BONAPARTE’S GULLS ON ABACO


Bonaparte's Gull (Basar, wiki)

BONAPARTE’S GULLS ON ABACO

The Bonaparte’s gull Chroicocephalus philadelphia is one of the smallest gulls, and is found mainly in Canada and northern United States, though vagrants sometimes end up as far away as Europe. And Abaco. These birds are considered very uncommon winter residents on Abaco (categorised WR4). Yet within the last couple of months Elwood Bracey saw an amazing 4 in Treasure Cay harbour… Milton Harris reported seeing one at Hope Town harbour… Keith Kemp saw a couple on South Abaco (2 locations)… Eugene Hunn reported 1 on the Sandy Point dock… then suddenly there were 3 on the beach at Delphi. They have hung around there, too – let’s hope that all these birds find their way back to their breeding grounds safely. They have quite a journey ahead of them.

Bonaparte's Gull, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

The species is named for Charles Lucien Bonaparte, a French ornithologist and nephew to the French emperor (see below for more about him).  The philadelphia part of its Latin designation oddly results from the location from which the original ‘type specimen’ was collected (see below for the reason). This is not unlike the Cape May warbler, so named for the location of the original specimen, yet not recorded there again for more than a century (and still quite rare)…

Bonaparte's Gull, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

The gulls shown here are in their winter plumage, with the characteristic dark blotch behind the eye. In the breeding season, they acquire smart slate-black hoods:

Bonaparte's Gull, Abaco Bahamas (D Gordon Robertson wiki)

 10 BONAPARTE’S GULL FACTS TO TELL YOUR GRANDCHILDREN

  • Graceful in flight, resembling terns as much as gulls
  • Monotypic: the sole representative of its taxonomic subgroup
  • Males and females have very much the same colouring
  • Believed to be monogamous
  • Showy breeders, with much display, swooping, diving, yelling at each other etc
  • Typically (and ungull-like) they nest in trees, preferring conifers eg jack pine
  • Share nest-building and parenting duties
  • Capable of considerable aggression to protect their nests / chicks
  • Have been known to live 18 years
  • The only bird species with an Emperor’s name (prove me wrong!**)

Bonaparte's Gull, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

We saw these birds on the beach most days, usually just 2 of the 3 at any one time. They were quite shy and hard to get close to, however subtly. And they kept on the move – except when they decided to have a rest.

Bonaparte's Gull, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

TELL US MORE ABOUT PRINCE BONAPARTEBonaparte, Charles Lucien (1803-1857)Bonaparte’s gull, Zenaida dove

Charles Lucien Bonaparte, 2nd Prince of Canino & Musignano 1803 – 1853

Bonaparte was a French biologist and ornithologist, and the nephew of the Emperor Napoleon. He married his cousin Zenaïde, by whom he had twelve children. They moved from Italy to Philadelphia, by which time Bonaparte had already developed a keen interest in ornithology. He collected specimens of a new storm-petrel, later named after the Scottish ornithologist Alexander Wilson. And presumably that’s where he found his specimen gull.

Bonaparte studied the ornithology of the United States, and updated Wilson’s work American Ornithology. His revised edition was published between 1825 and 1833. He was a keen supporter of a (then unknown) ornithologist John James Audubon. Rather sweetly, he created the genus Zenaida, after his wife, applying it to the White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica,  Zenaida Dove Zenaida aurita and Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura. He himself was later honoured in the name ‘Bonaparte’s Gull’.

Bonaparte's Gull, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

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GULL SPECIES ON ABACO

THE PIONEER NATURALISTS

Credits: excellent header image from ‘Basar’; breeding plumage gull by D Gordon Robertson; all the rest, Keith Salvesen

**Emperor Penguins don’t count!

STOP PRESS some of the other BOGUs mentioned in Para 1, by Elwood Bracey, and 2 from Keith Kemp

AMERICAN KESTRELS ON ABACO: ‘LET US PREY…’


american-kestrel-f-abaco-bruce-hallett-img_1235-copy

AMERICAN KESTRELS ON ABACO: ‘LET US PREY…’

To be honest, I haven’t done these fine birds justice. Barely a mention of them for 3 years. Too much else on the land and in the water to choose from. I posted some of my photos from an outing to Sandy Point HERE. And the kestrel kinsman MERLIN got some attention a while later. Time to make amends with some more AMKE.

american-kestrel-abaco-charles-skinner

As many or most of the images show, utility wires (also posts) are a favourite perch for kestrels. They get an unimpeded view of the only thing that really matters in their lives – outside the breeding season, of course – PREY.

american-kestrel-abaco-2-peter-mantle

In my experience it’s quite rare to see AMKEs on the ground – unless they are in the act of ripping up some hapless rodent pinned to the earth. I was with photographer Tom Sheley when he captured this fine bird in the grass. 

american-kestrel-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheley-copy

Tom also took this outstanding photo, on an overcast day, of a kestrel feeding its fledgeling a large insect.american-kestrel-feeding-fledgling-2-delphi-club-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheley

