Apart from the final species shown here, the Black-browed Albatross, all these birds are new sightings for Abaco – some for the Bahamas – since the publication of the magisterial CHECKLIST by Tony White with Woody Bracey, published in March 2014 in “The Birds of Abaco”. This list was comprehensive of recorded sightings, however rare, for some 60 years.
BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER – OCTOBER 2016
I’d best make it clear at the outset that, in the very narrowest sense, the buff-breasted sandpiper (Calidris subruficollis) is not strictly a new bird on Abaco. Tony White’s authoritative official checklist for Abaco, valid back to 1950 or so, does actually include the species. It is classified as a ‘V5’, which is to say a vagrant that is vanishingly rare – indeed may only have been sighted on Abaco once or perhaps twice before. Ever. The only category rarer than V5 is H for hypothetical, which essentially means that there is some unconfirmed report of a bird that it might not be outrageous to suppose might be blown onto Abaco. A penguin, therefore, would not qualify even for an H.
A few days ago, beyond a shadow of a doubt this small shorebird was seen on Abaco by Keith Kemp, and photographed by him too. He is having an excellent year with his birding: this may well be the jewel in the crown for him. So even if one of these little guys was once spotted on an Abaco twig in 1961, Keith is definitely the first person to get a photo!
UPDATE (next day!) Abaco birder-in-Chief Woody Bracey has solved the mystery of the previous sighting – it was he himself who saw a BBSP “years ago” at the less-than-glamorous yet excellent-for-birding Marsh Harbour ‘Dump’.
As it happens, some weeks ago a BBSP was also spotted at West End, Grand Bahama by Linda Barry-Cooper. I featured a guest post from her about the fall birds in that region HERE. Woody Bracey also says that he and Bruce Hallett saw 2 BBSPs at West End early this season. Erika Gates and Martha Cartwright saw one on the GB Reef golf course at the end of August. So these birds are around in the northern Bahamas, and perhaps it’s not such a surprise after all that one should have gone on a little expedition to Abaco to check out the undeniable joys of Winding Bay.
The buff-breasted sandpiper is a long-distance migrant, breeding mainly in the open arctic tundra of North America, and overwintering mostly in South America, especially Argentina. Its route takes it overland – the central flyway – rather than over coasts, but as it happens, as a species it is a bit of a wanderer. These birds a regularly found in Europe – including the UK – and although I am sure a sighting there must generate a great deal of excitement, they are not considered extremely rare. They have even been found, very occasionally, in South Asia and Australasia.
So maybe it’s no surprise that the odd one turns up on Abaco. Maybe they do so every year, but only the keenest eye will spot one. And after all, there are many remote beaches on Abaco that are only very occasionally – if ever – visited by humans. Perhaps that’s where the BBSPs congregate…
In the breeding season, males collect on display grounds, or “leks,” to attract females. This helpful description comes from Audubon: “The leks are spread out, each male defending an area of up to several acres. The male displays by raising one wing, showing off the white underside. If females approach, the male spreads both wings wide, points its bill up, and shakes its body. One male may mate with several females; the male takes no part in caring for the eggs or young.” Typical, huh?
The BBSP is another bird that has been hit badly by the passage of time. By which I mean, of course, by mankind. At one time they were deemed ‘abundant’. Around 100 years ago a serious decline set in, not least because people were shooting them during their migration. Nonetheless, in 1988 the IUCN assessment was ‘lower Risk/least concern’. Then another slide began. By 2000 it was ‘lower Risk/near threatened’. Since 2004 it has been ‘near threatened’. Why? Largely because the habitat for migrating and wintering birds has been destroyed or degraded.
WHAT DO I LISTEN OUT FOR?
Xeno-Canto / Bernabe Lopez-Lanus
Credits: Tim Lenz, Keith Kemp, Magnus Manski, Linda Barry-Cooper, Cornell Lab (range map), Mario Porras, Crossley Guides, Bernabe Lopez-Lanus @ Xeno-Canto, Audubon, Wiki.
PEARLY-EYED THRASHER – MARCH 2015
Exactly a year ago, the ultimate, complete and utter Checklist of the birds of Abaco, compiled by Tony White with Woody Bracey, was published. It covers 4 pages of close print in THE BIRDS OF ABACO, and lists the 282 species recorded since 1950, including so-called ‘exotics’ but excluding so-called ‘pets’ (sadly your minah bird would not qualify). New sightings had been static since a BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS had made an unheralded appearance out at sea. In the last year, 5 new species have been recorded. The links to them are listed below. That Checklist already needs an update!
