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)

PALM WARBLERS: ‘HEADS-UP FOR BUTTERBUTTS’


Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett / Tom Sheley)

PALM WARBLERS: ‘HEADS-UP FOR BUTTERBUTTS’

I realise that the title of this post has its unattractive aspects. This is a family blog, and we try to keep references to ‘butts’ and so forth to a minimum. But like it or not, the Palm Warbler is one of two species** that have acquired the nickname ‘butterbutt’.  They weren’t even consulted; birders just went ahead with it without checking how they’d feel about it.

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

On the other hand, it’s easy to see how this minor linguistic outrage came about. It’s there for all to see, right under the bird’s… erm… stern. That flash of vivid yellow, together with the pale speckled front, a rusty brown cap and striking eye-stripe, is diagnostic for this Abaco winter resident species.

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

The ‘heads-up’ is because right now they are among you. In the gardens, on the grass, on the tracks, in the coppice, in the casuarinas. And they have an endearing habit of bobbing their… tails, let’s say, as they forage. Palm Warblers are inclined to be fairly inquisitive and tame, so if you are careful, they may stay around to let you watch them. 

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

The PW above must, I think, have been photographed at the very end of the winter season, just before it headed north from Abaco. The strong colours suggest this guy is getting into the breeding mood. Compare him with the picture below, taken by the same photographer during the same period, of a slightly less garish stage of breeding plumage. But it’s on its way…

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

As often as not, a palm warbler will be fairly easy to spot. Not always, though. You may have to work a bit to locate one half-hidden in foliage. Its posterior may not even be visible.

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

Luckily, PWs are common enough in winter to give you a chance to shoot them in the open, as it were. Perched on a branch works just fine to capture the essential characteristics.

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

Keep an eye out for these pretty little warblers. They are enjoyable to watch, and relatively easy to get a photo of at close quarters. Just make sure you get the butterbutt into the picture.

** The other butterbutt bird is the descriptively-named YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, though its buttery bits are on the topside so there’s no risk of confusion (I photographed this one from a pool-side lounger, a distance shot at the top of a tree with a small camera – but it captures the essentials!)

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: Bruce Hallett (1)*; Gerlinde Taurer (2, 7); Nina Henry (3, 4, 5); Peter Mantle (6); Keith Salvesen (8, 9)

* Possibly Tom Sheley – all I have got on the filename is ‘Fruit Farm’ so I can’t be sure of the photographer’s ID – apologies

 Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

AMERICAN KESTRELS ON ABACO: ‘LET US PREY…’


american-kestrel-f-abaco-bruce-hallett-img_1235-copy

AMERICAN KESTRELS ON ABACO: ‘LET US PREY…’

To be honest, I haven’t done these fine birds justice. Barely a mention of them for 3 years. Too much else on the land and in the water to choose from. I posted some of my photos from an outing to Sandy Point HERE. And the kestrel kinsman MERLIN got some attention a while later. Time to make amends with some more AMKE.

american-kestrel-abaco-charles-skinner

As many or most of the images show, utility wires (also posts) are a favourite perch for kestrels. They get an unimpeded view of the only thing that really matters in their lives – outside the breeding season, of course – PREY.

american-kestrel-abaco-2-peter-mantle

In my experience it’s quite rare to see AMKEs on the ground – unless they are in the act of ripping up some hapless rodent pinned to the earth. I was with photographer Tom Sheley when he captured this fine bird in the grass. 

american-kestrel-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheley-copy

Tom also took this outstanding photo, on an overcast day, of a kestrel feeding its fledgeling a large insect.american-kestrel-feeding-fledgling-2-delphi-club-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheley

Treasure Cay and its surrounding area makes for a good day’s birding. Although South Abaco, below Marsh Harbour, is the go-to location, TC has plenty of scope for a great variety of species from shore birds to songbirds – including the occasional Kirtland’s warbler. The golf course pond at hole #11 is well worth checking out (with permission at the club house, rarely declined unless there’s an event of some sort). So is the large brackish lake system where you may well find herons and egrets. There’s been a rare (for Abaco) pearly-eyed thrasher there recently. And you may find yourself being watched by a kestrel from a vantage point.

american-kestrel-treasure-cay-abaco-bahamas-6-13-tom-sheley

A richly-coloured specimenAMERICAN KESTREL, Abaco -Nina Henry

A kestrel in streamlined flight, with its feet tucked tightly under its bodyamerican-kestrel-abaco-tom-reed

Bird on the Wireamerican-kestrel-abaco-peter-mantle-copy

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION

One of Leonard Cohen’s standards, and a song covered by almost everyone from Johnny Cash to Heathen Gonads*, Bird on the Wire was on the album Songs from a Room (1969). It was a favourite of Cohen’s, who once said “I always begin my concert with this song”. Covers range from the excellent via good, interesting, and strange to outright bizarre. Joe Bonamassa’s take on it (as Bird on a Wire) on Black Rock, is certainly… unusual**.

