BAHAMAS BIRDS FOR A NEW GENERATION


Red-tailed Hawk, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Red-tailed Hawk

BAHAMAS BIRDS FOR A NEW GENERATION

It is axiomatic that people tend towards birding – if at all – in later life. Not the scientists, of course: they must commit themselves to the study of natural history at an early age, collecting qualifications by degrees (as it were), through Masters, Field Work, their first posts, PhDs and beyond.

American Redstart (m), Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

American Redstart (m)

I didn’t take a very active interest in birds until the first time I investigated Central Park NYC and saw a blue jay. Followed by a cardinal… a red-tailed hawk… chickadees… American robins (or ‘Mercan rubbins‘, as I was informed). These were alien species for a European, and they awoke my interest.

Brown Pelican, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Brown Pelican

On later trips to NYC I have always spent a day in CP, wandering from end to end, spending time in the hotspots like The Ramble, the JO Reservoir, and the pretty Loch trail to the north, and wondering at the huge and expensive birding hardware toted by those around me (while knowing I didn’t want it). And then a visit to Prospect Park Brooklyn too, if I have the time. More recently came Abaco, and a whole new world of wildlife that has captivated me…

Hermit Thrush, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Hermit Thrush

This reminiscence by an oldster brings me to Chris Johnson, a young Bahamian man who will be familiar to many readers of this blog. I first encountered him when I was researching the Bahama Oriole and discovered that he, in his early teens, had found one on a trip to Andros and photographed it. It was a pleasure to be able to include the image in my article. 

Hooded Warbler, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Hooded Warbler

Since then, Chris’s birding and photographic skills have rapidly developed and his reputation is growing too. This summer he was one of 12 students chosen to attend Cornell University Lab of Ornithology for their Young Birder’s Event in Ithaca NY, a great tribute to his accomplishments and a wonderful opportunity too. It is worth noting that Chris is the first Bahamian to be invited to attend this event.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Loggerhead Kingbird

Chris is also beginning to make his own presentations, as he did recently to the Bird Club of New Providence. It won’t be long before he is leading bird groups – in fact, he is probably doing this already.

Another impressive feature of Chris’s birding is his photography. I have watched the progression online with interest. The crispness of his images, the composition and the right ‘take’ to make the best of each bird is wonderful, and he has a great eye for a neat shot – for example in the header image I have chosen, with its awareness of the effective use of dark and light.

Black-and-white Warbler, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Black-and-white Warbler

I should say that I have never met Chris, although we have occasionally been in touch. I am featuring him because I believe he and other young people of his age – Chris is 17 – are the future for birding, for wildlife, for species protection and for habitat conservation. The older generation will move on and the ‘middles’ may begin to take an interest in the birds around them. But Chris’s generation are the ones who can make a difference in the future. As things stand right now, they may have to. It’s a huge responsibility for them, but it’s one our generation is in the process of transferring to them.

Red-legged Thrush, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Red-legged Thrush

I hope you have enjoyed the small gallery of Chris’s photographs displayed here. If you are interested in the birds of the Bahamas, keep an eye on him and others like him. They need all the encouragement we can give them.

All photos: Chris Johnson, with thanks for use permission. Please do not ‘borrow’ any of these images without asking first. That would only be fair.

Antillean Nighthawk Chick (one of my favourites)Antillean Nighthawk chick, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

ABACO BALD EAGLE(S): AN EYRIE COINCIDENCE (GEDDIT?)


Bald Eagle Juvenile (Audubon)

ABACO BALD EAGLE(S): AN EYRIE COINCIDENCE (GEDDIT?)

I absolutely knew this would happen. In a sense, I rather wanted it to happen. And now it has, and I have got my comeuppance. Bigly. Hugely. No sooner had I pressed ‘send‘ on my post 2 days ago bemoaning the absence of bald eagles in 2018 than corrections began to come in.

