CANADA WARBLER: A NEW BIRD FOR ABACO & BAHAMAS


Canada Warbler Cardellina canadensis - Abaco Bahamas (1st record) - Christopher Johnson

The first Canada Warbler recorded for Abaco AND Bahamas (Christopher Johnson)

CANADA WARBLER: A NEW BIRD FOR ABACO & BAHAMAS

As reliable as seasonal clockwork, the migratory warblers are swarming south from their summer breeding grounds to warmer climes for the winter. In the case of Abaco, this amounts to 32 warbler species to add to the 5 resident breeding species (Bahama Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Olive-capped Warbler, Pine Warbler & Bahama Warbler. 37 warblers in total.

Abaco's 37 warbler species - permanent residents (Keith Salvesen)

Well, now make that 38. On August 28th, young birder Christopher Johnson was out with well-known birding sage Woody Bracey when he saw something small and yellow hopping about in the coppice. On closer examination – and he took the photos to prove it – it was not just one of the many familiar yellowy winter warblers, but a completely new species recorded for Abaco and (more significantly) the entire Bahamas. It was a Canada Warbler, Cardellina canadensis (Linn. 1766) aka Wilsonia canadensis.

Canada Warbler Cardellina canadensis - Abaco Bahamas (1st record) - Christopher Johnson

The photo above is one of 3 that Christopher managed to take. In many respects it is typical of a field photograph: a small bird, at a distance, zero’d into focus through a small gap in the leaves and branches of thick coppice. Sharp bird, blurry surroundings. The trick is not to end up with a wonderful clear shot of a green leaf on its twig, with a small yellow blur in the background. (I perfected this ill-advised technique with my only photo of a Kirtland’s warbler).

Canada Warbler - Birdorable

WHERE WAS THIS BIRD DISCOVERED?

One of the features of the excellent birding to be found on Abaco is that some of it can be carried out in unexpected places. Town dumps are a classic example, though photos have to be taken with care to avoid unsightly rubbish-based settings. The Abaco Big Bird Poultry Farm area is another. This little bird was found there.

Abaco Map - Little Harbour / Marsh Harbour / Bird Site (KS)Canada Warbler Cardellina canadensis - Abaco Bahamas (1st record) - Christopher Johnson

Canada Warbler - Birdorable

SO WHERE WOULD IT NORMALLY BE FOUND? 

In summer, roughly 80% of CAWAs live and breed in Canada; 20% in the northern US. They spend a relatively short summer there. In the early Fall they fly down to South America. From the range map below, it looks as though their flight path would naturally take them right over the Bahamas to get to their destination. In fact, their journey is quite different. Following the central ‘bend’ of the Americas, they fly at night along a southwesterly route to the Texas coast, then on to southern Mexico and beyond.

I suspect that, as with many migratory birds, the occasional specimen takes a wrong turn on its route south, or is blown off-course by a storm. Maybe a few such vagrants pass through further east – even over the Bahamas perhaps – each year, as ‘vagrants’. But in reality their tiny size in the dense foliage of the land masses means that only a fluke sighting could result. So Christopher’s sighting will be recorded as a V5 – a vanishingly rare vagrant with only a single sighting (cf Abaco’s BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS).

canada-warbler-f-emmett-hume-wiki1

Canada Warbler - Birdorable

Q. DO MALES & FEMALES LOOK MUCH THE SAME? A. NO

Based on the Macaulay Library pictures below, the Abaco CAWA must be a female or an immature male. In comparing photos of this species (which I had never come across before) I have noticed one thing. The yellow lore (the area between the base of the beak and the eye) extends to include the top of the bird’s otherwise white eye-ring. This is found in both the male and the female. Now I need to check other eye-ringed species to see if this feature is a unique identifier or not…

Canada Warbler - Birdorable

WHAT DO I LISTEN FOR (JUST IN CASE…)?

The two sounds to listen for are the chirpy scrap of song and the ‘chip’ call.

WHAT IS THE CAWA’S CONSERVATION STATUS?

The CAWA is IUCN-listed as being of ‘least concern’. That of course is very far from saying it is of no concern at all. Surveys are already showing a gradual population decline in the breeding grounds. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has assessed the CAWA as ‘threatened’. Dull as it is to keep repeating the point, this species like most others faces all the usual threats to its existence, mostly man-made and during my lifetime…

  • Deforestation, habitat destruction and intrusion, development etc etc
  • Problems arising from acid rain and pollution
  • The uncontrolled spread of the tree-destroying woolly adelgid, an import from Asia
  • Oh, and all those damn deer browsing the understory a bit. Blame them!

Canada Warbler - Birdorable

ARE THERE ANY FUN FACTS ABOUT THIS BIRD?

Well, confusion about its name, maybe, though that’s more ‘interesting’ than ‘fun’, I think. In 1760, a French zoologist named Brisson gave a name to a warbler specimen from Canada. It was “Le gobe-mouche cendré de Canada”, ie ‘The Canadian Ash-gray Flycatcher’. Because he needed a conventional Latin name for the bird, he put together the name Muscicapa Canadensis Cinerea. This did not fit in with the binomial system of taxonomy (nor was it a very good description of the bird), and the name was accordingly rejected by the wonderfully named International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. Linnaeus (to cut a longer story short) sorted it all out in his next edition of Systema Naturae in 1766, with the binomial name Muscicapa canadensis. In due course the genus Muscicapa was changed to Cardellina. 

THAT WASN’T A WHOLE LOT OF FUN. IS THERE MORE?

Well, there were more naming shenanigans when John James Audubon illustrated a female Canada warbler in Birds of America nearly a century later. Plate 73 (below) was entitled “Bonaparte’s Flycatching-Warbler—Muscicapa bonapartii.” He’d slipped in the name of ornithologist (and nephew of the more famous Emperor) CHARLES BONAPARTE, he of the BONAPARTE’S GULL. This version did not stick. However the CAWA acquired another ‘tribute’ name, an alternative that is still in use: Wilsonia canadensis. This tip of the hat is to another ornithologist ALEXANDER WILSON, of Wilson’s Plover fame. 

