The Bahama Yellowthroat Geothlypis rostrata is one of 5 bird species endemic to the Bahamas. Three other endemics found on Abaco are the Bahama Woodstar,Bahama WarblerandBahama Swallow. The fifth is the endangeredBahama Oriole, now only found in very small numbers on Andros. They once lived on Abaco, but are unrecorded there since the 1990s and are considered extirpated. You can find out more about all these endemic birds together in a nest HERE.
I’m fond of these birds with their striking Zorro masks. It is one of the few species that I am able to imitate with sufficient accuracy to draw one out of the coppice. Their call is usually described as a ‘wichety-wichety‘. I realise that the talent to mimic it has no other use in life. Here’s a short recording I made – the Yellowthroat is the first and last call of the sample, with other species in between.
Photo Credits: Gerlinde Taurer (1, 2); Bruce Hallett (3,); sound recording Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour
It is a truth universally acknowledged that, until 1 September 2019 when Dorian struck, Abaco was a prime birding location in the Bahamas archipelago, an island chain that stretches from the lower reaches of the temperate zone to the more exotic sub-tropical region. The judgement for ‘best birding location’ is both objective and subjective, and the criteria are flexible. However on any view Abaco scores highly in all avian categories: resident species, endemics, migratory birds, speciality species, vulnerable species, and extreme rarities.
We’ll have to wait some time before it is possible to tell what effects the devastating storm has had on the wildlife of the island and on its birding credentials…
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Tom Sheley
The Delphi Club Guide to THE BIRDS OF ABACOwas published in March 2014. To say “I wrote it” would be a gross distortion of the truth: it was an entirely collaborative project. The originator of the idea – as with the entire Delphi Club project (now in new & expert hands) – was Peter Mantle. The book showcases the work of 30 photographers, including some outstanding contributions by islanders. There was huge input from the very experienced project manager (= Mrs RH, then of YUP) and from the top Bahamas bird experts – Woody Bracey, Tony White, Bruce Hallett, and Tony Hepburn, to name but 4. So although my name is on the cover, it is as a participant representing the contributions, camera skills and brainpower of many people.
Cuban Emerald (f) – Keith Salvesen
The book project was something of a gamble. When planning began, social media – and the facility to reach a wide audience – was significantly less active than it was soon to become. The book was launched at Delphi to generous enthusiasm and support both on Abaco and beyond, but the extent of the interest (and sales) that might be generated more widely was unknown. We predicted it might be a slow-grower, so we were astonished by the immediate positive response to the guide. Perhaps it helped that there was a wider purpose to the book than as a photographic showcase for Abaco’s rich birdlife – we donated copies to all Abaco schools, colleges, libraries and local wildlife organisations for educational purposes. A significant percentage of the profits was set aside for local wildlife causes and duly distributed.
Moving on just 5 years to this summer, the limited edition of 500 had all but sold out; and around 100 free copies had been donated – or deposited (as required by UK Law) in specified institutions: British Library; National Library of Scotland; National Library of Wales; Bodleian Library, Oxford; University Library, Cambridge; and Library of Trinity College, Dublin.
Brown Pelican – Tom Sheley
PRESENT FOR THE FUTURE?
Six weeks after Dorian, a semblance of normality is returning to the stricken island. Daily snippets of optimism are of great significance: a lost pet found after many days; a trashed plant defiantly putting out a flower; a pair of parrots screeching past; a boat recovered; a building slightly less damaged than feared. Recovered possessions from flooded houses have brought mixed emotions – heart-rending losses of precious items, yet also the unexpected recovery of possessions believed lost or destroyed. And in that context but far less emotionally, I have now had quite a few requests for replacement copies of “Birds of Abaco”.
Short-billed dowitchers – Bruce Hallett
SO, ARE THERE ANY REPLACEMENT BIRD BOOKS LEFT?
The position in a conch-shell is this:
There are now no copies still available on Abaco. Former HQ (and book storage / fulfilment facility) The Delphi Cub changed hands a year ago, and no longer carries a stock of the books.
In the UK, Peter Mantle and I have about a dozen between us that are, in one way or another, ring-fenced.
That’s it, I’m afraid.
Bridled Tern – Bruce Hallett
ARE YOU PLANNING TO REPRINT?
For several reasons, no – it’s not a viable proposition. Specifically:
the size & print-costs of such a large heavy (2 kgs) book
the specialist printing (eg in Italy) needed to retain the quality; and the associated shipping costs
the lack of any viable storage and / or fulfilment facilities on Abaco, or anywhere else suitable
the lack of a prominent ornithologically-minded literary-leaning benefactor with a kind smile & deep pockets
Black-throated blue warbler – Gerlinde Taurer
CAN I STILL GET THE BOOK IN SOME OTHER FORM?
