Lo, the tiny fluffy BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO fledgling, so innocent and coming close to aborbs (but for being frankly a little unkempt). Yet few would guess that beneath that delightfully virtuous exterior rages the appetite of a MONSTER…
Excuse me, I’m getting a little peckish…
That’s fine, son, I’ll go and get you a little snack…
Whaaaaa…. want MORE…
And another one… keep ’em coming
Whaaaaa… more… NO, son, you’ve had quite enough for one meal…
This one’s ALL for me…
All great photos by Charles Skinner, who must have had a fun time watching the entertainment. Although we intentionally featured very few juveniles in THE BIRDS OF ABACO, one of these shots insisted on being included…
The Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii is similar to its slightly smaller cousin, the widespread Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottis. The range of Bahama Mockingbirds is not restricted to the Bahamas themselves, and includes areas of Cuba, Jamaica and TCI, so despite the name they are not an endemic species to the Bahamas. They are also occasional vagrants to the United States, especially – for reasons of proximity – southeastern Florida.
The Bahama Mockingbird is browner than the greyish Northern Mockingbird, and has distinctive streaking and spotting to its breast and undercarriage. This may extend to what you might describe as the bird’s ‘trouser legs’, though I’m sure there’s a more technically correct term.
Both mockingbird species are found on Abaco. The NMs are ubiquitous in towns, settlements, gardens, coppice and pine forest, whereas BMs are shyer and tend to be found in the pine forest and well away from humans and their operations. When we were putting together The Birds of Abaco, I went on a birding trip with Abaco birding legend Woody Bracey and Ohio bird photographer Tom Sheley. We took a truck into the pine forest down a logging track south of Delphi, and they were quick to locate a bird, not least because one was sitting prettily on a branch singing lustily and unmistakably. It was well within range of Tom’s massive lens; more of a struggle for my modest camera (below). Caught the cobwebs, though…
I was astounded by the beauty and variety of the song. It consisted of very varied notes and phrases, each repeated 3 or 4 times before moving on to the next sounds in the repertoire. Here is a short 18 second example I recorded, using my unpatented iPhone method, for which seeHERE.
For those with interest in birdsong, here is a longer 1:13 minute song from the same bird, with largely different sounds from the first recording made minutes earlier. There’s even a decent stab at imitation of a 1960s Trimphone™. Had we not had to move on to Sandy Point for an appointment with some cattle egrets and American kestrels, I could have stayed listening for far longer.
THE ‘SUBSPECIES’ THAT WASN’T…
More recently, on a trip in backcountry to find Kirtland’s warblers – we saw 4 – the slow-moving truck jolted to halt in the middle of nowhere. This was because a Bahama Mockingbird was right by the track. I fired off some quick shots out of the window into a rather difficult light, to find that we appeared to have found a new subspecies, the scarlet-faced mockingbird.
The reason was clear, however. The bird had been pigging out on some red berries, and had managed to collect plenty of the juice round the base of its beak.
SO WHAT DOES A NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD LOOK LIKE, THEN?
I photographed the Northern Mockingbird below in a garden at Casuarina. The species is far tamer than its cousin, and seen side-by-side they are clearly very different. The range maps show the stark contrast between the very limited range of the Bahama Mockingbird and the vast distribution of the Northern Mockingbird.
Photos Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 6); Peter Mantle (2); Charlie Skinner (3); Keith Salvesen (4, 7, 8, 9); Alex Hughes (5); Susan Daughtrey (10). Range maps eBird & wiki.
Majestic. Soaring. Graceful. Revolting. That’s the Turkey Vulture. It’s quite a while since I posted about them: you can read all about them and their disgusting habits in the post CARRION SCAVENGING. You’ll discover 10 essential facts, their unpleasant little ways with urine and puke, the sound they make, some sex-tips and a Metallica video.
Are you unaware of vultures? Well, today is their day. These dedicated bird days come thick and fast at certain times of year. Tomorrow we celebrate World Shorebirds Day, so I’m giving the vultures their time in the sun today. On Abaco you could hardly fail to be aware of the ubiquitous TVs, and I have chosen a selection of photos, all taken on Abaco, to make a gallery for their day.
Let’s start with some of the more glamourous ‘in-flight’ shots. This is when TVs look their best, as they wheel round floating and swooping on the thermals – singly, in pairs or in flocks.
At closer quarters TVs are till impressive, though arguably less attractive… TVs often use utility wires (header image) or posts to perch on, scope out the territory, or simply to dry their wings
TVs will never be truly adorable. The final image (by Irish photographer Craig Nash) is truly ‘warts and all’… Ah, but look at the sweet little hairs on its head!
