GREAT EGRETS: NOBLE (YET MISNAMED) HERONS


Great Egret, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

GREAT EGRETS: NOBLE (YET MISNAMED) HERONS

The Great Egret is actually a heron rather than an egret. It’s a Great Heron. All egrets are members of the heron family Ardeidae, but the converse is not true. As long ago as 1758, Linnaeus awarded the bird the binomial name Ardea alba i.e. ‘Heron white‘. Why it should have been so hard to stick to that authoritative nomenclature, I can’t imagine. Perhaps in time all heron and egret species became so hopelessly confusing for people that it ceased to matter much what they were called.

Great Egret, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Maybe it was that type of carelessness that led to people from the mid-c19 onwards eyeing up GREGs as a source of hat feathers and other decorative necessities. As with flamingos and many other beautiful avian species, mankind’s millinery and other fashion needs were satisfied at the expense of gorgeous plumage. Actually, at the cost of the birds’ lives: they were simply shot in huge numbers. 

Great Egret, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Healthy populations were decimated; for some species they never recovered. For others, the great egret among them, the passage of time and the passing of fashions – backed in many cases with conservation programs – have successfully restored the populations. In 1953 the National Audubon Society, which was formed at least in part to discourage the killing of birds for their feathers, took a decisive step in the cause of the great egret by making the bird the emblem of the organisation.

Great Egret, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Photo Credit: Nina Henry photographed all the egrets in this post. Her wonderful images made a significant contribution to the “BIRDS OF ABACO” project.

Great Egret, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

ABACO CHECKLIST: 40 BIRDS IN A DAY


Painted Bunting, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

ABACO CHECKLIST: 40 BIRDS IN A DAY

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.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot (Keith Salvesen)

BAHAMA PALM SHORES

1. Blackfaced Grassquit
2. Greater Antillean Bullfinch
3. Red-winged Blackbird
4. Gray Catbird
5. Abaco (Cuban) Parrots
6. Painted Bunting
7. Northern Mockingbird
8. La Sagra’s Flycatcher
9. Cuban Pewee
10. Yellow-throated Warbler

Western Spindalis, Abaco (Craig Nash)

11. Western Spindalis
12. West Indian Woodpecker
13. Cape May Warbler
14. Ovenbird
15. Eurasian Collared Dove
16. Common Ground Dove
17. Bananaquit
18. Red-legged Thrush
19. Turkey Vulture
20. Cuban Emerald Hummingbird
21. Thick-billed Vireo

Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)

BPS Duck Pond

22. Blue-winged Teal
23. Green-winged Teal
24. Common Gallinule

Common Gallinule, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

SAWMILL SINK BLUE HOLE

25. Olive-capped Warbler
26. Yellow-rumped Warbler
27. Loggerhead Kingbird
28. Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)

HIGHWAY ROADSIDE

29. Bahama Warbler
30. American Kestrel

American Kestrel, Abaco (Tom Reed)

GILPIN POND

31. White-cheeked (Bahama) Pintail
32. Great Egret
33. Great Blue Heron
34. Tricolored Heron
35. Lesser Yellowlegs
36. Solitary Sandpiper

White-cheeked (Bahama) Pintail, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

SANDY POINT

37. Laughing gulls
38. Ruddy turnstone
39. Sanderlings
40. Royal terns

Sanderlings, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

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!

Great Egret, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

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)

A GREAT EGRET MAKES A SPLASH…


A GREAT EGRET MAKES A SPLASH…

I’m quite a  fan of bird action sequences. Top quality ones, I mean, not the rubbishy ones that I have tried to accomplish with either (a) a camera I understand but is not sophisticated enough for such use; or (b) a more serious camera that I never got the hang of, was secretly a bit ‘overawed by’ (= scared of), and which met a watery end when I was photographing sanderlings on the beach while standing in the sea…

Among the photographers who kindly let me use their images from time to time are a couple who are especially adept with sequential shots. One is Danny Sauvageau, a Floridian who combines great bird photography with a tireless capacity for tracking down banded birds at migration time. Here is his Great Egret catching breakfast.

Credits: All fantastic photos by Danny Sauvageau, with thanks as ever for use permission; cartoon, the very excellent Birdorable

 

BIRDS: BIG MOUTHFULS, VARIED DIETS & PLAYING WITH FOOD…


Anhinga eating fish (Phil Lanoue)

BIRDS: BIG MOUTHFULS, VARIED DIETS & PLAYING WITH FOOD…

Anhingas are so-called ‘darters’. You won’t have seen one on Abaco. Or else, if you have, you’ve had a rare avian treat. These cormorant-like birds are far from unusual in Florida, all round the Gulf of Mexico, on Cuba and generally in the West Indies, and throughout the northern parts of South America. But somehow they have only very rarely bothered to wing their way across the relatively short expanse of water that separates their usual stamping ground in Florida and the northern Bahamas. I very rarely post about non-Abaco birds, unless for comparison. However, on the slender basis that one or two anhinga sightings have been made on Abaco since 1950 (they are classified as V5, i.e. vanishingly rare vagrants) , I am including PHIL LANOUE’S wonderful photo of one trying to get a gob-stoppingly large spiny fish down its throat. And making that an excuse to show more of his wonderful bird photos, including one of his renowned sequences.