The newest bird in town is the Pearly-eyed Thrasher (Margarops fuscatus). This is a bird in the family Mimidae, along with mockingbirds and the gray catbird. Until last November, no thrasher species had ever been recorded for Abaco. Then there was a sighting of a BROWN THRASHER. Just a few months later, its Pearly-eyed cousin has turned up right in the heart of Treasure Cay, seen by first by Erik Gauger and confirmed by Woody Bracey (each a contributor to THE BIRDS OF ABACO).
This thrasher species is found widely throughout the Caribbean, though with several varieties that are genetically distinct. In the Bahamas, they breed on some of the southern islands. They are known to overwinter on Eleuthera and Cat Island, but have not previously been recorded as far north as Abaco. This sighting is important in suggesting that the species may be beginning to extend its range, although it could of course simply be a one-off ‘vagrant’, as they are officially yet disrespectfully known.
Since the first sightings by Erik & Woody a couple of days ago, Woody has been out again with a camera seeking to obtain photographic evidence of the bird. Last night he sent me a snapshot taken in difficult circumstances – the bird was being hassled by a Eurasian Collared Dove (who should have known better, being a non-native species itself…). The pearly eye is quite clear, as is the speckled front and white end to the underside of the tail. If a clearer shot comes in, I’ll add it. So, TC-based birders, a Rolling Harbour Kalik challenge is on!
STOP PRESS Woody has sent a couple more photos of the PET taken right in the centre of Treasure Cay. Or perhaps there is a second one… and if so, different sexes… and if so, a nest, eggs, chicks, fledglings and in due course a new breeding species on Abaco…
STOP PRESS April 2015 Erik Gauger has now written up his account of his discovery of this new species for Abaco. You can read it HERE (scroll down to the second article on the page)
The other photos I have used are ‘open source’ for obvious reasons, and credited below as far as the information is available…
NEW ABACO BIRD SPECIES – MAR 2014 to MAR 2015
Photo credits with thanks for public postings: (1) ‘Mike’s Birds (2) Dick Daniels (3) Kati Fleming, and (4) Woody Bracey
MASKED BOOBY JANUARY 2015
MASKED BOOBY: A SPECTACULAR NEW BIRD SPECIES FOR ABACO
Hot avian news has arrived today from Woody Bracey: the 4th brand new species recorded for Abaco within the last 12 months has just been sighted in Abaco waters, north of Great Guana Cay. It was a single Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra), a large seabird also known as a Masked Gannet (and it certainly looks quite gannet-like). [NB the photos in this post are obviously not of the new bird, but are illustrative of the species]
THE LOGGED SIGHTING DETAILS
Date: Wed Jan 21, 2015 10:00 AM
Location: Deep Sea 2-15 miles off Great Guana Cay, Central Abaco, Hope Town and Green Turtle Cay, BS
Protocols: traveling – party size 2 – duration 6 hours – distance 30.0 miles
Observers: Karl Kleim and Kim Kuhnle; Reporter via Ebird, Elwood Bracey
EIGHT ESSENTIAL MASKED BOOBY FACTS
- First described by A French naturalist in 1831
- One of six species of booby in the ‘Booby’ genus Sula
- The largest Booby species
- The only other Booby species recorded for Abaco is the Brown Booby
- The closest breeding populations to Abaco are off Mexico and southern Caribbean
- Silent at sea, whistling greeting call in nesting colonies plus a repertoire of ‘hissing and quacking’
- Spectacular diving abilities
- 2 eggs are laid: very often the first chick to hatch kills the second (“Siblicide”)
ABACO’S OTHER RECENT NEW BIRD SPECIES
and before that, a hugely exciting seabird find
Credits: Steve Daggar, Duncan Wright, Drew Avery, Pauk, Superstock, Wiki images & open source
BROWN THRASHER OCTOBER 2014
A NEW BIRD SPECIES FOR ABACO: BROWN THRASHER
The third new bird species this year has been found on Abaco by bird authority Woody Bracey. After the excitement of 6 BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS in June and a FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER in October comes the very recent sighting (with photos) of a BROWN THRASHER, hitherto unrecorded for Abaco. It was seen near Treasure Cay, at the site of a derelict restaurant.
The Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) belongs to the same family that includes mockingbirds and the catbird – Mimidae. Its normal range includes Florida where it is resident, so there’s only 200 miles of ocean to cross to reach Abaco. Easier still with a stop-over on Grand Bahama. However I’ve checked for other Bahamas sightings, and so far I have found one recorded for Grand Bahama, and one for Eleuthera. So this first sighting on Abaco is possibly only the third for the Bahamas, suggesting that the Thrasher is generally not a great adventurer.
BESIDES ONE BIRD VISITING ABACO, WHAT’S INTERESTING ABOUT THE THRASHER?
