PIPING PLOVERS ON GRAND BAHAMA (for a change…)


Piping Plover, Grand Bahama (Erika Gates)

PIPING PLOVERS ON GRAND BAHAMA (for a change…)

I used to go on a bit about piping plovers*, because they are so special. Rare. Endangered. Creatures rewarding observation, and deserving research and conservation. Most of all, they favour the Bahamas for their winter migration destination.  The islands – especially Abaco, Grand Bahama and Andros – provide a safe and unspoiled habitat for them in winter. The photographs shown here are piping plovers taken on Grand Bahama in early September by well-known birding guide Erika Gates, who has kindly given me use permission.

Piping Plover, Grand Bahama (Erika Gates)

These days, ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH diverts PIPL from these pages to a dedicated Facebook page. Now in its 3rd season, useful data is being collected for the research teams in the breeding grounds in North America by volunteer beach monitors**. Some are regular, some are occasional, some are one-off reporters: all contribute to the overall picture. In particular we are able to identify individual banded birds and track them back to their summer locations.

Piping Plover, Grand Bahama (Erika Gates)

WHAT USE IS THAT?

Almost every banded bird resighted this season is a returner to exactly the same beach as before. Some are here for their third or even fourth year. These tiny birds are therefore surviving a journey of between 1000 and 2000 miles each autumn and again each spring – and locating their favourite beaches with unerring accuracy. A few are resighted en route during their migration; often we get reports of their nesting and breeding news during the summer.  Their little lives can be pieced together.

Piping Plover, Grand Bahama (Erika Gates)

AND THE CONCLUSION TO BE DRAWN?

The summer breeding grounds generally have conservation programs that help to protect the nesting birds from danger and disturbance. Those are the most vulnerable weeks for the adults and their chicks. The arrival of the plovers each autumn on Grand Bahama, Abaco and elsewhere in the Bahamas demonstrates their ‘beach fidelity’. They are confident that the beaches offer a safe and secure winter habitat where they are left alone. And when the time comes in Spring, they will be ready to make the long journey north again for the breeding season.

Piping Plover, Grand Bahama (Erika Gates)

* uncouth reader “you certainly did…

** additional volunteers welcome! If you walk a beach once a fortnight or even a month, own a piece of paper & a pencil, can count, and ideally have a camera or even a phone, you too can be a citizen scientist!

Photo credits: all photos, Erika Gates, with many thanks. Erika’s related websites are 

“ON THEIR WAY”: THE PIPING PLOVER MIGRATION HAS BEGUN…


PIPL adult & chick (Jordan Rutter)

“ON THEIR WAY”: THE PIPING PLOVER MIGRATION HAS BEGUN…

The last piping plover known to have left Abaco for the summer breeding grounds was the renowned ‘Tuna’, in early April. We can’t say where he ended up – there are no reported sighting of him this summer from the NJ beach where he was born, raised and banded – or from anywhere else. The unbanded Delphi contingent had left the beach by the end of March.

TunaPiping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Oct 10. Rhonda Pearce

Besides Tuna, of the named banded birds resighted on Abaco beaches last season (e.g. Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Jonesy, Bahama Mama, Benny, Bess), only the most distant visitor Bahama Mama returned to her original beach in Muskegon State Park. Her mate from last year (‘Little Guy’) had already shacked up with another bird, so BM did likewise. Carol Cooper reports that all birds had left the beach by July 23.

Bahamas Pink Band 52PIPL Pink Band 52, Abaco (Walker Golder)

As for Bahamas ‘Pink Bands’ – winter-banded birds – the BAHAMAS SHOREBIRD CONSERVATION INITIATIVE has posted a wonderful interactive map produced by Audubon which shows the astonishing extent of the migration undertaken by these little birds. Unfortunately none of last winter’s Abaco ‘pink numbers’ are shown as resighted. You can reach this great resource by clicking the image below. This will take you to the original – I am trying to work out how best to embed the map in my sidebar.

Click me!Pink band PIPL map (Audubon : BSCI)

Reports of migrating PIPL are beginning to come in and will accelerate over the next few weeks. First with a Bahamas report is Linda Barry-Cooper (West End Ecology Tours), who spotted 3 at Sandy Cay, West End, Grand Bahama on July 21 (‘10.00 a.m., high water’). With a modest fanfare of greeting, here are those first Bahamas birds of the season.

Piping plovers, West End, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)Piping plovers, West End, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)Piping plovers, West End, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH

Last season was an important one for having a bird count on Abaco, with the four-yearly census taking place in January. I started The Watch rather nonchalantly, but it quickly picked up enthusiasm and momentum and in the end it was of significant use for the official bird count. Here are the compressed stats for the from the end of July 2105 to January 2016. You will see – possibly with some surprise – that in only 5 months 3.83% of the total presumed piping plover population in the world was found on Abaco. And of course that’s only a total from sightings on certain beaches, mostly easily accessible, by a relatively small number of monitors. How many more were there on the all the unexplored expanses of beach, or indeed out on the Marls?

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The question is whether to continue the watch this coming season. If so, best to get it sorted before the first birds arrive any day now. I have decided  to carry on, but – since it isn’t a census year –  with a lighter touch this time (it’s a time-consuming process and there’s other stuff going on in my life.) Accordingly I would welcome reports of all Abaco sightings. If you are in doubt whether what you are seeing is a piping plover or some other shorebird, a photo or even a phone pic for ID would be great. The most helpful information to give is:

  • Date and time
  • Single bird or number of birds (if countable) or an estimate
  • Whether banded or not
  • If so, details of the banding: band or flag, colours, visible numbers etc
  • If at all possible, photos of the bird and its legs… I am able to enhance apparently dim or fuzzy pictures to some extent, so don’t worry if you don’t get a perfect shot.
  • If possible, state of tide – high, low, half-way, coming in, going out
  • Also, what the bird is doing – foraging, sleeping, rushing round in circles etc
  • Finally, location as accurately as possible. Area, name of beach, whereabouts (middle, east end, south end etc)

Piping Plover (juv) CT (Danny Sauvageau)

If you are one of the volunteer beach monitors from last year, I will be emailing you. If you’d like to monitor your own or a favourite beach, I’d love to hear from you.

