‘ON STILTS’: ELEGANCE ON TWO LEGS (OR JUST ONE)


Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)‘ON STILTS’: ELEGANCE ON TWO LEGS (OR JUST ONE)

There’s something wrong in the picture above (no, I don’t mean about the photograph itself). Count up how many pink legs you can see. No, not including the reflections. Give up? It’s three. Between two birds. I assumed of course that  ‘Oner’ had a perfectly good serviceable leg tucked up into its undercarriage. I admired the balancing skills involved in resting one leg while nonchalantly standing on the other.

We were watching this pair of black-necked stilts Himantopus mexicanus at the pond at Gilpin Point, which at certain times can be ‘Stilt Central’. These birds are permanent breeders on Abaco and are without a doubt the most beautiful of all the waders (avocets, being extremely uncommon winter visitors, are disqualified from consideration for lack of presence). 

Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)
It gradually dawned on me that Oner really did only have one stilt to stand on. After 10 minutes observing them and the other birds around them, there was no question about it – the right leg was completely and utterly missing. This unipedal deficit had no obvious ill-effects on the bird – nor on its ability to throw a good pose (above). Or to preen (below).
Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)
I’m in danger of losing sight of Twoer here, a bipedal bird that deserves its own place in the story, not just a wade-on part in Oner’s story.
Twoer as Ringmaster…Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)
BNSs are territorial and in particular can become ‘proactive’ (ie aggressive) in protecting the area near a nest. I once mistakenly got close to a nest, not even knowing it was there. I soon learnt – a parent BNS came wading towards me, zigzagging in the water, shouting and carrying on in a way that immediately said ‘my nest is nearby’. And when I meanly stood my ground it suddenly took off and flew straight at my head…
A shouty stiltBlack-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)
On reflection…Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)
All photos: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour Abaco (and, if anyone noticed, sorry about some formatting issues which I can’t get rid of…); Audio file Jim Holmes / Xeno Canto
Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

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

TRI-COLORED HERON HUFFS SNOWY EGRET: GILPIN POND, ABACO


Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 10 (Keith Salvesen)

TRI-COLORED HERON HUFFS SNOWY EGRET: GILPIN POND, ABACO

We were at Gilpin Pond to watch for Herons and Egrets. Bahama Pintails were a given, Black-necked Stilts were likely – but one never quite knows what Ardeidae will turn up. There was a snowy egret fishing peacefully at the north end of the pond. We were a little way off, on a small wooden jetty. Slowly and rather deliberately a tri-colored wandered right through the Egret’s hunting area. It wasn’t looking for food, and it certainly wasn’t in a hurry. 

Heron wading through my fishing spot? Like I care? [Yes. You really do]Snowy Egret with Tri-colored Heron, Gilpin Pond Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)

I regret to say that Snowy threw a bit of a strop. Having been hunched and intent on his hunting, he became distracted and palpably upset. It was just… the heron’s meander right past his beak was a bit to much for any self-respecting egret to tolerate. This is how it went, as the heron moved very slowly forwards…

A bad hair day – but gradually regaining composure…Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 2 (Keith Salvesen)Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 3 (Keith Salvesen)Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 4 (Keith Salvesen)

Then the heron got out of the water… out of the way. You’d think.Tri-colored Heron, Gilpin Pond Abaco 2 (Keith Salvesen)

Not to be outdone, the egret followed behind, no doubt muttering crossly…Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 6 (Keith Salvesen)

…and hopped up onto a dead tree stump, where it stood rather forlornlySnowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 8 (Keith Salvesen)Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 9 (Keith Salvesen)

At which point the heron flew off and perched high up on a dead branch. I swear I heard it laugh.Tri-colored Heron, Gilpin Pond Abaco 4 (Keith Salvesen)

All photos RH. All anthropomorphic interpretations, too.

