BAHAMAS BIRDS FOR A NEW GENERATION


Red-tailed Hawk, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Red-tailed Hawk

BAHAMAS BIRDS FOR A NEW GENERATION

It is axiomatic that people tend towards birding – if at all – in later life. Not the scientists, of course: they must commit themselves to the study of natural history at an early age, collecting qualifications by degrees (as it were), through Masters, Field Work, their first posts, PhDs and beyond.

American Redstart (m), Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

American Redstart (m)

I didn’t take a very active interest in birds until the first time I investigated Central Park NYC and saw a blue jay. Followed by a cardinal… a red-tailed hawk… chickadees… American robins (or ‘Mercan rubbins‘, as I was informed). These were alien species for a European, and they awoke my interest.

Brown Pelican, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Brown Pelican

On later trips to NYC I have always spent a day in CP, wandering from end to end, spending time in the hotspots like The Ramble, the JO Reservoir, and the pretty Loch trail to the north, and wondering at the huge and expensive birding hardware toted by those around me (while knowing I didn’t want it). And then a visit to Prospect Park Brooklyn too, if I have the time. More recently came Abaco, and a whole new world of wildlife that has captivated me…

Hermit Thrush, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Hermit Thrush

This reminiscence by an oldster brings me to Chris Johnson, a young Bahamian man who will be familiar to many readers of this blog. I first encountered him when I was researching the Bahama Oriole and discovered that he, in his early teens, had found one on a trip to Andros and photographed it. It was a pleasure to be able to include the image in my article. 

Hooded Warbler, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Hooded Warbler

Since then, Chris’s birding and photographic skills have rapidly developed and his reputation is growing too. This summer he was one of 12 students chosen to attend Cornell University Lab of Ornithology for their Young Birder’s Event in Ithaca NY, a great tribute to his accomplishments and a wonderful opportunity too. It is worth noting that Chris is the first Bahamian to be invited to attend this event.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Loggerhead Kingbird

Chris is also beginning to make his own presentations, as he did recently to the Bird Club of New Providence. It won’t be long before he is leading bird groups – in fact, he is probably doing this already.

Another impressive feature of Chris’s birding is his photography. I have watched the progression online with interest. The crispness of his images, the composition and the right ‘take’ to make the best of each bird is wonderful, and he has a great eye for a neat shot – for example in the header image I have chosen, with its awareness of the effective use of dark and light.

Black-and-white Warbler, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Black-and-white Warbler

I should say that I have never met Chris, although we have occasionally been in touch. I am featuring him because I believe he and other young people of his age – Chris is 17 – are the future for birding, for wildlife, for species protection and for habitat conservation. The older generation will move on and the ‘middles’ may begin to take an interest in the birds around them. But Chris’s generation are the ones who can make a difference in the future. As things stand right now, they may have to. It’s a huge responsibility for them, but it’s one our generation is in the process of transferring to them.

Red-legged Thrush, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Red-legged Thrush

I hope you have enjoyed the small gallery of Chris’s photographs displayed here. If you are interested in the birds of the Bahamas, keep an eye on him and others like him. They need all the encouragement we can give them.

All photos: Chris Johnson, with thanks for use permission. Please do not ‘borrow’ any of these images without asking first. That would only be fair.

Antillean Nighthawk Chick (one of my favourites)Antillean Nighthawk chick, Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

RARE GEMS: PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO (1)


Piping Plover (non-breeding), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Piping-Plover Artmagenta  RARE GEMS: PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO (1) Piping-Plover Artmagenta

8000 

That’s the total number of all the piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) left in the world. Like many other rare and vulnerable species (e.g. the Kirtland’s Warbler), the habitat at both ends of their migration routes is under threat. And, as with the Kirtland’s, vigorous conservation campaigns are underway. Problems such as habitat loss at one end are bad enough – if at both ends, population decline is a certainty and extinction looms. The summer breeding range of PIPLs takes in Canada, central US and the eastern seaboard. In winter they join the mass migration of other birds south to warmer climes. Abaco is lucky enough to receive these little winter visitors; and at Delphi we are fortunate that every year some choose the beach for their winter retreat.

char_melo_AllAm_map

Piping Plover, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

This is the first of a planned Piping Plover series that I have been working on. The reason for beginning now is because the autumn migrations are starting, and before long a few of this precious species will be on a beach near you on Abaco. Many of them will be ringed as part of the ongoing conservation projects. One of the best ways to monitor success is to follow the migratory lives of these birds; and this can very easily be done by taking photographs of a piping plover that show its rings. The number and colours of the rings on each leg tell the conservationists a great deal about an individual bird. Here is a photo by Don Freiday that shows what to look out for – these 4 items of plover-bling are an integral part of the preservation efforts for this species.