Yes! I hope. We are kicking around the following ideas in a general and inchoate way:
first, avoiding any system requiring storage or fulfilment (so, not a physical reprint)
using existing production material to create a Print-on-Demand book
turning the guide into an eBook (may be difficult / impossible with non-standard format)
most likely producing a full PDF (or similar) version for download and possibly printing
selecting sections – eg the definitive checklist – as individual downloads
considering other suggestions!
At the moment this is in the basket marked ‘non-urgent’, but the alternatives will be under active consideration.
Clapper Rail – Tom Sheley
The original flyer for the book
Painted Bunting Tom Sheley
Photos: Alex Hughes (1); Tom Sheley (2, 4, 9, 10); Keith Salvesen (3, 11); Bruce Hallett (5, 7); Gerlinde Taurer (8); Charmaine Albury, para-breakers
These coot fight images are from Phil Lanoue, whom I have featured before. He is a master of bird sequences, magicking a whole avian story or drama in a few clear, sharp photos. These types of image are well beyond my skills and my camera limitations. Here are 2 males battling over a female which, by the final aggressive image in which dominance is asserted, has disappeared for the picture…
The other battle in Coot World occurred in 2016 when the endemic Caribbean Coot (formerly Fulica caribaea) was defeated by the combined forces of the American Coot (Fulica americana) and the all-powerful AOU, official arbiter of bird categorisation. They are now joined as a single species, the differences between the two types being considered insufficient to warrant separate species status. The familiar American version looks like this (note the red area on the shield above the beak):
The ex-Caribbean Coot, has white frontal shield that extends to the top of the head. When I was compiling ‘Birds of Abaco‘ in 2013, there was already a question mark over the separate species status, with many regarding it as a sub-species of the American Coot. I wrote: “There is an intriguing debate, a small book in itself, about the existence as a distinct species of the Caribbean Coot, with its white frontal shield. Many field guides include it separately, some with the rider that it is ‘unrecorded in the Bahamas’. The Bahamas Bird Records Committee does not recognise it, and Hallett, among other experts, views it simply as an American Coot variant. The image below of the two coots together is included to illustrate the visible difference between the birds. The genetic debate is fortunately outside the scope of this book”.That said, I pigheadedly went ahead and included it as a separate species anyway…
An ex-Caribbean coot, with its white frontal shield. Since 2016, just another coot
The research that led to the reclassification was based on the fact that breeding biology suggests that different species favour their own species for breeding. Research by Douglas McNair and Carol Cramer-Burke indicated that there is little or no ‘reproductive isolation’ of the sort to be expected in different species. The coots had no particular preference in their choice of mate. Also, they sound alike.
South Abaco – the whole area south of Marsh Harbour – provides by far the best birding opportunities for a day of varied birding. A recent party led by birding guide Reginald Patterson included Charmaine Albury in the enthusiastic team. She sent me their checklist for the day – 40 species covering an impressive range of bird types. Here is the list, to which I have added some illustrative photographs.
The checklist covers a broad range of birds that you might expect to see in habitats ranging from coppice to pine forest to water to shoreline. Most are permanent residents, with some winter residents (eg the painted bunting, Cape May warbler). Abaco specialities include the parrots of course, the West-Indian woodpecker and the olive-capped warbler.
And birds that might, on another day, be seen? Maybe the endemic Bahama Woodstar hummingbird and the endemic Bahama Swallow. At Gilpin Pond, black-necked stilts and perhaps a belted kingfisher. And at Sandy Point, brown pelicans fishing off the dock and the chance of white-tailed tropicbirds off-shore. But overall a ’40 day’ is a great day!
We are just back on Abaco last night, and without actually trying – and just from the balcony in about 20 minutes – we have scooped:
Turkey Vulture, Black-faced Grassquit, Bananaquit, Bahama Swallows, Loggerhead Kingbird, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, and Thick-billed Vireo – also Oystercatchers heard from the beach. Time to investigate further…
Credits: Tom Sheley (1); Keith Salvesen (2, 5, 8, 9); Craig Nash (3); Gerlinde Taurer (4, 6); Tom Reed (7); Nina Henry (10)
I realise that the title of this post has its unattractive aspects. This is a family blog, and we try to keep references to ‘butts’ and so forth to a minimum. But like it or not, the Palm Warbler is one of two species** that have acquired the nickname ‘butterbutt’. They weren’t even consulted; birders just went ahead with it without checking how they’d feel about it.
On the other hand, it’s easy to see how this minor linguistic outrage came about. It’s there for all to see, right under the bird’s… erm… stern. That flash of vivid yellow, together with the pale speckled front, a rusty brown cap and striking eye-stripe, is diagnostic for this Abaco winter resident species.
