BLACK AND WHITE WARBLER

B & W Warbler (f) BH IMG_0482 copy

The Black-and-White Warbler Mniotilta varia is a fairly common winter resident on Abaco. They are the only birds of the genus Mniotilta (“moss-picker” gr.). Unlike most warblers these birds behave rather like nuthatches, creeping along the trunks and branches of trees grubbing insects out of the bark. Pine trees are ideal for this. I remain rather dim about the 37 species of warbler on Abaco. A lot of them are small and yellow. But as soon as I saw one of these for the first time, I was very relieved. I knew exactly what it was – the bird that has been described as ‘a flying humbug’. 

Black & White Warbler.Cross Harbor.Abaco Bahamas.Tom SheleyB & W Warbler BH IMG_9587 copyBlack & White Warbler TR jpg

SUMMER     WINTER
220px-Mniotilta_varia_map.svg

Finally, this is a great short video of this little bird in action. Even if you only watch the first 30 seconds, you will be enchanted…

Image Credits: Bruce Hallett, Tom Shelley, Tom Reed. All are contributors to “The Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco” (Publ. March 2014)

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AMERICAN COOTS


American Coot - Bahamas - Great Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

AMERICAN COOTS: “WHAT’S AFOOT?”

The American Coot Fulica americana is similar in many respects to the COMMON GALLINULE (MOORHEN). Except for the beak colour, of course. And as you will see below, the feet.

American Coot.Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Most people would give an off-the-cuff description of a coot as ‘a black duck with a white beak’. They might add ‘…and a red eye’. Or ‘…and a dark band at the tip of the beak’. Or even ‘…I think there’s a white bit at the back end’. The header image pretty much sums up the classic coot.

American Coot 2 (Keith Salvesen)

However, coots seem to take up or reflect other colours at times. The eyes remain a piercing red and the beak is white, but the body can range from black through slate-grey to pale grey, depending on the light. There may even be a tinge of brown or even orange.

American Coot - Bahamas - Great Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

I always enjoy seeing coots and moorhens somewhere where the water ‘works’ with them and creates a dramatic image. I took the first photo below recently on the JKO reservoir in Central Park, New York, where the water looked weirdly like molten metal and some trick of the light made the bird seem as if is was in a shallow depression in the water.

American Coot (Keith Salvesen)

Tom Sheley took the photo below on a ‘green water’ day at the pond on Treasure Cay Golf Course. I have recommended it before as an excellent birding site for waterbirds – coots, moorhens, Bahama pintails, northern pintails, neotropic cormorants, blue-winged teal, least grebes, pied-billed grebes, green herons – I’ve even seen a reclusive least bittern there. There are plenty of ‘land’ birds on the course too.

American Coot.Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy 2

If you go to TCGC for the birding, you just need to clock in at the clubhouse in case it’s a match day; and so they know who is out and about on the course. And, as I wrote elsewhere, if you hear a loud yell of “Fore”, it probably won’t be someone counting the coots. Time to… er… duck.

Q: “WHAT’S AFOOT?” *

I mentioned that one of the differences between coots and moorhens is their feet. Gerlinde Taurer’s photo of a coot taking off suggests that something powerful is happening below the water to assist the wings to propel the bird into flight.American Coot - Bahamas - Great Abaco - Gerlinde Taurer

A coot’s feet are quite unlike the pedal extremities of any other birdCoot, showing feet (Keith Salvesen)Coot Feet Close-up Keith Salvesen copy

Moorhen’s feet for comparison – completely different structurallymoorhen_feet-mehmet-kartuk-wikijpg-copy* A: “A funny-shaped thing on the end of your leg”. How we laughed (aged 7)

Credits: Gerlinde Taurer (1, 4, 7); Tom Sheley (2, 6); Keith Salvesen (3, 5, 8, 9); Mehemet Kartuk (wiki) 10

 

COMMON GALLINULE (MOORHEN)

Common Gallinule.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

WHAT’S IN A NAME? COMMON GALLINULE aka MOORHEN

Names can be a hassle. My own, when not my alter ego Rolling Harbour (from a long line of Harbours), was a act of Baptismal Folly for which I cannot be held responsible. I could have changed it by Deed Poll were I seriously bothered, but I am aware that there are far worse names out there and at least mine reflects my scandi-scottish origins I suppose.

