BARN OWLS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS


Barn Owl, Abaco Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

Barn Owl, Abaco, Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

BARN OWLS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS

The Barn Owl (Tyto alba) is the only owl you are likely to see – and hear – on Abaco. The species is permanently resident, which is a good start in that sighting opportunities exist year-round. Although they are not at all common they can be found in particular locations, for example around Treasure Cay and Little Harbour; also on Elbow Cay, Lubbers Quarters (4 birds right now) and Man-o-War Cay (a while back). There are two other owl species recorded for Abaco: the rare Burrowing Owl (see link below for details); and the Northern Saw-whet Owl, a vanishingly rare vagrant recorded a handful of times that I don’t propose to feature unless and until it decides to visit Abaco more frequently…

Barn Owl (Birdorable)

I wrote about Barn Owls on Abaco many moons ago. I don’t usually rehash previous posts, but I am returning to the topic because of a recent barn owl sighting on Elbow Cay that caused interest, excitement and some speculation. 

Barn Owl, Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas (Becky Marvil)

Barn Owl, Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas (Becky Marvil)

The shrill wheezing cry of the Barn Owl – known in some places as the ‘screech owl’ (which, strictly, is a different owl species) – is unmistakeable. Barn owls also make an intimidating hissing noise. Mainly nocturnal, they fly noiselessly like white ghosts in the night. If you are lucky enough to see one in the daytime, you’ll be struck by the beautiful heart-shaped face and (if close enough) the delicate markings.

 Patrik Aberg Xeno-Canto

Both photos above were taken on Abaco. Woody Bracey’s header image is featured inTHE BIRDS OF ABACO“. Becky Marvil’s photo was taken near Treasure Cay. I’ve never seen a barn owl on Abaco, but  I’ve been lucky enough to get close to them in the UK. For those who have never seen one, here are a few of my own images that show what wonderful birds they are. They were photographed at a raptor rescue centre, so I am not going to pretend that these shots were taken in the wild. That would never do. 

Barn Owl (Keith Salvesen)Barn Owl Dorset (Keith Salvesen) Barn Owl Dorset (Keith Salvesen)Barn Owl 4 (Keith Salvesen)

This close-up of the barn owl above shows the typical speckling on its pure white front, and the beautiful wing patterns. Amazingly for such a large bird, an adult weighs a mere 350g or so. As a comparison, The Birds of Abaco book weighs 2kg!

Barn Owl close-up (Keith Salvesen)

This fluffy baby barn owl had been rescued and was being cared for in a sanctuary before being returned to the wild. Whimsy is rarely permitted  in this blog, but seriously, folks – cuteness overload!Barn Owl 6 (Keith Salvesen)

RELATED POSTS

 OWLS OF ABACO (2) – BURROWING OWLS

BURROWING OWLS ON ELBOW CAY

Credits: Woody Bracey, Becky Marvil, Keith Salvesen, Patrik Aberg /  Xeno-Canto (audio), RSPB (video), Birdorable (Cartoon)

AMERICAN REDSTARTS ON ABACO: MALES IN FOCUS


american-redstart-male-abaco-bahamas-craig-nash-fv

AMERICAN REDSTARTS ON ABACO: MALES IN FOCUS

Time to rectify an omission and to feature the striking orange and black male American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla. A while ago I posted about the equally distinctive yellow and black females HERE (the dissimilar colouring between the sexes of these little warblers is due to differing carotin levels in each). These unmistakeable winter residents are common on Abaco. They are an easy warbler for new birders look out for, being unlike any other small warblerish-looking bird. All the birds here were photographed on Abaco.

american-redstart-male-abaco-bahamas-gerlinde-taurer-2 american-redstart-male-abaco-bahamas-gerlinde-taurer-1

american-redstart-copyTEN REDSTARTLING FACTS  (& a comment)