Treasure Cay and its surrounding area makes for a good day’s birding. Although South Abaco, below Marsh Harbour, is the go-to location, TC has plenty of scope for a great variety of species from shore birds to songbirds – including the occasional Kirtland’s warbler. The golf course pond at hole #11 is well worth checking out (with permission at the club house, rarely declined unless there’s an event of some sort). So is the large brackish lake system where you may well find herons and egrets. There’s been a rare (for Abaco) pearly-eyed thrasher there recently. And you may find yourself being watched by a kestrel from a vantage point.

american-kestrel-treasure-cay-abaco-bahamas-6-13-tom-sheley

A richly-coloured specimenAMERICAN KESTREL, Abaco -Nina Henry

A kestrel in streamlined flight, with its feet tucked tightly under its bodyamerican-kestrel-abaco-tom-reed

Bird on the Wireamerican-kestrel-abaco-peter-mantle-copy

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION

One of Leonard Cohen’s standards, and a song covered by almost everyone from Johnny Cash to Heathen Gonads*, Bird on the Wire was on the album Songs from a Room (1969). It was a favourite of Cohen’s, who once said “I always begin my concert with this song”. Covers range from the excellent via good, interesting, and strange to outright bizarre. Joe Bonamassa’s take on it (as Bird on a Wire) on Black Rock, is certainly… unusual**.

Credits: Bruce Hallett (1, 10); Charles Skinner (2); Peter Mantle (3, 9); Tom Sheley 4, 5, 6); Nina Henry (7); Tom Reed (8)

american-kestrel-f-abaco-bruce-hallett-img_1222

*not really .    **shows originality & ingenuity -vs- dents his purist bluesman credentials

PIP THE PLOVER VARIES HER DIET…


Piping Plover, West End, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

PIP THE PLOVER VARIES HER DIET…

Hi guys, that’s me, Pip, in the picture above. I live in North America in the summer. That’s where I was born. I fly down south to somewhere warm for the winter. Like many migratory humans, my chosen place is the Bahamas. It’s got some great empty, safe beaches and the weather is (mostly) lovely. Unless a Big Wind happens. The tide-line is cram-full of meat-strings (these would be worms. Ed). There are great patches of weed larder to work through. It suits me very well, just like lots of other shore birds. It’s why some of us return every year.

I’ve just got one point to raise, if you wouldn’t mind. There’s a mass of plastic (and other) crap out there on the beaches. It washes in on every tide. I know it isn’t Bahamian crap, but has come from many miles away. But Mr Harbour has done some work with my portrait to identify what’s in the seaweed I’m feeding on that might be harmful. He enhanced it and picked out just the things he’s certain shouldn’t be there. All the blue bits, for a start. And who knows what else is under the weed that I can’t even see to avoid. The shoreline and the wrack line is my dining area. I might easily eat some of the small bits by mistake. I think I must do that quite often. That would be bad – too much plastic crap and I’ll be ill. Or die. There are only about 8000 of us in the whole big wide world. If 80 of us die from plastic ingestion, that’s one per cent. The loss has to be made up next breeding season before we can even begin to increase our population. 

Just sayin!

PIPL & beach crap

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

chris-jordan-inside-albatrossPhoto: Chris Jordan, who studies birds killed by trash

“ON THEIR WAY”: THE PIPING PLOVER MIGRATION HAS BEGUN…


PIPL adult & chick (Jordan Rutter)

“ON THEIR WAY”: THE PIPING PLOVER MIGRATION HAS BEGUN…

The last piping plover known to have left Abaco for the summer breeding grounds was the renowned ‘Tuna’, in early April. We can’t say where he ended up – there are no reported sighting of him this summer from the NJ beach where he was born, raised and banded – or from anywhere else. The unbanded Delphi contingent had left the beach by the end of March.

TunaPiping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Oct 10. Rhonda Pearce

Besides Tuna, of the named banded birds resighted on Abaco beaches last season (e.g. Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Jonesy, Bahama Mama, Benny, Bess), only the most distant visitor Bahama Mama returned to her original beach in Muskegon State Park. Her mate from last year (‘Little Guy’) had already shacked up with another bird, so BM did likewise. Carol Cooper reports that all birds had left the beach by July 23.

Bahamas Pink Band 52PIPL Pink Band 52, Abaco (Walker Golder)

As for Bahamas ‘Pink Bands’ – winter-banded birds – the BAHAMAS SHOREBIRD CONSERVATION INITIATIVE has posted a wonderful interactive map produced by Audubon which shows the astonishing extent of the migration undertaken by these little birds. Unfortunately none of last winter’s Abaco ‘pink numbers’ are shown as resighted. You can reach this great resource by clicking the image below. This will take you to the original – I am trying to work out how best to embed the map in my sidebar.

Click me!Pink band PIPL map (Audubon : BSCI)

Reports of migrating PIPL are beginning to come in and will accelerate over the next few weeks. First with a Bahamas report is Linda Barry-Cooper (West End Ecology Tours), who spotted 3 at Sandy Cay, West End, Grand Bahama on July 21 (‘10.00 a.m., high water’). With a modest fanfare of greeting, here are those first Bahamas birds of the season.

