ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS REVISITED


Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco (Sandy Walker)

ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS REVISITED

In 2014 I wrote about finding myself – with others on a birding expedition – in the midst of dozens of nighthawks as they swooped and dived (dove?) while hawking for flies. “The birds were quite unperturbed by our presence, and from time to time would zoom past within inches of our heads, making a swooshing noise as they did so”. You can find the post at FAST FOOD ON THE WING.

Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco (Stephen Connett)

Nighthawks catch flying insects on the wing, and mostly forage at dawn and dusk – or (more romantically) at night in a full moon. 

Antillean Nighthawk (Stephen Connett)

Besides aerial feeding displays, nighthawks may also be seen on the ground, where they nest. I say ‘nest’, but actually they hardy bother to make an actual nest, but just lay their eggs on bare ground. And, more riskily, this may well be out in the open rather than concealed. The eggs – usually 2 – hatch after 3 weeks or so, and after another 3 weeks the chicks fledge.

  Antillean Nighthawk Egg (Stephen Connett) Antillean Nighthawk Egg (Stephen Connett)

Fortunately their colouring enables them to blend in with the landscape – a good example of bird camouflage in natural surroundings.

Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

The photos above are from Sandy Walker (header), Stephen Connett – to whom special thanks for use permission for his great nighthawk and egg images – and the last one by bird legend and author of the locus classicus The Birds of the Bahamas (without which no trip to the Bahamas is complete), Bruce Hallett.

Antillean Nighthawk Chordeiles gundlachii, is a species of nightjar. These birds have local names such as ‘killa-ka-dick’, ‘pi-di-mi-dix’, ‘pity-pat-pit’, or variations on the theme, presumably onomatopoeic. Pikadik-(dik) will do for me. See what you reckon from these recordings (excuse the thick-billed vireo – I think – in the background):

Andrew Spencer / Xeno-Canto

ODD FACT

I have read in several sources that no one knows where these migratory birds spend winter; or else that winter season data is ‘scarce’. So no sensible range maps exist, for example. If you read this, and have antillean nighthawks (as opposed to common nighthawks) all round you in winter, please tell someone – you may hold the key to an ornithological mystery…

As so often, the Bahamas Philatelic Bureau leads the way with natural history stamps. The 15c Antillean Nighthawk above featured in a 2001 bird set. You can see dozens more very excellent Bahamas bird, butterfly, fish, flower and other wildlife stamps HERE.

Find out about Juan Gundlach, Cuban Natural Historian (he of the Antillean Nighthawk and the Bahama Mockingbird for example) HERE

 

 

Credits: Sandy Walker (1);  Stephen Connett (2, 3, 4, 5); Bruce Hallett (6); Andrew Spencer / Xeno-Canto (audio files); Audubon (7); Sibley / Audubon (8)

LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER: SMALL TYRANTS ON ABACO


La Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER: SMALL TYRANTS ON ABACO

The LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus sagrae) is a common resident breeding species of flycatcher on Abaco, and these very pretty small birds can be seen in many habitats – pine forest, scrubland, coppice and gardens, for example. They are insectivores, as the name suggests, but they also eat seeds and berries. 

La Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco - Tom Reed

As a ‘tyrant flycatcher’, this little bird is a member of the large passerine order that includes kingbirds, pewees and phoebes, with which they are sometimes confused. I last wrote about LSFs in the infancy of this blog, illustrated with my own rather… ahem… ‘simple’** photos. Time to revisit them and to do them justice with some new, improved images.

‘Simple’ photo from a less complex era, taken with a 2mp ‘Cheepo’™ cameraLa Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

Magnificent photo by Gelinde Taurer that you can actually enlarge (click pic see?)La Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

Unlike many bird species, adult LSFs are very similar in appearance in both sexes. Whatever the gender, they are sometimes confused with their cousins the Cuban Pewees, but those have a very distinctive eye-crescent.

Cuban Pewee – note eye-crescent, absent in the LSFCuban Pewee, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

Both species have a tiny hook at the end of the (upper) beak – to help trap insects, I assumeLa Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco - Tom Reed

Another thing to notice about LSFs is the amount of rufous brown in their plumage, particularly on the wings and tail – and even at the base of the beak. This coloration is absent from their larger cousin kingbirds, the loggerhead and the gray.La Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco - Charles SkinnerLa Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco - Charles Skinner

WHAT SHOULD I LISTEN OUT FOR?