The ‘heads-up’ is because right now they are among you. In the gardens, on the grass, on the tracks, in the coppice, in the casuarinas. And they have an endearing habit of bobbing their… tails, let’s say, as they forage. Palm Warblers are inclined to be fairly inquisitive and tame, so if you are careful, they may stay around to let you watch them.
The PW above must, I think, have been photographed at the very end of the winter season, just before it headed north from Abaco. The strong colours suggest this guy is getting into the breeding mood. Compare him with the picture below, taken by the same photographer during the same period, of a slightly less garish stage of breeding plumage. But it’s on its way…
As often as not, a palm warbler will be fairly easy to spot. Not always, though. You may have to work a bit to locate one half-hidden in foliage. Its posterior may not even be visible.
Luckily, PWs are common enough in winter to give you a chance to shoot them in the open, as it were. Perched on a branch works just fine to capture the essential characteristics.
Keep an eye out for these pretty little warblers. They are enjoyable to watch, and relatively easy to get a photo of at close quarters. Just make sure you get the butterbutt into the picture.
** The other butterbutt bird is the descriptively-named YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, though its buttery bits are on the topside so there’s no risk of confusion (I photographed this one from a pool-side lounger, a distance shot at the top of a tree with a small camera – but it captures the essentials!)
Credits: Bruce Hallett (1)*; Gerlinde Taurer (2, 7); Nina Henry (3, 4, 5); Peter Mantle (6); Keith Salvesen (8, 9)
* Possibly Tom Sheley – all I have got on the filename is ‘Fruit Farm’ so I can’t be sure of the photographer’s ID – apologies
Red, green, blue, and a touch of snowy white. The colours of Christmas, sort of. We are past all that for another year, but for those on Abaco the unique, ground-nesting Abaco parrots Amazona leucocephala flash those same colours throughout the year.
These birds have cousins on Inagua that nest conventionally; and there are now a handful of NASSAU PARROTSon New Providence, of uncertain origin (click link for more on these).
The parrots are only found in South Abaco, between Marsh Harbour and the National Park where they live and breed in limestone holes in the forest floor.
You are most likely to hear these birds before you see them, as they make their way daily north in the morning and back again in the evening.
Despite the racket they make, finding the parrots in the National Park is a bit ‘needle-in-haystack’. Instead, try the Gilpin Point point area, and coppice areas to the north. They pass back and forth over Delphi, pausing to squabble noisily, almost daily. I have made several recordings of them – here’s one example.
Far and away the best location is Bahama Palm Shores, where the mix of dense coppice with their favourite gumbo limbo trees and the open gardens is much to their liking. And frankly, it’s a great place for birding anyway, even if you blank for the parrots.
Just think: a dozen years ago, these fine birds were sliding towards extinction, with an unsustainable population of fewer than 900. Conservation efforts and in particular attention to habitat protection and predator control have resulted in population increases year-on-year, and the total now stands at around 5000 adults.
I’ve posted quite a lot about these parrots over the years, so if you are already familiar with them, I hoped you felt free to skip the text, and simply to admire these wonderful creatures.
Credits: Gerlinde Taurer, Craig Nash, Tom Sheley, Caroline Stahala, Keith Salvesen, Peter Mantle, Nina Henry, Erik Gauger; audio recording Keith Salvesen
Yesterday an Abaco friend asked me to ID a striking-looking bird photographed in the coppice by their house. It was a Bahama Yellowthroat, one of the 5 bird species endemic to the Bahamas. The bird was not clear enough for use here, but I’ll take any reason to feature these lovely creatures, with their trademark Zorro masks.
The other endemics are the Bahama Woodstar, Bahama Warbler and Bahama Swallow – all found on Abaco. The fifth is the endangered Bahama Oriole. Sadly these fine birds are now only found in very small numbers on Andros. They once lived on Abaco too, but have not been recorded there since the 1990s, and are considered extirpated. You can find out more about all these endemic birds HERE.
The Bahama Yellowthroats have a cousin, the Common Yellowthroat, that is a winter visitor on Abaco. There is some scope for confusion between the two birds, although a close look will reveal several differences. But let’s not get into that kind of detail right now… it would slightly detract from this little ‘gallery of gorgeous’.
One reason for my fondness for the yellowthroats is that it is one of the few species that I am able to imitate with sufficient accuracy to draw one from the depths of the coppice to the front of stage. It’s usually described as a ‘wichety-wichety‘ call, and the talent to mimic it has no other uses in life. Here’s a short recording I made – the Yellowthroat is the first and last call of the sample, with other species in between.
These are curious birds, and are not afraid to pose for a while, watching the watcher. They are also very vocal birds. You’ll see that many of these photos show them singing (‘vocalising’). You can even see their tiny tongues!