Canada Warbler / Bonaparte's Flycatching Warbler (J J Audubon)

canada-warbler-m-william-h-majoros-wiki

Photo Credits: Christopher Johnson (1, 2, 3); Emmet Hume / Wiki (4); Male / Female CAWAs, David Turgeon & Bob Edelen, Macaulay Library; Audubon Plate 73, OS; William H Majoros / Wiki. Sound Files, Ian Davies & Andrew Spencer / Xeno-Canto; Abaco Resident Warbler Chart, Keith Salvesen;, Cartoon by Birdorable; Range Map, Cornell U.

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

** Feb 2018 I have just been contacted by Jeff Gerbracht, who has very kindly sent me a recording he made on Grand Bahama in 2011 on a trip with Bruce Hallett (a familiar name to regular readers of this site) and uploaded to the indispensable Macaulay Library. I must have overlooked it when I wrote the post. The links below are to the recording and to the species checklist from that occasion, including a photo taken by Rudy Sawyer, the third member of the party.

And yes, comparison shows that the 2 nuthatches do indeed have “distinctively different vocalisations” (see above); and that the Bahama nuthatch does not sound anything like a squeezed rubber duck…

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

Addendum Feb 2018: Jeff Gerbracht for a BANU sound recording and species checklist

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), as I did. 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…

‘PEEP SHOW’: WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS ON ABACO


White-rumped Sandpiper (Woody Bracey)1

‘PEEP SHOW’: WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS ON ABACO

The White-rumped Sandpiper Calidris fuscicollis is one of a number of sandpiper species found on Abaco. You can see a gallery HERE. Many of them are confusingly similar, and it is with a sense of relief that one picks out some particular feature on a bird that marks it out from the other species.White-rumped Sandpiper_ACH3425 copy

The white-rumped sandpiper has, for a start, a white patch that shows above the base of the tail, rather in the manner of the yellow-rumped warbler. It is the only sandpiper with such a feature, and it is conclusive of ID… if you actually see it. You’ll notice that in the header image and the one above, no such white patch is visible. So although it is undoubtedly there, the bird you happen to be looking at – perhaps at a distance – may not have arranged its position and feathers to assist you. Frankly, the birds in the WRS group below are not cooperating either, except the furthest (blurry) one.

White-rumped sandpiper (Rick elis.simpson wiki)

You can’t see it on this bird either, as it forages in a pond, spreading concentric circles across the waterWhite-rumped Sandpiper (Woody Bracey)2White-rumped Sandpiper (Woody Bracey)3

Nor with this one. In fact, I have looked at dozens of photos to find a clear shot of said white marking and found only one really good one… but hedged around by the thick thorny protection of copyright.

White-rumped_sandpiper_(2) Rick elis.simpson wiki

However all is not lost. There is another feature of this sandpiper species that is unique to it, at least on Abaco (it is found also in the Baird’s sandpiper, but you won’t see that bird on the island). The unusually long wings of the white-rumped sandpiper extend beyond its tail when it is on the ground. You can see this in the photos above. It is a feature that should be clearly visible as you watch a bird on the shore, even if it isn’t showing its white rump. Here’s a very helpful composite from the Crossley ID Guide (Eastern Birds). You can see the extended wing length in the birds in the foreground. And if you look at the birds in flight, you will see the white rump exposed.

White_Rumped_Sandpiper_From_The_Crossley_ID_Guide_Eastern_Birds

Like all peeps, these birds make high-pitched weebling sounds, which I have seen described as ‘like a child’s squeaky toy’. Here’s a small flock make a characteristic noise.

Ian Cruickshank / Xeno Canto

You will often see a WRS mixed up in a group of other shorebirds, so the wing-length ID method will help pick it out. Also, it will be notably larger than some, for example semipalmated sandpipers. White-rumped Sandpiper + 2 semi-palmated(Woody Bracey)1White-rumped Sandpiper (Woody Bracey)5

NB They are not always found on the shore or in waterWhite-rumped_Sandpiper (Tim Bowman wiki)

Watch white-rumped sandpipers foraging

Credits: Woody Bracey, Tony Hepburn, Rick Elis Simpson, Tim Bowman, Crossley Guides, Xeno Canto

BAHAMA ORIOLE: ABACO’S LOST ENDEMIC SPECIES


Bahama Oriole ABC : D. Belasco

BAHAMA ORIOLE: ABACO’S LOST ENDEMIC SPECIES

FEWER THAN 300 LEFT IN THE WORLD – AND ALL ON ANDROS

Having just posted about the endangered NASSAU GROUPER and its protection by the introduction of a 3-month closed season, it’s time to focus on a rare, beautiful and vulnerable bird, the Bahama Oriole (Icterus northropi). It is IUCN Red Listed as ‘Critically Endangered’. ENDEMIC to the Bahamas, this bird lived only on Abaco and Andros. Not any more. Now you’ll only find them on Andros, the species having been lost to Abaco in very recent memory. The 1990s, in fact. And on Andros, this lovely bird is now struggling against the threat of extinction and is found only in limited areas in very small numbers. The most optimistic population estimate I have found puts the total as fewer than 300 individuals… the consensus puts the likely total in the region of 250. Bahamas Oriole, Andros (Binkie Van Es)1 Bahamas Oriole, Andros (Binkie Van Es)2

THE SPECIES

In 2010, the Greater Antillean Oriole Icterus dominicensis was separated by the AMERICAN ORNOTHOLOGISTS’ UNION into 4 species, one being the Bahama Oriole. As the BNT wryly put it, “New species are always a source of excitement… but in this case the intrigue is overshadowed by a sense of alarm and urgency”. For by then this new species ‘in its own right’ was limited to certain parts of Andros, in small and diminishing numbers. It had already vanished from some areas – especially in North Andros – were it had formerly been abundant. The best estimates suggested 250 individual birds. Bahama Oriole - Harold Brewer (via PM) - Version 3

WHEN & WHY DID THEY VANISH FROM ABACO?

