Last year I posted about an avian scoop, when black skimmers (Rynchops niger) were actually photographed on Abaco. These wonderful birds are classified WR 4 for Abaco, which means uncommon winter residents (ie roughly September until April). Now I look into it further on the indispensableeBird, there are actually quite a few reported sightings most years on Abaco – especially on the Cays. Furthermore the sightings cover most months except midsummer. So maybe they aren’t so rare after all. But I couldn’t track down any workable Abaco skimmer photographs until Charmaine Albury managed to take a few last Autumn, which led to the gift post title SCOOP. Because that is just how they feed.
Danny Sauvageau is a dedicated birder in Florida, and a brilliant photographer with it. From time to time I feature his work when his camera skills cover a species found on Abaco but for which Abaco images are scarce (or non-existent). All these photographs were recently taken in Pinellas County, Fl., and I’m really grateful to Danny for permission for occasional use of his exceptional photos.
At the moment, the breeding season is well under way, with the hungry chicks being fed as fast as they can swallow. And this is how that looks, thanks to Danny and his immense talent.
SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER: AN “IF ONLY” BIRD FOR ABACO
About 3 years ago, there was great excitement when a new bird species was recorded on Abaco. Not just recorded, but actually photographed too – the best of evidence. This was a fork-tailed flycatcher, and to no one’s great surprise another one has never been seen since. So sadly the STFC must go down in the records as a V5, a one-off vagrant. Until another one turns up, anyway. But there will never be another ‘first STFC ever‘ on Abaco. You can read about the new species HERE.
The sighting came quite soon after the publication of The Birds of Abaco, and instantly rendered the comprehensive checklist in the book out of date. In all, 6 new bird species have now been sighted on Abaco and in due course I need to amend the checklist to reflect the changes. And add ‘wild turkey’ to the also-ran column ‘Exotics Seen on Abaco.’
The scissor-tailed flycatcher is another so-called ‘tyrant flycatcher’ with long streaming tail forks. I had a look at the checklist to see if the species was recorded for Abaco, and sure enough it is included as a V4, which is to say a very rare vagrant with maybe half-a-dozen sightings over the years. I’m not aware of any photos of one taken on Abaco. However, birding and photography authority Danny Sauvageau occasionally encounters these magnificent birds in Florida. His recent photos of the scissor-tailed flycatcher are so beautiful that you just have to see them. How wonderful if this exotic creature could find its way to the northern Bahamas more often. Until it does, it will remain what I term an ‘if only’ bird – one that is regretfully absent…
All fantastic flycatcher fotos: Danny Sauvageau with many thanks – check online, you won’t see a better collection than this…; cartoon, Bordorable
And one with a happy ending! There’s something very satisfying about an expert birder / photographer’s capture of a perfect sequence, as these fantastic photos show. It not something I’ve ever achieved, not having the skill, the equipment or (probably) the patience required to get a sequence of perfect shots. Instead – and as a guest post while we are having some downtime somewhere nice – it’s a pleasure to feature this reddish egret stalking its prey, photographed by Danny Sauvageau. #4 has it all – drama, movement, clarity and triumph captured in a fraction of a second.
All photos by ace Floridian birding photographer Danny Sauvageau (with thanks)
Terns. They have voracious appetites for fish. One of the great birding sights is to watch a tern rise above the sea, and hover watchfully from a height before plunge-diving to smash into the sea and emerge in a cloud of spray with a silver prize. Here are some astounding photos by Danny Sauvageau of Royal Terns doing what they like to do best…
KNOW YOUR TERNS (WITH THE ADMIRABLE BIRDORABLE)
Credits: DANNY SAUVAGEAU, with thanks as always for use permission; BIRDORABLE, with thanks for their wit and amazingly effective highlighting of the essential distinguishing features of bird species
In the past I have occasionally offered a Kalik™ (half in jest) for a ‘right answer’ or a nugget of info. Anyone who didn’t get their beer can still claim it, of course [no, no, not all at once please…]. But now I’m getting serious. World Shorebird day is on September 6th, and this weekend sees a global shorebird count in which, it is hoped, large numbers of people will scan their shorelines and post the results on the great and good resource that is eBird.
But you don’t need to go to those lengths. Here’s the deal. Is there a bit of beach near you (hint: on Abaco you’ll never be far from a beach or shoreline except in the National Park)? If the answer is yes, then can you spare an hour (or two?) to take a walk on the beach over the weekend? Or Monday and Tuesday? If so, can you look for a particular rare bird that makes its home on Abaco for the winter? Great. You’re in the competition, then. And there’ll even be a PIPL-related prize…
THE (SOMEWHAT FLEXIBLE) RULES
go for a beach walk, taking a notebook, pen, a camera or even just a phone. Binoculars would be good.
look for tiny shorebirds that look like the birds in this post
count how many you see at a time (watch out, they move quite fast). Maybe 1 or 2. A dozen is the likely max.
check their legs for coloured flags or bands and if possible note the colours and any numbers / letters
if possible, take photos of the bird(s), showing legs if banded. Don’t worry too much about quality – enhancement is possible
tell me about what you found and send me any photos (see below)
HOW WILL I KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR?
