BUNTING(S) FOR AN ABACO CHRISTMAS: AN OLD TRADITION


Painted Bunting, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

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 BUNTING(S) FOR AN ABACO CHRISTMAS: AN OLD TRADITION

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BUNTING  /ˈbʌntɪŋ/  (Noun)

[A Christmas gift of a puntastic avian / festive double-meaning]
  1. A small New World songbird of the cardinal subfamily
  2. Flags and other colourful festive decorations

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PAINTED BUNTINGPainted Bunting, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

One of the Winterval traditions at Rolling Harbour HQ – that haven of unreliable natural science powered by lazy insouciance and characterised by a regrettably unserious approach – is to break the rule that (mostly) forbids reposting old material without good reason (which there occasionally is). This means marking the imminence of Christmas with bunting. And indeed buntings, those lovely birds beautifully painted by nature. Nothing says ‘Happy Christmas’ better than a flock of PABU!

painted-buntingimagesimagesimagespainted-bunting copyPainted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

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Painted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

It’s hard to imagine a more Christmassy little bird than the Painted Bunting. Bright blue, red, green primary colours straight from a child’s paintbox make for a spectacular bird to grace the festive season. These are migratory winter residents, and the first reports of the bright and beautiful males on Abaco started to appear in late October. Some will stay around until March.

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A female & a male PABU feeding together, and a male with a pair of black-faced grassquitsPainted Buntings (M & F), Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Painted Bunting, Delphi, Abaco (Sandy Walker)

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The two wonderful photos below are by Tom Sheley, a major photographic contributor to THE BIRDS OF ABACO. They were actually taken in Texas, but I include them because of Tom’s strong connection with the birdlife of Abaco; and also because they are fantastic shots…
Painted Bunting reflection, Laguna Seca.South TX Tom SheleyPainted Bunting dip reflection LR.Laguna Seca.South TX. 4.16.13.Tom Sheley

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This is my opportunity to wish a very Happy Christmas or [insert preferred seasonal appellation] to everyone who visits Rolling Harbour and especially those who, having done so, return for more! There could of course be anything from 600,000+ individuals who called in once, were put-off and never came back… to one sadly crazed person who has been pressing the ‘read’ button 600,000+ times over the last few years. If the former, thanks for trying, sorry to disappoint. If the latter, keep up the good work, buddy.

Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 7, 8), Erik Gauger (2), Tara Lavallee (3, 4), Keith Salvesen (5); Sandy Walker (6); Birdorable Cartoons

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Painted Bunting.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

BOOKCOMBING: BIRDS OF THE WEST INDIES (MK 2)


BOOKCOMBING: BIRDS OF THE WEST INDIES (MK 2)

The number of bird books that are devoted entirely to the Bahamas is very small. Most books that include the region have a wider ambit. They feature birds of the West Indies as a whole, many of which are also found on Abaco but a good proportion of which are not. The header image, for example, is a resolutely non-Abaconian Jamaican Tody and is the cover bird for the book featured in this post.

Birds of Abaco by Keith Salvesen

In the early days of this blog I started a ‘birdyography’ page (accessible on the menu bar at the top under BOOKS ETC). This includes most (if not all) of the books most helpful for Bahamas birders, and all are field guides except for one. That’s my own Birds of Abaco, which some have described using the words ‘table’ in conjunction with ‘coffee’. Anyway, at nearly 2 kilos it’s certainly not a pocket field guide, nor even a backpack one…

The go-to Bahamas field guide is Bruce Hallett’s magisterial Birds of the Bahamas and TCI. So far so very good – except that it is out-of-print and highly sought after. I have just checked and a copy on Abe.com comes in at around $300! I have 3 copies but 2 are out on loan, probably permanently… There are several other book contenders for consideration, all appearing on my book list linked above.

