NO LAUGHING MATTER: A DISHEVELLED GULL ON ABACO


Laughing Gull (non-breeding adult) Sandy Point, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

NO LAUGHING MATTER: A DISHEVELLED GULL ON ABACO

By the end of day 2 during my recent stay at Sandy Point, I thought that I had had just about enough of the laughing gulls Leucophaeus atricilla. They are delightful of course, and (in small doses) a joy to listen to. But their incessant outbursts of humour were getting beyond a joke.

Laughing Gull (non-breeding adult) Sandy Point, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

The next day, on the nearby jetty, the gulls were in full cry. A lone brown pelican stood on top of a piling, looking out to sea. A few Royal Terns turned their faces, characteristically, into the light wind. I wandered over and slowly walked down the jetty. This generated some laughter, but the birds were quite content to watch me edge slowly towards them.

Laughing Gull (non-breeding adult) Sandy Point, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Probably, the gulls feel safety in numbers. Maybe they hope the din will send you away. Or perhaps, if approached very carefully, they are simply curious. I got close to the birds, and one in particular caught my eye. It was plainly having a bad-feather day. I took it to be a non-breeding adult, but it lacked the white spots on the tail-feathers (primaries). Maybe it was a first winter juvenile. Whichever, it was happy to pose for me.

Laughing Gull (non-breeding adult) Sandy Point, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

I realised, of course, that the jetty belonged to the birds, including the ruddy turnstones that had just joined the gang at the end of the jetty. I was the intruder in their world, and I had willingly visited their territory. So their racket was entirely their business, and absolutely none of mine**.

Laughing Gull (non-breeding adult) Sandy Point, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

WHAT DO LAUGHING GULLS SOUND LIKE? ARE YOU OVERSENSITIVE?

I made a couple of short recordings of the gulls in full humour mode. If you have never heard them before, you might want to listen to the full 30 seconds. For anyone else there’s a convenient lull at around 15 secs before they kick off again.

Breeding adult (Birdorable)

**In the UK there’s a thing where someone buys an attractive cottage next to the c15 village church. Then they discover that the clock chimes. And the bell-ringers practise their art on Monday and Thursday evenings. And on Sunday all hell breaks loose, especially if there is Sunday cricket on the village green in the mix. And the occasional ball being hit into the flowerbed. So, complaints are made to the Council, noise abatement orders are sought, legal letters fly round the Parish. And everyone hates the newcomers. Adopting village life with no research? Way to go!

All photos + audio clip: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

Laughing Gull (non-breeding adult) Sandy Point, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

“MEET THE FLOCKERS…” ON ABACO


Ruddy Turnstones, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

“MEET THE FLOCKERS…” ON ABACO

I’ve been checking out jetties at Sandy Point, of which there are several. They look a bit rickety but are in fact sound except for having to step rounds piles of (empty) conch shells and occasional evidence on the timbers of recent fish-cleaning. This is a time of Laughing Gulls, and I have been recording their raucous hilarity. I may add a couple of sound files when I’ve downloaded them.

Sharing a jokeLaughing Gulls, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Right now, ruddy turnstones and laughing gulls seems to have formed a team of jetty birds, with a few royal terns in the mix and (as here) a random sanderling. The turnstones like to lie down in the hot sun on the jetty, possibly because it’s a bit breezier than on the burning sand of the beach.

Exhausted from turning stones

Random sanderlingRuddy Turnstones, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

These jokers are wild…Laughing Gulls, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

The jetties also attract pelicans, which use them to sun themselves and also to fish from. I will post about these remarkable birds another time. The largest flock of them I have seen so far is 5, one with a gold ‘breeding crown’.

Ruddy Turnstones, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

The gulls also spend time on the beach, and flock on the sandbars that emerge at low tideLaughing Gulls, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

All photos: Keith Salvesen

Laughing Gulls, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

 

TAKING TERNS KISSING: AN ABACO ROMANCE


Royal Terns, Sandy Point, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

TAKING TERNS KISSING: AN ABACO ROMANCE

There’s a time and a place for anthropomorphising animal behaviour in terms of human responses. Usually it’s best done with caution or not at all… I’m going to press ahead, though, with a romantic encounter between two Royal terns today at Sandy Point, Abaco. Ultimately, this appeared to be an approach, a come-on, a poorly executed attempt at intimacy, and ultimately a rejection. Or else it’s just bird interchange that we should not read too much into…

Good afternoon, I should like to get to know you better…Royal Terns, Sandy Point, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Would you do me the honour of commencing a relationship?Royal Terns, Sandy Point, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Indeed I would, kind Sir!Royal Terns, Sandy Point, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

