BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO: AN UPGRADE


Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO: AN UPGRADE

Hi, human friends, I’m a black-faced grassquit Tiaris bicolor and I have a couple of observations to make on behalf of BFGS, if I may. First, we seem to be universally described as ‘common’, whereas we are actually quite refined in our behaviour. Secondly, the words most used to portray us are ‘dull’ and ‘drab’. And ‘stubby’. Well, excuse me… I – we – ask you to give us a second look.

black-faced-grassquit-adult-male-eating-berry-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheleyblack-faced-grassquit-foraging-berry-2-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheley

And I have some news for you. The perceptive classifications committee of the American Ornithological Union recently gave us an upgrade. That’s the way we see it anyway. For many years we have been classified under the heading Emberizidae. 

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Black-faced Grassquit, Abaco (Tom Reed)

We kept company with buddies like the Greater Antillean Bullfinches, but also with a lot of New World sparrows, with whom we (frankly) never felt entirely comfortable. Too chirpy, for a start.

Black-faced Grassquit - Treasure Cay, Abaco (Becky Marvil)Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Peter Mantle)

Last year, it became official. We are really a type of Tanager. They reckon we are closely related to Darwin’s finches (so, we are “common”, huh?). Now we get to be with other birds that are dome-nesters like us. And how about this – we’ll be in the same list as some really cool birds…

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)

How’s this for a colourful gang to be joining: scarlet tanager, summer tanager, rose-breasted grosbeak, indigo bunting, painted bunting – these are our new cousins. BFGs “dull” and “drab”? I don’t think so.

Black-faced Grassquit female, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

6 UNDULL FACTS ABOUT BFGS

  • Make grassy dome-nests (like Bananaquits) and line them with soft grasses
  • Both sexes build the nest together
  • Both share egg-sitting duties and later chick-feeding & maintenance
  • Though quite gregarious by day, for some reason they tend to roost alone
  • They have a short ‘display’ flight with vibrating wings and a strange buzzing call
  • Otherwise, their flight is ‘weak, bouncy & fluttering’ (Whatbird’s assessment)

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

THE EVERYDAY TWITTERING SONG 

THE DISPLAY BUZZING SONG 

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Tom Reed)Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

STOP PRESS The day after I had pressed the ‘publish’ button on this post, I came across a great shot by Larry Towning of a BFG on Lubbers Quarters Cay, Abaco (think ‘Cracker P’s Restaurant’). An excellent addition of a bird from a small cay, showing its bright lower-wing flash.Black-faced Grassquit (m) Lubbers Quarters, Abaco (Larry Towning).jpg

Photo Credits: Alex Hughes (1, 10); Tom Sheley (2, 3); Bruce Hallett (4, 9); Tom Reed (5, 11); Becky Marvil (6); Peter Mantle (7); Gerlinde Taurer (8); Keith Salvesen (12) plus Larry Towning. Other Credits: ABA, AOU, Whatbird? (sound files)

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

YELLOW BIRDS ON ABACO: A ‘TWIXTMAS’ COLOUR SCHEME


Bahamas-Great Abaco_4846_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy

YELLOW BIRDS ON ABACO: A ‘TWIXTMAS’ COLOUR SCHEME

Red. Green. A splash of blue. The shimmer of gold and silver. Those Christmas colours are so passé. OVAH! So ‘last year’ (or very nearly). In the hope and expectation that people are not too bilious from Xmas Xcess, or too jaundiced by seasonal overload, I feel it’s time to change the colour scheme. Let’s go for bright yellow. Specifically, a mix of endemic Bahama Yellowthroats and Common Yellowthroats. I love these cheerful little birds, and the challenge of trying to lure them into the open with my rather unconvincing approximations of their ‘wichity’ call. Such sunny little creatures, and always such a joy to watch.

