BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACO: GOOD IMPRESSIONS


Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACO: GOOD IMPRESSIONS

The Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii is similar to its slightly smaller cousin, the widespread Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottis. The range of Bahama Mockingbirds is not restricted to the Bahamas themselves, and includes areas of  Cuba, Jamaica and TCI, so despite the name they are not an endemic species to the Bahamas.  They are also occasional vagrants to the United States, especially – for reasons of proximity – southeastern Florida.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Peter Mantle

The Bahama Mockingbird is browner than the greyish Northern Mockingbird, and has distinctive streaking and spotting to its breast and undercarriage. This may extend to what you might describe as the bird’s ‘trouser legs’, though I’m sure there’s a more technically correct term.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Charlie Skinner

Both mockingbird species are found on Abaco. The NMs are ubiquitous in towns, settlements, gardens, coppice and pine forest, whereas BMs are shyer and tend to be found in the pine forest and well away from humans and their operations. When we were putting together The Birds of Abaco, I went on a birding trip with Abaco birding legend Woody Bracey and Ohio bird photographer Tom Sheley. We took a truck into the pine forest down a logging track south of Delphi, and they were quick to locate a bird, not least because one was sitting prettily on a branch singing lustily and unmistakably. It was well within range of Tom’s massive lens; more of a struggle for my modest camera (below). Caught the cobwebs, though…

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

I was astounded by the beauty and variety of the song. It consisted of very varied notes and phrases, each repeated 3 or 4 times before moving on to the next sounds in the repertoire. Here is a short 18 second example I recorded, using my unpatented iPhone method, for which see HERE.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Alex Hughes

For those with interest in birdsong, here is a longer 1:13 minute song from the same bird, with largely different sounds from the first recording made minutes earlier. There’s even a decent stab at imitation of a 1960s Trimphone™. Had we not had to move on to Sandy Point for an appointment with some cattle egrets and American kestrels, I could have stayed listening for far longer.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

THE ‘SUBSPECIES’ THAT WASN’T…

More recently, on a trip in backcountry to find Kirtland’s warblers – we saw 4 – the slow-moving truck jolted to halt in the middle of nowhere. This was because a Bahama Mockingbird was right by the track. I fired off some quick shots out of the window into a rather difficult light, to find that we appeared to have found a new subspecies, the scarlet-faced mockingbird.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

The reason was clear, however. The bird had been pigging out on some red berries, and had managed to collect plenty of the juice round the base of its beak. Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

SO WHAT DOES A NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD LOOK LIKE, THEN?

I photographed the Northern Mockingbird below in a garden at Casuarina. The species is far tamer than its cousin, and seen side-by-side they are clearly very different. The range maps show the stark contrast between the very limited range of the Bahama Mockingbird and the vast distribution of the Northern Mockingbird.

220px-Northern_Mockingbird-rangemap

Northern Mockingbird, Abaco 1

Photos Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 6); Peter Mantle (2); Charlie Skinner (3); Keith Salvesen (4, 7, 8, 9); Alex Hughes (5); Susan Daughtrey (10). Range maps eBird & wiki.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Susan Daughtry

SHARP-EYED & SHARP-BILLED: GREEN HERON ON ABACO


Green Heron.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

SHARP-EYED & SHARP-BILLED: GREEN HERON ON ABACO

Abaco has six ‘true’ heron species (putting aside the various egrets): Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. The Green Heron Butorides virescens is a permanent resident and is easily distinguishable from the other heron species. The header picture by Tom Sheley is one of many wonderful photographs he took for THE BIRDS OF ABACO, and is one of the most striking. This is a bird actively hunting, keeping very low with eyes fixed on the water, waiting for the chance to use that long sharp bill to snaffle its prey – small fish, frogs and aquatic insects.

RANGE MAP

Green Heron Range Map

There are thought to be 5 sub-species of green heron within the range, but this is a matter for anguished debate (not by me). However, the resident variety in the Bahamas has been designated Butorides virescens bahamensis since 1888 (Brewster), so I’m going along with that.

Green Herons are most likely to be seen in or near water – the margins of brackish ponds or amongst the mangroves, for example. Their foraging is mostly done in water, usually at dawn or dusk.Green Heron, Abaco Woody Bracey

You may encounter one on the shoreline or beach…GREEN HERON, Abaco - Nina Henry

…but they don’t always choose the most scenic locationsGreen Heron, Abaco Nina Henry

FASCINATING FACTOID

Green Heron are known to drop food, insects, or small objects such as stones on the water’s surface as bait to attract fish or other tasty creatures. They are thus classified as one of the animal kingdom’s  44 (?) TOOL-USING SPECIES, considered a sign of superior intelligence.