*Boastfully* I happen to be the most handsome and regal tern this side of Marsh HarbourRoyal Terns, Sandy Point, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

I’m going to give you a peck that you’ll never forget…Royal Terns, Sandy Point, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Whaaaaaa? Wait… Too much, too soon. I hardly know youRoyal Terns, Sandy Point, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

You’ve moved as far away as possible on this post – you have no idea what you’re missingRoyal Terns, Sandy Point, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

 I’ll be the judge of that. I’m off, don’t try to follow me…Royal Terns, Sandy Point, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: all photos (artfully taken in fairly poor light), corny storyline, inappropriate anthropomorphism – Keith Salvesen

GREEN HERON FISHING: GILPIN POND, ABACO, BAHAMAS


GREEN HERON FISHING, GILPIN POND, ABACO, BAHAMAS (Keith Salvesen Photography)

GREEN HERON FISHING

GILPIN POND, ABACO, BAHAMAS

The brackish pond at Gilpin Point near Crossing Rocks is generally a reliable place to find waterbirds. For those birding on South Abaco (in many respects, one big hotspot) Gilpin is definitely worth a visit at almost any time. Bear in mind it is (a) a longish private road (we got a puncture down there once…**) and (b) it is private land. However, the owner Perry Maillis is always welcoming to tidy birders who bring only enthusiasm and take only pictures. Plus he very kindly changed our wheel!

We found this small Green Heron quite easily. We’d watched it fly onto a stump in the pond near the jetty, then fly closer to the shoreline. By tiptoeing onto the jetty, we could see the bird perched close to the water, inspecting it with a fierce and predatory eye. Both eyes, in fact. 

GREEN HERON FISHING, GILPIN POND, ABACO, BAHAMAS (Keith Salvesen Photography)

The hunting technique is deceptively simple. Note the long sharp stabbing beak. Note the large feet and claws for gripping securely Here’s how it is done. As a fish is sighted, so the heron leans gradually forwards, beak dipping closer to the water, the body more streamlined to look at. The procedure is beginning in the image above.

The stance means ‘small fish – 5 feet off – moving left and closing – prepare to strike‘. As the prey unwittingly approaches, the bird slowly tilts further forward unless its beak almost touches the water, the quicker and closer to strike.

GREEN HERON FISHING, GILPIN POND, ABACO, BAHAMAS (Keith Salvesen Photography)

The actual strike is so rapid that it is barely possible to see with the naked eye, let alone to photograph it clearly (not on my type of camera anyway). But the end result is rarely in doubt, with a small fish struggling but securely held in that long, clamping beak. It will be down the heron’s gullet in a matter of seconds.

GREEN HERON FISHING, GILPIN POND, ABACO, BAHAMAS (Keith Salvesen Photography)

I left the heron as it settled slowly back into ‘scanning the water mode’ while I went to watch some lesser yellowlegs nearby. Some minutes later, the heron was still contentedly fishing from its vantage point. 

GREEN HERON FISHING, GILPIN POND, ABACO, BAHAMAS (Keith Salvesen Photography)

ROUGH GILPIN CHECKLIST

Species we have found on and around the pond include black-necked stilts, little blue heron, great blue heron, tricolored heron, snowy egret, reddish egret, yellow-crowned night heron, the relatively rare and very shy sora, hordes of white-cheeked pintails, northern pintails, lesser yellowlegs, belted kingfisher, turkey vulture, smooth-billed ani, American kestrel, Bahama woodstar, Cuban emerald, Mucovy duck (Perry’ pet!) – and the green heron of course.

As a bonus, Gilpin has become an increasingly regular stop for raucous flocks of Abaco parrots. Rarer species found there include American flamingo (rare vagrant), brown pelican, double-crested cormorants, and limpkins. On the beach 5 minutes walk away, there are usually shorebirds including rare piping plovers, Wilson’s plovers, turnstones; gull and tern species; and passing tropicbirds & magnificent frigatebirds flying high over the water.

FOR MORE ABOUT GREEN HERONS: SHARP-EYED SHARP BILLED

** I realise that strictly I should be saying ‘flat’ here, but that might be confusing for Euro-readers, who would understand that to mean that we had rented (or purchased) an apartment in a larger dwelling house containing similar accommodation. 

All photos, Keith Salvesen except the cute chick, Charlie Skinner; and the cute cartoon GH, Birdorable…

GREEN HERON FISHING, GILPIN POND, ABACO, BAHAMAS (Charles Skinner)

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)