LEAST (BUT NOT LAST) SANDPIPERS ON ABACO


Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

LEAST (BUT NOT LAST) SANDPIPERS ON ABACO

There are 23 sandpiper species recorded for Abaco. Of those, 4 or 5 are vanishingly rare vagrants recorded once or twice in recent history (i.e. since about 1950).

Discounting those, the ones you are likely to encounter range from the large  (whimbrel, yellowlegs, dowitchers, stilts) to the small. Or, in the case of the least sandpiper, the least big of all. They are bigly little. Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

The binomial name of the least sandpiper – Calidris minutilla – is an apt clue to their size, the second part being Latin for “very small”. On Abaco, they are fairly common winter visitors, and each season a handful of them make their home on the beach at Delphi, where these photos were taken. Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Along with their small sandpiper compadres such as SANDERLING, these busy, bustling birds of the shoreline are the ones known as “peeps” (also as stints). Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Least Sandpipers breed in the northern tundra areas of North America. Like many or most shorebirds, newly hatched chicks are able to fend for themselves very quickly. It sounds unlikely I know, but within a couple of weeks or so they have fledged. Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

The birds forage on mudflats, in the tideline on beaches, and in wrack. They will probe into soft sand, sometimes the full length of their beak. They will even burrow right under weed to get at the concealed goodies. Their diet consists mainly of small crustaceans, insects, and snails.Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: All photos by Charles Skinner (contributor to “The Birds of Abaco”) except the wrack-burrowers above, by Keith Salvesen (also on the Delphi Beach).

Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

CLAPPER RAILS ON ABACO: A SMALL SHOWCASE


Clapper Rail, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley / Birds of Abaco)

CLAPPER RAILS ON ABACO: A SMALL SHOWCASE

Just over 3 years ago, THE BIRDS OF ABACO was published and launched at the Delphi Club. The book was intended to showcase the wonderful and varied bird life on Abaco – home to endemics, permanent residents, seasonal residents, and a wide variety of migrating transients. The book has been most generously received and supported – though I have to report that already its definitive checklist (dating from 1950) has become outdated with the recording of 6 additional species on Abaco, featured elsewhere in this blog.

Clapper Rail, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley / Birds of Abaco)

Tom Sheley was one of the main photographic contributors to the book, and I had the good fortune to coincide with one of his trips to Abaco, when he was armed with significant photographic weaponry; and to accompany him on some of his photographic day trips (not including the early morning ones, in my case). This clapper rail is one of my favourites of his photo sequences of a bird being a bird – preening, stretching, calling – in its own habitat.

Clapper Rail, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley / Birds of Abaco)

My one regret about my involvement  in producing the book (it took 16 months) and more generally in the wildlife of Abaco is that I have entirely failed to progress to sophisticated (expensive) photographic equipment capable of producing images the quality of Tom’s. Yes, I’ve moved on from compacts (ha!) to bridge cameras (Panasonic Lumix + lens extender), and some results ‘make the cut’. But my move up to a Canon SLR was mainly disastrous, and when eventually I inadvertently drowned it (I overbalanced while photographing shorebirds from breaking waves. Total immersion. Total stupidity.) I felt an unexpected sense of relief. A blessing really – I never understood it, nor in my heart of hearts (if I’m honest) really wanted to… But my feeble struggle made me realise and appreciate the enormous skill of those like Tom who take ‘National Geographic’ quality photographs. It’s not just the equipment – it’s knowing exactly how to use it, and often in a split second…

Clapper Rail, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley / Birds of Abaco)

Photos by Tom Sheley – with thanks for the adventures

VORACIOUS VIREOS: A TALE OF GREED ON ABACO


Black-whiskered Vireo (juvenile), Abaco (Charles Skinner)

VORACIOUS VIREOS: A TALE OF GREED ON ABACO

Lo, the tiny fluffy BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO fledgling, so innocent and coming close to aborbs (but for being frankly a little unkempt). Yet few would guess that beneath that delightfully virtuous exterior rages the appetite of a  MONSTER

Excuse me, I’m getting a little peckish…Black-whiskered Vireo (juvenile), Abaco (Charles Skinner)

That’s fine, son, I’ll go and get you a little snack…

Whaaaaa… Hungreeeee…Black-whiskered Vireo (juvenile), Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Whaaaaa…. want MORE…

Black-whiskered Vireo (juvenile), Abaco (Charles Skinner)Black-whiskered Vireo (juvenile), Abaco (Charles Skinner)

And more…

And another one… keep ’em coming

Whaaaaa… more…               NO, son, you’ve had quite enough for one meal…Black-whiskered Vireo (juvenile), Abaco (Charles Skinner)

This one’s ALL for me…

All great photos by Charles Skinner, who must have had a fun time watching the entertainment. Although we intentionally featured very few juveniles in THE BIRDS OF ABACO, one of these shots insisted on being included…

SCOOP! BLACK SKIMMERS FOUND ON ABACO


Black Skimmers in flight (Terry Foote, wiki)

SCOOP! BLACK SKIMMERS FOUND ON ABACO


I have been waiting soooooo long for photos of black skimmers (Rynchops niger) taken on Abaco. When we were putting together “The Birds of Abaco”, I had just one skimmer image – a bird standing self-consciously on a jetty facing the camera, a shot into difficult light with a low-res unusable picture resulting. I never collected another qualifer (‘Abaco birds only, natural surroundings, no feed trails’). So sadly they don’t feature in the book.