These include the legendary James Bond’s book dating from 1936 (see HERE for more) and its many subsequent incarnations (my 1947 2nd edition shown above, also featuring a tody); Brudenell-Bruce’s charming but dated book; Rafaelle’s rather good Field Guide of the Birds of the West Indies; and the excellent recent Bahamas-produced book Beautiful Bahama Birds by Carolyn Wardle, Lynn Gape and Predensa Moore that features most of the birds one might be likely to see, with help with locations and so on. I reviewed it HERE

                                                                 

FLIEG & SANDER: A NEW EDITION

There’s one small book that is, at first glance, far too wide in scope and slim to be of much use in the Northern Bahamas. However, it contains many of the birds that a casual birder might come across on Abaco. It’s not comprehensive by any means, but it’s useful and handy. First published in 2000 with subsequent reprints, Birds of the West Indies by Flieg and Sander was repackaged as a new edition last year. I meant to write about it sooner; now I have got round to it. Here is a photo of the original – already a small pocket-sized book – and on top, the new revised edition: slimmer, lighter and apparently more up-to-date.

This compact pocket guide has 144 pages of photos of some 250 species, with brief descriptions (135 pp in the old version). Bird groups are listed under numerous helpful coloured-coded corner tabs (‘Gulls & Terns’; ‘Woodpeckers’; ‘Vireos’ etc). The book also contains (very) brief notes on birding locations; a detailed guide to the endemics throughout the region covered; a glossary; a reading list; and a decent index. 

   

The photos in the original are generally quite clear and helpful for ID by the puzzled amateur birder; but inevitably the use of pre-millennial photographic equipment does not quite do the birds justice in terms of the bird book images we have become accustomed to in the digital age.

           

Recognisable as our beloved parrots but showing their age in digital times…

The disappointment is that Bloomsbury decided to go with what they had, a dated book that might have benefitted from a more radical approach to the contents as well as the design. Basically the very neat new edition is the old one repackaged in a better format, with few detectable changes to the original. In fact, the text itself seems unaltered. Most probably – since this is a budget book – a radical reworking was simply not a practical or cost-effective option. This means that changes between 2000 and 2017 go unremarked. For example (as far as the Bahamas is concerned):

  1. The endemic bird we know as the Bahama Oriole (called Black-cowled Oriole in the book) was originally correctly described as ‘a resident of Andros‘, but also said to be ‘a rare resident of Abaco… threatened by unknown factors’. In fact by 2000, the bird was already believed to be extirpated from Abaco during the previous decade. None has been found since, and no one now expects to find one. The text, however, is unchanged in the new edition.
  2. The original edition gives the Bahamas 3 endemic species: the swallow, the woodstar and the yellowthroat. Unchanged for the new edition is the fact that in 2011, the AOU awarded endemic status to another species – the Bahama Warbler. I haven’t checked for other locations, but similar changes have occurred over the period elsewhere in the region covered, so further inaccuracies are pretty inevitable.

Overall I’d say (as I did originally) this is a useful and handy little guide for ID of the mainstream birds you are likely to encounter on Abaco. It would do perfectly well as a book to take out and about with you for those “what on earth is that?” moments. For the interested birder travelling light for a few days, this would serve the purpose, with the added benefit of being cheap – around $15. Beware when online, especially on eBay. People are still selling old editions without reference to the new one, and at much the same price. You want to make sure you get the improved slimline version…

If I now had to recommend for an affordable, simple, portable, practical bird guide for the casual birder in the Bahamas, then I would go now go for Beautiful Bahama Birds. It is Bahamas-specific for a start; although it contains drawings rather than photographs, they are fresh and informative; it was published in 2014 and is as accurate as you could wish for as at that date; and it has a great deal more useful information for Bahamas (as opposed to more general) birding. The link to my detailed review is given above.