Green Herons may also be found perching in treesGreen Heron Abaco Tom ReedGreen Heron, Abaco Rick LoweGreen Heron, Abaco Peter Mantle

Occasionally they may be seen out at sea – this one from an offshore BMMRO research vesselGreen Heron Abaco BMMRO

The Golf Course at Treasure Cay is an excellent place to go bird-watching. There is always plenty of bird life on the 3 ponds there, the one on hole #11 being the biggest and most abundant. If you are going to bird there, call in first at the Clubhouse and ask for permission:  they are very kind about it, but they do need to know who is out on the course.  And since the pond is alongside the fairway, keep your wits about you – you are a potential target for the sliced drive… (ok, ok left-handers – hooked, then).

Green Heron, Abaco Charlie SkinnerGreen Heron, Abaco Charlie Skinner

The 2 images above are from Charlie Skinner, and show a green heron adult and chick putting the Golf Course drainage pipe to good use. Captions invited for the top  one. Birds often seen at this particular location include green heron, white-cheeked pintail (lots), common gallinule (moorhen), coot, Canada goose, least grebe, neotropic cormorant, and blue-winged teal. You may also see little blue heron and smooth-billed anis. Once I found a least bittern in the background of a teal photo – I didn’t notice it at the time, but when I checked the photos there it was in the reeds behind the ducks. Another good place to bird if you are in the TC area is White Sound.

Credits: Tom Sheley, Woody Bracey, Nina Henry, Tom Reed, Rick Lowe, Peter Mantle, Charlie Skinner, Wiki

POSTSCRIPT I’ve just commented HERE on the supposedly phonetic call-sounds attributed to birds to render them recognisable by man – the “What’s-for-dinner-Martha, what’s-for-dinner” and the “Give-me-a-drink-please…NOW” and so on. So when I was borrowing the range map from Wiki I was amused to see this: “The green heron’s call is a loud and sudden kyow; it also makes a series of more subdued kuk calls. During courtship, the male gives a raah-rahh call with wide-open bill, makes noisy wingbeats and whoom-whoom-whoom calls in flight, and sometimes calls roo-roo to the female before landing again. While sitting, an aaroo-aaroo courtship call is also given”. So there you go.

FIVE ELEGANT GULLS AND A SMART BUOY: BIRDS OF ABACO


Herring Gull (ad, nb) BH

FIVE ELEGANT GULLS AND A SMART BUOY: BIRDS OF ABACO

There are 8 gull species recorded on Abaco. The 5 species shown here all feature in the new ‘Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco’.  The others are the occasional vagrants Black-legged Kittiwake and Black-headed Gull;  and the rare winter visitor Great Black-backed Gull.  We do in fact have a Black-headed Gull in the archive (in winter plumage), but it was taken on New Providence and wasn’t eligible for inclusion in a book of Abaco birds. Even as a cheat.

Black-headed Gull (winter plumage) NPBlack-headed Gull (adult, winter plumage) WB

HERRING GULL (& header image) (WR 2)herring-gull-5Herring Gull WB P1000298 small

BONAPARTE’S GULL (WR 4)Bonaparte's Gull BHBonaparte's Gull BH (Ad NB) SMALL

LAUGHING GULL  (PR B 1)Laughing Gull4_-NH laughing-gulls2 EG

LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL (WR 2)Lesser Black-backed Gull (ad, nb) BH Lesser Black-backed Gull WB

RING-BILLED GULL (WR 1)Ring-billed Gull (Nina Henry : DCB)Ring-billed Gull BH (ad nb)

NOAA ‘SMART BUOY’ (Chesapeake Bay)*NOAA Chesapeake Bay SmartbuoyPhoto Credits: Bruce Hallett, Woody Bracey, Nina Henry, RH, + NOAA

Abaco Bird Code jpg

* Correct. The image is included solely to enable a laboured & old hat pun on ‘girls & boys’.