CONTACT

Piping Plover, Abaco - Charmaine Albury

Photo Credits: Jordan Rutter, Rhonda Pearce, Linda Barry-Cooper x 3, Danny Sauvageau, Charmaine Albury

 

BIRDS OF THE WILD WEST END: GRAND BAHAMA GUEST POST


Osprey, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

BIRDS OF THE WILD WEST END: GRAND BAHAMA GUEST POST

As the result of my keeping an eye on eBird reports for piping plover sightings for ABACO PIPL WATCH, I have strayed from Abaco from time to time to check out the bird life elsewhere in the Northern Bahamas. Healthy, seems to be the answer, with a busy migration season in progress and some unusual and exciting visitors.

WHIMBRELWhimbrel, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

On Grand Bahama, Linda Barry-Cooper, Director West End Ecology and Linda Bird Tours, has been kept busy, in particular at West End, the nearest point of the Bahamas to Florida (a mere 66 miles to West Palm Beach). So I asked if she would kindly write a guest post, to be illustrated with some of her recent photographs. To which, I’m pleased to say, she said ‘yes’.  The first thing I learned from her is that West End is in fact the capital of Grand Bahama and the oldest settlement, and not Freeport as I, and I suspect many other people, have always assumed.

MERLINMerlin, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

RESTORING BIRDS IN THE CAPITAL: WEST END, GRAND BAHAMA

Fall is captivating for Birders and Bird enthusiasts that visit West End, Grand Bahama Island this time of year. West End (also referred to as “Settlement Point” is the oldest town and westernmost settlement on the Bahamian island of Grand Bahama. It is the current capital of Grand Bahama and is also the third largest settlement in the Bahamas. There is one airport in West End, West End Airport, which serves mostly private aircraft. Since the 1950s, the settlement of West End has fluctuated with the rise and fall of the adjacent resort developments.

                                                        UPLAND & BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS                                                          Upland Sandpiper, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper) Buff-breasted Sandpiper, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

Birds just like people have to adapt to new and existing change in their environment. Unfortunately with the rise and fall of the Jack Tar Resort & Hotel and now the former Bobby Ginn land development project, the habitat for birds had been gravely impacted with the loss of many prominent trees that birds rely on as a primary food source. 

                  CATTLE EGRETS & BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER                     Cattle Egrets, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper) Black-bellied Plover, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

The way to restore settlements that have lost many of their native trees & palms due to developments is to plant new fruit-bearing trees and shrubs that birds love i.e. (seagrape, Cocoplum, fig trees, cherry, oleander, pink and gold poui, frangipani, coral trees, etc.) Hummingbirds especially love the Firecracker plant and are primarily attracted to red and yellow. 

                             BLACK SKIMMER & BROWN NODDY                                   Black Skimmer, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)  Brown Noddy, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

Within the local community and in backyards residents can aid birds this fall during migration with setting out bird feeders now filled with wild bird food supplied by Crosstown or Dolly Madison/Kelly’s. Residents can do well to attract birds right in their backyards by planting tropical flowers, bougainvillea, desert rose, Ixora flame of the woods, Hibiscus, Peregrina a.k.a. Star of Bethlehem.

              PIED-BILLED GREBE & LESSER YELLOWLEGS             Pied-billed Grebe, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper) Greater Yellowlegs, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

In 2015, West End is now considered the top birding Hot Spot in The Bahamas according to E-Bird Caribbean.   Linda Barry-Cooper attributes this to her and her many peers and birding supporters to include her mentor and friend Erika Gates, Bruce Purdy, Bruce Hallett, Dr. Elwood Bracey as well as international birders recorded observations and field work in West End.

               AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER & EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE        American Oystercatcher, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper) Eastern Wood-Pewee, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

         VESPER SPARROW & BELTED KINGFISHER                   Vesper Sparrow, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)- Belted Kingfisher 1Upland Sandpiper, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

This fall, rare birds such as the Whimbrel, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Upland Sandpiper, Fish Crow, American Oystercatcher, and Eastern Wood Pewee have made landfall in West End. Keep Watching West End! There are more rarities to come. Our main goal however in the future is to increase the presence of our own endemic Bahamian species. These in particular are the birds that the world would want to see. Together, the future developers and community at large can take part in restoring the bird habitat that West End once embraced.

PIPING PLOVERPiping Plover 1, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

                                        FISH CROW & BROWN PELICAN                Fish Crow, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)    Brown Pelican, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

AMERICAN KESTRELAmerican Kestrel, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

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Many thanks to Linda for her glimpse of the avian life on the western tip of Grand Bahama. It’s worth noting that some of these birds e.g. the fish crow, wood-pewee, and the 2 sandpipers are extremely rare on Abaco; and one, the vesper sparrow, is unrecorded for Abaco. Whimbrels are a good find on both islands – luckily this seems to be the year of the whimbrel.

 

Linda is welcoming visitors to West End who would love up close encounters with Birds, as well as photographing birds in their natural habitat. Photographers grab their super zoom lens and head on down to West End to explore the Cays and the vast eco-systems West End has to offer. Her website and tour pricing can be found at www.westendecologytours.com and on Facebook under Linda Bird Tours.

If you swam due west from West End you’d arrive in West Palm Beach…West End Map