Piping plovers, West End, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)Piping plovers, West End, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)Piping plovers, West End, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH

Last season was an important one for having a bird count on Abaco, with the four-yearly census taking place in January. I started The Watch rather nonchalantly, but it quickly picked up enthusiasm and momentum and in the end it was of significant use for the official bird count. Here are the compressed stats for the from the end of July 2105 to January 2016. You will see – possibly with some surprise – that in only 5 months 3.83% of the total presumed piping plover population in the world was found on Abaco. And of course that’s only a total from sightings on certain beaches, mostly easily accessible, by a relatively small number of monitors. How many more were there on the all the unexplored expanses of beach, or indeed out on the Marls?

12645249_238060709872861_4615782903299666904_n

The question is whether to continue the watch this coming season. If so, best to get it sorted before the first birds arrive any day now. I have decided  to carry on, but – since it isn’t a census year –  with a lighter touch this time (it’s a time-consuming process and there’s other stuff going on in my life.) Accordingly I would welcome reports of all Abaco sightings. If you are in doubt whether what you are seeing is a piping plover or some other shorebird, a photo or even a phone pic for ID would be great. The most helpful information to give is:

  • Date and time
  • Single bird or number of birds (if countable) or an estimate
  • Whether banded or not
  • If so, details of the banding: band or flag, colours, visible numbers etc
  • If at all possible, photos of the bird and its legs… I am able to enhance apparently dim or fuzzy pictures to some extent, so don’t worry if you don’t get a perfect shot.
  • If possible, state of tide – high, low, half-way, coming in, going out
  • Also, what the bird is doing – foraging, sleeping, rushing round in circles etc
  • Finally, location as accurately as possible. Area, name of beach, whereabouts (middle, east end, south end etc)

Piping Plover (juv) CT (Danny Sauvageau)

If you are one of the volunteer beach monitors from last year, I will be emailing you. If you’d like to monitor your own or a favourite beach, I’d love to hear from you.

CONTACT

Piping Plover, Abaco - Charmaine Albury

Photo Credits: Jordan Rutter, Rhonda Pearce, Linda Barry-Cooper x 3, Danny Sauvageau, Charmaine Albury

 

YELLOW BIRDS ON ABACO: A ‘TWIXTMAS’ COLOUR SCHEME


Bahamas-Great Abaco_4846_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy

YELLOW BIRDS ON ABACO: A ‘TWIXTMAS’ COLOUR SCHEME

Red. Green. A splash of blue. The shimmer of gold and silver. Those Christmas colours are so passé. OVAH! So ‘last year’ (or very nearly). In the hope and expectation that people are not too bilious from Xmas Xcess, or too jaundiced by seasonal overload, I feel it’s time to change the colour scheme. Let’s go for bright yellow. Specifically, a mix of endemic Bahama Yellowthroats and Common Yellowthroats. I love these cheerful little birds, and the challenge of trying to lure them into the open with my rather unconvincing approximations of their ‘wichity’ call. Such sunny little creatures, and always such a joy to watch.

Bahamas-Great Abaco_5267_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copyBahama Yellowthroat (M) Bruce Hallett Bahama Yellowthroat 3 Tom Reed

ALL ABOVE – BAHAMA YELLOWTHROATS; ALL BELOW – COMMON YELLOWTHROATS

Common Yellowthroat.Gilpin Pond.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley copyCommon Yellowthroat (m) Bruce Hallett IMG_4232Common Yellowthroat, Gilpin Pond, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)Common-yellowthroat, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Credits: Gerlinde Taurer (1,2); Bruce Hallett (3, 6); Tom Reed (4); Tom Sheley (5, 7); Erik Gauger (8)

HOW TO CATCH FISH EFFECTIVELY, OSPREY-STYLE


Osprey, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Osprey (Abaco, Bahamas) – Tom Sheley

HOW TO CATCH FISH EFFECTIVELY, OSPREY-STYLE

I have featured the wonderful photography of Phil Lanoue before. He specialises in taking sequences of the larger birds, many of them as they hunt for fish: herons, egrets, anhingas – and ospreys. Here is a remarkable sequence of an osprey showing its fishing skills, with a surprise ending that I won’t give away.

osprey-catches-two-fish-01 (Phil Lanoue)osprey-catches-two-fish-02  (Phil Lanoue) osprey-catches-two-fish-03  (Phil Lanoue) osprey-catches-two-fish-04  (Phil Lanoue) osprey-catches-two-fish-05  (Phil Lanoue)

Pretty cool trick, huh?osprey-catches-two-fish-06  (Phil Lanoue)

Credits: Header image – Tom Sheley; Osprey sequence – Phil Lanoue. Many thanks to both for use permission

COMMON GROUND DOVE (‘TOBACCO DOVE’) ON ABACO


Common Ground Dove, Abaco (Tom Reed)

COMMON GROUND DOVE (‘TOBACCO DOVE’) ON ABACO

These small birds Columbina passerina are also known as tobacco doves. Although they sometimes perch in the branches of trees, you are more likely to encounter them on the ground, where they forage for seeds, fruit, and insects. Common Ground Dove, Abaco 1 (Tom Sheley)

They will often fly in front of a person or vehicle in short fluttering stages, keeping out of reach but never going too far ahead.When they fly, their undersides flash reddish-brown (sometimes described as chestnut) – hence (I presume) the tobacco dove name.