  • Harsh Judgemental Reader: “Do you mean you were wrong?”
    • Contrite Writer: “Yes.”
  • HJR: “Did you check eBird before you fired off your intemperate post?”
    • CW (in a small apologetic voice): “No.”
  • HJR: Well then, what have you got to say for yourself?”
    • CW (*hangs head*): I’m very sorry, everyone. I’ll try to do better this time. Here goes:”

THE ABACO BALD EAGLE(S) OF 2018: IN NO WAY AWOL!

SIGHTING ONE

On October 25th legendary Bahamas birder Elwood Bracey and a party of 4 were looking out over the Marls from Sunset Ridge when they saw 4 birds flying high. Two were unmistakably turkey vultures; one was a magnificent frigatebird (ie totally non-eagle-ish); and the fourth was much larger, looking like a juvenile bald eagle. Any remaining doubts were dispelled when it dropped into a steep dive and smashed into the water, catching a fish in its talons, much like an osprey. There’s no room for confusion here: Woody has vast experience on Abaco and beyond – and besides, he had a powerful spotting scope and 4 birding witnesses. The ID is, as they say, solid. And it was posted on eBird. Which I should have checked. But didn’t. As Julia Roberts (qua Vivian Ward) actually did say, “Big Mistake. Huge!

Bald Eagle Juvenile (Wiki)

The problem here – you are ahead of me, aren’t you – is that a juvenile bald eagle does not resemble an adult. Rather than the familiar and symbolic look, they are dark brown with white flecks and mottling that changes as they grow older. A juvenile won’t even begin to look like a bald-headed adult until it is around 4 years old. Here are two comparisons of the confusing ages and stages.

SIGHTING 2

Within the last couple of weeks, a resident of Man-o-War Cay saw a huge brown bird – not an osprey, turkey vulture or red-tailed hawk – hunting chickens in the area. He told his family and identified the bird from looking at a photo of a juvenile bald eagle. I received this report – the first in time – from Charmaine Albury. Her brother was the sharp-eyed spotter. Had that been the only report, in the absence of a photo I might have had at least some doubt. Then Woody’s report arrived, a definite juvenile bald eagle only 3 weeks before, over the Marls. From there, with its spectacular eyesight it could practically have seen the individual chickens on Man-o-War. So it’s a good fit for ID.

WHAT’S THE CONCLUSION?

I’d say that right now on Abaco we have a single juvenile bald eagle. It’s a vagrant, away from its usual hunting ground but unchallenged in the skies where it has ended up. There has been the usual autumn extreme weather (though Abaco has dodged the worst of it) to throw a young bird of course in the last couple of months. So, rather late in the day, we really do have an Abaco Bald Eagle for 2018.

A juvenile bald eagle – not at all like its parents to look at

Credits: Woody and Char for the sighting reports; header image (1), Audubon; (2) wiki; (3) Allaboutbirds.com; comparative drawing, Birdwatchers’ Digest; (4) FB, source unknown (and a credit or take-down as you wish if it’s yours); cute cartoon, the most excellent Birdorable

THE ABACO BALD EAGLE(S): AWOL IN 2018


Bald Eagle in flight (Phil Lanoue)

THE ABACO BALD EAGLE(S): AWOL IN 2018

It is a year since I last wrote about the Abaco Bald Eagle(s) of 2017. The bracketed ‘s’ signifies the absence of firm evidence that there was just the one. Equally, there was no indication that there were ever two. All reported sightings were of a single bird, seen at a distance. The likelihood is that it was a lone visitor. The bald eagle is classified as a very rare vagrant on Abaco, and I gathered together as many reports since 2000 as I could find (see below). Not many, in summary, and never two.

Bald Eagle (Phil Lanoue)

Last year, a bald eagle was sighted around to coast of Abaco over a period of several months. There were 8 sightings in all, and I had hoped that the bird might stay around for 2018. Sadly, not so. The photos featured here come from a sequence by photographer Phil Lanoue. They were not taken on Abaco of course, so don’t be confused. But they illustrate the magnificence of this iconic bird as it prepares for its landing in a pine tree. We do have wonderful ospreys of course, but the occasional eagle makes for a rare treat.

