YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER

 YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER

Abaco has two permanently resident woodpecker species, the WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER and the HAIRY WOODPECKER. There is a third, migratory woodpecker species that is a fairly common winter resident, the yellow-bellied sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius. Like its woodpecker cousins, the sapsucker drills holes in trees (see below). The dual purpose is to release the sap, which it eats, and to attract insects that it also eats. A two-course meal, if you like. They’ll also eat insects on an undrilled tree, and even ‘hawk’ for them in flight. They balance their diet with fruit and berries.

Bahamas -Great Abaco_Yellow-bellied Sapsucker_Gerlinde Taurer 1 FV

Bahamas-Great Abaco_Yellow-bellied Sapsucker_Gerlinde Taurer 2 copy

The distinctive patterns of sapsucker holes may completely encircle the trunk of a tree with almost mathematical precision. This is sometimes described as ‘girdling’ and may have a damaging effect on a tree, sometimes even killing it if the bark is severely harmed. This may require preventive measures in orchards for example, though note that in the US Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are listed and protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act so radical action is prohibited. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Abaco Bahamas 2.12.Tom Sheley copy 3

YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER SOUNDS

DRUMMING (Xeno-Canto / Richard Hoyer)

 CALL (Xeno-Canto / Jonathon Jogsma) 

On Abaco, palms are a favourite tree for the sapsuckers. There are several palms along the Delphi beach, and this year I noted that one coconut palm in particular had seen plenty of sapsucker  action, with the drill holes girdling the entire trunk from top to bottom.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers & Coconut Palms 1 RH Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers & Coconut Palms 2 RH

In their breeding grounds yellow-bellied sapsuckers excavate a large cavity in a softwood tree as a nest. They mate for life, and often return to the same nest year every year, with the pair sharing nesting duties. I have no idea whether the pair migrate south for the winter together, or whether they agree to take a break from each other. I’d like to think it’s the former…

sphy_vari_AllAm_map

Credits: Photos Gerlinde Taurer, Tom Sheley, RH; Cornell Lab (Range Map) & Xeno-Canto (YBS recordings as credited above)

Species featured in ‘The Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco’ by Keith Salvesen, pp 242-3

RED-LEGGED THRUSHES ON ABACO

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

RED-LEGGED THRUSHES ON ABACO

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

Many of the birds shown here were photographed in or around the grounds of Delphi. More recently, they have to an extent been displaced by red-winged blackbirds which are of course very fine birds but in large numbers sound (may I say this? Is this just me?) quite irritating after a while. Whereas the thrush of course has a sweet and melodious song, like this (my own recording – turn up the vol):

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (S Salvesen)

The eyes of the RLT are at least as prominent a feature as their legs. Lots of birds have red legs. Very few have such remarkable bright, fiery eye-rings, even in a youngster.

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Charles Skinner)Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Charles Skinner)

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Erik Gauger)

This photo from birdman Tom Sheley is my favourite – a perfect compositionRed-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Photo Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 11); Peter Mantle (2, 4); Gerlinde Taurer (3); Mr & Mrs Harbour (5, 6, 7); Charles Skinner (8, 9); Erik Gauger (10). Lo-fi audio recording: RH

LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHERS ON ABACO

LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHERS 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.

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.

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 LSF

Both species have a tiny hook at the end of the (upper) beak – to help trap insects, I assume

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.

WHAT TO LISTEN OUT FOR

 Hans Matheve @ Xeno-Canto

A hint of a crest is visible in this photo

WHO WAS ‘LA SAGRA’?

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.

Ramón Dionisio José de la Sagra y Peris

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…

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

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACO

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

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

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Peter Mantle

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

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Charlie Skinner

Both mockingbird species are found on Abaco. The NMs are ubiquitous in towns, settlements, gardens, coppice and pine forest, whereas BMs are shyer and tend to be found in the pine forest and well away from humans and their operations. 

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

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

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Alex Hughes

For those with interest in birdsong, here is a longer 1:13 minute song from the same bird, with largely different sounds from the first recording made minutes earlier. There’s even a decent stab at imitation of a 1960s Trimphone™. I could have stayed listening for far longer.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

An apparently new subspecies, the scarlet-faced mockingbird. In fact the bird had been feeding on red berries, and had managed to collect plenty of the juice round the base of its beak. 

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith SalvesenBahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

Range maps show the stark contrast between the very limited range of the Bahama Mockingbird and the vast distribution of the Northern Mockingbird. An example is below, for comparison.