“A high pitched single or double noted sound described as ‘wink’... ” Or it might be ‘bip‘. Or ‘weep‘. Or (on one recording I listened to, complete with sonograph) it sounded like ‘chi-chitty chew‘. But it may have been a misID.

 Hans Matheve @ Xeno-Canto

A hint of a crest is visible in this photoLa Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco - Peter Mantle

ANY IDEA WHAT LA SAGRA CHICKS LOOK LIKE?

Well, as it happens, yes. By good fortune Abaco photographer and piping plover monitor Rhonda Pearce happens to have had a nest at hand this very season. So, happy to oblige… La Sagra's Flycatcher chicks in nest, Abaco - Rhonda Pearce

WHO OR WHAT IS A ‘LA SAGRA’ WHEN IT’S AT HOME?

Mr La Sagra was a multi-talented Spanish botanist. Ramón Dionisio José de la Sagra y Peris (1798–1871) was also a writer, economist, sociologist, politician, anarchist, and founder of the world’s first anarchist journal El Porvenir (‘The Future’). At one time he lived in Cuba and became director of Havana’s Botanical Garden. His name lives on more significantly in ornithological than in anarchist circles (actually, ‘anarchist circles’ must be a contradiction in terms… that should be ‘anarchist disorganised squiggles’)

I note in passing that La Sagra is a provincial area in Spain, an Italian festive celebration, a chocolatier, and a small comet… All these meanings may have to be negotiated online before you get to the flycatcher…

Ramón Dionisio José de la Sagra y Peris

La Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco - Tom Sheley

Continuing this blog’s philatelic natural history theme, here are stamps from the Cayman Islands and Cuba featuring the La Sagra’s Flycatcher. The Cuban stamp commemorates the death of Juan Gundlach, the man who chose La Sagra’s name to bestow on this bird. And Gundlach’s name lives on in the Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii…La Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

** ‘Simple’, as in ‘not completely disastrous for an amateur effort but frankly not the sort of standard we have come expect around here’.

Photo Credits: Gerlinde Taurer (1, 4); Tom Reed (2, 6); Keith Salvesen (3 [!], 5, 12); Charles Skinner (7, 8); Peter Mantle (9); Rhonda Pearce (chicks) 10; Tom Sheley (11); Ramon and stamps, open source

BAHAMA NUTHATCH: TINY, RARE, A HOP AWAY FROM ABACO…


brown-headed_nuthatch-david-hill-sc

BAHAMA NUTHATCH: TINY, RARE, A HOP AWAY FROM ABACO…

The Bahama Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla insularis) is one of the rarest birds in the Bahamas and – like the similarly rare BAHAMA ORIOLE on Andros – it is confined to one island only, Grand Bahama.  At best about 1000 – 1200 mature birds may inhabit the pine forests though current estimates vary, and that number may be optimistic. What is clear is that, for all the usual reasons (see below) the population is likely to be decreasing rather than growing.

bahamas_nuthatch-birdlife-org

Despite its  scarcity and size – this little bird is one of the smallest in the nuthatch family – the BANU is subject to much scientific debate in bird circles. Until a dozen years ago, it was simply considered to be a brown-headed nuthatch, a familiar enough bird in south-eastern USA. Then a research paper was published, which led to the bird being awarded subspecies status as the Bahama nuthatch S. p. insularis. Some argue further, that it should be considered a fully separate species and split from its cousin (as, recently, with the Bahama and Inagua woodstars in 2015). Others write as though this has already happened but as far as I can make out, it has not – though it might possibly happen once further researches have been completed and submitted (polite correction on this point welcome…).

bahama-nuthatch-owl-hole-rd-grand-bahama-bruce-purdy

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES TO JUSTIFY SEPARATE STATUS?

