BURROWING OWLS ON ELBOW CAY, ABACO


Burrowing Owl, Elbow Cay, Abaco a (Milton Harris)BURROWING OWLS ON ELBOW CAY, ABACO

I hadn’t planned to revisit the birds of Elbow Cay so soon (2 days!) after the Key West Quail-Dove post, in which I alluded to another rare and special species there, the Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia. However, Milton Harris – resident and birder – has already sent me some photos of his recent sighting at the north end of the cay, and they are so great that I am going to get them ‘out there’ (the interweb-cloud-ether-space-thing) right away. Carpe diem.**

“I’m watching you watching me. Don’t think I haven’t seen you…”Burrowing Owl, Elbow Cay, Abaco c (Milton Harris)

When I previously featured the BURROWING OWL, I used my own photos (not taken on Abaco). Click on the link to see them and to get some facts about these cute little birds. I also added reports of two sightings on the mainland in the Cherokee / Little Harbour area late last year. As I wrote then, “on Abaco, this little owl is a rare vagrant, presumably visiting from Florida which has the nearest resident population. There have been few reported sightings; and for ‘The Birds of Abaco’ we were unable to locate a photo taken on Abaco.”

Burrowing Owl, Elbow Cay, Abaco e (Milton Harris)

Here’s a wonderful shot of the bird’s legs and feet. Despite their small size overall, the claws (talons?) mark out this owl as a fearsome predator of small creatures. One with hairy toes, too.Burrowing Owl, Elbow Cay, Abaco b (Milton Harris)

HOW LIKELY AM I TO SEE ONE WHEN STROLLING AROUND ELBOW CAY?

Very unlikely indeed I’m afraid (unless you have been shown roughly where to look), and for 2 reasons. Firstly, the burrowing owl is rated as an uncommon to rare vagrant on Abaco. There aren’t even reported sightings every year. So it’s a question of ‘right place, right time’, with a bit of local knowledge, a lot of luck, and excellent eyesight (see below) – the one positive being that, unlike most owl species, these birds are active during the day as well as nocturnally.

Secondly, even were you to be given the exact location of a recently-sighted owl, it’s still a long shot that you would actually spot it, unless you happened to see it in flight. Otherwise, it will be most likely be sitting completely still on a branch in the coppice, quite well camouflaged, watching you stealthily walk by…

Would you notice this bird in the coppice from 75 feet away?Burrowing Owl, Elbow Cay, Abaco f (Milton Harris)

On the other hand, you could be in luck. Milton got a quick shot at this owl as it flew up onto a shed roof in the sunshine. But the bird knows he’s been seen, and he didn’t stay long… I reckon the one-legged pose is particularly neat!Burrowing Owl Elbow Cay, Abaco (Milton Harris) 2 sm

Burrowing Owl, Elbow Cay, Abaco d (Milton Harris)

RELATED POSTS

BURROWING OWLS ON ABACO

BARN OWLS ON ABACO

** or, as Horace fully wrote, “carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero“; seize the day, don’t place too much belief in the future…

Credits: All photos taken on Elbow Cay (north end), Abaco by Milton Harris – with many thanks for use permission

KEY WEST QUAIL-DOVES ON ELBOW CAY, ABACO


Key West Quail-Dove, Elbow Cay, Abaco (Milton Harris) 1a

KEY WEST QUAIL-DOVES ON ELBOW CAY, ABACO

Elbow Cay has many reasons to be admired: the historic iconic striped lighthouse, Hope Town’s pretty harbour and surroundings, wonderful beaches, some great places to eat and stay, no cars, the general impression of being a happy and most congenial place to be. To which, may I add, a good place for birding in general and for pinning down a couple of hard-to-find species in particular. Resident and birder Milton Harris has sent me a few photos from his recent outings. There is at least one burrowing owl at the north end of Elbow Cay. These owls are reputedly very rare vagrants on Abaco but recent sightings suggest numbers may be increasing. More of which another time.

The Key West Quail-Dove Geotrygon chrysia is a permanent breeding resident on Abaco, but relatively uncommon. These birds are difficult to find, flighty, and fly fast. They are hard to get a clear photo shot at, and reluctant to pose attractively in the open in good light while keeping still. Sadly, we never got a good clear shot of one to use for THE BIRDS OF ABACO‘. A great one from Nassau, yes, but disqualified from inclusion by location. 

Key West Quail-Dove, Elbow Cay, Abaco (Milton Harris) 6a

Milton says he has been seeing KWQBs “at the north end of Elbow Cay off and on for the past year. Normally they flush and fly though the trees at great speed, so I have not been able to get a photo.  Today I was creeping through the coppice and one walked out in a clear spot and posed!” 

Approximate KWQD locationElbow Cay (north) map jpg

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Disappointingly little these days. The KWQD originally bred in the Florida Keys and was actually discovered on Key West (incidentally a James Bond location used in ‘Licence to Kill’). Sadly the species no longer breeds in Florida (reasons unknown – all shot, maybe?) and these doves are now found only as vagrants there. I have checked the Bahamas National Trust’s very helpful BNT HUNTERS GUIDE – in the Bahamas, the quail-dove is completely protected and may not be shot or taken at any time [but I have a sneaking suspicion that they would be delicious…]

Elbow Cay: Abaco’s KWQD hotspot (eBird)KWQD hotspot map abaco

SO SHOULD IT BE RENAMED THE ELBOW CAY QUAIL-DOVE?

A nice idea, Elbow Cay being the sole Abaco hotspot for the species over the last 10 years, as recorded on eBird. But in fact the birds are found throughout much of the Caribbean so there will be other contenders for the honour. Probably best left as it is to avoid contention.

Key West Quail-Dove, Elbow Cay, Abaco (Milton Harris) 5a

I always enjoy comparing the ‘real thing’ as you might see a bird in the coppice near you, with the depictions of the bird made by one of the pioneers, Audubon prime among them. Here’s his very charming take on the species. But I agree, it’s not very like the bird you are looking out for…

Key-west Dove (J J Audubon)

Credits: many thanks to Milton Harris for his excellent photos of this tricky bird; hotspot clip from eBird