“SEVEN GOOD TERNS DESERVE AN AUTHOR”: BIRDS OF ABACO


Royal Terns Abaco (2) 4

“SEVEN GOOD TERNS DESERVE AN AUTHOR”: BIRDS OF ABACO

A total of 12 tern species have been recorded on Abaco and in Abaco waters. Ever. Some are permanently resident, some are winter visitors, some arrive for the summer and one or two – for example the Arctic Tern – are one-off or vanishingly rare sightings. A few are commonplace, some you may see if you know where to look or are lucky, some would not be worth making a special trip to Abaco to find…

Here are 7 tern species that all feature in the newly published “Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco”. A cunning code devised by Bahamas ornithologist Tony White tells you when they are around (PR, WR, SR = permanent, winter, summer resident; TR means transient) and the likelihood of seeing one at the appropriate time (1 = very likely to 5 = next to no chance). B means ‘breeds on Abaco’.

The header picture shows a line up of Royal Terns perched characteristically facing the breeze on a dead tree far out on the Marls. I took it while we were out bonefishing, and our guide Ishi very tolerantly poled nearer to the birds so I could get a better shot at them with the sun behind me. The ones shown are in an intermediate stage between non-breeding plumage and full breeding plumage, when the ‘caps’ are black. One (shown below) had the full black cap.

BRIDLED TERN (SR B 2)Bridled Tern, Bruce Hallett

CASPIAN TERN (TR 4)Caspian Tern Woody Bracey

GULL-BILLED TERN (SR 3)Gull-billed Tern Alex Hughes

ROSEATE TERN (SR B 2)Roseate Tern Woody Bracey

ROYAL TERN (PR 1)Royal Terns RH / KS

SANDWICH TERN (SR 4)Sandwich Tern Woody Bracey

LEAST TERN (SR B 1)Least Tern Tony Hepburn

The other 5 species recorded are: Sooty Tern, Black tern, Common Tern, Arctic Tern and Forster’s Tern

Photo Credits: Bruce Hallett, Woody Bracey, Alex Hughes, RH

Abaco Bird Code jpg

‘OUTSTANDING BILLS’: THE WHITE IBIS ON ABACO AND BEYOND


White Ibis Eudocimus albus (Bill Majoros WMC)

‘OUTSTANDING BILLS’: THE WHITE IBIS ON ABACO AND BEYOND

The AMERICAN WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus) has a wide range in the Americas and is a familiar species  in the southern United States, especially Florida. It is also found in the Caribbean.  On Abaco they are quite rare, appearing sporadically as winter residents. Encountering one is definitely a ‘find’. I know of only one recent sighting when an ibis decided to spend some time on the lake at Treasure Cay Golf Course. Luckily Kasia was not concentrating too hard on her round of golf to the exclusion of all else – and had a camera with her. 

The white ibis is more common on other Bahamas islands, for example New Providence (Nassau). Here are some photos taken there by Tony Hepburn and Woody Bracey. Others were taken in Florida.

WIBACH_3748 copy 2White Ibises WB DSC_8628 copy 2WIB ACH_4239 copy 2

This is the call of an Ibis in the Florida Wetlands (credit Xeno-Canto / Paul Marvin) 

Juveniles have dark plumage that gradually grows out as they age and is replaced by white plumage WIB2 ACH_5964 copy 2White Ibis (juv) WB DSC_0529 copy 2

The ibis forages mainly by feel rather than sight, using the long curved beak to probe the bottom of shallow water for aquatic  prey. American_White_Ibis (Terry Foote WMC)

The white ibis is said to be a symbol for courage and optimism because they are supposedly the last birds to shelter from the onset of a hurricane, and the first to venture out as the storm passes. This is of course equally consistent with symbolising extreme foolhardiness… but let it pass.

White Ibis (Hans Stieglitz WMC)

FASCINATING FACTOIDS The white ibis / hurricane connection is nurtured by the University of Miami, of which the bird is the mascot. The sports teams are called the Hurricanes (or the ‘Canes for cheering purposes). Their endeavours are supported enthusiastically by none other than Sebastian the Ibis. “What does he look like?”, I hear you cry. This:

Sebastian makes a ‘U for University’ with his.. er… wingtips. He sports a natty Hurricanes hat and might easily be confused with Donald Duck’s less amiable-looking and more aggressive cousin220px-Sebastian_the_Ibis

I had intended to digress further into the mysteries of the Sacred Ibis, symbol of the Ancient Egyptian God Thoth, the God of Learning and Wisdom who ranked with Isis and Osiris as A Top God. But in fact it’s quite a dull area, and 3 pictures and a nice bronze sculpture will give you the general idea.