GILPIN POINT, ABACO: A ‘2 HOURS, 40 SPECIES’ BIRDING HOTSPOT


Black-necked Stilt, Abaco (Alex Hughes) copy

GILPIN POINT, ABACO: A ‘2 HOURS, 40 SPECIES’ BIRDING HOTSPOT

Got  a spare couple of hours? Reluctant to go birding on the bird-reliable yet ambience-lite town dumps, where careful cropping will be needed to avoid including post-apocalyptic scenery in your hard-won photos of a Little Mulligatawny Owl? Then read on. I have mentioned Gilpin Point before as a great place for birding, and listed many of the species to be found there. It benefits from a large pond, a pristine shoreline, and a coppice environment with some pine forest thrown in. All the makings of an excellent birding location, with suitable habitat for a wide variety of species. Blue-winged Teal, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

On November 21st Reg Patterson, well-known Abaco birder and guide, was up early, and by 07.00 he was at Gilpin Pond where  he spent a couple of hours . He recorded 40 species in that time, from very large to very small. His checklist reveals a great cross-section of the birdlife to be found on Abaco. There might easily have been parrots there too, since Gilpin has become one of their daily chattering spots for a frank exchange of news and views. Sadly it seems that the beautiful and (now) rare SPOONBILL recorded there in early October has moved on.

Willet, Abaco

Here is Reg’s checklist, which I have illustrated with a variety of photos of the species he found, all taken on Abaco and many actually taken at Gilpin Point. There are plenty of other species that might easily have been seen there then – or perhaps later in the day (e.g. snowy egret, yellowlegs, kestrel, turkey vulture, red-legged thrush, cuban emerald, not to mention shorebirds and seabirds if some time was spent on the shore).

CHECKLIST

Blue-winged Teal (16) (see above)

White-cheeked Pintail (20)

White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)

Green-winged Teal (1)

Great Blue Heron (1)Great_Blue_Heron_Wading_2

Great Egret (1)

Little Blue Heron (2) 

Tricolored Heron (2)

Green Heron (2)Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)05

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (1)

Turkey Vulture (7)

Common Gallinule (1)

Black-necked Stilt (1) (and header)

Black-necked Stilt, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Spotted Sandpiper (1)

Willett (1) (see above)

Common Ground-Dove (1)

Smooth-billed Ani (8)

Bahama Woodstar (1)Bahama Woodstar (m), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Belted Kingfisher (1)

West Indian Woodpecker (7)

Hairy Woodpecker (1)Hairy Woodpecker, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

Peregrine Falcon (1)

Loggerhead Kingbird (4)Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco - Tom Reed

Thick-billed Vireo (7)

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (1)Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Red-legged Thrush (1)

Gray Catbird (4)

Northern Mockingbird (2)Northern Mockingbird, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Ovenbird (1)

Northern Waterthrush (6)

Bahama Yellowthroat (1)

Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Common Yellowthroat (1)

Cape May Warbler (3)

Black-throated Blue Warbler (1)Black-throated Blue Warbler (m), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Palm Warbler (2)

Prairie Warbler (2)

 Bananaquit (1)Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

 Black-faced Grassquit (6)

 Greater Antillean Bullfinch (4)

 Western Spindalis (7)

 Red-winged Blackbird (X)Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Gilpin Map 1 Gilpin Map 2 Gilpin Map 3

Credits: Alex Hughes (1 / header); Keith Salvesen (2, 4, 6, 7, 11, 12, 15 , 16); TBC (3, 5); Bruce Hallett (8, 14); Tony Hepburn (9); Tom Reed (10); Charles Skinner (13)

 

A RARE SPOONBILL VISITS GILPIN POND, ABACO


Roseate Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)4

A RARE SPOONBILL VISITS GILPIN POND, ABACO

In past posts I have mentioned what an excellent birding place Gilpin Point has become. There’s the large pond; and right beside it, dunes, the other side of which is a fine secluded beach and the ocean. The place is a magnet for birds of all shapes and sizes, from brown pelicans down to the tiny endemic Bahama woodstars. There are water birds, wading birds, shorebirds and coppice birds. It has become a place where Abaco parrots regularly congregate. You can reach the Gilpin FB page HERE.