Common Ground Dove, Abaco 2 (Tom Sheley)

The common ground dove is one of the world’s smallest doves – roughly 6 inches long. Its beak has a black tip, and its feathers have a pinkish tinge. The feathers on the head and the breast look rather like scales. Females are similar to males but tend to be greyer.

Common Ground Dove, Abaco (Nina Henry)

Common ground doves mate with their partner for life, and a pair may have 2 or even 3 broods a year. Both parents feed the young birds until they are ready to feed themselves. Rather amazingly, hatchlings can fledge in 11 days. 

Common Ground Dove, Abaco 3 (Nina Henry)

Here’s the sound to listen out for, a (frankly) rather monotonous and subdued little ‘whoop’.

 Andrew Spenser / Xeno Canto

Common Ground Dove, Abaco 2 (Nina Henry)

My own attempts to photograph a CGD satisfactorily have been rather feeble. I have taken plenty of photos of them on the ground, but nothing memorable, let alone useable. However the one below surprised me by flying onto a branch quite near me, and I had time to squeeze the trigger before it flew off again. Far from perfect compared with others on this page, but I’m not going to let that little detail prevent me from showing it… Common Ground Dove, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

 Photo Credits: Tom Reed (1), Tom Sheley (2, 3), Nina Henry (4, 5, 6), RH (7); Audio – Andrew Spenser / Xeno Canto

WOOD DUCK: THE LEAST REALISTIC DUCK EVER


Wood Duck (Keith Salvesen)5

WOOD DUCK: THE LEAST REALISTIC DUCK EVER

I’ve been out shooting duck, camera-wise. Ducks are a bit of a mystery to me, and to be honest I often find it hard to tell one ruddy duck from another. I’ve found a memorable one now, though – the Wood Duck Aix sponsa. With all due respect to the Family Anatidae, these birds are just wooden toys brightly painted. I’ve watched them, and I’m still not convinced they don’t have tiny motors in them that propel them slowly in the water and make the wings twitch from time to time. 

Wood Duck (Keith Salvesen)2

Wood Ducks may be found on Abaco, which I why I mention them. I’m showing some here in case you should be lucky enough to meet one – then you’ll recognise it at once. They are infrequent winter residents on Abaco – not exactly rare, but not commonly seen and therefore irregularly reported. 

Wood Duck (Keith Salvesen)1

If you do happen upon one of these birds you’ll be fortunate, for they are undoubtedly very beautiful. It might be worth clapping your hands to test my theory that they won’t react at all. Their little motors will just keep them chugging through the water…Wood Duck (Keith Salvesen)4

All photos: RH. Idiotic duck-based theory: RH

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD: NEW SUBSPECIES FOR ABACO?


Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 14

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD: NEW SUBSPECIES FOR ABACO?

[Camera. Lights. ACTION] Attenborough, D (for it is he), off-screen, in familiar breathy tones…

“Here, deep in the impenetrable pine forests of the Abaco National Park, lives an incredible bird discovery until recently known only to four people in the world. For here, where the unique Abaco Parrots nest in their underground holes and the rare Kirtland’s Warbler continues its brave stand against extinction… here is a completely new bird subspecies that is destined to take the avian world by storm… the Red-faced Bahama Mockingbird Mimus bahamensis volvensharborii…”

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 06

I can’t keep that nonsense up for any longer, you’ll be relieved to hear… But here is the story. Woody Bracey was taking us, with his friend Bill, in search of the rare and elusive Kirtland’s Warbler, about which more soon (*Spoiler Alert* Yes, we did. Four). We had stopped the truck in a remote area of the National Park to listen for and indeed watch parrots. I was in the front of the truck, window down, listening hard when suddenly, right by us, I suddenly heard the beautiful song of a Bahama Mockingbird. Here are two recordings I made the previous year – the first is over 1 min long, the second is only 17 secs.

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 07

I grabbed my camera and started to fire away at the bird, which was perched on a dead branch just a few feet away near the edge of the track. I had no time to think about depth of field, light balance, or refrangible focus indices, I just went for it. It was Woody who first noticed the remarkable feature of this bird – its red face. It first, I thought it was just on the chin, but later I saw that the red colouring is above the beak as well.

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 09

Woody is one of the most experienced birders in the Bahamas, and he had never come across this variant before. Sometimes a bird may have white patches or some other LEUCISTIC colour variation. But red is something very different. Once we had ruled out blood (no evidence of injury) and strawberry jam (no likelihood of a propensity for sticking face in same), an altogether more exciting possibility began to emerge…

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 10

The Bahamas Birding Triumvirate will be debating this find, no doubt. Is this sort of red-faced variant found in any other bird species? Is it a one-off? Or is it perhaps one example of a small subspecies confined to Abaco or the wider Bahamas? Or does it just come from eating red berries, as in photo #3? Has anyone come across a BM like this one? Any comment welcome via the comment box or email. 