This is a classic ‘riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’. Various sources I have looked at use a formula such as “…became extirpated from Abaco in the 1990s”, or “disappeared for unknown reasons in the 1990s”. I’ve found no clear clue as to the cause – nor even when the last sighting of an oriole on Abaco was made. I haven’t found a photo of one taken on Abaco, although to be fair the option of snapping everything with wings several times using a digital camera with a large chip didn’t exist then. In the next para a number of crucial factors in the more recent decline of the Andros population are given; but as far as I can determine, some at least did not apply in the 1990s, or certainly not to the same extent. Maybe it was a combination of a degree of habitat loss and the gradual decline of a small population that could not breed prolifically enough to sustain the future population **. Bahama_Oriole (Mxmerce Wiki)

THE MAIN CAUSES OF THE CRITICAL DECLINE ON ANDROS

Lethal Yellowing Disease of the coconut palm, prime nesting habitat for the oriole. In some areas on Andros (e.g. Staniard Creek), the palm has been all but wiped out. 

The arrival and spread of the Shiny Cowbird Molothrus bonariensis, a brood parasite that lays its eggs in the nests of other bird species such as the yellow warbler, the black-whiskered vireo… and the oriole. The cowbird reached Andros in the mid-1990s. The first Abaco report that I have found is from 1999 (so presumably, as the oriole was already gone from the island by then, they were not a factor).  The cowbird is a summer resident on Abaco, though still relatively uncommon; and its range continues to expand northwards. Some might argue that the cowbird should be discouraged from spreading on Abaco right now for the sake of the indigenous warbler and vireo populations – before it is too late.

Habitat loss / island development (although Birdlife International notes “…the planting of coconut palms in residential areas has allowed the species to spread into human settlements”). Other factors put forward include forestry work, forest fires, diseases, rodents and feral cats – problems that affect many other birds such as the Abaco parrot. Bahamas Oriole (BNT / Carlton Ward) The photo below is a pleasure to include in this post. It was taken earlier this year on Andros by Christopher Johnson of Nassau. And here’s the thing. He is 13, and an avid birder. I’m sure he likes his X-Box time, but he certainly knows plenty about birds too. He’s quick off the mark with offering IDs – correct ones – for birds online, and when he saw this bird he knew the significance of it and managed to get some good shots too. This is my favourite, the oriole ‘vocalising’. See below for its song. Here is Christopher’s brief but enthusiastic field report: Awesome trip to Andros this past weekend! Was amazed to see the Bahama Oriole and its nest — feeling great”. Bahama Oriole, Andros (Christopher Johnson) 2

Bahama Oriole taken during a BMMRO research trip on AndrosBahama Oriole, Andros (BMMRO)

 Paul Driver / Xeno Canto

A GLIMMER OF HOPE?

In the same way that urgent conservation measures were put in place to halt and then reverse the critical decline of the Abaco parrot population, similar projects are in place for the Bahama Oriole on Andros. One proposal is to establish a ‘captive breeding’ program leading to reintroduction and reinforcement of the wild population. According to the American Bird Conservancy, this could even include reintroduction on Abaco… So perhaps in a decade or two, this fine bird will once again become firmly established as one of the birds of Abaco. Bahamas Oriole, Andros (Binkie Van Es)3 As I said in my Nassau Grouper post, a country’s attitude can to a degree be gauged by the pride with which it features its wildlife and natural resources in its stamps (I used North Korea for adverse comparison). In 2009 The Bahamas Postal Service even issued a ‘Rare Birds’ set featuring the Bahama Oriole.. I rest my case. Bahama Oriole Stamp birdtheme.org

♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦

WHO WAS THE EPONYMOUS MR NORTHROP?

640px-Picture_of_John_Isaiah_Northrop

The comprehensive answer is provided by the University of Glasgow Library Research Annexe in relation to a fine  illustration from A Naturalist in the Bahamas (1910), reprinted in The Auk journal (below) at a time when Icterus northropi was still a mere subspecies: The yellow and black Bahama Oriole (Icterus Northropi) is a bird species unique to the Bahamas. The bird was named for American ornithologist and zoologist, John Isiah Northrop (1861–91); the illustration comes from an account of the trip Northrop and his botanist wife, Alice, took to the Bahamas in 1889 which was published in his memory: A Naturalist in the Bahamas: John I. Northrop, October 12 1861-June 25, 1891; a memorial volume (New York: Columbia University Press, 1910). It was edited and introduced by Henry Fairfield Osborn, professor of zoology at Columbia University where Northrop worked as a tutor and was killed in a laboratory explosion shortly (9 days) before the birth of his son John Howard Northrop (who became a Nobel prize-winning chemist). Icterus Northropi illustrated in A Naturalist in the Bahamas (plate 1)

RELATED MATERIAL

“Rediscovering the Bahama Oriole” Erik Gauger, author of the excellent Notes from the Road and photographic contributor to the Birds of Abaco has a good tale of the pursuit of the apparent sighting of a Bahama Oriole on Abaco 2o years after its (supposed?) extirpation. You can read it HERE The Auk Read more about this journal and the birding history of the Bahamas HERE There is a Care2Action ‘Save the Bahama Oriole Before It Is Too Late’ petition HERE. It seems to have stalled somewhat, so it would be good to generate some more signatories. ** Mathematically inclined? Find out about the application of the stochastic process to the oriole’s situation. In a nutshell, this concerns the combined effect of several random adverse factors on sustainability, given that the oriole’s already very small population, very limited range and particular habitat requirements militate against breeding expansion, and therefore increase the likelihood of extinction. We can only hope this is not an inevitability…

Image, audio and research credits: American Bird Conservancy, Binkie van Es, BNT / Carlton Ward, Birdlife International, Christopher Johnson, Cornell Neotropical, Harold Brewer, MxMerce, birdtheme.org, Wiki, Xeno Canto / Paul Driver; Uni of Glasgow / Roger Herriott

A NEW BIRD SPECIES FOR ABACO: BROWN THRASHER


 Brown Thrasher, Judy Howle / DigiDiva - WunderPhotos

A NEW BIRD SPECIES FOR ABACO: BROWN THRASHER

The third new bird species this year has been found on Abaco by bird authority Woody Bracey.  After the excitement of 6 BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS in June and a FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER in October comes the very recent sighting (with photos) of a BROWN THRASHER, hitherto unrecorded for Abaco. It was seen near Treasure Cay, at the site of a derelict restaurant.

The Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) belongs to the same family that includes mockingbirds and the catbird – Mimidae. Its normal range includes Florida where it is resident,  so there’s only 200 miles of ocean to cross to reach Abaco. Easier still with a stop-over on Grand Bahama. However I’ve checked for other Bahamas sightings, and so far I have found one recorded for Grand Bahama, and one for Eleuthera. So this first sighting on Abaco is possibly only the third for the Bahamas, suggesting that the Thrasher is generally not a great adventurer.  

220px-Brown-Thrasher-rangemap

Here are some images in case you happen to see a strange brown speckled bird…Brown Thrasher (Manjith Kainickara wiki)

ADULT AND JUVENILE
Brown Thrasher Toxostoma rufum, Virginia - cbgrfx123 wiki

And here are Woody’s evidential images of his sighting. They may not be such close shots as the others but they are conclusive for the record.P1070843P1070844

BESIDES ONE BIRD VISITING ABACO, WHAT’S  INTERESTING ABOUT THE THRASHER?

  • They are known to have more than 1000 types of song, one of the largest bird repertoires
  • They repeat phrases 2 or 3 times before moving on to another (somewhat like Mockingbirds)

Rick Wigh / Xeno Canto

  • They are omnivorous, eating insects, snails, worms etc; and balancing that with fruit, seeds and nuts
  • They are shy birds, but can be very aggressive when defending territory or a nest site
  • They used their slightly decurved beaks to thrash around under leaves and ground debris as they forage – hence the name

YES INDEED, BUT IS THERE ONE REALLY MEMORABLE FACT ABOUT THEM?

  • OK. Their necks are extremely flexible and they have more vertebrae than camels or (get this!) giraffes.
Brown_Thrasher (Ken Thomas wiki)AUDUBON’S DEPICTION OF A ‘FERRUGINOUS THRUSH’, AS IT WAS THEN KNOWNJohn James Audubon - Ferruginous Thrush

Credits: Judi Howle, Manjith Kainickara, Anon (wiki), Woody Bracey, Ken Thomas; Wunderphoto, Wiki, Xeno Canto

VIREOS ON ABACO (2): THE PHILADELPHIA VIREO


Vireo_philadelphicus Brian Mcclure (wiki) CROP

VIREOS ON ABACO (2): THE PHILADELPHIA VIREO

Vireos haven’t had as much attention as they deserve hereabouts. I have posted about the BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO, but the 7 other vireo species found on Abaco haven’t had much of a look in. It’s a wrong that I shall right at once by featuring the rather shy Philadelphia Vireo Vireo philadelphicus. Here is the full list of the vireos recorded for Abaco, from which you will see that only the Thick-billed Vireo is a common permanent resident. The Black-whiskered vireo is a common summer breeding resident; there are 2 uncommon winter residents; and the other 4 are transients that chose Abaco as a resting place on their migrations.

Taken from ‘The Birds of Abaco’ checklist by Tony White with Woody BraceyVIREO CHECKLIST

SONY DSC

This little bird tends  to be described with such unkind adjectives as ‘drab’, ‘dull’ and ‘plain’, but  like many under-appreciated species it has its own charm. The header image and the one above give excellent close-up views. The signifiers include the dark eyes, white eyebrows, the dark line through the eyes, the yellow underparts, and in the negative sense the complete absence of eye rings, wing bars or tail markings. And the thick bill is one quick way to distinguish it from similar-looking warbler species, with their generally smaller, pointy beaks. SONY DSC

The Philadelphia Vireo has a wide range, from its summer breeding grounds as far north as Canada down to its winter quarters in Mexico and South America. They have even, very rarely, been seen in Europe. The connection with Philadelphia is somewhat tenuous and arises because the bird was first identified in 1842 from a specimen collected near Philadelphia. However their visits there are brief, since at best it is only a stopover on their migration route…vire_phil_AllAm_map

Philadelphia Vireo (Vireo philadelphicus Dominic Sherony wiki

Here is the song comparison between (in order) the Philly, the familiar TBV whose song accompanies everyday life on Abaco, and the Black-whiskered vireo. My TBV recording is rather quieter than the other 2.

 Andrew Spencer / Xeno Canto

RH at Delphi

 Brian Cox / Xeno-Canto

Philadelphia Vireo William H. Majoros wiki If you want to know how to record birdsong easily using an iPhone or equivalent CLICK HERE 

Credits: Woody Bracey (2, 3); Brian McClure, Dominic Sherony, William H. Majoros, Xeno Canto, Wiki, Cornell Lab

“STAR ANIS”: ENTERTAININGLY GREGARIOUS CUCKOOS ON ABACO


Smooth-billed Ani, TCGC Hole 11 - Becky Marvil

“STAR ANIS”: ENTERTAININGLY GREGARIOUS CUCKOOS ON ABACO 

The Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani) is the third member of the cuckoo family found on Abaco, the others being the MANGROVE CUCKOO and the YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO. Anis range from Florida and the Bahamas in the north, down through the Caribbean to South America, where they are widespread.

