ABACO BIRDS YOU CAN SEE IN THE BIG APPLE…


Red-tailed Hawk Central Park NYC

ABACO BIRDS YOU CAN SEE IN THE BIG APPLE…

Big Apple, here we come! Mrs RH has business there next week. Sometimes, if I have behaved particularly well for an extended period – 2 years on average – I am invited to go along on her US trips. Providing I can grab a cheap fare as well. Well, sorted! NYC is my absolutely favourite capital city. Along with Marsh Harbour, obvs. And maybe Paris. Not London, we live there. Too close to home. 

Northern Mockingbird, High Line, NYCNorthern Mockingbird NYC High Line

I never go shopping, but I have specific must-dos. Route 66 on 9th for the best breakfast ever. Walking the wonderful new High Line park, extended since we were last there. The Staten Island Ferry out and straight back for the best free ‘Manhattan view plus water ride’ experience. The Tramway cable car to Roosevelt Island to visit the beautifully restored Blackwell Farmhouse which dates from 1796 and is arguably NYC’s oldest surviving residential building (not many people know this). Then a brisk walk to Lighthouse Point for a winter picnic. This is where, one day, I plan to catch a fish – any fish – on the fly in the East River. I’ve debated packing a small travel rod & reel this time but it is not an ideal time of year, frankly, and I don’t want to set myself up for failure in what will anyway be a hard task…

A Herring Gull provides irrefutable proof that there is piscine life in the East River even in winter
Life in the East River NY

Mallards in Central park: a male and a LEUCISTIC femaleMallard (m) NYC Central Park Mallard (f) - leucistic NYC Central Park

And to people’s complete bemusement (sample comment: “Are you quite mad?”) I go birding. NYC is a great place for it, being on a major migration flyway. Central Park is fantastic, especially the Ramble, the Reservoir, and the lesser known wild areas at the top end – the Loch, the Ravine, Harlem Meer. Prospect Park Brooklyn is another great place, with wild woodland and lakes for many water bird species. There’s a wildlife refuge at Jamaica Bay which looks worth exploring too, though it’s a bit of a trek. Anyway, here are a few Big Apple birds that are found on – or at least recorded for – Abaco (some very rarely, it has to be said).

Ring-billed and Herring Gulls on the Staten Island FerryRing-billed Gull NYC Staten Island Ferry Ring-billed Gull NYC 2 Staten Island FerryHerring Gull NYC 2 Staten Island FerryHerring Gull NYC Staten Island Ferry

Male & female Hooded Mergansers on the JKO Reservoir, Central ParkHooded Merganser (m) NYC JKO Reservoir Hooded Merganser (f) 2 NYC JKO Reservoir

Male House Sparrow (Central Park) & female (Prospect Park, Brooklyn)House Sparrow NYC Central Park House Sparrow (f) NYC Prospect Park

Rock Pigeon, Central ParkRock Pigeon NYC

Eurasian Starling (High Line Park)Starling NYC High Line Park

Canada Goose on ice (Prospect Park, Brooklyn)Canada Goose NYC Prospect Park

American Robin (Prospect Park, Brooklyn)American Robin NYC Prospect Park

Poor photo of a Coot (Harlem Meer, Central park)Coot NYC Central Park Harlem Meer

Ultra-shy Red-winged Blackbird (Prospect Park, Brooklyn)Red-winged Blackbird NYC Prospect ParkI can only get away with crap photos like this because it’s my blog & your decision to put up with it

Bufflehead, JKO Reservoir Central ParkBufflehead NYC JKO Reservoir Central ParkA bird recorded once or perhaps twice for Abaco in the last 60 years. I have better photos than this, but this one best illustrates your chance of seeing one on Abaco – vanishing…

Hairy** Red-bellied Woodpecker (The Ramble, Central Park)Hairy Woodpecker NYC The Ramble Central Park

Red-tailed Hawk NYC (Prospect Park Brooklyn)Red-tailed Hawk NYC Prospect Park BrooklynThe RTH header image was taken in the Ramble, Central Park

** As Woody Bracey has been quick to point out, this is in fact a Red-bellied Woodpecker, not a Hairy Woodpecker. Unlike the HWP, the RBW is not recorded for Abaco. HOWEVER I do have a HWP photo from Central Park somewhere, and if I can find it I’ll substitute it and make it right!

