WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRD

White-tailed Tropicbird, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRD

A competition to decide the most elegant bird found on Abaco (of 350+ recorded species) is a simpler task than it sounds. Colourfulness doesn’t come into (sorry, painted bunting, Abaco parrot & co). Nor cuteness, rarity, popularity and so on. Some birds don’t make the starting line at all (but we love you, ungainly limpkins and raucous clumsy-flying Anis). Best to judge from a different viewpoint: is there one bird that in flight is invariably beautiful to watch, in a way that can make you catch your breath…?

White-tailed Tropicbird, Abaco (Alex Hughes)White-tailed Tropicbird, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

The caribbean white-tailed tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus catesbyi) is one of six types of tropicbird found worldwide. It is named after pioneering naturalist MARK CATESBY, who predated John James Audubon. Click the link to find out more about him. Catesby’s depiction (below) of a ‘Phaeton’ must be one of the earliest.

Catesby’s TropicbirdTropicbird - Mark Catesby jpg

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In the Bahamas, tropicbirds are summer resident only and breed on the islands. Abaco is fortunate to have several breeding colonies, not all in remote or inaccessible places. Female tropicbirds lay a single egg directly onto the ground or on rocky ledges and in rocky holes. One might suppose that such limited egg production with a somewhat high-risk nesting policy, coupled with modern problems such as habitat destruction, might affect numbers. However, these fine birds seem to be doing well, and are IUCN-listed ‘Least Concern’.

This tropicbird on Abaco has found a safe place to nest in a rocky holeWhite-tailed Tropicbird on nest, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

Tropicbirds have a variety of local names in the Caribbean, for example ‘longtail’ and ‘bosun bird’ (after their screeching call). They plunge-dive for fish, but are inexpert swimmers. This is a factor I am prepared to overlook in the elegance contest. They were born to fly high, not to paddle about.

White-tailed Tropicbird, Abaco (Alex Hughes)White-tailed Tropicbird, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

THE STORY OF TB THE TROPICBIRD

A couple of years ago, a tropicbird chick was rescued by a dive boat and given to Melissa Maura, well-known for her animal magic, to care for. She nurtured ‘TB’, giving him a soft bed and providing him with a swimming pool. To begin with, it looked as though he might not be able to fly at all, but as he became stronger he started to flap his wings.

White-tailed Tropicbird, Bahamas (Melissa Maura)White-tailed Tropicbird, Bahamas (Melissa Maura)

Then it was time to go to the beach, get acquainted with sand and sea, and practise flying. I have some pathetic photos of an exhausted TB lying flat out on the sand after his initial attempts to fly. But Melissa and TB persevered with the flying practice and in due course TB began to get the hang of it. Finally, the great day arrived. Melissa and a friend took TB down to the beach and launched him into the air. He took off, flying strongly away, never to return. A moment of triumph mixed with poignance.

  White-tailed Tropicbird, Bahamas (Melissa Maura) White-tailed Tropicbird, Bahamas (Melissa Maura)White-tailed Tropicbird, Bahamas (Melissa Maura)

You are very welcome to propose a rival in the elegance stakes in the comment box!

Credits: Main photos Alex Hughes; TB images Melissa Maura

White-tailed Tropicbird, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLERS ON ABACO

Olive-capped Warbler 3.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLERS ON ABACO

Abaco has a recorded 37 warbler species. Of these, most are winter residents and some are rarer migratory transients. Only 5 are permanently resident on Abaco: the Bahama Warbler, Bahama Yellowthroat, Olive-capped Warbler, Pine Warbler and Yellow Warbler. You can read about all 5 HERE 

Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

I realise that I haven’t posted about OCWs in their own right; and that as a species they have been unfairly lumped in (by me) with more general warbler posts. Time to put that right by showing some exclusively OCW photos.

Olive-capped Warbler.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

OCWs have an unusually restricted range, despite which they remain IUCN-listed ‘Least Concern’. These pretty birds are native only to the western and eastern ends of Cuba, Grand Bahama, and Abaco. Their natural habitat is pine forests and to a lesser extent in mixed forest and coppice areas.

Olive-capped Warbler 6.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

If you are lucky enough to see an OCW on Abaco, it’s worth thinking about the rich and unspoilt habitat that ensures its survival there. These little birds, along with other important bird species, enjoy a safe haven in the vast acres of pine forest.Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco (Tom Reed)

Photo credits: Bruce Hallett (1, 2, 3, 6); Tom Sheley (4, 5); Tom Reed (7)

NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS

Neotropic Cormorant, Treasure Cay, Abaco 1 (Tom Sheley)

“EMERALD EYES”: NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS ON ABACO

Neotropic or Olivaceous Cormorants Phalacrocorax brasilianus. Smaller cousins of the familiar double-crested cormorant, and occupying a quite different range. In the northern Bahamas they are considered to be uncommon summer residents whereas the big guys are common year-round residents. However the neotropics’ range has spread in the last decade and they may become more noticeable on Abaco. Right now, Abaco is pretty much the northern boundary.

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In many ways, cormorants are taken rather for granted – ubiquitous black guardians of the coastal margins. But seen close-to, they have their glamour. This is especially true of the slimmer neotropics, with precious jewels for eyes and intricate plumage patterns that a mere fly-past cannot reveal.

Male and female neotropic cormorants: a caption contest in the making…Neotropic Cormorant, Abaco 3 (Bruce Hallett)

Neotropic Cormorant, Abaco 2 (Bruce Hallett)
Comingsbirds
Besides being smaller and lighter than the double-cresteds, these cormorants have longer tails. They are mainly fish-eaters both at sea, and inshore where ponds are to be found. They make brief dives to find food; in groups they may combine to beat the water with their wings to drive fish into the shallows where they can be picked off more easily.
Neotropic Cormorant, Abaco 1 (Bruce Hallett)
The eagle-eyed may have noticed that in some photos the birds seem to be standing on some kind of white pipe, as indeed they are. That is because a good bet for finding one in the summer is on the golf course pond in Treasure Cay, a most productive location for spotting water birds of many species. The pipes are to do with the watering arrangements. I think.Neotropic Cormorant, Treasure Cay, Abaco 2 (Tom Sheley)
As I have written elsewhere, “Call in at the Clubhouse for permission first. And if you hear a loud yell of ‘Fore’, it’s not someone counting birds. It’s time to duck…”
Raining? What, me worry?Neotropic Cormorant, Treasure Cay, Abaco 1 (Tom Sheley)Neotropic Cormorant, Treasure Cay, Abaco 3 (Tom Sheley)

Credits: Photos – Bruce Hallett, Tom Sheley, Lycaon; Infographics – Allaboutbirds, Comingsbirds

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