‘BIRD ON THE WIRE’: LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD ON ABACO


Loggerhead Kingbird, Sandy Point Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

‘BIRD ON THE WIRE’: LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD ON ABACO

I’m just back from Abaco. Mostly, it was about Marine Mammals (i.e. whales, dolphins, manatees) and the biennial Retreat for the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO). There was still time for some birding in Sandy Point, though. It’s a good place at any time for bird-watching BUT the settlement is rather remote. Specifically it is the terminus of the single 120-mile Highway that stretches south from Little Abaco in the north. Then the tarmac abruptly runs out and gives way at once to white sand. If that doesn’t halt you, you’ll wish your vehicle was amphibious… 

Loggerhead Kingbird, Sandy Point Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Loggerhead kingbirds, with their hooky flycatcher beaks, cresty hair and dashing yellowish undersides, are intriguing companions. If they get interested in you (or maybe your camera bleep, as I have discovered), they will accompany you on a walk, flying ahead until you catch up, then doing it again. And if they are ‘hawking’ for flies from a favourite perch, they are fun to watch and… a big bonus… they won’t stop because you are spectating.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Sandy Point Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Like all the Bahamas flycatchers, from the little cuban pewee upwards, the Kingbirds have a charming way of cocking their head to one side or dropping it down towards their chest. Slightly posey, always endearing.

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION

‘Bird on the Wire’ was originally sung by Judy Collins, though written by Leonard Cohen. His own definitive version from 1968’s ‘Songs from a Room‘ is arguable the best known recording and preceded several hundred later cover versions. LC is a really “difficult” artist, however. Many will agree with his expressed view that the song is ‘a prayer and an anthem’. Others might say that it is simply growly dirge-like maundering. The (then-modish) mouth-harp twangling in the background may also be an opinion-divider. Since I have shoehorned Cohen’s song title into my blog title, you might as well have the song too, for contemplation. Is it a life-affirming ‘upper’ or a funereal ‘downer’? You be the judge!

Photos: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour, Sandy point, Abaco.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Sandy Point Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER: SMALL TYRANTS ON ABACO


La Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER: SMALL TYRANTS ON ABACO

The LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus sagrae) is a common resident breeding species of flycatcher on Abaco, and these very pretty small birds can be seen in many habitats – pine forest, scrubland, coppice and gardens, for example. They are insectivores, as the name suggests, but they also eat seeds and berries. 

La Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco - Tom Reed

As a ‘tyrant flycatcher’, this little bird is a member of the large passerine order that includes kingbirds, pewees and phoebes, with which they are sometimes confused. I last wrote about LSFs in the infancy of this blog, illustrated with my own rather… ahem… ‘simple’** photos. Time to revisit them and to do them justice with some new, improved images.

‘Simple’ photo from a less complex era, taken with a 2mp ‘Cheepo’™ cameraLa Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

Magnificent photo by Gelinde Taurer that you can actually enlarge (click pic see?)La Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

Unlike many bird species, adult LSFs are very similar in appearance in both sexes. Whatever the gender, they are sometimes confused with their cousins the Cuban Pewees, but those have a very distinctive eye-crescent.

Cuban Pewee – note eye-crescent, absent in the LSFCuban Pewee, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

Both species have a tiny hook at the end of the (upper) beak – to help trap insects, I assumeLa Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco - Tom Reed

Another thing to notice about LSFs is the amount of rufous brown in their plumage, particularly on the wings and tail – and even at the base of the beak. This coloration is absent from their larger cousin kingbirds, the loggerhead and the gray.La Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco - Charles SkinnerLa Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco - Charles Skinner

WHAT SHOULD I LISTEN OUT FOR?

“A high pitched single or double noted sound described as ‘wink’... ” Or it might be ‘bip‘. Or ‘weep‘. Or (on one recording I listened to, complete with sonograph) it sounded like ‘chi-chitty chew‘. But it may have been a misID.

 Hans Matheve @ Xeno-Canto

A hint of a crest is visible in this photoLa Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco - Peter Mantle

ANY IDEA WHAT LA SAGRA CHICKS LOOK LIKE?

