AWESOME HURRICANES & MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDS


Magnificent Frigatebirds, Barbuda (Frantz Delcroix & Eric Delcroix)

AWESOME HURRICANES & MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDS

‘Awesome’ in its original (and biblical) sense of ‘inspiring awe and fear’, I mean – as with hurricanes; not as in ‘awesome cupcakes’. And Magnificent because that’s what frigatebirds effortlessly are.

This post is about the resilience of birds after extreme weather events, and their powers of recovery. As we all recall, last autumn large areas of the Caribbean region were devastated by those twin furies, Irma and Maria. Islands that received direct hits from these destructive hurricanes were trashed with unimaginable ferocity, at a massive human, infrastructure and ecological cost from which slow recovery is still in progress. Barbuda was one of those islands.

Magnificent Frigatebirds, Barbuda (Frantz Delcroix & Eric Delcroix)

This is the heartening story of a colony of frigatebirds on Barbuda, where in the aftermath of the storms BirdsCaribbean members offered to survey the effects of the storms in terms of the natural history of the region. These included Frantz Delcroix and Eric Delcroix, who spent time on Barbuda in mid-October, 6 weeks after Hurricane Irma.

Magnificent Frigatebirds, Barbuda (Frantz Delcroix & Eric Delcroix)

Their assignment was to visit Codrington Lagoon, Barbuda, to carry out a survey of the Magnificent Frigatebirds to check how – or if – the sanctuary and its population was recovering six weeks after Hurricane Irma hit. The boat trip to the colony must have been tense; there might have been little or no colony left to survey.

Magnificent Frigatebirds, Barbuda (Frantz Delcroix & Eric Delcroix)

As they neared the location, and to their delight, they saw hundreds of frigatebirds in flight, with bushes adorned with the bright red gular pouches the males. In all they estimated 1,710 frigatebirds were in the colony. In a count of seven bushes alone, 279 birds (83 females and 196 males) were counted. Amazingly, 90% of the females were on nests and some of the birds were observed courting and mating, with males even carrying nest materials.

Magnificent Frigatebirds, Barbuda (Frantz Delcroix & Eric Delcroix)

Before the hurricane, the 4,000–5,000-strong frigatebird colony had chicks in the nest. Surveys just after the hurricane found no surviving chicks and only around 300 birds. Now, one and a half months later, there were more than 1,700 frigatebirds starting a new breeding period with almost all of the females nesting!

Magnificent Frigatebirds, Barbuda (Frantz Delcroix & Eric Delcroix)

The team were of course deeply affected by the damage and desolation on Barbuda, and the suffering of its people. In a purely environmental context, the frigatebirds were a small sign of hope. As was noted at the time, “witnessing the power of nature—its ability to inflict such damage, but also how it can quickly rebound—was an extraordinary experience. So, we did not leave without hope. Nature is resilient!

Magnificent Frigatebirds, Barbuda (Frantz Delcroix & Eric Delcroix)

BirdsCaribbean is an excellent and wide-ranging organisation that deserves support. You can ‘like’ it or follow it on FB HERE, sign up for regular emails, volunteer to get involved or donate on the website HERE, and maybe even consider a contribution to its ongoing hurricane recovery efforts HERE

Special thanks to Frantz Delcroix and Eric Delcroix for permission to use some of their wonderful photos taken during the survey; and to use parts of their review (with some adjustment to apply to the specifics of this post). Many thanks also to Lisa Sorenson, Executive Director of BirdsCaribbean, for her kind support whenever the occasion has arisen! 

 

BIRDS OF SAN SALVADOR, BAHAMAS: BOOK REVIEW


Birds of San Salvador (cover) JPG

THE BIRDS OF SAN SALVADOR, BAHAMAS

  • Authors: R. Hays Cummins, Mark R. Boardman, Mark L. McPhail
  • Published 1 Jan 2013, 132pp with 400+ images covering 54 species
  • Available spiral bound for $29.95 on Am@zon; and a steal at $3.16 for Kindle (£5.99 in the UK)
  • STOP PRESS Also available on iTunes for iPhone / iPad, where I imagine it looks great. Once downloaded, author Hays says it can be viewed on a Mac, certainly if you have the latest OS X Mavericks. UK price: a very modest £1.99 (= $3.30)

Within a couple of weeks of the decision to use Tom Sheley’s wonderful Bahama Woodstar as the ‘cover bird’ for “THE BIRDS OF ABACO”, another Bahamas bird book was announced. The same colourful and enchanting endemic bird had also commended itself to the authors for their cover. I wrote to Hays Cummins at once to check whether he would mind another Bahamas bird book encroaching on the territory, especially one using the same cover bird into the bargain. He very charmingly said it would be fine and declared his support for our (luckily) rather different project.

It’s been a while since I added to the section BOOKS, but I thought I’d mention this one for two reasons. First, it is described as ‘A Photo Essay of Common Birds’, which in practical terms means that most if not all of the species featured will be common to the northern Bahamas and therefore familiar on Abaco. Secondly, I very much like the format of the book: there are clear photos; and all necessary general information including notes on individual characteristics and similar species is presented in an easily assimilable way. Were the Delphi book not designed to be the 2 kg bird-showcasing non-field guide doorstop it is, the San Salvador book is one I should liked to have produced! Birds of San Salvador (sample page 1) Birds of San Salvador (sample page 2) DESCRIPTION “This enchanting book addresses a need for an important audience, the budding naturalist, which many of our students are. Without fanfare and pomposity, the book presents beautiful and inspiring photos and lively discussion, but does not indulge in the details of the accomplished birder. The authors present information about the natural history of birds on San Salvador, Bahamas, not through the eyes of a professional or advanced birder, but through the eyes and photographic lenses of inquiring educators and naturalists. This book will help capture and catalyze the interests of aspiring birders and will be an asset for introductions to the birds of the Bahamas and neighboring Caribbean. Over 400 images, representing 54 species, are all original and include a variety of behaviors and highlight recognition characteristics. The authors’ aesthetic photography, printed on high quality paper, will help reinforce identification and enjoyment. Birds are organized by habitat (Coastal, Interior, and Lakes & Ponds), not by taxonomic affinities. A taxonomic index is included.” 

I’m pleased to see the decision to depart from the usual taxonomic ordering of species, though I recognise that for a serious field guide that tradition is pretty much sacrosanct. We played around with categories and sub-categories a bit (sea birds, water birds, land birds; big, medium, small; cute, splendid, dull, plug-ugly) before settling on Peter Mantle’s excellent idea of straight alphabetical organisation. For a mainly photographic book this gives an element of surprise to turning the pages, and avoids  e.g. 37 pages of warblers species, mostly yellow, all huddled together.  Birds of San Salvador (sample page 4) Birds of San Salvador (sample page 5) I notice that there is a single Amazon review, a good one, that says “This guide to one of the lesser known islands in the Bahamas is a nice one. While not exhaustive, it covers most of the species likely to be seen on San Salvador. The style is unorthodox for a field guide (elements of humor, gives brief description of species, but no real key field marks), the descriptions, locations on the island, and behaviors make this guide useful for those visiting San Salvador. The photographs are excellent.” Birds of San Salvador (sample page 3)For anyone interested in a useful reference guide to the common birds of Abaco, and in possession of a Kindle, this book is easily worth getting electronically.  ‘To be brutally honest’ (™ Sandy Walker), I’d like in due course to produce a small book very like this for Abaco, but it would obviously be naked plagiarism to do that, so of course I won’t. Still, all the same…