A couple of these images feature in THE BIRDS OF ABACO. This is a good moment to mention that we still have some remaining books, and right now we have a seasonal offer on them of a festive $88 plus shipping. A drop in MH can be arranged. Interested? Let me know or email the Delphi Club direct at email@example.com
Photo Credits: Gerlinde Taurer (1, 3); Bruce Hallett (2, 5); Tom Reed (4); Charles Skinner (6); Tom Sheley (7); sound recording Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour
I see it is ‘literally’** years since I last wrote about these lovely, accessible birds, the only permanent resident breeding thrush species on Abaco (out of 8). The post –OL’ RED-EYES IS BACK– featured mainly my own photos, plus one by Mrs RH. With a whole lot of more recent photos, it’s time to revisit these cheery birds. I promised something brighter after two rather sombre shearwater die-off posts – (incidentally, a far wider problem than just in the Bahamas, including NC & Cape May). Here it is.
A RED-LEGGED, RED-EYED GALLERY
Many of the birds shown here were photographed in or around the grounds of Delphi. More recently, they have to an extent been displaced by red-winged blackbirds which are of course very fine birds but in large numbers sound (may I say this? Is this just me?) quite irritating after a while. Whereas the thrush of course has a sweet and melodious song, like this (my own recording – turn up the vol):
Mr & Mrs Harbour’s Handiwork at Delphi
As I may have mentioned before (impatient reader: ‘yes, yes, you did’), the eyes of the RLT are at least as prominent a feature as their legs. Lots of birds have red legs. Very few have such remarkable bright, fiery eye-rings, even in a youngster.
This photo from birdman Tom Sheley is my favourite – a perfect composition
**This means it really is literally years (4), not in the modern modified sense of ‘not actually literally’, as in “I am literally dying of hunger”. Unless you are exceptionally unfortunate, while you have the breath to say you are, you are literally not doing so…
There is quite literally no song since 1950 with the word ‘thrush’ in the title. Hard to fathom why… One or two songs have a thrush buried away in the lyrics somewhere. Blackbirds have done rather better in this respect…
Photo Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 11); Peter Mantle (2, 4); Gerlinde Taurer (3); Mr & Mrs Harbour (5, 6, 7); Charles Skinner (8, 9); Erik Gauger (10). Lo-fi audio recording: RH
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.
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’™ camera
Magnificent photo by Gelinde Taurer that you can actually enlarge (click pic– see?)
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 LSF
Both species have a tiny hook at the end of the (upper) beak – to help trap insects, I assume
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.
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 photo
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…
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
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…
** ‘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
Hi, human friends, I’m a black-faced grassquit Tiaris bicolor and I have a couple of observations to make on behalf of BFGS, if I may. First, we seem to be universally described as ‘common’, whereas we are actually quite refined in our behaviour. Secondly, the words most used to portray us are ‘dull’ and ‘drab’. And ‘stubby’. Well, excuse me… I – we – ask you to give us a second look.
And I have some news for you. The perceptive classifications committee of the American Ornithological Union recently gave us an upgrade. That’s the way we see it anyway. For many years we have been classified under the heading Emberizidae.
We kept company with buddies like the Greater Antillean Bullfinches, but also with a lot of New World sparrows, with whom we (frankly) never felt entirely comfortable. Too chirpy, for a start.
Last year, it became official. We are really a type of Tanager. They reckon we are closely related toDarwin’s finches(so, we are “common”, huh?).Now we get to be with other birds that are dome-nesters like us. And how about this – we’ll be in the same list as some really cool birds…
How’s this for a colourful gang to be joining: scarlet tanager, summer tanager, rose-breasted grosbeak, indigo bunting, painted bunting – these are our new cousins. BFGs “dull” and “drab”? I don’t think so.
6 UNDULL FACTS ABOUT BFGS
Make grassy dome-nests (like Bananaquits) and line them with soft grasses
Both sexes build the nest together
Both share egg-sitting duties and later chick-feeding & maintenance
Though quite gregarious by day, for some reason they tend to roost alone
They have a short ‘display’ flight with vibrating wings and a strange buzzing call
Otherwise, their flight is ‘weak, bouncy & fluttering’ (Whatbird’s assessment)
THE EVERYDAY TWITTERING SONG
THE DISPLAY BUZZING SONG
STOP PRESS The day after I had pressed the ‘publish’ button on this post, I came across a great shot by Larry Towning of a BFG on Lubbers Quarters Cay, Abaco (think ‘Cracker P’s Restaurant’). An excellent addition of a bird from a small cay, showing its bright lower-wing flash.