A while back, there was a rare visitor, a Flamingo that stayed a few months then disappeared again. It was in some ways a sad reminder of past flamingo glory days, when they were commonly found on Abaco. Now they are confined to Inagua apart from the occasional vagrant. For more on the the topic, with wonderful photos by Melissa Maura of the breeding season on Inagua, click HERE. Another rare vagrant – formerly quite plentiful on Abaco – was recently found at Gilpin by Keith Kemp, who skilfully managed to get photos of it from some distance away: a Roseate Spoonbill.

Roseate Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)2

I have featured spoonbills before in a post IN THE PINK, but the photos were taken on New Providence by Woody Bracey. I had no Abaco spoonbill photos. To be fair, we did once see one while we were bonefishing far out on the Marls. It was on the edge of the mangroves a good distance away, and the pale pink tinge caught my eye. My photo with an iPhone 4 (the one with the risibly cr@p camera – remember?) was so utterly pathetic that I dumped it (the photo, I mean, but the phone soon followed). But we knew what we had seen, and that was enough.

roseate-spoonbill                roseate-spoonbill               roseate-spoonbill

STOP PRESS 1 I should add that a friended visited the pond after the side-effects of Hurricane Joaquin had receded, and the spoonbill had gone. So the spoonbill alone would not make the journey worthwhile!

STOP PRESS 2 A check of eBird reveals that a handful of spoonbills have been reported in Northern Bahamas this year, about 6 in all. Almost none before that. I have the impression that birding intensity in The Bahamas, coupled with the ease of uploading reports to eBird, will increasingly make a difference to the incidence of sightings of uncommon and rare species, cf the recent WHIMBRELS of Grand Bahama.

Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)3

GILPIN POINT LOCATION

Gilpin Point is just south of Crossing Rocks. The brackish pond – sometimes an alarming reddish colour that I assume is algal – is just inland from the shoreline and provides a wonderful haven for birds. It’s a long mile from the highway. There is no vehicle nor even human traffic apart from occasional birders and walkers. Please note that the drive and the property are private. However Perry Maillis is always welcoming to tidy birders who (as I have written elsewhere) bring only enthusiasm and take only photographs (though a picnic on the beach is worth considering. And maybe a swim…). 

Helpful location mapsGilpin Map 1 Gilpin Map 2 Gilpin Map 3

WHAT SPECIES MIGHT BE FOUND AT GILPIN?

A brief list includes regular visits from parrots. It’s the only place we have found a furtive little sora skulking in the reedy margins. It’s a reliable spot for herons and egrets of every kind, white-cheeked (Bahama) pintails by the score, black-necked stilts and lesser yellowlegs. Occasionally a northern pintail, ruddy duck or merganser. Turkey vultures. Limpkins. We’ve seen belted kingfishers, Bahama woodstars, cuban emeralds, american kestrels, Bahama swallows, doves, pigeons, western spindalis and many more coppice birds besides. One flamingo. One spoonbill. Pelicans have been seen on the rocks on the beach. Shorebirds include turnstones, sundry plovers & sandpipers, and oystercatchers. You may well see tropicbirds and frigate birds off-shore, and assorted gulls and terns. I can’t personally be more species-specific  because I have never ‘shorebirded’ properly there, but I have noticed an impressive mix…

When we launched THE BIRDS OF ABACO at the Delphi Club, we were delighted that Pericles was able to come to the party. He took a few photos and I’m sure he won’t mind my including a small gallery to end with, featuring a couple of the Gilpin entries in his signed copy.

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Bahamas birding nobility: Tony White with Caroline Stahala; Woody Bracey & Bruce Hallett
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Credits: Keith Kemp for the great spoonbill photos; Perry for the Delphi photos

BLACK-NECKED STILT, ABACO: A FRIDAY SPECIAL


Black-necked Stilt, Abaco (Tom Sheley)

It’s Friday already. A day I normally write a post. Well I’ve run out of time this week. So I have rummaged in the RH archive and chosen one stonking image to end the week with. This beautiful black-necked stilt was taken by Tom Sheley at Gilpin Pond, Abaco – a place where these birds may reliably be found (they are permanent breeding residents on Abaco). Indeed it is a great place to find many bird species at any time – and the adjacent shoreline can be equally productive. Have a great weekend!