KIRTLAND’S WARBLERS: ABACO’S RARE TREASURES


Kirtland's Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

KIRTLAND’S WARBLER: ABACO’S RARE TREASURES

This is a challenging topic that I have been (shamefully) putting off. My task is a full-scale facing-up to an extremely rare, very small, and rather adorable adversary, the Kirtland’s Warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii). There are probably more dedicated KIWA experts out there than there are birds of this scarce species. Estimates of bird numbers vary wildly, but if I take a consensus of the mean of an approximate average of the median as ± 5000 individuals, I’d probably be in the ballpark named “Current Thinking“. 

Kirtland's Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

THAT SOUNDS QUITE RARE, RIGHT?

Around 50 years ago, the species was all but extinct – perhaps fewer than 500 birds in total, a barely sustainable population. In 1975, Brudenell-Bruce estimated 1000. I’ll mention some of the reasons later. In the 1970s, the Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery Plan was instituted with the twin objectives of protecting the vulnerable breeding habitat – basically large areas of jack pine; and of monitoring and management aimed at encouraging an increase in numbers. Around that time, they became IUCN listed as vulnerable, but more recently, population growth has resulted in a recategorisation to the more optimistic near-threatened category.

Kirtland's Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

AND THEY LIVE  WHERE, EXACTLY?

In spring and summer almost the entire KIWA population lives and breeds in very specific areas of Michigan and Ontario, where jack pines are found. There are signs that the range has expanded slightly in Michigan and more widely into Wisconsin and Ohio as the numbers have increased.

A Kirtland’s Warbler in the jack pines of Michigan (Vince Cavalieri)Kirtland's Warbler, Michigan (©Vince Cavalieri)

In the fall and winter the population migrates to the Bahamas & TCI, where they tend to choose remote scrub and coppice areas to live until the spring when they return north in April. This range map shows the extremely specialist habitat choices of these migratory birds.

A Kirtland’s Warbler in Ohio Kirtland's Warbler, Ohio (Tom Sheley)

SO THEY ARE REALLY FOUND ON ABACO?

Yes – but they are notoriously hard to find. To give you an idea, I checked the eBird stats for Abaco sightings over the last 10 years: 9 successful trips reported, with 18 birds seen in all**.  There were 3 groups comprising 6, 4, and 2 birds; and the rest were single birds. Abaco ornithologist and guide Woody Bracey is the go-to man for finding these little birds. Two years ago we were in his party that saw 4 in the space of a couple of hours. I was supposedly the photographer, but unaccountably found myself in completely the wrong place for the first 3. The 4th flew off a branch and straight at my head as I raised the camera… I felt the wind as it passed on its way deep into the coppice. I’m not proud of my effort; the fuzzy lemon item beyond the twigs and leaves is a KIWA (you’ll have to take my word for it…).

Kirtland's Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Rolling Harbour / KS)

HAVE ANY BEEN SEEN ON ABACO THIS YEAR?

Last week, Woody took another party to the main hotspot in the Abaco National Park, a protected area at the southern end of the island. The park is huge, covering more than 20,000 acres of (mostly) pine forest. These birds are tiny, about 14 cms long and weighing 14 gms. Despite which they found a female and then a male KIWA in their favoured habitat beyond the pine forest. Those are the only 2 I’ve heard about this winter season.

Kirtland’s Warbler, Abaco Bahamas, 12 April 2018 Kirtland's Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

WHAT DO I LOOK OUT FOR?

  • Gray head with a blueish tinge, gray-brown back
  • Yellow throat & underside, with some dark streaking
  • Females are paler and more streaked
  • Split eye rings – white crescents above and below eyes
  • Frequent tail pumping and bobbing (‘tail-wagging’ J. Bond)

WHAT DO THEY SOUND LIKE?

Some would say ‘chip-chip-chip-too-too-weet-weet’. Elsewhere I have found they produce ‘a loud tchip, song an emphatic flip lip lip-lip-lip-tip-tip CHIDIP‘ (Arnott). You be the judge!

 Ross Gallardy / Xeno-Canto

Kirtland's Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)

WHAT ARE THE MAIN THREATS TO THE SPECIES?