PIPLfledge_banded_Meb_DF

The Audubon Society has produced a wonderful interactive demonstration of the PIPL’s year-round life  that can be found at BEATING THE ODDS. For anyone interested in these fascinating little birds, I highly recommend a click on the link. Some clips are shown below.

A good example of one of the organisations involved in the conservation of PIPLs is CONSERVE WILDLIFE NEW JERSEY, of which Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger are also directly involved on both Abaco and with the CAPE ELEUTHERA INSTITUTE.

With due acknowledgement to Audubon, here are a couple of outstanding photos by Shawn Carey from the site; and below them, details of the range of the Piping Plovers and their 4000-odd mile two-way trip made in the course of each year.

TWO LEGS                                                                SIX LEGS

ShawnCarey[3] ShawnCarey.crop[1}

SUMMER                                                                      FALL

PIPL range Summer jpgPIPL range Fall jpg

WINTER                                                                         SPRING

PIPL range Winter jpgPIPL range Spring jpg

THE PIPING OF THE PLOVER Originator Lang Elliot, as featured by Audubon, eNature, Birdwatchers Digest etc

That’s enough to begin with. I will return to PIPLs soon, with more photos, information and links. Meanwhile, here is a great 4-minute video from Plymouth Beach MA. And if you see a Piping Plover on Abaco this autumn and are not part of the ‘bird count community’, please let me know the location; if you can, describe the rings – how many, which legs, what colour; if possible, photograph the bird (and – a big ask – try to include the legs). Whether ringed or not, all data is invaluable and I’ll pass it on.

 Migration ProductionsMigration Productions

Piping Plover Chick (Beaun -Wiki)

Credits with thanks: Bruce Hallett, Cornell Lab, Tony Hepburn, Don Freiday, Shawn Carey, Audubon, Beaun/wiki, Lang Elliott (audio) Migration Productions (video), Artmagenta (mini drawings)

Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta

LHUDE SING, CUCCU! THE MANGROVE CUCKOO ON ABACO


 Mangrove Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

LHUDE SING, CUCCU! THE MANGROVE CUCKOO ON ABACO

Summer is icumen in, that’s for sure. Has already cumen in, to be accurate. The approach of summer is the time when cuckoos tend to sing loudly (not lewdly, as the old lingo might suggest). The YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, recently featured, is one. The MANGROVE CUCKOO (Coccyzus minor) is another. Before I get on to some gorgeous pictures (none taken by me!), let’s have a sample of how this species sounds. The call has been described in various ways, for example as “gawk gawk gawk gawk gauk gauk”. I’m not so sure. And I can’t think of a sensible way to write it out phonetically. So I won’t. Please try, via the comment box…

Jesse Fagan / Xeno-Canto

Cornell Lab / Allaboutbirds  

MANGROVE CUCKOO, Abaco (Alex Hughes)Mangrove Cuckoo with insect.Delphi Club, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

You will notice that all three birds above have got fat insects in  their beaks. A lot of photos in the archive show feeding mangrove cuckoos. Maybe that’s when they are most likely to break cover, for they are quite a shy species.  Their preference is for caterpillars and grasshoppers, but they are happy to eat other insects, spiders, snails, lizards and (with a nod to an all-round healthy diet) fruit.

Mangrove Cuckoo, Delphi Club, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley) copyMangrove Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer) Mangrove Cuckoo, Abaco Alex Hughes

Delphi is lucky to have some of these handsome birds lurking in dense foliage along the drives – the guest drive in particular. Some of these photographs were taken there. Occasionally you may see one flying across a track ahead of a vehicle, flashing its distinctive tail. It’s significant that only the last of these photos shows the bird right out in the open – the rest are all deeper in the coppice.

Mangrove Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn) copyMangrove Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)  copyCredits: Bruce Hallett, Alex Hughes,  Tom Sheley, Gerlinde Taurer and the late Tony Hepburn; Audio – Xeno-Canto & Cornell Lab. All photos taken on Abaco!

SumerIsIcumenIn-line

 

ABACO WARBLERS: NEW “WHICH?” GUIDE TO I.D.


