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)

WHEN A BIG BILL JUST MAKES YOU SMILE… WILSON’S SNIPE ON ABACO


Wilson's Snipe (Birds Caribbean)

WHEN A BIG BILL JUST MAKES YOU SMILE… WILSON’S SNIPE ON ABACO

Wilson’s snipe Gallinago delicata is a plump little bird that is classified as a shorebird. But unlike some, it is not confined to the shore and immediate hinterland – marshland or brackish pond regions are also favoured habitats. Until recently (2003) the Wilson’s was treated as a subspecies of the widespread Common Snipe, before being accorded its own species-status. Something to do with white on the wing edges and a couple more tail feathers. If you want to know who Mr Wilson was (who also ‘owns’ other birds such as a plover and a phalarope) you can find out HERE.

A Wilson’s Snipe on Abaco (but not on the shore…)WILSON'S SNIPE, Abaco (Charles Skinner)WILSON'S SNIPE, Abaco (Charles Skinner)     WILSON'S SNIPE, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

The snipe, in common with several species such as the woodcock, willet and dowitcher, has a notably long bill. The header image is one of the best I have come across that clearly illustrate it, and comes from the extensive archive of the excellent BIRDS CARIBBEAN. The naturalist concerned noted “…check out this remarkable bill. If you have not held a shorebird like this in your hand, the bill is pliable, flexible, and innervated. The snipe feels its way through the muck and then plucks the worm out like tweezers”.

SNIPES AND SNIPERS

The snipe has the misfortune to be a game bird. In the c19, its populations began to reduce due to habitat destruction – especially the draining of marshland – to which it is still vulnerable, of course. But more serious was its increasing popularity with hunters as a difficult bird to shoot, with its fast, jagging flight. A hunter skilled enough to shoot snipe successfully became known as a “sniper”, a usage coined some 200 years ago. I imagine the verb ‘to snipe (at)’  a person derives from this usage, meaning to fire off a quick, accurate, possibly hurtful remark.

Despite these drawbacks, there are enough snipe for the species to remain IUCN-listed ‘least concern’. In the Bahamas, they can be hunted between autumn and spring. This is the relevant page from the BNT HUNTERS’ GUIDE 

Wilson's Snipe BNT Hunters' Guide jpg

800px-Wilsons_Snipe_Richmond_BC Alan D. Wilson

WILL I SEE WISNs ON ABACO?

Although the Wilson’s snipe is one of the most widespread shorebirds in North America, they are far less readily found on Abaco. For a start, they are migratory in the Bahamas, and only resident in winter (broadly, October to March), their non-breeding season. So don’t expect to find them during your pleasant stay in June.  Secondly, they are classed as ‘rare’, one grade harder to find than ‘uncommon’. Thirdly, they are shy and well-camouflaged. Unless they choose to be out in the open – foraging in water, or maybe standing on a post – they can be very hard to see. And in winter it seems they tend to hunker down more and fly less than in the breeding season. Maybe they show more in summer because they know it’s the closed season for hunting… Compare the next two images, one taken on Abaco in winter, and one (cheers, Wiki) elsewhere in the summer.

A winter snipe on Abaco – shy, retiring and blending in with its surroundingsWilson's Snipe, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

Wilson’s snipe in summer, confidently on a post in summer (closed season for hunters…)800px-Common_snipe_fencepost (Sean Breazeal)

DO SNIPES HAVE A DISTINCTIVE CALL THAT I WILL INSTANTLY RECOGNISE?

Not really, I’m afraid. Not easy for an amateur (me). They have a variety of vocalisations – calls, flight calls, and songs. They also make a sound called ‘winnowing’ with their tails while in flight. Here are a few short examples.

CALL / SONG Harry Lehto Xeno Canto

CALL /SONG Pasi Pirinen Xeno Canto

CALL Richard E Webster Xeno Canto

FLIGHT CALL Paul Marvin Xeno Canto

Now that the wonderful Crossley Guide ID bird images are available ‘open source’, I shall be including them in future species posts. When I remember. Their advantage is that in one image you can see all aspects of a paricular species – gender, breeding plumage, typical ‘poses’, in flight and so forth. A truly great resource for bird identification.Wilson's_Snipe_from_The_Crossley_ID_Guide_Eastern_Birds

Credits: Birds Caribbean, Charles Skinner x 3, BNT, Alan D. Wilson, Woody Bracey, Sean Breazeal, Xeno Canto, Crossley ID Guides, Wiki, Audubon, Cornell and sundry worthy OK sources…

“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

FAST FOOD ON THE WING: ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS ON ABACO


Antillean Nighthawk in flight 2. Abaco bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

FAST FOOD ON THE WING: ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS ON ABACO

A bird ID query was recently posted on my FB page by Abaco resident Maria Bethel Flore, who said “I saw a flock of birds I’ve never seen before. All black except for a white stripe underneath the wing. I didn’t get one good picture they were flying so fast”. There were a couple of clues there: a fast-flying flock; and the white underwing bars. Maria’s distant image confirmed the ID as an Antillean Nighthawk Chordeiles gundlachii. These birds have local names such as ‘killakadick’ and ‘pi-di-mi-dix’, or variations on the theme – presumably onomatopoeic.

Paul Marvin / Xeno-Canto

I thought a post illustrating these wonderful birds in flight and on the ground would be timely. 

Antillean Nighthawk in flight 3. Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom SheleyAntillean Nighthawk, Abaco  (Sandy Walker)

The photos above were taken during a trip into deep South Abaco backcountry to the west of the Highway to photograph birds for BIRDS OF ABACO. We reached an open area late in the afternoon to find ourselves in the middle of dozens of nighthawks swooping and diving as they hawked for flies. We leapt out of the truck (we stopped it first) with eager eyes and cameras and watched the performance in amazement. The birds were quite unperturbed by our presence, and from time to time would zoom past within inches of our heads, making a swooshing noise as they did so.

Truck Backcountry

The speed of flight and the jagging paths made it extremely hard to take photos. Photographer Tom Sheley (below) was able to nail them (see top 2 images); I could barely catch a bird in my jiggling viewfinder, but Sandy Walker got a good clear shot (photo 3).Tom Sheley with Antillean Nighthawks, Abaco

Apart from the exuberant aerial displays such as I have described, nighthawks may also be seen on the ground, where they nest. Their colouring enables them tend to blend in with the surroundings. Woody Bracey took the first 2 pictures; the next is from the excellent BIRDS CARIBBEAN, which anyone with an interest in birds would enjoy; and the final one was scooped by Susan Daughtrey on a recent visit to Abaco – another very good example of the bird’s camouflage in natural surroundings.

Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco Woody Bracey Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco (Woody Bracey)Antillean Nighthawk chick (aka %22pi-di-mi-dix%22) BahamasAntillean Nighthawk, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

Credits: Tom Sheley, Sandy Walker, RH, Woody Bracey, Birds Caribbean, Susan Daughtrey, Xeno-Canto