  • Mankind is the primary threat. The breeding areas are particularly vulnerable from deforestation and clearance of the jack pines that are essential for successful nesting and breeding – and therefore the survival of the species.
  • Encroachment of development is another threat, as with so many species.
  • There is a further threat of nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds, to which KIWAs are especially vulnerable.
  • In the winter grounds where the habitat is mostly remote or in protected areas, there is rather less of a problem from these factors – for now at least.
  • Overall, habitat degradation at one end of the migration – in particular the breeding grounds – poses a serious risk; at both ends, extinction could loom again.

Kirtland's Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

WHO WAS MR KIRTLAND?

Jared Potter Kirtland (1793-1877) portrait

Jared Potter Kirtland (1793-1877)

Jared P. Kirtland (1793 – 1877) was an Ohio scholar, doctor, judge, politician and amateur naturalist. He was a man of many and varied interests and talents, not-untypical of his time. In the field of natural history, Kirtland’s name lives on in his warbler; and also in a couple of snake species.

The Bahamas Postal Service is commendably active in producing wildlife stamps

**I realise eBird is not the be-all and end-all for sighting reports. It hasn’t been in existence for as long as 10 years, and not everyone uses it anyway. And awareness of the Bahamas as the winter home for KIWAs is a surprisingly recent development (as with piping plovers). As awareness increases, so do birder interest, habitat knowledge, and consequently reports of sightings.

Another example of the ‘twigs in the way’ problem for photographers

Credits: Bruce Hallett (1, 2, 3); Vince Cavalieri (4); Tom Sheley (5); Unattributable (me, in fact) 6; Woody Bracey (7, 9); Tony Hepburn (8); Lionel Levene (10); Birds of North America (range map); Ross Gallardy / Xeno-Canto (audio file); Birdorable (cartoon); BPS (KIWA stamp). Special thanks for all use permissions for images of this rare bird.

BONAPARTE’S GULLS ON ABACO


Bonaparte's Gull (Basar, wiki)

BONAPARTE’S GULLS ON ABACO

The Bonaparte’s gull Chroicocephalus philadelphia is one of the smallest gulls, and is found mainly in Canada and northern United States, though vagrants sometimes end up as far away as Europe. And Abaco. These birds are considered very uncommon winter residents on Abaco (categorised WR4). Yet within the last couple of months Elwood Bracey saw an amazing 4 in Treasure Cay harbour… Milton Harris reported seeing one at Hope Town harbour… Keith Kemp saw a couple on South Abaco (2 locations)… Eugene Hunn reported 1 on the Sandy Point dock… then suddenly there were 3 on the beach at Delphi. They have hung around there, too – let’s hope that all these birds find their way back to their breeding grounds safely. They have quite a journey ahead of them.

Bonaparte's Gull, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

The species is named for Charles Lucien Bonaparte, a French ornithologist and nephew to the French emperor (see below for more about him).  The philadelphia part of its Latin designation oddly results from the location from which the original ‘type specimen’ was collected (see below for the reason). This is not unlike the Cape May warbler, so named for the location of the original specimen, yet not recorded there again for more than a century (and still quite rare)…

Bonaparte's Gull, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

The gulls shown here are in their winter plumage, with the characteristic dark blotch behind the eye. In the breeding season, they acquire smart slate-black hoods:

Bonaparte's Gull, Abaco Bahamas (D Gordon Robertson wiki)

 10 BONAPARTE’S GULL FACTS TO TELL YOUR GRANDCHILDREN

  • Graceful in flight, resembling terns as much as gulls
  • Monotypic: the sole representative of its taxonomic subgroup
  • Males and females have very much the same colouring
  • Believed to be monogamous
  • Showy breeders, with much display, swooping, diving, yelling at each other etc
  • Typically (and ungull-like) they nest in trees, preferring conifers eg jack pine
  • Share nest-building and parenting duties
  • Capable of considerable aggression to protect their nests / chicks
  • Have been known to live 18 years
  • The only bird species with an Emperor’s name (prove me wrong!**)

Bonaparte's Gull, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

We saw these birds on the beach most days, usually just 2 of the 3 at any one time. They were quite shy and hard to get close to, however subtly. And they kept on the move – except when they decided to have a rest.

