; Painted Bunting, Tom Sheley; Bananaquit, Keith Salvesen; Western Spindalis, Craig Nash; White-cheeked (Bahama) Pintail, Keith Salvesen; Cuban Emerald (f), Keith Salvesen; Bahama Woodstar, Tom Sheley; Black-necked Stilt, Tom Sheley; Cuban Pewee, Keith Salvesen; Osprey, Tom Sheley; Bahama Yellowthroat, Gerlinde Taurer. Storm tracker, Wunderground

MATTHEW MOVES ON: BRIGHTER LATER


Hurricane Matthew (Satellite View - NASA)

HURRICANE MATTHEW MOVES ON: BRIGHTER LATER

Early reports and post-hurricane news for Abaco is fortunately encouraging, though I appreciate that the Island’s good fortune at the eleventh hour swerve by Matthew only meant that others came into the direct firing line. Plenty of environmental damage, of course, but in human terms the harm seems mercifully light.

Hurricane Matthew (Satellite View - NASA / ISS)

It’s too early to determine the impact on the wildlife of Abaco. The migratory winter birds must be wondering why they bothered this year. Land birds are obviously put at risk by the trashing of their habitat in the violent winds. Shore birds, too, are vulnerable: some beaches on Abaco are open to big tidal surges in high winds. Massive waves have smashed their way up the beach at Delphi. Long Beach, where the largest concentrations of piping plovers congregate at certain times, is also very exposed to surges. 100616nassaubahamashurricanematthewnbc6 1541819_630x354

Time will tell how the birds have fared. Meanwhile, here are some cheerful pictures – some of my favourite species – to relieve the gloom.

Abaco Parrot (Peter Mantle)

Western Spindalis, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Bananaquit, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Painted Bunting male.Abaco Bahamas.Tom SheleyCuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Bahama Woodstar male.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION

2q

‘BRYTER LAYTER’ was the second album by a ‘troubled genius’, the supremely talented but sadly doomed Nick Drake. Released in 1971, it failed to convert the ripples caused by his debut ‘Five Leaves Left’ (1969) into a deserved wave of popularity, not least because Drake was already starting his gradual retreat from live performance, from social contact, and indeed from life. Here’s the title track, a pastoral instrumental with orchestral embellishments, and (unusually) without Drake’s distinctive, wistful voice. 

Credits: NASA / ISS, News open sources, Peter Mantle, Keith Salvesen, Bruce Hallett, Tom Shelley

BAHAMA WOODSTARS: JEWELS IN ABACO’S CROWN


Bahama Woodstar Hummingbird, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

BAHAMA WOODSTARS: JEWELS IN ABACO’S CROWN

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

Bahama Woodstar Hummingbird, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

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

BIRD POLL FV2

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

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

Bahama Woodstar, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

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

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

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

Credits: Bruce Hallett, Tara Lavallee, Tom Sheley

 

THE BAHAMA WOODSTAR NEST: A CHRISTMAS STORY FOR A NEW YEAR


Bahama Woodstar (f), Abaco (Charmaine Albury)THE BAHAMA WOODSTAR NEST: A CHRISTMAS STORY FOR THE NEW YEAR

And it came to pass that on the first day of December in the Year of Our Lord 2015, the time came upon a mother hummingbird; and she laid her tiny egg in a small nest in the place that is called Man-o-war, which is to say ‘The Island of Pretty Birds”. And on the next day, she laid a second tiny egg in that nest also. For this was in the time of the first Woodstar nesting of the season.