Credits: well, I took some photos from the book and publishers material (eg a good crop for the header image) for non-commercial illustrative purposes, so it’s more like apologies to publishers New Holland (original ed.) and Bloomsbury (new ed.). Last image – RH.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot (Keith Salvesen)

ROYAL TERNS ON THE LONG DOCK, CHEROKEE


Royal Tern, Long Dock Cherokee Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

ROYAL TERNS ON THE LONG DOCK, CHEROKEE

Royal terns Thalasseus maximus seem to have a great liking – quite rightly – for the charms of Cherokee, Abaco. Of the 12 tern species recorded for Abaco, ROTEs are the only permanent residents. Most of the others are summer visitors; a couple are winter visitors; and the rest pass through as migrating ‘transients’, stopping to rest and refuel on their long journeys. So ROTEs are undoubtedly the most commonly found terns on Abaco, and some might say the finest. And Cherokee Long Dock is one place to find them.

Royal Tern, Long Dock Cherokee Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

The historic LONG DOCK at Cherokee stretches far out into the sea to accommodate the varying tide levels of the area – click the link for more information and photos. It is a memorable feature for visitors, and much loved by locals. Also by the royal terns. 

Royal Tern, Long Dock Cherokee Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

The dock provides an ideal safe platform for ROTEs to congregate and hang out. They have a perfect view of the small fishes that make up their diet as they swim in the clear turquoise waters a few feet below. Watching these birds diving off the dock after a fish is nearly as entertaining as watching brown pelicans dive off the jetty at Sandy Point.

Royal Tern, Long Dock Cherokee Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

There are buoys in the bay as well, and individual birds will fly from the dock to perch on a buoy and check out the fishing round it, before returning to the dock – hopefully with a fish in its beak. And the juveniles, with their endearing beginner ‘hair’styles (see #3) can learn the ropes from their elders and betters.

Royal Tern, Long Dock Cherokee Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

People often stroll the length of the dock, or pause on it to pass the time of day and watch the optimistic bonefishers casting hopefully at their silver prizes. These fish are often easier to see from the dock than from wading level – people sometimes shout helpful encouragement: “There… going left…look!… 20 feet in front of you… no, THERE…” and so on. The terns take little notice of all this. A group of people, especially with a dog, might persuade the birds to take flight, but they return as soon as they can; or simple move along the dock and settle in a different place.

Royal Tern, Long Dock Cherokee Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

The plaque for the long dock shows its importance to the community

The dock is so long that it tapers to a vanishing point on the horizon

KNOW YOUR TERNS (WITH THE ADMIRABLE BIRDORABLE)

Abaco has these species plus three moreBirdorable: Tern Species

Credits: Keith Salvesen Photography; BIRDORABLE, with thanks for their wit and amazingly effective highlighting of the essential distinguishing features of bird species

Springboard…Royal Tern, Long Dock Cherokee Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

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)

PLOVER APPRECIATION DAY 2018: ABACO’S 6 TREASURES


Wilson's Plover Chick, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

PLOVER APPRECIATION DAY 2018: ABACO’S 6 TREASURES

Every day of the year, or so it seems, at least one worthy creature has been awarded an ‘Appreciation Day’, a special day when a particular species has its profile raised and awareness spread around. It certainly seems to be the case with birds; I’m going to assume that it applies to all the other classes of animal – mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates, each with their own worthy candidates for recognition. Except for no-see-ums, obviously. And fire ants, I hope. You’d think standing on a nest while taking photos just once in a lifetime would be a lesson. I’ve done it twice… Anyway, yesterday was Plover Appreciation Day 2018.

PLOVERS ON ABACO

Until recently Abaco had 33 recorded shorebird species but since the first-ever sightings of a BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER in 2016, the number has risen to 34. Of these, a mere 6 are plovers: 

  • Black-bellied Plover                        Pluvialis squatarola                      WR 1
  • American Golden Plover                 Pluvialis dominica                         TR 4
  • Wilson’s Plover                                Ochthodromus wilsonia             PR B 2
  • Semipalmated Plover                     Charadrius semipalmatus            WR 2
  • Piping Plover                                    Charadrius melodus                     WR 3
  • Killdeer                                              Charadrius vociferus                    WR 2

The codes tell you, for any particular bird, when you may see it (P = permanent, WR = winter resident, TR = transient); whether it breeds (B) on Abaco; and your chance of seeing it, graded from easy (1) to vanishingly unlikely (5)

The best-known of the 6 Abaco plover species is the Wilson’s Plover, because it is the only permanent resident. The American Golden Plover is a rare transient, but we luckily have a photo of one (below) taken on Abaco. All the others are winter residents and easy to middling hard to find.