BIG MOUTHFULS

By way of contrast to the anhinga above, this brown pelican has opened wide, but has disappointingly little to show for his huge gulp. Just a tiddler, and it really doesn’t look like it will manage to jump out of that capacious gullet…

Brown Pelican fishing (Phil Lanoue)

Here’s a better meal: a great egret has got hold of a massive shrimp. It won’t have any trouble getting it down…Great Egret eating fish (Phil Lanoue)

VARIED DIETS

As the great egret above demonstrates, fish are not the only prey species for the ‘fish-eating’ birds. These cormorants are happily mixing up their diet.Cormorant - varied diet 1 (Phil Lanoue)Cormorant - varied diet 3 (Phil Lanoue)

I’ll take a side-order of salad with that…Cormorant feeding (Phil Lanoue)Cormorant - varied diet 5 (Phil Lanoue)

PLAYING WITH FOOD

Regrettably, the cormorant with the eel, above, decided to play with its food before eventually swallowing it. Here are three more images from Phil’s sequence of the Eel Meal.

Chucking my dinner around a bitCormorant - varied diet 4 (Phil Lanoue)

Wearing my food as a hatCormorant eating eel (Phil Lanoue)

My whole meal seems to have gone to my head…Cormorant - varied diet 6 (Phil Lanoue)

All phantastic photos by Phil. Check out his website https://phillanoue.com

WHITE SOUND, ABACO: MANGROVES, MUD & (REALLY) GREAT EGRETS


Great Egret Abaco 7

WHITE SOUND, ABACO: MANGROVES, MUD & (REALLY) GREAT EGRETS

The piratically named Treasure Cay (aaarrrrrr…) is north of Marsh Harbour, and home to one of the larger communities on Abaco. It has a wonderfully long white sand beach, a golf course, condos and villas, a marina and a cheerful atmosphere. It is also one of the best areas in North Abaco for birding. There are the shorebirds, of course, and all the usual ‘settlement’ species. In addition, the golf course has freshwater ponds where you will find a wide variety of duck and other water species. NB Check in at the Club House and get permission first – amiably given if politely requested (see map below).

Treasure Cay also has a large area of bays, brackish inlets and lagoons, including – to continue the pirate theme – Galleon Bay, Brigantine Bay, Cannon Bay and Gun Powder Creek. And also White Sound. This can be reached by luck (which may run out) or good management (ask for directions; wait for me to get back the map I have lent to someone and post a grab from it). Drive (with care) along the uneven track beside the lagoon and there is a good chance you will see Great Egrets in the mangrove islands dotted around the middle of the water. This is what to look out for…Great Egret, White Sound, Abaco

Zoom in a bit, and you’ll see two more egrets on the far side of the clump of mangroves. It’s a colony… in the end we were able to count 9 birds on this one mangrove island.Great Egret Abaco 1

One of the loveliest features of these fine birds in breeding season is the way that even a slight breeze will blow their long plumes away from their bodies like streamersGreat Egret Abaco 2Great Egret Abaco 3

We were some way from the birds, as these rather indifferent photos suggest, so we decided to try and get closer. The water was fairly low, leaving expanses of firm-looking marly mud around the edge. There was an apparent causeway to an overgrown rocky outcrop that would enable us to get closer to a vantage point without being spotted. As it turned out, the mud was only… ankle deep. It could have been messier. And we had a chance to see at close quarters the remarkable way in which mangrove entanglements develop.

Great Egret Abaco 4 Great Egret Abaco 5

We reached the outcrop muddier and slightly wiser, and clambered up through the scrubby and scratchy bushes to the top, nothing if not intrepid. My wading stick came in handy for beating a rough path. And by adopting strange stances in the manner of someone trying to pick up a faint cellphone signal, we could peer through the foliage to establish whether we were indeed a bit closer to the egrets.Great Egret Abaco 6

The answer was yes. But there was another obstacle, familiar to all fellow ‘focus fail’ offenders. Shooting a bird through a hole in a bush straight in front of you is complicated. You get a vivid detailed  frame of greenery, with a blurry centre of unintentional and unwanted BOKEH instead of the intended subject. A lens entension (the poor man’s zoom that I use) tends to make it worse. So you’ll have to make do with these pictures for now, until you can visit White Sound and get your own with your natty Nikon. Great Egret Abaco 11Great Egret Abaco 9Great Egret Abaco 8

My favourite ‘stance’ shotGreat Egret Abaco 10

That wasn’t the end of the adventure. After we had squidged our way back through the slightly smelly mud, we moved further along the sound, to find a further egret colony on the far shore just in time to watch them from afar as they took flight.Great Egret Abaco 12 Great Egret Abaco 13 Great Egret Abaco 14

TREASURE CAY, LOCATIONS OF WHITE SOUND & THE GOLF CLUB, &  SOME PIRATICAL NAMESTreasure Cay Map

TREASURE CAY IN RELATION TO OTHER ABACO PLACESAbaco Egret Map 1 jpg

When leaving Treasure Cay, visitors receive a friendly reminder to return, in terms reminiscent of, yet far nicer than, a Scottish Tourist Board brochure. Maybe this reflects the historic significance of the Scots in the history of the Bahamas, to the extent that there is even a Bahamas tartan. 

Bahamas TartanHaste Ye Back...

TC Map credit: Abaco Estate Services. They send me emails, so I guess they won’t mind publicity here