  • The Latin name means moth-eating red-tail (‘start’ is an archaic word for tail)
  • AMRE are among the most common New World warblers
  • Occasionally they are found as far afield as Europe
  • They are almost entirely insect-eaters, with occasional berries or seeds for variety
  • Males are late developers, tending to skew the sex ratio: too many of them
  • They are inclined to monogamy, but only to an extent. Two-or-more-timing goes on
  • The most aggressive males get the pick of the habitats
  • This all begins to sound like human behaviour (not strictly a fact, so it doesn’t count)
  • Their fanned tails are for display, and maybe to surprise insects into breaking cover
  • Redstarts suffer badly from predators, especially in the breeding season
  • They are popular with coffee farmers for keeping insect numbers down
american-redstart-abaco-bahamas-gerlinde-taurer-3american-redstart-male-bahama-palm-shores-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheley
american-redstart-copy
The American Redstart (f  & m) as depicted by JJ Audubonplate-40-american-redstart-final
american-redstart-copy
A male redstart at Treasure Caybahamas-american-redstart-bm-oct-2010-copy-2
american-redstart-copy
WHAT DO I LISTEN OUT FOR?
american-redstart-male-wiki
AMRE by Mark Catesby, precursor of Audubon
american-redstart-mark-catesby-pinterest
Credits: Craig Nash (1); Gerlinde Taurer (2, 3, 4); Tom Sheley (5); Audubon Soc (6); Becky Marvil (7); ‘Scott’ wiki (8); Pinterest (9); Xeno-Canto / Jeff Dyck audio file; Birdorable (cute cartoon)

RACCOONS ON ABACO: A MIXED BLESSING?


raccoon_procyon_lotor_2 wiki

RACCOONS ON ABACO: A MIXED BLESSING?

Abaco, like the rest of the Bahama Islands, is strangely short of native land mammals. The last of the wild ABACO BARBS – descendants of Spanish Colonial horses of high pedigree – died very recently. The proud Barbs are no more. But they, of course, were an introduced species. There are the hard-breeding, hard-hunted hogs. And feral potcakes, unowned or disowned. Many feral cats. Maybe a few rabbit escapees. And bats: several of the dozen (or so) Bahamas species are found on Abaco. At one time there was the shy nocturnal HUTIA that had the distinction of being – or having been – endemic to many of the islands. Not on Abaco, sadly – its own subspecies the Great Abaco Hutia had become extinct by the c17. You’ll have to go to the Exumas to see a hutia.

HEY! THERE ARE RACCOONS, AREN’T THERE?

This endearing-looking creature was photographed on Abaco by Charmaine AlburyRaccoon, Abaco, Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)

Raccoons are a non-native species, probably introduced in the Bahamas many decades – perhaps a couple of centuries – ago. They are thought to have been brought to New Providence originally. More recently they arrived on Abaco – possibly as pets in the first place, which were then released or escaped. And they are spreading: as recently as April 2012 an excellent article in the Bahamas edition of COASTAL ANGLER MAGAZINE introduced “Eleuthera’s Newest Mammal”.

Raccoon (Cheryl Wile Ferguson)

RACOON PROS

  • Cuddly, furry, cute-looking, quite high on the well-known scientifically-based ‘ADORBS’ scale (Animals Deemed Outrageously, Ridiculously, Breathtakingly Strokeable)
  • Comfortingly familiar despite being wild animals (NB potentially aggressive)
  • Don’t have the same drawbacks as skunks
  • Have valuable fur
  • Pelts can be used for Davy Crockett hats
  • raccoon-danny-sauvageau

RAC-CONS

  • Considered to be “one of the world’s most omnivorous animals”
  • Known to wreak havoc with certain crops, eg watermelons
  • Canny and adept hunters, including at night; good climbers to treetop level
  • Suspected of predation of land crabs (depriving ‘natural’ predators of the pleasure)
  • Compete with birds for fruit, berries and nectar
  • Relish birds’ eggs. Low and ground-nesting birds are particularly at risk throughout season
  • On Abaco, a major conservation program has been needed to protect the nests of the Abaco parrots in the limestone caverns of the national park from raccoons, feral cats and rodents
  • Eat small birds, curly tail lizards, anoles and suchlike
  • Can be aggressive to humans – note the handy claws clearly shown in the photo above

A shy raccoon in a tree, Treasure Cay (Becky Marvil)raccoon-abaco-becky-marvil

LIVE AND LET LIVE?