Bonaparte's Gull, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

TELL US MORE ABOUT PRINCE BONAPARTEBonaparte, Charles Lucien (1803-1857)Bonaparte’s gull, Zenaida dove

Charles Lucien Bonaparte, 2nd Prince of Canino & Musignano 1803 – 1853

Bonaparte was a French biologist and ornithologist, and the nephew of the Emperor Napoleon. He married his cousin Zenaïde, by whom he had twelve children. They moved from Italy to Philadelphia, by which time Bonaparte had already developed a keen interest in ornithology. He collected specimens of a new storm-petrel, later named after the Scottish ornithologist Alexander Wilson. And presumably that’s where he found his specimen gull.

Bonaparte studied the ornithology of the United States, and updated Wilson’s work American Ornithology. His revised edition was published between 1825 and 1833. He was a keen supporter of a (then unknown) ornithologist John James Audubon. Rather sweetly, he created the genus Zenaida, after his wife, applying it to the White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica,  Zenaida Dove Zenaida aurita and Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura. He himself was later honoured in the name ‘Bonaparte’s Gull’.

Bonaparte's Gull, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

RELATED POSTS

GULL SPECIES ON ABACO

THE PIONEER NATURALISTS

Credits: excellent header image from ‘Basar’; breeding plumage gull by D Gordon Robertson; all the rest, Keith Salvesen

**Emperor Penguins don’t count!

STOP PRESS some of the other BOGUs mentioned in Para 1, by Elwood Bracey, and 2 from Keith Kemp

SEVEN NEW BIRD SPECIES ON ABACO


Black-bellied Whistling Duck (Keith Salvesen)

Black-bellied Whistling Duck June 2014

SEVEN NEW BIRD SPECIES ON ABACO

THE BIRDS OF ABACO was published very nearly 4 years ago. At the time, the checklist of species recorded for Abaco at the back of the book, so meticulously compiled by Tony White and Woody Bracey, was definitive for as long as records have existed (in practical terms, since 1950). The final new species included in the book was a Black-browed albatross amazingly spotted in Abaco waters from the BMMRO research vessel by a keen-eyed intern the previous summer.

Brown Thrasher (Manjith Kainickara - Wiki)

Brown Thrasher Nov 2014

Within 3 months of publication, the checklist had been rendered out of date. A totally new species had touched down on Abaco – a small flock of 6 black-bellied whistling ducks. They worked their way up South Abaco from down by Crossing Rocks up to MH Airport via Schooner Bay, Delphi and Bahama Palm Shores. By then, numbers were down to 2. Soon even they disappeared, heading presumably from wherever the flock had intended to go in the first place. Maybe they got tired en route. Maybe their internal Satnav suffered a collective failure. Maybe senior BBWD had had a bright idea for a shortcut…

Masked Booby (Duncan Wright wiki)

Masked Booby January 2015

We are not talking here of rarities in global terms, but species that have never been seen before on Abaco. Or, if seen, went unremarked. Or, if remarked, without awareness of the significance! The advent of the current enthusiasm for birding in the Bahamas plus the ease with which a quick photo can be taken – on a phone for example – as evidence of a sighting and to aid a clear ID, may well increase the number of new species sightings in the future.

Pearly-Eyed Thrasher, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

Pearly-Eyed Thrasher March 2015

There’s the added benefit from the ease with which photos can be taken and distributed – people will no longer have to do any of the following:

  • Shoot birds and take them as samples (hello, J.J. Audubon & historical cohorts)
  • Pack a sketch pad & crayons to draw birds before they fly away (or from memory)
  • Rely on scribbled notes made in low light and a light drizzle
  • Listen to, or read, a query about a “sort of brownish medium sized bird with maybe a bit of yellow on the wings, and a black tail I think, but I didn’t get a very good look and oh yes it had sort of beady eyes and sounded a bit like ‘Kalik Kalik Kalik’ “. 
Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Abaco (Keith Kemp)

Buff-breasted Sandpiper Oct 2016

Over the 4 years, there have been a few birds that, although not ‘first evers’, are second or third ever – and the first ones with supporting photos. These include the fabulous scissor-tailed flycatcher; and the bald eagle that was sighted several times over south Abaco last year. I’ll return to these rarities another time. Let’s see the sixth new bird, from late last year.