220px-Northern_Mockingbird-rangemap

Northern Mockingbird, Abaco 1

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

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Susan Daughtry

COMMON GROUND DOVE (‘TOBACCO DOVE’)

Common Ground Dove, Abaco (Tom Reed)

COMMON GROUND DOVE (‘TOBACCO DOVE’)

These small birds Columbina passerina are also known as tobacco doves. Although they sometimes perch in the branches of trees, you are more likely to encounter them on the ground, where they forage for seeds, fruit, and insects.

Common Ground Dove, Abaco 1 (Tom Sheley)

They will often fly in front of a person or vehicle in short fluttering stages, keeping out of reach but never going too far ahead.When they fly, their undersides flash reddish-brown (sometimes described as chestnut) – hence (I presume) the tobacco dove name.

Common Ground Dove, Abaco 2 (Tom Sheley)

The common ground dove is one of the world’s smallest doves – roughly 6 inches long. Its beak has a black tip, and its feathers have a pinkish tinge. The feathers on the head and the breast look rather like scales. Females are similar to males but tend to be greyer.

Common Ground Dove, Abaco (Nina Henry)

Common ground doves mate with their partner for life, and a pair may have 2 or even 3 broods a year. Both parents feed the young birds until they are ready to feed themselves. Rather amazingly, hatchlings can fledge in 11 days. 

Common Ground Dove, Abaco 3 (Nina Henry)

I had embedded a sound file of the dove sound to listen out for. For some glitchy reason it wasn’t working. So a description of the song / call will have to do. It’s a (frankly) rather monotonous and subdued little ‘whoop’.

Common Ground Dove, Abaco 2 (Nina Henry)

My own attempts to photograph a CGD satisfactorily have been rather feeble. I have taken plenty of photos of them on the ground, but nothing memorable, let alone useable. However the one below surprised me by flying onto a branch quite near me, and I had time to squeeze the trigger before it flew off again. Far from perfect compared with others on this page, but I’m not going to let that little detail prevent me from showing it… 

Common Ground Dove, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

 Photo Credits: Tom Reed (1), Tom Sheley (2, 3), Nina Henry (4, 5, 6), Keith Salvesen (7); Audio – Andrew Spenser / Xeno Canto

GULL-BILLED TERNS

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 01

GULL-BILLED TERNS ON ABACO

The gull-billed tern Gelochelidon nilotica had a name upgrade from Sterna nilotica some years ago, and was awarded the honour of its own genus. Let’s be clear at the outset: there’s no such thing as a tern-billed gull, which slightly lessens the scope for species confusion. 

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 04

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 05

There are 12 species of tern recorded for Abaco. Only one, the royal tern, is a permanent resident. There is one winter resident, the Forster’s tern and there a 6 summer resident terns of varying degrees of commonness. The other four are transient or vagrant, and probably not worth making a special trip to Abaco to find. The GBT is designated SB3, a summer breeding resident that is generally uncommon, though might be more common in particular areas.

TERN TABLE**Tern Species Abaco**I know! Too tempting…

gull-billed-tern

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 11

The bird gets its name from it short, thick gull-like bill. It’s quite large in tern terms, with a wingspan that may reach 3 foot. They lose their smart black caps in winter.

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 03

There are 6 species of GBT worldwide, and it is found in every continent. While many terns plunge-dive for fish, the GBT mostly feeds on insects in flight, and will also go after birds eggs and chicks. Small mammals and amphibians are also on the menu.

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 06Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 02

All photos were taken by Alex Hughes, a contributor to “THE BIRDS OF ABACO”, when he spent some time on Abaco a while back in connection with the conservation of the Abaco Parrot and the preservation of the habitat integrity of their nesting area in the Abaco National Park

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 12

BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

Until 2016 the black-faced grassquit Tiaris bicolor was officially classified with other passerine emberizidae (e.g. antillean bullfinches & sundry New World sparrows).  The classifications committee of the American Ornithological Union recently moved them to join tanager-type species, specifically the dome-nesting ones. Now they are considered to be closely related to Darwin’s finches; and they join the broader category that includes tanagers, grosbeaks, and buntings. 

All photographs taken on Abaco, as credited below

black-faced-grassquit-adult-male-eating-berry-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheleyblack-faced-grassquit-foraging-berry-2-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheleyBlack-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Black-faced Grassquit, Abaco (Tom Reed)Black-faced Grassquit - Treasure Cay, Abaco (Becky Marvil)Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Peter Mantle)Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)Black-faced Grassquit female, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

THE BFG EVERYDAY TWITTERING SONG 

THE BFG DISPLAY BUZZING SONG 

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Tom Reed)Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: Alex Hughes (1, 10); Tom Sheley (2, 3); Bruce Hallett (4, 9); Tom Reed (5, 11); Becky Marvil (6); Peter Mantle (7); Gerlinde Taurer (8); Keith Salvesen (12); Whatbird? (sound files)