Bald Eagle (Phil Lanoue) Bald Eagle (Phil Lanoue) Bald Eagle (Phil Lanoue) Bald Eagle (Phil Lanoue)

As I said last year, the 2017 sightings were most likely all of the same lone bird that had somehow strayed over to Abaco and found the available prey good, and the location congenial. As undisputed king of the skies, its daily hunting range was a wide one which would explain the varied sighting locations.  I ended: “I’m sticking with this theory unless and until 2 eagles are seen together”. 

BALD EAGLE SIGHTINGS REPORTED ON ABACO SINCE c1950 (= ‘ever’)

Here is the list of sightings. They start in 2000, because there are no known reports for Abaco prior to that from when they started to be kept in the 1950s. If anyone has others, I’d be pleased to hear from you.

  • 2000 December, location unknown – info from Woody Bracey
  • 2001  December – Chicken Farm area – Betsy Bracey
  • 2002 December – over Marls opposite Treasure Cay – Woody Bracey
  • 2004 Autumn – south of Lynard Cay (after hurricane) – Cheryl Noice
  • 2014  Date unknown – circling the power plant – LC
  • ===================================
  • 2017  March – Big Pine Point, Marls – James Cheesewright
  • 2017  Early May – Power plant area – LC
  • 2017  May – Marls – Danny Sawyer
  • 2017  May  – Lubbers / Tahiti Beach area – ‘Kelly’s mom’
  • 2017  September – Cross Harbour – Carol Rivard Roberts (with photo)
  • 2017  November – Cherokee Road – Howard Pitts
  • 2017 November – Bahama Palm Shores / 8-mile beach – Steve Roessler
  • 2017 November – Tilloo Bank – Laurie Schreiner (with photo)

Italics = report in comments on Danny Sawyer’s FB page; Blue = added reports to me

The first-ever bald eagle photo on Abaco Sept 2017

Carol Rivard Roberts

The last bald eagle photo on Abaco Nov 2017

Laurie Schreiner

Credits: all brilliant ‘eagle landing’ photos, Phil Lanoue with many thanks for use permission; Abaco eagles by Carol Rivard Roberts and Laurie Schreiner; amusing cartoon, Birdorable; thanks to all spotters and reporters.

Bald Eagle (Phil Lanoue)

ROYAL TERNS ON THE LONG DOCK, CHEROKEE


Royal Tern, Long Dock Cherokee Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

ROYAL TERNS ON THE LONG DOCK, CHEROKEE

Royal terns Thalasseus maximus seem to have a great liking – quite rightly – for the charms of Cherokee, Abaco. Of the 12 tern species recorded for Abaco, ROTEs are the only permanent residents. Most of the others are summer visitors; a couple are winter visitors; and the rest pass through as migrating ‘transients’, stopping to rest and refuel on their long journeys. So ROTEs are undoubtedly the most commonly found terns on Abaco, and some might say the finest. And Cherokee Long Dock is one place to find them.

Royal Tern, Long Dock Cherokee Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

The historic LONG DOCK at Cherokee stretches far out into the sea to accommodate the varying tide levels of the area – click the link for more information and photos. It is a memorable feature for visitors, and much loved by locals. Also by the royal terns. 

Royal Tern, Long Dock Cherokee Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

The dock provides an ideal safe platform for ROTEs to congregate and hang out. They have a perfect view of the small fishes that make up their diet as they swim in the clear turquoise waters a few feet below. Watching these birds diving off the dock after a fish is nearly as entertaining as watching brown pelicans dive off the jetty at Sandy Point.

Royal Tern, Long Dock Cherokee Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

There are buoys in the bay as well, and individual birds will fly from the dock to perch on a buoy and check out the fishing round it, before returning to the dock – hopefully with a fish in its beak. And the juveniles, with their endearing beginner ‘hair’styles (see #3) can learn the ropes from their elders and betters.

Royal Tern, Long Dock Cherokee Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

People often stroll the length of the dock, or pause on it to pass the time of day and watch the optimistic bonefishers casting hopefully at their silver prizes. These fish are often easier to see from the dock than from wading level – people sometimes shout helpful encouragement: “There… going left…look!… 20 feet in front of you… no, THERE…” and so on. The terns take little notice of all this. A group of people, especially with a dog, might persuade the birds to take flight, but they return as soon as they can; or simple move along the dock and settle in a different place.

