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

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MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDS aka MAN-O-WAR BIRDS

Magnificent Frigatebirds (m) - Michael Vaughn

You can read about Fregata magnificens and their courtship displays, gular pouches, nesting habits, names, uses to mankind (if any), and 10 magnificent facts about them at my Rolling Harbour site HERE. These birds are sky-pirates, stealing fish in the air from other birds. Tropicbirds are a particular target. They catch fish and keep them in their gullets as they fly back to the nest to feed their young. The frigatebirds will swoop on them, catch them by the leg and hold them upside-down until they regurgitate the fish. Often the frigate bird will manage to release the tropicbird and dive to catch the fish before it hits the water.

     CLICK LOGO TO VIEW A BBC / DAVID ATTENBOROUGH CLIP OF AN AERIAL ROBBERY magnificent-frigatebird

Film clip: Female FB has TB by the leg & shakes it until the fish  (circled) drops outMagnificent Frigatebird steals fish from Tropicbird (BBC clip)

A MAN-O-WAR GALLERY

A male in flight (a most unusual shot, taken from above)Magnificent Frigatebird (m) - Michael Vaughn

Juveniles being delinquentMagnificent Frigatebirds (juv) - Michael Vaughn

A female in flight: the white front is the invariable distinguishing featureMagnificent Frigatebird (f) - Michael Vaughn

magnificent-frigatebird

10 FACTS ABOUT FRIGATEBIRDS

  • The largest of several frigatebird species around the world
  • Found in tropical and subtropical waters
  • Females have white fronts – easily distinguishable from males in flight
  • Adult wingspan is 7+ feet = largest wing-area / bodyweight ratio of any bird
  • Can remain in flight and far out to sea for many days
  • KLEPTOPARASITES – will rob other seabirds of their food
  • Diet: mainly fish & squid from the water’s surface; seabird chicks
  • Nest in colonies, producing a single egg every other season
  • Don’t land on water, as they can’t float; and feeble at walking on land
  • One of the earliest depictions of a frigatebird is by Eleazar Albin in 1737. He was a naturalist contemporary of MARK CATESBY & pre-dated AUDUBON

Magnificent Frigatebird (m) - Michael Vaughn

Credits: Michael Vaughn for all photos; Birdorable cartoon; TV CLIP bbc.co.uk  © copyright 2009 BBC

Magnificent Frigatebird (m) - Michael Vaughn

YELLOW WARBLERS ON ABACO

Yellow Warbler at sunrise. Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy

YELLOW WARBLERS ON ABACO

Of the 37 WARBLER SPECIES recorded for Abaco, 25 are mainly or partly yellow. So talk of a ‘yellow warbler’ can as easily be a general description matching any one of a number of species, as a particular description of the one and only Yellow Warbler Setophaga petechia. This small sunny bird is a common permanent resident on Abaco, one of only 5 resident warblers. The other 4 don’t help the situation much, by dint of all being yellow to a greater or lesser extent. 

Yellow Warbler male3.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom SheleyDendroica-petechia-001 (MDF)

My general rule of thumb is that the Yellow Warbler out-yellows all the rest (though the winter-resident PROTHONOTARY gives it a run for its money), with the adult males bright and cheerful all over and the females rather less glaring but still demonstrably yellow from beak to tail tip.

Yellow Warbler (f) Bruce Hallett

Q. ARE THEY ALWAYS EASY TO SEE? A. SEE BELOW, GO FIGUREYellow Warbler male.Cherokee Sound.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Q. CAN YOU SHOW MORE PRETTY FEMALES? A. BY ALL MEANSYEWA_Bahamas-Great Abaco_5204_Yellow Warbler_Gerlinde Taurer copyYEWA 2_Bahamas-Great Abaco_5165_Yellow Warbler_Gerlinde Taurer copy

Q. SO YEWAs ARE COMMON? HAVE YOU EVER PHOTOGRAPHED ONE? A. ONLY HOPELESSLYYellow Warbler, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Q. DO THEY HAVE AN ATTITUDE PROBLEM? A. ONLY VERY RARELYYellow Warbler male2.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

A THREAT TO THE SPECIES Shiny Cowbirds, luckily still rare on Abaco, favour yellow warbler nests for their parasitic egg-laying, with sadly predictable results. These cowbirds properly belong in South America, but they are gradually spreading north through the Caribbean, and have now reached Florida. I’m beginning to take a (purely personal) hard line on invasive species where they diminish and destroy indigenous species: eradication. The feral peacocks of Casuarina, now several generations down the line from their original introduction as exotic pets, do no harm and are undeniably decorative. But would you prefer the pretty yellow warbler and its fledglings in your garden, or the shiny cowbird that displaced them?