Bahamas-Great Abaco_5267_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copyBahama Yellowthroat (M) Bruce Hallett Bahama Yellowthroat 3 Tom Reed

ALL ABOVE – BAHAMA YELLOWTHROATS; ALL BELOW – COMMON YELLOWTHROATS

Common Yellowthroat.Gilpin Pond.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley copyCommon Yellowthroat (m) Bruce Hallett IMG_4232Common Yellowthroat, Gilpin Pond, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)Common-yellowthroat, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Credits: Gerlinde Taurer (1,2); Bruce Hallett (3, 6); Tom Reed (4); Tom Sheley (5, 7); Erik Gauger (8)

OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLERS ON ABACO


Olive-capped Warbler 3.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLERS ON ABACO

Abaco has a recorded 37 warbler species. Of these, most are winter residents and some are rarer migratory transients. Only 5 are permanently resident on Abaco: the Bahama Warbler, Bahama Yellowthroat, Olive-capped Warbler, Pine Warbler and Yellow Warbler. You can read about all 5 HERE 

Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

I realise that I haven’t posted about OCWs in their own right; and that as a species they have been unfairly lumped in (by me) with more general warbler posts. Time to put that right by showing some exclusively OCW photos.

Olive-capped Warbler.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

OCWs have an unusually restricted range, despite which they remain IUCN-listed ‘Least Concern’. These pretty birds are native only to the western and eastern ends of Cuba, Grand Bahama, and Abaco. Their natural habitat is pine forests and to a lesser extent in mixed forest and coppice areas.

Olive-capped Warbler 6.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

If you are lucky enough to see an OCW on Abaco, it’s worth thinking about the rich and unspoilt habitat that ensures its survival there. These little birds, along with other important bird species, enjoy a safe haven in the vast acres of pine forest.Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco (Tom Reed)

Photo credits: Bruce Hallett (1, 2, 3, 6); Tom Sheley (4, 5); Tom Reed (7)

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’.

[audio http://www.xeno-canto.org/sounds/uploaded/CDTGHVBGZP/COGD2009-5-22-2.mp3 Andrew Spenser / Xeno CantoCommon 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

THICK-BILLED VIREOS: ABACO’S ONLY PERMANENT RESIDENT VIREO


Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco 2 Tom Reed

THICK-BILLED VIREOS: ABACO’S ONLY PERMANENT RESIDENT VIREO

Hard to know why I haven’t got round to featuring these little vireos before. Unlike the other 7 vireo species found on Abaco seasonally or as transients, the Thick-billed Vireo Vireo crassirostris is an ever-present permanent resident of the coppice and scrub; and their unmistakeable repeating song can be heard almost everywhere. It was the first bird song I heard on Abaco, and therefore the TBV was the first bird I learned to ID. I’ve got quite a soft spot for them, really.Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Craig Nash)

Although TBVs are very easy to hear and track to a general area of coppice, I find actually seeing the bird creating the noise quite hard – let alone getting a clear camera shot. They always seem to be lurking several feet further away, deeper in the foliage, than the sound suggests. I’ve had some fun making TBV song iPhone recordings along the Delphi drive, practising the technique. If you want to know more about recording and converting to MP3 CLICK HERE.

One of my favourite images, from Gerlinde Taurer: a ‘shouty’ bird. We used it for ‘BIRDS OF ABACO‘.Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco  (Gerlinde Taurer 2)

I also love this perky little guy with a great beady-eyed pose taken by Bruce HallettThick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Bruce Hallett 2)

Here’s a clip of song, which I’m sure will be immediately familiar to Bahamians:

Paul Driver / Xeno Canto

Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

The main signifiers for this species, which in combination distinguish the TBV from the other vireo species on Abaco, are:

  • Two white wing bars
  • Yellow patch – usually quite prominent – between eye and beak
  • Thick bill – which immediately rules it out of being one of the 37 warbler species on Abaco…

Text book TBVThick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Becky Marvil 2).jpg

There are marked colour variations in the species according to maturity, season and to an extent gender (though m & f are quite similar). Here’s one that is causing wing-bar confusion by only showing traces. It also has quite dark upper parts.

Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

This is a very yellow TBVThick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Bruce Hallett 1)Whereas this one has rather anaemic colorationThick-billed Vireo, Abaco Bahamas .Tom SheleyFinally, this pretty TBV is very delicately markedThick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

RELATED POSTS

BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO

PHILADELPHIA VIREO

Credits: Tom Reed (1), Craig Nash (2), Gerlinde Taurer (3), Bruce Hallett (4, 8), Tom Sheley (5, 9), Becky Marvil (6), Alex Hughes (7), Tony Hepburn (10); Paul Driver / Xeno Canto

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY – ABACO’S 33 SHORE SPECIES (3): PLOVERS


Wilson's Plover & Chick, Delphi Beach, Abaco - Sandy Walker

Wilson’s Plover & Chick, Delphi Club Beach, Abaco (Sandy Walker)

 WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY – ABACO’S 33 SHORE SPECIES (3): PLOVERS

Over the last 2 days, 20 of Abaco’s 33 shorebird species have been featured, LARGER SHOREBIRDS followed by SANDPIPERS. The third part of the series concentrates on the 6 plover species found on Abaco. First, I’ve repeated the main Abaco shorebird checklist of 26 species (birds previously featured in bold), with each bird’s ‘availability’ code. I am disregarding the 7 species listed under the checklist because (1) they are transients or vagrants and your chances of encountering one are slim to remote; and (2) because in 16 months I was unable to obtain photos of any of them taken on Abaco, which can’t simply be because they are not photogenic. I still haven’t managed to deal with the shonky formatting, so I’ve given up on that…

The codes will tell you, for any particular bird, when you may see it (P = permanent, WR = winter resident, TR = transient, V = vagrant); whether it breeds (B) on Abaco; and your chance of seeing it, graded from easy (1) to vanishingly unlikely (5).

  • Black-necked Stilt                         Himantopus mexicanus              PR B 3
  • American Avocet                           Recurvirostra americana           WR 4
  • American Oystercatcher          Haematopus palliatus                 PR B 2
  • Black-bellied Plover                          Pluvialis squatarola                      WR 1
  • American Golden Plover                 Pluvialis dominica                         TR 4
  • Wilson’s Plover                                  Ochthodromus wilsonia              PR B 2
  • Semipalmated Plover                        Charadrius semipalmatus          WR 2
  • Piping Plover                                      Charadrius melodus                      WR 3
  • Killdeer                                                 Charadrius vociferus                    WR 2
  • Spotted Sandpiper                      Actitis macularius                         WR 1
  • Solitary Sandpiper                       Tringa solitaria                            WR 2
  • Greater Yellowlegs                       Tringa melanoleuca                      WR 2
  • Willet                                                   Tringa semipalmata                    PR B 2
  • Lesser Yellowlegs                          Tringa flavipes                              WR 3
  • Ruddy Turnstone                          Arenaria interpres                      PR 2
  • Red Knot                                            Calidris canutus                           WR 3
  • Sanderling                                        Calidris alba                                  WR 1
  • Dunlin                                                 Calidris alpina                              WR 2
  • Least Sandpiper                            Calidris minutilla                         WR 2
  • White-rumped Sandpiper       Calidris fuscicollis                        TR 3
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper         Calidris pusilla                              TR 2
  • Western Sandpiper                      Calidris Mauri                                TR 2
  • Short-billed Dowitcher               Limnodromus griseus                  WR 1
  • Long-billed Dowitcher                Limnodromus scolopaceus         WR 4
  • Wilson’s Snipe                                 Gallinago delicata                         WR 3
  • Wilson’s Phalarope                      Phalaropus tricolor                        V 4

