RUFF & READY: YET ANOTHER BIRD FIRST FOR ABACO


Ruff, Grand Bahama, Bahamas (2015) Duncan Mullis

THE FIRST RUFF IN THE BAHAMAS

RUFF & READY: YET ANOTHER BIRD FIRST FOR ABACO

The list of new bird species recorded for the Bahamas in general and Abaco in particular continues to grow longer. At the end of August it was a CANADA WARBLER (now also recently seen on Grand Bahama and possibly New Providence). Now, a mere 4 weeks later, it’s a Ruff (Calidris pugnax), a mid-sized Eurasian shorebird that, it seems, has a tendency to ‘vagrate’ across the Atlantic from time to time.

Ruffs: the normal range

Ruff, (N. America) Dick Daniels

You have to take new birds as you find them, of course. First, you may not have a camera with you to record the sighting for posterity. Secondly, the bird may not be perched prettily on a twig or a small rock. In this instance the legendary Woody Bracey found his Ruff in the prosaic and arguably unattractive setting of the Treasure Cay dump. He didn’t have a camera, and when he next went back with a camera to check for the bird the ruff had gone…

Ruff (m, non-breeding) J.M.Garg

Woody’s bird, a female (known as a Reeve), was standing next to a Lesser Yellowlegs. They are much the same height, but there the similarity ends – Ruffs are unmistakably plumper and with a shorter bill. Woody has good reason to recognise these rare and occasional transatlantic visitors, having often seen Ruffs both during his time living in the UK, and also in Africa. I’ve seen the appearance described as “like a gravy-boat”, which is well up there with the least useful descriptions of a bird’s appearance I have come across. Looked at another way, we have a couple of gravy boats that have an occasional outing. Neither looks remotely like a ruff.

Ruff (Old Print) nederlandsche_vogelen wiki

IS THE ABACO RUFF A NEW SPECIES FOR THE WHOLE BAHAMAS?

Very nearly… but not quite. Only two previous Ruff sightings are recorded, in 2015 and 2018, and both in the same area on Grand Bahama, towards West End. And the only photo is from birder Duncan Mullis, who in 2015 took the first and maybe only one of a Reeve with a bunch of much smaller sanderlings (see also header image close-up).

The first ruff in the BahamasRuff - Grand Bahama, Bahamas (Duncan Mullis 2015)

WHAT SHOULD WE KNOW ABOUT RUFFS?

In the breeding season in particular, male ruffs are very different from the smaller reeves. They acquire a spectacular colourful plumage that includes a sort of ornamental collar (hence the name). They enhance their courtship rituals with elaborate displays designed to impress the reeves. These occur in chosen areas known as leks, places where strutting, preening and general competitive showing off occur to attract a mate. Such arenas are also created by a few other bird species – grouse, blackcock and peafowl, for example. The ruff’s lekking behaviour has some complex variations – including same-sex ‘copulation’ and polyandry – but sadly this isn’t the place to explore them in detail.

WHAT DOES A LEK LOOK LIKE?

Here are two males with very different breeding plumages, giving it their all at the lek… When Carl Linnaeus described the ruff in his Systema Naturae, he gave it the binomial name Tringa pugnax, the latter word meaning  ‘aggressive’ – the lek can also become a combat zone between competing males.

Ruff Lek (Arjan Haverkamp) wiki

This male has decided to vogue it and ‘strike the pose’ as it preensRuff - male preening (B.S.Thurner-hof, wiki)

Writing in The Spruce, a new multi-interest resource I discovered in researching this article, Melissa Mayntz describes succinctly some of the common behaviour seen at leks. This includes some (or all) of the following (baby-boomers and dad-dancers may recognise some of these moves):

  • Bowing, dipping, or bending
  • Head bobbing or quick turns and nods
  • Strutting, stomping, kicks, or similar footwork
  • Exaggerated wing postures, such as fluttering, drooping, or spreading wings
  • Tails fanned, flared, cocked, or spread
  • Chests puffed out, often to reveal air sacs or distinct plumage
  • Calling, songs, drumming, or booming sounds
  • Dance-like sequences with multiple movements, possibly coordinated between partners after a female shows an interest in a specific mate

To which I’d add aggressive male territorial rivalry within the lek, leading to physical attacks with beak, claws and wings. Meanwhile the females watch from the edge to assess their chosen mates. The illustration below shows this rather charmingly.

