HUNGRY MOUTHS TO FEED: WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER CHICKS


West Indian Woodpeckers & Chicks (Rhonda Pearce)

HUNGRY MOUTHS TO FEED: WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER CHICKS

West Indian Woodpeckers are special. So special that Abaco even has its own subspecies  Melanerpes superciliaris blakei. They are joyful and noisy. They noisily share parenting duties in an admirably modern way. And did I mention they are noisy?

West Indian Woodpeckers & Chicks (Rhonda Pearce)

The parents set up home together, with both partners taking their turns to choose the furnishings and fit out the nest. They share duties on the nest once the eggs have hatched. And they take turns to feed the nestlings as they grow into increasingly hungry and raucous fledglings. 

West Indian Woodpeckers & Chicks (Rhonda Pearce)

This feeding sequence was taken by Rhonda Pearce whose ravenous chick in the header photo is one of the best I have come across. I have never managed to get such a clear shot of desperate chick hunger…  

Here’s how a nest can sound when the chicks are young – a weird sort of insistent purring sound. As the chicks get larger – and more competitive – so the volume level increases.

Get this down your throat, you pesky little rascal…West Indian Woodpeckers & Chicks (Rhonda Pearce)

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Credits: all photos, Rhonda Pearce; audio recording RH @ Delphi Club nesting boxes

BAHAMA WOODSTARS: JEWELS IN ABACO’S CROWN


Bahama Woodstar Hummingbird, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

BAHAMA WOODSTARS: JEWELS IN ABACO’S CROWN

Abaco is spoilt for birds. What other island in the word has its very own population of ground-nesting parrots? (Clue: none). How many others provide a secluded winter home for the rare Kirtland’s Warbler? Or a safe habitat for piping plovers – more than 300 individual birds recorded last year, nearly 4% of the total population? Or host 32 warbler species in the winter to supplement the 5 resident species? Or record a visit from a black-browed albatross? Or enjoy 4 out of 5 of the Bahamian endemic species (no longer the Bahama Oriole sadly, now confined to specific areas of Andros). 

Bahama Woodstar Hummingbird, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

A while back I held a poll for Abaco’s favourite bird, with about 10 contenders. Some were quick to point out that their own personal favourite was not an option, but I had to take a fairly broad brush approach. On the podium, gold went to the Bahama Woodstar; silver to the parrot; and bronze to the western spindalis. I’m in a genial mood today, having caught a fair-sized wild brown trout on my third (part) day of stalking it (over 2 weeks), on the smallest fly in my box (size 18). I put it straight back of course. Respect! So in a spirit of cordiality, here are some epic shots of Abaco’s democratically elected favourite bird… at least according to the poll.

BIRD POLL FV2

The two images above were taken by the legendary Bruce Hallett, author of the go-to field guide for the Bahamas, which no birder should be without. Many of his wonderful photos  appear in THE BIRDS OF ABACO, and he was a steady guiding hand during the preparation of the book. 

This brilliant photo of a female woodstar was taken by Tara Lavallee of Bahama Palm Shores, and for composition, clarity, colour and sheer charm it was a must for inclusion in the book.

Bahama Woodstar, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

Another major photographic contributor was Tom Sheley. I had the pleasure of spending time on Abaco with Tom during expeditions deep into backcountry to find and photograph birds. He had two cameras, one with a long lens. The other had a very long lens. The results he obtained – showcased in the book – were outstanding. His woodstar graces the front cover.

Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Tom also took a delicate little study of a female woodstar feeding, one of my favourite photosBahama Woodstar female, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Credits: Bruce Hallett, Tara Lavallee, Tom Sheley

 

TONY WHITE: CHAMPION OF BAHAMAS BIRDS


Tony White, Birds of Abaco launch, Delphi Club 3

Tony White, Keith Salvesen, Bruce Hallett & Woody Bracey

TONY WHITE: CHAMPION OF BAHAMAS BIRDS

Tony White passed away 2 days ago. The sad news has spread rapidly through the birding community and far beyond it. It is not my place to write a detailed appreciation of Tony’s life and achievements; others who have been his long-term friends, associates and birding companions are in a far better position to do so than I. However, I do have direct experience of Tony’s kindness, enthusiasm and pragmatism in connection with the compilation of The Delphi Club Book of the BIRDS OF ABACO

Tony with Caroline Stahala Walker, erstwhile parrot supremo of AbacoTony White with Caroline Stahala

It took 16 months or so from the initial idea of the project to the finished 30-contributor book and a launch party at the Delphi Club in March 2014. During that time I had amazing support from the birding elite of the Bahamas. The proposed book might well have been treated as misconceived fantasy by amateur hicks from out of town. Instead, we received nothing but courtesy, kindness, cooperation, and a willingness that the project should succeed.