The other 7 species of shorebird recorded for Abaco – all transients or vagrants – are: Upland Sandpiper TR 4, Whimbrel  TR 4, Hudsonian Godwit V5, Marbled Godwit V5, Buff-breasted Sandpiper V5, Pectoral Sandpiper  TR 3, Stilt Sandpiper TR 3

PLOVERS ON ABACO

The best-known of the 6 Abaco plover species is the Wilson’s Plover, because it is the only permanent resident. The American Golden Plover is a rare transient, but we luckily have one taken on on Abaco. All the others are winter residents and easy to middling hard to find. All except the American Golden Plover may be found on the beach at Delphi or the rocks at either end. The Piping Plover is the most interesting species, with a mere 8000 left in the world and a vigorous conservation program to protect them and their habitat. Their summer breeding range is in Canada, central US and the eastern seaboard. In winter they migrate south, and Abaco is one of their homes. At Delphi we are very fortunate that every year some choose the beach for their winter retreat.

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER  Pluvialis squatarola   WR 1Black-bellied Plover intermediate plumage.Marls.Abaco Bahamas.3.12.Tom Sheley edit

You  may well wonder why a bird with such a very specific belly-related colour designation has a white one in the photo. It’s because this is the non-breeding plumage (in fact, intermediate), so I have borrowed from Audubon Magazine (‘tip of the hat’) to show a non-Abaco bird in its breeding plumage. Black- Bellied Plover (Audubon Magazine)

AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER  Pluvialis dominica  TR 4American Golden Plover, Abaco - Tony Hepburn

 SEMIPALMATED PLOVER Charadrius semipalmatus WR 2Semipalmated Plover (f nb), Abaco - Bruce Hallett

KILLDEER Charadrius vociferus WR 2Kildeer, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

PIPING PLOVER  Charadrius melodus WR 3Piping Plover, Abaco - Bruce HallettPiping Plover, Abaco - Tony HepburnPiping Plover, Abaco  - Tom Reed

WILSON’S PLOVER Ochthodromus wilsonia  PR B 2

This permanent resident plover is a year-round presence on the Delphi Club beach, where in summer they nest and raise their tiny fluffball chicks (see Sandy Walker’s wonderful header image). I’m posting in some detail about these because it’s a while since I featured them. Links to other relevant posts are given below. All the following photos bar 1 were taken on the beach at Delphi.Wilson's Plover, Delphi Club Beach, Abaco - Craig Nash

The photo below was taken by Tom Sheley at Nettie’s Point, the skiff launching point for the day’s bonefishing on the Marls. The plover pair had made a scrape and nested there. They chose a tricky place to do so –  it was just where the trucks are turned after off-loading the skiffs. So the guides built a protective driftwood enclosure to protect the nest and prevent tragedy. The plovers, unfazed by the human proximity and activity, raised their family safely. I mostly saw the female on the nest within the square wooden pen, with the male usually close by, standing guard protectively. 

Wilson's Plover, Abaco Bahamas - Tom Sheley

This plover, photographed on the Delphi beach, is performing a typical ‘broken wing’ display, a tactic used to draw predators away from a nest site. The bird makes itself appear to be wounded and vulnerable, and flaps pathetically about on the ground… gradually getting further from the nest. If the going gets tough and the predator gets too close for comfort,  the plover gets going by unexpectedly flying off. Wilson's Plover, Abaco (broken wing display) Clare Latimer - Version 2

TWO MORE FROM THE DELPHI BEACHWilson's Plover, Abaco 12 Wilson's Plover, Abaco 11

RELATED POSTS

PIPING PLOVERS

WILSON’S PLOVERS (1) ‘Dream Plover’

 WILSON’S PLOVERS (2) Nest Protection

 WILSON’S PLOVERS (3) Scrapes, Chicks & Broken Wings

Photo credits: Sandy Walker, Tom Sheley, Audubon, Tony Hepburn, Bruce Hallett, Tom Reed, Craig Nash, Clare Latimer, RH