Close investigation of the Grand Bahama population showed a number of significant differences between the island and the US populations. Having read and digested all the relevant research (NOT! Abstracts, maybe…), I discovered that the main distinctions are:

  • A longer, heavier bill (compare the header image of a brown-headed nuthatch in South Carolina with the second one of a Bahama nuthatch).
  • Shorter wings
  • Whiter belly
  • Distinctively different vocalisations

bahama-nuthatch-grand-bahama-robert-norton

IUCN RED LIST STATUS

Whether the BANU is a sub-species of brown-headed nuthatch or a fully separate species, the bird is incredibly rare. The population may be unsustainable without intervention (as implemented to save the Abaco parrots) – and the threat of extinction looms even as the bird begins to attract international interest. In 2016 the IUCN listed the BANU as ENDANGERED, meaning essentially that it faces extinction. ‘Critically endangered’ is the only higher category. The main reasons given for the listing were the small population, found on only one island, and likely to continue declining as a result of habitat loss & invasive species

brown-headed-nuthatch-erika-gates-bahamas-weekly-article

 WHAT ARE THE MAIN THREATS TO THE SPECIES, I MEAN SUBSPECIES?

  • Habitat loss / degradation from development, logging, forest fires & hurricanes
  • Invasive / introduced / feral species such as corn snakes, raccoons & cats
  • Competition from other bird species in a limited area

brown-headed_nuthatch-matt-tillett-md_

HOW DO THESE BIRDS BEHAVE?

A few years back, Erika Gates, well-known Grand Bahama birder and guide, wrote an excellent article in her ‘Bird Talk’ column published in the Bahamas Weekly. It includes this description:

The Bahama Nuthatch exhibits several highly unusual and endearing behaviors. It is one of the very few bird species that conducts co-operative breeding, in which young males assist with nest construction, nest sanitation as well as feeding of the female sitting on the eggs, nestlings and fledglings. It is also one of the few birds known to utilize a tool. On occasion, it uses a bark chip, held in its bill, to pry off bark portions during foraging for insects and grub.

brown-headed_nuthatch-dick-daniels-nc-wiki

SO IF I’M IN THE PINE FOREST ON G B, WHAT DO I LISTEN OUT FOR?

Sadly, there are no available recordings of a BANU. As their vocalisation is one of the factors that differentiates them from the brown-headed nuthatch, it’s clearly not very helpful to illustrate what the latter sound like. But I am going to anyway, because they can’t be that different. It’s probably just a Bahamian accent. I have read somewhere that it sounds a bit like a squeezed rubber duck toy.

Paul Marvin / Xeno-Canto

brown-headed_nuthatch-matt-tillett-md_5

WHY MIGHT THESE BIRDS TURN UP ON ABACO?

Well, I’m being a bit romantic and optimistic here. But let’s look at the official distribution map from Birdlife International. Not so very far for even a small bird to travel. There are even some small cays as stepping stones. And just think of the thousands of acres of pine forest on Abaco, much of it remote and completely undisturbed. Maybe… if a breeding pair could just… you catch my drift? 

bahama-nuthatch-distribution-birdlife-org

Here is another instructive map, this time from eBird. These are the only BANU sightings ever recorded, and all since 2010. These birds are tiny. There are very few of them, spread over a wide area. They live in pine trees, and are to an extent camouflaged against them. You’d be very very fortunate to find one at all, let alone get a decent photo of it… Let’s hope you can spot one while they are still around.

screenshot-2017-01-04-22-42-20

ANYTHING ELSE WE SHOULD KNOW?

I have written elsewhere (in fact, HERE) about the ornithologist James Bond and his connection with Ian Fleming’s hero. The very rare first edition** of Bond’s seminal Birds of the West Indies was published in 1936. In it, he described the BANU and suggested it was a subspecies of the brown-headed nuthatch. A man way ahead of his time. 

PLEASE STOP NOW. ANY LAST WORDS?

