*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.

THE PECKING ORDER: WEST INDIAN WOODPECKERS AT DELPHI ABACO


West Indian Woodpecker, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)1

THE PECKING ORDER: WEST INDIAN WOODPECKERS AT DELPHI ABACO

The Delphi West-Indian Woodpeckers are at it again. In all senses of the phrase. When they first became infatuated with the wooden slats on the underside of the verandah roof, it was necessary – for the sake of the building – to divert them. This was quickly done by the simple expedient of building and installing two nesting boxes under the eaves.

West Indian Woodpecker, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)3

An annual routine has been established. In March, the pair discuss quite loudly and at length which of the two boxes they prefer (usually the right-hand one). There follows enthusiastic housework, shelf-building, nursery decoration and so forth; after which they go ‘at it’… and move in. Continuing internal improvements take place, and they fly in and out busily. This year a yellow-throated warbler had the insolence to trespass into the box and we saw him abruptly ejected.

West Indian Woodpecker, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)2

In due course the pair produce up to 6 chicks in their first brood. The nestlings start by making a small buzzing noise, but within days – hours? – they are calling loudly and demandingly for food. The parents take it in turns to fly off and bring back assorted insects of increasing size, at which stage the noise of the chicks is deafening.

West Indian Woodpecker, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)5

By late May or early June the chicks are ready to fledge. Meanwhile, their parents take a break from feeding duties to renovate the second nest box, preparing it for their second brood. I have seen, even with eyes averted, the adults shamelessly mating on top of the second nest box while their chicks are jostling at the entrance to the first box, working out how to fly.

West Indian Woodpecker, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)4

The fledglings fly off  eventually into the coppice and pine forest (they stay around for a few days until they get the hang of finding their own food). And the adults repeat the same family-raising routine in the second nest box. The last time I saw the second brood fly, 4 left the box quite quickly – within about 5 minutes of each other. A fifth took one look at the world and disappeared into the depths of the box. A sixth teetered on the edge of the box for nearly half an hour – with both parents shouting encouragement at it – before finally launching into space. His timid sibling then shot out of the box into the great unknown. The breeding season was accomplished.

A SPECIALITY SPECIES FOR ABACO

West-Indian Woodpeckers are one of Abaco’s speciality species. In the Bahamas they are found only on Abaco and – a long way off – San Salvador. They are unknown on other islands. Until quite recently these birds were also found on Grand Bahama, but are sadly now extirpated, presumably for the familiar reasons…

West Indian Woodpecker, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)7

All photos: RH (the last one is from 2014)

JUST HANGING AROUND: PIPING PLOVERS ON THE DELPHI BEACH, ABACO


Piping Plovers, Delphi, Abaco A (Keith Salvesen)7

JUST HANGING AROUND: PIPING PLOVERS ON THE DELPHI BEACH, ABACO

I’ve posted quite a few times about PIPING PLOVERS (PIPL) on Abaco, not least because of the five-month Rolling Harbour ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH that preceded the 4-year census in January 2016. These little guys are tiny, rare and threatened – by predators, humans, domestic animals, beach vehicles, habitat loss and the other usual factors.

Ha! I’ve found meat-string!Piping Plovers, Delphi, Abaco A (Keith Salvesen)5

In many of their summer breeding grounds, these are the hazards they face annually as they struggle to increase the world population from a precarious 8000 to a more sustainable number. The signs are promising. Intensive conservation projects by organisation such at CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION, NEW JERSEY have ensured protection in the breeding grounds, resulting in a (probable) increased population estimate once the census stats are analysed.

My left leg is moving too fast…Piping Plovers, Delphi, Abaco A (Keith Salvesen)6

In the places the pipers overwinter such as the northern Bahamas, they find relatively safe havens. Abaco is one favoured place; and the beach at Delphi is home to a number of these little birds annually. Usually by the time we are here in March, they have set off on their 1000+ mile flights north to the breeding areas on the Atlantic Coast, the Great Lakes and the Great Plains. However this year, there is a pair right here, right now – hanging out on the beach, hanging around when most other PIPL are all already gone.

Check out my breeding plumage, get ready for me on the NJ shorelinePiping Plovers, Delphi, Abaco A (Keith Salvesen)2

These pictures were taken a couple of evenings ago as the plovers poddled and paddled back and forth along the tidal margin. I didn’t try to get too close – I didn’t want to risk disturbing their happy evening stroll. You’ll see that the male is already in his breeding plumage, with smart black chinstrap, monobrow and orange ‘n’ black beak. I take the other bird to be a female though maybe it’s a first-winter male (comment invited).

Piping Plovers, Delphi, Abaco A (Keith Salvesen)8 Piping Plovers, Delphi, Abaco A (Keith Salvesen)1 Piping Plovers, Delphi, Abaco A (Keith Salvesen)4 Piping Plovers, Delphi, Abaco A (Keith Salvesen)3

All photos: RH, with the camera he has since dropped in the sea (by falling in. Don’t ask)

“KNOCK ON WOOD”: HAIRY WOODPECKERS FOR GOOD LUCK


Bahamas-Great Abaco_6568_Hairy Woodpecker_Gerlinde Taurer copy

“KNOCK ON WOOD”: HAIRY WOODPECKERS FOR GOOD LUCK

Delphi is an excellent place for woodpeckers. The Lodge itself has its own resident WEST INDIAN WOODPECKERS, who generally raise two broods a year in the nest boxes under the eaves. The coppice and pinewoods along the one-mile drives are home to the smaller Hairy Woodpeckers Picoides villosus, where they too nest annually. There’s a particular tall dead tree on the guest drive that is used every year, and from early March it is the first place I check for signs of occupation. If evident, I take it as a sign of good luck (and hope it extends to my fishing).

Hairy Woodpecker, Abaco (Alex Hughes) Hairy Woodpecker, Abaco (Bruce Hallett) Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi, Abaco (Peter Mantle)I can’t believe I haven’t featured a hairy woodpecker for more than 2 years. As we prepare for our forthcoming trip to Abaco HQ and the consequent plethora of photos (95% of which will be deleted), here is a small gallery of males (red caps) and females, some of them taken at Delphi. Check out those huge claws of the one below at her nest on the dead tree mentioned above.

Hairy Woodpecker female. Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copyHairy Woodpecker male. Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copyBahamas-Great Abaco_5247_Hairy Woodpecker_Gerlinde Taurer copyHairy Woodpecker, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

I photographed this female last year in a tree near the swimming pool. I watched it for some time, but it must have been camera shy, because although quite unconcerned by my presence, it never came right out into the open. Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

MUSICAL DIGRESSION (OPTIONAL)
“Knock on Wood”, the 1966 hit for Eddie Floyd, was co-written with the amazing Steve Cropper (‘house guitarist’ for Stax). It has been much-covered over the years, none more unexpectedly than by David Bowie on his 1974 Live album (also released as a single). Here is the originator, in a live performance. 
Credits: Gerlinde Taurer (1, 7), Alex Hughes, Bruce Hallett, Peter Mantle, Tom Sheley (5, 6), Tony Hepburn, Keith Salvesen