Common Gallinule, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

The Moorhen has had a far worse time of it. Over many decades its name has been changed, changed back and changed again. Partly it’s to do with a continuing debate over the New World and Old World subspecies – or as it now stands, separate species. Even that status has changed around over time. It’s enough to give the poor creature an ID crisis.

Bahamas-Great Abaco_7551_Common Gallinule_Gerlinde Taurer copy

The Common Gallinule Gallinula galeata, as it has been known since 2011, is a bird of the rail family. The AOU decreed its divorce from the Common Moorhen after due consideration of the evidence and it is now lumbered with the less familiar and user-friendly Gallinule name.

Common Gallinule, Abaco - Peter Mantle

Note the yellow legs and large feet (unwebbed)

Moorhens (I’m using this as a comfortable nickname, aware that I am flying in the face of progress) are usually seen swimming serenely around ponds or picking their way through marshy ground as they forage. They have an aggressive side, hissing loudly if they feel threatened and fighting to preserve their territory or nest. Nestlings have been observed clinging to a parent as it flies to safety with its offspring as passengers.

Bahamas-Great Abaco_7536_Common Gallinule_Gerlinde Taurer copy

WHAT IS A ‘GALLINULE’ WHEN IT’S AT HOME

I wondered what the word ‘Gallinule’ actually means? What is the derivation? The BINOMIAL NOMENCLATURE (basically = scientific name in Latin) of most species is largely unintelligible unless you have some knowledge of Latin. But most birds end up with a useful, often descriptive, everyday name. Red-tailed Hawk. Least Tern. Yellow Warbler. Painted Bunting. You know what to expect with those. But a ‘Gallinule’ could as easily be a french cooking receptacle or delicious dish. Or a grim and slimy horror from Tolkien. Or maybe something / someone out of Harry Potter. Sleuthing online reveals that the word is a modern Latin construct of the c18, derived from the Latin diminutive word for a ‘hen’. So it’s simply a hen. As in Moorhen.

Common Gallinule, Abaco Woody Bracey

WHAT IS A ‘MOOR’ WHEN IT’S ATTACHED TO A HEN?

This does not refer to a wide swathe of open upland country, often covered in heather and gorse, where in the UK (especially in Scotland) every August 12 thousands of grouse are traditionally shot. It stems from an honest Old English word for a marshy or swampy area, Mor. It was used from early mediaeval times and itself comes from Saxon and Germanic roots. So perhaps calling the Common Gallinule a [Common] Marsh Hen would be more helpful… Or – hey! – why not have American Moorhen and Eurasian Moorhen, a perfectly valid differentiation used quite satisfactorily for other species…?

Common Gallinule (nonbreeding adult).Abaco Bahamas.2.12.Tom Sheley

Adult non-breeding plumage

There’s more on the naming of birds generally and Moorhens specifically in a couple of amusingly-written sources I came across. The first is from NEMESIS BIRD written by Alex Lamoreaux in 2011, called Goodbye Moorhen, Hello Gallinule. The second is from the excellent 10000BIRDS.COM entitled Moorhen Mania – the splitting and renaming of the Common Moorhen

Common Gallinule (Leucistic?) - Tony Hepburn

The bird above with a striking colouring and orange beak was photographed by the late Tony Hepburn. He believed it to be an unusual LEUCISTIC moorhen with reduced pigmentation, a condition that has similarities with ALBINISM

BAHAMAS - Common Gallinule, Abaco, TC GC Hole 11 - Becky Marvil

At some stage I am planning a companion Coot post. I won’t need to go on and on about that name. It may not be descriptive but it is short and simple, and everyone knows where they stand with it. Until they decide to rename it a Cotellinule…

Gallinule © Hans Hillewaert

Credits: Tom Sheley, Bruce Hallett, Peter Mantle, Gerlinde Taurer, Woody Bracey, Tony Hepburn, Becky Marvil, Hans Hillewaert, Nemesis Bird, 10000birds.com

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