Credits: Bruce Hallett (1, 10); Charles Skinner (2); Peter Mantle (3, 9); Tom Sheley 4, 5, 6); Nina Henry (7); Tom Reed (8)

american-kestrel-f-abaco-bruce-hallett-img_1222

*not really .    **shows originality & ingenuity -vs- dents his purist bluesman credentials

INTERNATIONAL VULTURE AWARENESS DAY ON ABACO


Turkey Vulture, Abaco (Craig Nash) 2

INTERNATIONAL VULTURE AWARENESS DAY ON ABACO

Majestic. Soaring. Graceful. Revolting. That’s the Turkey Vulture. It’s quite a while since I posted about them: you can read all about them and their disgusting habits in the post CARRION SCAVENGING. You’ll discover 10 essential facts, their unpleasant little ways with urine and puke, the sound they make, some sex-tips and a Metallica video. 

turkey-vulture

Are you unaware of vultures? Well, today is their day. These dedicated bird days come thick and fast at certain times of year. Tomorrow we celebrate World Shorebirds Day, so I’m giving the vultures their time in the sun today. On Abaco you could hardly fail to be aware of the ubiquitous TVs, and I have chosen a selection of photos, all taken on Abaco, to make a gallery for their day. 

Let’s start with some of the more glamourous ‘in-flight’ shots. This is when TVs look their best, as they wheel round floating and swooping on the thermals – singly, in pairs or in flocks. 

Turkey Vulture, Abaco (Nina Henry)Turkey Vulture, Abaco (Nina Henry)Turkey Vulture, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Turkey Vulture, Abaco (Charlie Skinnner)

At closer quarters TVs are till impressive, though arguably less attractive… TVs often use utility wires (header image) or posts to perch on, scope out the territory, or simply to dry their wings

Turkey Vulture, Spread Wings, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

TVs will never be truly adorable. The final image (by Irish photographer Craig Nash) is truly ‘warts and all’… Ah, but look at the sweet little hairs on its head!

Turkey Vulture, Abaco (Craig Nash)

Talking of adorable, this is the perfect place for a shout-out for the wonderful BIRDORABLE site. For this special day they have put all their vultures together in one helpful chart. They have a load of fun at Birdorable HQ. You can download birds for children to colour in. Or even get a T-shirt with your favourite bird on it (mine’s a PIPL).

photo 1

Credits: Craig Nash (1, 7); Nina Henry (2, 3); Bruce Hallett (4); Charlie Skinner (5); Keith Salvesen (6); the incomparable Birdorable

COMMON GROUND DOVE (‘TOBACCO DOVE’) ON ABACO


Common Ground Dove, Abaco (Tom Reed)

COMMON GROUND DOVE (‘TOBACCO DOVE’) ON ABACO

These small birds Columbina passerina are also known as tobacco doves. Although they sometimes perch in the branches of trees, you are more likely to encounter them on the ground, where they forage for seeds, fruit, and insects. Common Ground Dove, Abaco 1 (Tom Sheley)

They will often fly in front of a person or vehicle in short fluttering stages, keeping out of reach but never going too far ahead.When they fly, their undersides flash reddish-brown (sometimes described as chestnut) – hence (I presume) the tobacco dove name.

Common Ground Dove, Abaco 2 (Tom Sheley)

The common ground dove is one of the world’s smallest doves – roughly 6 inches long. Its beak has a black tip, and its feathers have a pinkish tinge. The feathers on the head and the breast look rather like scales. Females are similar to males but tend to be greyer.

Common Ground Dove, Abaco (Nina Henry)

Common ground doves mate with their partner for life, and a pair may have 2 or even 3 broods a year. Both parents feed the young birds until they are ready to feed themselves. Rather amazingly, hatchlings can fledge in 11 days. 

Common Ground Dove, Abaco 3 (Nina Henry)

Here’s the sound to listen out for, a (frankly) rather monotonous and subdued little ‘whoop’.

