WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY, PIPING PLOVERS & IRMA


Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau)

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY, PIPING PLOVERS & IRMA

Sept 6 2017. World Shorebirds Day dawns, even as the huge Cat 5 Hurricane Irma makes landfall over the small islands of the eastern Caribbean. Irma’s path has been relentlessly westwards, for sure – but the path has been unnervingly variable. The tracking reports showed Abaco successively as being in line for a direct hit; then taking a sideswipe from the south; then completely clear of the cone prediction; then within the northern edge… and today, a right hook to the east suggests again that Abaco will take a hit from irma (though as a predicted Cat 4 or maybe 3).

Hurricane Irma Tracking Path Sept 6th 2017 Wunderground

Far down the list of concerns in such a situation come shorebirds. Most if not all the islands that Irma will affect have wonderful shorebirds, both permanent and migratory. On Abaco my personal preoccupation is for the tiny Piping Plovers and our citizen scientist annual 6-month WATCH. Generally, the birds manage to find some cover at the back of the beaches to hunker down until the worst is past. But generally the beach populations are rather different after the storm, as birds scatter and take cover. 

Well, except this little guy who decided to take a windy bath on the Long Dock at Cherokee during Hurricane Matthew as it passed over Abaco last October (and props to Keith Kemp for braving the elements to get this shot!)

Birds are resilient and resourceful. Humans too. But nature unleashed with full force is a terrifying prospect. From a safe distance of 4250 miles from Marsh Harbour, thoughts and best wishes from Rolling Harbour will be with all those in the path of Irma over the next few days. 

Piping plovers on the Delphi Beach, at a more peaceful timePiping Plover, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Photos: Danny Sauvageau, Keith Kemp, Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour; Graphic by Wunderground

CLAPPER RAILS ON ABACO: A SMALL SHOWCASE


Clapper Rail, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley / Birds of Abaco)

CLAPPER RAILS ON ABACO: A SMALL SHOWCASE

Just over 3 years ago, THE BIRDS OF ABACO was published and launched at the Delphi Club. The book was intended to showcase the wonderful and varied bird life on Abaco – home to endemics, permanent residents, seasonal residents, and a wide variety of migrating transients. The book has been most generously received and supported – though I have to report that already its definitive checklist (dating from 1950) has become outdated with the recording of 6 additional species on Abaco, featured elsewhere in this blog.

Clapper Rail, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley / Birds of Abaco)

Tom Sheley was one of the main photographic contributors to the book, and I had the good fortune to coincide with one of his trips to Abaco, when he was armed with significant photographic weaponry; and to accompany him on some of his photographic day trips (not including the early morning ones, in my case). This clapper rail is one of my favourites of his photo sequences of a bird being a bird – preening, stretching, calling – in its own habitat.

Clapper Rail, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley / Birds of Abaco)

My one regret about my involvement  in producing the book (it took 16 months) and more generally in the wildlife of Abaco is that I have entirely failed to progress to sophisticated (expensive) photographic equipment capable of producing images the quality of Tom’s. Yes, I’ve moved on from compacts (ha!) to bridge cameras (Panasonic Lumix + lens extender), and some results ‘make the cut’. But my move up to a Canon SLR was mainly disastrous, and when eventually I inadvertently drowned it (I overbalanced while photographing shorebirds from breaking waves. Total immersion. Total stupidity.) I felt an unexpected sense of relief. A blessing really – I never understood it, nor in my heart of hearts (if I’m honest) really wanted to… But my feeble struggle made me realise and appreciate the enormous skill of those like Tom who take ‘National Geographic’ quality photographs. It’s not just the equipment – it’s knowing exactly how to use it, and often in a split second…

Clapper Rail, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley / Birds of Abaco)

Photos by Tom Sheley – with thanks for the adventures

RUDDY TURNSTONES ON ABACO: BEACH NOSHING


Ruddy Turnstones, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

RUDDY TURNSTONES ON ABACO: BEACH NOSHING

Some birds are named for the sounds they make (bobwhite, chuck-will’s-widow, pewee, killdeer). Some are named for their appearance (yellow-rumped warbler, painted bunting). And some are named for what they do (shearwater, sapsucker – but definitely NOT killdeer). The ruddy turnstone Arenaria interpres is in the last two of these categories: it looks ruddy and it literally turns stones to get at the goodies underneath.