“The authors of the study Taxonomic status and conservation relevance of the raccoons of the West Indies (2003) hold that the Bahamian raccoon is an invasive species which itself poses a threat to the insular ecosystem.The Government of the Bahamas has this species listed as up for eradication on the islands of New Providence and Grand Bahama”.

So the official line favours eradication of a potentially harmful non-native species – failing which, presumably containment of numbers. Trapping is one way to achieve this – and there are both humane as well as cruel ways to do so. However, trapping in one place, only to release somewhere else is clearly not an option. But it would provide the opportunity to neuter / spay the animals and slow or prevent the reproductive spread of the creatures. Hunting raccoons is another method.  It’s not currently a significant sport, but neither are raccoons protected. Their fur has a value, and some say they could provide a source of somewhat gamey meat.

Or they could be just left as they are, as attractive creatures now well-established, despite the inevitable risks to native species such as the reviving population of Abaco parrots, now at sustainable numbers. On Abaco, reduced to its basics the $64k question might be: which would you prefer in the future? More raccoons or fewer parrots (or indeed, no parrots at all)?

Raccoons exhibited in the Garden of the Groves, Freeport, Grand Bahama (neutered /spayed)raccoons-nassau-bahamas-weekly

PUMPKIN

I wouldn’t wish to run the risk of influencing the delicately balanced arguments about the raccoons of the Bahamas, but will you just take a look at this? The perfect fit for the acronymic descriptor A.D.O.R.B.S!

Coastal Angler magazine, BNT / Erika Gates, Bahamas Weekly, Charmaine & Becky for the Abaco photos, plus Wiki / open source, Buzzfeed / YouTube & don’t get stuck into the rest of the cutesy viddys… Stop Press: added above the pros & cons – a great recent photo by Cheryl Wile Ferguson (nb not taken on Abaco)

At least as far as stamps are concerned, the raccoon gets equal billing with the hutia (and the bat)bahamastamp

AMERICAN REDSTARTS ON ABACO: THE DISTAFF SIDE


American Redstart (f), Abaco 6 (Charles Skinner)

AMERICAN REDSTARTS ON ABACO: THE DISTAFF SIDE

I have a feeling that people are more familiar with the male American redstart than the female. The male’s striking near-black and orange livery is memorable. The female’s equivalent brown and yellow colour scheme is a little more subtle (or ‘drab’, which is a go-to bird book description where the male of a species is flamboyant; I prefer ‘subtle’ as a politer description). Charlie Skinner managed to get some lovely shots of females in the pines and scrub at the back of the Delphi beach. 

American Redstart (f), Abaco 1 (Charles Skinner)American Redstart (f), Abaco 2 (Charles Skinner)

These birds are one of the 37 warbler species recorded for Abaco, where they are common winter residents. Generally they start to arrive in October, and some are usually still around in March. It is believed that the flashing tail-spreading of both sexes, shown in some of these images, acts either to attract insects; or to confuse them in some way. I can’t think how or why. I imagine the tail-fanning also forms part of the redstart courtship rituals. Incidentally (*fun fact alert*) male redstarts are known to raise two families simultaneously, the nests being a convenient distance apart so that his deceit remains his secret.

American Redstart (f), Abaco 5 (Charles Skinner)American Redstart (f), Abaco 3 (Charles Skinner)

This pretty juvenile is impossible to sex at this age. Could go either way. (Photo: Becky Marvil)American Redstart (juv), Abaco (Becky Marvil)

For comparison, the more familiar male (and more brash – typical). (Photo: Gerlinde Taurer)Bahamas-Great Abaco_6374a_American Redstart_Gerlinde Taurer copy

Photo credits: Charlie Skinner, Becky Marvil, Gerlinde Taurer 

THE ‘THRUSH’ THAT ISN’T: NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH ON ABACO


Northern Waterthrush.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco.3.Tom Sheley

THE ‘THRUSH’ THAT ISN’T: NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH ON ABACO

The pretty thrush-like warbler Northern Waterthrush Parkesia noveboracensis is a common winter resident on Abaco. Despite the name it’s not a real thrush, but it is larger than most of the compact winter warblers that heed the the migratory instinct that “It’s Better in the Bahamas” and make Abaco their overwintering habitat.