The Piping Plover is the most interesting species, with a mere 8000 left in the world. There is a vigorous conservation program to protect them and their habitat, both in their breeding grounds in the North and their southern overwintering grounds. Their summer breeding range is in Canada and the Great Lakes, north-central US, and the eastern seaboard. In winter they migrate south, many to the Bahamas – and Abaco is one of their preferred homes. We count as many as we can between August and February, report the banded ones, and find out their origins and histories

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER  Pluvialis squatarola   WR 1

Non-breeding plumage (as you would see normally it on Abaco, without the black belly)Black-bellied Plover intermediate plumage. Marls. Abaco Bahamas. Tom Sheley

 Breeding plumage – and the reason for the nameBlack-bellied Plover (breeding plumage), Bahamas (Linda Barry-Cooper)

AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER  Pluvialis dominica  TR 4

American Golden Plover, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)

 SEMIPALMATED PLOVER Charadrius semipalmatus WR 2

Semi-palmated Plover, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)Semipalmated Plover (f nb), Abaco - Bruce Hallett

KILLDEER Charadrius vociferus WR 2

Kildeer, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

PIPING PLOVER  Charadrius melodus WR 3

Piping Plover, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)Piping Plover, Abaco Bahamas (Peter Mantle)Piping Plover, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

WILSON’S PLOVER Ochthodromus wilsonia  PR B 2

This permanent resident plover is a year-round presence on the Delphi Club beach, where in summer they nest and raise their tiny fluffball chicks. They are especially significant on Abaco as the only breeding plover species – it’s the only chance we get to see plover nests and chicks… (see header image and below).

Wilson's Plover, Delphi Club Beach, Abaco - Craig NashWilson's Plover, Abaco 12

RELATED POSTS

PIPING PLOVERS

50 WAYS TO PLEASE YOUR PLOVER

WILSON’S PLOVERS (1) ‘Dream Plover’

 WILSON’S PLOVERS (2) Nest Protection

 WILSON’S PLOVERS (3) Scrapes, Chicks & Broken Wings

SEMI-PALMATED PLOVERS

Photo credits: Tom Sheley (1, 2); Linda Barry-Cooper (3); Tony Hepburn (4, 5, 8); Bruce Hallett (6, 7); Peter Mantle (9); Keith Salvesen (10, 13); Sandy Walker (11); Craig Nash (12); Charmaine Albury (14)

Piping Plover, Abaco Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)

COOTS FIGHTING & THE CARIBBEAN COOT DEFEATED


Coots Fighting (Phil Lanoue)

COOTS FIGHTING & THE CARIBBEAN COOT DEFEATED

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…

Coots Fighting (Phil Lanoue)Coots Fighting (Phil Lanoue)Coots Fighting (Phil Lanoue)

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):

American Coot - Bahamas - Great Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

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'Caribbean' (now American' Coot - white frontal shield - Abaco, Bahamas. Woody Bracey

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.

American Coot (Keith Salvesen)

RELATED POSTS

COOT AND GALLINULE  FEET: THE (BIG) DIFFERENCES

HOW THE MOORHEN (= GALLINULE) GOT ITS NAME

American Coot.Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Credits: Phil Lanoue (1 – 4); Gerlinde Taurer (5); Woody Bracey (6); Keith Salvesen (7); Tom Sheley (8). Research inc. eBird Caribbean – an excellent resource to check out

BAHAMA MAMA: BIG NEWS ABOUT A TINY BIRD


Piping Plover Bahama Mama, Michigan / Abaco (Carol Cooper)

BAHAMA MAMA: BIG NEWS ABOUT A TINY BIRD

The bird in the header image is the presciently named Bahama Mama in Muskegon State Park, Michigan – so, one of the rare Great lakes piping plovers. She originally hatched and was banded as a chick in 2014 at Tawas MI, some distance away from Muskegon. When later named in 2015 by Muskegon monitor Carol Cooper, no one could possibly have known then where she would chose to overwinter. The Bahamas, as it turned out – the avian equivalent of nominative determinism.

