BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO: AN UPGRADE


Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO: AN UPGRADE

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.

black-faced-grassquit-adult-male-eating-berry-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheleyblack-faced-grassquit-foraging-berry-2-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheley

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. 

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Black-faced Grassquit, Abaco (Tom Reed)

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.

Black-faced Grassquit - Treasure Cay, Abaco (Becky Marvil)Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Peter Mantle)

Last year, it became official. We are really a type of Tanager. They reckon we are closely related to Darwin’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…

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)

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.

Black-faced Grassquit female, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

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)

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

THE EVERYDAY TWITTERING SONG 

THE DISPLAY BUZZING SONG 

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Tom Reed)Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

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.Black-faced Grassquit (m) Lubbers Quarters, Abaco (Larry Towning).jpg

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)

AMERICAN REDSTARTS ON ABACO: MALES IN FOCUS


american-redstart-male-abaco-bahamas-craig-nash-fv

AMERICAN REDSTARTS ON ABACO: MALES IN FOCUS

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.

american-redstart-male-abaco-bahamas-gerlinde-taurer-2 american-redstart-male-abaco-bahamas-gerlinde-taurer-1

american-redstart-copyTEN 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
american-redstart-abaco-bahamas-gerlinde-taurer-3american-redstart-male-bahama-palm-shores-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheley
american-redstart-copy
The American Redstart (f  & m) as depicted by JJ Audubonplate-40-american-redstart-final
american-redstart-copy
A male redstart at Treasure Caybahamas-american-redstart-bm-oct-2010-copy-2
american-redstart-copy
WHAT DO I LISTEN OUT FOR?
american-redstart-male-wiki
AMRE by Mark Catesby, precursor of Audubon
american-redstart-mark-catesby-pinterest
Credits: Craig Nash (1); Gerlinde Taurer (2, 3, 4); Tom Sheley (5); Audubon Soc (6); Becky Marvil (7); ‘Scott’ wiki (8); Pinterest (9); Xeno-Canto / Jeff Dyck audio file; Birdorable (cute cartoon)

“THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO” (2016)


Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco (Jacket)

“THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO”

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 vocalizing.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley aBlue-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 Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)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 Parrot, Abaco Bahamas (Peter Mantle)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 Dowitcher, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)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 Abaco Bahamas Tom SheleyClapper 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, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)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

Abaco_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copyBahama 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 Ani pair, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)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, Abaco - Bruce HallettPiping 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 male.Abaco Bahamas.Tom SheleyPainted Bunting Tom Sheley

The Delphi Club at Rolling Harbour
PO Box AB-20006, Marsh Harbour, Abaco, Bahamas
Tel: +1-242-366-2222
General Manager – Max Woolnough: +1-242-577-1698
delphi.bahamas@gmail.com

Or email rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com with any queries or comments

American Oystercatcher, Abaco - Tom SheleyAmerican Oystercatcher Tom Sheley

Photos: Tom Sheley,  Bruce Hallett, Gerlinde Taurer, Tony Hepburn, Peter Mantle, Keith Salvesen

Cuban (Crescent-eyed) Pewee, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Cuban Pewee Keith Salvesen

USEFUL LINKS

DELPHI CLUB BAHAMAS

ABACO BIRDS. COM

ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH

The original flyer for the book"Birds of Abaco" flyer

THREE “HALLOWEEN-COLOURED” BIRDS ON ABACO (2016)


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THREE “HALLOWEEN-COLOURED” BIRDS ON ABACO

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…). 

AMERICAN REDSTART

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.

American Redstart (m) Abaco (Craig Nash) American Redstart (m) Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer) American Redstart (m) Abaco (Tom Sheley)

BALTIMORE ORIOLE

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.

Baltimore Oriole (pinterest) copyBaltimore Oriole (mdf-wiki)Baltimore Oriole (Brezinski-wiki)

WESTERN SPINDALIS

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.

Western Spindalis, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Western Spindalis (m) Abaco (Craig Nash) Western Spindalis (m) Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)

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

DOVE LOVE: APPRECIATING PIGEONS ON ABACO


White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

DOVE LOVE: APPRECIATING PIGEONS ON ABACO

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)White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

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, yet HEROES in wartime. They may be decorative, yet are, regrettably, good sport and delicious.

White-winged doveWhite-winged Dove, Abaco Bahamas - Tom SheleyWhite-winged Dove, Abaco - Tony Hepburn

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 DoveCollared Dove, Abaco - Keith Salvesen / Rolling HarbourEurasian Collared Dove, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

The Columbidae of Abaco: all permanent breeding residentsPigeons : Doves Abaco

Common Ground Dove (Tobacco Dove)Common Ground Dove, Abaco 1 (Tom Sheley)Common Ground Dove, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

SPORT REPORT

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.

Zenaida DoveZenaida Dove, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Zenaida Dove, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

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

Rock PigeonRock Pigeon, Sandy Point, Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley 2bRock Pigeon NYC (keith Salvesen)

Mourning DoveMourning Dove, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

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)Pied Imperial Pigeon 1, Nassau (Woody Bracey) Pied Imperial Pigeon 2, Nassau (Woody Bracey).JPG

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)

MUSCOVY DUCKS: THE MATING GAME…


Muscovy Duck, Abaco, Bahama (Gerlinde Taurer)

Muscovy Ducks, Gilpin Point, Abaco

MUSCOVY DUCKS: THE MATING GAME…

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 have sex. 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. 

Cairina_moschata_reproduction (Ianare Sevi wiki)

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 Corkscrewsimgres

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

AMERICAN COOTS feat. “WHAT’S AFOOT?”


American Coot - Bahamas - Great Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

AMERICAN COOTS feat. “WHAT’S AFOOT?”

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.

American Coot.Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

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.

American Coot 2 (Keith Salvesen)

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.

American Coot - Bahamas - Great Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

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.

American Coot (Keith Salvesen)

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.

American Coot.Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy 2

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.American Coot - Bahamas - Great Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

A coot’s feet are quite unlike the pedal extremities of any other birdCoot, showing feet (Keith Salvesen)Coot Feet Close-up Keith Salvesen copy

Moorhen’s feet for comparison – completely different structurallymoorhen_feet-mehmet-kartuk-wikijpg-copy* 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