Yesterday an Abaco friend asked me to ID a striking-looking bird photographed in the coppice by their house. It was a Bahama Yellowthroat, one of the 5 bird species endemic to the Bahamas. The bird was not clear enough for use here, but I’ll take any reason to feature these lovely creatures, with their trademark Zorro masks.
The other endemics are the Bahama Woodstar, Bahama Warbler and Bahama Swallow – all found on Abaco. The fifth is the endangered Bahama Oriole. Sadly these fine birds are now only found in very small numbers on Andros. They once lived on Abaco too, but have not been recorded there since the 1990s, and are considered extirpated. You can find out more about all these endemic birds HERE.
The Bahama Yellowthroats have a cousin, the Common Yellowthroat, that is a winter visitor on Abaco. There is some scope for confusion between the two birds, although a close look will reveal several differences. But let’s not get into that kind of detail right now… it would slightly detract from this little ‘gallery of gorgeous’.
One reason for my fondness for the yellowthroats is that it is one of the few species that I am able to imitate with sufficient accuracy to draw one from the depths of the coppice to the front of stage. It’s usually described as a ‘wichety-wichety‘ call, and the talent to mimic it has no other uses in life. Here’s a short recording I made – the Yellowthroat is the first and last call of the sample, with other species in between.
These are curious birds, and are not afraid to pose for a while, watching the watcher. They are also very vocal birds. You’ll see that many of these photos show them singing (‘vocalising’). You can even see their tiny tongues!
A couple of these images feature in THE BIRDS OF ABACO. This is a good moment to mention that we still have some remaining books, and right now we have a seasonal offer on them of a festive $88 plus shipping. A drop in MH can be arranged. Interested? Let me know or email the Delphi Club direct at email@example.com
Photo Credits: Gerlinde Taurer (1, 3); Bruce Hallett (2, 5); Tom Reed (4); Charles Skinner (6); Tom Sheley (7); sound recording Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour
Any day now – if not already – winter warblers will be arriving on Abaco. There are 37 warbler species recorded for the main island and the cays. They fall into 3 categories: 5 permanent residents (PR) that breed on Abaco (B), of which two are endemics; 21 winter residents (WR) ranging from ‘everyday’ species to rarities such as the Kirtland’s Warbler; and 11 transients, most of which you will be lucky to encounter. The codes given for each bird show the residence status and also the likelihood of seeing each species in its season, rated from 1 (very likely) to 5 (extreme rarities, maybe only recorded once or twice).
The photos that follow show an example of each warbler, where possible (1) male and (2) taken on Abaco. Where I had no Abaco images – especially with the transients – I have used other mainstream birding resources and Wiki. All due credits at the foot of the post.
This is a slightly revised version of a guide I posted a couple of years ago. Afterwards, I compressed the guide into a pdf which, in theory at least, is downloadable. You could even send it to your phone and add it to your home screen, so that you will never be without a basic guide to the warblers around you. But it’s not as enthralling as Pokemon Go!, I do quite understand…
THE CARIBBEAN ENDEMIC BIRD FESTIVAL (CEBF) is a Caribbean-wide festival that aims to heighten awareness for birds generally in the region. It is sponsored by the excellent BIRDS CARIBBEANorganisation – click the link to see what it is all about. Birds, obviously, but from the points of view both of promoting and of preserving the rich avian variety throughout the Caribbean.
As part of the CEBF celebrations this month, a birding group from New Providence came to Abaco to explore the birdlife. The expedition group included several well-known local bird experts, all the better for locating and identifying species and ensuring a comprehensive checklist could be compiled. Also in the group was photographer Linda Huber, whose photos you will undoubtedly have seen in Bahamas publications, including the recently published small guideBEAUTIFUL BAHAMA BIRDS(click to see my review and further details – highly recommended for any birder from novice up). Here are a few of Linda’s photos of some of the birds seen during the expedition, a gallery that shows the extraordinary diversity of species to found in a short time on Abaco.
Apologies to those who received a ‘false start’ draft of this post. It was lunchtime, I was hungry, I pressed ‘Save Draft’… or thought I had. Why is the ‘Publish’ button so close? Oh. Right. I see. It’s not its fault, it’s mine…
Western Spindalis Spindalis zena Abaco Parrot Amazona leucocephala bahamensis
2 or 3 introduced or domestic species (if that Muscovy Duck was at Gilpin Point it’s a pet!)
The debatable ‘Caribbean Coot’, about which it has been written** The American Coot is familiar to all, but controversy surrounds the Caribbean Coot with its all-white frontal shield. Some authorities say it is a separate species; others say it is a true subspecies of the American Coot; some claim it is simply a local variant. Bond (1947) treats them as distinct species. The image below shows the two species together. They coexist contentedly and are indifferent to the debate.