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 11

This is my personal favourite pic, taken while the bird was in mid-song. I’d have liked an ‘open mouth’ shot, but frankly when you find an apparently new bird in the middle of nowhere, you can’t have everything….Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 13

Finally, you may well ask “So that’s all very well, but what does a ‘normal’ Bahama Mockingbird look like close-to?” Here’s an example for comparison 

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco 2

 

STOP PRESS (MAY 2015) The jury is back, the verdict unexciting (as I suppose was inevitable). The Bahamas Birding Sages have concluded that the red markings are simply staining from berries, as seen in #3 above. This is the obvious solution, but I am grateful to those (culminicola in the comments below, and a birding forum where this post has been discussed) who suggested the possibility of red pollen. The pine forest in which we saw this bird doesn’t in fact have flowers – or anyway red-pollened flowers – so berries must be the answer. In short, no Mimus bahamensis volvensharborii

All photos RH, cheers to Woody for leading the trip and for spotting the unusual features of this bird PDQ

UNDENIABLY NATTY: BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS ON ABACO


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas 1 copy

UNDENIABLY NATTY: BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS ON ABACO

As I sort through 11,867* recent photographs from Abaco and dump the 99% of them that fall into any of the ‘epic fail’, ‘hopeless’, ‘what on earth?’, ‘why on earth’?, ‘sun-flared’, ‘pitch black’, and ‘bird-butt’ categories, a few are making it through the rigorous editorial process. There will be birds, fish, whales, dolphins, expeditions and scenery in due course, but I’m kicking off with a small bird that is a great favourite, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea. This is because it is probably the easiest bird to pish, click, whistle or otherwise vocalise from the back of the coppice to the front. Then it gets flirty with the camera, performs cutely, and follows you down the track. The perfect subject except for one thing: they are small and branches / twigs are numerous. So, many shots consist of a magnificently focussed stick or leaf, with a blue-gray blur behind it…

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas 7Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas 6Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas 1Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas 2Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas 5

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BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS “TOP 5 CUTE?”

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*This may be a slight exaggeration, but it certainly seems like it now…

All photos: RH

“PELICAN BRIEF”: BROWN PELICANS AT SANDY POINT, ABACO


Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 12

 “PELICAN BRIEF”: BROWN PELICANS AT SANDY POINT, ABACO

The Brief today is to write about Brown Pelicans at Sandy Point. And to shoehorn in the traditional titular pun somehow (job done!). For those unfamiliar with Abaco, SP is the end of the road. Literally. The island has one highway 120 miles long, mostly straight, from north to nearly south where it curves abruptly west for a while, past the airfield, and when it reaches the ocean at Rocky Point there’s a 90º turn. For a couple of miles, you travel north again into Sandy Point… then stop when you see the sea ahead of you. Dead end. Time to park and explore… 

Abaco Road Map

Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 4

The birding at SP can be very rewarding. Depending on the time of year, you may see ospreys, tropicbirds, heron and egrets of various sorts, kestrels, anis and plenty of shorebirds. The last are found on the narrow beaches and at low tide on the sandbars close to the shore. On the more distant sandbars in Spring, you may see a colony of Magnificent Frigatebirds (or Man-0-War birds), the males with their amazing ‘look-at-me’ bright red throat-balloons (‘gular pouches’) inflated to enhance their wooing prospects. This is exactly the time you’ll realise you haven’t brought your binoculars with you…  Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 9 We’d gone to a (very) informal lunch party at the legendary Nancy’s, but there was activity on the nearby dock that caught my eye. A pair of pelicans were fishing from it, then drying in the sun, then having a little fly around. I only had a rather underwhelming camera with me, so I did what I could in a short time before returning to the matter in hand. Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 8Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 6Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 7 Although I watched the birds diving off the dock a few times, I never actually saw them catch anything. Maybe they had already swallowed some hapless little fish before returning to the dock. I was reminded of a poem by a poet called James Montgomery. Here’s his vivid and perhaps overwrought description of pelican feeding habits: Nimbly they seized and secreted their prey, Alive and wriggling in the elastic net, Which Nature hung beneath their grasping beaks; Till, swoln, with captures, the unwieldy burden Clogg’d their slow flight, as heavily to land, These mighty hunters of the deep return’d. There on the cragged cliffs they perch’d at ease, Gorging their hapless victims one by one; Then full and weary, side by side, they slept, Till evening roused them to the chase again. James Montgomery (4 November 1771 – 30 April 1854): Pelican Island, 1828 (canto IV, l. 141)

Watching the water intentlyBrown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 10

Check out that ‘gular pouch’… Pelicans, like frigatebirds, have them – cormorants too.Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 14

After each sortie a certain amount of shaking down, feather fluffing & general drying-off took placeBrown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 13