Talking of adorable, this is the perfect place for a shout-out for the wonderfulBIRDORABLEsite. For this special day they have put all their vultures together in one helpful chart. They have a load of fun at Birdorable HQ. You can download birds for children to colour in. Or even get a T-shirt with your favourite bird on it (mine’s a PIPL).
Credits: Craig Nash (1, 7); Nina Henry (2, 3); Bruce Hallett (4); Charlie Skinner (5); Keith Salvesen (6); the incomparable Birdorable
‘CHECK OUT THE WEB’: SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS ON ABACO
“Semipalmated”. You what? Come again? Ehhhh? My reactions to the word until embarrassingly recently. In fact until the steep learning curve involved in writing a bird book made some all of the terminology clearer. Plovers and sandpipers both have semipalmated versions, and I’ll take the semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) first.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR?
A small shorebird with a grey-brown back and wings, a white underside with a single black neck band, and orange legs. They have a brown cap, a white forehead, a black eye mask and a short black bill with an orange base to it. And feet to be discussed below.
WHERE DO THEY LIVE?
Their summer home and breeding habitat is on the beaches and flats of northern Canada and Alaska. They nest in scrapes on the ground right out in the open. In the Autumn these little birds set off on long journeys south to warmer climes until Spring: the coasts of the southern states, Caribbean and South America. On Abaco, they are fairly common in certain areas including the beach at Delphi. Like other plovers, these birds are gregarious and will mix in with other shorebirds – which can make them hard to pick out in the crowd.
GET ON WITH THE ‘SEMIPALMATED’ BIT, PLEASE
‘Semipalmated’ refers to the partial webbing between their toes. There are different degrees of palmation, as these handy graphics demonstrate:
Semipalmate: in practice, very hard so see in the field e.g. plovers & sandpipers
Palmate: full webbing across the ‘front’ 3 toes, e.g. gulls
Totipalmate: all toes are fully webbed e.g. cormorants
Nonpalmate: please supply own imagination
Gregarious flight: there are sandpipers in the mix (clue: long bills)
WHAT DO THESE BIRDS EAT?
Semipalmated plovers are much like any other small shorebird foraging on beaches and foreshores. They eat insects, crustaceans and worms. Here is a bird in a promising place for its preferred diet.
ANYTHING ELSE TO LOOK OUT FOR?
Like other plover species – Wilson’s and Killdeer for example – a semipalmated will use the ‘broken wing’ ploy to lure a predator away from a nest and the eggs or chicks in it. As it flops about pathetically on the sand looking vulnerable, it actually moves gradually further away from the nest. If it comes to the crunch it is able to take wing rapidly, leaving a very puzzled predator behind.
Semipalmated plovers flying with 2 sandpipers
Credits: Alex Hughes (1, 6, 9, 10); Woody Bracey (2, 3); Tony Hepburn (4); Charles Skinner (5); Bruce Hallett (7); D Gordon E Robertson (8); Bird foot infographics people.eku.edu
Following my last gloomy post about the widely-reported die-off of the poor, exhausted migratory great shearwaters, let’s turn with relief to a cheerful bird known to all and admired in coppice and garden: the Greater Antillean Bullfinch Loxigilla violacea. These pretty birds are easy to find and to identify. They love feeders, and they are responsive to ‘pishing’, that irritating (?) noise that birders make to unseen avians in the coppice to persuade them to reveal themselves. Adult males are black with bright red accessories (hence “police bird”); females are paler with orangey accessories; and juveniles look a bit scruffy and patchy. Here’s a GAB gallery to enjoy.
Credits: Erik Gauger (1); Alex Hughes (2, 3); Tom Sheley (4, 6); Keith Salvesen (5); Charles Skinner (7); Gerlinde Taurer (8); Bruce Hallett (9)
“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).
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.
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.
Credits: Becky Marvil (1,2,3,4,5), Tom Sheley (6,7,8), Charlie Skinner (9,10), Bruce Hallett (11)
It’s been a while since the parrots of Abaco got a look-in hereabouts. Time to put that right. At the end of this gallery I will add some links to posts about the unique ground-nesting parrots of Abaco. Newcomers to this blog (I thank you both) may be interested to know that intensive conservation measures have brought this subspecies of the Cuban Parrot back from the brink of extinction – fewer than 1000 – to a sustainable and expanding population of around 4000.
For an overview of these lovely birds, I’ve made a slideshow presentation of a small booklet I put together in conjunction with scientist Caroline Stahala, who devoted several years to the research and protection of the parrots. Contents: parrots, nests, eggs, cute chicks, info, Sandy Walker with a fledgling on his lap.
Here is the noise of a flock of parrots at Bahama Palm Shores, an excellent place to find them. It’s one of the less raucous recordings that I have made! We normally go to the main (north) turning, drive straight down to the end, cut the engine and listen. I’ve usually been lucky in that immediate area around 5.00 p.m., though others may have discovered other good times of day.