Ani Range Map (Xeno-Canto) jpg

Smooth Billed Ani, Abaco - Nina Henry 2a

Unlike their shy and retiring cuckoo cousins, anis are extrovert shouty birds that like to hang out in noisy gangs. Large groups can quite often be found in the low scrub at the Highway end of the Delphi drive; and you may well find a posse of them in settlements such as Sandy Point. You’ll probably hear them from some way off, sounding like this:

Leonardo Ordóñez-Delgado / Xeno Canto

Smooth-billed Anis_Abaco - Tony Hepburn

Anis have advanced parenting and chick-rearing skills, sharing not only communal nesting sites but also egg incubation and feeding the chicks. They are also what my mother might have called ‘fast’, raising up to three broods in a season. Rather touchingly, the young of earlier broods help to feed more recent chicks.

Smooth-billed Anis Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer d

I have tried to discover why an ani’s beak is as it is, without much success. Very often beak shape relates directly to the feeding habits and preferences of a species, but it is hard to see how a diet consisting mainly of insects and small reptiles such as lizards would account for such a prominent proboscis. Here is a close-up of the item in question (thanks, Roselyn Pierce).
On Abaco (and indeed elsewhere) Anis are sometimes known as ‘Cemetery Birds’, no doubt because of their all-black appearance (their raucous tendencies would be quite inappropriate for a graveyard…). [Nicolette Russell has contacted me to say that she has always known them as Rain Crows] However although at a distance these birds may look completely black, catch one in the sun at the right angle, and you’ll find that the plumage is far more varied, and with some intricate patterning.

Smooth-billed Ani. Abaco Bahamas Tom Sheley

Look for Anis in low scrubland and coppice, cultivated areas, perched in unsteady bickering rows on utility lines… and on the ground.

Smooth-billed Ani, Abaco. Gerlinde Taurer c

The appearance and flying abilities of Anis are wonders to behold. As I wrote in The Birds of Abaco, “Their curious heavy beaks, their clumsy flight and their untidy take-off and landing routines suggest a design fault”.

Smooth Billed Ani, Abaco - Nina Henry 1a

“One… is the loneliest number…” oh, hang on a moment…Smooth-billed Ani Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer a

…”two of us…standing solo in the sun…”Smooth-billed Ani, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer) b

As far as I know, there is not yet a collective noun for a group of anis. There should be. Any suggestions welcome via the comment box. Meanwhile I put forward A Commotion of Anis”

Smooth-biled Ani, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

Credits: Becky Marvil, Nina Henry, Tony Hepburn, Gerlinde Taurer, Roselyn Pierce, Tom Shelley, Bruce Hallett; Xeno Canto for range map & sound file; Hat tip to Aimee Mann.

“Star Anis” – do not confuse with Star Anise. One can fly, the other cannotStar Anise Spice (Tesco)

“OL’ BLUE EYES”: WHITE-WINGED DOVES ON ABACO


1024px-Ala_Blanca

“OL’ BLUE EYES”: WHITE-WINGED DOVES ON ABACO

The White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica  is an easily recognised dove species, being the only one on Abaco with conspicuous white wing markings. The prominent blue eye-rings are another unusual feature of this bird. The blue is skin and not feather colouring. Another identifier is the dark line on the upper neck.

Although the birds are permanent residents on Abaco, they are relatively uncommon. They are not a protected species, and yet unlike some other pigeon and dove species (Mourning Dove, Ring Necked Dove, White-crowned Pigeon, Zenaida Dove) they are not listed among the game birds that have a shooting season. Unlike many species whose range is decreasing for all the usual human-related reasons, this bird appears to be expanding its range – or is possibly being introduced in new areas. Urban development seems not to be not such a deterrent as for other birds, and feeders are also thought to contribute to the spread.

White-winged Dove Range - Xeno Canto

White-winged Dove, Abaco Bahamas - Tom Sheley crop - Version 2

This short audio clip of a White-winged Dove has other background bird sounds, mostly identifiably a red-winged blackbird making its ‘rusty gate hinge’ call

Mike Nelson / Xeno Canto

White-winged Dove, Abaco - Tony Hepburn

FANCY THAT!

STEVIE NICKS name-checks the White-winged Dove and its call in her 1981 hit “Edge of Seventeen” from her Bella Donna album. If your interest is piqued as the Mac again discuss putting behind them their various differences and prodigious substance sampling to re-form (Glastonbury 2015?), see below. However, rehearing this again (having hidden Bella Donna in a locked drawer 30 years ago) the music has not worn well and her voice – sometimes so exciting – is somewhat fingernails on blackboard. 

This final image is by Dan Pancamo who generously uploaded it to Wiki. It is several cuts above the usual generic illustrative images in both quality and style.

White-winged_Dove_by_Dan_Pancamo

Credits: Wiki / Dan Pancamo, Tom Sheley, Tony Hepburn, Xeno Canto

FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER: ANOTHER NEW SPECIES FOR ABACO


Rogier Klappe Wiki Tyrannus_savana_-Colombia-8

FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER: ANOTHER NEW SPECIES FOR ABACO

Following the flurry of reports and photos in June of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks on Abaco – a species never recorded here before – comes a new ‘first bird’: the Fork-Tailed Flycatcher Tyrannus savant. On September 24 Shirley Cartwright saw an unusual bird with a long dark tail and managed to get a photo of it of sufficient quality for a certain identification to be made. Never mind the photo detail, the fact that Shirley saw the bird and was able to obtain photographic confirmation is the thing. So here is the first-ever Fork-tailed Flycatcher for Abaco – and only the third for the Bahamas  (previous ones seen on New Providence and Great Inagua).