Size – very small (6″ – 7″) and usually busy
Legs – orange
Beak – black, possibly with a hint of orange at the base
Eyes – black and beady, with a streak of white above
Front – white / very pale
Underside – ditto
Back – greyish / brownish-tinged
Head – ditto
Tail – darker feathers at the end
Neck ring – a greyish hint of a partial one (they are black in summer)
WHERE WILL I FIND ONE?
On a beach or maybe a rocky shoreline
Out in the open on the sand, anywhere from back of the beach to the shoreline
Foraging in the tide margins
Rushing round in a seemingly random way
Taking a dip in a sea-pool (see above)
On a rock near the sea
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO KNOW?
In an ideal world, all the details below. But I’d be really pleased just to find that you had seen a piping plover on your chosen beach. Even the knowledge that a particular part of the shoreline is favoured by the birds is valuable for their conservation. The most useful info is:
Date, name of beach, approx location (‘north end’). Time would be good too, and whether tide high, mid or low
Number of piping plovers seen (if any) and how many banded / flagged (if any).
Impression of bands if unclear: ‘I think it was… a green flag / an orange ring / a metal ring’ or if visible…
‘One was green flag 2AN on it’ / ‘one had bands – left leg upper leg orange, right upper leg light blue…’
Take a photo. This will help eliminate other species of shorebird from the ID, and enable a close-up look
WHAT’S THE POINT OF BANDING & TRACKING THEM?
Marking a plover with coloured bands or flags (or a combo) gives a unique ID to each bird. Usually it will be done on the beach where they hatched, within a day or two. These adornments weigh nothing, do not impede the birds in foraging or in flight (or when mating…) and expand as they grow. The scientists who carry out the banding will have weighed and measured the hatchling and made a detailed record of the data collected. They need to get as much information as possible about the habits of each bird to help with conservation initiatives at both ends of the migrations.
Each fall the plovers travel south between 1000 and 2000 miles south from their summer breeding grounds. Tracking individual birds to where they overwinter enables scientists to build up a picture of the type and location of fragile habitat that these little birds prefer, and to compare the annual data for each banded bird. For example
A particular beach does not seem to attract piping plovers at all (there may be several good reasons for this)
A particular beach has single or small groups of piping plovers who come and go but don’t settle there
A particular beach usually has at least one or a few birds on it who show ‘beach fidelity’, eg Winding Bay
If birds are found in groups – more than 10, say – in a particular location, it means the beach suits the breed especially well. It is sheltered, has plenty of scope for good foraging, few predators, and has not been spoilt by humans. Long Beach (Island Homes) is a good example. Last December, groups of more than 60 were found there. It’s a *hotspot*!
GIVE US AN EXAMPLE, PLEASE
Last season a bird called Tuna (see photo above) arrived at Watching Bay (Cherokee) in at the end of August. He moved from time to time to the Cherokee mud flats and Winding Bay, but mostly he remained at Watching Bay until April. His unique banding colours and their positioning led to the following information
The precise coordinates of location of the nest where he hatched in New Jersey
The date of hatching, banding, fledging and the last date he was seen there before migrating to Abaco
The name of the banders, plus his weight and the length of his body, wings, legs and beak
Even the names of Tuna’s parents. In fact, mother Paula headed to the Bahamas too – she was resighted on Joulter Cays, Andros last winter.
Tuna was not reported over this summer – he didn’t return to his ‘birth beach’ – but we believe Tuna is now back at Watching Bay The distant photos were not clear enough to make a positive and definite ID. On the next visit we may know for sure, and all because of the bands. And we’ll know that he likes Abaco enough to fly back 1200+ miles to the same beach as last year. We can conclude that Watching Bay provides a suitable and safe habitat for Piping Plovers.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?