Illustration of a lek by Johann Friedrich Naumann (1780–1857)Ruff Lek - Johannes Naumann

There’s a lot to be described about how ruff’s moult, but it’s not especially interesting for anyone but a moult specialist, so instead you can have a reminder of Ogden Nash’s last word on the topic: ‘The song of canaries / Never varies / And when they are moulting / They are pretty revolting…’ And we’ll leave migration as well, since basically that factor is N/A for our particular part of the world.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
JUST OUT OF CURIOSITY, CAN YOU EAT RUFFS / REEVES?
In former times ruffs were considered a delicacy and were eaten in large numbers. Often they would be fattened in pens in preparation for the table. I’ll finish with an old description: 
…if expedition is required, sugar is added, which will make them in a fortnight’s time a lump of fat: they then sell for two shillings or half-a-crown a piece… The method of killing them is by cutting off their head with a pair of ‘scissars’, the quantity of blood that issues is very great, considering the size of the bird. They are dressed like the Woodcock, with their intestines; and, when killed at the critical time, say the Epicures, are reckoned the most delicious of all morsels. Not a 21st century culinary trend I hope…

Ruffs in India (J. M. Garg)

Credits: Woody Bracey (sighting smarts); Duncan Mullis (1, 5); Dick Daniels (2); J.M.Garg (3, 9); Open Source / Wiki, prints (4, 8);  Arjan Haverkamp (6); B.S.Thurner-hof (7); Melissa Mayntz / The Spruce re Leks; debt to Wiki (and other O/S) for source material, photos, range map etc

CINNAMON TEAL: ANOTHER NEW BIRD FOR ABACO


Cinnamon Teal (Michael L Baird, Wiki)

CINNAMON TEAL: ANOTHER NEW BIRD FOR ABACO

Picture the scene. You take a camera to photograph the winter ducks on a local pond on South Abaco. Suddenly you notice something strange and out of place out there. Something unfamiliar. It’s a duck for sure; but not one you’ve ever seen before in your life. Maybe it’s one you know about. Maybe you have no idea what it is at all, and have to identify it later on from a book or online. Anyway, you take some shots before it dabbles off into the overgrown margins of the pond, and leave with a modest air-punch: it’s a “lifer”. 

Keith Kemp, principal monitor for Abaco Piping Plover Watch, has just had this experience. There, on the local pond with the blue-winged teal, was a stranger. For him, a “lifer”. And as it turns out, for Abaco also a “lifer”. The only record of one I have found for the Bahamas is a single vagrant sighted on Andros (see range map below). Here are Keith’s unique photos of Abaco’s first Cinnamon Teal.

Cinnamon Teal, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp)Cinnamon Teal, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp)Cinnamon Teal, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp)Cinnamon Teal, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp)

The cinnamon teal (Spatula cyanoptera) is a dabbling duck species found in western North America, and in South America. They live in and around marshes and ponds, feeding mostly on pond-weed and plants, along with any attached aquatic insects. On the range map below, note the single red dot in the Bahamas denoting the single vagrant sighting on Andros.

The duck is named for the overall colouring of the adult male has a cinnamon-red head and body; and it has startlingly noticeable orange-red eyes . The adult female, as is so often the way, is rather less showy –  a mottled brown, with a pale brown head, brown eyes, and a grey bill.  For those who like comparisons, it resembles a female blue-winged teal, a few of which are shown above (not the ones with the white stripe on the face, which are male blues). 

