AMERICAN COOTS feat. “WHAT’S AFOOT?”


American Coot - Bahamas - Great Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

AMERICAN COOTS feat. “WHAT’S AFOOT?”

The American Coot Fulica americana is similar in many respects to the COMMON GALLINULE (MOORHEN). Except for the beak colour, of course. And as you will see below, the feet.

American Coot.Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Most people would give an off-the-cuff description of a coot as ‘a black duck with a white beak’. They might add ‘…and a red eye’. Or ‘…and a dark band at the tip of the beak’. Or even ‘…I think there’s a white bit at the back end’. The header image pretty much sums up the classic coot.

American Coot 2 (Keith Salvesen)

However, coots seem to take up or reflect other colours at times. The eyes remain a piercing red and the beak is white, but the body can range from black through slate-grey to pale grey, depending on the light. There may even be a tinge of brown or even orange.

American Coot - Bahamas - Great Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

I always enjoy seeing coots and moorhens somewhere where the water ‘works’ with them and creates a dramatic image. I took the first photo below recently on the JKO reservoir in Central Park, New York, where the water looked weirdly like molten metal and some trick of the light made the bird seem as if is was in a shallow depression in the water.

American Coot (Keith Salvesen)

Tom Sheley took the photo below on a ‘green water’ day at the pond on Treasure Cay Golf Course. I have recommended it before as an excellent birding site for waterbirds – coots, moorhens, Bahama pintails, northern pintails, neotropic cormorants, blue-winged teal, least grebes, pied-billed grebes, green herons – I’ve even seen a reclusive least bittern there. There are plenty of ‘land’ birds on the course too.

American Coot.Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy 2

If you go to TCGC for the birding, you just need to clock in at the clubhouse in case it’s a match day; and so they know who is out and about on the course. And, as I wrote elsewhere, if you hear a loud yell of “Fore”, it probably won’t be someone counting the coots. Time to… er… duck.

Q: “WHAT’S AFOOT?” *

I mentioned that one of the differences between coots and moorhens is their feet. Gerlinde Taurer’s photo of a coot taking off suggests that something powerful is happening below the water to assist the wings to propel the bird into flight.American Coot - Bahamas - Great Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

A coot’s feet are quite unlike the pedal extremities of any other birdCoot, showing feet (Keith Salvesen)Coot Feet Close-up Keith Salvesen copy

Moorhen’s feet for comparison – completely different structurallymoorhen_feet-mehmet-kartuk-wikijpg-copy* A: “A funny-shaped thing on the end of your leg”. How we laughed (aged 7)

Credits: Gerlinde Taurer (1, 4, 7); Tom Sheley (2, 6); Keith Salvesen (3, 5, 8, 9); Mehemet Kartuk (wiki) 10

ABACO BIRDS YOU CAN SEE IN THE BIG APPLE…


Red-tailed Hawk Central Park NYC

ABACO BIRDS YOU CAN SEE IN THE BIG APPLE…

Big Apple, here we come! Mrs RH has business there next week. Sometimes, if I have behaved particularly well for an extended period – 2 years on average – I am invited to go along on her US trips. Providing I can grab a cheap fare as well. Well, sorted! NYC is my absolutely favourite capital city. Along with Marsh Harbour, obvs. And maybe Paris. Not London, we live there. Too close to home. 

Northern Mockingbird, High Line, NYCNorthern Mockingbird NYC High Line

I never go shopping, but I have specific must-dos. Route 66 on 9th for the best breakfast ever. Walking the wonderful new High Line park, extended since we were last there. The Staten Island Ferry out and straight back for the best free ‘Manhattan view plus water ride’ experience. The Tramway cable car to Roosevelt Island to visit the beautifully restored Blackwell Farmhouse which dates from 1796 and is arguably NYC’s oldest surviving residential building (not many people know this). Then a brisk walk to Lighthouse Point for a winter picnic. This is where, one day, I plan to catch a fish – any fish – on the fly in the East River. I’ve debated packing a small travel rod & reel this time but it is not an ideal time of year, frankly, and I don’t want to set myself up for failure in what will anyway be a hard task…

A Herring Gull provides irrefutable proof that there is piscine life in the East River even in winter
Life in the East River NY

Mallards in Central park: a male and a LEUCISTIC femaleMallard (m) NYC Central Park Mallard (f) - leucistic NYC Central Park

And to people’s complete bemusement (sample comment: “Are you quite mad?”) I go birding. NYC is a great place for it, being on a major migration flyway. Central Park is fantastic, especially the Ramble, the Reservoir, and the lesser known wild areas at the top end – the Loch, the Ravine, Harlem Meer. Prospect Park Brooklyn is another great place, with wild woodland and lakes for many water bird species. There’s a wildlife refuge at Jamaica Bay which looks worth exploring too, though it’s a bit of a trek. Anyway, here are a few Big Apple birds that are found on – or at least recorded for – Abaco (some very rarely, it has to be said).

Ring-billed and Herring Gulls on the Staten Island FerryRing-billed Gull NYC Staten Island Ferry Ring-billed Gull NYC 2 Staten Island FerryHerring Gull NYC 2 Staten Island FerryHerring Gull NYC Staten Island Ferry

Male & female Hooded Mergansers on the JKO Reservoir, Central ParkHooded Merganser (m) NYC JKO Reservoir Hooded Merganser (f) 2 NYC JKO Reservoir

Male House Sparrow (Central Park) & female (Prospect Park, Brooklyn)House Sparrow NYC Central Park House Sparrow (f) NYC Prospect Park

Rock Pigeon, Central ParkRock Pigeon NYC

Eurasian Starling (High Line Park)Starling NYC High Line Park

Canada Goose on ice (Prospect Park, Brooklyn)Canada Goose NYC Prospect Park

American Robin (Prospect Park, Brooklyn)American Robin NYC Prospect Park

Poor photo of a Coot (Harlem Meer, Central park)Coot NYC Central Park Harlem Meer

Ultra-shy Red-winged Blackbird (Prospect Park, Brooklyn)Red-winged Blackbird NYC Prospect ParkI can only get away with crap photos like this because it’s my blog & your decision to put up with it

Bufflehead, JKO Reservoir Central ParkBufflehead NYC JKO Reservoir Central ParkA bird recorded once or perhaps twice for Abaco in the last 60 years. I have better photos than this, but this one best illustrates your chance of seeing one on Abaco – vanishing…

Hairy** Red-bellied Woodpecker (The Ramble, Central Park)Hairy Woodpecker NYC The Ramble Central Park

Red-tailed Hawk NYC (Prospect Park Brooklyn)Red-tailed Hawk NYC Prospect Park BrooklynThe RTH header image was taken in the Ramble, Central Park

** As Woody Bracey has been quick to point out, this is in fact a Red-bellied Woodpecker, not a Hairy Woodpecker. Unlike the HWP, the RBW is not recorded for Abaco. HOWEVER I do have a HWP photo from Central Park somewhere, and if I can find it I’ll substitute it and make it right!

All photos, good, bad and indifferent: The Author