- They are known to have more than 1000 types of song, one of the largest bird repertoires
- They repeat phrases 2 or 3 times before moving on to another (somewhat like Mockingbirds)
Rick Wigh / Xeno Canto
- They are omnivorous, eating insects, snails, worms etc; and balancing that with fruit, seeds and nuts
- They are shy birds, but can be very aggressive when defending territory or a nest site
- They used their slightly decurved beaks to thrash around under leaves and ground debris as they forage – hence the name
YES INDEED, BUT IS THERE ONE REALLY MEMORABLE FACT ABOUT THEM?
- OK. Their necks are extremely flexible and they have more vertebrae than camels or (get this!) giraffes.
Credits: Judi Howle, Manjith Kainickara, Anon (wiki), Woody Bracey, Ken Thomas; Wunderphoto, Wiki, Xeno Canto
FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER AUGUST 2014
FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER: ANOTHER NEW SPECIES FOR ABACO
Following the flurry of reports and photos in June of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks on Abaco – a species never recorded here before – comes a new ‘first bird’: the Fork-Tailed Flycatcher Tyrannus savant. On September 24 Shirley Cartwright saw an unusual bird with a long dark tail and managed to get a photo of it of sufficient quality for a certain identification to be made. Never mind the photo detail, the fact that Shirley saw the bird and was able to obtain photographic confirmation is the thing. So here is the first-ever Fork-tailed Flycatcher for Abaco – and only the third for the Bahamas (previous ones seen on New Providence and Great Inagua).
I did a little brightening and clarifying of the original image, and also tried a crop
Tony White, the well-known authority on Bahamas birds, sent me the image with some information about this bird’s usual range:
“This is an interesting species as the race found in eastern US is South American and highly migratory. It breeds in Chile and Argentina. It is a frequent vagrant to USA, well over 100 records, and has appeared as far north as Nunavut, Canada. In the Austral fall (our spring) it migrates north and winters in Northern South America. Birds that appear in the USA at that time are considered overshoots. Birds that appear in our fall (Austral spring) are believed to be mostly first year birds that winter in northern South America and then fly a mirror image from the proper direction heading north instead of south. Unfortunately, the photos of the Abaco bird are not close enough to tell whether it was a young one or not. Field guides say young birds have shorter tails, but in fact there is considerable overlap in tail lengths between females and young. I strongly recommend a paper by McCaskie and Patton on this species in Western Birds 1994 Vol 25, No 3, pp 113=127. It can be found on SORA (Searchable Ornithological Research Archives).”
Treading carefully through a copyright minefield, I have dug out some illustrative images of this flycatcher, shown below. It belongs to the group known as tyrant flycatchers, which includes the kingbirds that are familiar on Abaco.
However this ‘overshoot’ range map (Audubon) reflects the fact that overshoots occur almost annually in the eastern United States seaboard and even as far north as Canada. To see these birds photographed in Connecticut (10000birds.com), click HERE. Given that the whole Florida coast is included, it’s perhaps not surprising that sooner or later the odd bird would misdirect to the northern Bahamas.
This example of the species is taken from the Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds (open source) . The bird in the centre with the long tail is clearly a male; I imagine the mature-looking one on the left is a female; and the one on the right with the comparatively stumpy tail, a juvenile.
It’s sometimes instructive to discover how John James Audubon saw a particular bird, so here is his FWF. While the bird is undeniably beautiful, I am not too certain of its proportion in relation to the size of the blossom. But then again, it seems to me that he didn’t always struggle for exactitude, preferring a broader, more relaxed approach to depict the birds as he saw them – and not afraid to exaggerate a characteristic for effect.
NEW INFO Woody Bracey has contacted me to point out that the male in the image above “is actually a pale mantled manachus subspecies from Central America, not the darker savana nominate subspecies from South America which Shirley photographed”. Which explains the colour difference.
ESSENTIAL FUN FACT
The fork-tailed flycatcher has the longest tail relative to body size of any bird on earth (trails.com)
As the name suggests, this species feeds mainly on insects, although in winter it may also eat berries and the like. They will often perch on wires of fence posts. I’ve no idea if they ‘hawk’ for flies on the wing, but if so the sight of a male feeding must be wonderful. Here is an example of their song
Jeremy Minns / Xeno-Canto
BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCK JUNE 2014
BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS ON ABACO: MORE SIGHTINGS & IMAGES
I have only just posted about this new duck species for Abaco HERE. Yesterday Liann Key Kaighin encountered a pair of these ducks at Marsh Harbour Airport. She took some great shots of them. They certainly look very appealing little birds. Her first report was “Thursday June 12, 2014, around 9am, this pair flew in together to hang out in the water puddle. They were very unafraid. At ZigZag Airways, MH Airfield, Abaco”. Since previous sightings have been of 6 birds together, either the original group has split up as they have travelled north over the week; or another pair have chosen to inaugurate the new airport with a new bird species by landing there. I asked Liann about the numbers and she says that this could be the case: “These two came in on the wing from south and I watched them for half an hour. No more showed up”.