Cinnamon Teal pair(andeansolitaire wiki)

Since the publication of BIRDS OF ABACO in 2014, with its comprehensive checklist of all recorded species since 1950, several new species have been sighted on Abaco. The latest was only last month – the SCALY-NAPED PIGEON. Now we have a new species of duck. Conveniently, there’s no other ‘regular’ duck species quite like it. So if you see a pretty cinnamon-coloured duck on a pond near you, you’ll be looking at the newest ‘Bird of Abaco’. And if you do see one, please share the news!

Cinnamon Teal (Dick Daniels, carolinabirds.org Wiki)

Credits: Michael L Baird (1); Keith Kemp (2, 3, 4, 5,); ‘andeansolitaire’ (6); Dick Daniels / carolinabirds.org (7); special thanks to Terry Sohl / sdakotabirds.com for use permission for his range map; cartoon by the inimitable Birdorable

HUDSONIAN GODWITS ON ABACO: VANISHINGLY RARE


Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Roger Neilson)

HUDSONIAN GODWITS ON ABACO: VANISHINGLY RARE

MEET ‘HUGO’

Abaco continues to enhance its reputation as a prime birding destination. New species. Rare species. Unusual species. Endangered species. Surprising species. Every year they turn up, whatever the season. And those, of course, are only the ones that get seen by someone who knows what they are or anyway what they might be. This is where the digital camera – or even a modern phone camera – trumps (oops… stepping into a political minefield) the old-fashioned method of collecting and identifying specialist birds. Which was, shoot them…

Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Roger Neilson)

Woody Bracey, Abaco’s ornithological eminence grise, is currently hosting a party of birders on Abaco. On a visit to one of the excellent birding hotspots of South Abaco, the group of 5 came across an totally unexpected wading species mixed in with a group of yellowlegs. At first, they were thought to be Marbled Godwits. Further consideration confirmed the 2 birds to be equally rare Hudsonian Godwits Limosa haemastica (HUGOs for short). Since then, at least one of the birds has been seen in the same location by birder Keith Kemp.

hudsonian-godwit-abaco-stewart-neilson-2

SO JUST HOW EXCITING IS THIS SIGHTING?

Extremely! Both species of godwit are exceptionally rare on Abaco and indeed in the Bahamas. They are officially classified as V5, which is to say vagrant / accidental visitors outside their normal range, with fewer than five records since… records began. In practical terms, the baseline is considered to be 1950. There must have been at least one previous sighting of a HUGO on Abaco, but Woody has never seen one before, nor does he know when the report was made. And he knows his godwits – he is the person who, some years ago, saw the MAGO on Abaco that accounts for its existence as a V5 in the complete checklist for Abaco.

hudsonian-godwit-abaco-stewart-neilson-1

WHERE DOES HUGO LIVE?

These large shorebirds – a species of sandpiper – with their long, upturned bills, breed in Arctic or tundra regions, and winter in southern South America. Note in the photo above the contrast in size, bill and leg colouring compared to the yellowlegs they were mixing with. The Cornell range map below shows how remote the HUGO summer (red) and winter (blue) habitats are. And you can see clearly the two main migration routes – in the simplest terms, the central flyway and the eastern flyway. Neither route takes the birds directly over the Bahamas, although one can see how the occasional one might be blown off course and need a rest during its journey.

limo_haem_allam_mapHudsonian Godwit in flight, Abaco (Roger Neilson)

HOW OFTEN HAVE THEY BEEN SEEN IN OR AROUND THE BAHAMAS?

I checked the invaluable database EBIRD for HUGO reports over the last 10 years. The only previous report for the entire Bahamas was made by Bruce Purdy, who saw one one Grand Bahama (Reef Golf Course)… in 2007. Sightings in Florida over the period are scant. The most notable feature of the map clip below is that Bermuda has had a couple of HUGO visits, perhaps suggesting off-course birds finding an area of land to rest on in a vast expanse of open sea. Further afield, the birds are rare vagrants to Europe, and even to Australia and South Africa.

Hudsonian Godwit 10-year eBird sighting map

WHY ‘GODWIT’? OR HUDSONIAN? OR Limosa haemastica?