Potential ‘fun for all the family (nb best leave the dog at home for this adventure…)
Exercise in a lovely beach setting
Seeing a rare and vulnerable bird in its natural setting
Wonderment that such a tiny bird should fly many miles & choose Abaco to overwinter
Assisting in logging the beach presence of the birds so that researchers know where to look
Helping count the birds so that year-on-year comparisons of the population can be monitored
Getting appreciation and thanks
Being described as a ‘Citizen Scientist’
Winning a prize if your are the most successful finder of banded birds, as verified by photos
I’ll post details of sightings onABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCHwith credited photos. Later I’ll follow up with aROLLING HARBOURpost summarising the results, listing the participants and their scores of both unbanded and banded birds, and naming the winner of the PIPL-themed prize to mark their glory…
Contact me via APPW, DM me on my FB page, or email me at rollingharbour.delphi [at] gmail.com
Credits: Danny Sauvageau, Charmaine Albury, Bruce Hallett, Keith Salvesen, Rhonda Pearce, Linda Barry-Cooper, Gyorgy Szimuly (WSD logo)
SANDWICH TERNS: NO LINK TO BREAD SLICES, SAY SCIENTISTS
Have you noticed how newspapers and periodicals increasingly seize every opportunity for a headline ending “…say Scientists”. It lends a spurious authority to any tenuous assertion, like “astronauts unlikely to find cheese on moon, say Scientists” (suggesting at least the faint possibility of some mature cheddar lodged in a crater). Or “Frooty-pops cereal may protect against ingrown toenails, say Scientists”. To which the proper response is: “research reference please”. But it seems 37.9% of people are actually prepared to believe this tendencious stuff… say Scientists.
But I digress. To the business in hand. The Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis) is a smart-looking medium-sized tern. Its clearest ID signifier among terns is a sharp black beak with a yellow tip. Also, its black legs helpfully distinguish it from other tern species that have orange legs.
The origin of the name for this species is an unexpected one. The Thaleasseus (formerly Sterna) simply refers to the sea (Gk). The Sandwich part is more complicated. It’s certainly nothing to do with a tasty filling for a sliced bread snack **. Other bird species such as Branta sandvicensis, an endemic Hawaiian goose, have the name because Hawaii was historically known as the Sandwich Islands. But Sandwich terns are not found there. In fact, the name comes from the town name of Sandwich, Kent UK (sand wic OE – ‘trading post by the sea’). The ornithologist who first described the bird in 1787, John Latham, just happened to live there. (And how fortunate for ornithology that he did not come from Pratts Bottom, also in Kent).
Sandwich terns have a wide range around the world. As the range map below show, the most significant breeding area is Great Britain and northern Europe. On Abaco, the birds are uncommon summer residents. Both images above were taken on the main island, the top one at Sandy Point on the jetty (an excellent place for birdwatching, incidentally).
Like all the Thalasseus terns, the Sandwich tern plunge-dives for fish. I love the sight of diving terns. They hang high in the air as they scope out the water for fish, only to break free from the sky and smash down into the sea, often emerging with a silver prize. Here’s a wonderful photo of one that missed its meal – and one that succeeded.
An endearing characteristic of these terns can be seen during their courtship display. The male will catch a fish, then offer it to the female. Her acceptance of the gift signals her readiness to approve the male as a suitable mate.
Of the 12 tern species recorded for Abaco most are summer residents, some of which breed on Abaco. The royals are the only permanent residents; and the Forster’s are the only winter residents. The other 4 species are transient in migration, or vagrant (arctic tern).
As I have mentioned before, a very good source for easy ID to distinguish between different birds of the same family is to head off to BIRDORABLE. The drawings (cartoons!) may not be scientific, but they do highlight the most notable distinctions. Invaluable as a last resort. Or first resort, even! For similar-looking birds, compare the beaks and the legs. The composite below shows how simple it is.
Noisy neighbours? Put this short recording of a sandwich tern colony in the breeding season on a continous loop, and you have the makings of a powerful retaliatory weapon. They’ll be out within a fortnight…
Alex Lees / Xeno-Canto
** The food we call a sandwich was named after the 4th Earl of Sandwich. He found eating while playing cards inconvenient, so asked his valet for two slices of bread, requesting “and squash a tern between them, if you’d be so very kind…” The Sandwich Islands were also named after his Lordship by Captain James Cook, as a compliment for financially supporting an expedition there, say Historians…
Credits: Danny Sauvageau (1, 4, 5); Bruce Hallet (2); Woody Bracey (3); Ken Billington (6); Alex Lees @ Xeno-Canto, Birdorable, wiki for range map & info, other magpie pickings of glistening facts
There’s something enjoyable about watching a wild creature having a good meal, even if the meal consists of an item that, all things considered, you personally would prefer not to eat. While I am temporarily parted from my computer for a few days, I am able to publish blog posts from my phone. I could write one too, but that’s a bothersome and fiddly process, best avoided. So I thought you might enjoy a gallery of gorgeous birds doing what they like to do best – eat fish. Many thanks as ever to Phil Lanoue and Danny Sauvageau for use permission for their truly exceptional photos.
Birds featured are tri-colored heron in breeding plumage, great blue heron, cormorant, anhinga, white egret, green heron, osprey, tern and reddish egret (white morph).
All photos by Phil Lanoue except penultimate (Keith Salvesen) and last (Danny Sauvageau)