Thoth.svg    

The Sacred Ibis of Thoth, Met. Museum NYCIbis Met Museum 2

Credits: Kasia Reid, Woody Bracey, Tony Hepburn, Met, Wiki

REMARKABLE FEET: SNOWY EGRETS ON ABACO


Snow Egret in Flight (Wiki)

REMARKABLE FEET: SNOWY EGRETS ON ABACO

SNOWY EGRETS (Egretta thula) are small white herons of the Americas, similar to the European Little Egret. The first thing you may notice about them is that they have remarkable bright yellow feet. This distinguishes these birds from all other egret and heron species.Snowy Egret ACH1409

Young Snowy Egrets often have yellow markings higher up on their legs.Snowy 24 a - Version 2

The feet are so bright that they are often visible underwater.Snowy Egret WB P1001206 copy 2

Snowy Egrets eat fish, crustaceans, insects and small reptiles. They have 3 main foraging tactics: (1) Standing still in or on the edge of water to ambush prey (2) Stalking prey in shallow water, often running or shuffling their feet to flush out prey  (3) “Dip-fishing” by flying low over water.

Snowy Egret (Wiki)

In breeding season, Snowy Egrets grow beautiful plumes – “bridal plumage”. At one time these were in great demand as adornments for women’s hats (as with flamingos, parrots and many other decorative species). This reduced the population of the birds to dangerously low levels, from which they have now recovered. Their IUCN rating is now ‘Least Concern’.

Snowy_Egret_-_full_breeding_plumage-1

Contemplating the next meal… one of Sandy Walker’s excellent Abaco photos taken this winterSnowy Egret 1a copyPhoto Credits: Sandy Walker, Woody Bracey, Tony Hepburn, Wiki

‘IN THE PINK’: ROSEATE SPOONBILLS IN THE BAHAMAS


Roseate Spoonbill (Myakka River State) Park - Wiki

‘IN THE PINK’: ROSEATE SPOONBILLS IN THE BAHAMAS

ROSEATE SPOONBILLS (Platalea ajaja) are rare visitors to the Northern Bahamas. For Abaco they are classified with the undignified term ‘vagrant’, meaning essentially (a) that you will be very lucky indeed to encounter one, so therefore (b) it is highly unlikely to be worth making a special trip based on the likelihood of seeing one. Try Florida instead.

Roseate Spoonbill WB 60

We saw one once when bonefishing far out on the Marls. It was unmistakeable, but well beyond the effective range of the puny ‘don’t-really-mind-if-it-takes-a-dive’ camera I had with me. The spoonbills in this post were photographed elsewhere in the Bahamas or in two cases, Florida. The wonderful one below of a spoonbill ‘flipping’ a fish was taken there by Ohio bird expert and photographer Tom Sheley.

SPOONBILL ‘FISH-FLIPPING’Roseate Spoonbill flipping fish LR.Wildcat Run FL.Tom Sheley

SPOONBILLS LOOK VERY DRAMATIC IN FLIGHTRoseate Spoonbill WB

Unlike herons, spoonbills keep their necks outstretched in flight. They are most likely to be found in marshes, salt-water lagoons and on mudflats. They are gregarious and mix in happily with herons and egrets, though there is some competition for food. Spoonbills nest in shrubs or trees, often mangroves.Roseate Spoonbill WB 59_IMG_6302 copy 3

Spoonbills tend to get pinker as they get older. As with American Flamingos, the pink colouring derives from their diet, which contains carotenoid pigments.  The colouring ranges from pale pink to loud pinks and reds, depending on age and location. 

Roseate Spoonbill WB 61Roseate Spoonbill BH (from WB)

Spoonbills feed in shallow fresh or coastal waters by swinging their bill from side to side while steadily walking through the water, often in groups. The spoon-shaped bill allows it to sift easily through mud for the edible contents – crustaceans, aquatic insects, frogs, newts and  small fish ignored by larger waders. This  excellent 1 minute Audubon video shows exactly how they feed, with some white ibises for company.

NEW ADDITION (props to Roselyn Pierce) 1743441_10202241639500028_1766433566_n

And a short non-roseate spoonbill feeding video from the Netherlands June 2014, showing the technique

Photo Credits: Header, Wiki; 1,3,4,5 Woody Bracey; 2 Tom Sheley, 6 Bruce Hallett (RH: nil)