The group on a Logging Track in the Abaco National Park
The New Providence Birding Group Expedition to Abaco
CREDITS All photos Linda Huber (with many thanks for use permission) except the pair of coots (Tony Hepburn) and the singing Bahama Yellowthroat in the BNT Flyer (Bruce Hallett)
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.
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.
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 **.
THE MAIN CAUSES OF THE CRITICAL DECLINE ON ANDROS
Lethal Yellowing Diseaseof 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 CowbirdMolothrus bonariensis, abrood parasitethat 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.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 taken during a BMMRO research trip on Andros
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.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.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
WHO WAS THE EPONYMOUS MR 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).
“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 HEREThe Auk Read more about this journal and the birding history of the BahamasHEREThere 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 thestochastic processto 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
AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO ABACO’S 37 WARBLER SPECIES
The winter warblers are arriving on Abaco right now, and a couple of people have already sent me ID queries. Until a couple of years ago, I lazily believed all of the warblers were near identical, differing only in their extent of yellowness. Not so. I know better now. Their arrival now has prompted me to devise a general guide to all the various warblers, so that the great diversity can be appreciated. The photos that follow show an example of each warbler, where possible (1) male (2) in breeding plumage and (3) taken on Abaco. Where I had no Abaco images – especially with the transients – I have used other mainstream birding resources and Wiki. All due credits at the foot of the post.
Abaco has 37 warbler species recorded for the main island and cays. They fall into 3 categories: 5 permanent residents (PR) that breed on Abaco (B), of which two are endemics; 21 winter residents (WR) ranging from ‘everyday’ species to rarities such as the Kirtland’s Warbler; and 11 transients, most of which you will be lucky to encounter. The codes given for each bird show the residence status and also the likelihood of seeing each species in its season, rated from 1 (very likely) to 5 (extreme rarities, maybe only recorded once or twice).
BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT Geothlypis rostrata PR B 1 ENDEMIC
YELLOW WARBLER Setophaga petechia PR B 1
OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLER Setophaga pityophila PR B 1
PINE WARBLER Setophaga pinus PR B 1
BAHAMA WARBLER Setophaga flavescens PR B 1 ENDEMIC
WINTER RESIDENTS (COMMON)
OVENBIRD Seiurus aurocapilla WR 1
WORM-EATING WARBLER Helmitheros vermivorum WR 2
NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH Parkesia noveboracensis WR 1
BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER Mniotilta varia WR 2
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT Geothlypis trichas WR 1
AMERICAN REDSTART Setophaga ruticilla WR 1
CAPE MAY WARBLER Setophaga tigrina WR 1
NORTHERN PARULA Setophaga americana WR 1
BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER Setophaga caerulescens WR 2
PALM WARBLER Setophaga palmarum WR 1
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER Setophaga coronata WR 2
YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER Setophaga dominica WR 1
PRAIRIE WARBLER Setophaga discolor WR 1
WINTER RESIDENTS (UNCOMMON TO RARE)
LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH Parkesia motacilla WR 3
BLUE-WINGED WARBLER Vermivora cyanoptera WR 3
SWAINSON’S WARBLER Limnothlypis swainsonii WR 4
NASHVILLE WARBLER Oreothlypis ruficapilla WR 4
HOODED WARBLER Setophaga citrina WR 3
KIRTLAND’S WARBLER Setophaga kirtlandii WR 4
MAGNOLIA WARBLER Setophaga magnolia WR 3
BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER Setophaga virens WR 3
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 photosHERE. 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 TrustBNThas 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.
FIVE STARS: BAHAMAS ENDEMIC BIRDS (FOUR FROM ABACO)
The Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival is underway. You can find out more on the CARIBBEAN BIRDS FESTIVALSFacebook 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…
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 WOODSTARCalliphlox evelynae
Bahama Woodstar (m) (Tom Sheley)
Bahama Woodstar (f) Tara Lavallee
BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT Geothlypis rostrata
Bahama Yellowthroat (Tom Sheley)
Bahama Yellowthroat (Bruce Hallett)
BAHAMA WARBLERSetophaga flavescens
Bahama Warbler (Bruce Hallett)
Bahama Warbler (Woody Bracey)
BAHAMA SWALLOW Tachycineta cyaneoviridis
Bahama Swallow (Craig Nash)
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) Bruce Hallett
Image credits as shown; otherwise, ‘cover bird’ by Tom Sheley, Bahama Oriole from Wiki and CEBF flyer from the Bahamas National Trust