“The species may become extinct unless Bahamians are willing to take action to save it. As the rarest bird in the Bahamas, and one of the rarest birds in the world, the nuthatch will become a high-profile symbol of conservation efforts (or their failure) in the Bahamas”. RESEARCHGATE

Photo credits: David Hill (BHNU) 1; Birdlife.org (BANU) 2; Bruce Purdy (BANU) 3; Robert Norton (BANU) 4; Erika Gates / Bahamas Weekly (BANU) 5; Matt Tillett (BHNU) 6, 8; Dick Daniels (BHNU) 7

Sound: Paul Marvin / Xeno-Canto

Research credits: Birdlife International /Birdlife.org; Birding Community E-Bulletin, Nov 2008; Research Gate; IUCN; The Bahamas Weekly / Erika Gates; eBird; American Birding Association (and a bonus point for its brown-headed nuthatch behaviour article wittily entitled “Sex in the Sitta”)

**The edition of James Bond usually described as the first edition (indeed in the book itself) was published in 1947. You might pick one up for $100 or so (try Abe.com). Don’t get one without a dust-jacket. It’s a treasure, and an affordable slice of avian history. A 1936 edition will probably be well north of $2000… 

SANDWICH TERNS: NO LINK TO BREAD SLICES, SAY SCIENTISTS


Sandwich Tern (Danny Sauvageau)

SANDWICH TERNS: NO LINK TO BREAD SLICES, SAY SCIENTISTS

Have you noticed how newspapers and periodicals increasingly seize every opportunity for a headline ending “…say Scientists”. It lends a spurious authority to any tenuous assertion, like “astronauts unlikely to find cheese on moon, say Scientists” (suggesting at least the faint possibility of some mature cheddar lodged in a crater). Or “Frooty-pops cereal may protect against ingrown toenails, say Scientists”.  To which the proper response is: “research reference please”. But it seems 37.9% of people are actually prepared to believe this tendencious stuff… say Scientists.

But I digress. To the business in hand. The Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis) is a smart-looking medium-sized tern. Its clearest ID signifier among terns is a sharp black beak with a yellow tip. Also, its black legs helpfully distinguish it from other tern species that have orange legs.Sandwich Tern (Sandy Point), Abaco - Bruce Hallett

The origin of the name for this species is an unexpected one. The Thaleasseus (formerly Sterna) simply refers to the sea (Gk). The Sandwich part is more complicated. It’s certainly nothing to do with a tasty filling for a sliced bread snack **. Other bird species such as Branta sandvicensis, an endemic Hawaiian goose, have the name because Hawaii was historically known as the Sandwich Islands. But Sandwich terns are not found there. In fact, the name comes from the town name of Sandwich, Kent UK (sand wic OE – ‘trading post by the sea’). The ornithologist who first described the bird in 1787, John Latham, just happened to live there. (And how fortunate for ornithology that he did not come from Pratts Bottom, also in Kent).

Sandwich Tern, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

Sandwich terns have a wide range around the world. As the range map below show, the most significant breeding area is Great Britain and northern Europe. On Abaco, the birds are uncommon summer residents. Both images above were taken on the main island, the top one at Sandy Point on the jetty (an excellent place for birdwatching, incidentally).Thalasseus_acuflavidus_and_Thalasseus_sandvicensis_map-location-2.svgSarnie Tern range

Like all the Thalasseus terns, the Sandwich tern plunge-dives for fish. I love the sight of diving terns. They hang high in the air as they scope out the water for fish, only to break free from the sky and smash down into the sea, often emerging with a silver prize. Here’s a wonderful photo of one that missed its meal – and one that succeeded.

Sandwich Tern (Danny Sauvageau)Sandwich Tern (Danny Sauvageau) An endearing characteristic of these terns can be seen during their courtship display. The male will catch a fish, then offer it to the female. Her acceptance of the gift signals her readiness to approve the male as a suitable mate. 

Of the  12 tern species recorded for Abaco most are summer residents, some of which breed on Abaco. The royals are the only permanent residents; and the Forster’s are the only winter residents. The other 4 species are transient in migration, or vagrant (arctic tern).

Tern Species on Abaco

As I have mentioned before, a very good source for easy ID to distinguish between different birds of the same family is to head off to BIRDORABLE. The drawings (cartoons!) may not be scientific, but they do highlight the most notable distinctions. Invaluable as a last resort. Or first resort, even! For similar-looking birds, compare the beaks and the legs. The composite below shows how simple it is.