Photo Credits: Alex Hughes (1, 10); Tom Sheley (2, 3); Bruce Hallett (4, 9); Tom Reed (5, 11); Becky Marvil (6); Peter Mantle (7); Gerlinde Taurer (8); Keith Salvesen (12) plus Larry Towning. Other Credits: ABA, AOU, Whatbird? (sound files)
Time to rectify an omission and to feature the striking orange and black male American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla. A while ago I posted about the equally distinctive yellow and black females HERE(the dissimilar colouring between the sexes of these little warblers is due to differing carotin levels in each). These unmistakeable winter residents are common on Abaco. They are an easy warbler for new birders look out for, being unlike any other small warblerish-looking bird. All the birds here were photographed on Abaco.
TEN REDSTARTLING FACTS (& a comment)
The Latin name means moth-eating red-tail (‘start’ is an archaic word for tail)
AMRE are among the most common New World warblers
Occasionally they are found as far afield as Europe
They are almost entirely insect-eaters, with occasional berries or seeds for variety
Males are late developers, tending to skew the sex ratio: too many of them
They are inclined to monogamy, but only to an extent. Two-or-more-timing goes on
The most aggressive males get the pick of the habitats
This all begins to sound like human behaviour(not strictly a fact, so it doesn’t count)
Their fanned tails are for display, and maybe to surprise insects into breaking cover
Redstarts suffer badly from predators, especially in the breeding season
They are popular with coffee farmers for keeping insect numbers down
The American Redstart (f & m) as depicted by JJ Audubon
In a box in the corner over there – no, there – are my last 6 copies of ‘The Birds of Abaco’. Peter Mantle probably has a few over here in the UK too. And there are definitely some remaining at Delphi HQ in a cupboard just a few lurches away from the surprisingly popular ‘honesty bar’. But there aren’t a great many left now, so forgive me for drawing attention to the fact that the Season of Goodwill is upon us. And… ahem… there are only 24 more ‘sleeps’ until Christmas.
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Tom Sheley
“The Delphi Club Guide to THE BIRDS OF ABACO” was published in March 2014. To say “I wrote it” would be a gross distortion of the truth: it was an entirely collaborative project. The originator of the idea – as with the entire Delphi Club project – was Peter Mantle, the publisher. The work of 30 photographers is included. There was huge input from the very experienced project manager and from Bahamas bird experts. So although my name is on the cover, it is as a participant representing the contributions, camera skills and brainpower of many people.
Cuban Emerald (f) Keith Salvesen
The book launched to generous enthusiasm and support both on Abaco and beyond, which has continued ever since. We have been astonished by the positive responses to this unique publication for the Bahamas. There is a wider purpose to the book than as a photographic showcase for Abaco birds. All Abaco schools, colleges, libraries and local wildlife organisations have been given free copies for educational purposes. And a percentage of the profits is set aside for local wildlife causes.
Abaco (Cuban) Parrots Peter Mantle
Below are some facts and stats. Some people may well have seen these set out elsewhere, but a lot of new people have kindly tuned in to Rolling Harbour in the last 12 months or so, so I will repeat some of the details.
Short-billed dowitchers Bruce Hallett
The Guide showcases the rich and varied bird life of Abaco, Bahamas and features both resident and migratory species including endemics rarities and unusual sightings.
The main features are as follows:
272 pages with more than 350 photographs
163 species shown in vivid colour – nearly two-thirds of all the bird species ever recorded for Abaco
Every single photograph was taken on Abaco or in Abaco waters
All birds are shown in their natural surroundings – no feeders or trails of seed were used
Several birds featured are the first ones ever recorded for Abaco or even for the entire Bahamas
Clapper Rail Tom Sheley
A total of 30 photographers, both experienced and local amateurs, contributed to the project
The book had the generous support of many well-known names of Abaco and Bahamas birding
A complete checklist of every bird recorded for Abaco since 1950 up to the date of publication was compiled specially for the book (6 new species have been recorded since then…)
A code was devised to show at a glance when you may see a particular bird, and the likelihood of doing so. Birds found at Delphi are also marked
Specially commissioned cartographer’s Map of Abaco showing places named in the book
Least Tern Tony Hepburn
Informative captions intentionally depart from the standard field guide approach…
…as does the listing of the birds in alphabetical rather than scientific order
Say goodbye to ’37 warbler species on consecutive pages’ misery
Say hello to astonishing and unexpected juxtapositions of species
Bahama Yellowthroat Gerlinde Taurer
The book was printed in Florence, Italy by specialist printers on Grade-1 quality paper
Printing took pairs of printers working in 6 hour shifts 33 hours over 3 days to complete
The project manager and the author personally oversaw the printing
Smooth-billed Anis Gerlinde Taurer
The book is dedicated to the wildlife organisations of Abaco
A percentage of the profits is put by for the support of local wildlife organisations
A copy of the book has been presented to every school, college and library on Abaco
Piping Plover Bruce Hallett
The book is published by the Delphi Club (contact details below). The project was managed by a publishing specialist in art books. The author is the wildlife blogger more widely known on Abaco and (possibly) beyond as ‘Rolling Harbour’. Oh! So that would in fact be Mrs Harbour and myself. Well well! What were the chances?
