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

‘EAGLE EYES’: NEW BALD EAGLE SIGHTING(S) ON ABACO


Bald Eagle - Poquoson, Virginia - Brian Lockwood

‘EAGLE EYES’: NEW BALD EAGLE SIGHTING(S) ON ABACO

In March, I posted about a bald eagle spotted by a Delphi fisherman out on the Marls near Big Pine Point. He didn’t know it at the time, but it was a very rare sighting of this magnificent raptor. The bird is classified for Abaco as a V4, which is to say an extremely unusual vagrant (but not quite a ‘one-off’ V5). 

Bald Eagle - Poquoson, Virginia - Brian Lockwood

You can read all the details HERE, but to summarise, the only previous Abaco sightings were 3 years running over 2000 – 2002, at the end of each year. The annual visits over such a short time-span suggest that this may have been the same bird each time. So this March’s report is possibly the second bald eagle ever seen on Abaco… and on any view, the fourth.

Bald Eagle - Poquoson, Virginia - Brian Lockwood

Now comes the news of another bald eagle sighting in the last couple of days on the Marls, this time by Danny Sawyer while out fishing. The bird was sighted approx 1.5 miles west of the airport / 2 miles south of Bustic Point. Danny’s FB post has unsurprisingly attracted quite a number of comments – and even some more sighting reports. Here’s the list so far…

BALD EAGLE SIGHTINGS REPORTED ON ABACO SINCE c1950 (= ‘ever’)

  • 2000 December, location unknown – info from Woody Bracey
  • 2001  December – Chicken Farm area – Betsy Bracey
  • 2002 December – over Marls opposite Treasure Cay – Woody Bracey
  • 2014  Date unknown – circling the power plant – LC
  • 2017  March – Big Pine Point, Marls – James Cheesewright
  • 2017  Early May – Power plant area – LC
  • 2017  May – Marls – Danny Sawyer
  • 2017  May  – Lubbers / Tahiti Beach area – ‘Kelly’s mom’

Italics indicate a report in comments on Danny’s FB page

Bald Eagle - Poquoson, Virginia - Brian Lockwood

So far, however, there has been no photograph of an ‘Abaco’ bald eagle. It’s fair to say that the official verification of a sighting generally requires a photograph – more especially where there is a risk of confusion with a native bird (eg some warblers). But there really is no mistaking a bald eagle. For obvious reasons it is surely one of the most recognisable raptors of all. And the only Abaco candidates for confusion would be a turkey vulture or an osprey. A quick look shows very little scope for confusion with either:

Bald eagle in flight. Note: dark brown, head & tail bright white, huge yellow beak and feet Bald Eagle In Flight By Carole Robertson (Wiki)

Turkey vulture & Osprey for comparison. No comparison, in fact

Turkey Vulture, Abaco - Bruce Hallett  

 ABACO BALD EAGLE CHALLENGE

How about being the first person to capture an Abaco bald eagle on film digital media? The kudos! The traditional Rolling Harbour bottle of Kalik is already on ice in the expectation of a usable image, together with the accurate location… Failing that, all reports welcome anyway.

Bald Eagle - Poquoson, Virginia - Brian Lockwood

Credits: all brilliant eagle photos by very kind permission of Brian Lockwood, taken in his backyard in Poquoson, Va. except eagle in flight, Carol Robertson (wiki); TUVU (Bruce Hallett); Osprey (Craig Nash); Amusing Cartoon, Birdorable

BALD EAGLE ON THE ABACO MARLS: EXTREMELY RARE SIGHTING


BALD EAGLE ON THE ABACO MARLS: EXTREMELY RARE SIGHTING

On March 22nd a friend of ours, James, was bonefishing far out on the Abaco Marls when he was astounded to see the unmistakable appearance of a bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus flying above him. His boat partner and guide Joe also saw the bird. James is a very experienced birder, and has seen plenty of bald eagles over the years. He was not to know, at the time, what an exceptionally rare sighting this is. The location was in the area of  Big Pine Point.

SIGHTING REPORTS

If you are out on the Marls and see this bird, please can you add a comment to this post or contact me at rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com, giving the date, time, approximate location… and if possible attaching a photograph. Any reports will add important data to the archive for the birds of Abaco, and of the Bahamas generally.