91b5e2a19a20fb1eeace596efbac5a57

Noisy neighbours? Put this short recording of a sandwich tern colony in the breeding season on a continous loop, and you have the makings of a powerful retaliatory weapon. They’ll be out within a fortnight…

Alex Lees / Xeno-Canto

** The food we call a sandwich was named after the 4th Earl of Sandwich. He found eating while playing cards inconvenient, so asked his valet for two slices of bread, requesting “and squash a tern between them, if you’d be so very kind…” The Sandwich Islands were also named after his Lordship by Captain James Cook, as a compliment for financially supporting an expedition there, say Historians…

Sandwich_Tern_(Sterna_sandvicensis)_(Ken Billington)

Credits: Danny Sauvageau (1, 4, 5); Bruce Hallet (2); Woody Bracey (3); Ken Billington (6); Alex Lees @ Xeno-Canto, Birdorable, wiki for range map & info, other magpie pickings of glistening facts

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)

WHEN A BIG BILL JUST MAKES YOU SMILE… WILSON’S SNIPE ON ABACO


Wilson's Snipe (Birds Caribbean)

WHEN A BIG BILL JUST MAKES YOU SMILE… WILSON’S SNIPE ON ABACO

Wilson’s snipe Gallinago delicata is a plump little bird that is classified as a shorebird. But unlike some, it is not confined to the shore and immediate hinterland – marshland or brackish pond regions are also favoured habitats. Until recently (2003) the Wilson’s was treated as a subspecies of the widespread Common Snipe, before being accorded its own species-status. Something to do with white on the wing edges and a couple more tail feathers. If you want to know who Mr Wilson was (who also ‘owns’ other birds such as a plover and a phalarope) you can find out HERE.

A Wilson’s Snipe on Abaco (but not on the shore…)WILSON'S SNIPE, Abaco (Charles Skinner)WILSON'S SNIPE, Abaco (Charles Skinner)     WILSON'S SNIPE, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

The snipe, in common with several species such as the woodcock, willet and dowitcher, has a notably long bill. The header image is one of the best I have come across that clearly illustrate it, and comes from the extensive archive of the excellent BIRDS CARIBBEAN. The naturalist concerned noted “…check out this remarkable bill. If you have not held a shorebird like this in your hand, the bill is pliable, flexible, and innervated. The snipe feels its way through the muck and then plucks the worm out like tweezers”.

SNIPES AND SNIPERS

The snipe has the misfortune to be a game bird. In the c19, its populations began to reduce due to habitat destruction – especially the draining of marshland – to which it is still vulnerable, of course. But more serious was its increasing popularity with hunters as a difficult bird to shoot, with its fast, jagging flight. A hunter skilled enough to shoot snipe successfully became known as a “sniper”, a usage coined some 200 years ago. I imagine the verb ‘to snipe (at)’  a person derives from this usage, meaning to fire off a quick, accurate, possibly hurtful remark.

Despite these drawbacks, there are enough snipe for the species to remain IUCN-listed ‘least concern’. In the Bahamas, they can be hunted between autumn and spring. This is the relevant page from the BNT HUNTERS’ GUIDE 

Wilson's Snipe BNT Hunters' Guide jpg

800px-Wilsons_Snipe_Richmond_BC Alan D. Wilson

WILL I SEE WISNs ON ABACO?

Although the Wilson’s snipe is one of the most widespread shorebirds in North America, they are far less readily found on Abaco. For a start, they are migratory in the Bahamas, and only resident in winter (broadly, October to March), their non-breeding season. So don’t expect to find them during your pleasant stay in June.  Secondly, they are classed as ‘rare’, one grade harder to find than ‘uncommon’. Thirdly, they are shy and well-camouflaged. Unless they choose to be out in the open – foraging in water, or maybe standing on a post – they can be very hard to see. And in winter it seems they tend to hunker down more and fly less than in the breeding season. Maybe they show more in summer because they know it’s the closed season for hunting… Compare the next two images, one taken on Abaco in winter, and one (cheers, Wiki) elsewhere in the summer.

A winter snipe on Abaco – shy, retiring and blending in with its surroundingsWilson's Snipe, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

Wilson’s snipe in summer, confidently on a post in summer (closed season for hunters…)800px-Common_snipe_fencepost (Sean Breazeal)

DO SNIPES HAVE A DISTINCTIVE CALL THAT I WILL INSTANTLY RECOGNISE?

