The olive-capped warbler is one of Abaco’s 5 permanent resident warblers, out of 37 warbler species recorded for Abaco. The other PRs are: Bahama Warbler, Bahama Yellowthroat, Pine Warbler and Yellow Warbler. (Photo: Tom Sheley)
AMERICAN REDSTARTS ON ABACO: MALES IN FOCUS
Time to rectify an omission and to feature the striking orange and black male American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla. A while ago I posted about the equally distinctive yellow and black females HERE (the dissimilar colouring between the sexes of these little warblers is due to differing carotin levels in each). These unmistakeable winter residents are common on Abaco. They are an easy warbler for new birders look out for, being unlike any other small warblerish-looking bird. All the birds here were photographed on Abaco.
- The Latin name means moth-eating red-tail (‘start’ is an archaic word for tail)
- AMRE are among the most common New World warblers
- Occasionally they are found as far afield as Europe
- They are almost entirely insect-eaters, with occasional berries or seeds for variety
- Males are late developers, tending to skew the sex ratio: too many of them
- They are inclined to monogamy, but only to an extent. Two-or-more-timing goes on
- The most aggressive males get the pick of the habitats
- This all begins to sound like human behaviour (not strictly a fact, so it doesn’t count)
- Their fanned tails are for display, and maybe to surprise insects into breaking cover
- Redstarts suffer badly from predators, especially in the breeding season
- They are popular with coffee farmers for keeping insect numbers down
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
*not really . **shows originality & ingenuity -vs- dents his purist bluesman credentials
“THE DIET OF WORMS”: WORM-EATING WARBLERS ON ABACO
The little worm-eating warbler (Helmitheros vermivorum) is unique. Not because of its worm-eating propensities or its warbler-ishness (or the combination), but because it is the only species currently classified in the genus Helmitheros. The Swainson’s warbler was once in the same genus, but the WEWA saw off the competition.
SO WHAT IS A HELMITHEROS THEN, IF IT’S SO SPECIAL?
The word is Greek, meaning something like ‘grub-hunter’. And the Latin-derived vermivorum reflects the diet of a VERMIVORE – an eater of worms. But this description is, like a worm, somewhat elastic. It includes caterpillars, larvae, grubs, spiders and similar creatures. But whereas there are other warbler vermivores there is only one Helmitheros.
SOME WORM-EATING FACTS TO DIGEST
- WEWAs are sexually monomorphic. Males & females are indistinguishable for most of the year
- They can only be reliably sexed at the height of the breeding season
- Don’t ask. OK, a magnifying glass may be needed
- These birds are believed to eat earthworms only rarely. Moth larvae are their best treat
- They are ground-nesting birds, one of only 5 new-world warblers to do this
- Like some shore-birds, adults may feign injury to lure predators away from the nest
- They are vulnerable to nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds** & feral cats
- Fires, deforestation, habitat change & diminished food resources are also threats to the species
- As are pesticides, which destroy the primary food source and are in any case potentially toxic
**cowbirds are luckily very uncommon on Abaco but are spreading their range at an alarming rate and pose a potential threat to many Bahamas bird species
DISTRIBUTION & CONSERVATION STATUS
The breeding range of the worm-eating warbler covers much of the eastern half of the US as far south as the Gulf Coast. It winters in the West Indies, Central America and southeastern Mexico. There is no overlap between summer and winter habitat. Because of the vulnerability of this ground-nesting species to a number of threats (see FACTS above), they are now IUCN listed as ‘Special Concern’ in New Jersey.
WHAT DO THEY SOUND LIKE?
In this case the song and call, as transposed into human, really does sound like the bird itself. The song is a rapid squeaky trill; and the calls for once do actually sound like ‘chip’ or ‘tseet’. See what you think.
Paul Marvin / Xeno-Canto
THE (ORIGINAL) DIET OF WORMS – A DIGRESSION
Studied European history? Had a laugh over The Diet of Worms in 1521? This was an assembly (or ‘diet’) of the Holy Roman Empire that took place in the City of Worms. There had already been several. This one resulted in an edict concerning Martin Luther and protestant reformation, with the consequence that… [sorry, nearly nodded of there. Just as I did at this stage at school I expect]
It is always instructive to look at Audubon’s fine depictions from the early c19. Here is his WEWA. Notice that it is here called Sylvia vermivora. So he had the worm-eating part, but the first part of the name rather strangely relates to a group of old-world warblers. No, I’ve no idea why.