‘Godwit’ is said to derive from the bird’s call, in the same way as ‘Bobwhite’ and ‘Killdeer’ – so, these are birds that say their own name… The Hudson Bay area is one of the summer breeding grounds, and a place where the birds congregate for migration. ‘Limosa‘ derives from the Latin for mud (see header image); and ‘haemastica’ relates to their red breeding plumage, from the Ancient Greek for ‘bloody’. Bloody muddy. It’s not a great name, in truth. Let’s move swiftly on to what they sound like…

Doug Hynes / Xeno-Canto

Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Roger Neilson)

STOP PRESS As mentioned earlier, Keith Kemp found one of the HUGOs at the same location a couple of days later – a “lifer” for him and everyone else! Here are three images he posted on eBird.

Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Keith Kemp) Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Keith Kemp)Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Keith Kemp)

I always check a new species to see if it was depicted by Audubon. I didn’t expect him to have included the HUGO but I was wrong. He did, and with his characteristic slightly exaggerated elegance.

_57

This post is rather special, because these are almost certainly the first photographs of a Hudsonian Godwit taken on Abaco – or indeed in the entire Bahamas. And very good they are, too.  So even if a lone HUGO was noted on Abaco 40 years ago pausing briefly on a rock before continuing its journey to Argentina, I consider this qualifies as a new sighting. It certainly does for the c21.

Hudsonian Godwit (Crossley ID Guide, Eastern Birds)  463px-hudsonian_godwit_from_the_crossley_id_guide_eastern_birds

Credits: special thanks to Woody Bracey, Roger Neilson, and Keith Kemp (Stop Press) for photos, information and use permissions; Cornell Lab – Range Map; open source Audubon; Doug Hynes / Xeno-Canto; Crossley ID Guides; wiki and sundry standard sources for snippets

 

CARIBBEAN ENDEMIC BIRD FESTIVAL: NASSAU BIRDERS VISIT ABACO


DSC00298_3

CARIBBEAN ENDEMIC BIRD FESTIVAL: NASSAU BIRDERS VISIT ABACO

THE CARIBBEAN ENDEMIC BIRD FESTIVAL (CEBF) is a Caribbean-wide festival that aims to heighten awareness for birds generally in the region. It is sponsored by the excellent BIRDS CARIBBEAN organisation – click the link to see what it is all about. Birds, obviously, but from the points of view both of promoting and of preserving the rich avian variety throughout the Caribbean.

As part of the CEBF celebrations this month, a birding group from New Providence came to Abaco to explore the birdlife. The expedition group included several well-known local bird experts, all the better for locating and identifying species and ensuring a comprehensive checklist could be compiled. Also in the group was photographer Linda Huber, whose photos you will undoubtedly have seen in Bahamas publications, including the recently published small guide BEAUTIFUL BAHAMA BIRDS (click to see my review and further details – highly recommended for any birder from novice up). Here are a few of Linda’s photos of some of the birds seen during the expedition, a gallery that shows the extraordinary diversity of species to found in a short time on Abaco.

Apologies to those who received a ‘false start’ draft of this post. It was lunchtime, I was hungry, I pressed ‘Save Draft’… or thought I had. Why is the ‘Publish’ button so close? Oh. Right. I see. It’s not its fault, it’s mine…

Western Spindalis Spindalis zena             Abaco Parrot Amazona leucocephala bahamensis                       DSC00210_2  DSC00216_2

Bahama Yellowthroat Geothlypis rostrata                   Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachiiDSC00298_3 DSC00317_2

Bahama Warbler Setophaga flavescens                         Black-faced Grassquit Tiaris bicolorDSC00356_3 DSC00381_3

                                                        Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia                                                                DSC00371_2 DSC00378_2

Bahama Swallow Tachycineta cyaneoviridis              Cuban Pewee Contopus caribaeus bahamensis  DSC00399_3 DSC00413_2

Olive-capped Warbler Dendroica pityophila            Pearly-eyed Thrasher Margarops fuscatusDSC00422_2 DSC00501_3

                              West Indian Woodpecker Melanerpes superciliaris                                             DSC00475_2  DSC00278_3

