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

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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)

“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)

“A PELICAN GOES INTO A LOW DIVE AND…”


Brown Pelican 1 (Phil Lanoue)

“A PELICAN GOES INTO A LOW DIVE AND…”

… is a promising start to a pelican-based variant on the “Man walks into a Bar…” joke. But in fact there’s a serious point to all this, illustrated with a set of Phil Lanoue’s wonderful ‘bird sequence’ photos. The Brown Pelican is a permanent breeding resident on Abaco, not exactly common but locally quite easy to find. For example, certain docks are often used by them as diving platforms as they feed. Sandy Point is a good place for this. At Delphi we see them passing over the bay, flying high with slow, heavy wing-beats, but sadly I have yet to see one fishing off the rocks there.

Brown pelicans feed by diving for fish. By contrast, White Pelicans (a rarity on Abaco) feed in a quite different way. They forage communally and cooperatively by coralling fish and picking them off from the surface or just below it. A quick online search shows very little evidence of white pelicans diving for food or indeed just for the hell of it. But have a look now at a Brown Pelican landing and going straight into a low dive… to catch a meal.**

Brown Pelican 2 (Phil Lanoue)Brown Pelican 3 (Phil Lanoue)Brown Pelican 4 (Phil Lanoue)

I unreservedly recommend Phil’s website HERE for the consistently excellence of his photography, especially his action sequences; and for the way he captures the mood with apposite commentary.

**I completely realise that this is totally lame as the punchline for a bar-room joke

SMALL ABACO BIRDS TO MAKE THINGS BETTER


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)

SMALL ABACO BIRDS TO MAKE THINGS BETTER

Bad day. I know about random outage outrage and so on, but really… The router died, unmourned. Bought another. Wasted 2 hours trying to make it work. Turns out to be ‘defective’, which is to say broken. Or another B word. Bought another. Almost lost the will to live. I have the briefest window in which to check emails etc before it, too, checks out of the Mac Hotel. The ONLY SOLUTION (apart from Kalik in copious quantities, sadly not available where I am right now), is to look at some pretty birds taken in the gardens round the Delphi Club. Mmmmm. Feeling better now. Deep breaths… and… relax…

Bananaquit, Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)La Sagra flycatcher, Abaco 1 (RH)Cuban Emerald, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco (RH)

All pics by a rather stroppy RH

STOP PRESS Exactly 24 hours after excitedly unwrapping the (second) new router, after a convoluted and Kafkaesque series of phone calls to various techie centres, headily mixed with wine, beer, tears and tantrums, I combined some of the info from each and miraculously the recalcitrant beast sprang to life. For how long, though? Router advice given: $100 ph + exes