Scaly-naped pigeon (Dick Daniels / carolinabirds.org wiki)

Scaly-naped pigeon Nov 2107

To complete the set, so to speak, 2017 ended with another gorgeous duck, the cinnamon teal. You can read more about all these birds using the following links to the relevant posts.

Cinnamon Teal (Dick Daniels / carolinabirds.org)

Cinnamon Teal Dec 2017

Credits: Keith Salvesen (1); Manjith Kainickara (2); Duncan Wright (3); Woody Bracey (4); Keith Kemp (5); Dick Daniels / carolinabirds.org / wiki (6, 7)

BEHOLD! SOME BUNTING(S) FOR AN ABACO CHRISTMAS


Painted Bunting.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheleyimagesimagesimagesimages

BEHOLD! SOME BUNTING(S) FOR AN ABACO CHRISTMAS

painted-bunting copy

BUNTING  /ˈbʌntɪŋ/  (Noun)

[A Christmas gift of a puntastic avian / festive double-meaning]
  1. A small New World songbird of the cardinal subfamily
  2. Flags and other colourful festive decorations

imagesimagesimages

PAINTED BUNTINGPainted Bunting, Abaco (Erik Gauger)
Painted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)Painted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

It’s hard to imagine a more Christmasy little bird than the Painted Bunting. Bright blue, red, green primary colours straight from a child’s paintbox make for a spectacular bird to grace the festive season. These are migratory winter residents, and the first reports of the bright and beautiful males on Abaco started to appear in November. Some will stay around until March.

                                                           painted-buntingimagespainted-bunting copy

Feeders at the Delphi Club. The first image shows a female & a male PABU feeding together. The second is a male with a pair of black-faced grassquitsPainted Buntings (M & F), Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Painted Bunting, Delphi, Abaco (Sandy Walker)

                                                        painted-buntingimagespainted-bunting copy

The two wonderful photos below are by Tom Sheley, a major photographic contributor to THE BIRDS OF ABACO. They were taken in Texas, not on Abaco, but I include them because of Tom’s strong connection with the birdlife of Abaco; and because on any view they are fantastic shots…
Painted Bunting reflection LR.Laguna Seca.South TX. 4.16.13.Tom SheleyPainted Bunting dip reflection LR.Laguna Seca.South TX. 4.16.13.Tom Sheley

painted-bunting copy

This is probably my last post until after Christmas, what with one thing and another, so it’s a good opportunity to wish a very Happy Christmas or [insert preferred seasonal appellation] to everyone who visits Rolling Harbour and especially those who, having done so, return for more!

Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 7, 8), Erik Gauger (2), Tara Lavallee (3, 4), Keith Salvesen (5) Sandy Walker (6); Birdorable Cartoons

imagesimagesimagesimagesPainted Bunting, Abaco Bahamas

BARN OWLS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS


Barn Owl, Abaco Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

Barn Owl, Abaco, Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

BARN OWLS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS

The Barn Owl (Tyto alba) is the only owl you are likely to see – and hear – on Abaco. The species is permanently resident, which is a good start in that sighting opportunities exist year-round. Although they are not at all common they can be found in particular locations, for example around Treasure Cay and Little Harbour; also on Elbow Cay, Lubbers Quarters (4 birds right now) and Man-o-War Cay (a while back). There are two other owl species recorded for Abaco: the rare Burrowing Owl (see link below for details); and the Northern Saw-whet Owl, a vanishingly rare vagrant recorded a handful of times that I don’t propose to feature unless and until it decides to visit Abaco more frequently…

Barn Owl (Birdorable)

I wrote about Barn Owls on Abaco many moons ago. I don’t usually rehash previous posts, but I am returning to the topic because of a recent barn owl sighting on Elbow Cay that caused interest, excitement and some speculation. 