Not really, I’m afraid. Not easy for an amateur (me). They have a variety of vocalisations – calls, flight calls, and songs. They also make a sound called ‘winnowing’ with their tails while in flight. Here are a few short examples.

CALL / SONG Harry Lehto Xeno Canto

CALL /SONG Pasi Pirinen Xeno Canto

CALL Richard E Webster Xeno Canto

FLIGHT CALL Paul Marvin Xeno Canto

Now that the wonderful Crossley Guide ID bird images are available ‘open source’, I shall be including them in future species posts. When I remember. Their advantage is that in one image you can see all aspects of a paricular species – gender, breeding plumage, typical ‘poses’, in flight and so forth. A truly great resource for bird identification.Wilson's_Snipe_from_The_Crossley_ID_Guide_Eastern_Birds

Credits: Birds Caribbean, Charles Skinner x 3, BNT, Alan D. Wilson, Woody Bracey, Sean Breazeal, Xeno Canto, Crossley ID Guides, Wiki, Audubon, Cornell and sundry worthy OK sources…

KILLDEER ON ABACO? IT DOESN’T, BUT ACE NAME ANYWAY


Kildeer, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

KILLDEER ON ABACO? IT DOESN’T, BUT ACE NAME ANYWAY

The KILLDEER Charadrius vociferus is a fairly common winter resident plover on Abaco. They can often be found on the Delphi beach, and the lovely beach at Casuarina is another place to spot them. They can easily be distinguished from other plover species, being the only ones with two black frontal bands – see above and below. The lower picture, you’ll be relieved to hear, is not the fabled ‘legless killdeer’, but is simply having a little rest on a nice warm wall.

Killdeer, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

The killdeer’s name is a bit of a puzzle, frankly. The Latin term Charadrius vociferus basically means “shouty plover”, but it’s a long way from that to “killdeer”. This is another one of those bird names that are allegedly onomatopoeic – and thankfully it has nothing whatsoever to do with savage behaviour involving Bambi and his ilk (or elk, even). Supposedly the killdeer call is “Kill…Deer”, in the same way as the bobwhite calls an interrogative “Bob…White?”. 

Killdeer - Harrold & Wilson Ponds, NP (Rick Lowe) copy

Consulting some random authorities reveals divergence of opinion on the issue, with definite bet-hedging between ‘kill-dee’ variations and ‘dee dee dees’. Except for Messrs Flieg & Sanders who opine (rudely) ‘the shrill, loud, monotonous call resembles its name’. Yet while I completely get the ‘Bob…White?’ thing, I’m not so sure with the killdeer. Were I a little killdeer, it’s a name I’d like to have anyway. Respect! But what do these sound like to you?

or this

Guillermo Funes Xeno Canto

or this

Peter Boesman Xeno CantoKIlldeer (Danny Sauvageau)

I’ve mentioned the distinctive double black breast-bands that distinguish the killdeer from its brother plovers. These can be seen at quite a distance, as this shot on the Delphi beach by Mrs RH shows (the tracks are from Smithy’s seaweed-clearing tractor).

Killdeer SS edits

The babies are, like all plover chicks, totes irresistibz munchkinsKilldeer hatchling (NTox)Killdeer FB

And like other plovers, a killdeer will defend its nest and young with a broken wing display to distract predators, lurching pathetically across the sand, moving ever further away from the nest. 

I think we can safely conclude that, while the bird doesn’t quite live up to the cervidae-cidal tendencies suggested by its name, nor even sound particularly as though it is saying “killdeer”, it is a very attractive plover to have around whatever the heck its call may resemble.Killdeer, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Photo credits: Bruce Hallett, Tony Hepburn, Rick Lowe, Danny Sauvageau, Mrs RH, NTox, Very Recent FB & I’ll track down the source if it kills me**, Erik Gauger

** Got it now: The very excellent Mike Bizeau, whose on his wonderful NATUREHASNOBOSS website posts a single daily image. Many are birds, some are landscapes, some are other things that have caught his eye. I get a daily email, and am invariably impressed by the quality of the images…