Bahama Woodstar nest with eggs, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

And the days passed, even as the mother hummingbird sat upon the nest whereat she had laid her eggs. And verily was she patient, for it was known to her that the eggs would not hatch until certain days were past

Bahama Woodstar nest with eggs, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

Yet still the eggs hatched not, though their colour became paler…Bahama Woodstar nest with eggs, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

But on the 19th day hatched the first egg; and likewise the second egg upon the 21st day. And two (mostly) naked hatchlings were made visible.Bahama Woodstar nest with hatchlings, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

On the 25th day, which is to say the day of Christ’s Mass, the hatchlings had grown; and their raiment of feathers was coming upon them to clothe their nakednessBahama Woodstar nest with hatchlings, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

And as they grew the chicks (for thus were they named) were snug and safe in their small nest, even as their mother and their father, who did build it together and furnish it with soft materials, had ordained

1170953_10207164189916859_1353675663828625458_n

By the 31st and final day of the old year, which is to say the day before Earth’s renewal in another year, the chicks had greatly grown; and feathers were about their persons. And their appearance was of small birds which would soon fly from that place and live happily in a New Year at Man-o-warBahama Woodstar nest with chicks, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)-1

Thanks for all fabulous photos to Charmaine Albury, who is lucky enough to be a Woodstar magnet on Man-o-War Cay. With her family, she watches these events unfold every year at her house, and manages to record them without ever disturbing these wonderful little birds

GILPIN POINT, ABACO: A ‘2 HOURS, 40 SPECIES’ BIRDING HOTSPOT


Black-necked Stilt, Abaco (Alex Hughes) copy

GILPIN POINT, ABACO: A ‘2 HOURS, 40 SPECIES’ BIRDING HOTSPOT

Got  a spare couple of hours? Reluctant to go birding on the bird-reliable yet ambience-lite town dumps, where careful cropping will be needed to avoid including post-apocalyptic scenery in your hard-won photos of a Little Mulligatawny Owl? Then read on. I have mentioned Gilpin Point before as a great place for birding, and listed many of the species to be found there. It benefits from a large pond, a pristine shoreline, and a coppice environment with some pine forest thrown in. All the makings of an excellent birding location, with suitable habitat for a wide variety of species. Blue-winged Teal, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

On November 21st Reg Patterson, well-known Abaco birder and guide, was up early, and by 07.00 he was at Gilpin Pond where  he spent a couple of hours . He recorded 40 species in that time, from very large to very small. His checklist reveals a great cross-section of the birdlife to be found on Abaco. There might easily have been parrots there too, since Gilpin has become one of their daily chattering spots for a frank exchange of news and views. Sadly it seems that the beautiful and (now) rare SPOONBILL recorded there in early October has moved on.

Willet, Abaco

Here is Reg’s checklist, which I have illustrated with a variety of photos of the species he found, all taken on Abaco and many actually taken at Gilpin Point. There are plenty of other species that might easily have been seen there then – or perhaps later in the day (e.g. snowy egret, yellowlegs, kestrel, turkey vulture, red-legged thrush, cuban emerald, not to mention shorebirds and seabirds if some time was spent on the shore).

CHECKLIST

Blue-winged Teal (16) (see above)

White-cheeked Pintail (20)

White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)

Green-winged Teal (1)

Great Blue Heron (1)Great_Blue_Heron_Wading_2

Great Egret (1)

Little Blue Heron (2) 

Tricolored Heron (2)

Green Heron (2)Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)05

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (1)

Turkey Vulture (7)

Common Gallinule (1)

Black-necked Stilt (1) (and header)

Black-necked Stilt, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Spotted Sandpiper (1)

Willett (1) (see above)

Common Ground-Dove (1)

Smooth-billed Ani (8)

Bahama Woodstar (1)Bahama Woodstar (m), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Belted Kingfisher (1)

West Indian Woodpecker (7)

Hairy Woodpecker (1)Hairy Woodpecker, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

Peregrine Falcon (1)

Loggerhead Kingbird (4)Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco - Tom Reed

Thick-billed Vireo (7)

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (1)Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Red-legged Thrush (1)

Gray Catbird (4)

Northern Mockingbird (2)Northern Mockingbird, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Ovenbird (1)

Northern Waterthrush (6)

Bahama Yellowthroat (1)

Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Common Yellowthroat (1)

Cape May Warbler (3)

Black-throated Blue Warbler (1)Black-throated Blue Warbler (m), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Palm Warbler (2)

Prairie Warbler (2)

 Bananaquit (1)Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

 Black-faced Grassquit (6)

 Greater Antillean Bullfinch (4)

 Western Spindalis (7)