Northern Waterthrush.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco.1.Tom Sheley

HOW CAN YOU TELL SIMILAR PLUMAGED THRUSHES FROM THESE GUYS?

The simplest rule of thumb is that true thrushes have spotted or speckled chests; whereas waterthrushes have streaked chests. That, and the fact that similar thrush species are generally larger. A number of true thrushes are recorded for Abaco, many quite similar to the waterthrush; but the speckled vs spotted distinction should be your guide. If a sighting is momentary or in bad light, it’s anyone’s guess…

Northern Waterthrush, Abaco (Becky Marvil)

northern_waterthrush_rangemap(1)

APART FROM THRUSHES, ANY OTHER BIRDS I MIGHT CONFUSE IT WITH?

There’s another far less commonly found waterthrush that also overwinters on Abaco – the closely-related Louisiana waterthrush Parkesia motacilla. I have no Abaco photos of one – it really is quite rare – so I’ve had to borrow an open source one. The Cornell Lab explains the differences between the two waterthrushes thus: “Northern usually has stripes on throat, a slightly smaller bill, a thinner and off-white or cream eyestripe that does not extend as far onto the nape, less pink legs, and a more yellowish wash on the underparts”. Maybe one can generalise that the northern is overall a yellower bird, and its legs are more brown than pink.

Lousiana waterthrush – rarer on Abaco than the northern but a potential source of confusionLouisiana_Waterthrush_(Parkesia_motacilla) Magnus Manske : Wiki

WHAT’S THAT POSH TAXONOMIC NAME ALL ABOUT, THEN?

The Mr Parkes in question was Kenneth Carroll Parkes (1922 – 2007), an American ornithologist and Chief Curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh. The noveboracencis part simply means ‘from New York’ in Latin (novum – new; Eboracum – York); and the -ensis is a common suffix meaning ‘from’. Mr Parkes’s bird from New York.

Kenneth Carrol ParkesMr Parkes

Northern Waterthrush, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)
Both species have similar habits. For example, on the ground, they tend to walk rather than hop, ‘bobbing’ their butts (technical term) as they go. They forage on the ground for insects, snails and small mollusks etc.
  
Northern Waterthrush, Abaco 1 (Gerlinde Taurer)
I’m not a huge fan of attempts at phonetic renditions of bird calls – the ‘Did you have a nice day today dear?’ and the ‘I’d like a very big Kalik please’ and so on. But for what it is worth, the song of the northern waterthrush has been interpreted as “a loud swee swee chit chit weedleoo”.  This is what is sounds like in real life. Go figure.
Northern Waterthrush, Abaco 2 (Gerlinde Taurer).jpg

Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 2, 8); Becky Marvil (3); Magnus Manske (4); Bruce Hallett (5); Gerlinde Taurer (6, 7); Richard E Webster at Xeno-Canto for the song clip

Northern Waterthrush.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco.2.Tom Sheley

“STRIKE THE POSE”: BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS ON ABACO


Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Becky Marvil)

“STRIKE THE POSE”: BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS ON ABACO

I’ve featured these little birds before, including a few I took a couple of months back. For reasons to do with a current project I have been revisiting some of my archive folders of Abaco birds. Most are carefully and correctly labelled, which in most cases is easy – ‘Abaco Parrots’; ‘W Spindalis’; B/quits’ etc. Some have more fancy shortcut names that I’m just getting into – ‘PIPL’; ‘BAWA’; ‘WESA’ and so on. And some are crammed into generic folders like ‘Shorebirds Misc’, ‘Gulls Terns Whatever’ or ‘Warblers???’ pending further attention (if ever).