Bald Eagle [Abaco, Bahamas sighting - open source image]

PREVIOUS ABACO SIGHTINGS

I checked Tony White’s compendious checklist compiled for BIRDS OF ABACO that contains all species recorded for Abaco since 1950. He categorised the Bald Eagle as a ‘V4’,  indicating a vagrant species with a handful of irregular sightings – ever. I then contacted Bahamas bird guru Woody Bracey to check the details of earlier sightings. The answer is:

“Bald Eagles were sighted on Abaco three years running 2000-2002. In each instance it was over the Christmas Holiday period (12-20-1-10). I saw one in 2002 from the overlook near Treasure Cay looking out over the marls. Betsy (Woody’s wife)  saw one over the chicken farm fields in 2001 but I missed it”.

Some people might mistake the Caribbean subspecies of Osprey (an all-white head) for a Bald Eagle but as Woody points out, “their flight and shape are very different”

Bald Eagle [Abaco, Bahamas sighting - David R Tribble / open source image]

WHAT DO I LOOK OUT FOR? A large raptor with a dark body and wings, and a distinctive white head and tail

HOW CAN I TELL IT FROM AN OSPREY? By comparison with this Abaco Osprey

Osprey, Abaco (Craig Nash)

 WHAT DO I LISTEN OUT FOR?

Image / audio credits: open source / David R Tribble / Craig Nash (Osprey)

BROWN PELICANS ON ABACO & BEYOND


Brown Pelican, Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

BROWN PELICANS ON ABACO & BEYOND

Six more sleeps. That’s all. Suddenly, a trip that seemed ages away is rushing towards us. Or, to put it more plausibly science-wise, we are rushing towards it. Abaco beckons, with bonefish, rays, sharks, reef fishes, whales, dolphins, birds and butterflies to investigate. Plus Kaliks to consume. 

Brown Pelican, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

Idly thinking along those lines and vaguely plotting the first few days, took me to Sandy Point, home of the BMMRO (Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation) and of course the legendary Nancy’s, the restaurant at the end of the road. From where it is a short step to the dock on which the pelicans gather and use as a launch pad for their fishing dives.

I photographed this bird at the end of the SP dock, looking rather bedraggled after a diveBrown Pelican (m), Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Note the significant plumage differences between the male (above) & this femaleBrown Pelican (f), Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

I recently read somewhere that the brown pelican is (or has become) quite uncommon in the Bahamas. On Abaco it is a permanent resident breeding species, so a drop in numbers equals fewer nests, fewer chicks and… fewer numbers. It’s a classic cycle towards serious population decline and all that is implied. Has anyone noticed an apparent reduction in numbers, I wonder? Comments welcome.

Brown Pelican, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

Brown Pelican, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The pelicans above were all photographed on Abaco. The two below were not, but are both by exceptional photographers. One, Phil Lanoue, specialises in dramatic sequences, and his work features elsewhere in this blog. The final image was sportingly uploaded by Alan Schmierer from Flickr into the ‘public domain’.

Coming in to land…Brown Pelican coming in to land (Phil Lanoue)

While we are on Abaco, I plan to keep posting as and when, subject to connectivity (always a proviso in the Bahamas). My big hope is that the piping plovers that were on the beach last year and returned this season, will have resisted the increasingly insistent call to fly north to the breeding grounds. If they could just hang on for just a few more days… 

Brown Pelican preening (Alan Schmierer)

Credits: Tom Sheley (1); Tony Hepburn (2); Keith Salvesen (3, 4, 6); Woody Bracey (5); Phil Lanoue (7); Alan Schmierer (8); Birdorable (cartoon)

TRICOLORED HERON: AN ELEGANT & PATIENT FISHER


tricolored-heron-phil-lanoue-3

TRICOLORED HERON: AN ELEGANT & PATIENT FISHER

The Tricolored Heron Egretta tricolor is one of 6 heron species found on Abaco, and is a permanent breeding resident. To which can be added 4 sorts of egret to complete a line up of expert fishers, all equally at home hunting in the water or from the shore, or surveying the scene from nearby vantage points like bushes and trees.

tricolored_heron2_by_dan_pancamo (Wiki)

A distance shot… and it was 20′ up, above the pondtricolored-heron-gilpin-point-abaco-keith-salvesen