Well, as it happens, yes. By good fortune Abaco photographer and piping plover monitor Rhonda Pearce happens to have had a nest at hand this very season. So, happy to oblige… La Sagra's Flycatcher chicks in nest, Abaco - Rhonda Pearce

WHO OR WHAT IS A ‘LA SAGRA’ WHEN IT’S AT HOME?

Mr La Sagra was a multi-talented Spanish botanist. Ramón Dionisio José de la Sagra y Peris (1798–1871) was also a writer, economist, sociologist, politician, anarchist, and founder of the world’s first anarchist journal El Porvenir (‘The Future’). At one time he lived in Cuba and became director of Havana’s Botanical Garden. His name lives on more significantly in ornithological than in anarchist circles (actually, ‘anarchist circles’ must be a contradiction in terms… that should be ‘anarchist disorganised squiggles’)

I note in passing that La Sagra is a provincial area in Spain, an Italian festive celebration, a chocolatier, and a small comet… All these meanings may have to be negotiated online before you get to the flycatcher…

Ramón Dionisio José de la Sagra y Peris

La Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco - Tom Sheley

Continuing this blog’s philatelic natural history theme, here are stamps from the Cayman Islands and Cuba featuring the La Sagra’s Flycatcher. The Cuban stamp commemorates the death of Juan Gundlach, the man who chose La Sagra’s name to bestow on this bird. And Gundlach’s name lives on in the Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii…La Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

** ‘Simple’, as in ‘not completely disastrous for an amateur effort but frankly not the sort of standard we have come expect around here’.

Photo Credits: Gerlinde Taurer (1, 4); Tom Reed (2, 6); Keith Salvesen (3 [!], 5, 12); Charles Skinner (7, 8); Peter Mantle (9); Rhonda Pearce (chicks) 10; Tom Sheley (11); Ramon and stamps, open source

CUBAN PEWEES AT THE NEEM FARM, ABACO


Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen) 5

CUBAN PEWEES AT THE NEEM FARM, ABACO

The Abaco Neem Farm just off the highway about 20 minutes south of The (one and only) Roundabout is about much more than the neem plants and the resultant products sold at the well-known shop in Marsh Harbour. The many varieties of fruit tree, the grasses and the wild flowers, the coppice, the pine forest, the open land and the pond that make up the extensive property provide a wonderful haven for birds, butterflies, moths and bees (there are hives too). It’s a great place for birding, and the owner Nick is rightly proud of the peaceful ambience of the farm. On a bright day, the place is alive with birdsong. 

Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen) 6

Among my favourite small birds found there are two species that are so tame and inquisitive that it is often possible to move slowly right up to them. The blue-gray gnatcatcher is one. The cuban pewee is another. This pewee was flitting about the edge of the coppice, hawking for insects and quite unconcerned by our presence. Sadly I only had ‘hated camera’ with me, having thrown ‘beloved camera’ into the sea a couple of days before, photographing shorebirds (and thence into the trash bin). So I’m not wholly pleased with the results, either for clarity or for colour. Needless to say, hated camera always has the last laugh…

Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen) 2

Identification of the various flycatcher species e.g. CUBAN PEWEE, LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER, LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD and GRAY KINGBIRD can be tricky. The simplest way to distinguish the cuban pewee is to remember that it is a small bird (so, not a kingbird); and that its informal name is ‘crescent-eyed pewee’ due to the very noticeable white crescent behind the eye. And as Liann Key Kaighin reminds me in a comment, these little birds also answer to the name Tom Fool…

Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen)Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen) 3

A quick check of the sky for predators? Or maybe just for rain…Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen) 8

All photos: RH. Thanks to Nick Maoulis for his tolerance of people armed with cameras and binoculars.

PS I don’t go in much for beauty products (far far too late), but the Neem Salve is fantastic for minor injuries: cuts, grazes, bruises, small burns and so on. Well, it works for me.

FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER: ANOTHER NEW SPECIES FOR ABACO


Rogier Klappe Wiki Tyrannus_savana_-Colombia-8

FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER: ANOTHER NEW SPECIES FOR ABACO

Following the flurry of reports and photos in June of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks on Abaco – a species never recorded here before – comes a new ‘first bird’: the Fork-Tailed Flycatcher Tyrannus savant. On September 24 Shirley Cartwright saw an unusual bird with a long dark tail and managed to get a photo of it of sufficient quality for a certain identification to be made. Never mind the photo detail, the fact that Shirley saw the bird and was able to obtain photographic confirmation is the thing. So here is the first-ever Fork-tailed Flycatcher for Abaco – and only the third for the Bahamas  (previous ones seen on New Providence and Great Inagua).