Black Skimmer, Abaco Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)

These rather special seabirds breed in North America. Very sensibly (and like many humans), they migrate south to overwinter in warmer climes, including the Caribbean. But in the northern Bahamas sightings are very rare. Or maybe I should say, reports of them are rare, and photos the more so. They are classified as WR4, very uncommon winter residents.

Black Skimmers, Abaco, Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)

But now the Rolling Harbour duck is broken (so to speak). Two skimmers were spotted yesterday by Man-o-War Cay resident Charmaine Albury, a keen birder and photographer. Her images of this chance sighting as the pair flew gracefully past to land on the beach show enviably quick reactions with the camera! We have a Big Scoop here. Two of them.

Black Skimmer, Abaco Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)

 WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT THEM?

  1. EYES These birds have dark brown eyes. So far, so what. But their pupils are unique in birdland: they aren’t round, but vertical – like a cat. As far as I can make out, this is to maximise the fish-catching potential of their other speciality feature…
  2. BILL Take a look at this close-up of a great photo by Don Faulkner. Check out that unmistakeable bill, with the extraordinary elongated lower mandible. 

black-skimmer-close-up-don-faulkner-wiki

HOW DOES THAT HELP?

When hunting for food, skimmers fly fast and very close to the surface of the sea. The long thin lower mandible cuts through the water … and when it comes into contact with its prey, the bird snaps shut the upper mandible onto it. 

OK, SHOW ME!

Black Skimmer skimming water for prey (Dan Pancamo wiki)

NOT ENOUGH. I WANT TO ACTUALLY WATCH THEM DO IT…

This short video by EstuaryLiveTV shows skimmers feeding in real time, then in slow motion in an estuary. They are looking for fish, crusteaceans and molluscs. It explains all.

Black Skimmer, Abaco Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)

Credits: Terry Foote (1); Charmaine Albury (2, 3, 4, 7); Don Faulkner (5); Dan Pancamo (6); EstuaryLiveTV (video).

BAHAMA WOODSTARS: JEWELS IN ABACO’S CROWN


Bahama Woodstar Hummingbird, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

BAHAMA WOODSTARS: JEWELS IN ABACO’S CROWN

Abaco is spoilt for birds. What other island in the word has its very own population of ground-nesting parrots? (Clue: none). How many others provide a secluded winter home for the rare Kirtland’s Warbler? Or a safe habitat for piping plovers – more than 300 individual birds recorded last year, nearly 4% of the total population? Or host 32 warbler species in the winter to supplement the 5 resident species? Or record a visit from a black-browed albatross? Or enjoy 4 out of 5 of the Bahamian endemic species (no longer the Bahama Oriole sadly, now confined to specific areas of Andros). 

Bahama Woodstar Hummingbird, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

A while back I held a poll for Abaco’s favourite bird, with about 10 contenders. Some were quick to point out that their own personal favourite was not an option, but I had to take a fairly broad brush approach. On the podium, gold went to the Bahama Woodstar; silver to the parrot; and bronze to the western spindalis. I’m in a genial mood today, having caught a fair-sized wild brown trout on my third (part) day of stalking it (over 2 weeks), on the smallest fly in my box (size 18). I put it straight back of course. Respect! So in a spirit of cordiality, here are some epic shots of Abaco’s democratically elected favourite bird… at least according to the poll.

BIRD POLL FV2

The two images above were taken by the legendary Bruce Hallett, author of the go-to field guide for the Bahamas, which no birder should be without. Many of his wonderful photos  appear in THE BIRDS OF ABACO, and he was a steady guiding hand during the preparation of the book. 

This brilliant photo of a female woodstar was taken by Tara Lavallee of Bahama Palm Shores, and for composition, clarity, colour and sheer charm it was a must for inclusion in the book.

Bahama Woodstar, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

Another major photographic contributor was Tom Sheley. I had the pleasure of spending time on Abaco with Tom during expeditions deep into backcountry to find and photograph birds. He had two cameras, one with a long lens. The other had a very long lens. The results he obtained – showcased in the book – were outstanding. His woodstar graces the front cover.

Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Tom also took a delicate little study of a female woodstar feeding, one of my favourite photosBahama Woodstar female, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Credits: Bruce Hallett, Tara Lavallee, Tom Sheley

 

TONY WHITE: CHAMPION OF BAHAMAS BIRDS


Tony White, Birds of Abaco launch, Delphi Club 3

Tony White, Keith Salvesen, Bruce Hallett & Woody Bracey

TONY WHITE: CHAMPION OF BAHAMAS BIRDS

Tony White passed away 2 days ago. The sad news has spread rapidly through the birding community and far beyond it. It is not my place to write a detailed appreciation of Tony’s life and achievements; others who have been his long-term friends, associates and birding companions are in a far better position to do so than I. However, I do have direct experience of Tony’s kindness, enthusiasm and pragmatism in connection with the compilation of The Delphi Club Book of the BIRDS OF ABACO

Tony with Caroline Stahala Walker, erstwhile parrot supremo of AbacoTony White with Caroline Stahala

It took 16 months or so from the initial idea of the project to the finished 30-contributor book and a launch party at the Delphi Club in March 2014. During that time I had amazing support from the birding elite of the Bahamas. The proposed book might well have been treated as misconceived fantasy by amateur hicks from out of town. Instead, we received nothing but courtesy, kindness, cooperation, and a willingness that the project should succeed.