Although these pelicans look generally rather clumsy and ponderous both in flight and on land, they are surprisingly quick and agile in the dive. Occasionally, however, the take-off was a bit ragged… Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 16 Usually the male took the tallest post from which to survey the scene, but occasionally the female beat him to a good vantage point.Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 17 I’d never seen pelicans so close-to before. At Delphi they can be seen flying lazily past over the bay, quite high. I’ve seen one in Hope Town, but some distance away. So it was a huge thrill to be able to watch these two birds from the dock itself. You’ll see that the female was ringed (banded), but the male was not. Very soon we’ll be back on Abaco. I’m hoping the pelicans will be at Sandy Point again. And the ospreys. And the Frigatebirds.  And that I’ll have remembered the binoculars. And that the Kaliks at Nancy’s will be ice-cold…  All photos, RH

It’s a poor photo, but it illustrates the huge wingspan compared to body length…Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 15

BANANAQUITS ON ABACO: CHEERY VANQUISHERS OF GLOOM


Bananaquit, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

BANANAQUITS ON ABACO: CHEERY VANQUISHERS OF GLOOM

I’d been planning a post about marine debris and its dire effects on the natural world. Some images I proposed to use are distressing, and some simply suggest how futile it is to try to prevent mankind chucking harmful and semi-permanent rubbish into the sea. Depressing. A gyre of upset. Add in new military interventions without limitation and suddenly I longed for something more cheerful. Checking through a folder of photos of Bananaquits helped to stave of the gloom, so I picked out a few images of this lovely small bird taken by 9 photographers. 

Bananaquit, Abaco - Craig NashBananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 2 (Keith Salvesen)Bananaquit, Treasure Cay, Abaco - Becky MarvilBananaquit, Bahamas, Great Abaco - Gerlinde TaurerBananaquit, Abaco - Bruce HallettBananaquit, Abaco - Charlie Skinner Bananaquit, Abaco - Erik Gauger Bananaquit, Abaco - Tom Reed Bananaquit, Abaco - Peter Mantle

Credits: Bruce Hallett, Craig Nash, Keith Salvesen, Becky Marvil, Gerlinde Taurer, Charlie Skinner, Erik Gauger, Tom Reed, Peter Mantle

“I HEAR YOU KNOCKING”: THE YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO ON ABACO


Coccyzus-americanus_ Factumquintus Wiki

“I HEAR YOU KNOCKING”: THE YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO ON ABACO

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) is the least common of three cuckoo species found on Abaco. All are permanent residents.  It is similar to the more frequently seen Mangrove Cuckoo (post to follow). Both are avid consumers of insects in general and caterpillars in particular. The YBC is shy and you are quite unlikely to see one out in the open, though you may hear its distinctive ‘knocking’ call. The third species classified with the ‘cuculidae’ is the Smooth-billed Ani. Here’s what to listen out for:

Mike Nelson / Xeno-Canto

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley) copy

The YBC has, obviously, a yellow bill. It also has yellow eye-rings and pure white underparts. Photographer Tom Sheley, a major contributor t0 “The Birds of Abaco”, is a very patient man. He managed to capture these two beautiful birds by knowing the right place to be at the right time… and waiting. The results for this little-seen species are spectacular.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

For those whose memories are stirred by the reference to “I hear you knocking” (Rick from Nassau – you!), I include archive material of Dave Edmunds hamming it up. Get a load of the Clothes! The Dancing! The Moves of the guy in the top left corner / centre back, at once rhythmic yet disconcertingly bizarre.

‘LEAST, BUT NOT LAST’: LEAST GREBES ON ABACO


Least Grebe Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley) 1

‘LEAST, BUT NOT LAST’: LEAST GREBES ON ABACO

The Least Grebe Tachybaptus dominicus is an adorable little dabchick that can be very entertaining to watch. These small birds are able to stay underwater for long enough to ensure they always bob up further away from you than you expect. They can easily stay below the surface for 20 seconds, and may dive again only a few seconds after surfacing (their taxonomic name comes from a Greek compound meaning  ‘fast diving’). While underwater, the grebe forages for tiny fish, crustaceans, frogs and aquatic insects. In the breeding season the striped chicks are sometimes carried on a parent’s back.

A GALLERY OF LEAST GREBESLeast Grebe, Abaco (Rolling Harbour)Least Grebe, Abaco  (Peter Mantle) Least Grebe, Abaco (Peter Mantle) Least Grebe, Abaco (Tom Reed)Least Grebe, Abaco (Rolling Harbour) Least Grebe, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

Least Grebe Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley) 2 - Version 2 Least Grebe, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley) 3

For the sake of completeness, there is one other dabchick species found on Abaco, the closely related Pied-billed Grebe. Here’s how to tell them apart:  the Least  has a bright golden eye, while the Pied-billed  is slightly the larger of the two species, and has a dark eye and a  black beak-ring in the breeding season.