                                                      Canada Goose Branta canadensis                                                                             DSC00566 DSC00642_2

White-cheeked Pintails Anas bahamensis                   Caribbean Coot Fulica caribaea     DSC00612_2 DSC00627_3

Muscovy Duck Cairina moschata                                   European Starling Sturnus vulgaris        DSC00639_2  DSC00524_2

Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor                    La Sagra’s Flycatcher Myiarchus sagrae lucaysiensisDSC00675_2 DSC00694_2_2

Cuban Emerald Chlorostilbon ricordii                        Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea DSC00721_2 DSC09484_2

The gallery above includes a number of specialist birds and others of particular interest. In brief:

  • 3 of the 4 ENDEMIC SPECIES found on Abaco (omitting only the Bahama Woodstar)
  • The famous, incomparable and indeed unique ground-nesting ABACO PARROT
  • 4 ‘local’ subspecies of birds also found beyond the Bahamas
  • 1 of only 5 resident warblers, the Olive-capped (of 37 recorded for Abaco)
  • The most recent addition to the birds recorded for Abaco PEARLY-EYED THRASHER
  • The WEST-INDIAN WOODPECKER, now found only on Abaco and (rarely) San Salvador
  • 2 or 3 introduced or domestic species (if that Muscovy Duck was at Gilpin Point it’s a pet!)
  • The debatable ‘Caribbean Coot’, about which it has been written**  The American Coot is familiar to all, but controversy surrounds the Caribbean Coot with its all-white frontal shield. Some authorities say it is a separate species; others say it is a true subspecies of the American Coot; some claim it is simply a local variant. Bond (1947) treats them as distinct species. The image below shows the two species together. They coexist contentedly and are indifferent to the debate.

American & 'Caribbean' Coot (Tony Hepburn)

The group on a Logging Track in the Abaco National ParkDSC00349

The New Providence Birding Group Expedition to AbacoDSC00706_3

 Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival Flyer

CREDITS All photos Linda Huber (with many thanks for use permission) except the pair of coots (Tony Hepburn) and the singing Bahama Yellowthroat in the BNT Flyer (Bruce Hallett)

** Keith Salvesen, The Birds of Abaco p22

PEARLY-EYED THRASHER – ANOTHER NEW BIRD FOUND ON ABACO


Margarops_fuscatus_Mike's Birds Wiki

 PEARLY-EYED THRASHER – ANOTHER NEW BIRD FOUND ON ABACO

Exactly a year ago, the ultimate, complete and utter Checklist of the birds of Abaco, compiled by Tony White with Woody Bracey, was published. It covers 4 pages of close print in THE BIRDS OF ABACO, and lists the 282 species recorded since 1950, including so-called ‘exotics’ but excluding so-called ‘pets’ (sadly your minah bird would not qualify). New sightings had been static since a BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS had made an unheralded appearance out at sea. In the last year, 5 new species have been recorded. The links to them are listed below. That Checklist already needs an update!

Pearly-eyed_ThrasherDick Daniels (Wiki)

The newest bird in town is the Pearly-eyed Thrasher (Margarops fuscatus). This is a bird in the family Mimidae, along with mockingbirds and the gray catbird. Until last November, no thrasher species had ever been recorded for Abaco. Then there was a sighting of a BROWN THRASHER. Just a few months later, its Pearly-eyed cousin has turned up right in the heart of Treasure Cay, seen by first by Erik Gauger and confirmed by Woody Bracey (each a contributor to THE BIRDS OF ABACO). 

This thrasher species is found widely throughout the Caribbean, though with several varieties that are genetically distinct. In the Bahamas, they breed on some of the southern islands. They are known to overwinter on Eleuthera and Cat Island, but have not previously been recorded as far north as Abaco. This sighting is important in suggesting that the species may be beginning to extend its range, although it could of course simply be a one-off ‘vagrant’, as they are officially yet disrespectfully known.