Barn Owl, Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas (Becky Marvil)

Barn Owl, Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas (Becky Marvil)

The shrill wheezing cry of the Barn Owl – known in some places as the ‘screech owl’ (which, strictly, is a different owl species) – is unmistakeable. Barn owls also make an intimidating hissing noise. Mainly nocturnal, they fly noiselessly like white ghosts in the night. If you are lucky enough to see one in the daytime, you’ll be struck by the beautiful heart-shaped face and (if close enough) the delicate markings.

 Patrik Aberg Xeno-Canto

Both photos above were taken on Abaco. Woody Bracey’s header image is featured inTHE BIRDS OF ABACO“. Becky Marvil’s photo was taken near Treasure Cay. I’ve never seen a barn owl on Abaco, but  I’ve been lucky enough to get close to them in the UK. For those who have never seen one, here are a few of my own images that show what wonderful birds they are. They were photographed at a raptor rescue centre, so I am not going to pretend that these shots were taken in the wild. That would never do. 

Barn Owl (Keith Salvesen)Barn Owl Dorset (Keith Salvesen) Barn Owl Dorset (Keith Salvesen)Barn Owl 4 (Keith Salvesen)

This close-up of the barn owl above shows the typical speckling on its pure white front, and the beautiful wing patterns. Amazingly for such a large bird, an adult weighs a mere 350g or so. As a comparison, The Birds of Abaco book weighs 2kg!

Barn Owl close-up (Keith Salvesen)

This fluffy baby barn owl had been rescued and was being cared for in a sanctuary before being returned to the wild. Whimsy is rarely permitted  in this blog, but seriously, folks – cuteness overload!Barn Owl 6 (Keith Salvesen)

RELATED POSTS

 OWLS OF ABACO (2) – BURROWING OWLS

BURROWING OWLS ON ELBOW CAY

Credits: Woody Bracey, Becky Marvil, Keith Salvesen, Patrik Aberg /  Xeno-Canto (audio), RSPB (video), Birdorable (Cartoon)

NEW BIRD FOR ABACO, BAHAMAS: SCALY-NAPED PIGEON


Scaly-naped Pigeon (Jean Lopez YT)

NEW BIRD FOR ABACO, BAHAMAS: SCALY-NAPED PIGEON

The scaly-naped pigeon (Patagioenas squamosa), also known as the red-necked pigeon, is found throughout most of the Caribbean. Except for the Bahama islands – if indeed they are considered Caribbean, which strictly and geographically they are not – even though for some purposes such as passport requirements they may be.

Scaly-naped Pigeon (Dick Daniels, Carolina Birds.org)

Until the last year or so, this pigeon species had not been recorded in the Bahamas. Then sightings began to be recorded on Inagua and TCI – not so very far north of their normal range – and mostly within the last 4 weeks. Since bird records began, they had never been reported further north in the Bahamas, until a few days ago on Abaco.Scaly-necked pigeon (postdlf wiki)

The scaly-naped pigeon is so called because the plumage on the back of its maroon-coloured neck looks somewhat… erm… scaly (hence the Latin squamosa in the binomial name): close-up below.  Notice also the bright, ringed eyes. 

 Scaly-necked pigeon's scaly neck, Abaco, Bahamas

These pigeons mainly feed on fruits and seeds, and usually hang out in small groups or mix in with other dove and pigeon species. They can be wary and flighty, like many of the family Columbidae. Here’s a short (30 secs) video of one preening.

IS THERE PHOTOGRAPHIC PROOF OF AN ABACO ONE?

This is slightly tricky, I’m afraid. Right now, it is pigeon shooting season on Abaco. Several birds shot in South Abaco turned out not to be white-crowned pigeons or a WCP / dove cross,  and Woody Bracey was asked to ID photos taken of the deceased birds. The neck close-up above is from one of them… The full photos are a bit sad for a generally cheerful blog so I’ve not used them. At times like these, I have to remind myself that historically, natural historians obtained their specimens of our feathered friends by shooting them. Here are 3 portraits of John James Audubon as a young, middle-aged, and elderly man with his specimen-collecting equipment of choice.

 John James Audubon & gun John James Audubon & gun John James Audubon & gun

WHY HAVE THESE PIGEONS TURNED UP ON ABACO NOW?