PIED-BILLED GREBEPied-billed- Grebe Podilymbus podiceps (Wiki)

 Photo Credits: Tom Sheley (3); Peter Mantle (2); RH (2); Gelinde Taurer (1); Tom Reed (1); Wiki – PBG (1)

GRAY CATBIRDS & BIRDBATHS ON ABACO: HANDY FOR A DRINK OR A DIP


Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 6

GRAY CATBIRDS & BIRDBATHS ON ABACO: HANDY FOR A DRINK OR A DIP

The birdbaths at Delphi are not as popular as the feeders, but certain species seem to make the most of them. Among the frequent users are Greater Antillean Bullfinches, Black-faced Grassquits and Gray Catbirds Dumetella carolinensis. The bird above and in the next 2 photos was one of several species using the poolside birdbath on a hot day. It seemed to pause after taking a drink, as if to enjoy the water trickling down their throats (or is that just me and Kalik?).

Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 7Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 8

This Gray Catbird started the day with a good drink at the birdbath near The Shack. There seems to be a certain amount of gargling and dribbling going on, but clearly it is enjoying some fresh cool water. Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 1Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 2

This catbird was tempted to the birdbath at the far side of the pool on a very hot afternoon. Not just to drink from, but actually to get in for a dip. And then a major bout of splashing about…  Note the characteristic russet undertail coverts of this bird, also visible on the header bird. And if you want to know how this species got its name and what it sounds like, this will explain all…

David Bradley Xeno-Canto

Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 5Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 4Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco 3

All photos: RH

“WARTS & ALL”: THE TURKEY VULTURE IN ALL HIS GLORY


“WARTS & ALL”: THE TURKEY VULTURE IN ALL HIS GLORY

This wonderful picture taken by Irish photographer Craig Nash appears on page 215 of “The Birds of Abaco”. It was awarded a full page to itself, and a few people have asked about this authorial / editorial decision. The simple answer is that the book is full of lovely pictures of gorgeous birds. Too much perfection can become tedious, and an occasional corrective is called for. The Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura is often described in detail, but only a really good close-up will reveal a bird that only its mother could love unconditionally. 

The text for the book is as follows: “Graceful in flight as they wheel overhead singly or in large groups catching the thermals, these large raptors are rather less attractive at close quarters. The head and neck are completely hairless. They lack a syrinx (the avian equivalent of a larynx) and can only grunt and hiss.These vultures are carrion feeders, with a sense of smell so keen that they can detect rotting flesh from afar.They usefully help to clear up road-kill on the Abaco Highway. Their defence mechanism – and what a good one – is to vomit foul-smelling semi-digested putrified meat onto a perceived threat”. 

Double-click on the image and you will be able to count the hairs on his chin. Go on. Nothing to lose. You can find out plenty more about these fine birds and their somewhat revolting habits including 10 Essential Facts, what they sound like, the statistical percentage photographed from below, and a free yet horrible Metallica song at ‘CARRION SCAVENGING’: TURKEY VULTURES ON ABACO

Turkey Vulture, Abaco - Craig Nash 1

‘RAINBOW BIRDS’: GORGEOUS PAINTED BUNTINGS ON ABACO


Painted Bunting male.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

‘RAINBOW BIRDS’: GORGEOUS PAINTED BUNTINGS ON ABACO

The Mnemonic: that little aide memoire that helps you easily remember a fact. A suitable example hereabouts would be one for remembering the order of taxonomy:  Kids Prefer Cheese Over Fried Green Spinach (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species). ‘ROY G BIV’ or ‘VIBGYOR’ were my childhood ones for the colours of the rainbow in order. Now I’d just look at a picture of a Painted Bunting. Who cares about the exact order? The colours are all there! 

Painted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

PAINTED BUNTINGS (Passerina ciris) belong to the Cardinal family (Cardinalidae) native to North America. Some would argue that the male Painted Bunting is one of the most beautiful birds. There are no ID problems with the male – once seen, never forgotten. However, these birds are inclined to skulk a bit, so despite their vivid  colouring they aren’t always easy to see amid foliage. The plumage of female and juvenile Painted Buntings are green or greeny-yellow and may be even harder to see in coppice. The one below is an immature female.

Painted Bunting (female, immature), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

These  buntings are shy birds, but luckily their keenness for seeds outweighs their natural diffidence, and they enjoy feeders. They also eat small invertebrates such as spiders, snails, grasshoppers, and caterpillars, especially in the breeding seasonPainted Bunting, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Male painted buntings are only too well aware how gorgeous they look (‘You’re so vain – I bet you think this post is about you…’). They may go in for ostentatious displays, including flying like a butterfly or all fluffed up or with quivering wings. Or all three. Sometimes this is to upstage another male; mostly it is to impress the laydeez.

Painted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavellee)

Russ Wigh, Xeno-Canto

Unsurprisingly the painted bunting was at one time very popular as a caged bird. Now though, it is illegal to catch or keep one. They are IUCN listed as Near Threatened and are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.

220px-Status_iucn3.1_NT.svg220px-Passerina_ciris_distribution

The photos above all come from the photographic archive amassed for “The Birds of Abaco” project. Credits to Tom Sheley, Tara Lavallee, Bruce Hallett, and Erik Gauger. Below is an omnium gatherum consisting of a gallery of rather good painted bunting photos from Wiki;  a good video of PABUs singing; and for light relief a largely irrelevant yet quite charming 10 minute cartoon ‘The Rainbow Bird’ based on a South American folktale. 