Painted Bunting Tom Sheley
The Delphi Club at Rolling Harbour
PO Box AB-20006, Marsh Harbour, Abaco, Bahamas
Black and orange seem to have become – perhaps always have been – the colours most associated with Halloween (“Holy Evening” at one time in its history). Black, I suppose, for witches, their cats, and the night; orange for fire and pumpkins. In nature, surprisingly few creatures and plants have an exclusively black and orange livery. Some birds. A salamander of two. A few fish and butterflies. The odd flower.
I decided for no reason at all to spend (waste?) a small amount of time discovering which birds found on Abaco are true Halloween species. I had to allow for some white markings, on the spurious basis that white is not a colour but rather an absence of colour… That left 3 species (and even then some troublemakers might argue that the precise borderline between yellow and orange is debatable…).
The Redstart Setophaga ruticilla is a species of warbler and a common winter resident on Abaco. They are mostly seen in the coppice and in gardens. The males are black with orange markings; the females have yellow markings instead of orange and were therefore ineligible for this post. Sorry.
These Orioles Icterus galbula are rather less common winter visitors. A couple have recently been reported. Many are completely black and orange apart from white wing bars. However, there’s no doubt that others are more of a yellowy-orange.
The handsome, colourful Spindalis zena is one of my favourite birds. The Spindalis is a common permanent resident, and I am determined to make it qualify as a Halloween bird even though (arguably) plenty of its surface area is neither black not orange. Apologies to purists.
No birds were hexed, vexed, tricked or even treated in the making of this post
Credits: Craig Nash, Gerlinde Taurer, Tom Sheley, Keith Salvesen, pinterest, wiki & an unknown Angry Bird pumpkin carver
Monday was International Pigeon Appreciation Day 2016, apparently. I’m not a huge fan of limitless species being accorded their own special day each year: “Celebrate International Plankton Day – Be Kind to your Favourite Protozoa!” or “Global Millipede Day: Take an Arthropod for a Walk!”.
White-crowned Pigeon (& header image)
I’m not sure where pigeons come in all this. In many cities feral pigeons are considered vermin – yet people love to feed them, even the ones with rotted feet and one eye. Especially those ones. Pigeons may be pests in crop fields, yetHEROESin wartime. They may be decorative, yet are, regrettably, good sport and delicious.
I’ve decided to take a broad view with pigeons and doves (there’s no significant difference), and not to be sniffy about Columba and their special day. They are pretty birds and they deserve it. So I’m featuring some Abaco pigeons and doves to enjoy, representing every species found on Abaco – and a bonus dove from New Providence at the end.
Eurasian Collared Dove
The Columbidae of Abaco: all permanent breeding residents
Common Ground Dove (Tobacco Dove)
PROTECTED SPECIES From a sporting and culinary point of view, the following pigeons and doves are protected by law at all times: Common Ground (Tobacco) Dove; Keywest Quail-Dove
SHOOTING IN SEASON The following have open season from roughly mid-September until March: Zenaida Dove; White-crowned Pigeon; Eurasian Collared Dove; Mourning Dove
UNPROTECTED – NO DESIGNATED CLOSED SEASON White-winged Dove (but why? they are fairly uncommon on Abaco); Rock Pigeon.
Key West Quail-Dove
The second bird of this pair was recently photographed by Milton Harris at the north end of Elbow Cay. More details HERE
The birds shown above represent the 8 species found on Abaco. However, not far away in New Providence, there is a beautiful pigeon that has not yet made its way over to Abaco and has yet to be introduced there. I am ambivalent about the deliberate introduction of alien species, because of the frequently very real risks to native species in terms of territory, habitat, food sources and so forth. But where there is no detectable threat to the local species, perhaps there is no great harm. I’d certainly like to see these lovely birds flying around – if possible, as a protected species…
Pied Imperial Pigeon (Nassau)
Photo credits: Gerlinde Taurer (1); Alex Hughes (2); Tom Sheley (3, 7, 13); Tony Hepburn (4); Keith Salvesen (5, 8, 14); Bruce Hallett (6, 9, 10); Woody Bracey (11, 16, 17); Milton Harris (12); Charles Skinner (15)
This is going to be a bit awkward for me. And for you. We are all going to have to be very adult about this. If you are sensitive about discussing… intimacies, then look away now. Because we are going to have to confront the facts with courage and fortitude. Ducks havesex.Oh, you didn’t quite catch that? They have Sex. SEX.SEX. Let’s call it something less.. well, I think mating is the correct word, although given the fact that the female suffers total submersion during the proceedings, ‘ducking’ would not be wholly out of place…
On Abaco, there are a number of muscovy ducks, all tame ones such as Perry Maillis’s at Gilpin Point shown in the Header image. They are not strictly an ‘official’ bird species of Abaco, but instead come into the classification “exotics”, in other words avian ‘also-rans’. This category also includes mallards, macaws and (for now) PEAFOWL – though I would fight to near-death to have these ranked as an established breeding introduced species (cf bobwhites), i.e. ‘proper’ Abaco birds. Many-time descendants of a few original tame birds, the population now is entirely feral and self-sustaining.