Fork-Tailed Flycatcher Tyrannus savant, Abaco (Shirley Cartwright)

I did a little brightening and clarifying of the original image, and also tried a cropFork-tailed Flycatcher, Abaco (Shirley Cartwright)

Tony White, the well-known authority on Bahamas birds, sent me the image with some information about this bird’s usual range:

“This is an interesting species as the race found in eastern US is South American and highly migratory. It breeds in Chile and Argentina. It is a frequent vagrant to USA, well over 100 records, and has appeared as far north as Nunavut, Canada. In the Austral fall (our spring) it migrates north and winters in Northern South America. Birds that appear in the USA at that time are considered overshoots. Birds that appear in our fall (Austral spring) are believed to be mostly first year birds that winter in northern South America and then fly a mirror image from the proper direction heading north instead of south. Unfortunately, the photos of the Abaco bird are not close enough to tell whether it was a young one or not. Field guides say young birds have shorter tails, but in fact there is considerable overlap in tail lengths between females and young. I strongly recommend a paper by McCaskie and Patton on this species in Western Birds 1994 Vol 25, No 3, pp 113=127. It can be found on SORA (Searchable Ornithological Research Archives).”

Treading carefully through a copyright minefield, I have dug out some illustrative images of this flycatcher, shown below. It belongs to the group known as tyrant flycatchers, which includes the kingbirds that are familiar on Abaco.

Fork-tailed flycatcher(Reynaldo wiki) Tesourinha_REFON

This first range map (Cornell Neotropical) shows the FTFs’ typical, largely subequatorial rangeRange Map Cornell (Neotropical) jpg

However this ‘overshoot’ range map (Audubon) reflects the fact that overshoots occur almost annually in the eastern United States seaboard and even as far north as Canada. To see these birds photographed in Connecticut (10000birds.com), click HEREGiven that the whole Florida coast is included, it’s perhaps not surprising that sooner or later the odd bird would misdirect to the northern Bahamas.fork-tailed flycatcher

This example of the species is taken from the Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds (open source) . The bird in the centre with the long tail is clearly a male; I imagine the mature-looking one on the left is a female; and the one on the right with the comparatively stumpy tail, a juvenile.

Fork_Tailed_Flycatcher_From_The_Crossley_ID_Guide_Eastern_Birds

It’s sometimes instructive to discover how John James Audubon saw a particular bird, so here is his FWF. While the bird is undeniably beautiful, I am not too certain of its proportion in relation to the size of the blossom. But then again, it seems to me that he didn’t always struggle for exactitude, preferring a broader, more relaxed approach to depict the birds as he saw them – and not afraid to exaggerate a characteristic for effect.

NEW INFO Woody Bracey has contacted me to point out that the male in the image above “is actually a pale mantled manachus subspecies from Central America, not the darker savana nominate subspecies from South America which Shirley photographed”. Which explains the colour difference.

640px-168_Fork-tailed_Flycatcher

ESSENTIAL FUN FACT

The fork-tailed flycatcher has the longest tail relative to body size of any bird on earth (trails.com)

As the name suggests, this species feeds mainly on insects, although in winter it may also eat berries and the like. They will often perch on wires of fence posts. I’ve no idea if they ‘hawk’ for flies on the wing, but if so the sight of a male feeding must be wonderful. Here is an example of their song

[audio http://www.xeno-canto.org/sounds/uploaded/DGVLLRYDXS/TYRSAV06.mp3] Jeremy Minns / Xeno-Canto

        Tyrannus_savanna-Fork-tailed_Flycatcher Hector Bottai wikimedia

To see a gallery of FWF photos on the excellent birding resource Oiseaux.net, click on the logo oiseaux

 RELATED POSTS
BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCK A new species for Abaco (June 2014)
BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS New species, June 2013
Credits: Shirley Cartwright, Rogier Klappe, Tony White, ‘Reynaldo’, Cornell, Audubon, Crossley, Xeno-Canto,  Hector Bottai

‘AMOY’ THERE! AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS ON ABACO


American Oystercatcher.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

‘AMOY’ THERE! AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS ON ABACO

The American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus is a familiar shorebird, with the significant advantage that it cannot be mistaken for any other shore species either to look at or to hear. All those little sandpipers and plovers can be very confusing; the handsome AMOY stands out from the crowd. I am posting about this species now as a prelude to WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY on September 6th. The link will take you to the official Facebook Page where you will find more information, including how to sign up for a pleasant day’s birding, with the chance to report your sightings.world-shorebirds-day1000

The header picture and the next 2 were taken by photographer and ace birder Tom Sheley on the Delphi Club beach. Unsurprisingly, we used one of these wonderful photographs as a full-page image in The Delphi Club Guide to THE BIRDS OF ABACO.

American Oystercatcher.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley American Oystercatcher.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Bruce Hallett, author of the essential field guide ‘Birds of the Bahamas and the TCI’ (featured in the sidebar) was a major contributor to the book. Not just with his excellent photographs, either, such as the two below. His knowledge, his patience with my queries, and his scrupulous reading of the final draft to eliminate my errors were vital to the project. American Oystercatcher.Abaco Bahamas.Bruce HallettAmerican Oystercatcher.Abaco Bahamas.Bruce Hallett163952

Here are two recordings of oystercatchers, unmistakeable call sounds that will probably be instantly familiar.