Royal Tern, Long Dock Cherokee Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

The plaque for the long dock shows its importance to the community

The dock is so long that it tapers to a vanishing point on the horizon

KNOW YOUR TERNS (WITH THE ADMIRABLE BIRDORABLE)

Abaco has these species plus three moreBirdorable: Tern Species

Credits: Keith Salvesen Photography; BIRDORABLE, with thanks for their wit and amazingly effective highlighting of the essential distinguishing features of bird species

Springboard…Royal Tern, Long Dock Cherokee Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

BROWN PELICANS: CLEARED FOR TAKE-OFF & LANDING


Brown Pelican (Phil Lanoue)

BROWN PELICANS: CLEARED FOR TAKE-OFF & LANDING

Brown Pelicans are permanent breeding residents on Abaco, and not uncommon in certain areas though not be any means throughout the island and the cays. If you come across a pair of them – or preferably a group – it’s well worth spending some time watching them in action. These are magnificent birds, unafraid of humans and happy to carry on fishing / plunge diving with an audience. 

Brown Pelican (Phil Lanoue)

The most reliable place I know of to watch the pelicans on Abaco is Sandy Point. You may find them on the dock, drying their wings on the pilings or diving off it for fish. At other times, they will be further out to sea where the sandbars stretch out into the ocean, taking off and gaining height before smashing straight down into the water.

Brown Pelican (Phil Lanoue)Brown Pelican (Phil Lanoue)

These wonderful images of pelicans taking off and landing are the work of professional photographer Phil Lanoue, whose work I am always excited to feature. He has the skills, the equipment and the eye to produce outstanding photographs, freezing birds in motion with complete clarity.

Brown Pelican (Phil Lanoue)

If anyone reading this knows of other locations on Abaco where pelicans can reliably be found, I’d be very pleased to hear more!

All great photos: © Phil Lanoue, with thanks as ever for use permission

Brown Pelican (Phil Lanoue)

BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLERS ON ABACO


Black-throated Blue Warbler (m), Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)

BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLERS ON ABACO

It’s warbler time of year on Abaco, and a good time to take a look at the Black-throated blue warbler Setophaga caerulescens. This small warbler has very particular breeding and overwintering ranges. In the summer they are found in the forests and woods of eastern North America. As the Fall approaches, they start to migrate south to the Caribbean and Central America. Abaco is one of their winter homes, as well as a likely transit stop on their way further south. Right now sightings are being reported on the mainland and the Cays.

Black-throated Blue Warbler (m), Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)

WHAT DO I LOOK OUT FOR?

Males and females are quite different in appearance (‘sexually dimorphic’), and could even be mistaken for distinct species. Males are a deep slate-blue above (hence caerulescens) with a striking black face and throat, and white underparts. They are unmistakeable, and unlikely to be confused with any other warbler. Females are basically grayish-olive above and pale yellow underneath. For ID, look for a white stripe above the eye, a pale arc below it. In addition, both sexes have a diagnostic white patch on the the wing, that I have seen referred to as a ‘handkerchief‘.**

Black-throated Blue Warbler (f), Abaco (Becky Marvil)

The legendary bird cartoon website Birdorable, featured often in these pages, as usual has a spot-on comparison of the sexes. TBH, this is a great resource for nailing a bird’s essential characteristics. You should check out its warblers in particular! Here’s their inimitably charming take on the BTBW gender comparison.

Black-throated Blue Warbler (m & f comparison) (Birdorable)

These pretty warblers can be seen in gardens, coppice, and woodland. Although mainly insect-eaters, sometimes catching them in flight, they also eat fruit and seeds especially in winter. BTBWs are territorial, and will defend their chosen space against all-comers, including their own species.

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

WHAT DO I LISTEN OUT FOR?