PaintedBunting23 Painted Bunting Passerina ciris Doug Janson Wiki 800px-Painted_Bunting_Female_by_Dan_Pancamo

 

BANANAQUITS ARE UBIQUITS ON ABACO – AND ÜBERCUTE TOO


Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 7

BANANAQUITS ARE UBIQUITS ON ABACO – AND ÜBERCUTE TOO

The Bananaquit Coereba flaveola. Permanently resident on Abaco, at the Delphi Club, and in my top ten favourite birds. And everyone else’s, I shouldn’t wonder. With their handsome livery and their cheeky chirping, they can be found almost anywhere. They could equally well be called ubiquits. I had been going to post some recent images of one feasting at a hummingbird feeder, but I found this thirsty palm-forager in my photo folder first, so here he is in all his glory…

Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 1 Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 2 Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 5Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 6Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 4

Here’s the song of a bananaquit from Xeno-Canto (Paul Driver, Andros) (and there’s a thick-billed vireo in the background)

[audio http://www.xeno-canto.org/sounds/uploaded/FSCGENVPXK/XC140241-BANANAQUIT%20Andros%2042910.mp3]

And here is the ‘whole picture’ without the zooming, showing what a relatively small and cute bird the bananaquit isBananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas 3

All images: RH; sound recording Paul Driver, Xeno-Canto

ABACO WARBLERS: IN SEARCH OF A YELLOW RUMP…


Yellow-rumped_Warbler Dan Pancamo (Wiki)

ABACO WARBLERS: IN SEARCH OF A YELLOW RUMP…

I haven’t been very lucky with yellow rumps in the past. This is not normally something one likes to talk about in a public forum… but to be honest I have been longing to get hold of a yellow rump of my own. The warbler Setophaga coronata, that is, a fairly common winter resident on Abaco. I’ve seen them of course. I’ve glimpsed a passing flash of yellow rump. But no YRW has stayed parked in tree with its backside towards me for long enough to permit me to photograph its posterior glory. Ideally I’d have liked a clear, attractive shot like the header image (Dan Pancamo, Wiki). But desperation leads to lowered expectations and plummeting standards. Frankly, this year I’d have been satisfied with any yellow rump. Abandoning my initial plan to apply a yellow highlighter pen to a compliant female grassquit, I bided my time. And suddenly there, at the very top of a tree near the swimming pool at Delphi, was my chance… A pair of YRWs were in evidence.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco 5Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco 6Yellow-rumped Warbler Abaco 1Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco 2

The tree wasn’t very close to me, and the birds stayed near the very top. My photos were never going to be great. Especially since each bird was meticulous in keeping its rear end out of sight. Then they flew away! However quite soon one was back. This time there were twigs in the way, one of the those little variables that makes camera focussing so enjoyable. But this time I managed to ‘pap’ its derrière…  Feeble shots but mine own. As an avian ‘Holy Grail’, a mere yellow rump leaves quite a lot to be desired, I can quite see. It’s on no one’s ‘bucket list’ of birding musts. But now I can move on, release that poor female grassquit and chuck out the highlighter pen.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco 3Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco 4

BIRD SPOTTING ON ABACO? EASY! SPOTTED SANDPIPERS…


Spotted Sandpiper TR FV2

BIRD SPOTTING ON ABACO? EASY! SPOTTED SANDPIPERS…

The Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia is a common winter resident on Abaco. These pretty shorebirds are only spotted part-time – in the breeding season – when they look like this… 

Spotted Sandpiper.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley FV

Spotted Sandpiper (breeding plumage)

Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia Wiki

Spotted Sandpiper (breeding plumage)

The species sets a fine example for gender equality – role reversal, even. The female Spotted Sandpipers are the first to arrive in the breeding area, with males following on. Once a female has staked out her nesting territory, she is the one to defend it.  A male will then arrive on the scene, and (if approved of) they mate.  Once the eggs are laid the male takes on the egg incubating duties and the subsequent chick care once they hatch. While he is occupied with domestic concerns, the female may take the chance to play away from home and produce eggs with other males. Just imagine if humans of either sex behaved like that… Oh. Sometimes they do apparently (sources: The Daily Snooper; Celeb Shocker!)

The Spotted Sandpiper in non-breeding plumage has no speckles, and looks like this 

Spotted Sandpiper BH (non-breeding 2) FV

Spotted Sandpiper (non-breeding plumage)

 This bird appears to be in an intermediate stage, just starting to acquire the spots

Spotted Sandpiper BH (non-breeding 1) FV

Spotted Sandpiper (intermediate stage)

At the immature stage, these birds look much more delicate

Spotted Sandpiper (imm), Abaco Bruce Hallett

Spotted Sandpiper (juv) Bruce Hallett

SpottedSandpipermapSPSA The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America - David Allen Sibley

Image credits: Tom Reed, Bruce Hallett, Tom Sheley, Cornell Lab, Wiki, Sibley