The likeliest cause of the sightings this year on Inagua / TCI, and the current influx on South Abaco, is the recent extreme weather, especially Hurricanes Irma and Jose. It seems improbable that a mere whim to fly several hundred miles north from Hispaniola or Puerto Rico would account for the presence of these birds. One of the SNPs shot on Abaco has been retained as a specimen and preserved in a freezer. Woody is contemplating risking an expedition into the target area – a dangerous mission during the shooting season. He has invited any takers to join him, advising people to wear orange clothing to distinguish them from pigeons…

Scaly-naped Pigeon - Barbados

Scaly-naped pigeons are featured on stamps from Barbados (shown) and Barbuda. Like the Bahamas, the Caribbean countries have an excellent record for featuring their wildlife on stamps. You can read more about Bahamas wildlife stamps HERE

Scaly-naped Pigeon

Credits: Woody Bracey for the heads-up for the Abaco sightings; Jean Lopez (header still from a Youtube video); Dick Daniels / Carolinabirds.org; Cornell Lab / Neotropical Birds (range map); neck close-up from Abaco via Woody Bracey; ‘postdlf’ wiki; Felipe at Aves Puerto Rico; open source & wiki for all else 

Scaly-naped Pigeon (Jean Lopez)

AUDUBON’S SHEARWATER (DUSKY PETREL): SAD NEWS FROM ABACO


Audobon's_Shearwater - Dominic Sherony wiki

AUDUBON’S SHEARWATER (DUSKY PETREL): SAD NEWS FROM ABACO

Just 2 short years ago, Abaco experienced a shearwater die-off event, when during a period of a week or so numerous dead and dying Great Shearwaters were washed up on many of Abaco’s beaches. You can read about it HERE and a follow-up HERE. This map shows the affected area in 2015.

Now comes news of another such sad event, with a large number of Audubon’s shearwaters (Puffinus lherminieri) appearing in the tideline and on beaches at Bahama Palm Shores, Casuarina, Winding Bay and doubtless elsewhere. Many are already dead. Some are still alive, but in a very poor state. 

Audubons Shearwater from Crossley ID Guide (Eastern Birds) - Richard Crossley : Crossley Guides CCL

SHEARWATER DIE-OFF
These upsetting beach finds seem to be a periodic phenomenon, and very likely result from climate conditions or shortage of food out in the ocean – or a combination. Although most will unavoidably have ingested plastics, that would not explain the simultaneous deaths. Poor fishing conditions – they eat fish and squid – will weaken and exhaust the birds as they try to find food. Woody Bracey thinks this the most likely cause, having noticed recent poor deep-sea fishing conditions and an unusual absence of the frigatebirds that are a sure sign of fish.
Pétrel de Barau - wiki .jpg
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
The dead birds will be quickly removed by the turkey vultures. If you do find one, you might want to bury it. The prognosis for sick birds, sadly, is not good. They may have been carried a long way from open sea and they will be exhausted and starved. Those that are strong enough may recover naturally; but most will sadly die, being too weak and emaciated to survive. There is no available facility able to deal with a large number of very poorly or dying birds. 
The most practical advice I can give is:
(1) move the bird gently into the shade if in the sun
(2) provide water in a shallow dish
(3) offer finely chopped fish BUT no bread – it’s very bad for birds…
(4) if it seems to be working, then carry on until the bird is strong enough to fly (this may be quite a commitment).
(5) do not reproach yourself if a bird you try to help dies. Many will be in such bad shape by the time they are washed up that they are unlikely to survive whatever steps you take.
 
Audubon's Shearwater Stamp) OS
WHAT DO I LOOK OUT FOR?
This poor shearwater was one of a number of dead birds found by Keith Kemp at Casuarina yesterday. I realise such images can be upsetting, so I am confining photos of the birds to just two so you will recognise one if you see it.
Audubon's Shearwater, Abaco (Keith Kemp)Audubon's Shearwater, Abaco (Keith Kemp)
 AUDUBON’S SHEARWATERS IN AN EGGSHELL
  • Belong to the petrel family
  • Named ‘Puffinus lherminieri’ after French naturalist Felix Louis L’Herminier
  • Also known as the Dusky-backed Shearwater – or by Audubon as the Dusky Petrel
  • Forages by diving out of flight or from the surface; or by surface-feeding
  • Colony breeders, nesting in rock crevices, in burrows, or under thick vegetation
  • Mated pairs spend much time together at nest site. They like rubbing bills together
  • Their ‘twittering calls and mewing’ are usually only heard at night 