Tony with Bruce Hallett (author of Birds of the Bahamas and TCI)Tony White, Birds of Abaco launch, Delphi Club 1

Tony was one of the invaluable experts on whom I knew I could rely. His emails were invariably cordial, helpful and to the point. When I asked if he would undertake a complete revision of the checklist for Abaco that appears in his indispensable book for Bahamas birders (see link below), he agreed without hesitation. In due course, and in conjunction with Woody Bracey, a new checklist for all birds recorded for Abaco – however rare – from 1950 until the day of publication was completed.

Tony in the field (Lynne Gape, BNT)Tony White in the filed (Lynne Gape)

When the book was launched Tony was there of course, his startlingly blue eyes bright with excitement. His friends Bruce Hallett and Woody Bracey, without whose help the book would never have been the avian showcase that it is, were also present. The contributions of all three were indispensable .

Tony after a Grand Bahama bird count (Erika Gates)Tony White

I have included some photos of Tony as we would all like to remember him, with thanks to Lynn Gape of the Bahamas National Trust and to Erika Gates, Grand Bahama.

Tony White, Bruce Hallett & Woody Bracey at “Birds of Abaco” launch; author aka RH (seated)Tony White, Birds of Abaco launch, Delphi Club V2

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To read my original review of Tony’s magisterial book click HERE

To see Tony and Woody’s complete Abaco bird checklist, up to date as at March 2014, click CHECKLIST FV 06 table sun2 Since then, 5 new species have been recorded on Abaco.

RH 3 June 2016

“AN OSTENTATION OF PEACOCKS”: FERAL BIRDS ON ABACO


Peahen, %22Different of Abaco%22 2 (Rhonda Pearce)

“AN OSTENTATION OF PEACOCKS”: FERAL BIRDS ON ABACO

A year or so ago I wrote a post entitled SOMETHING COMPLETELY “DIFFERENT (OF ABACO)”, a nod to Monty Python and to Nettica Symonette’s long-defunct fishing lodge on the road to Casuarina that it still proudly signposted on the Highway. You can click the link to see the full post and plenty of peacocks. Or, as I mentioned then, peafowl (only the males are peacocks; the females are peahens; and the little ones are peachicks).

Peacock, %22Different of Abaco%22 1 (Rhonda Pearce)

“Different of Abaco” is a great place for birding. An overgrown wilderness with brackish ponds and a *dangerous structure alert* dilapidated building, it was once home to Nettie’s flamingos, reintroduced by her in the hope of reinstating Abaco’s lost breeding population. The experiment did not come off, but another one did. The legacy of her introduction of a few peacocks is very evident today: they have bred very successfully and provide an exotic – and noisy – addition to the breeding bird species on Abaco.

Peacock, %22Different of Abaco%22 3 (Rhonda Pearce)

The evidence from reports suggests that the peafowl are spreading from their base at Different of Abaco and the local Casuarina area. Celia Rogers saw 2 males on the Cherokee road, some 3 or 4 miles to the north. And Rhonda Pearce has more recently found them at the entrance to Bahama Palm Shores, some way to the south (below).

 Peacock, Bahama Palm Shores Abaco 2 (Rhonda Pearce)    Peacock, Casuarina, Abaco 1 (Rhonda Pearce)

Extent of peafowl range from reported sightingsCasuarina, Abaco area map

As I wrote before, “In the wilderness that Different of Abaco has become for many years, the descendants of the original peacocks are breeding contentedly, expanding their population, and are wholly unreliant on human intervention. Verily feral, in fact”. If anyone has encountered peacocks elsewhere than in the DoA / Casuarina area, I’d love to hear about it. A photo would be a bonus!

Peacock, %22Different of Abaco%22 4 (Rhonda Pearce)

OPTIONAL FUN FACTS

The collective noun for peafowl is generally considered to be a “pride”, as with lions. But many bird species have been assigned more than one collective noun – and many of the more unusual ones are historic, dating back to medieval times, in particular The Boke of St Albans (1486) by a nun called Dame Juliana Berners, which included lists of collective nouns for ‘companys of beestys and fowlys’. These were known as ‘terms of venery’, and many related to falconry and hunting. She also wrote the presumed first fishing guide, A treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle (her catch records do not survive).

Anyway, apart from ‘pride’, peacocks are also collectively known as a ‘muster’; and far more descriptively as an ‘ostentation’.

D of A: the glory daysimg0049

Credits: All peafowl Rhonda Pearce; final image π “The Abacos” online