As I have mentioned before, I tend to find phonetic transcriptions of bird sounds rather baffling – and often not really how I hear them myself. This is especially with the ‘Oh-dear-oh-dear-I’ve-run-out-of-beer’ and ‘Have-a-little-Kalik-at-Pete’s’ kind. One source asserts: “The bird’s song can be described  as a buzzed zee-zee-zeeee with an upward inflection. Its call is a flat ctuk”. You be the judge…

SONG Etienne Leroy / Xeno-Canto

CALL Paul Marvin / Xeno-Canto

                        

Black-throated Blue Warbler (m) (Blaine Rothauser CWFNJ)

BTBW SEX LIFE – ANY GOOD GOSS?

Black-throated blue warblers are – and I say this with considerable reservations – mainly a monogamous species. However it turns out that they have complex patterns of vocalisations and behaviours at breeding time, including very promising-sounding ‘extra-pair copulation’ involving ‘heterospecific cuckoldry’. However, despite all my efforts in researching this phenomenon more thoroughly, merely reading the intricacies quickly crossed my boredom threshold, and my own ‘call’ soon became a ‘sonorous saw-like Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz‘.  Anyway these birds don’t breed on Abaco so I’ll spare you the details and move on.

Black-throated Blue Warbler (f) (Dax Roman / Birds Caribbean)

 IS MANKIND MASHING UP THEIR HABITAT?

BTBWs are fairly common birds within their range, with a large population. The usual stuff is happening with them in terms of habitat destruction & co at both ends of their migration. For some already threatened species (e.g. Kirtland’s Warblers), habitat degradation at either end of the migration (let alone both) presages a downward spiral in population. With BTBWs, I have read both that the population is decreasing; and in another source, slightly increasing. For now, let’s regard the welfare of the species as being stable. However, the current causes of species decline will doubtless continue, and many regard increasingly evident climate change as being a determining factor for the well-being of migratory species. The birds are not yet out of the woods, so to speak… and maybe never will be.

** anyone remember those?

CREDITS Photos: Gerlinde Taurer (1, 2); Becky Marvil (3); Bruce Hallett (4); Blaine Rothauser / CWFNJ (5); @daxroman / Birds Caribbean (7); Paul Reeves / Birds Caribbean (8).  Range Map, Wiki; Cartoons,  Birdorable; Video, Cornell Lab for Ornithology

Black-throated Blue Warbler (m) (Paul Reeves / Birds Caribbean)

ABACO PARROT ACROBATICS


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Acrobatics (Melissa Maura)

ABACO PARROT ACROBATICS

Melissa Maura is well-known to many in the Bahamas, not least because of the wonderful work she does with injured or orphaned creatures. Thanks to the skills and compassion of Melissa and those who work with her, animals and birds of all kinds are saved from death or incapacitating injury. In the saddest cases, they are gently cared for until the inevitable occurs.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Acrobatics (Melissa Maura)

Melissa also takes terrific bird photographs, some of which I have featured in the past. Indeed my blog headline photograph is one of her parrots. I used to change the header from time to time, but this one is so cheerful that I decided to keep it in place. It always makes me smile.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Acrobatics (Melissa Maura)

Parrots are acrobatic creatures, happy to eat at all angles including completely upside down. Not just eat, though. Also bicker, flirt, play-fight, and see off rivals via inverted aggression. With the Abaco parrots, one of the benefits for the bystander is that the balancing act and consequent fluttering often reveals the spectacular blue of the birds’ wings. 

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Acrobatics (Melissa Maura)

In a row, it’s not unusual to see a parrot taking up a dominant position on a branch, leaving its opponent hanging on in an uncomfortably precarious position…

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Acrobatics (Keith Salvesen))

People often ask where on Abaco they are most likely to see the parrots. First, there are no parrots north of Marsh Harbour – they are all in South Abaco. Secondly, although they live and nest in the National Park at the southern end of the island, in practice it covers a very large area, much of it inaccessible and with the only ‘road’ something of a challenge for an ordinary vehicle (described HERE). I’d say that the single most reliable place to see the parrots is at Bahama Palm Shores. Simple turn into the north entrance, drive straight down to the end with the windows down, park up – and listen. If they are there, you’ll hear them for sure!

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Acrobatics (Melissa Maura)

All photos Melissa Maura except #5, Keith Salvesen (also the sound file of parrots at BPS)