Audubon’s ‘Dusky Petrel’

Audubon's Shearwater (Dusky Petrel) - Audubon.org

I’d be interested to hear any other accounts of the current event, especially of any recovery stories. By all means do this as a comment, or email me  / PM on FB

Finally, for those who wonder how pioneer naturalists went about their work observing a species, collecting specimens and recording their findings, here is Audubon’s own account for the ‘Dusky Petrel’, Plate 299 in his magisterial work.

Dusky Petrel (Plate 299)

On the 26th of June, 1826, while becalmed on the Gulf of Mexico, off the western shores of Florida, I observed that the birds of this species, of which some had been seen daily since we left the mouth of the Mississippi, had become very numerous. The mate of the vessel killed four at one shot, and, at my request, brought them on board. From one of them I drew the figure which has been engraved (see above). The notes made at the time are now before me, and afford me the means of presenting you with a short account of the habits of this bird.

They skim very low over the sea in search of the floating bunches of marine plants, usually called the gulf weed, so abundant here as sometimes to occupy a space of half an acre or more. In proceeding, they flap their wings six or seven times in succession, and then sail for three or four seconds with great ease, having their tail much spread, and their long wings extended at right angles with the body. On approaching a mass of weeds, they raise their wings obliquely, drop their legs and feet, run as it were on the water, and at length alight on the sea, where they swim with as much ease as Ducks, and dive freely, at times passing several feet under the surface in pursuit of the fishes, which, on perceiving their enemy, swim off, but are frequently seized with great agility. Four or five, sometimes fifteen or twenty of these birds, will thus alight, and, during their stay about the weeds, dive, flutter, and swim, with all the gaiety of a flock of Ducks newly alighted on a pond. Many Gulls of different kinds hover over the spot, vociferating their anger and disappointment at not being so well qualified for supplying themselves with the same delicate fare. No sooner have all the fishes disappeared than the Petrels rise, disperse, and extend their flight in search of more, returning perhaps in awhile to the same spot. I heard no sound or note from any of them, although many came within twenty yards of the ship and alighted there. Whenever an individual settled in a spot, many others flew up directly and joined it. At times, as if by way of resting themselves, they alighted, swam lightly, and dipped their bills frequently in the water, in the manner of Mergansers.

I preserved the skins of the four specimens procured. One of them I sent to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, by Captain JOHN R. BUTLER, of the ship Thalia, then bound from Havana to Minorca. Two others were presented to my excellent friend Dr. TRAILL, on my first becoming acquainted with him at Liverpool.

I found the wings of this species strong and muscular for its size, this structure being essentially requisite for birds that traverse such large expanses of water, and are liable to be overtaken by heavy squalls. The stomach resembles a leather purse, four inches in length, and was much distended with fishes of various kinds, partially digested or entire. The oesophagus is capable of being greatly expanded. Some of the fishes were two and a half inches in length, and one in depth. The flesh of this Petrel was fat, but tough, with a strong smell, and unfit for food; for, on tasting it, as is my practice, I found it to resemble that of the porpoises. No difference is perceptible in the sexes.

While on board the United States revenue cutter Marion, and in the waters of the Gulf Stream opposite Cape Florida, I saw a flock of these birds, which, on our sailing among them, would scarcely swim off from our bows, they being apparently gorged with food. As we were running at the rate of about ten knots, we procured none of them. I have also seen this species off Sandy Hook.

Audubon’s Range Map for the species
Audubon's-Shearwater_map (audubon.org)

Credits: thanks to those  on Abaco who have been reporting this sad event over the last few days, and to Woody Bracey for his views; Dominic Sherony (wiki) for the header image; Keith Kemp for photos from Casuarina; Audubon.org for images, quote & range map; Richard Crossley / Crossley Guides for the composite picture; Audubon, wiki and random pickings for info about these birds