Credits: Photos – Tom Sheley (1); Charmaine Albury (2, 4, 6); Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren (3, 7); Tom Friedel (5). Research material – CWFNJ / Michael J Davenport; Tom Fegely / The Morning Call; assorted magpie pickings & open source
It’s a statistical fact that 99% of people “love” or “adore” painted buntings. The 1% were rather standoffish “Don’t Nose”, preferring to keep their views to themselves. PABU are winter residents on Abaco, not especially common but drawn irresistibly to feeders. To me they are the colour of Christmas, magically decorated with the favourite pigments from a child’s paintbox. So before I get stuck into the imminent festivities, I’ll leave you with a few of these gorgeous creatures to enjoy…
Wishing all friends and followers of Rolling Harbour a wonderful Christmas and a very happy New Year. See you when I have been safely discharged from the festive recovery ward…
Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 5), Erik Gauger (2), Tara Lavallee (3, 4), Keith Salvesen (6)
HURRICANE MATTHEW MOVES ON: BRIGHTER LATER
Early reports and post-hurricane news for Abaco is fortunately encouraging, though I appreciate that the Island’s good fortune at the eleventh hour swerve by Matthew only meant that others came into the direct firing line. Plenty of environmental damage, of course, but in human terms the harm seems mercifully light.
It’s too early to determine the impact on the wildlife of Abaco. The migratory winter birds must be wondering why they bothered this year. Land birds are obviously put at risk by the trashing of their habitat in the violent winds. Shore birds, too, are vulnerable: some beaches on Abaco are open to big tidal surges in high winds. Massive waves have smashed their way up the beach at Delphi. Long Beach, where the largest concentrations of piping plovers congregate at certain times, is also very exposed to surges.
Time will tell how the birds have fared. Meanwhile, here are some cheerful pictures – some of my favourite species – to relieve the gloom.
OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION
‘BRYTER LAYTER’ was the second album by a ‘troubled genius’, the supremely talented but sadly doomed Nick Drake. Released in 1971, it failed to convert the ripples caused by his debut ‘Five Leaves Left’ (1969) into a deserved wave of popularity, not least because Drake was already starting his gradual retreat from live performance, from social contact, and indeed from life. Here’s the title track, a pastoral instrumental with orchestral embellishments, and (unusually) without Drake’s distinctive, wistful voice.
Credits: NASA / ISS, News open sources, Peter Mantle, Keith Salvesen, Bruce Hallett, Tom Shelley
DOVE LOVE: APPRECIATING PIGEONS ON ABACO
Monday was International Pigeon Appreciation Day 2016, apparently. I’m not a huge fan of limitless species being accorded their own special day each year: “Celebrate International Plankton Day – Be Kind to your Favourite Protozoa!” or “Global Millipede Day: Take an Arthropod for a Walk!”.
White-crowned Pigeon (& header image)
I’m not sure where pigeons come in all this. In many cities feral pigeons are considered vermin – yet people love to feed them, even the ones with rotted feet and one eye. Especially those ones. Pigeons may be pests in crop fields, yet HEROES in wartime. They may be decorative, yet are, regrettably, good sport and delicious.
I’ve decided to take a broad view with pigeons and doves (there’s no significant difference), and not to be sniffy about Columba and their special day. They are pretty birds and they deserve it. So I’m featuring some Abaco pigeons and doves to enjoy, representing every species found on Abaco – and a bonus dove from New Providence at the end.
Eurasian Collared Dove
The Columbidae of Abaco: all permanent breeding residents
Common Ground Dove (Tobacco Dove)
PROTECTED SPECIES From a sporting and culinary point of view, the following pigeons and doves are protected by law at all times: Common Ground (Tobacco) Dove; Keywest Quail-Dove
SHOOTING IN SEASON The following have open season from roughly mid-September until March: Zenaida Dove; White-crowned Pigeon; Eurasian Collared Dove; Mourning Dove
UNPROTECTED – NO DESIGNATED CLOSED SEASON White-winged Dove (but why? they are fairly uncommon on Abaco); Rock Pigeon.
Key West Quail-Dove
The second bird of this pair was recently photographed by Milton Harris at the north end of Elbow Cay. More details HERE
The birds shown above represent the 8 species found on Abaco. However, not far away in New Providence, there is a beautiful pigeon that has not yet made its way over to Abaco and has yet to be introduced there. I am ambivalent about the deliberate introduction of alien species, because of the frequently very real risks to native species in terms of territory, habitat, food sources and so forth. But where there is no detectable threat to the local species, perhaps there is no great harm. I’d certainly like to see these lovely birds flying around – if possible, as a protected species…
Pied Imperial Pigeon (Nassau)
Photo credits: Gerlinde Taurer (1); Alex Hughes (2); Tom Sheley (3, 7, 13); Tony Hepburn (4); Keith Salvesen (5, 8, 14); Bruce Hallett (6, 9, 10); Woody Bracey (11, 16, 17); Milton Harris (12); Charles Skinner (15)