Pearly_Eyed_Thrasher,_Margarops_fuscatus (Kati Fleming Wiki)

Since the first sightings by Erik & Woody a couple of days ago, Woody has been out again with a camera seeking to obtain photographic  evidence of the bird. Last night he sent me a snapshot taken in difficult circumstances – the bird was being hassled by a Eurasian Collared Dove (who should have known better, being a non-native species itself…). The pearly eye is quite clear, as is the speckled front and white end to the underside of the tail. If  a clearer shot comes in, I’ll add it. So, TC-based birders, a Rolling Harbour Kalik challenge is on!

IMG_3432 copy

STOP PRESS Woody has sent a couple more photos of the PET taken right in the centre of Treasure Cay. Or perhaps there is a second one… and if so, different sexes… and if so, a nest, eggs, chicks, fledglings and in due course a new breeding species on Abaco… 

Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Treasure Cay, Abaco - Woody Bracey (new species for Abaco)IMG_3444 Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Treasure Cay, Abaco - Woody Bracey (new species for Abaco)

STOP PRESS April 2015 Erik Gauger has now written up his account of his discovery of this new species for Abaco. You can read it HERE (scroll down to the second article on the page)

The other photos I have used are ‘open source’ for obvious reasons, and credited below as far as the information is available…

 NEW ABACO BIRD SPECIES – MAR 2014 to MAR 2015

BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS

FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER

BROWN THRASHER

MASKED BOOBY

Photo credits with thanks for public postings: (1) ‘Mike’s Birds (2) Dick Daniels (3) Kati Fleming, and  (4) Woody Bracey

MASKED BOOBY: A SPECTACULAR NEW BIRD SPECIES FOR ABACO


Masked Boobies, Norfolk Island  (Steve Daggar - Wikimedia)

MASKED BOOBY: A SPECTACULAR NEW BIRD SPECIES FOR ABACO

Hot avian news has arrived today from Woody Bracey: the 4th brand new species recorded for Abaco within the last 12 months has just been sighted in Abaco waters, north of Great Guana Cay. It was a single Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra), a large seabird also known as a Masked Gannet (and it certainly looks quite gannet-like). [NB the photos in this post are obviously not of the new bird, but are illustrative of the species]

Masked booby & chick (Duncan Wright Wikimedia)

THE LOGGED SIGHTING DETAILS 

Date: Wed Jan 21, 2015 10:00 AM

Location: Deep Sea 2-15 miles off Great Guana Cay, Central Abaco, Hope Town and Green Turtle Cay, BS

Protocols: traveling – party size 2 – duration 6 hours – distance 30.0 miles

Observers: Karl Kleim and Kim Kuhnle; Reporter via Ebird, Elwood Bracey

Description:  Single Masked Booby “Large white bird sitting on the sea with a yellow-greenish bill and no yellow on the head, then flew a few 100 yards showing the black trailing edge to the wings and wingtips and tail. Adult female.”

Masked Booby Sighting Map 1 jpg      Masked Booby Sighting Map 2

Masked Booby Sula dactylatra (Drew Avery / Amada44 Wikimedia)

EIGHT ESSENTIAL MASKED BOOBY FACTS

  • First described by A French naturalist in 1831
  • One of six species of booby in the ‘Booby’ genus Sula 
  • The largest Booby species
  • The only other Booby species recorded for Abaco is the Brown Booby
  • The closest breeding populations to Abaco are off Mexico and southern Caribbean
  • Silent at sea, whistling greeting call in nesting colonies plus a repertoire of ‘hissing and quacking’
  • Spectacular diving abilities
  • 2 eggs are laid: very often the first chick to hatch kills the second (“Siblicide”)

Masked_Booby_Chick by Pauk (Wiki)

The wingspan of an adult Masked Booby can exceed 5 feetMasked_Booby_(Sula_dactylatra) by Drew Avery

Here’s looking at you…Masked Booby (SuperStock) jpg

ABACO’S OTHER RECENT NEW BIRD SPECIES

and before that, a hugely exciting seabird find

Credits: Steve Daggar, Duncan Wright, Drew Avery, Pauk, Superstock, Wiki images & open source