Tony with Bruce Hallett (author of Birds of the Bahamas and TCI)Tony White, Birds of Abaco launch, Delphi Club 1

Tony was one of the invaluable experts on whom I knew I could rely. His emails were invariably cordial, helpful and to the point. When I asked if he would undertake a complete revision of the checklist for Abaco that appears in his indispensable book for Bahamas birders (see link below), he agreed without hesitation. In due course, and in conjunction with Woody Bracey, a new checklist for all birds recorded for Abaco – however rare – from 1950 until the day of publication was completed.

Tony in the field (Lynne Gape, BNT)Tony White in the filed (Lynne Gape)

When the book was launched Tony was there of course, his startlingly blue eyes bright with excitement. His friends Bruce Hallett and Woody Bracey, without whose help the book would never have been the avian showcase that it is, were also present. The contributions of all three were indispensable .

Tony after a Grand Bahama bird count (Erika Gates)Tony White

I have included some photos of Tony as we would all like to remember him, with thanks to Lynn Gape of the Bahamas National Trust and to Erika Gates, Grand Bahama.

Tony White, Bruce Hallett & Woody Bracey at “Birds of Abaco” launch; author aka RH (seated)Tony White, Birds of Abaco launch, Delphi Club V2

51KAMPYWDEL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

To read my original review of Tony’s magisterial book click HERE

To see Tony and Woody’s complete Abaco bird checklist, up to date as at March 2014, click CHECKLIST FV 06 table sun2 Since then, 5 new species have been recorded on Abaco.

RH 3 June 2016

*BIRDWATCHER ALERT* A BIG DAY FOR BIRDS EVERYWHERE!


Sanderling Trio, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 5

Sanderling, Delphi Beach, Abaco

*BIRDWATCHER ALERT* A BIG DAY FOR BIRDS EVERYWHERE!

It’s here again – GBD, the second Global Big Day. A chance for anyone and everyone to participate in a worldwide celebration of birds at just the level you choose.

Global Big Day Flyer (Cornell Lab)

No need to try to cover 100 square miles in a day and record 300 species. Unless you want to, of course. You could as easily spend an hour or two in a garden. In a clearing in the coppice. Down a track in the pine forest. Sitting on the beach with a cooler full of beer. Whatever suits you. 

Western Spindalis, Delphi, AbacoWestern Spindalis, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

As the second Saturday in May, today also happens to be the official IMDB – International Migratory Bird Day – for the U.S. and Canada (the Caribbean is in October – reversed migration routes. Geddit?).

IMBD 2016 poster

However, this post is not primarily about that event, but rather an encouragement to people to join in with some easygoing birding today. And if you happened to want to do it tomorrow, that’s OK too! If you want to send me your checklist (iphone photo should be fine), please do. Or send 2 or 3 best photos, and I’ll post my favourites – though preferably rather than post to my FB page, email to rollingharbour.delphiATgmail.com .

Palm Warbler, Delphi: a migratory warbler. Unlikely to be on Abaco – all hightailed north by nowPalm Warbler, Abaco 3 (Keith Salvesen)

Wherever you happen to be, just take a little time to look for some birds. There are plenty of places you can rule out straight away. Indoors for example. So it means being in the fresh air. And it’s probably best to set an hour or so as a minimum target time to spend on the task.

Green Heron hunting (successfully) – Gilpin Point pond, AbacoGreen Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)05

WHAT DO I NEED?

Keep it simple. A pen that works. A spare pen just in case. A note book or even a large sheet of paper. Binoculars maybe. Camera if you are that way inclined. Sustenance. Maybe a friend for a joint effort. Possibly a bird book. If you have a North American one, it will help with most of the species you are likely to encounter. 