Lopez Lanus / Xeno-Canto

Krzysztof Deoniziak / Xeno-Canto

I like the rather dishevelled appearance of this AMOY from Jim Todd, fly fisherman, author of ‘The Abaco Backcountry’, and intrepid kayak explorer around the coast of Abaco.American oystercatcher Abaco (Jim Todd)

The next two photos were taken on the Delphi beach by Charlie Skinner, another contributor to the book. Below them is an ‘in-flight’ shot by Bruce Hallett.American Oystercatcher, Abaco (Charlie Skinner)American Oystercatcher, Abaco (Charlie Skinner)     American Oystercatcher.Abaco Bahamas.Bruce Hallett

This fine video from Audubon shows close-up views of the American Oystercatcher, and unleashes more of the distinctive call-sounds – an insistent wittering – of the species. [vimeo https://vimeo.com/48479131%5D

For some time, I found it difficult to distinguish American and Eurasian Oystercatchers. The markings of both species are variable according to gender, age, season and so on, but are generally very similar. Mrs RH noticed the salient difference at once – the eyes. The AMOY has bright orange eyes with red eye-rings; the EUROY’s eyes are the reverse colouring, as this example shows.Eurasian Oystercatcher. BBC

 Credits: Tom Sheley, Bruce Hallett, Jim Todd, Charlie Skinner, Xeno-Canto, Audubon, BBC
world-shorebirds-day1000

VIREOS ON ABACO (1): GOING CHEEP – THE BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO


Black-whiskered Vireo, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

GOING CHEEP ON ABACO: THE BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO

There are 8 vireo species recorded for Abaco. The most common is the ubiquitous Thick-billed Vireo Vireo crassirostris – the only permanent resident vireo – whose cheery chirp is part of the background of bird song heard daily all over the island.  The only other species you are likely to encounter without going out of your way is the summer resident BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO Vireo altiloquus, which breeds on Abaco. The other 6 are the White-eyed, Yellow-throated, Blue-headed, Warbling, Philadelphia, and Red-eyed Vireo. Of these, the first 2 are quite rare winter residents; and the other 4 are considered to be transients. Black-whiskered Vireo, Abaco

The BWV’s song is similar to the Thick-billed Vireo, but (luckily) identifiably different. I’m not a great one for phonetic attempts at turning a bird call into a human sentence of the ‘Quick!-come-to-pick-up-a-brick’ and the ‘Skin-me-a-nice-bit-of-bonefish’ type. The Black-whiskered Vireo’s song has been described as sounding like ‘Whip, Tom Kelly’. But not to me. See what you make of it…

Brian Cox / Xeno-Canto

Black-whiskered Vireo, Abaco Bahamas 2 (Tom Sheley)

As with other vireo species, the BWV has a stout bill, a feature that helps to distinguish vireos from the many thin-billed warbler species on Abaco. The main signifiers are found on this bird’s head: the dark stripe right through the eye; the long white eyebrows; and the noticeable black lines – the ‘whiskers’ – on the sides of the neck. Other identification pointers are the pale underside with a yellow tinge to the flanks and undertail; and the red eyes (the red-eyed vireo, a very similar bird, lacks the whiskers).Black-whiskered Vireo, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

Black-whiskered vireos feed mostly on insects in trees, bushes and undergrowth. They can sometimes be seen hovering while they forage. They also vary their diet with small quantities of berries. Here are two great shots of a mother BWV feeding a very large chick with a berry, followed by some vile insect.Black-whiskered Vireo, Abaco (Charlie Skinner)Black-whiskered Vireo, Abaco (Charlie Skinner)

Image Credits: Bruce Hallett, Tom Shelley, Charlie Skinner, Charmaine Albury, Erik Gaugerblack-whiskered-vireo, Abaco (Erik Gauger) 1

LHUDE SING, CUCCU! THE MANGROVE CUCKOO ON ABACO


 Mangrove Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

LHUDE SING, CUCCU! THE MANGROVE CUCKOO ON ABACO

Summer is icumen in, that’s for sure. Has already cumen in, to be accurate. The approach of summer is the time when cuckoos tend to sing loudly (not lewdly, as the old lingo might suggest). The YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, recently featured, is one. The MANGROVE CUCKOO (Coccyzus minor) is another. Before I get on to some gorgeous pictures (none taken by me!), let’s have a sample of how this species sounds. The call has been described in various ways, for example as “gawk gawk gawk gawk gauk gauk”. I’m not so sure. And I can’t think of a sensible way to write it out phonetically. So I won’t. Please try, via the comment box…

Jesse Fagan / Xeno-Canto

Cornell Lab / Allaboutbirds  

MANGROVE CUCKOO, Abaco (Alex Hughes)Mangrove Cuckoo with insect.Delphi Club, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

You will notice that all three birds above have got fat insects in  their beaks. A lot of photos in the archive show feeding mangrove cuckoos. Maybe that’s when they are most likely to break cover, for they are quite a shy species.  Their preference is for caterpillars and grasshoppers, but they are happy to eat other insects, spiders, snails, lizards and (with a nod to an all-round healthy diet) fruit.

Mangrove Cuckoo, Delphi Club, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley) copyMangrove Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer) Mangrove Cuckoo, Abaco Alex Hughes

Delphi is lucky to have some of these handsome birds lurking in dense foliage along the drives – the guest drive in particular. Some of these photographs were taken there. Occasionally you may see one flying across a track ahead of a vehicle, flashing its distinctive tail. It’s significant that only the last of these photos shows the bird right out in the open – the rest are all deeper in the coppice.

Mangrove Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn) copyMangrove Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)  copyCredits: Bruce Hallett, Alex Hughes,  Tom Sheley, Gerlinde Taurer and the late Tony Hepburn; Audio – Xeno-Canto & Cornell Lab. All photos taken on Abaco!

SumerIsIcumenIn-line

 

“I HEAR YOU KNOCKING”: THE YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO ON ABACO


Coccyzus-americanus_ Factumquintus Wiki

“I HEAR YOU KNOCKING”: THE YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO ON ABACO

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) is the least common of three cuckoo species found on Abaco. All are permanent residents.  It is similar to the more frequently seen Mangrove Cuckoo (post to follow). Both are avid consumers of insects in general and caterpillars in particular. The YBC is shy and you are quite unlikely to see one out in the open, though you may hear its distinctive ‘knocking’ call. The third species classified with the ‘cuculidae’ is the Smooth-billed Ani. Here’s what to listen out for:

Mike Nelson / Xeno-Canto

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley) copy

The YBC has, obviously, a yellow bill. It also has yellow eye-rings and pure white underparts. Photographer Tom Sheley, a major contributor t0 “The Birds of Abaco”, is a very patient man. He managed to capture these two beautiful birds by knowing the right place to be at the right time… and waiting. The results for this little-seen species are spectacular.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

For those whose memories are stirred by the reference to “I hear you knocking” (Rick from Nassau – you!), I include archive material of Dave Edmunds hamming it up. Get a load of the Clothes! The Dancing! The Moves of the guy in the top left corner / centre back, at once rhythmic yet disconcertingly bizarre.