Muscovy ducks Cairina moschata turn out to be very interesting in the area of ‘Spring relationships’ (mallards and other ducks too, for that matter). A quick piece of research about them unearthed one unbeatable nugget of anatidaean anatomy:male muscovy ducks have spiralled penises which can become erect to 20 cm in one third of a second… Females have vaginas that spiral in the opposite direction to try to limit forced copulation by males, with ‘blind pouches’ if the female is unreceptive to advances…
So there you have it. Impressively rapid reactions from the male. And an equally clever response from the female. Something like this:
Male & Female Duck Corkscrews
NERVOUS DISPOSITION? STOP READING RIGHT NOW!
I once photographed the muscovy duck mating sequence (not on Abaco). Here are some images from the procedure. Until I looked at the images on my computer, I didn’t realise I had ‘caught’ (photo #2) the pink corkscrew in the process of inflation. So to speak. And with apologies for indelicacy.
SPRINGTIME. I THINK IT’S TIME TO FIND MYSELF… A LADY FRIEND
OH MY GOODNESS. THAT “1/3 OF A SECOND THING” IS STARTING TO HAPPEN…
QUICK! AHA! SHE LOOKS NICE. LET’S SEE HOW THINGS DEVELOP.
THAT SINKING FEELING…
THAT SUNKEN FEELING…
HEY! WHERE ON EARTH HAS SHE GOT TO?
OH! HELLO, DEAREST…
HOLD ON AGAIN…. JUST A…. MOMENT…
YAY! I ENJOYED THAT
BLEURGHHHHHHH… ME TOO… I THINK?
AH YES, ALL OK NOW. PLEASURE TO MEET YOU
Credits: Header, Gelinde Taurer; Ianare Sevi; all other photos RH; infographic, scientist.com
The American Coot Fulica americana is similar in many respects to the COMMON GALLINULE (MOORHEN). Except for the beak colour, of course. And as you will see below, the feet.
Most people would give an off-the-cuff description of a coot as ‘a black duck with a white beak’. They might add ‘…and a red eye’. Or ‘…and a dark band at the tip of the beak’. Or even ‘…I think there’s a white bit at the back end’. The header image pretty much sums up the classic coot.
However, coots seem to take up or reflect other colours at times. The eyes remain a piercing red and the beak is white, but the body can range from black through slate-grey to pale grey, depending on the light. There may even be a tinge of brown or even orange.
I always enjoy seeing coots and moorhens somewhere where the water ‘works’ with them and creates a dramatic image. I took the first photo below recently on the JKO reservoir in Central Park, New York, where the water looked weirdly like molten metal and some trick of the light made the bird seem as if is was in a shallow depression in the water.
Tom Sheley took the photo below on a ‘green water’ day at the pond on Treasure Cay Golf Course. I have recommended it before as an excellent birding site for waterbirds – coots, moorhens, Bahama pintails, northern pintails, neotropic cormorants, blue-winged teal, least grebes, pied-billed grebes, green herons – I’ve even seen a reclusive least bittern there. There are plenty of ‘land’ birds on the course too.
If you go to TCGC for the birding, you just need to clock in at the clubhouse in case it’s a match day; and so they know who is out and about on the course. And, as I wrote elsewhere, if you hear a loud yell of “Fore”, it probably won’t be someone counting the coots. Time to… er… duck.
Q: “WHAT’S AFOOT?” *
I mentioned that one of the differences between coots and moorhens is their feet. Gerlinde Taurer’s photo of a coot taking off suggests that something powerful is happening below the water to assist the wings to propel the bird into flight.
A coot’s feet are quite unlike the pedal extremities of any other bird
Moorhen’s feet for comparison – completely different structurally* A: “A funny-shaped thing on the end of your leg”. How we laughed (aged 7)
Credits: Gerlinde Taurer (1, 4, 7); Tom Sheley (2, 6); Keith Salvesen (3, 5, 8, 9); Mehemet Kartuk (wiki) 10
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).
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.
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.