Fork-Tailed Flycatcher Tyrannus savant, Abaco (Shirley Cartwright)

I did a little brightening and clarifying of the original image, and also tried a cropFork-tailed Flycatcher, Abaco (Shirley Cartwright)

Tony White, the well-known authority on Bahamas birds, sent me the image with some information about this bird’s usual range:

“This is an interesting species as the race found in eastern US is South American and highly migratory. It breeds in Chile and Argentina. It is a frequent vagrant to USA, well over 100 records, and has appeared as far north as Nunavut, Canada. In the Austral fall (our spring) it migrates north and winters in Northern South America. Birds that appear in the USA at that time are considered overshoots. Birds that appear in our fall (Austral spring) are believed to be mostly first year birds that winter in northern South America and then fly a mirror image from the proper direction heading north instead of south. Unfortunately, the photos of the Abaco bird are not close enough to tell whether it was a young one or not. Field guides say young birds have shorter tails, but in fact there is considerable overlap in tail lengths between females and young. I strongly recommend a paper by McCaskie and Patton on this species in Western Birds 1994 Vol 25, No 3, pp 113=127. It can be found on SORA (Searchable Ornithological Research Archives).”

Treading carefully through a copyright minefield, I have dug out some illustrative images of this flycatcher, shown below. It belongs to the group known as tyrant flycatchers, which includes the kingbirds that are familiar on Abaco.

Fork-tailed flycatcher(Reynaldo wiki) Tesourinha_REFON

This first range map (Cornell Neotropical) shows the FTFs’ typical, largely subequatorial rangeRange Map Cornell (Neotropical) jpg

However this ‘overshoot’ range map (Audubon) reflects the fact that overshoots occur almost annually in the eastern United States seaboard and even as far north as Canada. To see these birds photographed in Connecticut (10000birds.com), click HEREGiven that the whole Florida coast is included, it’s perhaps not surprising that sooner or later the odd bird would misdirect to the northern Bahamas.fork-tailed flycatcher

This example of the species is taken from the Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds (open source) . The bird in the centre with the long tail is clearly a male; I imagine the mature-looking one on the left is a female; and the one on the right with the comparatively stumpy tail, a juvenile.

Fork_Tailed_Flycatcher_From_The_Crossley_ID_Guide_Eastern_Birds

It’s sometimes instructive to discover how John James Audubon saw a particular bird, so here is his FWF. While the bird is undeniably beautiful, I am not too certain of its proportion in relation to the size of the blossom. But then again, it seems to me that he didn’t always struggle for exactitude, preferring a broader, more relaxed approach to depict the birds as he saw them – and not afraid to exaggerate a characteristic for effect.

NEW INFO Woody Bracey has contacted me to point out that the male in the image above “is actually a pale mantled manachus subspecies from Central America, not the darker savana nominate subspecies from South America which Shirley photographed”. Which explains the colour difference.

640px-168_Fork-tailed_Flycatcher

ESSENTIAL FUN FACT

The fork-tailed flycatcher has the longest tail relative to body size of any bird on earth (trails.com)

As the name suggests, this species feeds mainly on insects, although in winter it may also eat berries and the like. They will often perch on wires of fence posts. I’ve no idea if they ‘hawk’ for flies on the wing, but if so the sight of a male feeding must be wonderful. Here is an example of their song

[audio http://www.xeno-canto.org/sounds/uploaded/DGVLLRYDXS/TYRSAV06.mp3] Jeremy Minns / Xeno-Canto

        Tyrannus_savanna-Fork-tailed_Flycatcher Hector Bottai wikimedia

To see a gallery of FWF photos on the excellent birding resource Oiseaux.net, click on the logo oiseaux

 RELATED POSTS
BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCK A new species for Abaco (June 2014)
BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS New species, June 2013
Credits: Shirley Cartwright, Rogier Klappe, Tony White, ‘Reynaldo’, Cornell, Audubon, Crossley, Xeno-Canto,  Hector Bottai