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Becky Marvil)Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Becky Marvil)

The BGGs I have previously shown have all been photographed on South Abaco. Several of the photos here were taken in and around the Treasure Cay area by Becky Marvil, one of the photographic contributors to THE BIRDS OF ABACO. It’s good to remember that although South Abaco provides the best birding, there are other parts of the island, and some Cays such as Man-o-War, where the birding is also very good.

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Becky Marvil)Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Treasure Cay Abaco (Becky Marvil)

BGGs are well-known for their irreziztbz little ways – coming to check you out if you pish, click or whistle softly in thick coppice; posing daintily for the camera; and maybe even preceding or following you down a track in a companionable way. They may be small, but they always a welcome sight and they make for a very attractive bird gallery.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley) aBlue-gray Gnatcatcher preening, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley) bBlue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley) c

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco (Charles Skinner)Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Credits: Becky Marvil (1,2,3,4,5), Tom Sheley (6,7,8), Charlie Skinner (9,10), Bruce Hallett (11)Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

IT’S A WARBLER. WITH A YELLOW THROAT. ON ABACO. SIMPLE?


Yellow-throated warbler, Abaco  (Keith Salvesen)

IT’S A WARBLER. WITH A YELLOW THROAT. ON ABACO. SIMPLE?

The Yellow-throated Warbler (Setophaga dominica) is a most helpful warbler, in that what you see is what you get. You needn’t go to embarrassing lengths to determine whether it has a Yellow Rump. It doesn’t make extravagant geographical claims like the Cape May, Kentucky, Tennessee, Nashville or Connecticut warblers. It doesn’t disguise its warblerdom with a confusing name like ‘American Redstart’ or ‘Ovenbird’. Nor with a weird warbler name that is completely obscure like the Prothonotary. It’s a winter resident only, so it won’t try to puzzle you in the summer. The males and females are roughly similar in appearance, unlike so many species. All-in-all, a most agreeable and obliging little bird. Here are a few to enjoy, before I spoil the magic slightly…

Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett) 2Yellow-throated warbler, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

YTWs are quite pose-y birds, and tend to strike attitudes. One is the ‘head-in-the-air’, as below and further above. There’s the ‘butt-in-the-air’ too, immediately above (one of my favourite photos)Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco (Becky Marvil) Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco - Becky MarvilYellow-throated warbler, Abaco  (Keith Salvesen)

This shape is both characteristic and characterful. You might call it the ‘sag-in-the-middle’Yellow-throated warbler, Abaco  (Keith Salvesen)

This year I saw my first YTW in the Delphi Gardens, skulking around in a Gumbo Limbo tree. Having taken a number of rather poor shots – partly due to the intervention of branches, twigs, leaves, berries, shaky hands and so forth – I got some clearer shots at it, the two above and below being the best of an indifferent bunch.Yellow-throated warbler, Abaco  (Keith Salvesen)Yellow-throated warbler, Abaco  (Keith Salvesen)

I said earlier that the magic of the apparently simple ID of a warbler that lives up to its name would have to be spoiled. I’m afraid this little gallery rather undoes the certainties I’d promised… two more species common to Abaco, also named for their yellow throats (yet it’s more extensive than just the throat, anyway) . 
BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT
                                                     20130106_Bahamas-Great Abaco_4846_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy Bahama Yellowthroat (m) Bruce Hallett
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT
800px-Common_Yellowthroat_by_Dan_Pancamo Common Yellowthroat, Gilpin Pond, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)
You’d really think that someone at Audubon Towers or Cornell Castle might have thought of calling these two species ‘Bahama’ and ‘Common’ Masked Warblers, wouldn’t you – after all there’s a Hooded Warbler, which indeed has a hood. No other warbler has a mask like these 2. Then any confusion could be avoided. So remember: the Yellow-throated Warbler has a yellow throat AND is otherwise black and white, with streaks. Erm, just like a…
BLACK AND WHITE WARBLER

Black & White Warbler (Wiki)

RELATED POSTS
 
Credits: RH (1,7,8,9,10); Bruce Hallett (2, 3); Erik Gauger (4); Becky Marvil (5, 6). Thumbnails: Gerlinde Taurer, Bruce Hallett, Dan Pancamo, Tom Sheley, Wiki