Ruddy Turnstones, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

And they don’t just turn stones to look for food. Someone with a lot of patience has defined 6 specific methods by which a turnstone forages for food:

  • Turning stones by flicking them with its beak
  • Digging using its beak to flick away sand or earth (see video below)
  • Routing around in piles of seaweed to expose food under it
  • Surface pecking with short, shallow pecks for food just below the surface
  • Probing by simply sticking its beak deep into soft sand or ground
  • Hammer-probing to crack open a shell and get at the occupant

Ruddy Turnstones, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

In these photos taken on a rather gloomy day on the Delphi beach, a combination of mainly digging and routing is going on. Note the sandy beak of the RUTU below, right up to the hilt.

Ruddy Turnstones, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Ruddy Turnstones, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

This short video shows how effective the RUTU method is. It was fascinating to watch the team work their way through and around the piles of weed on the beach, flicking sand vigorously in their quest for sandflies or whatever. Watch the sand fly! Pity it wasn’t a sunny day – the photos might have looked a bit more cheerful… 

 

All photos Keith Salvesen

CUBAN EMERALDS ON ABACO: JEWELS BEYOND PRICE


CUBAN EMERALDS ON ABACO: JEWELS BEYOND PRICE

Well I don’t want to overstate it, but there cannot be anyone on the planet who has anything but love for hummingbirds. There’s no existing word for ‘fear of hummingbirds’ – ‘colibriphobia‘ is not a ‘thing’. There’s fear of almost everything else, from grass to clouds to plastic bags**… but, surely, not hummers. Here are a few to enjoy.

The females have a wonderful metallic sheen that makes them shimmer in the sunshine. Males are darker: a gorgeous, handsome green. The Emeralds are one of those bird species where it is hard to decide between the sexes which is the more beautiful…

All photos: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

** Plastybolsaphobia (nb despite the apparent Greek derivation of this word, the Ancient Greeks were strangers to the world of these handy carriers / vile polluters / dealing wildlife killers)

 

 

RED-LEGGED THRUSHES: MAKING EYE-CONTACT ON ABACO


Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

RED-LEGGED THRUSHES: MAKING EYE-CONTACT ON ABACO

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

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

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 DelphiRed-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (S Salvesen)

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.

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Charles Skinner)Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Charles Skinner)

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Erik Gauger)

This photo from birdman Tom Sheley is my favourite – a perfect compositionRed-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

** 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…

FUN FACT

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

WATCHFUL TYRANT: A LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD ON ABACO


Loggerhead Kingbird, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

WATCHFUL TYRANT: A LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD ON ABACO

The Delphi Club on Abaco has a number of permanent residents (or by now – let’s be realistic – maybe their descendants). There’s the huge curly tail lizard that lives under the large stones by the outside staircase. There are the West Indian Woodpeckers that noisily nest in a box under the eaves of the verandah and produce 2 batches of shouty chicks each summer. And there is the silent sentinel – a loggerhead kingbird that spends much of its time in the trees and bushes at the far side of the pool.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

It’s a good place to chose. The bird uses the tree branches and shrubs to ‘hawk’ for passing insects, suddenly leaving its perch to pounce, before returning to just the same place to eat its snack – classic flycatcher behaviour. I call it the ‘watchful tyrant’ because the kingbird is nearly always there. Somewhere. If you look carefully and wait patiently. He stays in the shade, so he’s not bright with sunlight (or P/shop) in these photos. This is just the way he is.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Kingbirds are of the family Tyrannidae and the genus Tyrannus. The ‘tyrant’ group includes a number of flycatcher species commonly found on Abaco: the KINGBIRDS (loggerhead and gray), the CUBAN PEWEE and the LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER being the most familiar. Note the hook at the end of the beak; and the yellowish tinge to the undertail area.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