 Red-winged Blackbird (X)Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Gilpin Map 1 Gilpin Map 2 Gilpin Map 3

Credits: Alex Hughes (1 / header); Keith Salvesen (2, 4, 6, 7, 11, 12, 15 , 16); TBC (3, 5); Bruce Hallett (8, 14); Tony Hepburn (9); Tom Reed (10); Charles Skinner (13)

 

‘SEXING THE HUMMER’: A GENDER GUIDE TO ABACO’S HUMMINGBIRDS


Cuban Emerald (male) Abaco - Becky Marvil

Cuban Emerald (male) Abaco – Becky Marvil

 ‘SEXING THE HUMMER’: A GENDER GUIDE TO ABACO’S HUMMINGBIRDS

The subject matter of this post is not as indelicate as the title might imply; nor is it a ‘hands-on’ practical guide for intimate examinations of tiny birds. In particular it does not publicise some recently discovered louche activity involving unfeasibly large motor vehicles. It’s all about plumage. In my thin disguise as a person with apparent knowledge about the wildlife of a country that is not my own, I get frequent requests for bird ID. Some, I know at once. Some I have to think about, my memory not being quite as…

Where was I? Yes, bird ID. I use BRUCE HALLETT’S book of course, and online the CORNELL LAB and AUDUBON sites. OISEUX-BIRDS is also a good resource and has a large archive of images. And of course dear old Google – they may watch your every keystroke and know more about you than you do yourself, but put a bird’s name into Google Images and you’ll probably see your bird in every static pose or flight you need for ID. They’ll log that too for future use. I have had some queries about Bahama Woodstar gender ID, and more recently, Cuban Emeralds. So here are the adult males and females of each species in all their undoubted glory…

BAHAMA WOODSTAR (Calliphlox evelynae)

Bahama Woodstar (m), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Bahama Woodstar (male), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Bahama Woodstar, Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Abaco (Velma Knowles)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Abaco (Velma Knowles)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco  (Tara Lavallee)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

 WOODSTAR ID MADE EASY

Males have a glorious purple, showy ‘gorget’. Females are less flamboyant, and have grey throats and fronts. Tara’s wonderful photo above vividly demonstrates their more delicate beauty. It’s one of my personal favourites from “BIRDS OF ABACO“, along with Tom Sheley’s above, the bird that graces the jacket. 

 CUBAN EMERALD (Chlorostilbon ricordii)

Cuban Emerald (male), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (male), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (male), Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Cuban Emerald (male), Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Cuban Emerald (female), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (female), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (female) Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (female) Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

EMERALD ID MADE EASY

Male emeralds are basically… er… emerald green all over , apart from the wings. Females have grey throats and fronts, and lack the chestnut frontal band of the female woodstar. I’d say that their iridescent green is a different metallic shade from the male, but that may be just me. I don’t have the palette vocab to describe it, but advice welcome! Perhaps one can simply say it is more subtle.

SO IT’S JUST THE TWO HUMMERS ON ABACO, IS IT?

The answer is ‘No’. But don’t make a special trip to see the third species – they are casual / irregular vagrants only, and a definite sighting will be a rarity. But just in case, here are stock photos of a male and a female, and (taken on Abaco by Bruce Hallett) an immature male of the species…

RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD

MaleRuby-throated hummer (Steve Maslowski, Wiki)

FemaleRuby-throated Hummingbird (Tim Ross Wiki)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (male, immature)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (male, imm), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (male, imm), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

This is an attractive print of the R-tH by MenaboniRuby-throated Hummingbird - Menaboni

To complete this post, I’ll add a brilliant Woodstar photo taken by Tom Sheley, birdman and generous fishing partner, that I reckon spans the boundary between photography and art. 

Bahama Woodstar female.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Bahama Woodstar female.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Credits: In addition to those shown below images, Steve Maslowski and Tim Ross for the RTHs

FESTIVE BIRDING ON ABACO WITH GUEST BIRDER VELMA


Abaco Parrot, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

FESTIVE BIRDING ON ABACO WITH GUEST BIRDER VELMA

Velma Knowles is a resident of Nassau but originates from Abaco, where her grandparents lived. She is a keen photographer and birder, and recently spent a few days ‘back home’ on Abaco, staying on Man-o-War Cay during that strange ‘Christmas to New Year’ period that people have begun to refer to uncomfortably as ‘Twixmas’. Which I guess goes well with ‘Winterval’, if that neologism to describe the festive season rocks your sleigh. 