Piping Plover Chick (MDF / Wiki)

This little bird is the perfect example to demonstrate the success of (a) an organised monitoring and recording system in the breeding grounds of these rare birds; (b) the use of easily identified coded banding and (c) the deployment of ‘citizen scientists’ to back up the professionals in the overwintering grounds such a Abaco.

A combination of the three factors leads over time to the compilation of a life story. Invariably there will be gaps, but let’s take a look at what we know about Bahama Mama, in her own dedicated timeline. Note two things: her beach fidelity; and the evidence of mate infidelity…

  • 2014 Born Muskegon State Park, MI
  • 2015 Nested with Little Guy and raised chicks. Winter location unknown
  • 2016 Returned to Muskegon and again successfully nested with a new male, Bear, from Sleeping Bear Dunes Park MI. (Little Guy went off with another female on the same beach…)
  • 2016 Resighted in October on Long Beach Abaco and stayed for several months
  • 2017 Back at Muskegon and raised chicks again with Little Guy
  • 2017 Again resighted  in October on Long Beach Abaco and overwintered
  • 2018 Back at Muskegon, initially back with Little Guy, eventually nested with Enforcer

The official record of the latest union – evidence of fickleness

This summer 4 chicks  were hatched. Sadly, one of them (Ringo, 2 pics below) was lost, presumed predated, leaving 3 to fledge.

Bahama Mama with one of her chicksBahama Mama & Chick, Muskegon MI (Carol Cooper)

Little Ringo RIPRingo Piping Plover, Muskegon MI (Carol Cooper)

Another of the chicks

These are rare and threatened birds, vulnerable at both ends of their migration for all the usual reasons. The studies undertaken at both ends of the migration have revealed astonishing beach loyalty in these little birds that travel up to 1500 miles (sometimes more) every Spring and every Fall to be somewhere safe to nest and breed; and then to overwinter. In Michigan, Carol Cooper is Bahama Mama’s mama, watching over her, recording the details, checking when she has left the beach, and anxiously watching each Spring for her arrival home.

On Abaco, these duties – pleasures, even – are undertaken by ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH and the team of citizen scientists who keep an eye on the beaches, count the birds, note the banded birds and photograph them for ID, and pass the info on to HQ (which happens to be me). The data from all sightings is collated and then the season’s stats are compiled and provided to the scientists involved. Here’s a summary of stats for last season: 

Abaco Piping Plover Watch Stats 2017-18 (Keith Salvesen)

Bahama Mama, first sighting on Long Beach Abaco Oct 2017Bahama Mama Piping Plover, Long Beach Abaco (Keith Kemp)

Photo Credits: Carol Cooper (1, 3, 4, 5, 6); MDF (2); Keith Kemp (7). Special thanks to Carol Cooper, monitor in Michigan; and to Keith Kemp, primary monitor on Abaco. Also to Todd Pover CWFNJ and all the other real scientists involved for the last 3 years

POLITE REQUEST

If you live on Abaco or its cays anytime between August and March and might be interested in helping with piping plover research by becoming a monitor, please get in touch with me. It’s very simple and undemanding. A beach stroll from time to time – even as little as once a month – with a notebook, pencil, binoculars, a chocolate bar and (preferably for accurate ID of banded birds) a camera. Not a dog, though. Not on this walk anyway! Every report, even of a single bird, adds to the picture. Last season there was more than one ‘citizen scientist’ sighting of a plover where none had been seen before.