SAW A SORA? SURE? RAIL TRACK ON ABACO


BAHAMAS - Sora 2 - Oct 2010 copy 2

SAW A SORA? SURE? RAIL TRACK ON ABACO

‘Furtive’. ‘Secretive’. ‘Skulking’. These are harsh epithets to chuck at a small inoffensive bird that just goes about its daily routine in watery places. And look at it from the Sora’s point of view: ‘intrusive’; ‘prying’; invasive’; ‘nosy’… That’s you with your camera, disturbing its quiet life in the reeds and on the margins of marsh and lake. And for that matter your careful attempts to get close to the shy sora without startling it could also be described as furtive, secretive and skulking. See how it feels?

Sora.Marsh Harbour.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy

The Sora Porzana carolina is a species of rail, a winter resident on Abaco. The island also has the CLAPPER RAIL, Virginia Rail and the Black Rail. There are no recorded sightings of this last one, and certainly no photographs. But their distinctive call has been heard in several locations over the last few years –  for example, by two people in different places last June when we were in full bird mode for “THE BIRDS OF ABACO”.

Sora, Gilpin Point Abaco RH 1

Although not uncommon, the sora is relatively hard to find; and if found, to photograph. As I wrote in the book, ‘these are most inconspicuous birds, so it is quite a coup if you manage to locate one. Their creamy beak and upturned tail may give their presence away as they work their way along the water’s edge, feeding intently’. Tom Sheley took the magnificent photo above of a sora peering out from cover – he’s a very patient man. Often, the best sight you’ll get is of the bird half-hidden in the reeds at a distance, as in my feeble effort above. Spot the Sora… I tracked the same bird, and later got a more open shot as the sora picked its way along the edge of a pond before disappearing again into the reeds. The bird was moving away from me. I was crouched on a small jetty, with a little blue heron nearby looking at me in puzzlement. Or sympathy. My best (ha!) shot below (beak and tail both visible? Check!) is followed by much the most usual view of a sora in my experience, the less photogenic end with the white… stern.

Sora, Gilpin Point Abaco RH 3Sora, Gilpin Point Abaco RH 4

I can’t improve on good old Wiki in summarising the diet of this little rail: “Soras are omnivores, eating seeds, insects and snails. Animals that are commonly reported as sora food items include snails, crustaceans, spiders, and insects – mainly beetles, grasshoppers, flies, and dragonflies. Soras often eat plant seeds. Plants in the sora’s diet include duckweed, pondweeds, and grasses.” Wiki’s own image is shown next.

Sora, Birding Center, Port Aransas, Texas

We were with our friend the ornithological scientist Caroline Stahala* when we – I should say she – saw my first sora at the pond at Gilpin Point near Crossing Rocks. She grabbed my camera and plunged into the rather thick undergrowth at the water’s edge. Actually, she had to plunge into the water itself at one stage. Here are 2 shots that further demonstrate how hard it can be to photograph these wretched creatures. They don’t pose prettily on a branch in the sunshine like a Spindalis, for example. They forage about in places where low light and thick vegetation combine to make focus and clarity difficult to achieve. *’The Parrot Lady’  Sora, Gilpin Point Abaco - Caroline Stahala 1 Sora, Gilpin Point Abaco - Caroline Stahala 2 The remarkable calls of the sora can be heard in the very short clips below, from the invaluable Xeno-Canto archive. They make three distinct types of sound, one described as “a descending whinny”. Apparently the use of ‘call broadcasts’ greatly increases the chances of hearing a sora. They also increase the chances of seeing a sora, as the bird will often investigate the source of the call. The propriety of using a recording to attract a bird is open to debate, but there’s no doubt that it can be far more effective than simply going ‘pish-wish’ repeatedly… CALL Ted Floyd ‘WHINNY’ CALL   Micah Riegner ‘WEEP CALL’  Todd Wilson This is a second Wiki image of a sora foraging in water. I like the fact that, as with Tom’s photo, you can see the feet.1024px-Porzana_carolina “SORA”. Where does the word come from? What does it mean? It sounds like some uninviting butter-style spread. Or is that ‘Flora’? I did some research and for a start it means ‘Sky’ in Japanese and ‘Seashell’ in Korean – both used as names. Six countries worldwide have places called Sora. There are various obscure usages (e.g. a little-known video game). Disappointingly, however, the best etymology I can find in a birding context is that the origin is ‘unknown’. I was too disheartened to explore the derivation of ‘Porzana’. Could so easily be a second-tier female character in a Shakespeare comedy: “Haply, Porzana, hast seen the Sora of the Prince, withal?”. Having started this post with a header shot by Becky Marvil, I’ll end with the etymological mystery and another photo by Becky of the same bird going for some underwater delicacy. Sora, Abaco - Becky Marvil 2.1

STOP PRESS Uli Nowlan has kindly sent a photo of a Sora taken at ponds north of Treasure Cay (below). It’s a timely reminder to me that this blog is somewhat South Abaco oriented. More than somewhat, in fact. That’s inevitable I’m afraid, owing to my base camp being south of MH. Also, I think it’s generally accepted that South Abaco is the place to find the best birding. I do include birds from the TC area – the golf course ponds and the creeks – but perhaps not enough. Contributions welcome!

Sora, Abaco (Treasure Cay area) - Uli Nowlan

Credits: Header and last image – Becky Marvil; Tom Sheley, RH, Wiki, Caroline Stahala; Uli Nowlan. Wiki-nod for some info also.