Antillean Bullfinch, Delphi, AbacoGreater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

In an ideal world you would then upload your checklist officially to eBird by May 17 so that your findings can be included in the global statistics. Or you could pass your record to a local birding group to upload for you. Or just have a bit of fun, why not, and see how many different birds you can find (even if you can’t put a name to them). Last year 268 Caribbean species were recorded. Imagine if one of yours was the only one of its kind to be seen?

Bananaquit, Delphi, AbacoBananaquit, Abaco 2 (Keith Salvesen)

WHY DO IT?

The stats gleaned from this initiative, and others like it (‘Shorebird Day’; ‘Warbler Day’ etc) are a good indicator of the state of health of the bird population both in general and by location. Perhaps an area previously having worrying low numbers for a particular species will show an encouraging upswing, indicating a successful breeding season and  / or effective habitat protection initiatives. Or maybe one species will show an unexpectedly low figure, indicating a need for research and the instigation of protection measures. 

Red-tailed Hawk giving me ‘The Look’Red-tailed Hawk 2 NYC (Keith Salvesen)

So every return made for every region in the world is significant; and if you can add 20 species to the count, you will be adding to the vast fund of accumulated knowledge that in the long term helps to preserve the birds that surround us.

Let the count begin…

Royal Tern, The Marls, Abaco – taken while fishing. Camera + rod. Cool, huh?)Royal Terns Abaco (2) 2 (Keith Salvesen)

All photos: Keith Salvesen, taken on Abaco (ok, you got me there, not the red-tailed hawk, which is a cheat and was taken in Central Park NYC. Never got this close on Abaco. But I like it anyway)

“ONE OF A KIND”: LIMPKINS ON ABACO


Limpkin, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

“ONE OF A KIND”: LIMPKINS ON ABACO

It’s 07.50 and we are trundling up the one-mile Delphi drive towards the highway in a truck towing the skiff for a day of fishing out on the Marls. We are ‘first boat out’, so the driveway has been peaceful for a while. Suddenly, some way ahead, a dark shape detaches itself from the margin of the coppice and steps into the roadway. Large. Dark brown. Kind of awkward looking. Long legs. Long decurved bill. And the bird I’ve been waiting to see for a long time. A limpkin.

My first sighting of one of the Delphi limpkinsLimpkin, Delphi, Abaco (RH) 1

Grabbing the small point ‘n’ shoot I take fishing (far cheaper to drown than an iPh@ne), I leaned out of the open window and fired off some optimistic shoots at the bird, on full (yet feeble) zoom. For what they are worth**, here are a few – and will you look at the toes on the creature!

Limpkin, Delphi, Abaco (RH) 2  Limpkin, Delphi, Abaco (RH) 3Limpkin, Delphi, Abaco (RH) 4  Limpkin, Delphi, Abaco (RH) 6

Limpkins (Aramus guarauna) have lived near the top end of the Delphi drive for several seasons, but they and I have never coincided. I haven’t even heard their weird screaming call. The guides sometimes see them when they first arrive each day, but limpkins are very shy, unsociable birds that keep themselves to themselves. Unless you see them cross a track, you might never notice them. To make matters more difficult, they are mainly “nocturnally and crepuscular”, so they are not generally active during the day.

Limpkin at Gilpin PointLimpkin Gilpin Point, Abaco (Troy Mailis)

ONE OF A KIND

The limpkin is a species of long-billed, long-legged wading bird, and is unrelated to herons, cranes and rails despite appearances. In fact, it has the honour to be the sole member of its taxonomic family. They may be found near ponds, in mangroves, in dense coppice or on the edge of pinewoods. They move jerkily, with a flickering tail and, as with any ID-cooperative bird, to see one is to know one.