YELLOW WARBLER ©Cornell Lab

BANISH “WHAT WARBLER???” MISERY NOW WITH CORNELL LAB

I’ve written before about the problems of ID of the multitude of small yellow birds on Abaco. They are mostly (but not all) warblers. The issue is further confused by the differences in each species between males, females and juveniles; and also, I expect, by colour variations during the season. YW song courtesy of Xeno-Canto

The CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY has again come to the rescue with a helpful article. The link below takes as the starting point Yellow Warblers. Here is a grab of the page so you can see the well-thought-out format. You get

  • Keys to ID – size, shape, colour pattern, behaviour and habitat
  • Range Map
  • Audio clip of Call
  • Field marks (zoomable) including M & F
  • Similar species for comparison
  • Further down the page, other similar species and their details (e.g. American Goldfinch, Yellowthroats)

CLICK LINK===>>>  CORNELL LAB WARBLER ID

ALL ABOUT BIRDS: IDENTIFICATION & BIRDSONG with Cornell Lab of Ornithology


The outstanding  Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology site has a comprehensive bird ID section. I recently posted about the new ID resource MERLIN for which they are inviting user-testing to help them perfect it. There are also 4 excellent videos concentrating on the principles ways in which birds can best be ID’d: size & shape; colour pattern; behaviour; and habitat

I haven’t yet cracked embedding the 4 videos so while the backroom boffins in the cerebral cortex puzzle it out (alongside ‘The Purpose of Hornets – What & Why?”) the best thing is to give a direct link to the website feature

CLICK LOGO ===>>> 

The same link will offer you the chance to download 5 bird songs – and now a second set of 5, part of the Great Backyard Bird Count currently underway – see details below. You may need to click on the images to make them legible…

‘MERLIN’ – NEW ONLINE BIRD ID TOOL FROM CORNELL LAB FOR ORNITHOLOGY


STOP PRESS January 2014

Cornell are now re-promoting ‘MERLIN’ with a free App and a video to go with it.

[youtube http://youtu.be/OkH11ZiIL9E]

 has produced a new proactive bird identification gizmo called MERLIN (CLICK for direct link). They are trying to build up a user-friendly ID ‘wizard’ using the sort of variable descriptions that people like me use to describe birds they don’t recognise. Perhaps we’ve all been there – “well, it was a medium-size greyish bird, but I think it had white under the wings. Or maybe a lighter grey. And a sort of white streak on its head. Actually the bird was more bluey-grey…”etc. Merlin seeks to iron out the variations using AI, by showing a bird and asking a number of questions to get users to describe the colouring  they are looking at. I tried it with a teal, and it worked first time.

Gradually, the input of descriptions for each bird will be analysed, so that future users are more like to get a correct ID based on their description, even if others might describe the bird differently. With any luck it will also improve the chance to ID that pretty bird seen fleetingly at a distance. It’s worth trying this out even if you are a serious birder, because each ‘attempt’ adds to the picture. And anyway, there’s a very slight element of a game here – will the computer get it right?

“ROSETTA STONE FOR WARBLERS” – Cornell Lab of Ornithology Research


RESEARCH INTO THE FLIGHT CALLS OF MIGRATING WARBLERS

  has found a way to investigate the nocturnal migrations of warblers using spectrograms. Many of the warblers featured in the project are found on Abaco and will be familiar to the more discerning birder – though I admit that ID of  members of this large family of little yellowy birds, even in broad daylight, remains a blind spot for me (and I suspect I am not the only one). Click the chart below for a clearer view. A downloadable / printable version is available via the link given below. It is also worth visiting  the page to compare the brief audio cheeps of the Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler and Black-throated Green Warbler and their respective spectrograms

“These spectrograms are a visual representation of the very brief flight calls made by North American warblers during their nocturnal migrations. Some of these call notes sound almost identical to our ears, but spectrograms show minute differences between them. Scientists can compare spectrograms of night recordings to spectrograms of known species to identify nocturnal migrants in total darkness. Andrew Farnsworth, a scientist in the Cornell Lab’s Conservation Science program, developed this “Rosetta Stone” in 2006 in collaboration with Michael Lanzone, Cellular Tracking Technologies, William R. Evans, and Michael O’Brien. It covers all 48 warbler species of the U.S. and Canada (including Grace’s and Red-faced warblers, not shown), and is a major tool in our Acoustic Monitoring Project”

Click chart to enlarge

Putting Sound to Work for Conservation: “Our staff will use results from the Rosetta Stone… to “train” computers to identify the sounds of warblers and other nocturnally migrating birds, as well as other species including whales and forest elephants”

Working Toward a Bird Migration Forecast: “A new grant from the National Science Foundation will fund BirdCast, a project that will combine bird observations (both sightings and sound recordings) with weather models and terrain data to forecast migrations. The results of the predictions will help scientists understand migratory behavior and may aid decisions about wind turbine placement and other questions about environmental hazards to birds”

To see the complete article CLICK LOGO===>>> 

To learn more about BirdCast and the Acoustic Monitoring Project from the original article CLICK LINK===>>>  Cornell Chronicle 

Prairie Warbler on the Delphi Club guest drive, Abaco