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)

AMERICAN KESTRELS ON ABACO

american-kestrel-f-abaco-bruce-hallett-img_1235-copy

As many or most of the images show, utility wires (also posts) are a favourite perch for kestrels. They get an unimpeded view of the only thing that really matters in their lives – outside the breeding season, of course – PREY. 

american-kestrel-abaco-charles-skinneramerican-kestrel-abaco-2-peter-mantle

In my experience it’s quite rare to see AMKEs on the ground – unless they are in the act of ripping up some hapless rodent pinned to the earth. I was with photographer Tom Sheley when he captured this fine bird in the grass. 

american-kestrel-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheley-copy

Tom also took this outstanding photo, on an overcast day, of a kestrel feeding its fledgeling a large insect.american-kestrel-feeding-fledgling-2-delphi-club-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheley

An AMKE at Treasure Cayamerican-kestrel-treasure-cay-abaco-bahamas-6-13-tom-sheley

A richly-coloured specimenAMERICAN KESTREL, Abaco -Nina Henry

A kestrel in streamlined flight, with its feet tucked tightly under its bodyamerican-kestrel-abaco-tom-reed

Bird on the Wireamerican-kestrel-abaco-peter-mantle-copyamerican-kestrel-abaco-1

Credits: Bruce Hallett (1, 11); Charles Skinner (2); Peter Mantle (3, 9); Tom Sheley 4, 5, 6); Nina Henry (7); Keith Salvesen (10); Tom Reed (8)

american-kestrel-f-abaco-bruce-hallett-img_1222

TRICOLORED HERONS

tricolored-heron-phil-lanoue-3

TRICOLORED HERON: AN ELEGANT & PATIENT FISHER

The Tricolored Heron Egretta tricolor is one of 6 heron species found on Abaco, and is a permanent breeding resident. To which can be added 4 sorts of egret to complete a line up of expert fishers, all equally at home hunting in the water or from the shore, or surveying the scene from nearby vantage points like bushes and trees. A long neck, a long bill and long legs make this heron species ideally adapted for wading. Like other herons and egrets, it will stand stock-still waiting for the perfect fish to swim into range. However they are also active hunters, and will stalk prey or chase it by striding quickly through the water in pursuit. They eat fish, crustaceans, reptiles, and insects.

tricolored_heron2_by_dan_pancamo (Wiki)
tricolored-heron-gilpin-point-abaco-keith-salvesen

The heron and egret species of Abacoherons-egrets-abaco

tricolored-heron-abaco-woody-braceytricolored-heron-abaco-bruce-hallet

Breeding plumage: smart blue bill and a fish to put in itTri-colored Heron with fish (Phil Lanoue)

Credits: Phil Lanoue (1, 7); Dan Pancamo (2); Keith Salvesen (3); Woody Bracey (4); Bruce Hallett (5)

THE OSPREY: “ABACO’S GOT TALONS”

Osprey, Abaco (Jim Todd 2)

“ABACO’S GOT TALONS”: THE OSPREY

The magnificent Osprey Pandion haliaetus is one of the world’s most successful raptors and can be found on every continent except Antarctica.

220px-Pandion_haliaetus_global_range.svg

Osprey, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

On Abaco the Osprey is a permanent breeding resident, and while certainly not an ‘every day bird’, the chances of seeing one are reasonable. They are fairly often seen flying over the bay at Delphi, or out on the Marls. A pair recently nested at Sandy Point close to Nancy’s restaurant.

Ospreys, Abaco (Jim Todd)

There are few more exhilarating sights in the world of birds than an osprey swooping from a great height into the sea, emerging with a large fish held characteristically ‘fore and aft’ in its talons, and flying into the distance with heavy wing-beats. This wonderful close-up by wildlife photographer PHIL LANOUE shows an osprey that has actually managed to grab dinner for two…

osprey-flight-with-two-fish-03

This bird looks as if it is poised to dive onto some hapless fishOsprey in flight (Lake Wylie, S Carolina) - Gareth Rasberry

 10 PANDION POINTS TO PONDER

  • Ospreys are also known as sea hawks, fish hawks or fish eagles. They are almost exclusively fish-eating
  • A mature adult’s wingspan may reach 6 feet
  • They are the only members of their taxonomic family, genus and species
  • Ospreys & owls are the only raptors with reversible outer toes to grasp prey firmly
  • They can carry fish weighing more than 4 lbs
  • They dive into water feet first to grab its prey; their nostrils can close up to keep out water
  • Osprey-watch.org is a global site for mapping osprey nest locations / logging nesting observations
  • A New Jersey group has designed the optimum artificial nest platform, now an accepted standard
  • Ospreys usually mate for life
  • Osprey populations in many areas have been affected by pesticides and by egg trophy-hunters

PUTTING THE ‘PREY’ INTO ‘OSPREY’
Osprey, Florida (Danny Sauvageau)

A utility post makes a perfect perch for a bonefish snackOsprey, Abaco (Woody Bracey) copy

CHECK OUT THE TALON…Osprey (Danny Sauvageau)

The impressive wingspan of an Abaco ospreyOsprey, Abaco (Craig Nash) copy

An osprey far out on the Marls. I managed to get some distance shots of it despite having a fishing rod in my hand…Osprey - Abaco Marls 4Osprey - Abaco Marls 1Osprey - Abaco Marls 2Osprey - Abaco Marls 3

Osprey, by John James AudubonOsprey - John James Audubon

The Osprey is a prolific symbol in national, cultural and sporting themes, and has been depicted on Bahamas stamps. And quite right too.

Bahamas Wildlife Stamp Osprey copy

Wm Shakespeare Coriolanus

I think he [Coriolanus] will be to Rome
As is the osprey to the fish, who takes it
By sovereignty of nature… 

Credits: Jim Todd (1, 3), Tom Sheley (2), Phil Lanoue (4), Gareth Rasberry / Wiki (5), Danny Sauvageau (6, 8), Woody Bracey (7), Craig Nash (9), RH (Marls pics) – thanks for all image use permissions

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS ON ABACO

Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 5

“STRIKE THE POSE”: RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS ON ABACO

The red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) has previously hopped around these pages in the context of a (my!) simple way to RECORD BIRDS using a smart-phone, trim the result and convert it into an mp3 (or even a ring-tone – I have a great Abaco parrot one to startle friends, family and indeed complete strangers). Now we move on to a more important topic, namely courtship and so forth. And boy, don’t male RWBs fancy themselves when trying to impress the laydeez…Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 1We had taken a truck into backcountry between the pine forest and the Marls, with Tom and his impressive camo-camera with its 10 foot lens.Tom & Nighthawks

We found formerly cultivated fields – evidence of the defunct sugar cane industry – and then we came unexpectedly to a large expanse of open scrubland, with the track straggling through the middle.Truck

And there, on carefully chosen vantage points, was an array of RWBs. Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 2

This bird was within range of my comparatively puny camera, and I watched as it arranged itself into various elegant poses in the late afternoon sun. All around were their ‘rusty door hinge’ calls, of which this is an example (in fact a female, recorded at Casaurina, hence the background sound of lapping waves).

Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 4

These acres of open land were not far inland, and there was a slight breeze to ease the heat. This caused the occasional ruffling of feathers, and the need to spruce up…Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 3

The purpose of all this was of course to impress the opposite sex (behaviour not confined to bird species). There were plenty of females around, also similarly perching on vantage points for similar display-with-view-to-dating-maybe-more reasons.Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 6Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 7

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

IMG_0413

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)