With the exception of the gray kingbird, the flycatchers named above are very common permanent breeders on Abaco. There’s probably one of them within 20 feet of your house right now. The gray, however, is a summer breeding resident. This is most helpful of it: if you see a kingbird between October and April, it will be a loggerhead. This gives you a 6-month window for near-certain ID.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

IT’S SUMMER – SO HOW DO I TELL A LOGGERHEAD FROM A GRAY?

EASY. CLICK HERE

All photos: Keith Salvesen; Cartoon by the legendary Birdorable

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACO: GOOD IMPRESSIONS


Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACO: GOOD IMPRESSIONS

The Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii is similar to its slightly smaller cousin, the widespread Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottis. The range of Bahama Mockingbirds is not restricted to the Bahamas themselves, and includes areas of  Cuba, Jamaica and TCI, so despite the name they are not an endemic species to the Bahamas.  They are also occasional vagrants to the United States, especially – for reasons of proximity – southeastern Florida.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Peter Mantle

The Bahama Mockingbird is browner than the greyish Northern Mockingbird, and has distinctive streaking and spotting to its breast and undercarriage. This may extend to what you might describe as the bird’s ‘trouser legs’, though I’m sure there’s a more technically correct term.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Charlie Skinner

Both mockingbird species are found on Abaco. The NMs are ubiquitous in towns, settlements, gardens, coppice and pine forest, whereas BMs are shyer and tend to be found in the pine forest and well away from humans and their operations. When we were putting together The Birds of Abaco, I went on a birding trip with Abaco birding legend Woody Bracey and Ohio bird photographer Tom Sheley. We took a truck into the pine forest down a logging track south of Delphi, and they were quick to locate a bird, not least because one was sitting prettily on a branch singing lustily and unmistakably. It was well within range of Tom’s massive lens; more of a struggle for my modest camera (below). Caught the cobwebs, though…

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

I was astounded by the beauty and variety of the song. It consisted of very varied notes and phrases, each repeated 3 or 4 times before moving on to the next sounds in the repertoire. Here is a short 18 second example I recorded, using my unpatented iPhone method, for which see HERE.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Alex Hughes

For those with interest in birdsong, here is a longer 1:13 minute song from the same bird, with largely different sounds from the first recording made minutes earlier. There’s even a decent stab at imitation of a 1960s Trimphone™. Had we not had to move on to Sandy Point for an appointment with some cattle egrets and American kestrels, I could have stayed listening for far longer.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

THE ‘SUBSPECIES’ THAT WASN’T…

More recently, on a trip in backcountry to find Kirtland’s warblers – we saw 4 – the slow-moving truck jolted to halt in the middle of nowhere. This was because a Bahama Mockingbird was right by the track. I fired off some quick shots out of the window into a rather difficult light, to find that we appeared to have found a new subspecies, the scarlet-faced mockingbird.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

The reason was clear, however. The bird had been pigging out on some red berries, and had managed to collect plenty of the juice round the base of its beak. Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

SO WHAT DOES A NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD LOOK LIKE, THEN?

I photographed the Northern Mockingbird below in a garden at Casuarina. The species is far tamer than its cousin, and seen side-by-side they are clearly very different. The range maps show the stark contrast between the very limited range of the Bahama Mockingbird and the vast distribution of the Northern Mockingbird.

220px-Northern_Mockingbird-rangemap

Northern Mockingbird, Abaco 1

Photos Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 6); Peter Mantle (2); Charlie Skinner (3); Keith Salvesen (4, 7, 8, 9); Alex Hughes (5); Susan Daughtrey (10). Range maps eBird & wiki.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Susan Daughtry