PIPL adult & chick (Jordan Rutter)


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)


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?


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.


Piping Plover, Abaco - Charmaine Albury

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



Bahamas-Great Abaco_4846_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy


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


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)


Osprey, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Osprey (Abaco, Bahamas) – Tom Sheley


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, Abaco (Tom Reed)


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’.

[audio http://www.xeno-canto.org/sounds/uploaded/CDTGHVBGZP/COGD2009-5-22-2.mp3 Andrew Spenser / Xeno CantoCommon 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 (Keith Salvesen)5


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 (variant) Abaco 14


[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


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas 1 copy


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




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

All photos: RH