The heron and egret species of Abacoherons-egrets-abaco

A long neck, a long bill and long legs make this heron species ideally adapted for wading. Like other herons and egrets, it will stand stock-still waiting for the perfect fish to swim into range. However they are also active hunters, and will stalk prey or chase it by striding quickly through the water in pursuit. They eat fish, crustaceans, reptiles, and insects.

tricolored-heron-abaco-woody-braceytricolored-heron-abaco-bruce-hallet

On a mission…tricolored-heron-phil-lanoue-7

The tricolor has a wide resident breeding range, shown in green on the mapegretta_tricolor_map-svg

Tricolored Heron

Coming in to land…tricolored-heron-phil-lanoue-1

Breeding plumage: smart blue bill and a fish to put in itTri-colored Heron with fish (Phil Lanoue)

A silver prize…tricolored-heron-phil-lanoue-5

RELATED POSTS

GREEN HERON

YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON

SNOWY EGRET

Credits: Phil Lanoue (1, 6, 8, 9, 10); Dan Pancamo (2, 7); Keith Salvesen (3); Woody Bracey (4); Bruce Hallett (5)

CASPIAN TERNS: A RARE TREAT FOR ABACO


caspian-terns-winding-bay-abaco-keith-kemp1

CASPIAN TERNS: A RARE TREAT FOR ABACO

The magnificent Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia is the world’s largest tern species, with an adult wingspan of about 5 feet. These birds are widely distributed throughout the world, though on Abaco and in the Bahamas generally they are classed as a very uncommon transient species, classified as T4 signifying a mere handful of reports. Ever. 

caspian-terns-winding-bay-abaco-keith-kemp2

However Keith Kemp, redoubtable beach monitor for piping plovers, recently saw 2 on Winding Bay beach, Abaco. Moreover he managed to photograph them in flight (see header and above image).

caspian-terns-in-flight-dmitry-mikhirev-wiki

Keith’s are not the first Caspians to be photographed on Abaco. Bird wizard Woody Bracey managed to take one (below), which duly found its way into the ‘The Birds of Abaco‘.  Sadly it could only be included in the single-bird supplement: we needed at least two images of a species for it to qualify for a spread in the main part.

caspian-tern-wb-dsc_1587-copy-2

Caspians have black legs, which usefully distinguish them from the tern species with orange or yellow legs. Note the heavy red / orange bill, which has a dark tip that is more noticeable in the breeding season. These large birds feed mainly on fish, and use their spectacular bills to good effect, hovering and then plunge-diving onto their prey.

caspian_tern_takeoff-dick-daniels-wiki

Caspian terns are found on 5 continents. The transient birds that pause in the Bahamas are on their migration to the West Indies and Gulf. Or on their way back, of course.

caspian-tern-planetofbirds

WHY ‘CASPIAN’?

In the late c18, a specimen bird was found on, in or beside the Caspian Sea and was promptly named after it. The distribution map above suggests they still breed in the area. How fortunate it wasn’t found by the Dead Sea…

caspian-tern-in-flight-j-j-harrison-wiki

WORRYING WIKI FACT OF THE DAY

In 2016, a nest of the Caspian tern was found in the Cape Krusenstern National Monument in northwestern Alaska, 1,000 miles further north than any previous sighting. This development was part of a general trend in Alaska of species moving to the north, a tendency ascribed to global warming.

caspian-tern-wb-dsc_1584-copy-2

Credits: Keith Kemp (1, 2); Dmitry Mikhirev (3); Woody Bracey (4, 7); Dick Daniels (5); J J Harrison (6); planetofbirds (range map)

HUDSONIAN GODWITS ON ABACO: VANISHINGLY RARE


Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Roger Neilson)

HUDSONIAN GODWITS ON ABACO: VANISHINGLY RARE

MEET ‘HUGO’

Abaco continues to enhance its reputation as a prime birding destination. New species. Rare species. Unusual species. Endangered species. Surprising species. Every year they turn up, whatever the season. And those, of course, are only the ones that get seen by someone who knows what they are or anyway what they might be. This is where the digital camera – or even a modern phone camera – trumps (oops… stepping into a political minefield) the old-fashioned method of collecting and identifying specialist birds. Which was, shoot them…

Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Roger Neilson)

Woody Bracey, Abaco’s ornithological eminence grise, is currently hosting a party of birders on Abaco. On a visit to one of the excellent birding hotspots of South Abaco, the group of 5 came across an totally unexpected wading species mixed in with a group of yellowlegs. At first, they were thought to be Marbled Godwits. Further consideration confirmed the 2 birds to be equally rare Hudsonian Godwits Limosa haemastica (HUGOs for short). Since then, at least one of the birds has been seen in the same location by birder Keith Kemp.

hudsonian-godwit-abaco-stewart-neilson-2

SO JUST HOW EXCITING IS THIS SIGHTING?