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
I have a feeling that people are more familiar with the male American redstart than the female. The male’s striking near-black and orange livery is memorable. The female’s equivalent brown and yellow colour scheme is a little more subtle (or ‘drab’, which is a go-to bird book description where the male of a species is flamboyant; I prefer ‘subtle’ as a politer description). Charlie Skinner managed to get some lovely shots of females in the pines and scrub at the back of the Delphi beach.
These birds are one of the 37 warbler species recorded for Abaco, where they are common winter residents. Generally they start to arrive in October, and some are usually still around in March. It is believed that the flashing tail-spreading of both sexes, shown in some of these images, acts either to attract insects; or to confuse them in some way. I can’t think how or why. I imagine the tail-fanning also forms part of the redstart courtship rituals. Incidentally (*fun fact alert*) male redstarts are known to raise two families simultaneously, the nests being a convenient distance apart so that his deceit remains his secret.
This pretty juvenile is impossible to sex at this age. Could go either way. (Photo: Becky Marvil)
For comparison, the more familiar male (and more brash – typical). (Photo: Gerlinde Taurer)
Photo credits: Charlie Skinner, Becky Marvil, Gerlinde Taurer
THE ‘THRUSH’ THAT ISN’T: NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH ON ABACO
The pretty thrush-like warbler Northern Waterthrush Parkesia noveboracensis is a common winter resident on Abaco. Despite the name it’s not a real thrush, but it is larger than most of the compact winter warblers that heed the the migratory instinct that “It’s Better in the Bahamas” and make Abaco their overwintering habitat.
HOW CAN YOU TELL SIMILAR PLUMAGED THRUSHES FROM THESE GUYS?
The simplest rule of thumb is that true thrushes have spotted or speckled chests; whereas waterthrushes have streaked chests. That, and the fact that similar thrush species are generally larger. A number of true thrushes are recorded for Abaco, many quite similar to the waterthrush; but the speckled vs spotted distinction should be your guide. If a sighting is momentary or in bad light, it’s anyone’s guess…
APART FROM THRUSHES, ANY OTHER BIRDS I MIGHT CONFUSE IT WITH?
There’s another far less commonly found waterthrush that also overwinters on Abaco – the closely-related Louisiana waterthrush Parkesia motacilla. I have no Abaco photos of one – it really is quite rare – so I’ve had to borrow an open source one. The Cornell Lab explains the differences between the two waterthrushes thus: “Northern usually has stripes on throat, a slightly smaller bill, a thinner and off-white or cream eyestripe that does not extend as far onto the nape, less pink legs, and a more yellowish wash on the underparts”. Maybe one can generalise that the northern is overall a yellower bird, and its legs are more brown than pink.
Lousiana waterthrush – rarer on Abaco than the northern but a potential source of confusion
WHAT’S THAT POSH TAXONOMIC NAME ALL ABOUT, THEN?
The Mr Parkes in question was Kenneth Carroll Parkes (1922 – 2007), an American ornithologist and Chief Curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh. The noveboracencis part simply means ‘from New York’ in Latin (novum – new; Eboracum – York); and the -ensis is a common suffix meaning ‘from’. Mr Parkes’s bird from New York.
Kenneth Carrol Parkes
Both species have similar habits. For example, on the ground, they tend to walk rather than hop, ‘bobbing’ their butts (technical term) as they go. They forage on the ground for insects, snails and small mollusks etc.
I’m not a huge fan of attempts at phonetic renditions of bird calls – the ‘Did you have a nice day today dear?’ and the ‘I’d like a very big Kalik please’ and so on. But for what it is worth, the song of the northern waterthrush has been interpreted as “a loud swee swee chit chit weedleoo”. This is what is sounds like in real life. Go figure.
Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 2, 8); Becky Marvil (3); Magnus Manske (4); Bruce Hallett (5); Gerlinde Taurer (6, 7); Richard E Webster at Xeno-Canto for the song clip
Red. Green. A splash of blue. The shimmer of gold and silver. Those Christmas colours are so passé. OVAH! So ‘last year’ (or very nearly). In the hope and expectation that people are not too bilious from Xmas Xcess, or too jaundiced by seasonal overload, I feel it’s time to change the colour scheme. Let’s go for bright yellow. Specifically, a mix of endemic Bahama Yellowthroats and Common Yellowthroats. I love these cheerful little birds, and the challenge of trying to lure them into the open with my rather unconvincing approximations of their ‘wichity’ call. Such sunny little creatures, and always such a joy to watch.
ALL ABOVE – BAHAMA YELLOWTHROATS; ALL BELOW – COMMON YELLOWTHROATS
Credits: Gerlinde Taurer (1,2); Bruce Hallett (3, 6); Tom Reed (4); Tom Sheley (5, 7); Erik Gauger (8)