 Andrew Spenser / Xeno Canto

Common Ground Dove, Abaco 2 (Nina Henry)

My own attempts to photograph a CGD satisfactorily have been rather feeble. I have taken plenty of photos of them on the ground, but nothing memorable, let alone useable. However the one below surprised me by flying onto a branch quite near me, and I had time to squeeze the trigger before it flew off again. Far from perfect compared with others on this page, but I’m not going to let that little detail prevent me from showing it… Common Ground Dove, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

 Photo Credits: Tom Reed (1), Tom Sheley (2, 3), Nina Henry (4, 5, 6), RH (7); Audio – Andrew Spenser / Xeno Canto

HUMBLE HOUSE SPARROWS ON ABACO… & EVERYWHERE ELSE!


House Sparrow, Abaco  - Nina Henry

HUMBLE HOUSE SPARROWS ON ABACO… & EVERYWHERE ELSE!

The House Sparrow is one of the most successful, adaptive and prolific species in the world. THE most, in fact. It is found on every continent (except Antarctica… but I bet there are in fact a few of them pecking around the Ross Ice Shelf for crumbs). It is indigenous to Europe and Asia, and has been introduced elsewhere.  So to any birds or people  that say house sparrows are boring and common, I would point out that they are world record-holders… 

People tend not to photograph house sparrows. Their domesticity and familiarity have rather tended to breed contempt. Besides, there are more impressive birds to capture. In compiling BIRDS OF ABACO, it was surprisingly hard to get hold of sparrow images. We had to take some ‘in-house’ photos as back-up. Although the house sparrow comes into the broad birding category ‘LBJ’ (‘Little Brown Job’), it’s really a bit unfair. The males in particular deserve a second look (then you can go and find some painted buntings if you wish…).House Sparrow, Abaco - Nina Henry

One of the strangest birding features in the UK in the last 20 years has been the virtual elimination of the house sparrow from London and its inner suburbs. Until recently, there were loveable ‘Cockerny Sparrers’ everywhere. Then suddenly the population began to decline, and the rate of loss accelerated quickly. I haven’t seen one in London for years – not in our garden, not in the green squares, not in the trees, not in noisy squawking crowds in Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. Suddenly a bird that was so common that its presence was taken completely for granted has now become high on any birder’s ‘get’ list for London, and a joy to see…  To read a short article on the possible reasons for the decline CLICK HERE. The trouble is that most theories could be applied to other major cities where there are still thriving populations – New York, for example.

House Sparrow, Abaco - Peter Mantle

It has to be said that the female house sparrow is undeniably less… er… flamboyant than the male, as is the case with most (all?) avians. But they are still pretty birds, in much the same way that a female black-faced grassquit has subtle coloration if you look closely. I took the photo below at MH Airport while hanging around for a plane. The bird wasn’t perched at a very good angle for a memorable shot, or so I thought until I noticed its little wrinkly feet and sharp claws…

House Sparrow (f), Abaco Keith Salvesen

The delicate patterns of the female house sparrow 
House Sparrow (f), Abaco Bruce Hallett copy

A juvenile. Cute, yes, but I’m sorry, it really is quite dull at this stage…House Sparrow (juv), Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Credits: Nina Henry x 2, Peter Mantle, Moi, Bruce Hallett, Charles Skinner

RARE AMERICAN ROBINS ON ABACO: MORE SIGHTINGS


American Robin, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

In 2012 I wrote a post about the comparative rarity of the American Robin on Abaco, which had surprised me. They overwinter in Florida, and they might conceivably range further more often than they do. It turned out that one or two may be reported one year, none the next. I listed a number of sightings and some comments by Woody Bracey, but I lacked any photos of these birds taken on Abaco. I had to make do with wiki and bad ones taken in the US by me (including stuffed ones in the Natural History Museum, NYC – an act of desperation!). You can see the post HERE

Nina Henry, a photographic contributor to BIRDS OF ABACO, had some good fortune last March 2014 when she found these 3 birds during her trip to Abaco. Maybe March is a good time for them – perhaps a few call in as they start to make their way north for the summer. 

AMERICAN ROBIN, Abaco 1- Nina Henry AMERICAN ROBIN, Abaco 2- Nina Henry AMERICAN ROBIN, Abaco 3- Nina Henry

Many past sightings have been on the Cays rather than the main island.  Here’s a recent photograph taken by Charmaine Albury on Man-o-Way Cay

American Robin Man-o-War Cay Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

Meanwhile I have been able to improve slightly on the tiny distant AMRO I posted before, with one taken more recently – still not on Abaco but in NYC. Closer, but definitely no cigar yet…

American Robin, NYC (Rolling Harbour)

 Credits: Bruce Hallett (header), Nina Henry x 3, Charmaine Albury, RH