Extremely! Both species of godwit are exceptionally rare on Abaco and indeed in the Bahamas. They are officially classified as V5, which is to say vagrant / accidental visitors outside their normal range, with fewer than five records since… records began. In practical terms, the baseline is considered to be 1950. There must have been at least one previous sighting of a HUGO on Abaco, but Woody has never seen one before, nor does he know when the report was made. And he knows his godwits – he is the person who, some years ago, saw the MAGO on Abaco that accounts for its existence as a V5 in the complete checklist for Abaco.

hudsonian-godwit-abaco-stewart-neilson-1

WHERE DOES HUGO LIVE?

These large shorebirds – a species of sandpiper – with their long, upturned bills, breed in Arctic or tundra regions, and winter in southern South America. Note in the photo above the contrast in size, bill and leg colouring compared to the yellowlegs they were mixing with. The Cornell range map below shows how remote the HUGO summer (red) and winter (blue) habitats are. And you can see clearly the two main migration routes – in the simplest terms, the central flyway and the eastern flyway. Neither route takes the birds directly over the Bahamas, although one can see how the occasional one might be blown off course and need a rest during its journey.

limo_haem_allam_mapHudsonian Godwit in flight, Abaco (Roger Neilson)

HOW OFTEN HAVE THEY BEEN SEEN IN OR AROUND THE BAHAMAS?

I checked the invaluable database EBIRD for HUGO reports over the last 10 years. The only previous report for the entire Bahamas was made by Bruce Purdy, who saw one one Grand Bahama (Reef Golf Course)… in 2007. Sightings in Florida over the period are scant. The most notable feature of the map clip below is that Bermuda has had a couple of HUGO visits, perhaps suggesting off-course birds finding an area of land to rest on in a vast expanse of open sea. Further afield, the birds are rare vagrants to Europe, and even to Australia and South Africa.

Hudsonian Godwit 10-year eBird sighting map

WHY ‘GODWIT’? OR HUDSONIAN? OR Limosa haemastica?

‘Godwit’ is said to derive from the bird’s call, in the same way as ‘Bobwhite’ and ‘Killdeer’ – so, these are birds that say their own name… The Hudson Bay area is one of the summer breeding grounds, and a place where the birds congregate for migration. ‘Limosa‘ derives from the Latin for mud (see header image); and ‘haemastica’ relates to their red breeding plumage, from the Ancient Greek for ‘bloody’. Bloody muddy. It’s not a great name, in truth. Let’s move swiftly on to what they sound like…

Doug Hynes / Xeno-Canto

Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Roger Neilson)

STOP PRESS As mentioned earlier, Keith Kemp found one of the HUGOs at the same location a couple of days later – a “lifer” for him and everyone else! Here are three images he posted on eBird.

Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Keith Kemp) Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Keith Kemp)Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Keith Kemp)

I always check a new species to see if it was depicted by Audubon. I didn’t expect him to have included the HUGO but I was wrong. He did, and with his characteristic slightly exaggerated elegance.

_57

This post is rather special, because these are almost certainly the first photographs of a Hudsonian Godwit taken on Abaco – or indeed in the entire Bahamas. And very good they are, too.  So even if a lone HUGO was noted on Abaco 40 years ago pausing briefly on a rock before continuing its journey to Argentina, I consider this qualifies as a new sighting. It certainly does for the c21.

Hudsonian Godwit (Crossley ID Guide, Eastern Birds)  463px-hudsonian_godwit_from_the_crossley_id_guide_eastern_birds

Credits: special thanks to Woody Bracey, Roger Neilson, and Keith Kemp (Stop Press) for photos, information and use permissions; Cornell Lab – Range Map; open source Audubon; Doug Hynes / Xeno-Canto; Crossley ID Guides; wiki and sundry standard sources for snippets