CHART OF REPORTS OVER THE WEEK SINCE THE DUCKS WERE FIRST SPOTTED
Photo Credit: Liann; Map by cartographer Martin Brown drawn specially for “The Birds of Abaco”
A STRANGE COINCIDENCE
In my last BBWD post I added a photo from Wiki and saw it was actually taken at the WWT Wetland Centre, Barnes in West London UK. I am briefly back in London (quite close to Barnes), though without my camera. Any camera at all. Except on my phone. So today I paid a quick visit to see if the BBWDs were in residence. They were, and I took a few shots of them and various other species. Frankly the ones I took when the sun was behind the clouds are useless; the ones in the sun are OK. So here are a few. But they are NOT the Abaco ducks, just cousins. And I’ll definitely be going back at the end of the month, with a proper camera!
I made a couple of sound recordings but one is ruined by an emergency vehicle siren that started up; and the other by a low-flying aeroplane making its descent to Heathrow Airport. The Wetlands Centre is a rural oasis ingeniously built round huge disused gravel pits by the Thames; but it has the drawback of being right on the flight path… Not sure if they are usable, thought the whistles are clear!
I took a brief (20 secs of your time…) phone video of the pond with a number of different waterbirds in and around it. The BBWDs are in the foreground. The interaction between the species was quite amusing. The moorhen was clearly in charge of them all… You’ll hear a bit of whistling – more a feeble squeak, really (and an aeroplane passing overhead). You’ll see that when the moorhen starts its casual harassment, the underside of the wing of the startled duck is completely black.
BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS JUNE 2013
ABACO’S RAREST VISITOR: MEET ALBERT ROSS… THE ALBATROSS
I can find no record for the sighting of an albatross in the waters around Abaco. Nor for anywhere else in the Bahamas for that matter. It must have come as some surprise to the BMMRO team out at sea on their research vessel off Sandy Point to see a large and unusual seabird bobbing tranquilly on the water. A black-browed albatross Thalassarche melanophrys. Diane Claridge managed to get a great shot of it and I’m really pleased to be able to use it here.
Black-browed albatross off Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas. Photographed by Diane Claridge.
© Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation 2013
This bird was way out of the normal range for the species. They are birds of the southern oceans, breeding in colonies on such islands as the Falklands, South Georgia and Macquarie Island. As far as I can make out, they have no business to be north of the equator at all.
SIGHTING A BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS: A REPORT
During a three-hour survey for whales off Sandy Point, Abaco on Sunday, July 21st scientists from the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation had an exceptional sighting. Dr Diane Claridge, the group’s Executive Director recalls details of the sighting:
“We were drifting waiting for a beaked whale to resurface when our intern Tristan Albury pointed towards a white object floating in the distance and asked what it was. We decided that it was a piece of trash, unfortunately a common sighting, and continued to focus our search for the whale. A half hour later, we still had not re-sighted the whale and believed that it may have gone down on one of its one-hour long feeding dives. So with time to kill and the “trash” still in sight, we had another look with binoculars. We realised immediately that it was a very large bird and slowly motored towards it for a closer look. I began taking photographs of it because we already knew it was unusual and we wanted to be sure to identify the species. As we got closer, Roxy Corbett, a visiting scientist and avid birder exclaimed that it was an albatross! I couldn’t believe it. We were able to approach within 100 feet at which point it swam towards us providing an opportunity for us to document its body condition; it appeared healthy with no obvious signs of distress.
Later when back ashore, we compared our photographs with those available online and learned that it was a juvenile Black-browed albatross, an endangered bird with a 7-foot wing span known from subtropical to polar regions of the southern hemisphere! As far as I know this species has never been recorded previously in the tropical North Atlantic. I have seen albatross during whale surveys in Alaska but never dreamed that I’d ever see one in The Bahamas. Although we are thrilled by the rarity of this sighting, the outcome for a bird so far out of its normal range is not usually good. However, there are two Black-browed albatross that strayed into the North Atlantic previously that have taken up long-term residence in Scotland and the Faroe Islands so who knows where this one may end up. Sunday afternoon was indeed exceptional: in addition to this remarkable sighting, we also saw 4 different species of whales and dolphins, all within 5 miles of Sandy Point.”
These are huge strong birds, with a massive wingspan. I wondered what they might sound like – it’s like this… (Credit: Xeno-Canto & recordist Sofia Wasylyk)
For more information on the normal range and status of the Black-browed albatross, the BMMRO recommended links are:
Link to Birdlife International’s site:
Link to IUCN’s species red list: