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)

11401006_10206870807314866_6842602513908864802_n copy

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

WADING TO MAKE A COMEBACK: WHIMBRELS RETURN TO BAHAMAS


Whimbrel (Lip Kee wiki)

WADING TO MAKE A COMEBACK: WHIMBRELS RETURN TO BAHAMAS

It’s been many long years. Many checklists show the whimbrel Numenius phaeopus as a recorded bird for most of the Bahamas islands. On Abaco it is rated as a ‘TR4’ in Tony White’s magisterial checklist, which is to say a transient species in migration that is ‘casual, reported irregularly’. Elsewhere it is described as ‘rare / accidental’. This is only one step better than ‘vanishingly rare’. Prior to this year, the last documented sighting report I have found for Abaco was in 2000. Woody Bracey, renowned and persistent birder, last saw one there in 2002. We found no photos to use for “THE BIRDS OF ABACO”, not even as a snapshot in the supplement.

Frankly it was beginning to look as though the Bahamas whimbrel might be going… might already have gone… the way of the specimen below that I found last year in the Museum of Natural History in Dublin (it’s 109 years old). And the lovely whimbrel header picture is from elsewhere in the world. But suddenly…

Whimbrel (Dublin Natural History Museum) - Keith Salvesen

On August 20th this year, Keith Kemp, a regular birder on Abaco, encountered a whimbrel in the Cherokee Sound area. On the eBird map clip below, it is shown with the red marker, meaning a recent sighting. The blue marker is the 2000 sighting at Crossing Rocks. Keith didn’t get a photo, but he got the kudos of seeing the first Abaco whimbrel for 15 years!Whimbrel sightings Abaco

That was in August. On September 14th, Charmaine Albury went one better – she had her camera with her! Sandy Cay is a small islet to the southwest of Man-o-War Cay. There, in all it’s glory, was another whimbrel. She promptly shot it, luckily not in a Winsconsin dentist / Cecil the lion sense. She even managed to get a good in-flight shot.

Whimbrel, Sandy Cays, Abaco (Charmaine Albury) 2Whimbrel in flight, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)Sandy Cay Abaco jpg

And that might have been that for the Northern Bahamas for another 15 years. Except that the following day at West End, Grand Bahama, Linda Barry-Cooper went one better – she found 2 whimbrels together. Goodness knows how many decades have passed since the last sighting of a pair. Here they are.

Whimbrel, West End, Grand Bahama 1 Sep 2015 (Linda Barry Cooper) Whimbrel, West End, Grand Bahama 2 Sep 2015 (Linda Barry Cooper)     Whimbrel, West End, Grand Bahama 3 Sep 2015 (Linda Barry Cooper)

So that’s a massive influx of 4 whimbrels in the Northern Bahamas within one month. And who knows, maybe more to come. As for other Bahamas islands, a quick check on eBird for the last 10 years shows 3 on GB apart from Linda’s; a handful in the TCI; a couple on Inagua. And that’s it. Matt Jeffery says that on Andros one or two are seen every year as they pass through. And Eleuthera had a famous Whimbrel in 2011 called Chinquapin that had been fitted with a tracking device. It started its migration south, only to run slap into Hurricane Irene. After a doubtless severe buffeting it found safety on Eleuthera, where it was recaptured and cared for.  I think this goes beyond the usual concept of  ‘transient’ though it was undoubtedly ‘accidental’…

“…a shorebird, tracked using a satellite transmitter, flew through Hurricane Irene and survived. The bird, a whimbrel, left Southampton Island in northern Canada and reached the outer band of the huge storm as hurricane-force winds began pounding the Bahamas. The next day the whimbrel, nicknamed Chinquapin, migrated into the eye of the hurricane and landed on Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas” (π Repeating Islands). You can read more about Chinquapin’s epic adventure HERE

chinquapin_t607

If you are wandering on your favourite stretch of sand, idly beachcombing and keeping an eye out for Piping Plovers, here are the sounds that should make you stop in your tracks: the song and the extraordinary call of the new wave (hopefully) of whimbrels in the Bahamas…

SONG π Guillermo Funes Xeno-Canto

CALL π Stein Ø. Nilsen Xeno-Canto

Finally, having nothing to contribute personally to the great whimbrel comeback by way of Bahamas-made photos or sound recordings, I find I have actually photographed one in the UK. It was probably by mistake. The bird is certainly retreating rapidly. This is the only chance I shall ever have to fit it into a relevant post, so I claim writer’s prerogative to show it…

Whimbrel Pensthorpe 2010 copy

Credits: Charmaine Albury, Linda Barry-Cooper, Lip Kee (header), Lisa Paravisini (Chinquapin) and RH (the other pics); Xeno-Canto (recordings)