All photos, good, bad and indifferent: The Author

‘TAKING OFF’ ON ABACO: NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS & MIMICRY


‘TAKING OFF’ ON ABACO: NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS & MIMICRY

The Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) is commonly found in North America, but also has a wide range further afield. The species is plentiful on Abaco and in the northern Bahamas generally. I recently posted about Abaco’s other mocker, the local Bahama Mockingbird, HERE.

Northern Mockingbird 1

A DOZEN MEMORABLE MOCKINGBIRD FACTS TO ENLIVEN YOUR CONVERSATION

  • Only male mockingbirds sing
  • The Latin name means ‘many-tongued mimic’
  • They are omniverous and eat fruits, seeds, insects and even small lizards
  • They been shown in experiments to be capable of recognising individual humans
  • They are the State Bird of Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, & Texas
  • Thomas Jefferson had a pet mockingbird named “Dick” [wish I’d invented this one…]
  • Courting males fly around females to impress them with their splendid wing patterns
  • Mockingbirds are monogamous & mate for life (though known to play away on occasion…)
  • Both the male and female are involved in the nest building
  • Cowbirds are inclined to lay their eggs in mockingbird nests
  • Both male and female feed their chicks, in the modern way
  • Mockers will confront larger birds including hawks; also cats and dogs; & even humans

Northern Mockingbird 2

 IMITATIONAL SKILLS
Besides having a particularly wide song repertoire, the mockingbird will mimic other birds, other natural sounds (including dogs) and even man-made / mechanical sounds – car alarms, sirens and a whole lot more besides. Good old Wiki has this to say:
“There are four recognized calls for the Mockingbird: the nest relief call, hew call, chat or chatburst, and the begging call. The Hew call is mainly used by both sexes for potential nest predators, conspecific chasing, and various interactions between mates. The differences between chats and chatbursts are frequency of use, as chats are year-round, and chatbursts occur in the fall. Another difference is that chatbursts appear to be used in territorial defense in the fall, and the chats are used by either sex when disturbed. The nest relief and begging calls are only used by the males.” Northern Mockingbird 4
IMITATIVE MEMORY?
Remarkably, it seems that Northern Mockingbirds can inherit and store the imitations of their ancestors. We listened to a young one in the Abaco National Park with Caroline Stahala, the scientist i/c Abaco Parrot conservation. The bird was accurately mimicking a tufted titmouse, a bird it will never have heard and so cannot have learned from directly (and no other bird on Abaco sounds like the titmouse). 
NEW! Another remarkable nugget, gleaned from Bahamas bird authority and author Tony White, is that in early Spring you may hear the calls of Grey Kingbirds starting to arrive for their summer vacations. Do not be fooled; Northern Mockingbirds begin imitate the calls of this species about 2 weeks before they begin to arrive…
By way of comparison, here is a Northern Mockingbird I photographed at the beginning of the year in New York while walking the High Line (if you get the opportunity to do this, take it. The perfect solution for a defunct high-level railway track is to turn it into a walkway-cum-park-cum-viewing platform).  There are detectable differences, not least the brown frontal flecking.Northern Mockingbird NYC

THE INFLUENCE OF MOCKINGBIRDS ON THE ARTS

“To Kill a Mockingbird”, Harper Lee, (1960); Film version (1962) starring, by amazing coincidence, Gregory Peck

“Listen to the Mocking Bird” (1855) An American folk song popular in the mid-19th century

“Mockingbird” (1974) Carly Simon duets with James Taylor, her (then) husband, one of several (though not simultaneous)

“Mockin’ Bird Hill” (1951) Les Paul & Mary Ford, later massacred in 1964 by ‘The Migill 5’

Star of the Lullaby that starts “Hush, little baby, don’t say a word, Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird…” That’s quite enough of that to be going on with

It turns out Mr Eminem has rapped up a ‘parental advisory’ and ‘explicit warning’ “Mockingbird” for our delectation. I was going to post the mp3 in a vaguely satirical way, but it is so numbingly dire that even his mum Mrs Mathers can’t bear to listen to it. So just enjoy the cover, then move on quickly to the birdsong video below…

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Audubon’s Mockingbirds
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMpe34Aign4]

Northern Mockingbird Eggs