Obviously, Velma had her camera with her; and a bit of quality birding was built into her schedule. Man-o-War has been having a prolific winter season, birdwise, with plenty of interesting migratory species passing through or settling there till Spring. But who would be content with a random warbler from the North, when there are Abaco’s specialist birds to encounter. Many of the birds featured – all are permanent residents – were seen on Man-o-War; others on the main island, though not actually at Delphi. Every bird shown can readily be found at Delphi, except perhaps for the Royal Tern, hence a few mentions. Let’s see how Velma did during her brief visit. (Spoiler Alert: very well indeed!).

ABACO PARROTS

A first ‘get’ for anyone’s Abaco checklist, and hence the header image. Not available on the Cays, so a trip to the ‘mainland’ and the wild pine forest and coppice of South Abaco is called for (they don’t venture north of Marsh Harbour). Rescued from the brink of extinction by careful conservation measures, the newly regenerating population of these unique underground-nesting parrots is gradually spreading, making them easier to find. During the day, Bahamas Palm Shores is a likely spot, as are locations to the south, including Delphi and the area around Crossing Rocks down to Gilpin Point. 

Abaco Parrot, Abaco (Velma Knowles)Abaco Parrot pair, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

BAHAMA WOODSTAR

Abaco’s lovely endemic hummingbird, rather pushed around by the brash incomer Cuban Emerald and therefore tending to avoid  them (though both can be found at Delphi). The MALE CUBAN EMERALD has a striking purple throat aka ‘gorget’; the female (below) encountered by Velma has a more delicate colouring.

Bahama Woodstar, Abaco (Velma Knowles)Bahama Woodstar, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

CUBAN EMERALD

Unlike the Woodstar, these pretty iridescent green hummers are not endemic yet are more frequently encountered. They fly and change direction with astonishing speed, and are feeder-keen! Your sugar-water feeder will also attract Bananquits (pointy curved beak for the little holes) and West Indian Woodpeckers (long tongue) – and possibly Woodstars.Cuban Emerald, Abaco (Velma Knowles)Cuban Emerald, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER   

Splendid and occasionally noisy birds that nest in boxes under the eaves at Delphi. They produce two families a year. Velma writes “It has been a long wait but I finally saw this lifer, the West Indian Woodpecker. This bird is only found in The Bahamas, Cuba and the Cayman Islands. Awesome call!”West-Indian Woodpecker, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

WESTERN SPINDALIS

Velma writes “One of my targeted birds, the Western Spindalis, formerly called the stripe-headed tanager. On the way from the airport we spotted him on the side-of-the-road. Now that’s island-birding!”Western Spindalis, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

 BANANAQUIT

One of my own  favourite small birds. Irresistably cheery, busy and ubiquit(-ous) Bananaquit, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

THICK-BILLED VIREO

Velma writes “Such a beautiful call… the Thick-billed Vireo. We heard a number of these guys on our bird-walks. The Thick-billed Vireo is a Caribbean endemic, being restricted to The Bahamas, the Caymans, the Turks and Caicos, two islands off of Cuba and one off of Haiti (though it has been reported in Florida)”Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH

The adult male’s striking colour patches are orange-red; the female’s are more yellow. They are greedy at the feeder and rank high up in the pecking order, where smaller birds defer to them. One local name for them is ‘Police Bird’: the adult male’s colouring matches that of a Bahamian Police Officer’s uniform.

Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERON (juvenile)  Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

ROYAL TERNRoyal Tern, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

ROYAL TERN SYNCHRONISED DIVING SCHOOL, LONG DOCK, CHEROKEE

At 770 feet, this dock is the longest in the entire BahamasRoyal Terns at Long Dock, Cherokee, Abaco (Velma Knowles)

All photos: Velma Knowles, with thanks for use permission