240px-Dendroica_petechia_map.svg

Credits: Tom Sheley (1,2,5,9); MDF (3)Bruce Hallett (4); Gerlinde Taurer (6,7); RH (8)

And finally… the song that out-yellows all other songs with the word ‘yellow’ in the title – it is the only song called just that one word! 

    Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy                Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy                Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy                Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy                Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

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)

BAHAMA WOODSTAR HUMMINGBIRDS

Bahama Woodstar (m), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Bahama Woodstar (m), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)  Bahama Woodstar (m), Abaco (Tom Sheley) Bahama Woodstar (m), Abaco (Tom Sheley)

The above birds with the purple ‘gorgets’ are males; below are two females

Bahama Woodstar (f), Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

A Woodstar in the coppice at Delphi – I had about 5 seconds to get this (not very good) shot!Bahama Woodstar (f), Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: Bruce Hallett (1, 2); Tom Sheley (3, 4); Tara Lavallee (5); Keith Salvesen (6)

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

     common-gallinule     common-gallinule     common-gallinule     common-gallinule     common-gallinule     common-gallinule

SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS ON ABACO

Semipalmated Sandpiper, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

“CHECK OUT THE WEB” (2) SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS ON ABACO

Having recently headlined a post for SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS with a web-related title, I’m repeating it for Abaco’s other part-webbed shorebird, the semipalmated sandpiper. Either it’s so apposite that it doesn’t need changing; or else I lack the imagination to think up something new…

Semipalmated Sandpiper (juv), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)
semipalmateThis attractive little sandpiper Calidris pusilla has the partially webbed feet that give it its name. In spring and fall these ‘peeps’ are the most numerous shorebirds on Abaco but they are just passing through on their migration further south – so-called ‘transients’. Flocks of these birds may be arriving any moment now on a beach near you. The signifiers are black legs, a short, straight dark bill, and a body that is white underneath and brown /gray on top, tinged lighter on the head and neck. 

Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla (MDF) 

SO THEY’RE EASY TO SPOT ON THE SHORELINE?

Not really, I’m afraid. This species is very easy to confuse with other small shorebirds (with which they happily mingle), especially the less common western sandpiper which has a slightly longer and downturned bill. It takes an experienced birder to tell them apart. The most reliable way – to see the feet to check for the partial webbing between the toes – is far from easy. A photograph of the bird as it picks its way across sand, tide margins or mud may be best, if you can zoom in on the feet. The webbing is just visible in both the images above and the one below. 

 Semipalmated sandpiper (Thomas W. Gorman : Conserve Wildlife NJ

WHERE DO SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS LIVE?

These are birds of the far north – Canada’s tundras and Alaska, close to water – where they breed and lay their eggs in scrapes. Rather sweetly, the male makes several prospective nests for the female to choose her favourite and furnish with grasses etc. Both adults share incubation duties. The chicks are independent almost as soon as they are hatched. Then in early fall they head many miles south to warmer places, of which Abaco is one of the most northerly, principally as a stopover for rest before continuing their journey to the coastal margins of South America. The migrating flocks may contain tens of thousands of birds. Of the many range maps around, this one from the excellent avibirds.com shows the marked contrast between the summer and winter habitats very clearly. 

Semipalmated Sandpiper distribution map (Avibirds.com)

Semipalmated Sandpiper (Dick Daniels Wiki)

HOW DO THEY COMPARE IN SIZE WITH OTHER SANDPIPERS?

The SPSP is one of the smallest shorebirds, the female being slightly larger than the male. This image shows 2 of them in the company of a much larger white-rumped sandpiper (also a transient on Abaco) for comparison.White-rumped Sandpiper + 2 semi-palmated(Woody Bracey)1 copy 2

Time now to get the binoculars out (now where on earth are they?) and patrol the beach to catch the first of these little birds as they begin to arrive in considerable numbers during their fall migration.Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

ADDENDUM a recent SPSP from Bruce Hallett, in which the semipalmation can be seen Semipalmated Sandpiper (Bruce Hallett)

Credits: Bruce Hallett (1, 2), MDF (3), Thomas Gorman / Conserve Wildlife Foundation NJ (4), Avibirds (infographic), Dick Daniels (5), Woody Bracey (6) [& comments – cheers], Alex Hughes (7)