Juvenile limpkin220px-Limpkin_Juvenile

TEN LIMPID LIMPKIN FACTS TO ENTHRAL PUNTERS AT PETE’S PUB

  • The Limpkin has its own ‘monotypic’ family – a one-off species of bird
  • They eat snails and molluscs (also insects, worms & frogs), using their beaks to snatch them
  • They may leave piles of discarded shells in their favourite feeding sites
  • The birds are ungainly and awkward: “limpkin” probably derives from their limping gait
  • Males and females have the same plumage (males being slightly larger)
  • The beak acts like tweezers – slightly open and closing at the tip – for tweaking snails etc
  • Territory is defended aggressively, with ‘ritualized charging and wing-flapping’ at intruders
  • Sex lives: they are monogamous; or polyandrous (a male and more than one female. Tsk.)
  • They use ‘courtship feeding’ – males will catch and shell a snail and then feed it to a female
  • They are also known as the ‘Crying Bird’ for their bizarre shrieking call, as used in films (below)

Range maparam_guar_AllAm_map

Olivia Patterson of Friends of the Environment kindly sent me this video that she posted on their FB page a while back with the comment: “Do you know what a limpkin sounds like? There are a pair of them which live around the FRIENDS office. Check out this video to hear them calling out for each other. See if you can spot the limpkin! (hint… look at the pine tree on the left). Limpkins typically live near wetlands and eat snails”.

Limpkins call mainly at dusk in the night, or at dawn. The frankly somewhat tedious and repetitive cry has been phonetically rendered as “kwEEEeeer orklAAAar“, if that helps you to remember it! The racket has even achieved fame in films: it has been used for jungle sound effects in Tarzan films; and more recently for the HIPPOGRIFF in the film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Favourite food – the apple snail220px-Limpkin-snail2

** I’m not ashamed to use my more pathetic photos when context permits…

Credits: Header, Tony Hepburn; 5 rubbish photos from a moving truck, RH; Gilpin Point, Troy Maillis; 3 other images wiki (uncredited); range map, Cornell; video, Olivia Patterson / FOTE; general long-billed rootling around for info, with a nod to wiki.

A good wing-shake

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (8): WHITE PEACOCK


White Peacock Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 1

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (8): WHITE PEACOCK

The white peacock (Anartia jatrophae) is not a rare butterfly in the northern Bahamas. However, until recently I had never – or never consciously – seen one before. Then we came across a few at the Neem Farm, all very frisky and mostly refusing to settle for more than 1/100 second. By the time I have remembered to remove my lens cap, they are 50 yards away.

White Peacock Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 2White Peacock Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 3White Peacock Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 4

I checked out these pretty but unassuming butterflies online because they seemed rather pale and anaemic. As far as I can make out this is because they were still in winter colouring; in summer they are more brightly marked. Here’s a photo of a dishevelled white peacock taken in June at Delphi by Charlie Skinner, which shows stronger colours.

White Peacock, Abaco DSC_4786 (Charlie Skinner)

ARE THEY EVER FOUND LOOKING BRIGHT AND NOT FALLING APART?

Yes, of course, but interestingly, never ever in the field. The one below, non-anaemic and intact, was thoughtfully uploaded to Wiki by Greg Hume. He took it at a butterfly show, where presumably tatty butterflies are excluded…

WhitePeacock (Greg Hume)

Photos: Keith Salvesen 1 – 4; Charlie Skinner 5; Greg Hume 6

“WE WANT THE SAME THING”: SANDERLINGS À GO-GO


Sanderling Trio, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 2

“WE WANT THE SAME THING”: SANDERLINGS À GO-GO

Good grief, this is awful. Suddenly I’m channelling Belinda Carlisle, raucous chanteuse and former lead vokes with the Go-Gos. She has not impinged on my cerebral cortex for, oh, 20 years. And even then, not of my own volition. Yet as soon as I downloaded and checked on-screen this sequence of sanderling photos taken as they foraged greedily on the Delphi beach, a spooky thing happened. The dread words and tune of ‘We Want The Same Thing’ crackled round my synapses. Listen! Can you hear it too?

It should of course have been “We Want The Same Crustaceans, Mollusks and Worms”, but no one has written that song. Yet. And I am now left with Belinda’s ear-worm… and other ones from that exhausting back catalogue are crowding in to join it, not least “Circle in the Sand” and “Heaven is that Delphi Place on Earth”…

“We Want the Same Thing”, though we have an entire beach to forage on…Sanderling Trio, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 3 Sanderling Trio, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 4 Sanderling Trio, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 5 Sanderling Trio, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 6

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIVERSION (YOU WERE WARNED)

All photos RH on the Delphi Beach, Abaco; musical stuff inspired by Ms Carlisle. Weird.